A Newer Drum

 

The Saranoff's brownstone tenement was only a couple doors from the address that Alderman Coughlin had given Emma as her mother's new place. And Emma weighed the possibility that Anton would be there. But the alderman had said Anton stayed at Lake Geneva all weekdays, so Emma decided to risk a visit.

Entering the dingy, red brick walk-up, she looked up the stairs to the second floor. This was a twin to the tenement that she and the family had lived in before Tatinek died. But the hallway here was, if anything, darker and more airless than the earlier one had been. Although the light was dimmer in this building, the air was stifling, and Emma felt the sweat begin to creep down the back of her neck. The wooden handrail seemed to throb with the July heat. Every minute or so, small gusts of wind rattled the tattered, tan paper shade in the front door window. The wind-pulse continued a slap-slapping noise as Emma walked up, straddling the pools of water that shone on the stairs ahead. Someone had been trying to get rid of the patina of dust that was everywhere, inside and out. It had to be Maminka. She never gave up.

At the top of the stairs on the fourth floor, Emma peered into the gray, unlit hall. She saw the name Klima written on a piece of paper that had been nailed into the door. The hall was literally packed with surplus belongings: bedsteads, boxes of winter clothing, kettles, baby carriages. So Emma had to weave her way among the boxes to get to the door. She smelled spinach cooking. Her favorite dish. Boiled dumplings stuffed with farmer's cheese and spinach. The sound of a spoon furiously beating around a dish came to Emma from inside. Emma knocked and the noise of the spoon stopped. So Emma called inside, "Maminku! To je Emma!"

The door opened a crack. "Emma!" cried Maminka. She opened her arms and hugged Emma, sighing with relief. Maminka started in rapid Czech all about how Anton had been in a fit ever since he told her to leave. The job seemed to cheer him up a little, thank God, Maminka said.

Emma asked if she could help them in some way. Maminka started to answer "no" when Emma drew out a ten-dollar bill and placed it on Maminka's hands, which were folded on her apron.

"Take it."

Maminka seemed frozen. She neither spoke nor moved.

"Maminka, I will bring this every two weeks. Now not a word! You need it and I have a good job."

Maminka seemed a bit confused. "You are having job that pays so well, Emma?" Her face darkened a bit. She had heard all of Anton's accusations. "What job do you have?"

Emma could hardly wait to tell her. "I write for a newspaper! The Chicago Inter-Ocean!" Emma said, nodding her head.

Looking into her eyes, Maminka started to nod, too. "Boze muj! For a newspaper you write?"

Emma was pleased that she could tell all about her new job, knowing that Maminka saw few people and, anyway, could be trusted with the secret. She swore her mother to silence and explained how her identity was to be kept a secret until the time was right. "That's how newsmen think, Maminka," said Emma. "You have to make the most suspense, the greatest drama!" Emma clapped her hands together, closed her eyes and smiled ecstatically.

"If that is what makes you happy, dear," Maminka answered, "I am pleased. Tatinek loved reading and he would be pleased that you write now."

"He wanted me to be a teacher," Emma said, looking down at her hands.

"In Bohemia, teachers were very respected. Here they are not so different from milkman. I think he would have seen that if he had lived." Maminka put her money into a pocket in her apron. "Tell me, how did you get so good a job?"

Emma explained how Mister Yerkes had taken an interest in her writing when he saw a piece on the constellations that she had written for the Hull House field trip.

"Yerkes. . .But Emma, is that not the man that Anton was so angry about?" Maminka now proceeded to put two and two together.

"I know that, but he isn't at all the way Anton thought. I have never had problems of behavior from Mister Yerkes." Emma lied, ever so slightly. She knew what she saw in Mister Yerkes' eyes.

Maminka was satisfied with Emma's explanation. Or, if not satisfied, she knew that there wasn't much a mother could do in Chicago to keep her children in line. She had seen too many mothers trying and failing. Emma had never been the wild sort of girl. "I made spinach dumplings, Emma. Take some," Emma sat down and first inhaled. Hot as it was, a dumpling was something that filled not only one's stomach, but also filled that sort of nagging feeling that otherwise came. A dumpling put one's mind at ease. Emma had three. She had plenty on her mind to ease.

When little Julka came in Emma pulled out the candy cane she had in her apron and gave it to her.

"Where have you been?" Julka demanded. "Mami was so worried. . ."

"Ticho! That's enough, Julka," Maminka patted her on the shoulder. "Emma told me all about how she has job! Now, you see? If you study and read like your sister Emma, you can also go teach or work, even, for newspaper!"

"I'm going to be a famous dancer," Julka announced, and she spun her pudgy little body around in a circle.

"Even dancers do their arithmetic, so start now, Julka!" said Maminka.

"I think Julka can be a dancer if she really wants to be," Emma volunteered. "You have to keep believing that you can, that's all. Julka, you must come to the Hull House dance lessons. I will fetch you there. I need to get back to Hull House tonight before dark, Maminka. We are training some sanitation corps."

Maminka packed a couple more dumplings for Emma to take back and offer to Miss Jane. Maminka liked the way Emma talked about Jane Addams. She sounded very sensible. As Emma's figure disappeared up the street, Maminka pulled the lace curtain aside for a last glance. "To je podivny, sanitation corps. Ano, to je velmi podivny. . ." she said, shaking her head. Strange words, who could know what it was, this "sanitation corps?" Strange words.

 


A blue sliver of light hung on Johnny Powers' ear, and a ruby light sat on his chest, as he told his strategy to Mister Yerkes. The last rays of the afternoon sun scattered these tiny flares around Yerkes' office, making a kaleidoscopic effect. Powers looked down and tried to knock the thing off his shirt, until he realized that it was light and not gravy or crumbs. He folded his hands, not wanting to fidget.

Yerkes smiled. "Go on, about the danger to established public service."

"As I was saying, you cannot let these amateurs come in and take over appointed posts that way. Miss Addams should know better than to do that!" Powers gestured with a hand out the window, showing the size of his concern. "Why, where will it end. . .this. . .this anarchy? That's good! You got to use that word anarchy. Whats-his-name, that writer you brought from New York. Tell him to play on that word anarchy! That's what it is, you know," Powers nodded, agreeing with himself.

Aside from the fact that Yerkes considered these aldermen ruffians, they annoyed by being redundant. "I'm sure that Mister Hinman came from New York with the best thesauri that money can buy, Mister Powers. I'll mention your idea to him, though. It sounds amusing." Yerkes sat back on his springy chair and beat the fingers of his hands together as if thinking. "Very amusing."

"Well, that's all I came to tell you. You're going to have no end of trouble keeping votes if our appointments get away from us," said Powers.

"See?" said Yerkes with a smirk. "I'm noting it down. Anything else?"

"No," said Powers crestfallen. "That's all, sir. I'll say good evening, then." He turned and went out the door, disappointed in the apathetic reception his plans had gotten.

Yerkes opened his desk drawer and poured a bit of sherry. It was almost time for Steinman, the Republican alderman, to arrive and he didn't want them to run into each other. Yerkes had no problems buying from both sides of the aisle at city hall. The only thing of it was that the Republicans, with all their noisy protestations of rectitude, generally cost him more per vote.

The door opened.

"Ah, Mister Steinman, come in. . ."

 


Emma made rapid notes for her column as Jane Addams told several of the residents how she hit on the sanitation corps idea.

"The large community of Greeks here in the neighborhood sent a delegation asking to have a field for drilling their boys. Their purpose was not just for athletics, although you all have seen the stories in the press about the first Olympic games to be held in modern times." Jane looked around. Heads nodded. "No, this went far beyond games and sportsmanship. These boys felt they might be called to Greece at any hour to fight the Turks. While I feel a sympathy for the struggles of any people who are oppressed. . ." Jane stopped, gathering her thoughts. A troubled look crossed her face.

"I told them that we had a gymnasium and they might do exercise there and run around our cinder track. With such a genuine motive at hand it seemed a mere affectation to deny them the use of our boy's club building for organized drill. Happily this forms only a small part of the Greek Educational Association. . . but my mind was not at ease, you know," said Jane.

Florence Kelley broke in, "Who would ever blame the poor devils, trying to liberate a homeland as afflicted as Greece? There comes a time when theory and good intentions. . ."

"Florence, I have your same doubts. But let me resume," said Jane in a tired voice. "I could not sleep for worry over what was being countenanced, if not encouraged here. So I began to promote another boys' drill squad. All our boys are much impressed with the shiny uniforms and weapons the Columbian Guards wear over at the World's Fair. So I've asked you to help this evening as we hand out sewer spades for our sanitation corps to drill with."

"Sewer spades!" Florence hooted at the very thought.

"I can't stem the desire for military drill in boys of this age. All the city brigades, even the ones organized by the churches, use military drill. Florence, I ordered sewer spades because they have long narrow blades and shortened handles, not so unlike bayoneted guns in size, shape, and general appearance."

Emma wrote down the details just as Jane said them. Never had she heard so much as a mention of weapons before. This was utterly new.

"Here is what you all must say to the boys if they seem disappointed." Jane looked sharply about at the circle of faces. Tell them it is nobler to drill in imitation of removing disease-producing filth than to drill in simulation of warfare. Adapt some of the epic tales to the conquest of disease, helping the oppressed this way!" Jane handed out a few sheets with charts of march formations. She and most of the women got up and went out the door. Emma scribbled furiously and was just finishing up when Florence put her hand on her shoulder.

"This doesn't have a prayer of working," sighed Florence. "I love Jane and respect her, but if she thinks that these lads will get as excited over sewer spades as real weapons. . !"

Emma half-turned to Florence. "Maybe not as excited, but you can only put something before somebody. He has maybe not heard of this thing before. Maybe later they will grow fond of the idea."

Florence laughed. "Let's hope so, Emma. Meanwhile you need to get out there to watch the sewer spaders go at it!" Florence made a shooing motion and Emma went outside.

There was no shortage of recruits. About one hundred shabbily dressed boys. In between shouting orders to help them straighten their lines, Emma jotted a few final notes. She wanted to portray Miss Jane's dream just as she saw her there, urging the boys onward. Emma noted that the expression on some of the boys was less than enthusiastic. But other boys did look excited.

"Remember Cinncinatus who never gave in!" Jane stood at the center of the field calling out as inspiration hit her. "This is a labor worthy of Hercules himself!" Jane added, thinking, no doubt, of the Augean stables.

Emma knew that she would never forget that kind face there in the field gathering with gloom and dark, calling to the boys to come away. . . march to a newer drum. Emma wrote "newer drum." Was it worth it? She didn't know. She filed her glowing column for the newspaper about Jane and the sanitation corps early the next morning. The boys who had been drilling the night before were out early that morning putting up flyers and distributing leaflets for Jane's campaign to become garbage inspector.

 


Johnny Powers stood at the dusty window in the snug little loft above Billy Boyle's chophouse. Mike Condon stepped across the room, which was packed with the men who were planning the election strategies for the Fall campaigns.

"You've got to see these!" Condon shoved a stack of papers into Powers' hand.

Oh, yeah? What are they? Mayor Harrison's funeral notices?" Powers smiled at his ability to be witty so early in the morning.

"Nah, nothing that good," said Condon. "I took these off a kid near Cottage Grove. See what that Addams skirt is calling you?"

"Powers read down the page, his brows digging deeper and deeper furrows into his forehead. "Why that is a bald-faced lie! We've always done a most solicitous job of keeping our ward's streets free of disease-producing filth! It's all these new immigrants! They don't keep the streets clean and no one can teach them."

"You can stick the blame wherever you want, Johnny," quipped Mike. "But anyone with a nose can tell there's more than dandelion seeds blowin' around your ward! This Addams dame is going to stir up more than a little trash. She'll get them judging you right and left."

Powers peered more intently through the window, down to the street. "Is that some of them?" He pointed. "Those kids down there, tacking that flyer on the fence. What are they dressed up for? It's too early for Hallowe'en."

"Yeah, they're some of those Hull House kids. She bought them those dippy suits so they could feel important as the Sanitation Corps," said Condon, and he laughed nasally. "Even Bathhouse John and Hinky-Dink have some of their young toughs out putting up her signs. I say we throw a scare into them."

"You know," mused Powers, "I think I'll do just that. Mister Yerkes has some husky lads up at Lake Geneva, working on his observatory. Why. . . they could come down, mess up a few cherub faces, and go right back up there again." Powers nodded to himself and set off to see his patron with his hand full of flyers.

 


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Waking the Dead
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