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Abe's Game Of Jacks Post by :actionhans Category :Short Stories Author :Jacob A. Riis Date :October 2011 Read :1189

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Abe's Game Of Jacks

Time hung heavily on Abe Seelig's hands, alone, or as good as alone, in the flat on the "stoop" of the Allen Street tenement. His mother had gone to the butcher's. Chajim, the father,--"Chajim" is the Yiddish of "Herman,"--was long at the shop. To Abe was committed the care of his two young brothers, Isaac and Jacob. Abraham was nine, and past time for fooling. Play is "fooling" in the sweaters' tenements, and the muddling of ideas makes trouble, later on, to which the police returns have the index.

"Don't let 'em on the stairs," the mother had said, on going, with a warning nod toward the bed where Jake and Ikey slept. He didn't intend to. Besides, they were fast asleep. Abe cast about him for fun of some kind, and bethought himself of a game of jacks. That he had no jackstones was of small moment to him. East Side tenements, where pennies are infrequent, have resources. One penny was Abe's hoard. With that, and an accidental match, he began the game.

It went on well enough, albeit slightly lopsided by reason of the penny being so much the weightier, until the match, in one unlucky throw, fell close to a chair by the bed, and, in falling, caught fire.

Something hung down from the chair, and while Abe gazed, open-mouthed, at the match, at the chair, and at the bed right alongside, with his sleeping brothers on it, the little blaze caught it. The flame climbed up, up, up, and a great smoke curled under the ceiling. The children still slept, locked in each other's arms, and Abe--Abe ran.

He ran, frightened half out of his senses, out of the room, out of the house, into the street, to the nearest friendly place he knew, a grocery store five doors away, where his mother traded; but she was not there. Abe merely saw that she was not there, then he hid himself, trembling.

In all the block, where three thousand tenants live, no one knew what cruel thing was happening on the stoop of No. 19.

A train passed on the elevated road, slowing up for the station near by. The engineer saw one wild whirl of fire within the room, and opening the throttle of his whistle wide, let out a screech so long and so loud that in ten seconds the street was black with men and women rushing out to see what dreadful thing had happened.

No need of asking. From the door of the Seelig flat, burned through, fierce flames reached across the hall, barring the way. The tenement was shut in.

Promptly it poured itself forth upon fire-escape ladders, front and rear, with shrieks and wailing. In the street the crowd became a deadly crush. Police and firemen battered their way through, ran down and over men, women, and children, with a desperate effort.

The firemen from Hook and Ladder Six, around the corner, had heard the shrieks, and, knowing what they portended, ran with haste. But they were too late with their extinguishers; could not even approach the burning flat. They could only throw up their ladders to those above. For the rest they must needs wait until the engines came.

One tore up the street, coupled on a hose, and ran it into the house. Then died out the fire in the flat as speedily as it had come. The burning room was pumped full of water, and the firemen entered.

Just within the room they came upon little Jacob, still alive, but half roasted. He had struggled from the bed nearly to the door. On the bed lay the body of Isaac, the youngest, burned to a crisp.

They carried Jacob to the police station. As they brought him out, a frantic woman burst through the throng and threw herself upon him. It was the children's mother come back. When they took her to the blackened corpse of little Ike, she went stark mad. A dozen neighbors held her down, shrieking, while others went in search of the father.

In the street the excitement grew until it became almost uncontrollable when the dead boy was carried out.

In the midst of it little Abe returned, pale, silent, and frightened, to stand by his raving mother.

(The end)
Jacob A. Riis's short story: Abe's Game Of Jacks

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