“Do you know what would happen to him?“
NOW state your problem.”
The man who was thus addressed shifted uneasily on the long bench which he and his companion bestrode. He was facing the speaker, and though very little light sifted through the cobweb-covered window high over their heads, he realized that what there was fell on his features, and he was not sure of his features, or of what effect their expression might have on the other man.
It seemed a needless question. Though it was broad daylight outside and they were in the very heart of the most populated district of lower New York, they could not have been more isolated had the surrounding walls been those of some old ruin in the heart of an untraversed desert.
A short description of the place will explain this. They were in the forsaken old church not far from Avenue A——, a building long given over to desolation, and empty of everything but débris and one or two broken stalls, which for some reason—possibly from some latent instinct of inherited reverence—had not yet been converted into junk and sold to the old clothes men by the rapacious denizens of the surrounding tenements.
Perhaps you remember this building; perhaps some echo of the bygone and romantic has come to you as you passed its decaying walls once dedicated to worship, but soulless now and only distinguishable from the five-story tenements pressing up on either side, by its one high window in which some bits of colored glass still lingered amid its twisted and battered network. You may remember the building and you may remember the stray glimpses afforded you through the arched opening in the lower story of one of the adjacent tenements, of the churchyard in its rear with its chipped and tumbling head-*stones just showing here and there above the accumulated litter. But it is not probable that you have any recollections of the interior of the church itself, shut as it has been from the eye of the public for nearly a generation. And it is with the interior we have to do—a great hollow vault where once altar and priest confronted a reverent congregation. There is no altar here now, nor any chancel; hardly any floor. The timbers which held the pews have rotted and fallen away, and what was once a cellar has received all this rubbish and held it piled up in mounds which have blocked up most of the windows and robbed the place even of the dim religious light which was once its glory, so that when the man whose words we have just quoted asked if they were quite alone and peered into the dim, belumbered corners, it was but natural for his hardy, resolute, and unscrupulous companion to snort with impatience and disgust as he answered:
“Would I have brought you here if I hadn’t known it was the safest place in New York for this kind of talk? Why, man, there may be in this city five men all told, who know the trick of the door I unfastened for you, and not one of them is a cop. You may take my word for that. Besides——”
“But the kids? They’re everywhere; and if one of them should have followed us——”
“Do you know what would happen to him? I’ll tell you a story—no, I won’t; you’re frightened enough already. But there’s no kid here, nor any one else but our two selves, unless it be some wandering spook from the congregations laid outside; and spooks don’t count. So out with proposition, Mr. Fellows. I——”
Categories: English Literature