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A Hazard of New Fortunes — Complete by Howells

Every sort of fraud and swindling hurts them the worst


Some

of the streets were filthier than others; there was at least a choice; there were boxes and barrels of kitchen offal on all the sidewalks, but not everywhere manure-heaps, and in some places the stench was mixed with the more savory smell of cooking. One Sunday morning, before the winter was quite gone, the sight of the frozen refuse melting in heaps, and particularly the loathsome edges of the rotting ice near the gutters, with the strata of waste-paper and straw litter, and egg-shells and orange peel, potato-skins and cigar-stumps, made him unhappy. He gave a whimsical shrug for the squalor of the neighboring houses, and said to himself rather than the boy who was with him: "It's curious, isn't it, how fond the poor people are of these unpleasant thoroughfares? You always find them living in the worst streets."

"The burden of all the wrong in the world comes on the poor," said the boy. "Every sort of fraud and swindling hurts them the worst. The city wastes the money it's paid to clean the streets with, and the poor have to suffer, for they can't afford to pay twice, like the rich."

March stopped short. "Hallo, Tom! Is that your wisdom?"

"It's what Mr. Lindau says," answered the boy, doggedly, as if not pleased to have his ideas mocked at, even if they were second-hand.

"And you didn't tell him that the poor lived in dirty streets because

they liked them, and were too lazy and worthless to have them cleaned?"

"No; I didn't."

"I'm surprised. What do you think of Lindau, generally speaking, Tom?"

"Well, sir, I don't like the way he talks about some things. I don't suppose this country is perfect, but I think it's about the best there is, and it don't do any good to look at its drawbacks all the time."

"Sound, my son," said March, putting his hand on the boy's shoulder and beginning to walk on. "Well?"

"Well, then, he says that it isn't the public frauds only that the poor have to pay for, but they have to pay for all the vices of the rich; that when a speculator fails, or a bank cashier defaults, or a firm suspends, or hard times come, it's the poor who have to give up necessaries where the rich give up luxuries."

"Well, well! And then?"

"Well, then I think the crank comes in, in Mr. Lindau. He says there's no need of failures or frauds or hard times. It's ridiculous. There always have been and there always will be. But if you tell him that, it seems to make him perfectly furious."

March repeated the substance of this talk to his wife. "I'm glad to know that Tom can see through such ravings. He has lots of good common sense."

It was the afternoon of the same Sunday, and they were sauntering up Fifth Avenue, and admiring the wide old double houses at the lower end; at one corner they got a distinct pleasure out of the gnarled elbows that a pollarded wistaria leaned upon the top of a garden wall--for its convenience in looking into the street, he said. The line of these comfortable dwellings, once so fashionable, was continually broken by the facades of shops; and March professed himself vulgarized by a want of style in the people they met in their walk to Twenty-third Street.

"Take me somewhere to meet my fellow-exclusives, Isabel," he demanded. "I pine for the society of my peers."

He hailed a passing omnibus, and made his wife get on the roof with him. "Think of our doing such a thing in Boston!" she sighed, with a little shiver of satisfaction in her immunity from recognition and comment.


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