A Brother's Keeper
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- Things as They Are (1909)
"HA! Help, hel"— The Bank Director threw up his arms, and the water choked his cry. He came to the surface again, and saw for a second the broken dock, the huge confusion,—a stout lady held afloat by the air under her skirts, her feet kicking ludicrously beneath the silk;—the new-launched ship. He gasped for breath, and took the water in: it was like a strangling hand up on his throat. He felt that he had been a good man; surely he would be saved! . . . It seemed as if he floated gently through the air. He had a buzzing in his ears. Then quiet and dreams,—such dreams: they come and go.—
A strong man wanders wearily, foul-smelling and unkempt. He looks in vain for work, for every one refuses him. He fumbles in the offal for a scrap of food, and drains the beerkegs out. At last he finds a ragged plot of land, and breaks the soil. He borrows a little seed and tools. His plants begin to sprout. A policeman takes him roughly by the arm; scuffling, he strikes him with his club, and throws him into a cell; and, as he locks the door, the policeman's face comes into the light: it is the Director's face. He screams "It was not I did that. The land was mine by law. It was the Court that dispossessed "—
The Director feels the people lift his arms. . . .
A handsome boy is reeling down the street, shouting a maudlin song. An old man leads him on—they look alike. A door opens in a low street, and both go in. There are lights and wine-bottles and dice. The lad drinks; he is getting stupid now, the old man turns the lad's pockets out, and throws him into the street. The blood spouts from the boy's ears, and the old man looks around. God! It is the Director's face! He shrieks: "I never have done that! It is my only son. I gave him everything he asked. What more was there that I could do? I had no time "—
The Director is conscious that men are putting warm things to his feet. . . . On a cot lies a little child; its eyes are burned with fever, and its pinched lips crack. Its mother totters home, she is so tired; but light is in her eyes; for in her pail is the food, and in a tiny packet the costly medicine that the doctor has prescribed. Behind her glides a thief; in the packet he pricks a hole, and into the pail he drops a deadly adulterant. The mother looks about—the medicine has been lost, she thinks. Tears are in her eyes, but she gives the baby what she has. A quiver shakes the little creature's frame. The mother shrieks, the thief looks proudly round. His face is the Director's own! "I did not do that! I got my profits by the laws the same as other men. It was the tax that took"—
The Director knows that men are rubbing his limbs. . . .
A bare, mean room, and across the bed a girl, partly undressed. Beside the bed a man in his underclothes. The girl's cheeks and neck, down to her little breasts, are crimson with shame; and she is crying timidly. She sobs, "Mamma!" then stops. The man turns angrily. God pity him! His face is the Director's face! "I never did such things as that! I paid the market price for labour in the store. It was want that drove her to that life. I could not help— Ha! these are no dreams! "
. . . "It is no use," said the Doctor. "He is dead, quite dead,—probably from shock. What a loss he will be to Society! "