Published by
Hydrogen Jukebox Press


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      An Online Edition

            edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers

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Friday, April 3, 1914

[Introduction]

I.


    Spring has come to Fountain square, as to the whole wide land; but in the midst of its tender beauty the iron fireman stands rigid as if frozen. He never bows to the fiercest storms, nor forgets himself in the soft insistence of the sunshine; he never glances at the throng that sluices past the three sides of the tiny park; he does not even lower his gaze to the green-misted treetops around the courthouse; he looks steadfastly up into the sky.

    One may think of him as harsh and stern, but the birds know better. For them he has always a drink and a bath ready, and rest, and sanctuary from cats and popguns. And in return for his unfailing hospitality they bring him the news, straight and sure from its sources, of all that goes on within the city limits and even from far beyond.

    Had you observed that the pigeons and sparrows of Chattanooga display an intelligent interest in current events and civic affairs? Well, it is due to the fireman's influence. Like Kipling's derelict ship--"Man made him, and his will is to his maker still."

    "Spring has come," cooed the White Pigeon, gracefully folding her long, fine wings on the edge of the upper basin. "Spring is really here at last; do you know it, Fireman?"

    "He knows a great deal," the Gray Pigeon reminded her. "But if he knew how silly some creatures become at this time of year! Ah!" She has never been able to understand why the Fireman's iron heart is loyal to those in whose image he was cast: his patience with human folly and frailty is amazing.

    "Knows what we tell him," chirped a Cocksparrow, saucily. He dipped into the shallows with energy and spattered the whole basin with drops from his grimy little wings.

    Both the pigeons drew themselves erect, and stared reproof at him and his mate; for they know how many years the Fireman has communed with the marching stars.

    "Anybody would know the spring's come," continued the Sparrow, unabashed, "if they watched us. We certainly worked some all this week, believe me!"

    "Work! I should say," chattered his mate. "I never saw it so hard to get building material. Everything's harder."

    "It's this hicostuvliving I hear about," said the Sparrow. "It's bound to get you."

    "How people are going to manage,"--the Hensparrow was referring to humanity--"is what gets me. If I didn't know better I'd think they had less sense than anything on earth. More and more of 'em every year, and they keep on muddling along any old way, and never strike a balance and make a plan to feed each one just what he needs."

    "There's no telling but they may be really the greatest fools of all," said the Cocksparrow, struck suddenly reflective.

    She whirled on him vociferously, scenting an argument. "Why--chichichippity--your great-grandmother told you that man was the wisest----"

    "Yes, but is he? People have quit believing everything their great-grandmothers tell them. Why should we?"

    Every one felt that the Cocksparrow had been very bold in voicing so grave a doubt. But the Gray Pigeon demurely repeated, "They do grow silly, at this time of year. Those clothes going by now----"

    "My heart aches something," murmurred the White Pigeon, "by their troubles brought on them by their own--lack of foresight, let us call it. I saw a poor woman today crying over her washtub because her son was sent to prison. She had always washed clothes to support him and herself, and had not had time to care for him and keep him off the street. So he grew up worthless and became a robber."

    "Where was her mate?" demanded the Hensparrow, stridently. "If my mate didn't help me feed the fledglings I'd--I'd leave that nest quick, I would."

    "Who knows?" the White Pigeon shook her head gently.

    "Then why didn't this state of theirs take the boy and raise him for her? It had to take him anyhow in the end, and this way cost more."

    "That would be man's wisdom," mused the Gray Pigeon--"kidnaping a woman's children because her mate had failed her."

    "Fireman," the White Pigeon appealed to the erect figure above them, "couldn't they find a better way?"

    "They will!" promised the Fireman, gravely, speaking for the first time.

    The Sparrow's chirp was incredulous and impertinent. "My fledglings may see things I only hear about!" said he.

    But nothing ever worried the Fireman. He looks up till he seems to himself to be floating through the blue gulfs overhead; he knows there is enough clean air flowing over and around the planet to wash away all the guilt and grossness of the world.

II.

    "O Fireman! has any one told you?" called the White Pigeon, whirling excitedly round the shoulders of the iron figure. "The Suffragists have changed their minds!"

    "They are women," said the Gray Pigeon, dropping to the basin more quietly.

    "I'm so relieved to hear they're not coming!" cried the Hensparrow, fluttering over the pool.

    "Why?" asked her mate. "Did you think they would bring firebrands in their handbags? What have you been reading?"

    "There's no knowing what any militant is going to do with her little hatchet," declared the Hensparrow, nervously. "We've just built our spring bungalow, and I shouldn't like a brickbat to land in it."

    "You should worry! There won't be any window-smashing on this side of the water, take it from me." Her lord hopped to an eminence among the iron ornaments, and began to declaim. "American men are formed of a more plastic clay than my former countrymen; they won't have to have their heads broken----"

    "For my part I wish the Suffragists had decided on Chattanooga," interrupted the Gray Pigeon, quietly. "We have heard a great deal about the question under European conditions, and northern conditions, western and eastern and particularly--British conditions. Only recently have the peculiar features of the southern situation come into prominence. If the leaders of the movement come far enough south to study the situation here at first hand, they will understand the southern women better. Many, if not most, southern women feel that it is ungracious to insist on the vote while receiving only the most generous treatment at the hands of men; but it should be remembered that not all women in our section are not so fortunately situated as those on our block. If our visitors tell of women whose menfolks are not so considerate--of millions overworked, underpaid, unprotected, who need a vote in public affairs--let us listen and try to understand."

    "Do you mean you're for suffrage?" inquired the Hensparrow, turning from her mate to the pigeons and back again.

    "Don't know that I am," he replied. "It's coming for better or worse, that's all. In England, too."

    "Poor England!" said the Gray Pigeon, thoughtfully. "Men have never found out just what happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable post, have they?"

    "I'd be safe to place a bet," said the Sparrow, "that there'd be a tremendous collision."

 




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