There be those who say that things and places
have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself,
but I will tell of the Street.
Men of strength and honour fashioned that Street: good valiant men
of our blood who had come from the Blessed Isles across the sea. At first
it was but a path trodden by bearers of water from the woodland spring
to the cluster of houses by the beach. Then, as more men came to the growing
cluster of houses and looked about for places to dwell, they built cabins
along the north side, cabins of stout oaken logs with masonry on the side
toward the forest, for many Indians lurked there with fire-arrows. And
in a few years more, men built cabins on the south side of the Street.
Up and down the Street walked grave men in conical hats, who most
of the time carried muskets or fowling pieces. And there were also their
bonneted wives and sober children. In the evening these men with their
wives and children would sit about gigantic hearths and read and speak.
Very simple were the things of which they read and spoke, yet things which
gave them courage and goodness and helped them by day to subdue the forest
and till the fields. And the children would listen and learn of the laws
and deeds of old, and of that dear England which they had never seen or
could not remember.
There was war, and thereafter no more Indians troubled the Street.
The men, busy with labour, waxed prosperous and as happy as they knew how
to be. And the children grew up comfortable, and more families came from
the Mother Land to dwell on the Street. And the children's children, and
the newcomers' children, grew up. The town was now a city, and one by one
the cabins gave place to houses - simple, beautiful houses of brick and
wood, with stone steps and iron railings and fanlights over the doors.
No flimsy creations were these houses, for they were made to serve many
a generation. Within there were carven mantels and graceful stairs, and
sensible, pleasing furniture, china, and silver, brought from the Mother
So the Street drank in the dreams of a young people and rejoiced
as its dwellers became more graceful and happy. Where once had been only
strength and honour, taste and learning now abode as well. Books and paintings
and music came to the houses, and the young men went to the university
which rose above the plain to the north. In the place of conical hats and
small-swords, of lace and snowy periwigs, there were cobblestones over
which clattered many a blooded horse and rumbled many a gilded coach; and
brick sidewalks with horse blocks and hitching-posts.
There were in that Street many trees: elms and oaks and maples of
dignity; so that in the summer, the scene was all soft verdure and twittering
bird-song. And behind the houses were walled rose-gardens with hedged paths
and sundials, where at evening the moon and stars would shine bewitchingly
while fragrant blossoms glistened with dew.
So the Street dreamed on, past wars, calamities, and change. Once,
most of the young men went away, and some never came back. That was when
they furled the old flag and put up a new banner of stripes and stars.
But though men talked of great changes, the Street felt them not, for its
folk were still the same, speaking of the old familiar things in the old
familiar accounts. And the trees still sheltered singing birds, and at
evening the moon and stars looked down upon dewy blossoms in the walled
In time there were no more swords, three-cornered hats, or periwigs
in the Street. How strange seemed the inhabitants with their walking-sticks,
tall beavers, and cropped heads! New sounds came from the distance - first
strange puffings and shrieks from the river a mile away, and then, many
years later, strange puffings and shrieks and rumblings from other directions.
The air was not quite so pure as before, but the spirit of the place had
not changed. The blood and soul of their ancestors had fashioned the Street.
Nor did the spirit change when they tore open the earth to lay down strange
pipes, or when they set up tall posts bearing weird wires. There was so
much ancient lore in that Street, that the past could not easily be forgotten.
Then came days of evil, when many who had known the Street of old
knew it no more, and many knew it who had not known it before, and went
away, for their accents were coarse and strident, and their mien and faces
unpleasing. Their thoughts, too, fought with the wise, just spirit of the
Street, so that the Street pined silently as its houses fell into decay,
and its trees died one by one, and its rose-gardens grew rank with weeds
and waste. But it felt a stir of pride one day when again marched forth
young men, some of whom never came back. These young men were clad in blue.
With the years, worse fortune came to the Street. Its trees were
all gone now, and its rose-gardens were displaced by the backs of cheap,
ugly new buildings on parallel streets. Yet the houses remained, despite
the ravages of the years and the storms and worms, for they had been made
to serve many a generation. New kinds of faces appeared in the Street,
swarthy, sinister faces with furtive eyes and odd features, whose owners
spoke unfamiliar words and placed signs in known and unknown characters
upon most of the musty houses. Push-carts crowded the gutters. A sordid,
undefinable stench settled over the place, and the ancient spirit slept.
Great excitement once came to the Street. War and revolution were
raging across the seas; a dynasty had collapsed, and its degenerate subjects
were flocking with dubious intent to the Western Land. Many of these took
lodgings in the battered houses that had once known the songs of birds
and the scent of roses. Then the Western Land itself awoke and joined the
Mother Land in her titanic struggle for civilization. Over the cities once
more floated the old flag, companioned by the new flag, and by a plainer,
yet glorious tricolour. But not many flags floated over the Street, for
therein brooded only fear and hatred and ignorance. Again young men went
forth, but not quite as did the young men of those other days. Something
was lacking. And the sons of those young men of other days, who did indeed
go forth in olive-drab with the true spirit of their ancestors, went from
distant places and knew not the Street and its ancient spirit.
Over the seas there was a great victory, and in triumph most of the
young men returned. Those who had lacked something lacked it no longer,
yet did fear and hatred and ignorance still brood over the Street; for
many had stayed behind, and many strangers had come from distance places
to the ancient houses. And the young men who had returned dwelt there no
longer. Swarthy and sinister were most of the strangers, yet among them
one might find a few faces like those who fashioned the Street and moulded
its spirit. Like and yet unlike, for there was in the eyes of all a weird,
unhealthy glitter as of greed, ambition, vindictiveness, or misguided zeal.
Unrest and treason were abroad amongst an evil few who plotted to strike
the Western Land its death blow, that they might mount to power over its
ruins, even as assassins had mounted in that unhappy, frozen land from
whence most of them had come. And the heart of that plotting was in the
Street, whose crumbling houses teemed with alien makers of discord and
echoed with the plans and speeches of those who yearned for the appointed
day of blood, flame and crime.
Of the various odd assemblages in the Street, the Law said much but
could prove little. With great diligence did men of hidden badges linger
and listen about such places as Petrovitch's Bakery, the squalid Rifkin
School of Modern Economics, the Circle Social Club, and the Liberty Cafe.
There congregated sinister men in great numbers, yet always was their speech
guarded or in a foreign tongue. And still the old houses stood, with their
forgotten lore of nobler, departed centuries; of sturdy Colonial tenants
and dewy rose-gardens in the moonlight. Sometimes a lone poet or traveler
would come to view them, and would try to picture them in their vanished
glory; yet of such travelers and poets there were not many.
The rumour now spread widely that these houses contained the leaders
of a vast band of terrorists, who on a designated day were to launch an
orgy of slaughter for the extermination of America and of all the fine
old traditions which the Street had loved. Handbills and papers fluttered
about filthy gutters; handbills and papers printed in many tongues and
in many characters, yet all bearing messages of crime and rebellion. In
these writings the people were urged to tear down the laws and virtues
that our fathers had exalted, to stamp out the soul of the old America
- the soul that was bequeathed through a thousand and a half years of Anglo-Saxon
freedom, justice, and moderation. It was said that the swart men who dwelt
in the Street and congregated in its rotting edifices were the brains of
a hideous revolution, that at their word of command many millions of brainless,
besotted beasts would stretch forth their noisome talons from the slums
of a thousand cities, burning, slaying, and destroying till the land of
our fathers should be no more. All this was said and repeated, and many
looked forward in dread to the fourth day of July, about which the strange
writings hinted much; yet could nothing be found to place the guilt. None
could tell just whose arrest might cut off the damnable plotting at its
source. Many times came bands of blue-coated police to search the shaky
houses, though at last they ceased to come; for they too had grown tired
of law and order, and had abandoned all the city to its fate. Then men
in olive-drab came, bearing muskets, till it seemed as if in its sad sleep
the Street must have some haunting dreams of those other days, when musketbearing
men in conical hats walked along it from the woodland spring to the cluster
of houses by the beach. Yet could no act be performed to check the impending
cataclysm, for the swart, sinister men were old in cunning.
So the Street slept uneasily on, till one night there gathered in
Petrovitch's Bakery, and the Rifkin School of Modern Economics, and the
Circle Social Club, and Liberty Cafe, and in other places as well, vast
hordes of men whose eyes were big with horrible triumph and expectation.
Over hidden wires strange messages traveled, and much was said of still
stranger messages yet to travel; but most of this was not guessed till
afterward, when the Western Land was safe from the peril. The men in olive-drab
could not tell what was happening, or what they ought to do; for the swart,
sinister men were skilled in subtlety and concealment.
And yet the men in olive-drab will always remember that night, and
will speak of the Street as they tell of it to their grandchildren; for
many of them were sent there toward morning on a mission unlike that which
they had expected. It was known that this nest of anarchy was old, and
that the houses were tottering from the ravages of the years and the storms
and worms; yet was the happening of that summer night a surprise because
of its very queer uniformity. It was, indeed, an exceedingly singular happening,
though after all, a simple one. For without warning, in one of the small
hours beyond midnight, all the ravages of the years and the storms and
the worms came to a tremendous climax; and after the crash there was nothing
left standing in the Street save two ancient chimneys and part of a stout
brick wall. Nor did anything that had been alive come alive from the ruins.
A poet and a traveler, who came with the mighty crowd that sought the scene,
tell odd stories. The poet says that all through the hours before dawn
he beheld sordid ruins indistinctly in the glare of the arc-lights; that
there loomed above the wreckage another picture wherein he could describe
moonlight and fair houses and elms and oaks and maples of dignity. And
the traveler declares that instead of the place's wonted stench there lingered
a delicate fragrance as of roses in full bloom. But are not the dreams
of poets and the tales of travelers notoriously false?
There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there
be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself, but I have told
you of the Street.