A Tale of Two Cities
by Vincent McNabb O.P., from *The Church and the Land*
New York City
ANNO DOMINI 1913 — New York City. This is the date and place of the first part of the Tale. It is such a horrible tale that I must give the exact circumstances, otherwise my readers may think I have made the tale “all out of my own head.” But this would be too exquisite flattery for a head whose chief quality is an instinct for knowing where it can thieve to the best purpose.
Time, 3 p.m. Mrs. Marcella Dives, whose husband broke the meat ring at Porcopolis, is seen in 42nd St. — or is it 39th St. ? — shopping.
It is now six months since her first baby’s birth. The heir apparent of the Dives millions is a fine boy. To see him is to want to cuddle him. Everyone envies his parents. As Judge Elijah Washington Elbow said to Reuben Yokohama Dives: “Say, Rube. You’ve been investing in Real Estate this time — sure!” But Mrs. Dives has evidently not the judicial mind of E. W. Elbow. At any rate, the fashionably-dressed shoppers of 42nd St.- or is it 39th St.? — see Mrs Dives and a nurse-woman and — the heir apparent. But the heir apparent is in the arms of the nurse. And in the arms of Mrs. Dives is a DOG!
The second part of the Tale is like to the first. Anno Domini 1924 — London, Sunday, 10 a.m. A fine morning even for London. I am tramping from N.W. to S.W. I see a quietly-dressed elderly person pushing a perambulator. My heart leaps up as I think of the innocent babe, after three stormbound days in the nurserY, at last released to the sun and air. I am prepared, as usual, to offer the
Beggar’s alms of a smile to innocence in its perambulator; my theory being that the child by mere existence beggars my thanks, as do the snowdrops and primroses.
As it is the first perambulator I have seen in my tramp from Hampstead to S. Kensington I am ready to be lavish with my smile. Indeed I will smile so prodigally as to fill up every valley and wrinkle in my face as I look upon this fortunate babe — whom a devoted and withal sensible mother is taking out to the tender mercies of the air and sun. I look at the perambulator and see not my beloved innocence — but TWO Pugs!
To me, this is one tale — one horrible tale — one horrible, ghastly, grizzly nightmare of a beastly tale. But my friend, Professor Codex, says that by all the laws of Higher Criticism it is two tales, even as it is two cities. Yet he also propounds the alternative theory that it may be in essence one city and tale; and that the city is Babylon, and that the tale is Balaam and Josaphat.
But I know what you, gentle reader, are thinking in your heart. You are condemning Marcella and the nameless Lady of the Pugs. Now I beg of you not to be premature. Remember the golden epigram…
De Te Fabula Narratur.
First of all, may we not be thankful that the Heir Apparent was not where the dog was — on his mother’s icy bosom? A nurse’s embrace was not the best thing for poor forlorn little Dives. But it was infinitely better than the dog-shelter. Give even a dog — even a she-dog — its due. Perhaps Marcella had been brought up and even educated (Lord, save us!) for the matrimonial market where women are taught all the arts (or tricks) for becoming a wife; and none of the secrets of being a mother. Perhaps in her humility Marcella felt fit only to nurse a dog. In that case how wide fall our arrows of indignation.
Who Shall Condemn?
Again, the Lady of the Pugs! Who are you and I, that We should condemn her? — especially that we should condemn her without a trial. Do we know the tragedy that filled her perambulator with pugs and not with cuddling babes? Alas! Babylon-on-Thames and Babylon-on-Hudson are so merciless to their citizens that many a young man and maid who feel spurred to the adventure of founding a family are doomed to remain unwed — until they have found a house — or two rooms and the use of a kitchen! A bed-sitting room with a gas ring is not the bare minimum for a husband and a nursery. But it will do for breeding the smaller kinds of dogs. Moreover, dogs do not, like children, scratch the wallpaper and make loud noises on the floor — to the despair of the landlady.
More and moreover, some women must have something to love and fondle. If, therefore, they have no children of their own, who will blame them if, in secret, they kiss and fondle a litter of pugs? The hard critics who would stone this woman with the pug-perambulator would stone the poor folk who, unable to buy butter, try to make the best of margarine. Therefore he that is without sin amongst us let him begin the stone-throwing!
The Villains Of The Piece
Again are not you and I, dear reader, the villains of this tragedy? Have we no sight beyond the tragic Marcella and the Lady of the Pugs; into that dark system which begets Marcellas and Ladies of the Pugs as infallibly as the mother of this litter begot the litter? The offal of the city — is it all our neighbour’s doing; and not somewhat ours? Are we not in part our brother’s keeper? When we love the things that freeze the mother’s heart and dry her breasts, can we unabashed blame the dry breast and the frozen heart? Is Babylon-on-Thames and Babylon-on-Hudson, for us, the kingdom of heaven on earth?
Is Jerusalem our City — or Bethlehem?
Is Sion our mount — or Golgotha?
Is Mammon our God — or God?