Henry Bergh usually returns home around six P.M. Tonight he arrives home before five P.M. to clean up the bloody mess that he is wearing from today’s adventure on the West Side, as he’s in no condition to conduct Society business looking like this. He tries to enter the house quietly and slip up to his bath unnoticed. As he reaches the top of the stairs, Matilda is there and scans his appearance with wide eyes. A small trickle of dried blood runs down one cheek, his hair is disheveled, one hand is wrapped with a handkerchief to cover an abrasion when he fell.
“Oh my God, Henry, what happened to you?”
“It’s nothing, dear, just a minor scuffle at the stockyards.”
As he walks to the bedroom, she follows him. “Minor scuffle? Look at you. Like a common ruffian with blood and soiled clothes. And your hand?”
“Just a scrape. Nothing serious,” trying to minimize her alarm. He removes his soiled, blood-stained overcoat revealing a blood-stained shirt collar and heads for the bath. “I warned you about confronting these men. You said your men would protect you. What happened?”
“My men acted nobly. We were simply outnumbered, that’s all. Next time we’ll bring police with us with a warrant.”
“Next time! No! There cannot be a next time! This is insanity. Look at you!” she protests loudly.
Henry keeps his composure. “I am the least of the injured. These abattoirs are houses of horrors. I mean, how God-fearing humans can inflict such torture.”
“Henry! I am also being tortured. You can’t do this again. I'm begging you.”
Her raised voice is something he is not used to. He begins washing up, trying to calm her with his composure. “Matilda, this is not just going away. Don’t you see what they’re doing when they disrespect me?”
“Disrespect you? This is about you?”
He now turns and elevates his voice more sternly. “No, this is about the law. I haven’t gotten this far to have these men ignore me.”
“Ignore you? One of them may kill you!”
“They won’t kill me.”
“How do you know that? It takes only one bullet, one knife, one beating. You’re not a young man, Henry!”
“I cannot abandon this cause for selfish reasons, Matilda.”
She follows his movements around the bathroom as he washes and dries his hands on a towel. “Even if it means your life?”
“I don’t fear for my life,” he says stoically.
“Well, I do! And I’m your wife. This cause is bigger than you, Henry. One man can’t go up against an evil world with his eyes shut.”
“Evil men need nothing more to succeed than to have good men look on and do nothing.”
“So you will wear angel wings on Earth until you are wearing them in heaven?”
“Stop it, Henry. How will you help the cause by being dead and buried? And what about me? Making me a widow is the least of your worries?”
“Not at all.”
“It isn’t worth it!” she blurts out. He is taken aback.
“Don’t say that. It is worth it. But where do I draw the line? Which animals deserve protection and which do not? The work horses get my loyalty but the pigs and cattle don’t? Tell me where to stop. Look into the eyes of those pitiful innocents hanging upside down with broken limbs about to be slaughtered for someone’s next meal and tell them, ‘Well, I’d help you there, but my wife says I’m not allowed to put your welfare ahead of mine.’ Why don’t people slaughter their own dinners? Because they lack the courage to do the evil deed themselves. To play God with another living, breathing being takes fortitude. Or just plain indifference. Or simply evil avarice.”
Matilda starts to cry. Henry lowers his voice.
“If I make one animal less worthy than another, then I destroy everything I have worked for. You just said this cause is bigger than me. And you are exactly right. What we’ve started is spreading. We both know that there are other SPCAs being formed in other jurisdictions. Other laws being passed. The compassionate are waking up and saying, ‘We won’t look the other way any longer.’ If confrontation is dangerous, we cannot give our enemies the advantage of showing our anxiety. Let the abusers know that in our society the man with the loudest voice or the fattest wallet or biggest stick is not always the one who prevails.”
He takes Matilda in his arms. “You’ve always trusted me in the past. I promise to not make you a widow if you promise to not stop believing in me.”
He lovingly gazes into her teary eyes. She raises her hand and touches him on the cheek.
Category/Subject: BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / General