“God bless you, my brothers!” he said, and leaving them his benediction he went away.
It was the afternoon of that morning when Burns was installed in his new position as assistant janitor that he was cleaning off the front steps of the Settlement, when he paused a moment and stood up to look about him. The first thing he noticed was a beer sign just across the alley. He could almost touch it with his broom from where he stood. Over the street immediately opposite were two large saloons, and a little farther down were three more.
Suddenly the door of the nearest saloon opened and a man came out. At the same time two more went in. A strong odor of beer floated up to Burns as he stood on the steps. He clutched his broom handle tightly and began to sweep again. He had one foot on the porch and another on the steps just below. He took another step down, still sweeping. The sweat stood on his forehead although the day was frosty and the air chill. The saloon door opened again and three or four men came out. A child went in with a pail, and came out a moment later with a quart of beer. The child went by on the sidewalk just below him, and the odor of the beer came up to him. He took another step down, still sweeping desperately. His fingers were purple as he clutched the handle of the broom.
Then suddenly he pulled himself up one step and swept over the spot he had just cleaned. He then dragged himself by a tremendous effort back to the floor of the porch and went over into the corner of it farthest from the saloon and began to sweep there. “O God!” he cried, “if the Bishop would only come back!” The Bishop had gone out with Dr. Bruce somewhere, and there was no one about that he knew. He swept in the corner for two or three minutes. His face was drawn with the agony of his conflict. Gradually he edged out again towards the steps and began to go down them. He looked towards the sidewalk and saw that he had left one step unswept. The sight seemed to give him a reasonable excuse for going down there to finish his sweeping.
He was on the sidewalk now, sweeping the last step, with his face towards the Settlement and his back turned partly on the saloon across the alley. He swept the step a dozen times. The sweat rolled over his face and dropped down at his feet. By degrees he felt that he was drawn over towards that end of the step nearest the saloon. He could smell the beer and rum now as the fumes rose around him. It was like the infernal sulphur of the lowest hell, and yet it dragged him as by a giant’s hand nearer its source.
He was down in the middle of the sidewalk now, still sweeping. He cleared the space in front of the Settlement and even went out into the gutter and swept that. He took off his hat and rubbed his sleeve over his face. His lips were pallid and his teeth chattered. He trembled all over like a palsied man and staggered back and forth as if he was already drunk. His soul shook within him.