The Outcast Manufacturers

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited Mr. X

B.W. Dodge and Company


      TO THE west, the street-wide Palisades, dull-gray as a block of lead; a streak of North River gleaming like bright, clean metal melted from the base. Windows of tenement houses black with the inside pall of dark homes, unclean children, seeming dirtier because of their pallor, playing ball, with a banana stalk for a bat, in the middle of the street. A dead horse lying in the southside gutter; boys jumping on it, enjoying the elasticity of its ribs; a greasy old man prying off the horseshoes.
      On the sidewalk, stained where passing epicures had thrown out stale beer before having pails and pitchers filled up again, stood a young man -- very young man; light clothes, straw hat, suit-case in hand -- tall young man with half-closed eyelids and wide, irregular, heavy lips; lids and lips like a fleeting impression of the stubby nails of fingers idly dropping a skein of worsted; young man standing irresolutely between the dead horse and the low stoop of a house. On the stoop's first step, a young woman, in a sleeveless wrapper, making her form serpentine, bulging out a hip to support an infant under her arm. On the top step, a burly woman, her hair gray with ashes that she had been sifting.
      "Scabs! scabs!" she shouted back into the house.
      "The boss inspector!" jeeringly from a woman, darkened in the front hall.
      "Union men for me!" from her of the powdered coiffure. "Union men who ain't afraid to go out of doors nights!
      "You can't stand out on the stoop with them, if things keeps up!" she said plaintively to the serpentine young woman, who budged some more, giggled, and, giggling, turned her face away.
      "Lot of damn scabs! scabs! or you're no union men, anyway! How the lot of yez makes a living is the block's mystery!"
      "The boss inspector! Everywhere she ever lived she was known as a disturber!"
      "Let your old man come out and fight me! I'll show him what a woman can do." Then, very gently, to the young woman: "Warm ain't it? How's baby?"
      A bulky man came out to the stoop, his suspenders hanging in two loops behind him; a man with a large face, curiously flat and white of nose tip, chin tip, and cheek-bones; such a face as bakers see pressed white and flat against their window glass.
      "Oh, now, Mrs. Maheffy, my wife didn't mean anything. You ought to know that by this time. Isn't she always saying: 'What would the house be without Mrs. Maheffy?' You two haven't any call to fall out."
      "Ah, sure, man dear, 'tis the weather; sure, any woman's apt to be expressing the bit of an opinion now and then. What's ailing you, man dear? Don't pay any attention to me."
      "Excuse me!" said the youth with the suitcase, his long lips flickering in an uncontrollable grin. "I'm a little lost I think -- I mean I think I've got the wrong number. What I mean is I'm looking for the Universal Manufacturing Company --"
      Said the pressed-faced man: "Come right this way. Am I wrong in taking you for Mr. Rakes, of Jersey?"
      "Yes -- well, they generally call me Sim. Yes, I'm Sim Rakes. I was looking for a factory, though. Is Mr. Birtwhistle here?"
      The man had turned his broad back, with the dangling suspender-loops, and was shuffling to the first doorway of the rooms east of the hall. He whispered to some one in the front room, and shuffled back to the young man who was generally called Sim, who had slowly followed. He said awkwardly:
      "Oh, did you get my letter? You're Mr. Rakes? Yes, I'm Mr. Birtwhistle. Yes, we have a vacancy at present. Warm, ain't it?" facing Sim, slowly shuffling backward toward the side door, calling over his shoulder: "He got my letter."
      A pattering sound. When Sim was permitted to reach the doorway, he looked into the front room, and saw a woman darting around; a woman husked in wilted green, her hair, like a tuft of sunburned corn-silk, hanging and unkempt; darting here and there, picking up clothes and papers, with which the floor was strewn; pattering to things that she kicked under a stove, which was opposite the doorway; thrusting things under a sofa, which was between the two front windows. She saw Sim, and ran to an inner room, through a doorway, where blue curtains, meeting at top, dwindled away from each other, like overalls of a straddling giant. Against the hall wall were two tables, at which sat the office staff of the Universal Manufacturing Company -- a man and a woman. On the office floor were newspapers and trodden letters and stained paper that had been wrapped around meat; bones and heads of fish that had been thrown to a cat; excelsior from the sofa, the springs of which touched the floor.
      "He got the letter, all right," said Mr. Birtwhistle.
      By the first table -- the two tables along the hall wall-- sat a woman, with one shoulder somewhat lower than the other; with shoulders rounded so that she was almost humpbacked; her hair was black and shiny and compact with pomade; parted in the middle, this heavy hair, smooth and shiny, looked like the slightly parted wing-cases of a monstrous beetle. The woman wore a glaring red waist, ribbons of a lighter, and even more glaring red, at her elbows.
      "He's come, Miss Guffy," said Mr. Birtwhistle.
      Miss Guffy turned, and threw her left arm over the back of her chair, which made her shoulders seem of equal height; she stared at Sim, saying nothing.
      At the second table, which was by a window, sat a man; hair cut in the shape of a chopping bowl, worn down over his ears -- or ear, for one ear was gone -- chopping bowl clapped down over his head; features gentle and boyish.
      "He's come, Asbury," said Mr. Birtwhistle. The man was wearing a nightshirt, tucked down in his trousers; sockless feet in heelless slippers; he was holding his hands, drooping like a kangaroo's front paws, over a dusty typewriter.
      "Mr. Rakes, Mr. Asbury Parker."
      Mr. Asbury Parker, sitting with hands wilted over the typewriter, slowly looking around; then-- "Oh! were you speaking to me? Oh, how are you?" He rose, standing beside his table, saying nothing-- Sim's hand shifting and shifting hat and suit-case.
      Emotional blue curtains; the woman behind them clutching them.
      Piles of stationery between the two tables; disordered piles of typewritten letters that had fallen upon stacks of envelopes, mixed with catalogs and paper wrappers.
      "Have a seat, have a seat, sir," said Mr. Birtwhistle in wretched briskness. Sim sitting in a chair with its back to the blue curtains; Sim spurred forward upon the very edge of the chair, protruding springs of it prodding him.
      The green-painted walls of the room were blotched with stove smoke; soot-smeared with strange shapes; a green room, like a caisson of glass sunk in the sea; in a green sea, but in no clear, bright ocean depths; a caisson sunk somewhere amid suspended, water-soaked wreckage and weeds; a sunken cell in the Sargasso Sea.
      "We didn't expect you to-day, or we'd have-- but I'll not apologize!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, Mr. Asbury Parker still standing stiff by his table-- Miss Guffy, with her arm over the back of her chair, staring at Sim.
      "Oh, that's all right" said Sim. "Quite a lively street, here." He laughed immoderately. He tried not to look at fish heads on the floor; then he looked away from a pan of ashes halfway under the stove.
      "I guess we can do better for you than that," said Mr. Birtwhistle, pointing to the chair that prodded when Sim sat back in it.
      "Delia," he said, going to the wriggling blue curtains. At first Mrs. Birtwhistle would not come out. Whispering behind the curtains, the wriggling curtains. Mr. Birtwhistle reappeared, carrying a chair with a concave, cane seat, nevertheless a chair that would not prod. Then Mrs. Birtwhistle came out defiantly, eyes straight ahead, eyes away from Sim, though she nodded in his direction slightly. She had piled her hair into a high, toppling peak; her face was sallow; under a short upper lip were two exposed, white teeth, standing out like only two kernels upon a scraped, sallow ear of corn.
      "Asbury," she said sharply, "you can go on with your work."
      "Mr. Rakes," began Mr. Birtwhistle, in a kind of desperate pomposity; in stepping forward pompously a hanging loop of his suspenders caught upon a corner of the stove, dragging him back. "Oh, cusses!" said Mr. Birtwhistle weakly.
      "Mr. Rakes must take us as he finds us," declared Mrs. Birtwhistle. With her foot she pushed the pan of ashes farther under the stove.
      "Certainly!" quickly from Sim.
      "Oh, sit down!" said Mr. Parker. He dropped into his chair and sat holding his languid hands motionless over the rickety typewriter.
      "That's all right; that's all right," said Sim. "Don't mind me-- I always make myself at home everywhere"-- laboriously speaking, his eyes wavering, his mouth in a twitching grin-- "I mean-- that's all right, you know."
      "Then you got my letter?" asked Mr. Birtwhistle. "Has your dropping in this afternoon got any reference to that?"
      "I happened to be in town, you know. I just dropped in, you see. If you're too busy, why, we can talk the matter over some other time."
      "Well, I haven't anything particular on just at present, if you haven't."
      "No; I often run up to town for a day or so."
      Here feeling broke from Mrs. Birtwhistle. She had been slyly closing a closet door, picking up a pair of socks drying on the oven door, collecting papers with her feet.
      "Any other man wouldn't be found living so," she mumbled sullenly. "You had money last month. Why didn't you make a home, then? I'm too silly asking you will we get this and will we get that. No more 'will we,' but every bit of trash goes out of here. I never lived like this, like a thief, in fear of our lives every time there's a rap on the door. There's no use saying any more. No, don't stir, Mr. Rakes; you're not in the way." She spoke with a slight Irish accent.
      "My dear," Mr. Birtwhistle's voice having a slight Western twang, "never apologize for anything."
      "Oh, 'tis all very well for you."
      "I'll tell you, Mr. Rakes," said Mr. Birtwhistle. "Can you typewrite? Asbury here hasn't the greatest skill." Mr. Parker cautiously pressed the typewriter keys. "You might start in here with us; your fortune might be made here."
      "Oh, yes," said Sim; "you mustn't bother about me," looking around nervously, smiling uneasily at Miss Guffy to have that silent, staring person friendly with him.
      A child strolled into the office of the Universal Manufacturing Company; a matronly- looking little girl, who wore her wide-brimmed hat on her shoulders, the elastic of it around her neck. She said to Miss Guffy, who was resuming the pasting of edges of a row of paper wrappers: "Oh, that's a nice waist you got!" and to Mrs. Birtwhistle: "Oh, your hubby home?" She went to the chair of the protruding springs and sat on it, but soon got up, exclaiming: "My heavens!" then went to an armchair by the east window, where with hands behind her head and legs swinging, she sighed, whether with care or comfort.
      Silence in the room, then-- but overhead sounds of some one jumping upon firewood to smash it into stove size; and, in a quavering, old man's voice, a monotonously repeated oath was groaned in a room upstairs.
      "Yes," said Mr. Birtwhistle, "we are thinking of extending our business."
      "Heavens!" exclaimed the little girl; for the back bad fallen from the armchair. Then:
      "But, Mrs. Birtwhistle, Mrs. Maheffy sent me down to know would you have the sharing of a pint of beer with her."
      "Shall we?" asked Mrs. Birtwhistle. "Shall we run up for a moment? Mr. Rakes will excuse us. Will I bring her up a cup of this soup? Will I?"
      Mr. Birtwhistle shrugged his shoulders and held out his hands weakly.
      "I suppose we can run up for a minute. This mole under my chin is loose. Will I tear it off? Will I ?"
      "No!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, promptly and decisively. "Well, then. Mr. Rakes," in a jovial voice, jumping up, rubbing his hands together, "social duties seem to call us. Social duties, you know. We'll be right back. Don't be afraid of Miss Guffy. You can start in with us anyway, you know."
      "Go 'long with you!" from Miss Guffy, who quickly turned from renewed staring at Sim.
      "Just make yourself right at home, and, when we come back, we'll talk it over." The manufacturers went away, the little girl following them.
      "I think," said Sim, reaching down for his suit-case, "I'd better be going; I only dropped in."
      "Sure, man dear-- sure, you're only a boy," said Miss Guffy. "Sit where you are; they'll be right back."
      "I've got a little business to attend to"-- hesitatingly-- playing with the handle of his suit-case.
      The little girl, looking in the front window, from the stoop, called:
      'I'm coming in again." By way of the hall door she returned to the room, taking tiny china dolls from her pocket, holding them up for Sim to see, saying: "I have a new red hat; grandma has a new hat and shoes. Miss Guffy, Miss Dunphy and the other Miss Dunphy is coming up the street, and coming here, I guess." And again she went out to the stoop.
      "Bad luck to them!" said Miss Guffy; "they always come when the house is upset." To Sim: "They're living-out girls; they're Mrs. Birtwhistle's nieces."
      The first Miss Dunphy who came into the room was a potted-palm young woman, short and broad-shouldered, dressed in a suit of flower-pot color, green feathers, like scrub palmetto, in her hat. She came noisily into the room, shouting: "Ho! ho! is it yourselves? Where's the Birts?" Then, turning to the hall door, waving a large, red hand to some one on the stairs, shouting heartily: "Ho! ho! is it yourself, Mr. Tunnan? And how the divil are you?" She ran to the blue curtains, standing between them, calling: "Birt! ho, Birt!" Then, in a hoarse whisper, turning to Miss Guffy:
      "Is the slave-drivers out? Is the slave-drivers out airing theirselves? Here's Emma! What do you think of Emma? She leaves me at Fifty-seventh Street, and says she's going shopping, and I runs across her down on your corner."
      The other Miss Dunphy came into the room, a straight-up-and-down young person, dressed in white. Had she stood very still, with her big colorless, round face, she might possibly have been mistaken for an aquarium globe on a marble pedestal.
      "No, but this one," said the white Miss Dunphy, pointing to her sister, glancing at Sim, glancing away from him, glancing at him again; "the two of us swore-- the slave-drivers is out, are they?" in a whisper-- "the two of us swears we'll never come here again, as you well know why, Miss Guffy, and this one says, 'Emma,' she says, 'go about your business, but I'll not stay out this afternoon and the family not at home, but'll go back for a bit of sewing,' this one says. And I meets her down on the corner, after the two of us taking our oath never to come here again. 'Tis the nature in us brings us, I do suppose, Miss Guffy. How are you, Mr. Parker? 'Tis unnecessary to ask you; you're looking good."
      "What?" said Mr. Parker. "Oh, looking good? Oh!" Crouching over the typewriter, seemingly unobservant to the last degree, he was nevertheless trying to catch Miss Guffy's eye, that she should introduce Sim to the potted-palm young woman, and her sister, the aquarium.
      "The both of them out, as usual!" said Miss Guffy; "the both of them out cabin-hunting, and leaving business to look after itself."
      "How am you? How the divil are you?" said the terra-cotta Miss Dunphy, running to the window, shaking hands at an acquaintance at a window across the street, shouting:
      "Is the old man working yet? Oh, you're doing your bit of wash, are you? Upon me soul, he's been long enough idle, now. He ought to get something to do, so you'll not pass another dry Sunday." Turning around, remarking:
      "'Tis a pretty waist you have, Miss Guffy. And how much was it?"
      "Oh, just a little thing I got over on the avenue. They don't half sew the buttons on these made things."
      "And how much was it, if it's no harm to ask you?"
      "I declare!" from both Miss Dunphys, .standing together, then sitting together on the sagging sofa between the front windows.
      "Not married yet?" said Miss Guffy jokingly.
      "I didn't ask you if you was, Miss Guffy," answered the white Miss Dunphy, frowning heavily.
      "You did not, girl dear, and I'm but joking with you. I suppose you're like myself-- no hurry, but leaving it to the will of God."
      "Oh!" said Miss Dunphy, smiling brightly, "I have a gentleman friend." She flushed a little-- flushes, like goldfish in an aquarium, fluttering in her globe-like, colorless face-- goldfish in a globe of milk, perhaps-- or goldfish struggling in a globe of whitewash, have it. "Well, he's not my special friend, though he bought me this dress-- I suppose you know?-- and this ring," taking a ring from her pocketbook; "but I don't like it, and don't be wearing it except when he's around. He's a fine, big man, though, and as tall as this here gentleman-- "
      "My! where are my manners?" cried Miss Guffy. "What did you say your name was, mister? Miss Dunphy-- sure, I'll introduce the two of yez together-- this gentleman says he is Mr. Rakes."
      "Just at present," Sim said, laughing uneasily and rising awkwardly. The Miss Dunphys rising, Miss Guffy seeming to think it over, then half rising.
      "So warm!" said Sim, the smirk that he could not control distorting his mouth, his lips like apple-parings. "It's warmer in the city. than in the country."
      "Oh, are you from the country?"
      "Do I look it?" reaching out for the back of his chair, or anything else to hold while standing.
      "I was only asking," the white Miss Dunphy's expression heavy and frowning.
      "Well, I suppose you were only asking. I suppose when a person asks a question they are only asking," laughing awkwardly. "I mean yes; I came in this morning."
      "Oh, did you?" said the white Miss Dunphy, smiling sympathetically, she and her sister returning to the sofa, Katie Dunphy shaking her hand out the window again, Mr. Parker rising.
      "And," continued the white Miss Dunphy, who was Miss Emma Dunphy, "he took me to Coney Island three times and spent twelve dollars on me each time. Are you going to work here, Mr. Rakes, if it's no harm to ask you? Lawd have mercy on you, if you are, but it's only your coming in from the country makes me ask if you are another of their slaves. Do they, owe you much, Miss Guffy?"
      "Arrah, what ails you, girl? Do you think I'd let them run up on me? 'Twas only last night, out in the hall, for everybody to hear, speaking right up to her, I says, 'Pay me what you owes me, Mrs. Birtwhistle, and small thanks for me own.' She felt like she was shot; she slunk away like a shot cur. She wouldn't wish it for ten dollars for me to be telling you this blessed minute. I bought these ribbons, too; they go nice with the waist. And have you got a good place, now?"
      Mr. Parker sitting down again.
      "The two of us is working in the same house, you know. They can't do enough for us; the other help dassn't say 'boo' to us; but if my gentleman friend hadn't bought me this dress-- I suppose you know?-- I'd have scarce a rag to my back. As you well know, and as is no news to you, Miss Guffy, every time we comes here, it's 'Just five dollars more,' or 'tis 'Just ten dollars till a week Friday.' I took my solemn oath I'd come here no more; this one done the same. They paid our passage over, but it's been well taken out of us. Yet here we are; 'tis always some nature we must have for our own, I suppose."
      "Ho! ho!" was Katie Dunphy's whole-souled way of laughing; she beat her knees with her large red hands; then shook the hands excitedly at her acquaintance across the street, leaning toward the window, shouting:
      "And is the old man's corns better? Ah, 'tis the sad infliction! And what are you cooking? Yes, I see the smoke of it. Lamb? Egg- plant, you say? Oh, steak?" Katie standing up, and leaning out the window.
      "I ain't really a lover of steak myself-- what? I say I ain't really a lover of steak myself. No, not a lover, but likes it rare, with the blood running out, but not a lover of steak, really. What? Corn-beef bash?
      "I guess," said Katie, returning to the sofa, "she don't like the smoke seen coming out of her room. She's closed the windows."
      "Faith, I don't know," Miss Guffy was saying. "The two of them is good to me. There's no denying that. They don't pay me, and I'm the poor slave runs all their errands for them, the bigger fool me for doing so, but they took me in off of the streets when I had nowheres to lay my head."
      Crouching Mr. Parker seemingly oblivious to everything; Sim tracing spirals on his straw hat, listening to learn all that he could; Mr. Parker sitting up and winking at Sim.
      "Oh, you men!" said Emma Dunphy, blithely slapping out a hand at Mr. Parker. "Can't a girl have a bit of gossip with you?" all three girls laughing, momentarily checked in their discussion, then up and at it feverishly again.
      "But, about being good to you, Miss Guffy! How can you say that? They couldn't be good to anybody. Good to theirselves and naught else! She fixed our pockets for us, and yours, too, as you very well know. How will Katie ever face her, with that new hat on, I don't know. It's too bad the poor girl would buy a hat for herself, isn't it? How can you say they're good to you? I thought you had more spirit, Miss Guffy. I'd thought, one day last winter, she'd yanked the arm off of me, when I had the audacity to look in a shop at a bit of fur, at a dollar-ninety-eight, for my neck. Did I get it? Ask me do I get anything I need. If she was the right sort of woman, she'd say, 'Emma, you'll catch your death unless you get something for your neck.' Indeed, Miss Guffy, 'tis licking the hand that strikes you to say they're good to you. My!" Emma's dull face lighting up, like a shadowed globe suddenly transfixed, with a sunbeam, "how her ears must he burning!"
      Miss Katie Dunphy slapped both of her knees and pinched them hard; she turned to the left and grimaced, and squirmed, grimacing, to the right, pinching hard, which was her silent way of laughing.
      "But did we see e'er a sight of New York, when we first come over? Was there any Statue of Liberty or e'er a sight of Broadway for us? No; but put right to work in a hotel, starting to earn back for them, sixteen hours a day, if you don't mind, till we got in private families. Oh, we're well satisfied where we are now, aren't we, Katie? Our lady can't do enough for us; can she, Katie? Around at our heels all day-- 'You're doing too much,' she's saying. The two of us is playing the lady most of the time. Just wait, you, till she comes down and sees Katie's hat; you'll see the spite crawling in her face, you will, indeed! The audacity of you, Kate, to go dare buy anything for yourself, while they-- though I will say he's not so bad--"
      "He's not so bad," agreed Katie, sitting with knees far apart, and a large band clasping each knee. "She ought to make him work at something more regular; 'tis all her fault."
      "He's not so bad," said Miss Guffy. "And, speaking now, I could tell you something if I wanted to. Has she any gratefulness for all you've done for the two of them, Miss Dunphy? No, but 'tis keeping the door, here, shut when youse come calling, so the neighbors won't be seeing you. Oh, hoity-toity! we're up in the world! We're manufacturers, we are, and look out would the neighbors see our nieces are living-out girls and late landed. 'As good as gold, the girls are,' that's her saying it; good as gold, the both of them, but do look and act so servant-girlish. They've not been over long, but they'll learn'-- so keep the door closed on yez whilst ye're learning."
      Whereupon, rival torrents:
      "Indeed, but we could be dressed in silks if we'd kept what belonged to us!" and "We haven't learned to sponge on others, anyway!" and "We could be dressed in the finest in the land, wasn't our hearts so soft!"
      "You could indeed, girls, dear! But, as you say, he's not so bad. This is a pretty waist, isn't it? I can wear it in the fall; so durable; only four-ninety-eight."
      "I declare!" exclaimed the Miss Dunphys.
      "They've been good to me--
      "She has not! she has not!" the white Miss Dunphy cried so quickly that she sputtered.
      "And, with all his faults, I must say she's the only one to blame for it."
      "Will you excuse me a moment?" asked Sim. With his teeth he nicked a finger-nail. "Say! this is fierce for me, you know! On my word, I don't know where I stand here, you know. Why, just see where I'm placed. I got hold of one of Mr. Birtwhistle's catalogs, and I wrote to know if be had any vacancy. And he told me to come on. Say, this is fierce for me! You know how it is when you leave home and come to the city for a job-- well, you can't go back, that's all. In our town there ain't a man, woman or child isn't saying, 'Oh, my! Sim's got a job at last!' That's right, that's what they're saying. I don't think I've been treated right. I came here expecting to see a big factory, where everything you could think of was made and sold-- his catalog said so. Don't he sell anything, then?"
      "Arrah, man, dear---though you're only a boy," Miss Guffy said roughly-- "of course he do sell everything under the sun, he do, and makes good money, at times, he do!"
      "If she'd only manage him better!" said Miss Emma Dunphy. "He means well, but he's no man of business; is he, Mr. Parker?"
      "I don't see anything here," said Sim "Has he a storehouse?"
      Then the white Miss Dunphy took a kindly interest in Sim; she rose, as if to take a chair nearer Sim, but then sat again beside her terra- cotta sister, elbows on her knees, her globe between her hands.
      "Did ye never hear tell of the mail-order business, sir? Was he better managed he'd make out well enough with it; no money invested; no office rent nor taxes nor insurance to pay; no bad debts-- he'll tell you the same; I got it all from him-- but he's crazy, or, at least, my aunt don't manage him right, sir. The first thing, when he gets a little money, he must hire a lot of help, and talk of having a floor in a skyscraper-- and the faker he is!-- not saying one word against him-- but he is, and the Universal Manufacturing Company, how are you!"
      "Indeed, how are you!" said Mis Guffy.
      Miss Katie Dunphy beat her knees and shouted: "Ho! ho!"
      "But, as I was saying, the grand ideas he has! Living here, and having a telephone number printed on his bill-heads! Do you look about you and see the telephone, sir? 'Tis down in the cigar store, is that number. And him advertising to have correspondence sent to Desk K or Desk W-- is it your desk is Desk K, Mr. Parker? And 'Established in 1776' on his letter-heads; 1776, how are you!"
      "Upon my soul, the grand ideas of him would be the ruination of anybody. And the sense of him, or, rather, his lack of sense, advertising skates and snowshoes for sale in the summer, and fans and that like in the winter; no judgment at all, and everything mixed up; no letters filed, and no orders promptly attended to, and be can't stand prosperity."
      "Oh, a man of business?" said Mr. Parker.
      Sim was asking: "How is the business done, then?"
      "I'll make it plain to you, sir," said Miss Dunphy, waving her hands, her elbows on her knees. "He advertises, and sends out his catalogs, like as if he has in stock all the things he advertises, but he hasn't; not a blessed trick nor toy nor patent baby-carriage. I doubt if there's anything be sells that he ever set eyes upon. The McGuire Supply Company has everything, and they fill his orders for him. Say, for instance, be gets an order from Mr. Brown, of Newark, for a coffee roaster. Mr. Brown sends him twenty-five cents in stamps-- everything's in stamps. He writes Mr. Brown's address on his own printed label, and sends that with sixteen cents to the jobbers, keeping nine cents of it himself. The jobbers sends the roaster, with his label on the package, to Mr. Brown, with nothing to show it don't come from Mr. Birtwhistle, who gets nine cents by the transaction."
      "That's not so bad," said Sim thoughtfully. "The only thing is, are there orders enough?" Miss Guffy felt with her foot under the table, reached down, and dragged out a potato-bag, pear-shaped with contents.
      "Full of letters we gets," she said, holding up the bag. "We keeps them and sells them to a letter broker, who rents the names in them to business men all over the country."
      "Oh, Desk K?" asked Mr. Parker.
      Voices on the stairs; voices of Mr. and Mrs. Birtwhistle, and of the passionate but gentle woman whom Sim had seen on the stoop. "Sure, send him right up! He'll be heartily welcome. I'll treat him like one of my own family.
      "Lovely voice!" said Miss Guffy sneeringly.
      Mr. Birtwhistle had gone away with a baker's-window face; he came back with the jeweler's-window face of a man indifferent to expense, however that change may have been wrought. He instantly saw the Miss Dunphys, but was pleased to turn to Miss Guffy and say:
      "I wonder where the girls can be keeping themselves? I'm very glad they are staying away from us. You know, Miss Guffy, how I hate Katie. Oh, I can't bear Emma. As you know, I'm always saying 'The girls! why don't they keep away from us? If there's anybody I can't bear-- ' Great heavens, Miss Guffy! do you suppose they heard me?"
      "He's the divil's own! if he isn't the divil's own!" said the Miss Dunphys, delighted with this pleasantry. "Sure, there's no use asking you, Mr. Birtwhistle, how you are. You never looked better."
      Mrs. Birtwhistle had gone out with a cup of soup in her hand; she came back with a sandwich in one hand, and a kitten in the other.
      "Emma and Katie! Didn't I say I heard Katie?" going to Emma, kissing her and giving her the sandwich, kissing Katie and giving her the kitten. "Will you have a little mustard on it? And how are you?"
      "As good as gold," said Emma, without much resentment-- Miss Guffy warningly shaking a fist at her.
      "But to business! to business!" said Mr. Birtwhistle. "Emma, pardon me; Katie, pardon me. To business with this young man!" He strolled about the room, said "To business!" again, and stopped in front of Sim, who, between Miss Guffy and the stove, sat facing the sofa.
      "So now, young man, your case!" his important manner making Sim sit up respectfully. "Young man, you probably but very likely do not know that I have a recognized standing throughout the United States." To one side of Sim he stood, by the comer of the stove, the back of his left hand behind him, pressed against a back suspender-button; wrist of his right hand against a front suspender-button; right hand held out, flat palm upward. The others, except Mr. Parker, talking; Mr. Parker typewriting, cautiously printing a letter, and then crouching, with kangaroo hands, finding the next letter.
      With his right hand out flat, Mr. Birtwhistle affected a moment of deep thinking; then an affectation of deep breathing, which threw out his massive chest and increased his look of importance. "I received your esteemed favor, and answered you with an offer, I believe. My own early experience has nursed a warm spot in my heart for any young man just embarking, as a lowly pioneer, upon the waves of life."
      "Yes, sir," said Sim respectfully.
      "Then let me tell you something that I have never ceased to regret. I am not a man of education, which is why I need the services of some young man who has enjoyed better advantages than I ever had. I have had only two years' schooling in my life." Right thumb closed upon two fingers, leaving two fingers out flat. "When I started out in life, I only had five dollars, Mr. Rakes. I often look back and wonder how I did it all." A rhetorical pause. Mr. Birtwhistle, having thrust out his chin toward a costly bronze figurine on the mantelpiece, rigidly held his chin where the pause had found it, both arms out wide. "As business has grown, I have employed help to answer inquiries, address envelopes, mail circulars, and attend to the routine work, but those were the happiest moments, alone with my wife at my side, addressing my own envelopes, and establishing myself upon a sound basis. I need more help. I need a young man of the education your esteemed favor indicates, for I have had but two years' schooling myself." Wrist back to button; two fingers held out. "This enterprise of mine is only in its infancy, so here, young man, is a chance to grow up with me. I must have my own enterprise. Am I a mere machine to work for some one else?-- though for a young man to do so is the only way to acquire experience. I was never born to be the serf of an alarm-clock, but, when, I get up in the morning, to take a spin in my auto or a canter on horseback. before breakfast, whenever weather permits."
      "Yes, sir," said Sim.
      "He's up in the clouds again," said Mrs. Birtwhistle indifferently to a Miss Dunphy. "Let him rave. Guffy, shut the door-- I don't want that kitten to get out, or Tunnan will catch it and torture it. He's a beast and a torturer, Tunnan is; begs for the kittens to drown when anybody's cat has kittens; goes down to the Greek restaurant to kill their chickens for them; took the mouse-trap out of my hand yesterday to take the mouse out by the tail and beat its head against the wall. Shut the door, Guffy."
      "My dear!" Mr. Birtwhistle had said to his wife. He continued:
      "We are as yet but in our infancy, but I see my way, now, at last-- "
      "If it's for any other reason than the kitten you want your door closed-- " Emma was saying-- Miss Guffy shaking a fist warningly.
      "--at last. Already I can hear the click of many typewriters and the tread of my staff of clerks, busily hastening to and fro."
      Bones and heads of fish on the floor; pan of ashes spilled under the stove; the blotchy green walls; the bronze figurine like something of value that had fallen into the caisson from a wreck overhead.
      Mr. Birtwhistle was pausing; hands on hips, head wagging slowly from side to side-- then:
      "Let me congratulate you, Mr. Rakes, upon your serious determination to make a start in life. In conclusion, let me say that success requires three things: honesty, industry and perseverance. I think I must have impressed you--" He stepped forward, with a paternal hand intended encouragingly for Sim's shoulder, already patting. "Oh, cusses!" A suspender-loop had caught upon the corner of the stove, switching him back sharply. Important manner snatched away from him; Mr. Birtwhistle pretending to study his suspenders, as if a serious mishap had befallen them; Emma, saving heavily to Miss Guffy, who was clapping her hands:
      "Maybe you're laughing at something I said and didn't mean?"
      Studying his suspenders, Mr. Birtwhistle ,was saying:
      "You take Mr. Rakes up to Mrs. Maheffy's. You can do something, can't you? You tell him he's to board with Mrs. Maheffy, as we're full-up here. Well, can't you?"
      Mrs. Birtwhistle pretending not to hear this, ignoring Sim, pretending not to be aware of his existence.
      "Isn't Mr. Parker looking well?" from a Miss Dunphy.
      "What?" Mr. Parker slowly rising, a finger hovering over the typewriter, and cautiously pressing as he rose.
      "I'll take you up to Mrs. Maheffy's," he said.
      "Yes," hesitated Sim; "though I have hardly arranged--"
      There was nobody with whom to arrange-- Mrs. Birtwhistle ignoring Sim; Mr. Birtwhistle sitting on the sagging sofa, between the Miss Dunphy, his head hanging almost to his knees; Mr. Birtwhistle murmuring plaintively: "Got a match? Anybody got a match?"
      "Well, yes, all right," said Sim helplessly; and leaving helpless-looking Mr. Birtwhistle he went with helpless-looking Mr. Parker.
      "I was that mortified!" said Mrs. Birtwhistle. "I don't know what the young man must think of us. He held his hat all the time, not daring to put it down on anything; he was forever switching his satchel from one spot on the floor to another."
      "What do I care?" Mumble from Mr. Birtwhistle. "What do I care what anybody, thinks? Never be mortified, my dear."
      "Oh, 'tis easy for you to talk! What! must you leave us, Emma?"
      "Yes; we only run in for a moment. This one got her pay, and I'm not short, by any means." Heaviness smiled brightly from Emma's face. "Don't house two go short for the lack of anything we've got. This one wouldn't see you go short; neither would I."
      "Oh, cusses!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, slightly raising his head.
      The flower-pot Miss Dunphy standing in front of him, laughing her shout of "Ho! ho!" her large red hands swinging in front of her like mittens that are hung by a cord from shoulders.
      "Of course," said Mr. Birtwhistle, leaning back against the wall, "a little capital is just what I do need, and what, at times, every business must need; and every penny invested with me is absolutely safe, but, even if there is no risk, I can't take any more from you girls."
      "I'm speaking for this one, too," said the white Miss Dunphy. "We must look out for our own. 'Tis only nature to stand by your own, and if us poor folks don't stand by each other, who will? This one and me don't need anything this month."
      "Never!" cried Mr. Birtwhistle, violently folding his arms. "Say no more; my mind is made up!"
      "You were good to us; you were, indeed, and we don't forget and don't want to come here with one arm as long as the other. 'Tis a true saying a bird can't fly on one wing, you know."
      Mr. Birtwhistle's arms unfolding, as he took a Miss Dunphy's hand in each of his. "You're very good girls, but I can't let you help us any more, even if the investment is good. I'd die first; I would, really. Things are brightening up so that we are on the very verge of success, even if I was perhaps a little impulsive in sending for this young man who came to-day. When I wrote to him I was, perhaps, a trifle more enthusiastic than I had a right to be. Anyway, it stands, Katie and Emma, that I'd die before I'd take another cent from you. I mean that absolutely; that is final, really. Then when will we see you again? Come down next Monday evening, and we'll all go to the theater together."
      "Raving!" said Mrs. Birtwhistle in a hopeless, indifferent way. "He's raving again. Theater, is it? And poor Mr. Parker without an extra sock to his foot, when he steps, with his bad shoes, in a puddle, never looking where he's going. Let him pay off some of what he owes before he talks of theaters."
      "Make things worse! male things worse!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, releasing the bands of the Miss Dunphy, who were moving toward the door, pausing a moment to watch Miss Guffy, who, at her table, was pasting a row of paper wrappers. Out in the hall with them where Katie began to shout good-by.
      "Then we'll be down as soon as we can. You never see anything of Mrs. McGee, her whose husband wasn't dead two days when she went out with a light hat?"
      From the stoop Katie shouted:
      "Oh, you never see anything of the girl over the way-- the Jew girl who married the nigger? He must of hyppitized her. The cigar man seen him going in there one night and said, 'Say , where are you going?' He said, 'None of your business!, just so impydent!"
      Out in the street, Katie shouted:
      "Oh, listen! the dream I had last night. I dreamed I had two of my old teeth in my hand and three others fell out. Losing false teeth means losing false friends. Some one," said Katie, "must of called her away from the window."
      "Don't be shouting so; 'tis ridiculous!" said Emma.
      "Let me alone!" said Katie. "But would you be coming down to a store-window with me? There's the makings of a silk dress I'm wanting to see."
      "Faith, but you are putting on airs, Katie!"
      "'Tis airs of me, maybe, Emma, but for two years, at home, my heart was set on a silk dress; one that could stand alone, Emma. 'Twas the first thing I thought of when we landed, but something always putting me off--"
      Some one was calling them; Mrs. Birtwhistle, holding her toppling peak of hair, was running after them. "Katie! Emma! well, you know the rest, I'm thinking. You know how he is. Oh, yes, so noble and grand one moment, and then sending me for-- you know the rest, I guess!"
      "Why, sure, dear, wasn't we offering it to you? You can have all you want--"
      "You know how he is."
      "You can have it for the asking. Wasn't we willing and more than willing? We'll have to step in this doorway a minute, though."
      So, some minutes later, Mrs. Birtwhistle returning to the office of the Universal Manufacturing Company; the Miss Dunphy going down the street.
      "Our unfortunate selves! our unfortunate selves! Now where's the makings of a silk dress?"
      "Will you never have sense, Katie Dunphy? You were going right home to a bit of sewing, were you? Yet you makes right for here with your wages. Will the two of us ever have sense, I don't know? Slaving and scratching, and the divil a cent to show for it! Where's my money going? my lady is asking me, for 'tis all I can do to keep myself presentable." Here Emma's illumining smile.
      "Faith," she said, and found comfort in it, "with her hair scraped up, Aunt Delia is a fright, she is!"
      "Ho! ho!" shouted the potted-palm Miss Dunphy.

Next Chapter


B.W. Dodge and Company (1909) edition:

Chapter 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Pearson's Magazine (American Edition) version:

Chapter 1 2 3 4 5

The Pearson's version can be resumed at chapter 9 of the Dodge edition.

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