The Outcast Manufacturers

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited Mr. X

B.W. Dodge and Company


      MORNING. The Maheffy kitchen, second room from the front windows; central gas burning over a round table, covered with white oilcloth; four ordinary chairs and a high-chair around the table; a plate upside down in front of each chair; a milk-bottle full of water in the middle of the table. Eight o'clock; late breakfast, for Mr. Maheffy had a not very exacting job, in the engine-room of a hotel, where he worked, he had seen a man killed. Damage suit; hotel's claim that accident was result of man's own carelessness; Mr. Maheffy the witness; hotel very kind and easy-going with Mr. Maheffy.
      Red curtains in each kitchen doorway; stove at east side of room, and a red-curtained closet at one side of the stove; a red-covered wood- barrel at the other side of the stove. With an infant in her arms, and followed by a little girl, Mrs. Maheffy came in from the front room; Mrs. Maheffy in a wrapper of the extravagant, and repeated extravagance of, design usually seen in wallpaper. Mrs. Maheffy sat the infant in the high-chair, and got a frying-pan from the closet, placing the frying-pan upon the stove.
      Mr. Maheffy, in his socks, shoes in one hand, came into the kitchen from the bedroom between the kitchen and Sim's room-- Mr. Maheffy's bleak face; a dismal face with a straggling yellow beard; desolate, like waste land, with canebrake on part of it in winter. Mr. Maheffy setting his shoes down beside the chair nearest to the bedroom doorway, then going to the stove, pulling out the damper.
      "Don't be so smart!" said Mrs. Maheffy, pushing in the damper. "I'm building a fire. Don't be so smart around a kitchen. You see too much." Mr. Maheffy, paced up and down from curtains to curtains.
      "The divil take the lodgers!" said Mrs. Maheffy; she slapped the hands of the infant, hands stretched out for the water-bottle; then went to Sim's door, rapping on it-- door instantly opened; Sim following his landlady to the kitchen-- sleepy eyelids of Sim; his irregular mouth, with upper lip out of line slightly, as if raised by an invisible toothpick between his teeth.
      "'Tis the young gentleman!" said Mrs. Maheffy. "Sure, what did you bother to put your coat on for?" Mr. Maheffy had turned quickly, and was slowly pacing back to the front-room curtains. He kept his back turned to Sim, put his hands in his pockets, and whistled, which confused Sim so that he started to sit in one chair, seemed to think that Mrs. Maheffy indicated another chair-- bouncing from one chair to another, leaned away back in a chair, as if thinking he should not have sat down before breakfast was ready, then crouching far forward so as not to lean back in the way of pacing Mr. Maheffy.
      "If you can eat in a kitchen without no oilcloth on the floor!" said Mrs. Maheffy, in a high, affected voice. "The landlord's been promising us a new floor, and these boards would wear out any oilcloth; but the landlords do nothing for you; they're very independent."
      "Oh, that's all right!" Sim laughed a silly, embarrassed little laugh; leaned back, crouched forward; made crosses and multiplication marks with knife and fork; took hands away from knife and fork; hands in his pockets; hands out of his pockets.
      "It was very different where we lived before, and bad the whole floor to ourselves-- indeed, there wasn't scarcely anything but doctors and dentists and undertakers in that street. How do you like your eggs, sir?"
      "Me? Oh, any way!" Sim examining a fork, then quickly putting the fork away from him.
      "Some likes them hard and some likes them soft and some likes them medium."
      Sim laughed his silly little laugh. Mrs. Maheffy put eggs in a gallon tomato canful of boiling water. In the high-chair, nearest the stove and opposite Sim's chair, sat the infant; an infant with a double chin and the bald head and high, intellectual forehead of a United States Senator; of the ideal United States Senator; Senatorial infant looking at Sim and smiling benevolently. Sim turned his plate over, played with his knife, quickly ceased playing with his knife, saw a dish of butter, and, for the sake of any little act that would seem to mean easiness and at-homeness, took butter.
      "Oh, look, mamma, at all the butter he's taking!" from Miss Maheffy, a child with hair close-clipped; with the faintest of possible eye-brows; with ears pressed to her head with strips of plaster.
      "You mustn't tell on me!"' Sim still more confused.
      Mrs. Maheffy was like a hall-room frying eggs and boiling eggs-- her wall-paper wrapper-- Mrs. Maheffy like a hall-room turned inside out. She was snapping at Mr. Maheffy:
      "Look around and see if there's anything else wrong! I never see such a man; no standing him since he got back. Nothing suits him. It everything was so refined-like where you were, 'tis a pity you didn't stay there. You must make yourself right at home, Mr. Rakes--"
      "Oh, me? I always do. That's my way."
      "Sit down," in rough pleasantry to her husband. "If I hit you one lick with this frying-pan, there'll be less old guff out of you." Mr. Maheffy sitting beside Sim, again whistling; then he snarled because his wife set his cup of coffee at his left, instead of at his right side.
      "You-- you damn old ex-convict, you!" shrieked Mrs. Maheffy. Then to Sim: "Oh, Gawd pardon my soul-- but you do get so tough in the tenements. I been on the bum since I been in the tenements. They're such a coarse lot here, Mr. Rakes. I can't sleep nights for fear of being in the same house with such rough people," pouring out coffee, turning to jerk the frying-pan. "You must help yourself, if there's anything I can't get around to, sir. There's those says I have a proud walk, and that keeps me back. Let them; 'tis my own walk."
      "Not at all!" said Sim-- Mr. Maheffy sitting with his straggling-bearded chin sunk between high-pointed, thin shoulders. He stirred his coffee, almost having to reach up to it, so far down under the table was be sitting. Then he turned around in his chair and put on his shoes. "Sit down and have a bowl of coffee," he said to his wife, speaking with motionless lips.
      "Oh, my!" Mrs. Maheffy's high, affected voice; "oh, now, I couldn't think of touching it, now you said bowl to me. Oh, my! anything in a bowl is so coarse. I couldn't; my appetite is gone, now you mention bowl to me. If I hit you a clip on the lug," to Miss Maheffy, "you'll stop that, I bet you! No, no, don't do that, Helen, dear! Mamma won't speak again, Helen!"
      "And," to Mr. Maheffy, "don't dare to ask me to sit down in my own house! I'll sit down or stand up, just as I please, in my own house." Sliding fried eggs from the pan to his plate; Mr. Maheffy, his high-pointed shoulders almost to his ears, his elbows spread far apart on the table, slashing the eggs with his knife, cutting them up fine and cutting furiously before eating.
      Boiled eggs for Sim, and Sim breaking egg-shells unskillfully-- Sim's nervous hands-- hands even going into his pockets, but right out again to go on with shell-breaking-- Sim putting down his spoon-- snatching it, because it touched Mr. Maheffy's plate.
      A woman out in the front room-- another tenant of the house-- coming into the kitchen-- a woman who wore no shirtwaist, but held, at her throat, a towel around her shoulders. "Good-morning, Mr. Maheffy!"
      Mr. Maheffy looked up at the top of the curtains and whistled.
      "Excuse me, Mrs. Maheffy, I thought you were alone," glancing at Sim; "but if you're washing to-day, can I have the loan of your suds after you're through with them?"
      "You can have them and welcome!" said Mrs. Maheffy cordially.
      "The cheek of her!" after the woman had gone. "So afraid they'll miss anything; any excuse to come in and see any new boarder we have-- oh, now, baby!" Senatorial infant starting to roar and to pound, with a cup, the tray of the high-chair. "Oh, see de man, baby!" Mrs. Maheffy, taking the cup away, pointing with it at Sim. "Oh, laugh, baby! see de man!" Whereupon the Senator took a better look at Sim, laughed sarcastically, but then smiled indulgently. Whereupon Sim felt called upon to say, "That's a fine big child! How old is he?" and to "press astonishment when told, though not knowing whether he should regard the age as astonishingly great or astonishingly little. He tried to look benevolent, but gave that up, so great was the noble and intellectual-looking infant's superiority.
      "Give me a penny!" cried Miss Maheffy, who had been sitting on the floor, chanting meaningless jumbles, such as "'Mary went to church with her baby in a trunk and fed the horse pork-chops."
      "Give me a penny!" Rakes, Shakes, Jakes, Snakes! Oh, what a name! Is that his name, mamma?"
      Some one else out in the front room. A stocky woman with string-beans held up in her apron, appearing between the red curtains, asking: "You want to see me, Mrs. Maheffy?"
      "I do not, Mrs. Schufelt. And who was telling you?"
      "'Twas my little boy says so," staring at uneasy Sim.
      "Then 'tis lies your little boy's telling you, to ma'am."
      "He did? I'll fix him! I'll beat him within an inch of his life!" Mrs. Schufelt running to the hall, calling down the stairs, as if to a little boy: "See here, if you tell me such things again! You let me catch you telling me things not so again!"
      "Give me a penny!" cried Miss Maheffy, seizing Sim's arm and shaking it so ferociously that a strip of plaster loosened, and one of her ears shot out of captivity.
      "Lambie! lambie! you mustn't speak so to the gentleman-- oh, look out or de man carry you away with him, baby!"
      Mr. Maheffy rising, and Sim saying to him awkwardly: 'Good-morning!."
      "I haven't gone yet." Mr. Maheffy laughing dismally.
      "Oh, excuse me!" Mr. Maheffy pacing and whistling.
      When Sim went down to the office of the Universal Manufacturing Company, there was no click of typewriters, and no tread of busy clerks. Door of the front room, east, closed, and Sim rapping and rapping, but no one appearing. Sim going out to stand on the front stoop.
      The house was a cataract house this morning; the fluttering of wash from the windows; falls broken by ledge-like fire-escape landings. On the stoop, under the falls, were three maids of the mist, two sitting down by the sidewalk, burly-backed maids, gently swinging baby carriages in front of them; and the young woman in the sleeveless wrapper standing on the sidewalk, one foot up on a step so as to have a projecting knee to perch a child upon. The three maids were watching an elderly woman who was coming up the street; her head in a black hood that made her head block-shaped; with her hands held primly together in front of her she carried a prim little satchel. This woman was kicking a bit of folded tobacco-wrapper in front of her. Finally she stooped and picked it up, for to one with one's mind upon dollars, it did look rather like a dollar bill.
      Mrs. McKicker, the old miser!" said a maid. "Ain't she the miser!" another maid. "Own a dozen houses and live here! That's the way they get rich, though. They say she picks over the cabbage leaves in the grocer's barrel--"
      "Hush, would ye!"
      "Good-morning, Mrs. McKicker! I hope you're well this morning."
      "You do?" Mrs. McKicker standing by a baby carriage. Her head back, and the prim satchel raised high in both hands; Mrs. McKicker cackling a jeering laugh; then, passionately:
      "You do? Oh, I like sincerity, I do! I like to hear people say what they mean! I like sincerity!"
      "Yes, Mrs. McKicker, there ain't no trusting them's not sincere."
      Mrs. McKicker taking a newspaper from a baby carriage. "Is this this morning's paper? I didn't have a penny with me; it's robbery buying a paper every morning to keep track of the kidnapping case. That poor mother! my heart goes out to her. I have the means, but didn't have a penny with me. See that!" indignantly pointing at the newspaper, which, with the satchel, was in her left hand; "only a line! I'm glad I didn't buy it!" Going up the stoop, she smartly rapped the shoulder of the sleeveless maid, who withdrew a projecting, burdened knee to make room, saying: "I like sincerity!" her head far back; the satchel high in both hands; the cackling, jeering laughter.
      "Musha, bad luck to her!" when she was well out of hearing. "The old rip, with all the money she's got-- there! there! da! da! did it wake up? And won't spend a cent for a paper! Willie! Willie! where's Mollie?"
      Miss Guffy appearing in the doorway; shabby but vivid Miss Guffy; sunset in a smoky atmosphere; a salmon-colored waist; vermilion ribbon around her neck; bright green ribbons at her elbows.
      "Merciful heavens!" cried Miss Guffy, clasping her hands, casting her eyes up, as if witnessing a frightful disaster; "is it yourself?"
      "No," said Sim. "Is this you?" his nervous grin distorting his mouth.
      "Go right in, sir. Everybody's up and having breakfast Was it yourself knocking on the door? I'm just running out for a loaf of bread. Did you have your breakfast? Go right in, sir." She went down the stoop, looking back to wave her hand toward the hall, repeating: "Go right in, sir!" and down the street, drawing up her left shoulder, so that shoulders seemed of equal height; conspicuous Miss Guffy; misshapen in salmon, vermilion and bright green.
      "Isn't she the bold thing!" from the maids of the mist. "Willie! Willie! You'd be thinking any one so unfortunate would dress quiet and try to keep out of sight. Willie! Willie! oh, you bad child! I'll fan you if you don't keep out of the gutter that dress on clean this morning, too! Yes, if it was the will of God to afflict me so, I'd keep mighty quiet and out of sight."
      When Miss Guffy came back she carried a cabbage as well as a loaf of bread; afflicted, but defiant, Miss Guffy; expressing rebellion with vermilion; conspicuous, in her deformity, in salmon; wearing bright green in her refusal to efface herself because misshapen.
      "Mercy! you didn't go in yet?"
      "Well, I didn't like to," said Sim. "I mean I didn't like to just yet--"
      "You did not! you did not, indeed! Let ye come in now, then."
      In the office of the Universal Manufacturing Company, Mrs. Birtwhistle was frying a steak, and Sim saw the cause of the blurred suggestions of deep-sea monsters upon the green walls. It was too much trouble to chop sticks into stove size, with a tilting pan, Mrs. Birtwhistle was frying on a fire of long, protruding sticks, making an aperture, between stove and pan, out of which smoke was puffing.
      "Good-morning, Mrs. Birtwhistle," said Sim, trying to express with his voice that it was indeed a pleasure to see Mrs. Birtwhistle again.
      "Good-morning," replied Mrs. Birtwhistle sullenly, frying steak, keeping her back to him. And Sim's attempts to ingratiate himself-- "Fine morning; it might be very warm, though; but the sun so bright--"
      "You can sit over there I suppose!" said Mrs. Birtwhistle, in green that had wilted yellowish, twitching a hand toward the deeply indented sofa between the front windows. Messrs. Birtwhistle and Parker were having breakfast in the room beyond the overall-like curtains; a lamp was burning there, and, between the straddling curtains, Sim, though he looked that way only covertly, caught glimpses of this room. Mr. Birtwhistle calling affably:
      "Ah, Rakes, my son! With us? Early bird, hey?" Glimpses of this inner room, a pile of unwashed dishes precariously balanced upon the front end of a long table; Messrs. Parker and Birtwhistle at the other end; behind them, against the wall, a bulk of wash waiting for a wash-tub.
      In the front room, Mrs. Birtwhistle was saying helplessly to Miss Guffy: "Where's the key to the wood-shed?" Then: "Did you see my hair-pins?" leaving the stove, going around and around, one hand searching on tables and along the mantelpiece.
      "I did not, girl." Miss Guffy having a languid manner, during which her rotund, beetle- like hair sagged down-- a big, tilted beetle-- upon her higher shoulder-- a galvanized beetle; Miss Guffy crying:
      "I'd 'a' been back half an hour ago, but for Mr. Dickerman's clerk keeping me. He will keep me, talking to me; there's no getting away from him. 'Indeed, Mrs. Guffy,' is his very words to me, 'if I wasn't a married man, you're the first woman I'd be thinking of'-- the cheek of him! 'Indeed,' says I, 'I'd not marry the best man living.' 'Is your husband long dead?' he asks me. I tells him. 'My wife,' he says, 'is in very delicate health.' 'Sure,' says I, 'she was never your equals in the first place.' I'm sorry for the poor man; with her everlasting doctor's bills, he'd be well rid of her. But this cabbage here! That's what I gets for washing his white jackets for him. Ho! ho! that's the way to get along. I'd of had a can of corn, too, if Mr. Dickerman didn't come in just then."
      "Did you see my hair-pins?" asked Mrs. Birtwhistle, searching and searching in places where she had searched and searched before. Upon the office tables were white tablecloths; in red letters each bore the name of a hotel; souvenirs; but clean white table-cloths; and the center of a mirror over where Sim was sitting had been polished; rim of greasy glass around the clean spot.
      "Are you feeling pretty well this morning, Mrs. Birtwhistle?" inquired Sim, striving to ingratiate himself with one who was not kindly, disposed toward him.
      "Did you see any hair-pins? Oh, yes, I'm well, I suppose. Watch the steak, Guffy. I almost wish it would rain, Guffy, and I'd just whip some things out on the line, and wish 'em that way."
      Appearance of Mr. Birtwhistle. Clean shirt of window-shade yellow, broad as a not very wide window-shade; Mr. Birtwhistle's flat face above, like a face pressed and peering over a window-shade pulled part way up from the bottom. Mr. Birtwhistle shuffling in gorgeous velvet slippers, each embroidered with a pink and purple eagle; briskly rubbing his hands, exclaiming:
      "To work! to work! this will never do! Asbury, to work! Rakes, my son, to work! What! what! you and Miss Guffy been out for a morning walk together? Never do I never do! Delia, you must watch Miss Guffy!"
      "Indeed!" said Miss Guffy languidly; beetle toppling to her higher shoulder; "the gentleman wouldn't be seen out with the likes of me."
      "Not at all!" said Sim confusedly.
      "To work! to work! You can go in and eat, Miss Guffy-- if Asbury left anything for you. Asbury! Asbury!"
      "If I didn't forget you, Guffy!" said Mrs. Birtwhistle. "I suppose you can have a bit of my steak."
      "Don't mind me, girl, dear! Sure, any pickings will do me," replied Miss Guffy, listlessly going to the inner room, Asbury Parker listlessly coming out, not noticing Sim, going to the table nearest the front window, reaching under the table, pulling out the typewriter, which had been on the floor all night, blowing away the dust that covered it.
      "Mr. Birtwhistle," said Sim, with every sign of great effort, "you-- well, you haven't arranged with me--"
      "To work! Everybody to business!"
      Sim glanced weakly and appealingly at the back of Mr. Parker's head. "You know-- shall I sit here?" pointing to the table nearer to the door, no longer trying to say whatever he wanted to say.
      "Oh, anywhere!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, sliding into the sofa indentation that Sim had left. "Miss Guffy will show you what to do, or Asbury will. Where's the morning paper?" Mr. Birtwhistle stretching out on the sofa, feet slanting, slippers hanging perpendicular from his toe-tips. "Delia! did Miss Guffy bring in the paper? Maybe she'll go out and get it for me? Like a good soul, Miss Guffy?"
      "I will, indeed," said Miss Guffy, appearing between the blue curtains. "And gladly, and be back in a minute. No, I don't need no penny," going to the hall door. "I'll snap up a paper under my arms when nobody's looking." Mrs. Birtwhistle, behind the curtains, complaining: "Where's the knife? I had it a minute ago. Where's the knife, and me just using it? Let him go to the devil, Guffy! let him wait on himself and get his own papers."
      "Coarse language in there! coarse language!" said Mr. Birtwhistle indifferently, lying on his back, dabbing with his hands, trying to catch flies.
      "My eye with you, you lazy dog!" mutters behind the curtains. Sim, embarrassed by these little connubialities, sitting at Miss Guffy's table, squirming from one strained attitude to another.
      "Good-morning!" said Asbury Parker, turning to Sim.
      Asbury," said Mr. Birtwhistle, snatching at flies, "we'll have some new letter-heads printed; these don't quite make us important enough. We must print on addresses-- oh, any addresses will do-- of our London, Paris and Berlin branches, and speak of this as the 'home office.' A lot of banks, too, Asbury, for references-- nobody ever looks up references. What are the most important banks, Asbury? I don't know much about banks," snatching at flies.
      "Here are some letters on file, if you want to go through them," said Asbury Parker to Sim. From under the table he brought forth the "file," which was the spout of a can of insect exterminator, with letters impaled upon it.
      "But what about them? I don't know what to do!" nervously, despairingly from Sim.
      "Don't you?" said Asbury Parker.
      "And," said Mr. Birtwhistle, "print something about our sales department, and give our cable address. How is 'Whistlebirt?' Why do they mix up a name for a cable address? I don't know, but think it adds a finish. How about a long-distance telephone number, Asbury? There's finish to that, too--"
      Miss Guffy, returning: "The morning papers is all gone. Will I see can I get you an evening paper? I will and gladly."
      "Never mind, Miss Guffy; I'm busy now. I'm engaged, just at present. Did you have your breakfast? You'd better start folding catalogs. Making out all right, Mr. Rakes? You'll learn."
      Miss Guffy taking a chair to sit by the window and fold catalogs-- Sim jumping up. "Oh, have I your place, Miss Guffy? Excuse me!"
      "Sure, sit where ye are." And roughly: "Don't make us laugh, putting yourself out for the likes of poor Guffy!"
      "No, but--"
      "Don't make us laugh, man, dear! Any place is good enough for Guffy." Miss Guffy motioning, in seeming anger, to Sim to sit down, turning to her chair by the window, finding Mr. Birtwhistle's feet on it.
      Mrs. Birtwhistle. Mrs. Birtwhistle saying sneeringly: "That just suits you. Lie on your back and catch flies! Now you are doing what you're fitted for."
      "You stop bothering me! I tell you I'm busy. We'll have on the letter-heads, 'President Birtwhistle, Secretary Parker, and Treasurer Rakes.' Don't laugh, Rakes, my son. When we once get going, it'll be no small thing to be treasurer of us. Out in Three Stars, Nebraska, a young man in this business cleared a hundred thousand dollars in two days--"
      "For God's sake! what are you doing now?" exclaimed Mrs. Birtwhistle. "Feet up on a chair where people'll he sitting! You dirty slouch, you'll never have anything fit for anything."
      "If I get up at you!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, up on an elbow-- sinking back. "Pardon me, Miss Guffy."
      "But what am I to do?" Sim nervously to Asbury Parker.
      "Those are complaining letters," explained Mr. Parker.
      "Yes; but what of it?"
      "There are complaints in them," Mr. Parker explained.
      Miss Guffy sitting at the east window, with a pile of catalogs beside her, and a board on her lap. "Oh, how fine we are! Such airs!-- oh, my! but aren't we fine this morning!" said Miss Guffy, looking out bitterly at same well-dressed woman passing.
      "Never mind my feet!" grumbled Mr. Birtwhistle. "It's a wonder you wouldn't do something yourself. Everything swept under the sofa, to breed disease for us!"
      "If you weren't doing nothing so much, you wouldn't see so much!"
      Miss Guffy mumbling and grimacing at the woman who had aroused her bitterness. "Complaining letters?" asked Sim despairingly; "what shall I do with them?"
      "There are complaints in them."
      Then, after a moment, Sim glanced about him. He whispered:
      "What wages do you get here, Mr. Parker?"
      Mr. Parker rubbed his forehead.
      "Well, Mr. Rakes," said Mrs. Birtwhistle coldly, scowling at Sim's back-- she was still searching along the mantelpiece for hair-pins-- "how do you like the Maheffys?"
      "I didn't notice much about them," said Sim indifferently; but then he turned around and asked quickly:
      "Is it true Mr. Maheffy is an ex-convict!"
      "Oh, shame on you, Rakes!" said Mr. Birtwhistle. "Gossiping like that! Anyway, let me think; I'm busy!" A snatch, and this time he did catch a fly, which, between a second finger and a thumb, he shot across the room.
      "It's true for you!" said Mrs. Birtwhistle eagerly, going to the end of Sim's table and leaning on it. "Isn't it a great wonder she ever dares open her mouth in this house? Why? What did she say, Mr. Rakes?"
      "Well-- there was some reference to it, I believe. I don't just remember how it came out."
      "The poor divil! I feels sorry for him," said Miss Guffy.
      "He burned some horses for the insurance on them, but he got pardoned right out. He's a brute!"
      "He is that; he's a wicked brute!" said Miss Guffy.
      The sound of indistinct profanity shouted in a room upstairs; the oath repeated, but this time, instead of being shouted angrily, it seemed uttered as if appealingly.
      "That poor old man's dying," said Mrs. Birtwhistle to Sim. "It's old Mr. Strout; he won't last long now, because he's had two strokes already."
      "Yes; the second took all his speech away except one oath that was always on his lips when he was well. Now that's all he can say, and he shrieks it when he's mad about anything, and then his daughters draw down the shades to darken the room, like you cover a parrot's cage to make it keep quiet. He swelters in the dark, and tries to tell them he'll be good if they'll only give him air and light, but his oath is all his lips will form; so he groans it or roars it. You can tell by the sound whether he's wrathy or imploring something.
      "But, Birt," said Mrs. Birtwhistle, "I don't think it is very nice of you to leave Mr. Rakes to look after himself so. Haven't they told you what to do, Mr. Rakes? Then I will. It's our ads that don't satisfy us. You can write ads, can't you? But you must know what we want first-- ah, 'tis grand to have an education! Then, Mr. Rakes, don't you do another thing till you learn what our wants are. I'll get you printed matter, and you do nothing but read it till you understand our needs--"
      A woman in the doorway. A big-headed woman, wearing a little, round, black hat; black veil, from the hat, in a cylinder around her head; massive nose, projecting lower teeth, almost horizontal, and forcing her lower lip far out.
      "Ah, Mrs. Kilgore!" said Mr. Birtwhistle. not much interested. "You'll have to excuse me. I'm so busy; but come in-- you're not disturbing me. I'm so busy, Mrs. Kilgore--"
      "That was!" the woman interrupted with a deep, bass voice.
      "Oh, yes! I forgot; excuse me; Mrs. Melody, I should say. And how's Mr. Melody?"
      "The knees bothers me," said Mrs. Melody, stooping to rub her knees, dropping carrots from a paper bag. "Does the knees ever bother you, Birtwhistle? 'Tis the rheumatiz. Does the knees ever bother you, Guffy?" Sim offering his chair to the woman; but Mrs. Birtwhistle bringing a chair from an inner room; Sim picking up the carrots; caller sitting between Sim's chair and the stove; Mrs. Birtwhistle starting to sit on Sim's table, but then leaning against the wall.
      "Have you a bit of a fire going, Mrs. Birtwhistle? I was thinking, was you boiling anything, I'd be dropping my carrots in the pot, and save the two fires going this hot day," sitting, rubbing her knees.
      "Sure, leave the carrots. Are you still down there, Mrs. Kilgore?"
      "That was!"
      "Oh, excuse me, Mrs. Melody; I do forget."
      "'Tis me day off, Mrs. Birtwhistle, you know. And are ye not coming back to work yourself!"
      "Indeed not! My old man is earning good money now. I was only down there till we could pull through. And how's Fanny?"
      "But you might be earning for yourself. 'Tis too bad you were not working there; there was six poisoned with the corn beef, and two in the hospital."
      "Oh. wages?" whispered Mr. Parker to Sim.
      "I could smash him!" This from Miss Guffy, who was looking at a newspaper that she had pulled from under the sofa. "I could smash anybody that gets rich in this world. They can't but by thieving and grinding the poor. I could smash him!" She tore up the newspaper, and threw the pieces upon the floor.
      "And how's Catherine, Mrs. Kil--ody?"
      "Oh, Catherine! Florrie Noonan never came back. Oh, Catherine asks me two or three times do I ever see you, me never letting on I've moved next door to you. What they don't know will be of no information to them. Josie was asking."
      "Not the one in the green waist?"
      "You know; the skinny one. She had a scrap on watch-- expressed herself something terrible, and the steward listening. You know the blonde?"
      "The tall, new girl?"
      "The one on the mangle, in the plaid skirt. She do have me cursing so, God forgive me, it was better I stayed away from there. Does the knees ever bother you, Guffy? Then I'll be in later for the carrots?"
      "Yes; and you must drop in some evening, Mrs. Kilgore."
      "That was!"
      "Such talk!" grumbled Mr. Birtwhistle, when the woman had gone. "Delia, you don't have to talk over all your business in public, do you? You might better be tidying the room. No one lives like us. Mrs. Maheffy always has things presentable--"
      "Go up and live with Mrs. Maheffy!" passionately. Sullenness for a moment, and then:
      "Will I be bothering with her old carrots? Will I?"
      "Cook her carrots," said Mr. Birtwhistle with a look of judicial gravity. "To work! to work!" but he reached out for a piece of newspaper on the floor. "Say, hand us that, will you?"
      "You're as able to get it as I am," Mrs. Birtwhistle retorted, again searching for hair-pins.
      "Well, get me a match! Can't you get me a match?"
      "Go get your own matches!"
      "Oh, cusses!" said Mr. Birtwhistle weakly, lying back on the sofa, his feet sprawling out on the floor; Miss Guffy handing him a piece of newspaper from the floor; Mr. Birtwhistle eying a fly on the ceiling, mumbling:
      "Mrs. Maheffy never had rooms like these!"
      Mrs. Birtwhistle: "Shut up!"
      Mechanically from Mr. Birtwhistle: "Room's shocking!"
      Mechanically from Mrs. Birtwhistle: "Mind your own business!"
      "Live like beasts!"
      "Get decent rooms, then. A woman could work like a horse, here, and never have anything done."
      "I won't stand it!" sleepily.
      "Well, get out, then! Nobody wants you here!" Sim pushed his chair sharply back from the table; for a moment he seemed to think something over; drew his chair up to the table again.
      "My little dear," drawled Mr. Birtwhistle, "would you be so kind as to get me a match?"
      "Why, certainly, darling!" mockingly from Mrs. Birtwhistle; but she went amiably to him, searched in his trousers pockets, and brought forth a match for him.
      "Many!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, in a lazily elliptical way of saying "Many thanks!" "She's looking pretty good this morning, isn't she, Miss Guffy?"
      "Grand!" said Miss Guffy.
      "Go on with you!" said Mrs. Birtwhistle, laughing. She went beyond the blue curtains, and came back with a handleless mop.
      "I love your big feet!"
      "Say, you mustn't bother me so! I'm busy."
      Mrs. Birtwhistle rubbed the mop on the oil-cloth all around and in between the velvet slippers, and moved backward. "No, don't stir," to Sim; for, as she had polished only the center of the mirror, she cleaned only the center of the oilcloth, down on hands and knees, looking up to laugh at Miss Guffy:
      "She's at it again!"
      "Bad luck to her and the money she never come honest by!" said Miss Guffy angrily. Loud pounding in a room overhead. "She's the biggest old thief in the world, or she'd never have that much money."
      "Mrs. McKicker is putting a new lock on her door," said Mrs. Birtwhistle. "She has every kind of a padlock and spring-lock on now. It's an insult to the whole house to see the locks she has on her doors!"
      "Oh, that reminds me I" exclaimed Mr. Birtwhistle, sitting up. "Get me my coat, Miss Guffy."
      "Are you going to do that?" demanded Mr. Birtwhistle, standing up-- Miss Guffy handing him his coat, which was upon the window sill, easily within his reach. "You're going to be such a fool as to add a dollar to your own rent, and nobody asking you for it?"
      "Am I a pauper to pay less than others?" said Mr. Birtwhistle excitedly. "You got the rooms for a dollar less than any one else pays--"
      "If you have a dollar to spare you might better spend it on your own wife."
      "Me pay less than anybody else! Miss Guffy, here are fifty two-cent stamps. Like a good one, run up to Mr. McKicker, and tell him that hereafter we shall pay as much as anybody else. I'd go myself, but there might be somebody ahead of me; I can't bear to wait for anybody in anybody's office-- my cussed pride! my cussed pride! Oh, cusses!"
      "I'm sure 'tis very honest of you, Mr. Birtwhistle," said Miss Guffy.
      "Very foolish, you mean!"
      "Ah, yes! 'tis very foolish of him."
      "He's an old fool and always will be. His pride! 'Tis but to show off and make a big fellow of himself."
      "If I get up at you!"
      "You! You're too lazy to get up at any one! Make a big fellow of yourself, and your wife with everything she owns in the pawn-shop! Oh, I won't be still! Mr. Rakes must know you sooner or later. Pay him more? If I could, I'd pay him nothing!"
      "Right!" said Miss Guffy, excitedly jumping up and clapping her hands. "My blessing on you! My blessing on anybody who won't pay nothing. You might better run up a month on them and get out; or two months if we can; so don't think of such a thing, I beg you, Mr. Birtwhistle. Look at this picture they call beautiful! 'A beauteous wife,' is she? Holy farmer! a regular old biddy! God save the mark, everybody gets in the papers is beautiful, nowadays!" murmuring: "Beautiful? I don't see it. Beautiful, how are you! What next?"
      "Was that Mrs. Kilgore?" asked Asbury Parker.
      "Miss Guffy, will you take this money up to Mr. McKicker?"
      "Oh, I suppose I'll have to, if you say so."
      "I'll go with it, if you want me to," Sim offered hesitatingly.
      "Oh, Mr. Rakes, I can't bother you. Miss Guffy don't mind--"
      "I'd take it very kind of you, sir," said Miss Guffy. "It do make me sick to go near them. It takes me down with the sick headache for the rest of the day to see anybody that gets along in the world by robbing and thieving from the poor. He's a thieving old money-lender! Real estate business, how are you! No, but a thieving old robber, wringing his twelve per cent. from the poor! The bloody misers to live here, in this tenement, when they've got money enough to live on Fifth Avenue! How clean she is, even if she does live here with us; buying wood and making the woodman leave it at the door to search in it for cockroaches-- ye divil, ye!" slapping a traveling spot on the wall-- "before she'll bring the wood into her rooms. And when she goes in the street cars, fetching a newspaper with her for to sit on!"
      "We pay everybody in stamps," said Mr. Birtwhistle, drawing in his feet, leaving on the shininess of the wet oilcloth two dull, dry footmarks where his feet had been.
      "Well, will the stamps be all right?"
      "Oh, sure! We get our money a good deal in stamps-- but if you will be so kind as to go up to the office? It's the third floor room, right over this."
      "Well, you see," said Sim, stammering, speaking with great effort, flushing, "I don't believe in running errands for anybody-- I mean I'm doing this for Miss Guffy--" Worse stammering, still greater effort. "I'm not running errands for you, Mr. Birtwhistle, you know."
      "Oh, of course! Now, Delia don't let me be disturbed; I'm very busy, and mustn't be disturbed."

Next Chapter


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

Chapter 1 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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