The Outcast Manufacturers

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited Mr. X

B.W. Dodge and Company


      ALMOST ten o'clock in the morning. Sim coming sleepily down the stairs, on his way to work.
      Office of the Universal Manufacturing Company! Typewriter clicking almost spiritedly; Mr. Parker, the operator, smoking a big cigar, and wearing a sky-blue shirt fresh from the laundry. Floor oilcloth shining with cleanness; mirror shining; mantelpiece figurine of bronze, standing on a bright, silk lambrequin; Miss Guffy, in faded orange and purple and yellow and red and pink, sewing, sitting in Mr. Birtwhistle's principal indentation in the sofa.
      The walls had been washed; but the way to wash tenement walls is to start at the bottom; walls washed downward, causing a pale-green trickling in light green-- caisson moved out of the Sargasso Sea and into bright depths hung with only a tracery of seaweed; monsters and derelict fragments gone.
      Mr. Birtwhistle! Linen coat diverging from the top button, showing a triangle of black waistcoat-- like tied-back sash curtains, with a triangle of black room-interior, and Mr. Birtwhistle's face pressed against an uncurtained upper pane.
      "Mr. Rakes! Mr. Rakes! very bad! very bad!" Mr. Birtwhistle tearing up a letter and scattering the pieces upon the floor, head to one side, as he surveyed Sim, as if striving, behind window-glass, to look far up the street. "Never do! never do to come to work at this hour!"
      "But," stammered Sim, "I was around hours ago, and you weren't up!"
      "Oh, tut! tut! Mr. Rakes, you're only imagining that. Very bad to start imagining so early in the morning. All of us were up and holding a jubilee here five minutes after the first mail this morning."
      "I was!" said Sim confusedly. "Anyway, I mean I stood on the stairs and didn't come down, because your door was shut."
      "Our door shut? Open to the world, Rakes, my son! Let the whole world look in at us, now! Stock in the Universal is booming! As bury, have you got the letter to the McGuires written?"
      "Bet your life!" said Mr. Parker enthusiastically. "Have a cigar, Rakes?" holding out three big cigars to Sim.
      "Thanks," said Sim. "Just the same, your door looked shut from the stairs!" Sim sitting down at his table, looking very glum, brooding, suddenly pushing back his chair, facing Mr. Birtwhistle. "Anyway, what does it matter? Look here, just because I'm in from the country, I'm not green, or anything like that, you know, and I'm not a child and not to be treated like one!" Pause; signs of great effort; then: "You haven't told me one word of what my wages are to be, and I'm not so easy as to start working for nothing. I like straightforward, business ways, I do. I don't care about the money, but I won't be treated like a child, I won't!"
      Mr. Parker leaning over to him, patting his shoulder: "Say, Rakes, don't go losing your temper. What's the use? Old Birt is square with everybody in the world-- when he can be. He wouldn't play a mean trick on any one in the world-- except when he has to. He'll do right by you-- because, this morning, he can afford to. Everything's fine; don't go spoiling it."
      "I'm not going to be treated as if I didn't have any strength of character," said Sim sullenly. "I've got lots of strength of character. No one can impose on me, and I don't care what they think when I tell them."
      "What do you want?" asked Mr. Birtwhistle.
      "Oh!" said Sim. "What do I want?" aggressiveness failing to pieces. "Well, I suppose that is more like business. Well, that's all right, then; I suppose I did lose my temper a little, Mr. Birtwhistle. I don't like to be treated as if I didn't have any strength of character, nor as if I never saw New York before, because I'll bet you I know New York as well as you do. This isn't my first trip here, you know."
      "What do you want?" repeated Mr. Birtwhistle.
      "Oh, that's all right; I don't want to be ugly, you know. I just won't be imposed upon; that's all. Oh, that's all right."
      "Rakes, my son," said Mr. Birtwhistle, serious and friendly, "it's all my fault! It is, but what could I do? Everything was at very low ebb when you came here. How could I talk business? How could I talk. anything? But I can now. Hey, Miss Guffy, you sitting over there and taking in every word to repeat it to the old lady when she comes in with the dinner."
      "Mr. Birtwhistle, no such thing! My mind was far, far from the lot of yez. Good-morning, Mr. Rakes; excuse me for not seeing you before, but my mind was far, far from the lot of yez."
      "Is there anything special you want me to do this morning?" Sim asked.
      "Now," continued Mr. Birtwhistle, "I am in a very different position. We've caught our trade at last. Wait till I show you. The popular boy's boxing outfits, four sets; witch's dream-book; the new Franklin printing outfit; hit-the-nigger outfit; one gross of the great Japanese mystery--"
      "Oh, by heavens!" exclaimed Mr. Parker, leaning back, slapping his knees, "we've caught the trade at last! Don't forget one gross of 'Art and Etiquette of Courtship,' and all the 'Famous Comic Imitations' and the Crawling Alligators!"
      "And," said Miss Guffy, "the Great Ten-cent Packages! I'd like to see what's in that, myself. We've sold dozens; I wonder what's in that. The Fighting Roosters and the Frightful Rattlesnakes and the Jumbo Microbe Finder-- I'll not rest in my grave if I don't find out what that Great Ten-Cent Package contains. Sure, what could it be?"
      "What! all different orders?" Sim asked.
      "Well, no," said Mr. Birtwhistle; "I wish it was. It's from some one stocking up a new store, out in Ohio, but it shows that our five-line ad is a great success. But to business, Rakes, to business! I'll pay you thirty dollars a week to start with-- merely a starter!" with a lordly sweep of his hand. "You're to be our advertising manager. That will be pretty good for a young fellow of your age, when we start up factories and offices of our own. We don't expect to stay here long."
      "You bet not!" exclaimed Mr. Parker laughing and slapping his knees. "Didn't I tell you, Rakes, how square he is-- when he can be?"
      "Here! Where's a chair? Give me a chair," said Mr. Birtwhistle, finding a chair and sitting beside Sim. "Yes, my son, there's a big future for all five of us, and I'm going to send Katie and Emma to school to educate them, so as to have everybody in it. Rakes, we'll look back to these days when all of us were struggling together. Let us have no fallings out to mar it, then."
      "I'm sorry if I said anything," said Sim, his lips quivering, beyond his control. "It would be too nice to look back at for me to spoil."
      "You didn't say a word that I don't give you credit for. What I say is we mustn't mar it by any disagreements, because there's something that seems beautiful to me in the lot of us having hard times, but sticking together and then all together enjoying what we struggled for. Miss Guffy in her automobile, for instance. Asbury, in evening clothes, with his box at the opera. How does that strike you, old boy?"
      "Oh, by heavens!" exclaimed Mr. Parker, ecstatically making a ball of a newspaper, and throwing it at Miss Guffy. "But I don't think I'd care about a dress suit. Would I have to wear it?"
      "Would I?" asked Mr. Parker, looking worried.
      "Go 'long with you!" said Miss Guffy. "What would the likes of me be doing in an automobile?"
      "Doing? Why, throwing champagne bottles at the bicycle policeman pursuing you for breaking all speed regulations. That's what Miss Guffy, faithful little backbiter, and good but malicious little vixen, will be doing, and then putting up cash bail with thousand-dollar bills. Sim, wouldn't I be a hummer if I had money! Miss Guffy, I've been mean with you sometimes, but that will come out all right when the Universal gets booming. I wish I'd named it the Birtwhistle Company instead, so Birtwhistle would be as well known as Universal. That'd be more satisfaction to me than anything else. That's my chief aim: to glorify the name of Birtwhistle. I admit it, you see. It's a failing. I know that, but can't help it Miss Guffy, look at the rich, powerful manufacturer, Isaac Birtwhistle-- that's only a way of mine, Rakes; I don't mean it. What'll she be doing, she asks, Asbury?"
      "The dress suit worries me," said Asbury; but here he winked at Sim, to indicate that he was but humoring himself in a passing whim, and that his was not such seeming simplicity.
      "Sure, I'd slave my fingers to the bone for you, Mr. Birtwhistle, for, in all the world, and since I was born, you and Mrs. Birtwhistle is the only ones ever good to me. Go 'long with Guffy in the automobile!-- she's crooked and ugly, and the sight she'd be! He does get that excited, doesn't he, Asbury?"
      "Now, Sim, I don't want you to live here, you know. The rest of us will have to for a while, for a few weeks, maybe, but we're used to it. I haven't a word to say against the Maheffys, or anybody else in the world, for that matter, but I don't want you to live in such surroundings. We'll look through the paper, and see where there are lodgings advertised in a nice locality, and start you off, anyway. When your week is up, you'll get your thirty dollars, but here are ten now. You get a good room; no hall-room, mind you, but pay five a week for the room alone. Put down the whole ten for the room alone, and if you can't live in style befitting our advertising manager on thirty dollar a week, you shall have fifty!" holding a ten-dollar bill out to Sim.
      "No, sir," said Sim; "that's not right, and I don't want what's more than right. I won't take one cent more than ten a week, because I don't know the advertising business. You take this back, Mr. Birtwhistle; my week isn't up yet, and when it is, Mrs. Maheffy's all right, anyway. You can't afford to throw money away so."
      "Sim, old boy," forcing the bill into Sim's hand, "take it and buy a room for yourself. I won't have it on my record that I caused you to live in such surroundings as these."
      Surroundings coming into evidence here; sounds of some slight misunderstanding between Mrs. Maheffy and a top-floor tenant.
      "No. I won't!" said Sim; "I couldn't be so mean."
      "Buy a hat with it, and come to me for more. Buy a cigar with it. Go out and buy a good ten-dollar cigar, Sim; you've got to live in style befitting the advertising manager of the Universal Manufacturing Company-- what could I have been thinking of, not to have named it the Birtwhistle Manufacturing Company? I suppose I didn't realize how important we'd become."
      "Oh, what do we care for ten dollars?" said Mr. Parker, snatching, the bill and lighting a match.
      A shriek from Miss Guffy, who pounced upon the bill.
      "As if I would!" laughed Mr. Parker.
      "Is the lot of yez gone daffy, entirely?" asked Miss Guffy. "Here's Mrs. Birtwhistle now. No; but I'll give the money to her, and then 'twill sure go to some good purpose."
      Voice in the street: "Guffy!"
      Voice on the stoop:
      Voice in the hall:
      "Birt!" Notes of awful distress, appeals for help in the voice. Bundles appearing in the doorway; Mrs. Birtwhistle's right arm squeezing a large ham which was the slippery, insecure foundation of a superstructure of many wobbly bundles, embraced by Mrs. Birtwhistle's left arm, top bundle pressed down by her chin.
      "Quick! take the potatoes, Asbury!"
      "Oh, the potatoes?"
      "Guffy! the potatoes!" Mrs. Birtwhistle's face turned downward with the pressing of her chin, but her big blue eyes rolling up in distress.
      "And are you back already?" asked Miss Guffy, trying to brace the bundles with one hand, piling them on Sim's table with the other hand.
      "If," said Mrs. Birtwhistle, "the market's one block or two miles away, I always reach home just on the second when I can't go another step without dropping everything. Good-morning, Mr. Rakes. Sure, why don't you take your coat off? I've spent a host of money. Isn't that a good five cents' worth?" pointing to a bundle.
      "Grand! munificent!" exclaimed Miss Guffy.
      Messrs. Rakes and Birtwhistle laughing in sympathetic superiority to excitement over a good five cents' worth.
      "But that'll be enough cabbage, won't it-- two young heads?"
      "Munificent!" declared Mr. Birtwhistle. "Oh, you! But look at these potatoes! The miserable scoundrels!-- they tried to cheat me on the measure! you can't be up to them, the miserable scoundrels!"
      "Wretches! vampires!"
      "Oh, you!" Mrs. Birtwhistle in a neat black skirt and white waist. Her two little teeth, like side-by-side aprons of waitresses, far away. There were a few wrinkles near her big blue eyes, and touches of gray in her brown hair, but her face was pink, instead of sallow, however that may have come about. She winked a big blue eye when she told of her own cunning with the miserable scoundrels who had tried to cheat her with a bad potato, or a withheld onion; pretty little wink-- petal of a rose flickering over a robin's egg, maybe. Mr. Birtwhistle was saying:
      "Then you'd better give me that ten dollars, Miss Guffy. Delia. what do you want for yourself? Miss Guffy, tell me something you want."
      "The ham was a dollar-twenty," said Mrs. Birtwhistle.
      "No; but what do you want? And you, Miss Guffy!"
      "Sure, Mr. Birtwhistle, I have everything I wants, now with the clearing of the pawnshops." Mr. Birtwhistle scowling a little with mention of the pawnshops. "I do suppose there's on'y one thing I wants-- sure, who'd be bothering with the wants of poor Guffy?"
      "I must see about my eyes; they're going back on me," said Mrs. Birtwhistle.
      "Then we'll go to the best specialists in the city, or the world, for that matter."
      "Indeed, and I'll go to the five-and-ten-cent store. A pair of ten-cent spectacles will do me. You mustn't feel too rich, you know. Everything I've bought is absolutely necessary. They give you letters different sizes to try your eyes in the five-and-ten-cent store."
      "No, no! Do you want hats, shoes, furs, lace, silks, diamonds? What do you want most, Miss Guffy? We'll start with you, then."
      "It's not diamonds," said Miss Guffy.
      "I guess not!' declared Mrs. Birtwhistle. "What would Guffy be doing with diamonds? I'm sure I haven't bought a thing not absolutely necessary. My shoes are going, but I'll get a cheap pair of rubbers; I begrudge to pay the price for nice shoes when I never go anywheres."
      "Well, then, we'll go everywhere. Guffy, what is it you want, if it's not diamonds?"
      "The Great Ten-cent Package--"
      "Oh, yes!" cried Mrs. Birtwhistle. "I'm dying to know what's in the Great Ten-cent Package. That's right, Guffy! I'm that curious about the Demon Mirrors and the Jumping Napkin Ring we're selling but never seen yet."
      "Oh, tut! tut!" said Mr. Birtwhistle. "But where are you going now?" Mrs. Birtwhistle picking up the ham, and moving toward the door.
      "Just across the hall, to Mrs. Schufelt's."
      "To work!" exclaimed business-like Mr. Birtwhistle, forgetting the dented sofa, pacing up and down, supervising his busy staff of assistants. "Now, Asbury, get out your letter to the Rochester people, and find out the particulars of their envelope scheme. Miss Guffy, if you will collect all the threatening and complaining and indignant letters, so that we can sell them! Oh, yes, Rakes, we get twenty-five dollars a thousand for them. Now, aren't these beautiful surroundings for a business man!"
      Mrs. Maheffy crying: "Please give me back me saw, Miss Strout! Never mind the bit of bacon you borried to grease it with, for your own sister told you ate that long ago!"
      Protestations, and:
      "The saw, is it?-- and the old bit of bacon I threw to the cat?"
      "Give me back me saw, Miss Strout; I'd not be so low-minded as to trouble you for the bacon. You've had me saw a month, now."
      "And is the saw all I got belonging to you?"
      "Give me back me saw, instantly, Miss Strout."
      "Then, Mrs. Maheffy, give me back me six glasses, two with the gilt rims to them, one with the piece your thirsty husband bit out of it, the three of the others plain, but too good for you; my boiler, my wash-board, my ironing-board, stove-lifter, scuttle, stove-polish, that you'll never get again, for you black the shoes of your whole family with it; plush chair that you didn't have chairs of your own, but ashamed of your life when folks come calling on you; my needles and thread and soap and lard; where's the twenty-five cents you didn't have change for to put in the meter, but if I could let you have it till morning? My sofa pillow, my coal-scuttle, my plush chair and my paper of tacks! Where's my beeswax and six glasses, two with the gilt rims, my stove-lifter--"
      Mrs. Maheffy was shrieking: "Give me back me-- me-- you-- you-- where's me half paper of pins?"
      Mrs. Birtwhistle, returning with the ham: "Isn't that disgraceful? But, faith, I'd not say I don't like to hear them fight; that makes it seem so quiet and peaceful at home. Mrs. Schufelt can't cook for a cent! There's the gravy standing on the back of the stove, and all thick with grease on top. She didn't know how to make it" Mrs. Birtwhistle again crossing the hall; this time with cabbages.
      "Mr. Rakes"-- the business man speaking-- "in looking over that advertising matter, I wish you would keep your eye open for a certain firm that gives cash for stamps, at four per cent. off; we're paying five. There is such a firm somewhere, but we haven't the address. And, Mr. Rakes, here is a good phrase to use in your advertising: 'From the rocky coast of Maine to the sunny shore of Japan.' I don't know where it will come in, but make a note of it.
      "Asbury, write to the man who prints six-by-nine circulars, in large editions, at thirty cents the thousand. We want order-blanks and electrotypes, and I'm thinking of getting those imitation typewritten letters. They're on good bond paper, in three colors. Asbury, make a note of an index card system. We've started at last. Birtwhistle! It's a good name, Mr. Rakes; it has distinction; you'd remember it, wouldn't you? Oh, I'm not taking credit to myself for possessing it. Of course, it doesn't indicate any superior wisdom on my part to be Birtwhistle, but it is, nevertheless, a good name for business purposes. I'm not boasting of it as if it were my own achievement, Mr. Rakes-- but it has distinction!"
      Mrs. Maheffy shrieking: "You're not talking to Mrs. Birtwhistle, when you're talking to me, Miss Strout!"
      Mrs. Birtwhistle, out in the hall: "Don't you dare bring my name into your rows!"
      Mr. Birtwhistle to the hall, and dragging back Mrs. Birtwhistle and the cabbages, the cabbages undulating, convulsed with emotion.
      "The cheek of her!" exclaimed Mrs. Birtwhistle. "If you'd let me go, I'd show her! I know too much about her! Oh, her old husband! I'd give her a shot about her old husband that would quieten her! But," continued Mrs. Birtwhistle, who did deserve credit, for, of her own wisdom, she had acquired a name with distinction to it, "the dinners I see cooked in this house! 'Tis no wonder the saloons are full, for their free lunches. That woman don't know the first thing about cooking!" Mrs. Birtwhistle again going out; this time with turnips, pork chops, butter, and eggs-- running back, crying: "Oh, merciful heavens! merciful heavens!"
      "What?" asked Mr. Birtwhistle, alarmed.
      "Mercy! the onions are still to come, and that's five cents more, anyway," said Mrs. Birtwhistle. "What did you let me go to Mrs. Schufelt's for? Why didn't you prevent my going? I'll never take her in another bargain. What do you think of this? 'Oh,' she says, just like this, her nose up, just like this, 'oh, I never bring in a lot of stuff to get old, like that; I like everything fresh.' "
      "Well, then, keep out of your neighbors', and let's have some dinner; Sim'll stay to dinner with us. You can keep away from your neighbors, can't you?"
      "Mind your own business! You can mind your own business, can't you?" Mr. Birtwhistle sat on the sofa. Mrs. Birtwhistle scowled at him, looked toward Sim, who was bending over piles of advertising matter. Mrs. Birtwhistle's arms around Mr. Birtwhistle's thick neck: "I mean to do everything in the world to make you happy!"
      "Sure!" said Mr. Birtwhistle. "Mr. Rakes," he said, "'The ransacked wonders of the Orient' is a good phrase. I don't know where it will come in, but make a note of it. Asbury, I'll typewrite some follow-up letters; you fold circulars."
      The housewifely cares of Mrs. Birtwhistle! Her two white teeth seemed placed exactly to express the cares of a household; permanently where the teeth of other housewives appear only in such dreadful moments as "Merciful heavens! did I leave the chops where the cat can get at them?" or "Oh, heavens above! have I flour enough for the stew?" "Was I right," Mrs. Birtwhistle was saying, "in paying so much for the ham? It's well worth it!" Then Mrs. Birtwhistle, was building the fire in the stove, knocking out central pieces in a mosaic of kindling wood, trying to keep the cord-bound oval of outside pieces intact-- whole thing collapsing into the stove-- never mind! Ham put into a pot of water, and some discussion, here, between Miss Guffy and Mrs. Birtwhistle, as to whether a ham should be put into water while cold, or not until hot, Miss Guffy taking the hot-water side, to Mrs. Birtwhistle's contempt, and Miss Guffy coming around, vehemently declaring: "Right you are! Indeed, it should be cold! Certainly it should be cold!"
      "Say," said Mr. Birtwhistle, "let's go to Coney Island. Where's my other coat?" throwing off his "sash curtains" and taking a dark-blue coat from the back of a chair.
      "And leave my ham? I guess not!"
      "Coney Island, the lot of us!"
      "And leave my dinner to take care of itself? How bad you are for Coney island, and the time it takes you! Indeed not!"
      "Coney Island, Sim! Hey, Asbury! Delia, are you coming? Miss Guffy?"
      "Oh, now-- oh, say, now--" stammered Sim.
      "Oh, me?" said Asbury. "It doesn't matter to me where I go."
      "You?" said Miss Guffy. "Faith, and if Mr. Parker went anywhere to-day, he'd not begin enjoying it till to-morrow-- if it's no harm to say so, Asbury. Let ye be a nice man, Mr. Birtwhistle, and sit down to your work, and we'll all go up to the park in the evening."
      "Park, Sim! Park, Parker! Park to folks like us! Well, aren't you coming? Sim and Asbury are!"
      "Oh, now-- you know--" weakly from Sim.
      "You can go, I suppose," said Mrs. Birtwhistle. "You can go anywhere, I suppose. It's 'where were you?' when I'm a moment gone from the room, but you have a free leg for yourself."
      "Come, Sim!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, slapping Sim's hat upon one side of Sim's head; dragging Asbury Parker backward from his chair, impatiently rocking the back of Sim's chair. "We'll go, anyway. Delia, I'll take you somewheres else-- you don't care about it, do you?"
      "It wouldn't do-- so early in the day," said Sim, standing up, swinging his hat.
      "There's small use trying to do right with a man like that!" said Mrs. Birtwhistle, throwing the stove-lifter upon the stove.
      "He does get that excited whenever there's a bit of prosperity!" declared Miss Guffy.
      "All aboard for Coney Island!" exclaimed Mr. Birtwhistle, pushing Sim and Asbury before him, linking arms with them, out in the hall, pulling them toward the stoop, where Mrs. Maheffy and Miss Strout stood, with arms about each other's shoulders.
      "May every Coney Island frankfurter you eat choke you!" cried Mrs. Birtwhistle from the front window.
      "Oh, say, Mr. Birtwhistle --" weakly, from Sim.
      "Don't come back here!" from the window. "There'll be nothing left here, so don't one of you come back here!"
      "All aboard for Coney Island!" cried Mr. Birtwhistle.

Next Chapter


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

Chapter 1 2 3 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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