The Outcast Manufacturers

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited Mr. X

B.W. Dodge and Company


      BACK in the Sargasso Sea. The caisson had drifted not quite back to its original profundity, of sunkenness, but smoke from the stove had formed grotesque shapes, faint on the walls, as if at a distance. The middle of the floor was a clearing with a serrated fringe of papers and letters, swept under the sofa, under tables, chairs and the stove, comers of papers piled upon other corners, in a notched, white fringe; Sim's feet. Sim at his table, shuffling in this fringe; Asbury Parker, crouched over the typewriter, like a cramped chauffeur, rattling papers when he moved his feet; Sim writing a letter, now and then smoking a cigarette butt, consumed so that he had stuck a pin through it to hold it. Mr. Birtwhistle prone on the sofa, hands folded over a sleeping kitten on his chest, puffing smoke so that his flat face seemed pressed against glazed glass; then he, with a forefinger, and the kitten, with a paw, were fencing. Miss Guffy was not in the room; Mrs. Birtwhistle sitting in the chair by the west window, hammering an empty condensed-milk can, knocking off crystallized flakes to make a saucer of milk for the kitten and for a cat, looking up to her and crying.
      "Aw, shut up!" cried Mrs. Birtwhistle to the cat. "I can't be feeding you every minute."
      A pencil falling from behind Mr. Birtwhistle's ear; Mr. Birtwhistle groaning: "Give me a pencil! Who's got another pencil?"
      There was nothing to suggest that there had been prosperity, except a cheap little phonograph on Sim's table, bought with the hope of keeping Mr. Birtwhistle home nights.
      Some one, in passing the blue curtains, had torn one down, and it dangled, showing the inner room, where, by the light of a lamp, the oilcloth of a table glimmered in streaks where fingers had rubbed in grease.
      "Sim," drawled Mr. Birtwhistle, "here's a good phrase: 'The opulence of the Orient.' You can use that somewheres. Are you practicing ad-writing?"
      "Get out!" said Sim contemptuously. "What for? I'm writing home to the folks."
      "Don't be discouraged in your letter, Sim-- oh, the little devil! she stuck her claw into me that time! W are just on the verge of success, if we can only pull through this bad spell--"
      "Verge! always the verge!" exclaimed Mrs Birtwhistle, viciously knocking flakes of condensed milk from the inside of the can. "I'm tired hearing of that verge we're always on."
      "If I only had some one who had faith in me!" Mr. Birtwhistle groaned. "Delia haven't you the least faith in me?"
      "Not the slightest in the world! You haven't got it in you!. I don't look forward to nothing but poverty and misery all the days of my life with you, and never a new hat or things a woman wants. You're a lazy, big, ignorant fool, without the education of a boy like Mr. Rakes, and, if I shut my eyes, it makes me crazy to look forward to my future with you. Not a hope! nothing but rotten poverty and misery!"
      "Hey, pussy! pussy!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, dabbing the kitten's nose-- high-spirited kitten instantly dabbing back at him.
      "Any faith in you?" jeered Mrs. Birtwhistle, laughing harshly.
      Then she asked:
      "How much water will I put in this milk? A whole saucerful?"
      "About three-quarters of a saucer," said Mr. Birtwhistle precisely. "I have immense abilities. If I only had some one, some child, some kitten, some guinea-pig who believed in me-- a white rat, even! I'll bring in the next yellow mongrel I see in the street." Mr. Birtwhistle sitting up. "I'll be no failure then! I'll succeed! I'll make my abilities felt! I'll have a yellow dog who believes in me!"
      "You won't bring anything else in here to feed! Yes, it would be just like you, when there's not enough to go around as it is!"
      "With one eye, and a can tied to his tail," said Mr. Birtwhistle. "When I say to him, 'I'm the great Mr. Birtwhistle,' he'll look at me steadily with his one eye, meaning, 'If you say you are, that positively and for all time settles it.' I'll say, 'I know I am because of the feeling of power I have; I can feel power, especially when I hear music, and it surges in me. He'll bark a little, and mean, 'I know it. Can anybody doubt it?' I never cried in my grown-up life, but there'll be almost a tear in my eye when I find the yellow dog, with a rope to his tail, and one eye, that can look at me and mean, 'I believe in you!'"
      Mrs. McKicker, wearing her black hood, looked into the room-- Mrs. McKicker, grim and hooded like a falcon. "There's the most sensible man in New York!" pointing admiringly at Mr. Birtwhistle. "Here, Mrs. Birtwhistle!" handing Mrs. Birtwhistle three cakes of soap. "Don't say I never give anybody anything!" Like a falcon pouncing upon a serpent, she darted to a piece of string on the floor and wound it around her strong, curved talons-- it might be useful some time. She flew away, repeating: "That's right, Mr. Birtwhistle, you're the most sensible man in New York!"
      Said Mrs. Birtwhistle: "She'll sing another song if our rent isn't paid by the end of the month. Oh, how fine and big and grand! Raise your own rent for last month, and couldn't pay this month's when it was due even then! Oh, no, couldn't pay the rent, when you had the money, but-- come, Sim! come, Asbury! but we don't hear much of that now. Come, Sim, don't you want to come down to the Waldorf with me for dinner? I've got the money; oh, pocketfuls! I'm the big Mrs. Birtwhistle. Sure, you've heard of me! Mr. Birtwhistle's wife! Don't you know Mr. Birtwhistle? Never heard of the great and talented Mr. Birtwhistle? Why-- oh, I see I you've not been very long in New York. Well, if anybody should ask you, I'm his wife! And does that stun you, Sim and Asbury?"
      Mr. Birtwhistle reaching out, laughing, dragging her to sit beside him; Mrs. Birtwhistle, laughing, sitting beside him, patting his head, laughing:
      "Come, Sim! 'twould be beneath the distinguished Mrs. Birtwhistle to dine anywheres but the Waldorf!"
      "I'm busy!" laughed Sim-- crouching Mr. Parker seemingly hearing nothing of what was going on. "I dare him to read his letter aloud!" said Mr. Birtwhistle. "We'd hear a fearful description of ourselves, I'm thinking."
      "Of yourself!" Mrs. Birtwhistle said sharply. "I'm sure I do my best to get along and make both ends meet, as Mr. Rakes very well knows. Oh, I'm what you make me! Be an honest, industrious man, and nobody could have a prettier kept home than yours would be. I never lived like this before I met you; I'm what you make me, and everything I do wrong is only your fault. Do read what you've written about him, Mr. Rakes; it might take some of the conceit out of him, though I do suppose nothing could do that. Birt, put that kitten down and do get up and do some work."
      "To work!" cried Mr. Birtwhistle, half rising. "Everybody to work!" Mr. Birtwhistle sinking back. "Here, pussy! pussy!" then grumbling: "'What'd you take that soap from Mrs. McKicker for? We don't want anything from her or anybody else. You give it back to her; do you hear? We can buy our own soap."
      "Here's the letter," said Sim. "I'll read it. I pass over 'Dear Uncle.' and some inquiries about people I know, and that sort of thing. Well, here: 'Just at present I'm living in the St. Regis'-- see," holding up the letter. "Last night I went in the St. Regis and got some of the hotel stationery."
      "Would you dare go in such a place, having no business there?" asked Mrs. Birtwhistle, awed.
      "Me? I'd go anywhere! There's nothing bashful about me, Mrs. Birtwhistle-- I guess you've noticed that?" His uneasy smirk; his inability to sit still when speaking; hands twisting and waving in no accord with his words, like illustrations bound up in the wrong book. "Me bashful! how's that, Birt? Anyway, listen: 'I expect to take apartments at one of the clubs, where I have been put up for membership by Mr. Parker, who is the secretary of our concern. I am now in full charge of the Universal people's advertising affairs, and just this morning signed a contract for twenty thousand dollars' worth of advertising, to appear chiefly in the West, though we are preparing to deluge the entire West with advertising that will make that appear a trifle. I can't say, though, that I'm so much better off, with all my promotions, for the increased cost of living makes results about the same, so far as surplus is concerned--' "
      "Are you really so ignorant as all that?" asked Mr. Birtwhistle.
      "Oh, now, hey, now, I won't have you calling me names, you know! I don't want to lose my temper with you, Birt, but, now, I'm very particular about being insulted, now, you know."
      "Are you a fair sample of nephews, as nephews are running, nowadays, Sim? Do you suppose that anybody's uncle would believe that anybody's nephew could make such progress as that, in just a few weeks?"
      "Oh, well, say, now, you needn't call me down in public like that, you know. I didn't mean to read it aloud, anyway. Do you think I'd better tone it down a little? I wish now I'd never started writing that way. At home I've given them all the idea I'm one of these, now, merchant princes you read about. Then how am I to go back, if we don't make out here? I can't go back-- yet. I am going back, but I can't go back-- yet."
      To Mrs. Birtwhistle, I've got myself in an awful fix. There're complexities in it. You see, when I first thought of coming here, my whole idea was to come here and be a failure. Then circumstances turned out so that my idea to come here and be a success. At the same time it was my plan to be a failure-- you see?"
      "Ah!" said Mr. Birtwhistle. "You wanted to be a failure and a success? You have great individuality in the way you express yourself, Sim; you'll make a great advertisement writer."
      "Yes! You see my idea? When I first wrote you, it was my plan to come here and fail. I wanted to go somewhere and fail, so I was going to slip out of town and have it reported I was away visiting. Dear me, the first thing I knew I was showing your letter to all kinds of people, and then the whole town knew it. There were bets about it; the excitement was intense; the Palladium told about 'one of the most prominent young men of the west side accepting a responsible position in New York'; the rest of the town said, 'Oh, my! Sim's got a job!' I think the odds were ten to one against that when the news first came out. That's why, the first night I was here, I wrote home about the tremendous abilities I was showing."
      "Well, yes, Sim, though it puzzled me at first, I can believe that you wanted to succeed. Now how about your determination to fail? It ought to be easy to explain that."
      "Don't be so clever with Sim!" said Mrs. Birtwhistle; "he's as smart as any one else I see here."
      "Yes, there are complexities in it. It's because my uncle, who's a very good business man, now-- oh, some forty years ago, when he started his first business venture, he made a fearful fluke of it. I don't know much about assets and liabilities, but he was all mixed up in that sort of thing. Anyway, he says everybody's got to fail at first, and it's the best thing in the world to do so, and no one can learn any other way.
      "Now, he's going to take me in business with him some day, but he's positively superstitious about one having to fail first. So it's best for me to go somewhere and do my failing there, or here, as it is, and then go back, and do my succeeding with him. But don't think we ever actually discussed or arranged anything like that. That'd be a fine thing, to tell me to go out and fail somewhere! No; it was just sort of understood between us that way.
      "Well, after the letters I've written, I can't go back yet; maybe not for months yet; that's plain.
      "Say, Birt, get up and let's start doing something! Your catalogs are out working for you; you can't tell when things will boom again. If we don't do another thing, let's sort out these order-blanks and follow-up letters and envelopes, and put things into shape--"
      "To work! to work!" excitedly from Mr. Birtwhistle. "Then come on, everybody! You, too, Mrs. Birtwhistle! I'm here, and I can't go back, and we must succeed!"
      "To work!" said Mr. Birtwhistle faintly. "Oh, what can you do with a fellow like that? I bet you I could take hold here and make the thing a success for a while."
      Miss Guffy coming into the room.
      The weather was cool, though scarcely cool enough for cape-wearing, but Miss Guffy wore a cape. Miss Guffy taking off her hat, with one hand that seemed not free; other hand remaining under her cape-- coleopterous Miss Guffy-- beetle-wing hair having a corduroy appearance, strands of it thick with pomade.
      "Bad luck to these half days!" she said to Mrs. Birtwhistle. "And run I late? Faith, I could not get away sooner. She took a great fancy to me, Mrs. Murray did, and would have me sit talking to her long after my work was done. But 'tis not worth your while to go out by the half day; and there was a nigger cook, which I always hates to work with; they're such thieves, and you, like enough, blamed for their thieving. You can't trust any of them kind; some day they're bound to walk out with everything in the house with them. They're not civilized, the coons isn't; of my own choice I'd never work with one, and perhaps be blamed for her thieving. And the food you gets, Mrs. Birtwhistle! 'Twas noon, Mrs. Murray says to me, 'Mary, you can go down and get your dinner, now.' I goes down to the kitchen, and the girl-- I declare, I'm afraid of my life working with them; there's no trusting them; they're always thieving-- she points to a table, and there's one egg and one cold potato and a bit of butter on the side of the plate. 'Where's me dinner?' says I to the girl. ''Tis there,' is the answer she makes me. 'Where?' 'Are ye blind, not seeing it on the table before ye?. 'Then I am blind,' I says, going up the stairs, and, Mrs. Murray, I says, 'would you have me go on with my work, and no dinner?' 'And had ye not yer dinner?' 'I had not, ma'am.' 'Ye had not? Then that is strange; come down with me.' Down in the kitchen she says, 'Why, there's your dinner!' 'Oh, no, you'll excuse me, Mrs. Murray, ma'am, but that is no dinner for a woman doing her half day's work. Indeed, I see no dinner there. Then may I make bold to say where is my dinner, ma'am?' 'Will you take a quarter and go out and buy your dinner?' she asks. 'I will and gladly!' and goes out and walks for a while; and here's the seventy-five cents altogether, Mrs. Birtwhistle, and I wish to Gawd 'twas seventy-five dollars I was bringing home to you."
      "You needn't make such a noise about it!" grumbled Mr. Birtwhistle. "Nobody wanted you to go out; if you had any faith in the Universal, you wouldn't have gone-- oh, I'm sure it was very good of you to want to help, Miss Guffy, only you needn't come in, shouting to the whole house where you've been."
      "Excuse me, sir," said Miss Guffy humbly, "but would this be of any use to you, Mr. Birtwhistle?" taking a collapsible silk hat from under the cape. " 'Twas lying around and did catch me fancy on the way out."
      "Miss Guffy, you oughtn't to do a thing like that! What on earth use have I for an opera hat?"
      "It did but catch me fancy, Mr. Birtwhistle. Oh, that's what it is, then? I was wondering, Indeed, and if a body didn't help theirselves, they'd never have anything. Could you make use of this, Mrs. Birtwhistle? 'Twould look pretty on a table," out from under her cape with a morocco-bound volume of sermons.
      "You divil, you!" exclaimed Mrs. Birtwhistle admiringly.
      "And would you be smoking, Asbury? I'd not be daring to offer these cigars to Mr. Birtwhistle. I don't know what he's thinking of me, as it is; but, indeed, when I only get fifty cents for my six or seven hours' slaving, 'tis small blame to me to help myself. I don't suppose this would be any use to you?" handing out, from under her cape, a box of matches, bluing, a can of baking powder, a knife and fork, tied together.
      "Guffy, you're a jewel!"
      "Miss Guffy--" began Mr. Birtwhistle, sitting up.
      "Oh, you let Guffy alone; that woman could well afford it."
      "Oh, no, ma'am," said Miss Guffy humbly, "let him speak, ma'am; he's speaking for my own good, and I knows it. Indeed, and I will get into trouble some day, but the bloody rich, as you well say, they can well afford it. Yes, I know you're speaking for my own good, Mr. Birtwhistle-- I scarce dare ask you would this come in useful to you," handing out a bright silk necktie.
      "Oh, cusses!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, lying back on the sofa. "Where'd that kitten go? Yes, thanks, Miss Guffy. Oh, cusses! my pride, my pride! Thanks, Miss Guffy."
      "Oh, do I smoke?" asked Asbury Parker.
      "Sure! It's a handful of cigars I have for you." Here Sim bent over his letter, and seemed absorbed in it.
      "And Mr. Rakes--" hesitatingly.
      Sim looked up, his face red.
      "What's this? Won some smokes?" His face was deep red. He laughed and said roughly: "Give us one!"
      "Well, here's to Mr. Murray!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, he, too, taking a cigar. "Very thoughtful of Mr. Murray, hey, Sim? Nice man to remember us so. Sim, we can't do any more work today. Asbury, we've worked long enough. Let's go down to the river. Let's see, which collar will I put on?"
      "If you were a decent man, you'd have all you want of everything."
      "Only got two collars. Wear one till I'm ashamed of it, and then the other till the first looks quite respectable by comparison, and so on."
      Asbury Parker putting on his coat, but seeming to have no collar; putting on a hat that stood high and small around on his bushy head.
      "If any one comes for me,"said Mr. Birtwhistle, "keep them till we come back." They went away, Mr. Birtwhistle wearing a broad-brimmed gray slouch hat, no ribbon around, a dark circle on the gray, where a ribbon had been; Sim taller than the others; his light suit; his straw hat with its bright ribbon.
      The little Tunnan girl came into the room, counting on her fingers, saying, with intense earnestness: "Pork chops, have them small and lean; one quart of onions, loaf of bread and American cheese-- I'll be right back and give you your lessons, Miss Guffy." Going away, tapping fingers together, saying earnestly: "Pork chops, have them fat and lean!"
      "And what lessons could the child give you, Guffy? And what is the child talking about?"
      "Sure," answered Miss Guffy, "you needn't let on, but I do be taking them gyminastic lessons she do learn in school. 'Twould make me hold myself together better, would it, I don't know? I've gotten that round-shouldered leaning over my work. Then send her in to the backroom, Mrs. Birtwhistle. I wonder is there any use in them gyminastics, I don't know?
      "And, Mrs. Birtwhistle," taking her cape off, "sure, 'tis not much to offer you, but wouldn't these aprons do you around the house? You needn't let on where you got them; what he don't know will make him none the wiser."
      "Guffy, you're the limit!" said Mrs. Birtwhistle with admiration.

Next Chapter


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

Chapter 1 2 3 4 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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