The Outcast Manufacturers

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited Mr. X

B.W. Dodge and Company


      THE pale gloom of Fifth Avenue at night. Fifth Avenue's nocturnal cloak buttoned with rows of round, bright lights.
      A corner hotel, and cabs in a right angle-- cabmen sitting high, with arms folded; cab horses with heads sagging.
      Mrs. Birtwhistle coming out of the hotel's side entrance, and standing. with her back turned to three gentlemen who were approaching Fifth Avenue-- Mrs. Birtwhistle wearing a flat, black hat, a rose dangling on the front of it, flat hat tipped down over her eyes; a long, black plush cape, trimmed with moth-eaten fur. Mrs. Birtwhistle seemed cold; arms hugging under her cape; two little teeth seeming to draw in as much of her lower lip as possible, to keep at least that much warm.
      "Dear me. you scared me!"-- broad gentleman in a yellowish hat, tapping her on the shoulder. "Mercy sakes, you scared me!"-- her hand as if pushing aside folding-doors, emerging from between folds of the cape, to shake hands. "And Asbury, how's yourself? Sim, you've got a new hat, haven't you?"
      "Such as it is," said Sim, taking off his hat, showing a newspaper band under the leather band of it.
      "We might take a little walk?" said Mr. Birtwhistle.
      "Yes; I can't stay long. I haven't a pass. You've got Margie, have you?"
      "Don't you worry; everything's all right."
      "She won't eat raw meat, you remember-- have you the furniture stored? Nothing may be of any value, but I don't want to lose one thing."
      "Now, don't I tell you not to worry? Guess what we just heard?"
      "What? But have the girls places yet?"
      "Yes. And we're not in Mrs. Maheffy's any longer."
      "You've left Mrs. Maheffy's? Then where are you?"
      "Don't you worry. We met a young fellow, and we're stopping with his people-- for a time. It's rather difficult to stop in any particular place very long, but we're learning. We did get a little money. Some orders came in. I'm getting the mail at Maloney's. I'll fill those orders later."
      "Oh, those high and honorable stands he takes!" said Sim contemptuously. "Oh, no, he'd send the money to McGuire's, and only take his commission; used very good language in telling how big and honorable he'd be-- but, Birt, I don't see how you can keep on so with declaring how noble and good you'll be and then always fall down so meanly. Oh, my! he'd die before he'd take one cent not belonging to him-- then takes it."
      "Don't taunt me, Sim-- upon my word, I feel that some day I shall do right, by the very practice of this falling down. And I know what that right is; nothing but going to work like a decent man-- guess, what we heard? That McKicker is going to run for leader of the district. He's always been more or less political, and he's got the money."
      "May the divil defeat him!" said Mrs. Birtwhistle, tossing her head so that the dangling rose flapped to the back of her flat hat.
      "Well, don't let's stand here; let's be walking."
      Four abreast, going up wide Fifth Avenue-- the clicking of heels and the squeaking of soles of others who were going up or coming down Fifth Avenue-- but an almost noiseless four going tip Fifth Avenue, their feet in the faintest of pattering, feet with worn-out shoes on them. Brisk clicking and squeaking; four with the tread of panthers.
      "How are you making out?" asked Mr. Birtwhistle.
      "Birt, we're not paid till the tenth, and then they hold back ten days' pay--"
      "Say, never mind that. By the tenth of the month I may have a thousand dollars; it's only a temporary shelter for you. A month from now you'll be laughing at any of these troubles-- ah, you don't believe that, do you."
      "No; but never mind."
      "You won't believe in me, will you?"
      "No; but that's all right."
      "You won't even listen to my plans, and what I hope, will you?"
      "What's the use? We're tired of that. We're sick and tired of your plans and dreams. All that's worrying me is how you're going to live in the meantime. You haven't got the slightest bit of ability of any kind, but what's the use of going over that again?"
      "None, I suppose."
      "You needn't snap at me."
      "I'm not; I'm too sad and hopeless. I haven't a chance in the world, if you won't have faith in me. Where's that yellow dog?"-- laughing and looking around. "I must have something that'll believe in me!"
      "I'm only saying, Birt, that I did expect to have a little money for you---"
      "For God's sake, cut that out, will you?"
      "Very well, but I was only saying. I was only thinking of you, Birt--"
      "If you thought more of me, in the first place," picking his way carefully among puddles of a crossing, "we wouldn't be here now." To step in a puddle would be a calamity.
      "What a dog you are! How the low cur in you comes out!"-- equally cautious and in fear of puddles. "Blame a woman for it all! You can't help that."
      Messrs. Rakes and Parker holding back; Mr. and Mrs. Birtwhistle in a front rank of surliness and glaring-- Mrs. Birtwhistle seizing Mr. Birtwhistle's arm and dragging him toward a lighted window with millinery on display. "Sure, Birt, dear, buy me one of them Paris hats?"
      "Now, my dear," pretending to hold back, "with all the jewels I bought you yesterday, and the expenses of our new home on Riverside Drive--"
      "Ah, Birt, dear, do buy me one of them Paris hats; this one is out of style; I've had it 'most a week now."
      Four abreast again. Mr. Birtwhistle grimacing at millinery as if a glass door had been shut against his flat face-- Mrs. Birtwhistle's two little teeth, like two little pillows out airing on the window sill of a doll's house-- the dangling rose swinging in front of her eyes as she walked-- Asbury Parker stepping a little in advance of Sim, to look beyond him and say: "Good-evening, Mrs. Birtwhistle!"
      "He's just come to life! Whereabouts in the past are you now, Asbury? Do you know that, like enough, we'll he dispossessed soon?"
      "I think," said Sim, "Mrs. Maheffy is turning against us, Asbury!"
      Mrs. Birtwhistle pushing Mr. Birtwhistle toward the curb, to say to him:
      "Whatever you do, see that Asbury is taken care of. I never did understand him, but I'm sure he's had some great sorrow. You must promise me to look after Asbury."
      "That's a strange thing!" mused Mr. Birtwhistle; "all the women seem moved to be good to Asbury."
      "I pity him," said Mrs. Birtwhistle.
      "Lazy, good-for-nothing, and drunken!"
      "I'm sure he's had sonic great sorrow. That's what's the matter with him. I pity him."
      "How about Sim, then, to say nothing of myself?"
      "Don't you be too great with Sim. A man of your age shouldn't be running around with a boy like that; Sim's got a lot to learn, yet"-- pulling back toward Sim, saying: "I suppose you'll be writing to your uncle, Sim, that you spent this evening somewhere grand on Fifth Avenue?"
      "I don't know," said Sim seriously. "Do you know, I'm sort of changing my opinion about lying so. I don't mean to tell him the truth, of course, but when I see how hard it would be to tell him, I sort of begin to admire truth-telling."
      "You'd better tell him everything."
      "Impossible!" declared Sim. "He'd never forgive me for causing him to write me such respectful letters."
      "You must do what you think fit, I suppose. Then, Sim, he hasn't met any blonde ladies, then?"
      "No," said Sim; "Angie's dark?"
      "Angie! Who's Angie? Oh, ho! you didn't tell me that! How well everything comes out! Angie, is it?"
      "You ought to see her," said Mr. Birtwhistle. "Sim means the aunt of the young fellow we're stopping with. She's about seventy --"
      "Got one eye and walks with a cane," said Sim. "Oh, no! that's her mother. She's about eighteen, and the very first thing, asked Birt if he was married, and he said he wasn't."
      "Oh, well, you keep me posted, Sim. I guess you miss my housekeeping, don't you?"
      "Haven't had a decent meal since."
      "Fierce!" said Mr. Parker. "Mrs. Maheffy didn't know the first thing about cooking."
      "Indeed, she does not!" cried Mrs. Birtwhistle, excited, dragging on Mr. Birtwhistle's arm, stopping everybody, everybody having to stand still. "She never makes gravy for no kind of meat, because she doesn't know how. Not the first thing about it! Never saw dumplings for a fricassee till I showed her how, and then-- oh. my! then what sinkers! For a pot roast-- I'm telling you God's truth, Mr. Rakes-- she fills the pot with water, she does indeed, for the pot roast, mind you! Asbury, you know she does! And wasteful! I don't see how Mr. Maheffy stands the expense; she never saves drippings, but buys lard always. Mr. Rakes-- and was I to be struck dead this minute I couldn't tell you different-- the roast beef we always had so lovely and rare, she puts on the back of the stove. She does, indeed-- stews it! If it was my dying breath I couldn't say different!"
      "Shall we walk on now?" asked Mr. Birtwhistle.
      "I'm only saying about Mrs. Maheffy. Yes, we'll go on, but you mustn't keep me out too late; I haven't a pass, so you mustn't. What about leaving Mrs. Maheffy? You never were any good for news. Sim, tell me."
      "As I remember it," said Sim, "we simply told her that, having been accustomed to Mrs. Birtwhistle's housekeeping, we wouldn't put up with her inferior cooking any longer."
      "Go on, you! You never had more than a meal or two in my house. You tell me, Asbury.
      "Oh!" said Asbury, Mimicking his own drawling, belated way; "don't give the cat raw meat, you say?"
      "That will do from all of you! The girls will tell me."
      High white lights and the tall yellow beacons of the Waldorf-Astoria. Crossing Thirty-fourth Street-- Mrs. Birtwhistle and Sim each taking Asbury Parker by an elbow so that he should not be run over-- all walking daintily on heels or where heels had been, avoiding wet places as would a troop of cats.
      "Here are some handkerchiefs, that came down in the wash, for you," said Mrs. Birtwhistle. "Sim and Asbury, here are handkerchiefs for you"-- handkerchiefs appearing between the edges of her cape, like little ghosts parting folding-doors. "Birt, here's some ham in this napkin--"
      "That's all right! Now, never mind about us. Don't you bother about us."
      "I couldn't bring out any more; the steward in the help's hall and the timekeeper's apt to stop you. The cheek of them! I saw a girl stopped. He said to her: 'Running a boarding-house, Margaret? You've got enough there for ten men.' I'd have died! You put this ham in your pocket, Birt, and get a loaf of bread, and make some sandwiches. Here! I borried a quarter from ?Mrs. Kilgore. I've loaned her often enough!"
      "No, no! I couldn't! I couldn't!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, shaking her arm from his, stepping back, walking behind her.
      "You needn't be too proud to take a quarter from me, Birt."
      "I couldn't! I know it's kind of you-- I couldn't! Never mind us; we're all right. Don't be talking so much."
      "Talking! I never talked enough. If I could have talked you out of going to Coney Island, we might have pulled through. But, no!-- hooray, boys! off to Coney Island, and leave wives sweltering at home, for all we care! Make a big fellow of yourself. Come on; everybody to Coney Island! You don't know me? I'm the big Mister President Birtwhistle!"
      "You can go on, or go back; I'll not walk with you!" said Mr. Birtwhistle roughly.
      "No! you'll go back to Angie! Yes, let me catch Angie! Go back to your Angie, and see how long she'll cook and wash and iron and slave for nothing for you!"
      "You never hurt yourself with your slaving. Walk with Sim. I'll not walk with you; you're too common for me. I was thinking of going to Chicago. I will, and don't care what becomes of you."
      "He'd leave me! and I'd cry and cry, and put on a little cap, and be a poor little widow-- and there'd be another in his place before he was half way to Chicago! Oh, I got my eye on a rich old buck, as it is. I'd soon be the consoled widow. There's a rich old buck I've had my eye on some time now."
      Mr. Birtwhistle laughing patting her shoulder, drawing the collar of the old cape up around her neck: "So you wouldn't mind in the least if I went away and left you?"
      "I'd cry and cry and pine away and couldn't eat, and I don't think I'd last very long." Then Mrs. Birtwhistle was wrinkling her nose and folding her arms high under her cape, mockingly calling attention to a stately, fashionably dressed woman passing.
      "Drum-major!" said Mrs. Birtwhistle venomously. "Will we get off of this street, Birt? Faith, when I have the clothes, I can hold up my head anywheres; but I haven't, and must go stinking through back streets"-- looking behind her, tossing the dangling, faded rose out of her eyes-- "Drum-major!" and, "Will we? We'll walk down the next street; will we?"
      "Huh!" said Sim; "what do I care for anybody? I'll walk Fifth Avenue all I want to. I'm as good as anybody, even if my hat doesn't fit me." But he turned-- all turning down a side street. A street where a vista of high-stoop railings made an embankment odd to the eyes of tenement dwellers.
      "You seem pretty lively this evening," said Mr. Birtwhistle, who was surly. "You must be having an easy life of it."
      "Yes! go down and try it! 'Tis easy to imagine. Work twelve hours a day without a rest, all day long-- we did get a few minutes off this afternoon."
      "How was that?" asked Sim.
      "We did get a few minutes off to go up and see the corpse of a millionaire, upstairs. He shot himself. But there's not a millionaire corpse every day-- far from it.
      "But," continued Mrs. Birtwhistle, "are you saving the evening paper for me? I want to know how the love story comes out. Save every, number for me.
      "Easy, is it? Down forty feet below the sidewalk, standing all day on a little box, shaking linen, and, if you step down, burn your feet on the steam pipes, when your shoes is bad. Not but what some of the old hands has it easy. Like Margaret, who tries on the bell-boys' gloves; just sits and shapes them on her hands so they can make quick changes. It isn't the world, but the rotten people you meet. At dinner, all of them grabbing at a loaf of bread, tearing out inside clunks and leaving the crust; and the girl on the waiting! You ask her to pass something, and she hollers: 'Will you have it now or wait till you get it?' and you going to another table, where the girl says: 'You dare take anything from here, and I'll smash you in the puss!' and nothing for dinner but the heads and tails of herrings, the middles gone to the officers' tables; or the necks and gizzards of chickens, boiled to rags, for soup. The nasty hogs! Once there was chow- chow, which you're only supposed to want a little of, and those nearest filling saucers full that they couldn't eat, and the rest getting none. Or when you try to sleep, to be up at six in the morning, and the late watch comes in, laughing and carrying on, and won't let you sleep, because they don't have to report till eleven next day. Or some beast you sleep with! She comes in late, soused; she comes into bed with you, in silk waist, hat and shoes-- 'Get up, woman, and have some decency about you!"-- she snores. 'Woman, get up; your hatpins is sticking me!' She says: 'I'll have to sleep, with all me clothes on; I must be up for mass at six in the morning."
      "Did she?" said Mr. Birtwhistle feebly.
      "And if you complain--"
      "Then don't complain," said Mr. Birtwhistle uneasily. "Yes, I'll save the evening papers for you."
      "It's enough to make anybody complain--"
      "Don't harp on anything so! You talk as it you were in for life, instead of just a flitting experience till I can get started again."
      "Sure, I'm only saying! But do you tell Angie to shut up, when she says a word? I'll warrant not! But I'd not come out to fight with you, but to know how you're getting along. I've worried so I couldn't sleep one night, whether there was noise or not. I can't enjoy a meal, whether it's fit to eat or not, wondering it my poor Birt is starving--"
      "We're making out all right; don't mind us. Yes, I'll save the evening papers."
      "You are all right? Then you don't miss me the least bit? Oh, you get along just as well, whether I'm there or not? Yes, I guess you do. That's not a woman's way. I'm worried sick about you. I guess if I was dead to-morrow there'd be never another thought for me."
      Street becoming a tenement region; rows of dark narrow slits slashing the fronts of houses, in perspective, widening into lighted windows as they were approached. Mrs. Birtwhistle pausing to look into uncurtained rooms. "They've all got homes," said Mrs. Birtwhistle mournfully. She laughed when a drunken man staggered by. "What a nagging he'll get!"-- clapping her hands-- "what a nagging he'll get when he goes home!-- but he's got a home.
      "But trying to sleep with hatpins sticking you, and then some old biddy saying: 'This room only belongs to the ironers, anyway, by rights!' because the ironers get twenty a month, and consider themselves above us shakers, on sixteen, sleep in or sleep out."
      "Will you shut up about your beastly, vulgar hotel help, and their degraded ways, or won't you? Always remember that you are Mrs. Birtwhistle, my dear!"
      "I'm only saying, Birt-- I smell corned beef and cabbage! Upon my soul, I smell corned beef and cabbage!"
      "What of it?"-- Sim and Mr. Birtwhistle laughing. "Nothing. We used to have corned beef and cabbage. It reminds me-- nothing!
      "The work isn't hard. More fun! two at a time sharing a big tablecloth, that goes-- pop!-- sounds like cannons all around you. That is corned beef and cabbage, isn't it, Sim? I wonder who's having it? I hope she put it in the pot while the water was cold. We'll have it again, some day. Oh, but there are lazy ones, though! I like to be in the thick of it. Once through, on the dry mangling, and things coming so fast you haven't no time to know whether you're working hard or not-- but here's Margaret!" Mrs. Birtwhistle stopping, and motioning to the others to stand still. "Here's Margaret!"-- languidly folding an imaginary tablecloth, then wiping her face with it; dismally looking up at the sky, then wiping her eyes with the imaginary tablecloth, and again slowly folding it. "Oh, I couldn't work that way!"-- resuming walking.
      Then, in genuine melancholy, herself:
      "I wonder what that woman has in her bundles? She's been doing her bit of marketing. There's a loaf of bread-- you can't be mistaken in that-- and butter, I think-- butters gone up frightful! She ought to be the happiest woman in the world. I'd be the happiest woman in the world, if I was only doing my bit of marketing.
      "Oh, I tell you"-- animated again-- "you've got to hold your own with them. You mustn't keep me out too long, Birt, you know-- but there's 'Pug,' who's been there so long she thinks she owns you. She says: "You can go an the shaking, now,' and no more authority than I got! 'Oh, thank you!' I says. 'Oh, thank you for the information, but I thought we had a forelady for that.' Then, with things just springing from the mangle, she says: 'You go on the carrying as well as the receiving.' 'Who are you!" I says to her. 'Who are you with your nasty little pug nose?'"
      "I tell you!" said Mr. Birtwhistle. "If you-- well, you see, if you have a quarter to spare--"
      "Yes; didn't I borry it from Mrs. Kilgore? I'm sorry I couldn't raise any more."
      "I suppose"-- ungraciously:-- "we can get a drink on it."
      "Yes; and get some free lunch. You haven't told me a thing about Mrs. Maheffy. Have you nightshirts? Are your socks good? But wait!" said Mrs. Birtwhistle. "Just wait a minute!" She stood on the curbstone looking across the street at an uncurtained second-story window.
      A man was sitting by a table with a lamp on it. A woman was fiercely shaking her fist at him. "She's giving it to him-- wait!" laughed Mrs. Birtwhistle. The woman slapping a palm with a fist-- the man feebly waving a hand out at her. Woman turning her back to him, turning and running back, screeching at him; man with his head on his arms.
      "We don't want to stand here all night, do we?" asked Mr. Birtwhistle.
      "Just wait! Let's watch them!" said fascinated Mrs. Birtwhistle.
      Man looking up, and his hands moving in weak, apologetic gestures. Woman stamping and pounding her fist upon the table, then pointing at him and shaking a fierce forefinger at him, throwing arms wide to express scorn and contempt for him, and then again shaking her fist at him.
      "Oh, I'm homesick! I'm as homesick as I can be!" wept Mrs. Birtwhistle.

Next Chapter


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

Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 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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