The Outcast Manufacturers

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited Mr. X

B.W. Dodge and Company


      "TO WORK!" said Mr. Birtwhistle.
      Early morning. A foggy morning. The drab waterfront; the river as smooth and gray as a field of sun-dried clay, except where the current furrowed it blue-black like a fresh-ploughed clay field.
      There was a good deal of gray in Mr. Birtwhistle's face; Mr. Parker looked old; Sim had aged, his clothes were gray. All three had been persuaded to accept Captain Anderson's hospitality, and, all night, fine stone-powder had sifted upon them from the cargo overhead.
      "I'm not strong,", said Mr. Birtwhistle. "This is a frightful moment, Sim. If we get a job, the other laborers will taunt me for not doing my share. I can hear their jeers now, Sim."
      "I wish I had a whole worm," said Asbury Parker. "I've only got half a worm to fish with."
      By the watchman's shanty, on the Forty-seventh Street pier, five men were standing.
      "To work!" said Mr. Birtwhistle feebly. From the avenue came a little old man; face tanned the color of a baked potato, and face potato-shaped-- a squeezed baked potato, cheeks indented as if squeezed in-- white eye-brows and white mustache, like a squeezing-- out of a baked potato's white tissue.
      "He's the foreman," said Mr. Birtwhistle. "I seem to see him standing over me, with a long, cruel whip, like Legree in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' "
      "Do you think they'd pay us enough?" asked Sim.
      One of the men-- tall man, with a lumber-handler's stiff apron of sole leather, was saying:
      "Hello, Pete!" to the little old baked potato.
      "Hello, T. Chambers!"-- rubbing his cold hands, up by his throat. "I've got orders to begin."
      "Well, then, you'd better take us."
      "That's all right."
      "Didn't bring no tools with us."
      "That's all right, T. Chambers."
      "Shall we beat it?" Sim was saying.
      "I don't know, Sim. It would be tough to suffer here all day, and then find letters with fifty dollars' worth of orders waiting for us."
      Sim biting his finger-nails, looking out at the river, looking landward. "Birt, I hate this!"-- looking at his feet---Sim suddenly crossing the pier, and saying in business-like briskness, so abrupt and ferocious that the little old man stepped away from him:
      "Good-morning! We're looking for a job! Anything doing?"
      "That's all right"-- pad and pencil from his pocket. "What's the names? I want men not afraid of a little mud, mind!"-- pointing down at the shore. Sim returning to Mr. Birtwhistle. Mr. Parker baiting a fish book. Messrs. Rakes and Birtwhistle standing on the string-piece, looking down at mud strewn with old hats and fruit baskets and coal scuttles; cabbage leaves, strips of matting, oil cans, vegetable cans, garbage and ashes.
      Little old man writing on his pad, repeating aloud: "L. B. O'Rourke, T. Chambers, G. Harris--"
      "I. Birtwhistle!"
      "S. Rakes!"
      Then Asbury Parker was shaking hands with I. Birtwhistle and S. Rakes. "Good-by!" said Asbury Parker. Sim laughing, hands in pockets, beating Mr. Birtwhistle's side with his elbow, meaning: "It's hard for me, too, but there's compensation in having you along!"
      Seven laboring gentlemen taking off their coats, looking down at the muddy shore, north side of the pier, and rolling up their trousers.
      Back on the bank, beyond the mud, had been built a flooring, which was the butt end of another pier that was to be built, side by side with the Forty-seventh Street pier. On this platform were a pile-driver and a stationary engine-- mud and the river in front. A Dock Department scow was moored to the old pier-- men boarding the scow, coming back with hatchets, saws and axes.
      "On the job, now, I. Birtwhistle!" Mr. Legree taking by the arm I. Birtwhistle, who seemed to shrink from the hand on his arm. "All right, T. Chambers! On the job, S. Rakes!" His seven slaves went down the bank to the mud, where they laid boards to walk on.
      An engineer had appeared upon the platform, an engineer, in jumpers, who put on spectacles, sat on a backless chair, and spread a morning paper in front of him. Mr. Legree standing on the edge of the platform, looking down at his slaves, having no cruel long whip to shake, but shaking his pencil. "On the job, now!"-- then, on another backless chair, sitting beside the engineer.
      The sandy strip between mud and bank was strewn with short, thick timbers, of small trunk size-- men taking hold of these blocks, and starting to roll them; I. Birtwhistle and S. Rakes not knowing why logs should be rolled through mud, but helping to roll-- rolling logs through mud, seemingly aimlessly.
      "Easy, easy. I. Birtwhistle," said T. Chambers, he of the stiff leather apron in front, and a red bandanna hanging from his hip pocket-- having made a log roll several times, he stood erect on a plank and lighted his pipe-- I. Birtwhistle, left alone, going on with the rolling-- two other slaves rolling a log up to where T. Chambers was standing-- they pausing and standing on a plank with him-- I. Birtwhistle pushing and pushing, his muddy hands slipping and slipping.
      "Yes," said T. Chambers, "I'll be married a year to-morrow, and not one fight yet."
      "Go on!" said the two men standing beside him.
      "A year to-morrow, and not one fight yet."
      "That right? That's something to say, all right Must give the old woman credit, then"-- all three laughing and jumping-- two other slaves had splashed them with a log in the mud-- the two other slaves laughing, looking down at their log-- they, too, standing on the plank, causing it to sink slowly.
      "Sure! I do give the old woman credit. I don't allow none of the relatives inside the door."
      "That's what causes most of the trouble; the relatives--" Board sinking-- a slave jumping upon a log.
      S. Rakes and another slave coming along with a log, which they were rolling longitudinally-- end up, end falling-- splash-- slaves on the plank laughing and jumping. S. Rakes' companion slave standing on a stone to light his pipe; S. Rakes struggling on alone with his log-- I. Birtwhistle laboriously rolling and rolling, not knowing where he was going.
      "Yes, sir! A year to-morrow. She brings me in thirty-one dollars a month; eighteen she gets as rent free and gas and coal, and thirteen on rooms let out. See another woman do that! Where's that guy going? Hey, I. Birtwhistle!" I. Birtwhistle having rolled his log to the piles of the old pier.
      "See another woman do that-- no, but out spending your money on you!"
      "That's right about keeping the relatives out, all right." Slaves picking their way from plank to plank, to roll again-- S. Rakes and I. Birtwhistle back to the hard ground of the shore, to roll another log through the mud.
      "Well, Jimmie, how do you like married life?" asked T. Chambers jokingly of S. Rakes.
      "Me?" S. Rakes embarrassed and looking down at his log. "Never again!" S. Rakes standing erect-- I. Birtwhistle laboriously going on with his rolling, glancing up at the platform, as it fearful of the long, black whip of his imaginings.
      Mr. Legree sitting beside the engineer, was talking with a woman, tall and lean as a lamp-post, a large muff, hung by a cord around her neck, like a letter-box, in front of her. A hat-less woman with a muff. The woman had come down to the river for fresh air, with her infant, but had forgotten something; and Mr. Legree was holding out his short arms to hold the baby, while she went home for something.
      Slaves standing down on the planks, several playfully struggling to push one another off into the mud.
      "When's she's in the wrong," said T. Chambers, "she comes right up and says so-- there's a woman! It cost me about a hundred the day I was married!"
      "Me, too," said S. Rakes jokingly.
      "Are you married, Jimmie?"
      I. Birtwhistle slightly raising one arm and springing erect, hearing the dreaded voice of Overseer Legree:
      "Oh, my God! oh, my God!"
      Mr. Legree springing up from his chair, clutching the infant to his legs, where his lap had been: "Thank God! Thank God!" Engineer looking up over his spectacles.
      "Thank God I didn't break it! I thought sure I broke it!" Mr. Legree picking up a milk bottle, examining it, turning it over and over. "All right!" he said, holding the infant, stepping to the edge of the platform. "You can start piling now." He was shaking the long, white milk bottle at I. Birtwhistle. L. B. O'Rourke, a young slave, peak of his cap over one eye, heavy lock of hair brushed over the other eye, explaining to I. Birtwhistle: "We're to build supports to run out the pile-driver." "Hey, I. Birtwhistle," from T. Chambers, standing on a plank, rubbing muddy hands on his stiff, wide apron, "are you sweating?"
      "It takes more than this to make me sweat. I've worked too many years to have this bother me."
      "Good boy! Jimmie, it's a sure thing you're not sweating."
      "Nor you, I guess!"
      "Guess not. We'd better go on with the rolling; there's not enough for piling yet." Seven slaves rolling logs in one direction, and then relaying the planks to roll logs in another direction. L. B. O'Rourke finding things in the mud, and amusing himself; filling a battered can with mud, placing it on a rusty tray, offering refreshments to the others.
      "But I don't do no work to-morrow," said T. Chambers, standing on shore, digging his axe into a log-- G. Harris, who wore a policeman's old helmet, digging his axe into the log-- both slaves sauntering down a plank, having found it easier to pull a log over the mud. "I'm going to play checkers all day to-morrow. There's a guy will back me for fifty dollars any day."
      "Yes, but did he ever?" A slave with his axe over his shoulder coming down the plank from the other end of it-- I. Birtwhistle alone in the mud, rolling and splashing.
      "Oh, he will, all right! And there's chess, too. My old man don't do a thing but sit all day, and all night, playing chess."
      Six slaves gathering on the planks. "I've heard tell of that game. It takes considerable time, don't it?"
      "'Tain't what you could call a game, so far as any playing is concerned at all. 'Tain't play, but study; a good player sees nine moves ahead. I don't know so much about chess, but my old man makes his living at it. The players differ so; one can look a dozen moves ahead, and another not more than a couple."
      "Sure! you'll see that in every kind of work-- you want to look out, Harry, or your friend'll be sweating."
      T. Chambers and G. Harris, edging past the slave with his axe over his shoulder, and going on, leisurely pulling their log after them; this other slave remarking:
      "That's the way to catch cold, sweating is."
      "Did you ever catch cold?" asked S. Rakes, laughing.
      "Not that way!"-- slave laughing and then daintily picking his way from plank to plank to help I. Birtwhistle.
      Mr. Legree coming to the edge of the platform, toddling infant's hand in his hand, calling down to L. B. O'Rourke:
      "When a man's married, his son ain't no more good to him-- oh, don't you cry, baby! your mamma's only gone back for some sewing. I'm married forty-eight years. I'm seventy years old. I'm a tailor by trade. I live number 90 Adams Street."
      "You ought to be past your labor, popper!"
      "Yes, I'm past my labor, but when your son's married, he's no more good to you."
      When noon came-- the abrupt whistles of factories and whistles of tugboats, women coming out of scow cabins and ringing dinner bells.
      "Sim," said Mr. Birtwhistle-- he and Sim climbing up the river bank-- Mr. Parker standing on the bank waiting for them-- Mr. Parker with his little hat on one side of his head, so that he looked like a four-leafed clover with one leaf missing.
      "Go 'way!" Sim was saying; "you're all mud; you're a sight!"
      "But, Sim, I've pulled through this morning, anyway, haven't I?"
      "How about dinner?" Sim was saying.
      "Oh, dinner?" said Mr. Parker, buttons gone from his threadbare coat, buttonholes tied together with bits of shoestring-- no necktie-- collar ends held together with a tack stuck into a bit of flat wood. "Here!" taking bread and cheese from his pocket.
      "Where'd you get that, Asbury?"
      "Where would I get it? Here!"-- taking a cigar from his pocket, breaking the cigar in halves.
      "And how'd you get that?"
      "How would I get it?"
      "Oh, my! my! but Asbury, I've pulled through."
      "He's a horse!" said Sim. "I've been trembling at thoughts of falling-outs I've had with him, and didn't even know it was Samson I was getting gay with."
      "Who, Birt? I never knew anybody stronger."
      "No, no, Sim! I may be somewhat burly, but no one could be really strong and at the same time so terrified by the thought of working. I can barely hope I'll pull through the afternoon. See! I have no muscular development"-- fist drawn up to his shoulder. "No muscle there, Sim."
      "Asbury, he's got an arm like a fair-sized leg."
      "Who, Birt? I've told you before, Sim, that Birt could easily stand off you and me and McKicker all together."
      "No, no! all my power has gone to give me business ability. I have that, but of physical strength I have very little. If I can only pull through the afternoon!" added Mr. Birtwhistle timidly. "The first day will be the worst, I know."
      Then, after a while, the one o'clock whistles; stern one o'clock whistles, having none of the joyousness and celebration of twelve o'clock whistles.
      Work again. I. Birtwhistle standing down in the mud, looking at one of the logs that he had pushed and tugged all morning-- I. Birtwhistle bending over, hands in mud, arm around the log-- log rising to his shoulder, dripping mud down his back-- seemed only to shrug his shoulder-- log lying not up on a pile of logs, but clear over the pile-- great splash-- four or five men jumping.
      "Hey, don't be towing about them half-ton weights so careless, I. Birtwhistle!"
      "See here, young man, we don't care for any advice from you!"
      "I was only saying!"-- L. B. O'Rourke retreating.
      "Come back here. Two of you take that log there."
      "Listen to who's talking! Since when have you been boss here?"
      "Come, come! Altogether too much talk here; we'll never accomplish anything." I. Birtwhistle going to the shore, sinking an axe into a log, and walking off with it, leaving the axe for T. Chambers to tug at, stare at, swear at-- I. Birtwhistle stepping back-- wrist twitching-- axe flying out.
      "That's a powerful guy, Jimmie," said T. Chambers to S. Rakes. "All right, Pete!"-- to Mr. Legree; "we'll go on the sawing"-- calling to a little yellow dog that was sitting in an old market basket: "Hi, Jack! Sic 'em, Jack!" I. Birtwhistle sinking his axe into a log, and walking off with it-- the others throwing sticks into the water, calling: "Sic 'em, Jack!" patting the dog, rolling it in the mud, most of which was covered in the rising water, throwing it to shake its mud off upon one another.
      "Come, boys!" said I. Birtwhistle, "we'll go on the sawing now."
      "What's the matter with you! Hi, Jack! Here, Jack! What's the matter, old boy? Yes, the trusts is ruining the country."
      "Sim, come here and I'll show you how to handle these logs, S. Rakes scraping mud from his shoes. Sauntering down a long plank, one end of which was floating, to see what T. Chambers was doing-- S. Rakes and T. Chambers sauntering to find out what G. Harris was doing. G. Harris was lighting his pipe. T. Chambers and S. Rakes lighting their pipes, S. Rakes with half a cigar crushed into his pipe.
      I. Birtwhistle and G. Harris then sitting on logs, on shore, each at the end of a two- handled saw, making blocks of a long beam-- G. Harris, in his policeman's helmet, leisurely pulling the saw toward him-- I. Birtwhistle ripping it back-- G. Harris yawning, arms stretching up over his head. "Made a night of it, last night." "Come, now, G. Harris; we'll never get anything accomplished." "Here, Jack! here, Jack!" Then sawing a little-- T. Chambers and S. Rakes leaning on their axe handles, thoughtfully watching the sawing.
      Five o'clock. Mr. Legree, from the platform, calling I. Birtwhistle.
      I. Birtwhistle saying to S. Rakes:
      "I wonder what he wants? You don't think he'll tell me I'm incompetent, do you?"
      "Well, hardly!" Very little mud on S. Rakes. "Are you tired?"
      "Sim, if my shoes weren't so bad-- they're ruined altogether now--"
      "Mine, too."
      "I'd really have to take a long walk to be able to sleep to-night. This has been mere child's play for me. I'll go up and see what he wants."
      The engineer was asleep, with his back against a beam of the pile-driver.
      "I. Birtwhistle," said Mr. Legree-- taking off his hat.
      I. Birtwhistle bowing and taking off his hat.
      "Here!"-- Mr. Legree taking a slip of paper from inside his hat-- "here's your check."
      "You discharge me!"
      "You're altogether too strong; you're too powerful!" said the little old man fretfully. "There's been complaints from the men. You'd wear out any ordinary gang in a week's time."
      "Well, I must say--"
      "Off the job! off the job!" cried the little old man angrily. "Go be a strong man! It's traveling with a circus where You ought to be. How long would a job last with the likes of you on it?"-- bending his knees forward and his neck backward to look up wrathfully at I. Birtwhistle, who, himself, was not tall.
      "Well, all I can say--"
      "Off the job! off the job! you're too powerful!"

Next Chapter


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

Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 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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