The Outcast Manufacturers

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited Mr. X

Pearson's Magazine


      To the west, a street-wide view of the Palisades, dull gray as a block of lead; a streak of North River, gleaming like bright, clean metal melted from its base. Boys in the street, playing ball, with a banana stalk. A dead horse lying in the gutter; boys jumping on it, enjoying the elasticity of its ribs; a greasy old man tearing off one of the horseshoes. Huge, perpendicular nets in which were caught enormous bats — an impression of the fire escapes and the windows of tenement houses, black with the pall of dark homes.
      On the sidewalk, stained where someone of unusual fastidiousness had thrown stale beer before having a pail filled again, stood a tall, young man — sleepy-looking youth; half-closed eyelids and wide, irregular-looking lips — stubby finger nails of an otherwise invisible big hand, dropping a skein of red worsted. He stood, irresolute, between the dead horse and a low stoop. On the first step of the stoop — a young woman, in a sleeveless wrapper, making her form serpentine for no modern reason, but bulging out a hip to help support an infant under her arm. On the top step, a burly woman, her hair gray with ashes that she had been sifting.
      "Scabs! "Scabs!" she shouted back into the house.
      "The boss inspector!" jeeringly, from a woman darkened in the front hall.
      "Union men for me!" from her of the powdered coiffure. "Union men who ain't afraid to go out of doors nights!"
      "You can't stand out on the stoop with them, if things keeps up," she said, plaintively, to the serpentine young woman, who bulged some more, giggled, and, giggling, turned her face away.
      "Lot of damn scabs! Or you're no union men, anyway. How the lot of yez makes a living is the block's mystery."
      "The boss inspector! Everywhere she ever lived she was known as a disturber!"
      "Let your old man come out and fight me! I'll show him what a woman can do." Then gently, to the young woman, "Warm ain't it?" And, so very gently, "How's baby?"
      A bulky man came out to the stoop, his suspenders hanging in two loops behind him; a man with a face curiously flat and white of nose tip, chin tip, and cheek bones; such a face as bakers see, pressed white and flat against their window glass.
      "Oh, now, Mrs. Maheffy, my wife didn't mean anything. You ought to know that by this time. Isn't she always saying: 'What would this house be without Mrs. Maheffy?' You two haven't any call to fall out."
      "Ah, sure, man dear, 'tis the weather; sure, any woman's apt to be expressing the bit of an opinion now and then. What's ailing you, man dear? Don't pay any attention to me."
      "Excuse me" — young man on the sidewalk; his long lips flickering in an uncontrollable grin — "I'm a little lost, I think — I mean I think I've got the wrong number. What I mean is I'm looking for the Universal Manufacturing Company."
      Said the press-faced man: "Come right in. Am I wrong in taking you for Mr. Rakes, of New Jersey?"
      "Yes — well, they generally call me Sim. Yes, I'm Sim Rakes. I was looking for a factory, though. Is Mr. Birtwhistle here?"
      "Oh, then you got my letter? Yes, I'm Mr. Birtwhistle. Yes, we have a vacancy. Warm, ain't it?" Facing Sim, slowly shuffling backward, calling over his shoulder: "He got my letter."
      A pattering sound. When Sim was permitted to reach the doorway of a front room, he saw a woman darting around, like a single corn-stalk in a gust of mind; a woman husked in wilted green, her hair, like a tuft of sunburned corn-silk, hanging and unkempt. She pattered to things that she kicked under a stove; thrusting things under a sofa. She saw Sim, and ran to an inner room, through a doorway, where blue curtains dwindled away from each other, like overalls of a straddling giant, rest of him protruding upstairs somewhere. Bones that had been thrown to a cat, on the floor; excelsior from a sofa, the springs of which touched the floor.
      There were two tables against a wall. By one of them sat a woman, with one shoulder somewhat lower than the other; shoulders rounded so that she was almost hump-backed. A glaringly red shirt-waist. Her hair was black and shiny and compact with pomade, parted in the middle, looking like the wing-cases of a monstrous beetle — monster of a beetle, in some other kind of an existence, hovering over a proportionate, but not very flower-like, flower. At a second table sat a man; hair cut in the shape of a chopping bowl, worn down over his ears — or ear; one ear missing — chopping bowl clapped down over his head; features gentle and boyish.
      "Mr. Rakes, Mr. Asbury Parker," said Mr. Birtwhistle.
      The man was wearing a night-shirt, tucked down into trousers, sockless feet in slippers; he was holding his hands, dropping like a kangaroo's front paws, over a dusty typewriter. "Oh! Were you speaking to me?"
      Emotional blue curtains; the woman behind then clutching them.
      Piles of stationary between the two tables; disordered piles of typewritten letters that had fallen upon stacks of envelopes, mixed with catalogs and paper wrappers.
      The green-papered walls of the room were blotched with stove-smoke; soot-smeared with strange shapes; a green room, like a caisson of glass, sunk somewhere amid suspended wreckage and weeds; a sunken cell in the Sargasso Sea.
      "We didn't expect you, today — but I'll not apologize!" said Mr. Birtwhistle.
      Mrs. Birtwhistle had reappeared, having piled her hair into a high, toppling peak. Feeling broke from her. "Any other man wouldn't be found living so. You had money last month. Why didn't you make home then? There's no use saying any more."
      "I'll tell you, Mr. Rakes — can you typewrite? You might start in here with us; your fortune might be made here."
      A child strolled into the office of the Universal Manufacturing Company. "Oh, that's a nice waist you got, Miss Guffy!" She went to a chair, but springs protruded, and she soon exclaimed, "My heavens!" and went to try the big arm-chair.
      Sounds overhead; someone jumping upon fire wood to smash it into stove-size — and in a quavering old man's voice a monotonously repeated oath was groaned in a room upstairs.
      "Yes," said Mr. Birtwhistle, "we are thinking of extending our business."
      "Heavens!" exclaimed the little girl; the back of the arm-chair had fallen. "But, Mrs. Birtwhistle, Mrs. Maheffy sent me down to know would you have the sharing of a pint of beer with her."
      "Will we?" asked Mrs. Birtwhistle. "Will we run up for a moment? Will I bring her up a cup of soup? Will I?"
      Mr. Birtwhistle shrugged his shoulders and held out his hands weakly.
      "I suppose we can run up for a minute. This mole under my chin is loose. Will I tear it off? Will I?"
      "No!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, promptly and decisively. "Well, then, Mr. Rakes," in a jovial voice, "social duties sees to call us. We'll be right back. Don't be afraid of Miss Guffy."
      "Go 'long with you!" said Miss Guffy, who had been staring at Sim.
      "I think," said Sim, "I'd better be going; I only dropped in."
      "Sure, man dear — sure, you're only a boy," said Miss Guffy, "sit where you are; they'll be right back."
      The little girl, looking out a front window, called: "Miss Guffy, Miss Dunphy and the other Miss Dunphy is coming up the street, and coming here, I guess."
      "Bad luck to them!" said Miss Guffy. "They always come when the home is upset. They're living-out girls; they're Mrs. Birtwhistle's nieces."
      The first Miss Dunphy who came into the room was a potted-palm young woman, short and broad-shouldered, dressed in a suit of flower-pot color, green feathers, like scrub palmetto, in her hat. She came noisily into the room, shouting: "Ho! Ho! Is it yourselves? Where's the Birds?" then turning to the hall door, waving a large red hand to someone on the stairs, shouting heartily: "Ho! Ho! Is it yourself, Mr. Tunnan? And how the divil are you?" She ran to the blue curtains, standing between them, calling: "Birt! Ho, Birt!" then, in a hoarse whisper, to Miss Guffy:
      "Is the slave-drivers out? Is the slave-drivers out airing theirselves? Here's Emma. What do you think of Emma? She leaves me, at Fifty-seventh street, and says she's going shopping, and I runs across her down on your corner."
      The other Miss Dunphy — straight up and down, dressed in white. Had she stood very still — her colorless, round face— she might possibly have been mistaken for an aquarium globe on a marble pedestal.
      "How are you? How the divil are you?" called the terra-cotta Miss Dunphy, running to the window, shaking her hand at an acquaintance at a window across the street, shouting: "Is the old man working yet? Oh, you're doing your bit of wash, are you? Upon me soul, he's been idle long enough now. He ought to get something to do, so you'll not pass another dry Sunday" — turning around, remarking: "'Tis a pretty waist you have, Miss Guffy. And how such was it?"
      "Oh, just a little thing I got over on the avenue. They don't half sew the buttons on these made things."
      "And how such was it, if it's no harm to ask you?"
      "Two-ninety-eight. Well, not married yet?"
      "I didn't ask you if you was, Miss Guffy," answered the white Miss Dunphy, frowning heavily.
      "You did not, girl, dear, and I'm but joking with you. I suppose you're like myself — no hurry, but leaving it to the will of God."
      "Oh," said Miss Dunphy, smiling brightly, "I have a gentleman friend." She flushed a little — flushes like goldfish in an aquarium, fluttering in her globe-like, colorless face — goldfish in a globe of milk, perhaps. "Well, he's not my special friend, though he bought me this dress — I suppose you know? — and this ring," taking a ring from her pocketbook, "but I don't like it, and don't be wearing it, except when he's around. He's a fine, big man, though, and as tall as this here gentleman — "
      "My! Where are my manners?" cried Miss Guffy. "What did you say your name was, mister? Miss Dunphy — sure, I'll introduce the both of yez together — this gentleman says he is Mr. Rakes."
      "And," continued Emma Dunphy, after she had expressed what she considered the proper degree of pleasure, "he took me to Coney Island three times, and spent twelve dollars on me each time. But are you going to work here, Mr. Rakes, if there's no harm in it, me asking? Lawd have mercy on you, if you are. Do they owe you much, Miss Guffy?"
      "Arrah, what ails you girl? Do you think I'd let them run up on me? 'Twas only last night out in the hall, for everybody to hear, speaking right up to her, I says, 'Pay me what you owes me, Mrs. Birtwhistle, and small thanks for me own.' She felt like she was shot; she slunk away like a shot cur. She wouldn't wish it for me telling you, for ten dollars, this blessed minute. I bought these ribbons, too; they go nice with the waist. And have you got a good place, now?"
      "The two of us is working in the same house, you know. They can't do enough for us; the other help dassn't know 'boo' to us; but if my gentleman friend hadn't bought me this dress — I suppose you know? — I'd have scarce a rag to my back. As you well know, and as is no news to you, Miss Guffy, every time we come here it's 'Just five dollars more,' or 'tis 'Just ten dollars to tide over a week Friday.' I took my solemn oath I'd come here no more; this one done the same. They paid our passage over, but it's been well taken out of us. Yet here we are; 'tis always some nature we must have for our own, I suppose."
      "Ho! Ho!" was Katie Dunphy's whole-souled way of laughing; she beat her knees with her large red hands; then shook the hands excitedly at her acquaintance across the street, leaning toward the window, shouting:
      "And is the old man's corns better? Ah, 'tis the sad infliction! And what are you cooking? Yes, I see the smoke of it. Lamb? Eggplant, you say? Oh, steak?" Katie standing, and leaning out the window — "I ain't real a lover of steak, myself. No, not a lover, but likes it rare, with the blood running out, but not a lover of steak, really. What? Corn-beef hash?"
      "I guess," said Katie, returning to the sofa, "she don't like the smoke seen coming from her room. She's closed the window."
      "Faith, I don't know," Miss Guffy was saying. "The two of them is good to me. There's no denying that. They don't pay me, and I'm the poor slave runs all their errands for them, the bigger fool me, doing it, but they took me in off of the streets when I had nowheres to lay my head."
      "How can you say that, being good to you, Miss Guffy! They couldn't be good to nobody. Good to theirselves and naught else. She fixed our pockets for us, and yours, too, as you very well know. How will Katie ever face her with that new hat on, I don't know. It's too bad the poor girl would buy a hat for herself, isn't it? How can you say they're good to you? I thought you had more spirit, Miss Guffy. I'd thought, one day last winter, she'd yank the arm off of me when I had the audacity to look in a shop at a bit of fur, at a dollar-ninety-eight, for my neck. Just wait, you, till she comes down and sees Katie's hat; you'll see spite crawling in her face, you will, indeed! My!" Emma's dull face lighting up, like a shadowed globe, suddenly transfixed by a sunbeam, "How her ears must be burning."
      Miss Katie Dunphy slapped both her knees and pinched them hard; she turned to the left and grimaced, and squirmed, grimacing, to the right, pinching hard, which was her silent way of laughing.
      "Oh, I could tell you a lot of things, speaking now, if I wanted to," said Miss Guffy. "Has she one spark of gratefulness for all you've done for the two of them, Miss Dunphy? No, but 'tis keeping the door here shut, when youse come calling to the neighbors won't be seeing you. Oh, hoity-toity! We're up in the world! We're manufacturers, we are, and look out would the neighbors see our nieces are living-out girls and late landed. 'As good as gold, the girls are,' that's her saying it, 'but such greenhorns. They've not been over long, so keep the door shut so they'll not be disgracing us."'
      Whereupon, rival torrents:
      "Indeed, but we could be dressed in silks, if we'd kept what belonged to us!" and "We haven't learned to sponge on others, anyway!" and "We could be dressed in the finest in the land, wasn't our hearts so soft!"
      "Will you excuse me a moment?" asked Sim. With his teeth he nicked a finger nail. "Say, this is fierce for me, you know! Why, just see where I'm placed. I got ahold of one of Mr. Birtwhistle's catalogs, and I wrote to him to know if he had a vacancy. And he told me to come on. Say, this is fierce for me! You know how it is when you come to the city for a job — well, you can't go back; that's all. In our town there ain't a man, woman or child that isn't saying, 'Oh, my! Sim's got a job, at last.' That's right! That's what they're saying. I don't think I've been treated right. I came here, expecting to see a big factory, where everything you could think of was made and sold. His catalog said so. Don't he sell anything, then?"
      "Arrah, man, dear — though you're only a boy," said Miss Guffy, roughly — "Of course he do sell everything under the sun, he do, and makes some money sometimes."
      "If she'd only manage him better!" said Miss Emma Dunphy. "He means well, but he's no man of business, is he, Mr. Parker?"
      "I don't see anything here," said Sim. "Has he a storehouse?"
      Then the white Miss Dunphy took a kindly interest in Sim; she rose as if to take a chair nearer Sim, but then sat again beside her terra cotta sister, elbows on knees, her globe between her hands.
      "Did ye never hear of the mail-order business, sir? Was he better managed he'd make out better, but the first thing he does, when he gets a little money, he must hire a lot of help, and talk of taking a floor in a skyscraper. And the faker he is — not saying one word against him — but he is, and the Universal Manufacturing Company, how are you!"
      "Indeed, how are you!" said Miss Guffy.
      Miss Emma Dunphy beat her knees.
      "Living here, and having a telephone number printed on his billheads, but that number down in the cigar store. And him advertising to have correspondence sent to Desk K or Desk W. Is it your desk that is Desk K, Mr. Parker?"
      "Oh, a man of business?" said Mr. Parker.
      Sim was asking: "How is the business done then?"
      "I'll make it plain to you, sir. He advertises and sends out his catalogs, like as if he had in stock all the things he advertises, but hasn't; not a blessed trick, nor toy, nor patent baby-carriage. I doubt there's anything he sells that he's ever laid eyes on. The McGuire Supply Company has everything, and they fill his orders. Say he gets an order from Mr. Brown, of Newark, for a coffee roaster. Mr. Brown sends his twenty-five cents. He writes Mr. Brown's name and address on his own printed label and sends sixteen cents to the jobbers, keeping nine cents of it himself. The jobbers send the roaster, with his label on it to Mr. Brown, with nothing to show that it don't come from Mr. Birtwhistle, who makes nine cents."
      "That's not so bad,' said Sim. "The only thing is, are there orders enough."
      "Oh, Desk K?" asked Mr. Parker.
      Voices on the stairs; voices of Mr. and Mrs. Birtwhistle, and of the passionate but gentle woman whom Sim had seen on the stoop.
      "Sure, send him right up! He'll be heartily welcome. I'll treat him like one of my own family."
      "Lovely voices," sneered Miss Guffy.
      Mr. Birtwhistle had gone away with a baker's-window face; he came back with a jeweler's-window face. Mrs. Birtwhistle had gone out with a cup of soup in her hand; she came back with a sandwich in one hand and a kitten in the other, running to her nieces, giving Katie the sandwich and Emma the kitten — "Will you have some mustard on it? And how are you?"
      "As good as gold," said Emma, without such resentment.
      "Now, young man, your case!" Mr. Birtwhistle's important manner making Sim sit up respectfully. "I received your letter, and answered you with an offer, I believe. My own early experience has nursed a warm spot in my heart for any young man, just embarking, as a lowly pioneer upon the waves of life."
      "Yes, sir," said Sim respectfully.
      "Then let me tell you something that I have never ceased to regret. I am not a man of profound education, which is why I need the services of some young man who has enjoyed better advantages than I ever had. I have had only two years' schooling in my life. Mr. Rakes, when I started out in life I had only five dollars." A rhetorical pause — Mr. Birtwhistle, having thrust out his chin toward a costly bronze figurine on the mantelpiece, held the chin where the pause had found it, both arms out wide. "As business has grown I have employed help to answer inquiries, address envelopes, mail circulars, and attend to the routine work, but now that assistance is inadequate."
      "He's up in the clouds again," said Mrs. Birtwhistle to a Miss Dunphy. "Let him rave."
      The blotchy green walls; the bronze figurine like something of value that had fallen from a wreck overhead.
      "Let me congratulate you, Mr. Rakes, upon your serious determination to make a start in life. Let me tell you that success requires three things: honesty, industry and perseverance. I think I must have impressed you —" He stepped forward, with a paternal hand intended encouragingly for Sim's shoulder. A suspender loop caught upon a corner of the stove, switching him back sharply. Important manner snatched away from him; Mr. Birtwhistle pretending to study his suspenders; Emma saying, heavily, to Miss Guffy, who was clapping her hands, "Maybe you're laughing at something I said and didn't mean?"
      Studying his suspenders, Mr. Birtwhistle was saying:
      "You take Mr. Rakes up to Mrs. Maheffy's. You can do something, can't you? You tell him he's to board with Mr. Maheffy, as we're full up here. Well, can't you?"
      Mrs. Birtwhistle, ignoring Sim, pretending not to have heard this. "What?" Mr. Parker slowly rising, a finger hovering over the typewriter, and cautiously pressing as he rose. "I'll take you up to Mrs. Maheffy's."
      "Yes," hesitated Sim, "though I have hardly arranged —"
      There was nobody with whom to arrange. Mrs. Birtwhistle ignoring Sim; Mr. Birtwhistle sitting on the sagging sofa, his head hanging almost to his knees; Mr. Birtwhistle's murmuring plaintively: "Got a match? Anybody got a match?"
      "Well, yes, all right," said Sim, helplessly, and leaving helpless-looking Mr. Birtwhistle, he went with Mr. Parker, who seemed almost non-existent.
      "Well, now, we only run in for a moment. This one got her pay, and I'm not short, by any means." Heaviness smiled brightly from Emma's face. "Don't youse two go short for the lack of anything we've got. This one wouldn't see you go short; neither would I."
      "We're just as such obliged to you —"
      "I'm speaking for this one, too. We must look out for our own. 'Tis only nature to stand by your own, and if us poor folks doesn't stand by each other, who will? This one and me doesn't need anything, this month."
      "Never!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, violently, folding his arms. "Say no more; my mind is made up."
      Out to the hall with them, where Katie, her large red hands swinging in front of her like mittens hung by a cord from the shoulders, began to shout farewells.
      "Then we'll be down again as soon as we can. You never see anything of Mrs. McGee, her whose husband wasn't dead two days when she comes out with a light hat on?"
      From the stoop, Katie shouted:
      "Oh, you never see anything of the girl over the way — the Jew girl who married the nigger? He must of hypnotized her. The cigar man seen his going in there one night, and said, 'Say, where are you going?' He said, 'None of your business!' Just so impudent."
      Out in the street, Katie shouted:
      "Oh, listen, the dream I had last night! I dreamed I had two of my old teeth in my hand, and three others fell out. Losing false teeth means losing false friends."
      "Don't be shouting so; 'tis ridiculous," said Emma.
      "Let me alone," said Katie. "But would you be coming down to a store-window with me? There's the makings of a silk dress I wants to see."
      "Faith, but you're putting on airs, Katie."
      "'Tis air may be, Emma, but for two years, at home, my heart was set on a silk dress, one that could stand alone, Emma. 'Twas the first thing I thought of when we landed, but something was always putting me off — "
      Someone was calling them; Mrs. Birtwhistle, holding her toppling peak of hair, was running after them. "Katie! Emma! Well, you know the rest, I'm thinking. You know how he is. Oh, yes, so noble and grand one minute, and then sending me — you know the rest, I'm thinking."
      "Why, sure, dear, wasn't we offering it to you?"
      "You know how he is."
      "You can have it for the asking. Wasn't we willing, and more than willing? We'll have to step in this doorway for a minute."
      And then — "Our unfortunate selves! Our unfortunate selves! You were going right home, were you, but you made right here with your bit of wages, did you? 'Tis the nature within us does these things."

Next Chapter


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

Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Pearson's Magazine (American Edition) version:

Chapter 2 3 4 5

The Pearson's version can be resumed at chapter 9 of the Dodge edition.

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