The Outcast Manufacturers
A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book
Edited Mr. X
With an infant in her arms, and followed by a little girl, Mrs. Maheffy came into the room; Mrs. Maheffy in a wrapper of the extravagance of design that is seen oftener in wall paper. Mr. Maheffy, in his socks, shoes in his hand Mr. Maheffy's bleak face; a dismal face with a straggling yellow beard; desolate as waste land and canebrake in the winter. Mr. Maheffy going to the stove, pulling out the damper.
"Don't be so smart!" said Mrs. Maheffy, pushing in the damper. "I'm building this fire. Don't be so smart around a kitchen. You see too such."
"The divil take the lodgers!" said Mrs. Maheffy, hearing indications of Sim's existence.
"Good morning!" said Mrs. Maheffy, cordially. "If you can eat in the kitchen without no oilcloth on the floor! The landlord's been promising us a new floor, and those boards would wear out any oilcloth; but the landlords do nothing for you; they're very independent."
Mr. Maheffy kept his back turned to Sim; put his hands in his pockets and whistled.
"It was very different where we lived before," said Mrs. Maheffy, in a high, affected voice, "and had the whole floor to ourselves. Indeed there wasn't scarcely anything but doctors and dentists and undertakers in that street. How do you like your eggs, Sir?"
"Me? Oh, any way."
"Some likes them hard and some likes them soft and some likes them medjum."
In a high chair, by a table, sat the infant; an infant with a double chin and the bald head and high, intellectual forehead of a United States Senator; ideal United States Senator, in days before current events and the moving pictures so disillusioned; Senatorial infant looking at Sim and smiling benevolently. Sim played with his knife, quickly ceased playing with his knife; saw a dish of butter, and for the sake of any little act that would seem to mean easiness and at-homeness, took butter.
"Oh, look, mama, at all the butter he's taking!" from Miss Maheffy, a child with hair close-cropped; faintest of possible eyebrows; ears pressed to her head with strips of plaster.
Mrs. Maheffy was like a hall room frying eggs her wallpaper wrapper Mrs. Maheffy like a hall room turned inside out. She was snapping at Mr. Maheffy "Look around and see if there's anything else wrong! I never see such a man since he got back. Nothing suits him. If everything was so refined-like where you were, 'tis a pity you didn't stay there. You must make yourself right at home, Mr. Rakes."
"Oh, me? I always do. That's my way."
"Sit down," in rough pleasantry to her husband. "If I hit you one lick with this frying pan, there'll be less old guff out of you." Mr. Maheffy sitting beside Sim, again whistling; then he snarled because his wife had set his cup of coffee at his left, instead of at his right side.
"You you damn old ex-convict, you!" shrieked Mrs. Maheffy. Then, to Sim: "Oh, Gawd pardon my soul but you do get so tough in these here tenements. They're such a terrible coarse lot here, Mr. Rakes. I can't sleep nights for fear of being in the same house with such rough people," pouring out coffee, turning to jerk the frying pan. "And they're watching every little thing, if you're not off of the same pattern with them. There's those says I have a proud walk, and that makes me enemies. Let them: 'tis my own walk."
"Not at all!" said Sim.
Mr. Maheffy, sitting with his straggling-bearded chin sunk between his high-pointed shoulders. He stirred his coffee, almost having to reach up to it, so far down under the table was he sitting. Then he turned around in his chair and put on his shoes. "Sit down and have a bowl of coffee," he said to his wife, speaking with motionless lips.
"Oh, my!" Mrs. Maheffy's high, affected voice. "Oh, now, I couldn't think of touching it, now you said 'bowl' to me. Oh, my! Anything in a bowl is so coarse. I couldn't; my appetite is gone, now you mention a bowl to me. If I hit you a clip on the lug," to Miss Maheffy, "you'll stop that, I bet you. No, no, don't do that, Helen dear. Mamma won't speak again, Helen."
"And," to Mr. Maheffy, "don't you dare to ask me to sit down in my own house! I'll sit down, or stand up, just as I please, in my own house." Mr. Maheffy, his high-pointed shoulders almost to his ears, his elbows spread far apart on the table, slashing fried eggs with his knife, cutting them up fine, and cutting furiously before eating.
Someone looking in from the hall. "Good morning, Mr. Maheffy."
Mr. Maheffy looked at the ceiling and whistled.
"Excuse me, Mrs. Maheffy, I thought you were alone," glancing at Sim, "but, if you're washing, today, can I have the loan of your suds, after you're through with them?"
"You can have them and welcome," said Mrs. Maheffy, cordially.
"The cheek of her!" after the woman had gone. "So afraid they'll miss something oh, now, baby!" Senatorial infant starting to roar, and to pound, with a cup, the tray of the high chair. "Oh, see de man, baby! Oh, laugh, baby! See de man!" Whereupon the infant took a better look at Sim, and laughed sarcastically, but then smiled indulgently. Whereupon Sim felled called upon to say, "That's a fine, big child. How old is he?" and to express astonishment when told, though not knowing whether he should regard the age as astonishingly great or astonishingly little. He tried to look benevolent, but gave that up, so great was the noble and intellectual-looking infant's superiority.
"Give me a penny!" cried Miss Maheffy, who had been sitting on the floor, chanting meaningless jumbles, such as "Mary went to church with her baby in a trunk and fed the horse pork chops." "Give me a penny! Rakes, Shakes, Jakes, Snakes! Oh, what a name! Is that his real name, mamma? Give me a penny!" seizing Sim's arm, and shaking it so ferociously that a strip of plaster loosened, and one of her ears shot from captivity.
"Lamby! Lamby! You mustn't speak so to the gentleman."
Mr. Maheffy rising, and Sim saying to him, awkwardly: "Good morning!"
"I haven't gone yet," Mr. Maheffy laughing dismally.
When Sim went down to the office of the Universal Manufacturing Company, the door was not open for business; so Sim went out on the stoop. The house was under a cataract, this morning; fluttering of wash from the windows; falls broken by ledge-like fire-escape landings. Under the falls were three maids of the mist, two sitting on a step by the sidewalk, burly-backed maids, gently swinging baby carriages in front of them; and the young woman, in the sleeveless wrapper, standing on the sidewalk, one foot up on a step, to have a knee to perch a child upon. The three maids were watching an elderly woman who was coming up the street; her head in a black hood that made her head block-shaped; her hands held primly in front of her, carrying a prim, little satchel. This woman was kicking along a bit of folded tobacco-wrapper. Finally she picked it up; it did look rather like a dollar bill.
"The old miser!" said a maid. "That's the way they get rich, though. They say she picks over cabbage leaves in the green grocer's garbage barrels."
"Hugh, would ye!"
"How do you do, Mrs. McKicker? I hope you're well this morning."
"You do?" Mrs. McKicker's head back, and the prim little satchel held high in her hands; Mrs. McKicker cackling a jeering laugh; then, passionately:
"You do? Oh, I like sincerity, I do! I like to hear people say what they mean. I like sincerity!"
"Yes, Mrs. McKicker, there ain't no trusting them's not sincere."
"Is this this morning's newspaper? I didn't have a penny with me; it's robbery, buying a paper every morning to keep track of the kidnapping case. That poor mother my heart goes out to her. See that only a line! I'm glad I didn't buy it." Going up the stoop, she smartly rapped the shoulder of the sleeveless maid "I like sincerity!" her head far back; satchel high in both hands; the cackling, jeering laughter.
"Musha, bad luck to her! The old rip, with all the money she's got there, there! Da! Da! Did it wake up?"
Miss Guffy appearing in the doorway; shabby, vivid Miss Guffy: a salmon-colored shirtwaist, vermilion ribbon about her neck, bright green ribbons at her elbows. "Merciful Heavens!" cried Miss Guffy, clasping her hands, casting her eyes up, as if witnessing a frightful disaster; "Is it yourself?"
"Go right in, sir. Was it yourself knocking on the door? Go right in, sir." She went down the stoop, looking back, to wave her hand toward the hall, repeating, "Go right in, sir!" and down the street, drawing up her left shoulder so that shoulders seemed of equal height; conspicuous Miss Guffy; misshapen in salmon, vermilion, and green.
"Isn't she the bold thing! Willie! Willie! You'd be thinking anyone so unfortunate would dress quiet, and try to keep out of sight. Willie! Willie! Oh, you bad child! I'll fan you, if you don't keep out of that gutter; that dress on clean this morning. If it was the will of God to make me look like that, I'd keep mighty quiet and out of sight."
In the office of the Universal Manufacturing Company, Mrs. Birtwhistle was frying a steak, and Sim saw the cause of the blurred suggestions of deep-sea monsters upon the green walls. It was too such trouble to chop sticks into stove size; with a tilted pan, Mrs. Birtwhistle was frying on a fire of long, protruding sticks, making an aperture, between stove and pan, out of which smoke was puffing. "You can sit over there, I suppose," said Mrs. Birtwhistle, not looking at Sim, twitching out a hand behind her. "That just suits you," to Mr. Birtwhistle, who was spread out upon the sofa. "Lie on your back and catch flies! Now you are doing what you're fitted for." Mr. Birtwhistle dabbing at flies, showing no evidence of fitness, dabbing every time unsuccessfully.
"I'd 'a' been back long ago, but for Mr. Dickerman's clerk keeping me," Miss Guffy returning. "There's no getting away from him. 'Indeed, Mrs. Guffy,' is his very words to me, 'if I wasn't a married man, you're the first woman I'd be thinking of' the cheek of him! 'Is your husband long dead?' he asks me. I tells him. 'My wife,' he says, 'is in delicate health.' 'Sure,' says I, 'she was never your equals in the first place.' I'm sorry for the poor man; with her everlasting doctor's bills he'd be well rid of her. But this cabbage here, he passed unbeknownst to the boss, to me. That's what I get for washing his white jackets for him. That's the way to get along. I'd of had a can of corn, too, if Mr. Dickerman didn't come in just then."
"Are you feeling pretty well, this morning, Mrs. Birtwhistle?" inquired Sim, trying to ingratiate himself.
"If I didn't forget you, Guffy! I suppose you can have a bit of my steak."
"Don't mind me, girl, dear. Sure, any poor picking does for Guffy."
"To work!" said Mr. Birtwhistle. "Everybody to business."
"But what am I to do?" Sim nervously, to Asbury Parker.
"Those are complaining letters," explained Mr. Parker.
"Yes; but what of it?"
"There are complaints in them," Mr. Parker explained.
Miss Guffy sitting at a window, a pile of catalogs beside her, and a board upon her lap. "Oh, how fine we are! Such airs! Oh, my, aren't we fine, this morning!" looking out bitterly, at a well-dressed woman passing.
"Mrs. Birtwhistle," asked Sim, "is it true that Mr. Maheffy is an ex-convict?"
"Gossiping like that!" grumble from Mr. Birtwhistle. "Anyway, let me think: I'm busy." A snatch, and this time he did catch a fly, which, between a second finger and a thumb, he shot across the room.
"It's true for you!" said Mrs. Birtwhistle, eagerly; and she went to Sim's table and leaned on it. "Isn't it a great wonder she ever dares open her mouth in this house? Why? What did they say, Mr. Rakes? Tell me."
"Well there was some reference to it, I believe. I don't just remember how it came out."
"The poor divil! I feels sorry for him," said Miss Guffy.
"He burned some horses for the insurance on them. He's a brute."
"He is; he's a wicked brute."
Sound of an oath shouted in a room upstairs; oath repeated, but, instead of being shouted, it seemed uttered appealingly.
"That poor old man's dying," said Mrs. Birtwhistle, to Sim. "It's old Mr. Strout; he won't last long now, because he's had two strokes already. The second took all his speech away except one oath that was always on his lips when he was well. Now that's all he can say, and he shrieks it when he's mad about anything, and then his daughters draw down the shades to darken the room, like you cover a parrot's cage to keep it quiet. He swelters in the dark, and tries to tell them he'll be good, if they'll only give him air and light, but his oath is all his lips will form. Still you can tell whether he's praying or really cursing."
A woman in the doorway big-headed woman, wearing a little, round, black hat, black veil, from the hat in a cylinder around her head, and a massive nose partly visible, like something in a cage, veiled if not altogether darkened.
"Ah, Mrs. Kilgore!" said Mr. Birtwhistle, not such interested. "You'll have to excuse me, I'm so busy thinking; but come in you're not disturbing me. I'm so busy, Mrs. Kilgore "
"That was!" the woman interrupted, with a bass voice.
"Oh, yes, I forgot; excuse me, Mrs. Melody. And how is Mrs. Melody?"
"The knees bothers me," said Mrs. Melody, stooping to rub her knees, dropping carrots from a paper bag. "Does the knees ever bother you, Birtwhistle? 'Tis the rheumatic. Does the knees ever bother you, Guffy? Have you a bit of fire going, Mrs. Birtwhistle? I was thinking was you boiling anything, I'd be dropping my carrots in the pot, and save the two fires going this hot day," sitting down, rubbing her knees.
"Sure, leave the carrots. Are you still down there, Mrs. Kilgore?"
"'Tis me day off, Mrs. Birtwhistle, you know. Are ye not coming back to work yourself?"
"Indeed not! My old man is making good money, now. I was only down there until we could pull through. And how's Fanny?"
"But you might be earning for yourself. 'Tis too bad you left us; there was six poisoned by the corn beef, and two in the hospital."
"I could smash him!" this from Miss Guffy, who was looking at a newspaper. "I could smash anybody that gets rich in the world. They couldn't but by thieving and grinding the poor. I could smash him!" She tore up the newspaper, and threw the pieces upon the floor.
"Oh, Fanny? Florrie Noonan never came back. Oh, Fanny asks me two or three times do I ever see you, me never letting on I've moved next door to you. What they don't know will be of no information to them. Josie was asking."
"Not the one in the green waist?"
"You know; the skinny one. She had a scrap, on watch expressed herself something terrible, and the steward listening. You know the blonde?"
"The tall, new girl?"
"The one on the mangle, in the plaid skirt. She do have me cursing so, God forgive me, it was better I stayed away from there. Does the knees ever bother you, Guffy? Then I'll be in later, for the carrots."
Loud pounding in the room overhead. "Bad luck to her and the money she never come honest by!" said Miss Guffy, angrily. "She's the biggest thief in the world, or she'd never have that much money."
"Mrs. McKicker is putting a new lock on her door," said Birtwhistle, to Sim. "She has every kind of a padlock and spring-lock on now. It's an insult to the whole house to see the locks she has on her doors."
"That reminds me!" exclaimed Birtwhistle. "I'll go immediately."
"Are you going to do that?" demanded Mrs. Birtwhistle. "You're going to be such a fool as to add a dollar to your own rent, and nobody asking you for it?"
"Am I a pauper to pay less than others?" said Mr. Birtwhistle, excitedly. "You got the rooms for a dollar less than anybody else pays "
"If you have a dollar to spare, you might better spend it on your wife."
"Well, now, on second thought, I guess Miss Guffy had better take the money up, and explain that my pride won't let us have such an arrangement. I've got a great deal to attend to this morning."
"Pay him more? If I could, I'd pay him nothing."
"Right!" cried Miss Guffy, excitedly jumping up and clapping her hands. "My blessing on you! My blessing on anybody who won't pay nothing! You might better run up a month on them and get out, or two months, if we can; so don't do such a thing, I beg you, Mr. Birtwhistle. Look at this picture they call beautiful. A beauteous wife, is she? Holy farmer! A regular old biddy! God save the mark; everybody gets in the papers is beautiful, nowadays."
"Was that Mrs. Kilgore?" asked Asbury Parker.
"Miss Guffy, will you take this money up to Mr. McKicker?"
"Oh, I suppose so, but it do make me sick to go near them. It takes me down with a sick headache for the rest of the day to see anybody that gets along in the world by thieving and robbing. The bloody misers to live here in this tenement, when they've got money enough to live on Fifth Avenue! How clean she is, buying wood and making the woodman leave it at the door, to search in it for cockroaches ye divils, ye!" slapping at something that was traveling on a wall. "And when she goes in street cars, fetching a newspaper with her to sit on."
"Well, I'm too busy to argue like this about it," said Mr. Birtwhistle. "It's only that it is a matter of pride with me. After all, I'll be better off next month, and will speak to him then about it."
* * * * *
More neighbors. Most of the time, neighbors little girl, lugging a pallid infant, with a mouth sagging to one side and tongue protruding; in one of her hands clasping the infant, she held a rag with a needle and thread dangling from it. "Mamma's coming down, Mrs. Birtwhistle," squirming upon a chair, to have the infant upon one knee, so that she could go on hemming the rag. "Hush! My little baby's asleep, and you mustn't wake him," infant, with protruding tongue, eyes wide open, staring up at the ceiling.
Mrs. Tunnan clean, pink wrapper; frowsy hair, greenish eyes, double-barreled effect of large nostrils under an up-turned nose.
"I just run out on him," said Mrs. Tunnan expressionless greenish eyes, stolid face, lips rounding into a little tube with each slow, deliberate word. "I hit him a clip with the chair. Did you hear us, Mrs. Birtwhistle? Sure you must have heard us, and why am I asking?"
"And is that the lad, Mr. Birtwhistle? How are you, sir? And the sleepy look you have! You sleep too late. Your eyes are glued together with the sleep. Would ye get up earlier in the morning!"
"Goodness!" said the little Tunnan girl; "This great lump of a child has the life dragged out of me!"
"Sure, give me your bundle, you poor child!" Mrs. Tunnan taking the silent, staring infant, rolling it about from knee to knee.
"'Tis not the first clip I've given him! We were married scarce on three days," lips slowly forming different-shaped short tubes, "when he comes home to me at two in the morning. 'Lizzie,' he says, 'cook me them pork chops,' is the salute he gives me. 'I'll pork chop you, at two in the morning,' I says to him. 'Then Lizzie,' he says, 'the easiest way is the best!' to me in my bed, and he ups with a chair and throws it in on top of me. 'Then this time, 'tis no lie you're telling me, my fine bucko!' I says. 'The easiest way is always the best!' and leaves him stretched for dead from the pasting I give him, at two o'clock in the morning."
"'Twas me honeymoon," explained Mrs. Tunnan.
Shrill whistling in an upper hall. The Birtwhistles' next door neighbor calling up the stairs. "You mustn't think she was always here, Mr. Tunnan. I haven't set eyes on her all morning."
"He's calling me," said Mrs. Tunnan, imperturbably. "Did you hear the two of us scrapping, Mr. Birtwhistle? Faith, you must of! And Mrs. McKicker comes in to see us, 'Upon me faith,' I says to her, 'when I'm as old as you, I'll settle down, but now I'll enjoy life, I will,' making out to give Looey another clip. 'And do you call me old?' she says. 'Sure you're old, you with your face wrinkled like a bit of fried bacon.'"
Miss Guffy clapping her hands and crooning: "And what did the old thing say to that, Mrs. Tunnan?"
Whistling in the upper hall, and cries of "Lizzie! Lizzie!" Mrs. Maheffy's next-door neighbor calling up the stairs. "As I live and breathe, I haven't seen her since yesterday, Mr. Tunnan! Indeed and I have plenty to do and all I can attend to without having no callers."
"Lizzie! Lizzie!" A door slamming furiously.
"He wants me," said Mrs. Tunnan, her face expressionless. "He's that uneasy if I'm a moment out of his sight."
"They all are," said Mrs. Birtwhistle.
"Oh, the men!" exclaimed Miss Guffy. "I hate them! I suppose I'd marry, like the rest, if it was God's will, but I hate them! I never saw the man was worth my old shoes."
Mr. Tunnan wedge-shaped, yellow cheeks that converged toward a red nose, like convex sides of old yellow saucers, with a radish pinched between them. "Mr. Birtwhistle, please!" Mr. Tunnan whining, excusing himself, explaining himself. To the little girl, he shouted: "What do you take that chair for, when Mrs. Birtwhistle hasn't no room on the sofa?" roughly slapping the back of her head.
"He needn't hit her like that" Mr. Tunnan turning to her furiously, raising his hand to strike her again.
"Be still, you!" Mrs. Tunnan rolling from knee to knee, the silent, staring infant. "Ida, you better be still! Ida, you killed your little brother, you know. Be thinking of that, Ida; you rolled over on your little brother Benny, in your sleep, and smothered him to death. You know you did, Ida, and when you think of killing your little brother Benny, you'd better not have a word to say."
"That do keep her quiet. The child is the devil!" Little girl, with forearm over her eyes, starting toward the door.
"Come here, darling!" Mrs. Birtwhistle's arm out to her. "Come here, darling; you couldn't help it, and it's nothing to your shame that's cast upon up to you so!" little girl running to her, falling on her knees, head in Mrs. Birtwhistle's lap. "It's a shame, Mrs. Tunnan, for you to talk to the child so!"
"So?" Mrs. Tunnan holding her lips, for a moment, tube-shaped, which expressed astonishment for her. "It do keep her quiet, it do. Go out and play, Ida, and don't have no such carryings-on; a big girl like you whining and crying so!"
Open doorway and if somebody were not coming in or going out, it would seem to be because somebody else must have been taking up space, coming or going. Mrs. McKicker, as if feeling a pain in space, and assuaging its vacancy Mrs. McKicker wearing a hat gay with red roses: an effect like that of a stern grey shaft of a ruined temple, straight and lonely in a Grecian plain, and made burlesque by some mocking hand that had placed millinery on top of it. Mrs. McKicker seemed to have something else to say, but Mr. Birtwhistle fascinated her Mr. Birtwhistle lying back on the sofa, his slippers, with pink and purple eagles on them, stretched out on the floor. "The most sensible man in New York!" declared admiring Mrs. McKicker. "I never say Mr. Birtwhistle trying to work himself to death, and I guess he comes pretty near being right, at that." She drew back into the hall gay hat reappearing: "There's one sensible man anyway! Ida, come shopping with me."
"Heavens above! Such a hat!" from Miss Guffy, who was still folding catalogs on a lapboard. "Oh, I wish I had money and could dress! I'd make that woman turn green with envy, if I had the clothes. It'd be my joy to make that woman turn green. When I think of her and all the money she's got, it makes me sick."
"Sure, here's your only friend," said Mrs. Tunnan, unbuttoning her wrapper and drawing from her bosom a bag made of ticking, tied around her neck. "'Tis here is your only friend; your money is your only friend. Sure, there's no small change in it, or I'd treat."
"Do you want that carrot on the mantelpiece, Mrs. Birtwhistle? Then I'll take it and be planting it. 'Twill sprout. Did you ne'er see the plants we got in our back window? And 'tis mortal hard to get good dirt for them. I goes up to the Farm School, with a bag with me, and reaches under the fence and scoops up handsfuls of dirt for them. We have a lovely geranium, and not one dead leaf on it; but the sun's too hot, and we put an umber-rella over it daytimes. I wonder would I put in a stick and brace it, Looey?"
"And the lovely little plants we brought home with us, as good as ever after being in a glass of water. What ails you, Looey? They were no weeds, Looey. I'm that scared the umber- rella will break the geranium. Could I tie it together and stick it with mucilage, did it ever break on me, Mr. Birtwhistle? Sure, when the first bud was out, the two of us was like it was the first tooth of little Ida."
"Mrs. Tunnan," said Mrs. Birtwhistle, "'tis very wrong of you to speak to the child the way you do. If she was so unfortunate as to roll over on her little brother, you're darkening her whole life by reminding her of it."
"Arrah, whist, woman! You've got to say something to the childer, or they'll run away with you. 'Twas meself done it one unfortunate night, wasn't it, Looey? A bit of the drop too much, I supposes, and I rolls over on little Benny God save his little soul meself, and smothers him. 'Twas for the best, perhaps, like I always tells Looey."
"Mrs. Tunnan! You'd be spoiling a child's life for what you have done yourself?"
"It do make her behave, when I casts it up to her. 'Always remember that you killed your little brother, Ida,' I says to her, and then there's not a sound out of her. Come, Looey. I'll take the carrot, Mrs. Birtwhistle: 'twill make the lovely little plant for us."
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:
1 3 4 5
The Pearson's version can be resumed at chapter 9 of the Dodge edition.
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