A very little boy stood upon a heap of gravel for the honor of Rum Alley. He was throwing stones at howling urchins from Devil`s Row who were circling madly about the heap and pelting at him.
His infantile countenance was livid with fury. His small body was writhing in the delivery of great, crimson oaths.
" Run, Jimmie, run! Dey`ll get yehs," screamed a retreating Rum Alley child.
" Naw," responded Jimmie with a valiant roar," dese micks can`t make me run."
Howls of renewed wrath went up from Devil`s Row throats. Tattered gamins on the right made a furious assault on the gravel heap. On their small, convulsed faces there shone the grins of true assassins. As they charged, they threw stones and cursed in shrill chorus.
The little champion of Rum Alley stumbled precipitately down the other side. His coat had been torn to shreds in a scuffle, and his hat was gone. He had bruises on twenty parts of his body, and blood was dripping from a cut in his head. His wan features wore a look of a tiny, insane demon.
On the ground, children from Devil`s Row closed in on their antagonist. He crooked his left arm defensively about his head and fought with cursing fury. The little boys ran to and fro, dodging, hurling stones and swearing in barbaric trebles.
From a window of an apartment house that upreared its form from amid squat, ignorant stables, there leaned a curious woman. Some laborers, unloading a scow at a dock at the river, paused for a moment and regarded the fight. The engineer of a passive tugboat hung lazily to a railing and watched. Over on the Island, a worm building and crawled slowly along the river`s bank.
A stone had smashed into Jimmie`s mouth. Blood was bubbling over his chin and down upon his ragged shirt. Tears made furrows on his dirt-stained cheeks. His thin legs had begun to tremble and turn weak, causing his small body to reel. His roaring curses of the first part of the fight had changed to a blasphemous chatter.
In the yells of the whirling mob of Devil`s Row children there were notes of joy like songs of triumphant savagery. The little boys seemed to leer gloatingly at the blood upon the other child`s face.
Down the avenue came boastfully sauntering a lad of sixteen years, although the chronic sneer of an ideal manhood already sat upon his lips. His hat was tipped with an air of challenge over his eye. Between his teeth, a cigar stump was tilted at the angle of defiance. He walked with a certain swing of the shoulders which appalled the timid. He glanced over into the vacant lot in which the little raving boys from Devil`s Row seethed about the shrieking and tearful child from Rum Alley.
" Gee!" he murmured with interest." A scrap. Gee!"
He strode over to the cursing circle, swinging his shoulders in a manner which denoted that he held victory in his fists. He approached at the back of one of the most deeply engaged of the Devil`s Row children.
" Ah, what deh hell," he said, and smote the deeply-engaged one on the back of the head. The little boy fell to the ground and gave a hoarse, tremendous howl. He scrambled to his feet, and perceiving, evidently, the size of his assailant, ran quickly off, shouting alarms. The entire Devil`s Row party followed him. They came to a stand a short distance away and yelled taunting oaths at the boy with the chronic sneer. The latter, momentarily, paid no attention to them.
" What deh hell, Jimmie?" he asked of the small champion.
Jimmie wiped his blood-wet features with his sleeve.
" Well, it was dis way, Pete, see! I was goin` teh lick dat Riley kid and dey all pitched on me."
Some Rum Alley children now came forward. The party stood for a moment exchanging vainglorious remarks with Devil`s Row. A few stones were thrown at long distances, and words of challenge passed between small warriors. Then the Rum Alley contingent turned slowly in the direction of their home street. They began to give, each to each, distorted versions of the fight. Causes of retreat in particular cases were magnified. Blows dealt in the fight were enlarged to catapultian power, and stones thrown were alleged to have hurtled with infinite accuracy. Valor grew strong again, and the little boys began to swear with great spirit.
" Ah, we blokies kin lick deh hull damn Row," said a child, swaggering.
Little Jimmie was striving to stanch the flow of blood from his cut lips. Scowling, he turned upon the speaker.
" Ah, where deh hell was yeh when I was doin` all deh fightin?" he demanded." Youse kids makes me tired."
" Ah, go ahn," replied the other argumentatively.
Jimmie replied with heavy contempt." Ah, youse can`t fight, Blue Billie! I kin lick yeh wid one han`."
" Ah, go ahn," replied Billie again.
" Ah," said Jimmie threateningly.
" Ah," said the other in the same tone.
They struck at each other, clinched, and rolled over on the cobble stones.
" Smash` im, Jimmie, kick deh damn guts out of` im," yelled Pete, the lad with the chronic sneer, in tones of delight.
The small combatants pounded and kicked, scratched and tore. They began to weep and their curses struggled in their throats with sobs. The other little boys clasped their hands and wriggled their legs in excitement. They formed a bobbing circle about the pair.
A tiny spectator was suddenly agitated.
" Cheese it, Jimmie, cheese it! Here comes yer fader," he yelled.
The circle of little boys instantly parted. They drew away and waited in ecstatic awe for that which was about to happen. The two little boys fighting in the modes of four thousand years ago, did not hear the warning.
Up the avenue there plodded slowly a man with sullen eyes. He was carrying a dinner pail and smoking an apple-wood pipe.
As he neared the spot where the little boys strove, he regarded them listlessly. But suddenly he roared an oath and advanced upon the rolling fighters.
" Here, you Jim, git up, now, while I belt yer life out, you damned disorderly brat."
He began to kick into the chaotic mass on the ground. The boy Billie felt a heavy boot strike his head. He made a furious effort and disentangled himself from Jimmie. He tottered away, damning.
Jimmie arose painfully from the ground and confronting his father, began to curse him. His parent kicked him." Come home, now," he cried," an` stop yer jawin`, er I`ll lam the everlasting head off yehs."
They departed. The man paced placidly along with the apple- wood emblem of serenity between his teeth. The boy followed a dozen feet in the rear. He swore luridly, for he felt that it was degradation for one who aimed to be some vague soldier, or a man of blood with a sort of sublime license, to be taken home by a father.
Eventually they entered into a dark region where, from a careening building, a dozen gruesome doorways gave up loads of babies to the street and the gutter. A wind of early autumn raised yellow dust from cobbles and swirled it against an hundred windows. Long streamers of garments fluttered from fire-escapes. In all unhandy places there were buckets, brooms, rags and bottles. In the street infants played or fought with other infants or sat stupidly in the way of vehicles. Formidable women, with uncombed hair and disordered dress, gossiped while leaning on railings, or screamed in frantic quarrels. Withered persons, in curious postures of submission to something, sat smoking pipes in obscure corners. A thousand odors of cooking food came forth to the street. The building quivered and creaked from the weight of humanity stamping about in its bowels.
A small ragged girl dragged a red, bawling infant along the crowded ways. He was hanging back, baby-like, bracing his wrinkled, bare legs.
The little girl cried out:" Ah, Tommie, come ahn. Dere`s Jimmie and fader. Don`t be a-pullin` me back."
She jerked the baby`s arm impatiently. He fell on his face, roaring. With a second jerk she pulled him to his feet, and they went on. With the obstinacy of his order, he protested against being dragged in a chosen direction. He made heroic endeavors to keep on his legs, denounce his sister and consume a bit of orange peeling which he chewed between the times of his infantile orations.
As the sullen-eyed man, followed by the blood-covered boy, drew near, the little girl burst into reproachful cries." Ah, Jimmie, youse bin fightin` agin."
The urchin swelled disdainfully.
" Ah, what deh hell, Mag. See?"
The little girl upbraided him," Youse allus fightin`, Jimmie, an` yeh knows it puts mudder out when yehs come home half dead, an` it`s like we`ll all get a poundin`."
She began to weep. The babe threw back his head and roared at his prospects.
" Ah, what deh hell!" cried Jimmie. Shut up er I`ll smack yer mout`. See?"
As his sister continued her lamentations, he suddenly swore and struck her. The little girl reeled and, recovering herself, burst into tears and quaveringly cursed him. As she slowly retreated her brother advanced dealing her cuffs. The father heard and turned about.
" Stop that, Jim, d` yeh hear? Leave yer sister alone on the street. It`s like I can never beat any sense into yer damned wooden head."
The urchin raised his voice in defiance to his parent and continued his attacks. The babe bawled tremendously, protesting with great violence. During his sister`s hasty manoeuvres, he was dragged by the arm.
Finally the procession plunged into one of the gruesome doorways. They crawled up dark stairways and along cold, gloomy halls. At last the father pushed open a door and they entered a lighted room in which a large woman was rampant.
She stopped in a career from a seething stove to a pan-covered table. As the father and children filed in she peered at them.
" Eh, what? Been fightin` agin, by Gawd!" She threw herself upon Jimmie. The urchin tried to dart behind the others and in the scuffle the babe, Tommie, was knocked down. He protested with his usual vehemence, because they had bruised his tender shins against a table leg.
The mother`s massive shoulders heaved with anger. Grasping the urchin by the neck and shoulder she shook him until he rattled. She dragged him to an unholy sink, and, soaking a rag in water, began to scrub his lacerated face with it. Jimmie screamed in pain and tried to twist his shoulders out of the clasp of the huge arms.
The babe sat on the floor watching the scene, his face in contortions like that of a woman at a tragedy. The father, with a newly-ladened pipe in his mouth, crouched on a backless chair near the stove. Jimmie`s cries annoyed him. He turned about and bellowed at his wife:
" Let the damned kid alone for a minute, will yeh, Mary? Yer allus poundin`` im. When I come nights I can`t git no rest` cause yer allus poundin` a kid. Let up, d` yeh hear? Don`t be allus poundin` a kid."
The woman`s operations on the urchin instantly increased in violence. At last she tossed him to a corner where he limply lay cursing and weeping.
The wife put her immense hands on her hips and with a chieftain-like stride approached her husband.
" Ho," she said, with a great grunt of contempt." An` what in the devil are you stickin` your nose for?"
The babe crawled under the table and, turning, peered out cautiously. The ragged girl retreated and the urchin in the corner drew his legs carefully beneath him.
The man puffed his pipe calmly and put his great mudded boots on the back part of the stove.
" Go teh hell," he murmured, tranquilly.
The woman screamed and shook her fists before her husband`s eyes. The rough yellow of her face and neck flared suddenly crimson. She began to howl.
He puffed imperturbably at his pipe for a time, but finally arose and began to look out at the window into the darkening chaos of back yards.
" You` ve been drinkin`, Mary," he said." You` d better let up on the bot`, ol` woman, or you`ll git done."
" You`re a liar. I ain`t had a drop," she roared in reply.
They had a lurid altercation, in which they damned each other`s souls with frequence.
The babe was staring out from under the table, his small face working in his excitement.
The ragged girl went stealthily over to the corner where the urchin lay.
" Are yehs hurted much, Jimmie?" she whispered timidly.
" Not a damn bit! See?" growled the little boy.
" Will I wash deh blood?"
" Will I --"
" When I catch dat Riley kid I`ll break` is face! Dat`s right! See?"
He turned his face to the wall as if resolved to grimly bide his time.
In the quarrel between husband and wife, the woman was victor. The man grabbed his hat and rushed from the room, apparently determined upon a vengeful drunk. She followed to the door and thundered at him as he made his way down stairs.
She returned and stirred up the room until her children were bobbing about like bubbles.
" Git outa deh way," she persistently bawled, waving feet with their dishevelled shoes near the heads of her children. She shrouded herself, puffing and snorting, in a cloud of steam at the stove, and eventually extracted a frying-pan full of potatoes that hissed.
She flourished it." Come teh yer suppers, now," she cried with sudden exasperation." Hurry up, now, er I`ll help yeh!"
The children scrambled hastily. With prodigious clatter they arranged themselves at table. The babe sat with his feet dangling high from a precarious infant chair and gorged his small stomach. Jimmie forced, with feverish rapidity, the grease-enveloped pieces between his wounded lips. Maggie, with side glances of fear of interruption, ate like a small pursued tigress.
The mother sat blinking at them. She delivered reproaches, swallowed potatoes and drank from a yellow-brown bottle. After a time her mood changed and she wept as she carried little Tommie into another room and laid him to sleep with his fists doubled in an old quilt of faded red and green grandeur. Then she came and moaned by the stove. She rocked to and fro upon a chair, shedding tears and crooning miserably to the two children about their" poor mother" and" yer fader, damn` is soul."
The little girl plodded between the table and the chair with a dish-pan on it. She tottered on her small legs beneath burdens of dishes.
Jimmie sat nursing his various wounds. He cast furtive glances at his mother. His practised eye perceived her gradually emerge from a muddled mist of sentiment until her brain burned in drunken heat. He sat breathless.
Maggie broke a plate.
The mother started to her feet as if propelled.
" Good Gawd," she howled. Her eyes glittered on her child with sudden hatred. The fervent red of her face turned almost to purple. The little boy ran to the halls, shrieking like a monk in an earthquake.
He floundered about in darkness until he found the stairs. He stumbled, panic-stricken, to the next floor. An old woman opened a door. A light behind her threw a flare on the urchin`s quivering face.
" Eh, Gawd, child, what is it dis time? Is yer fader beatin` yer mudder, or yer mudder beatin` yer fader?"
Jimmie and the old woman listened long in the hall. Above the muffled roar of conversation, the dismal wailings of babies at night, the thumping of feet in unseen corridors and rooms, mingled with the sound of varied hoarse shoutings in the street and the rattling of wheels over cobbles, they heard the screams of the child and the roars of the mother die away to a feeble moaning and a subdued bass muttering.
The old woman was a gnarled and leathery personage who could don, at will, an expression of great virtue. She possessed a small music-box capable of one tune, and a collection of" God bless yehs" pitched in assorted keys of fervency. Each day she took a position upon the stones of Fifth Avenue, where she crooked her legs under her and crouched immovable and hideous, like an idol. She received daily a small sum in pennies. It was contributed, for the most part, by persons who did not make their homes in that vicinity.
Once, when a lady had dropped her purse on the sidewalk, the gnarled woman had grabbed it and smuggled it with great dexterity beneath her cloak. When she was arrested she had cursed the lady into a partial swoon, and with her aged limbs, twisted from rheumatism, had almost kicked the stomach out of a huge policeman whose conduct upon that occasion she referred to when she said:" The police, damn` em."
" Eh, Jimmie, it`s cursed shame," she said." Go, now, like a dear an` buy me a can, an` if yer mudder raises` ell all night yehs can sleep here."
Jimmie took a tendered tin-pail and seven pennies and departed. He passed into the side door of a saloon and went to the bar. Straining up on his toes he raised the pail and pennies as high as his arms would let him. He saw two hands thrust down and take them. Directly the same hands let down the filled pail and he left.
In front of the gruesome doorway he met a lurching figure. It was his father, swaying about on uncertain legs.
" Give me deh can. See?" said the man, threateningly.
" Ah, come off! I got dis can fer dat ol` woman an` it` ud be dirt teh swipe it. See?" cried Jimmie.
The father wrenched the pail from the urchin. He grasped it in both hands and lifted it to his mouth. He glued his lips to the under edge and tilted his head. His hairy throat swelled until it seemed to grow near his chin. There was a tremendous gulping movement and the beer was gone.
The man caught his breath and laughed. He hit his son on the head with the empty pail. As it rolled clanging into the street, Jimmie began to scream and kicked repeatedly at his father`s shins.
" Look at deh dirt what yeh done me," he yelled." Deh ol` woman` ill be raisin` hell."
He retreated to the middle of the street, but the man did not pursue. He staggered toward the door.
" I`ll club hell outa yeh when I ketch yeh," he shouted, and disappeared.
During the evening he had been standing against a bar drinking whiskies and declaring to all comers, confidentially:" My home reg` lar livin` hell! Damndes` place! Reg` lar hell! Why do I come an` drin` whisk` here thish way? ` Cause home reg` lar livin` hell!"
Jimmie waited a long time in the street and then crept warily up through the building. He passed with great caution the door of the gnarled woman, and finally stopped outside his home and listened.
He could hear his mother moving heavily about among the furniture of the room. She was chanting in a mournful voice, occasionally interjecting bursts of volcanic wrath at the father, who, Jimmie judged, had sunk down on the floor or in a corner.
" Why deh blazes don` chere try teh keep Jim from fightin`? I`ll break her jaw," she suddenly bellowed.
The man mumbled with drunken indifference." Ah, wha` deh hell. W` a`s odds? Wha` makes kick?"
" Because he tears` is clothes, yeh damn fool," cried the woman in supreme wrath.
The husband seemed to become aroused." Go teh hell," he thundered fiercely in reply. There was a crash against the door and something broke into clattering fragments. Jimmie partially suppressed a howl and darted down the stairway. Below he paused and listened. He heard howls and curses, groans and shrieks, confusingly in chorus as if a battle were raging. With all was the crash of splintering furniture. The eyes of the urchin glared in fear that one of them would discover him.
Curious faces appeared in doorways, and whispered comments passed to and fro." Ol` Johnson`s raisin` hell agin."
Jimmie stood until the noises ceased and the other inhabitants of the tenement had all yawned and shut their doors. Then he crawled upstairs with the caution of an invader of a panther den. Sounds of labored breathing came through the broken door-panels. He pushed the door open and entered, quaking.
A glow from the fire threw red hues over the bare floor, the cracked and soiled plastering, and the overturned and broken furniture.
In the middle of the floor lay his mother asleep. In one corner of the room his father`s limp body hung across the seat of a chair.
The urchin stole forward. He began to shiver in dread of awakening his parents. His mother`s great chest was heaving painfully. Jimmie paused and looked down at her. Her face was inflamed and swollen from drinking. Her yellow brows shaded eye- lids that had brown blue. Her tangled hair tossed in waves over her forehead. Her mouth was set in the same lines of vindictive hatred that it had, perhaps, borne during the fight. Her bare, red arms were thrown out above her head in positions of exhaustion, something, mayhap, like those of a sated villain.
The urchin bended over his mother. He was fearful lest she should open her eyes, and the dread within him was so strong, that he could not forbear to stare, but hung as if fascinated over the woman`s grim face.
Suddenly her eyes opened. The urchin found himself looking straight into that expression, which, it would seem, had the power to change his blood to salt. He howled piercingly and fell backward.
The woman floundered for a moment, tossed her arms about her head as if in combat, and again began to snore.
Jimmie crawled back in the shadows and waited. A noise in the next room had followed his cry at the discovery that his mother was awake. He grovelled in the gloom, the eyes from out his drawn face riveted upon the intervening door.
He heard it creak, and then the sound of a small voice came to him." Jimmie! Jimmie! Are yehs dere?" it whispered. The urchin started. The thin, white face of his sister looked at him from the door-way of the other room. She crept to him across the floor.
The father had not moved, but lay in the same death-like sleep. The mother writhed in uneasy slumber, her chest wheezing as if she were in the agonies of strangulation. Out at the window a florid moon was peering over dark roofs, and in the distance the waters of a river glimmered pallidly.
The small frame of the ragged girl was quivering. Her features were haggard from weeping, and her eyes gleamed from fear. She grasped the urchin`s arm in her little trembling hands and they huddled in a corner. The eyes of both were drawn, by some force, to stare at the woman`s face, for they thought she need only to awake and all fiends would come from below.
They crouched until the ghost-mists of dawn appeared at the window, drawing close to the panes, and looking in at the prostrate, heaving body of the mother.
The babe, Tommie, died. He went away in a white, insignificant coffin, his small waxen hand clutching a flower that the girl, Maggie, had stolen from an Italian.
She and Jimmie lived.
The inexperienced fibres of the boy`s eyes were hardened at an early age. He became a young man of leather. He lived some red years without laboring. During that time his sneer became chronic. He studied human nature in the gutter, and found it no worse than he thought he had reason to believe it. He never conceived a respect for the world, because he had begun with no idols that it had smashed.
He clad his soul in armor by means of happening hilariously in at a mission church where a man composed his sermons of" yous." While they got warm at the stove, he told his hearers just where he calculated they stood with the Lord. Many of the sinners were impatient over the pictured depths of their degradation. They were waiting for soup-tickets.
A reader of words of wind-demons might have been able to see the portions of a dialogue pass to and fro between the exhorter and his hearers.
" You are damned," said the preacher. And the reader of sounds might have seen the reply go forth from the ragged people:" Where`s our soup?"
Jimmie and a companion sat in a rear seat and commented upon the things that didn`t concern them, with all the freedom of English gentlemen. When they grew thirsty and went out their minds confused the speaker with Christ.
Momentarily, Jimmie was sullen with thoughts of a hopeless altitude where grew fruit. His companion said that if he should ever meet God he would ask for a million dollars and a bottle of beer.
Jimmie`s occupation for a long time was to stand on streetcorners and watch the world go by, dreaming blood-red dreams at the passing of pretty women. He menaced mankind at the intersections of streets.
On the corners he was in life and of life. The world was going on and he was there to perceive it.
He maintained a belligerent attitude toward all well-dressed men. To him fine raiment was allied to weakness, and all good coats covered faint hearts. He and his order were kings, to a certain extent, over the men of untarnished clothes, because these latter dreaded, perhaps, to be either killed or laughed at.
Above all things he despised obvious Christians and ciphers with the chrysanthemums of aristocracy in their button-holes. He considered himself above both of these classes. He was afraid of neither the devil nor the leader of society.
When he had a dollar in his pocket his satisfaction with existence was the greatest thing in the world. So, eventually, he felt obliged to work. His father died and his mother`s years were divided up into periods of thirty days.
He became a truck driver. He was given the charge of a painstaking pair of horses and a large rattling truck. He invaded the turmoil and tumble of the down-town streets and learned to breathe maledictory defiance at the police who occasionally used to climb up, drag him from his perch and beat him.
In the lower part of the city he daily involved himself in hideous tangles. If he and his team chanced to be in the rear he preserved a demeanor of serenity, crossing his legs and bursting forth into yells when foot passengers took dangerous dives beneath the noses of his champing horses. He smoked his pipe calmly for he knew that his pay was marching on.
If in the front and the key-truck of chaos, he entered terrifically into the quarrel that was raging to and fro among the drivers on their high seats, and sometimes roared oaths and violently got himself arrested.
After a time his sneer grew so that it turned its glare upon all things. He became so sharp that he believed in nothing. To him the police were always actuated by malignant impulses and the rest of the world was composed, for the most part, of despicable creatures who were all trying to take advantage of him and with whom, in defense, he was obliged to quarrel on all possible occasions. He himself occupied a down-trodden position that had a private but distinct element of grandeur in its isolation.
The most complete cases of aggravated idiocy were, to his mind, rampant upon the front platforms of all the street cars. At first his tongue strove with these beings, but he eventually was superior. He became immured like an African cow. In him grew a majestic contempt for those strings of street cars that followed him like intent bugs.
He fell into the habit, when starting on a long journey, of fixing his eye on a high and distant object, commanding his horses to begin, and then going into a sort of a trance of observation. Multitudes of drivers might howl in his rear, and passengers might load him with opprobrium, he would not awaken until some blue policeman turned red and began to frenziedly tear bridles and beat the soft noses of the responsible horses.
When he paused to contemplate the attitude of the police toward himself and his fellows, he believed that they were the only men in the city who had no rights. When driving about, he felt that he was held liable by the police for anything that might occur in the streets, and was the common prey of all energetic officials. In revenge, he resolved never to move out of the way of anything, until formidable circumstances, or a much larger man than himself forced him to it.
Foot-passengers were mere pestering flies with an insane disregard for their legs and his convenience. He could not conceive their maniacal desires to cross the streets. Their madness smote him with eternal amazement. He was continually storming at them from his throne. He sat aloft and denounced their frantic leaps, plunges, dives and straddles.
When they would thrust at, or parry, the noses of his champing horses, making them swing their heads and move their feet, disturbing a solid dreamy repose, he swore at the men as fools, for he himself could perceive that Providence had caused it clearly to be written, that he and his team had the unalienable right to stand in the proper path of the sun chariot, and if they so minded, obstruct its mission or take a wheel off.
And, perhaps, if the god-driver had an ungovernable desire to step down, put up his flame-colored fists and manfully dispute the right of way, he would have probably been immediately opposed by a scowling mortal with two sets of very hard knuckles.
It is possible, perhaps, that this young man would have derided, in an axle-wide alley, the approach of a flying ferry boat. Yet he achieved a respect for a fire engine. As one charged toward his truck, he would drive fearfully upon a sidewalk, threatening untold people with annihilation. When an engine would strike a mass of blocked trucks, splitting it into fragments, as a blow annihilates a cake of ice, Jimmie`s team could usually be observed high and safe, with whole wheels, on the sidewalk. The fearful coming of the engine could break up the most intricate muddle of heavy vehicles at which the police had been swearing for the half of an hour.
A fire engine was enshrined in his heart as an appalling thing that he loved with a distant dog-like devotion. They had been known to overturn street-cars. Those leaping horses, striking sparks from the cobbles in their forward lunge, were creatures to be ineffably admired. The clang of the gong pierced his breast like a noise of remembered war.
When Jimmie was a little boy, he began to be arrested. Before he reached a great age, he had a fair record.
He developed too great a tendency to climb down from his truck and fight with other drivers. He had been in quite a number of miscellaneous fights, and in some general barroom rows that had become known to the police. Once he had been arrested for assaulting a Chinaman. Two women in different parts of the city, and entirely unknown to each other, caused him considerable annoyance by breaking forth, simultaneously, at fateful intervals, into wailings about marriage and support and infants.
Nevertheless, he had, on a certain star-lit evening, said wonderingly and quite reverently:" Deh moon looks like hell, don`t it?"
The girl, Maggie, blossomed in a mud puddle. She grew to be a most rare and wonderful production of a tenement district, a pretty girl.
None of the dirt of Rum Alley seemed to be in her veins. The philosophers up-stairs, down-stairs and on the same floor, puzzled over it.
When a child, playing and fighting with gamins in the street, dirt disguised her. Attired in tatters and grime, she went unseen.
There came a time, however, when the young men of the vicinity said:" Dat Johnson goil is a puty good looker." About this period her brother remarked to her:" Mag, I`ll tell yeh dis! See? Yeh` ve edder got teh go teh hell or go teh work!" Whereupon she went to work, having the feminine aversion of going to hell.
By a chance, she got a position in an establishment where they made collars and cuffs. She received a stool and a machine in a room where sat twenty girls of various shades of yellow discontent. She perched on the stool and treadled at her machine all day, turning out collars, the name of whose brand could be noted for its irrelevancy to anything in connection with collars. At night she returned home to her mother.
Jimmie grew large enough to take the vague position of head of the family. As incumbent of that office, he stumbled up-stairs late at night, as his father had done before him. He reeled about the room, swearing at his relations, or went to sleep on the floor.
The mother had gradually arisen to that degree of fame that she could bandy words with her acquaintances among the police- justices. Court-officials called her by her first name. When she appeared they pursued a course which had been theirs for months. They invariably grinned and cried out:" Hello, Mary, you here again?" Her grey head wagged in many a court. She always besieged the bench with voluble excuses, explanations, apologies and prayers. Her flaming face and rolling eyes were a sort of familiar sight on the island. She measured time by means of sprees, and was eternally swollen and dishevelled.
One day the young man, Pete, who as a lad had smitten the Devil`s Row urchin in the back of the head and put to flight the antagonists of his friend, Jimmie, strutted upon the scene. He met Jimmie one day on the street, promised to take him to a boxing match in Williamsburg, and called for him in the evening.
Maggie observed Pete.
He sat on a table in the Johnson home and dangled his checked legs with an enticing nonchalance. His hair was curled down over his forehead in an oiled bang. His rather pugged nose seemed to revolt from contact with a bristling moustache of short, wire-like hairs. His blue double-breasted coat, edged with black braid, buttoned close to a red puff tie, and his patent-leather shoes looked like murder-fitted weapons.
His mannerisms stamped him as a man who had a correct sense of his personal superiority. There was valor and contempt for circumstances in the glance of his eye. He waved his hands like a man of the world, who dismisses religion and philosophy, and says" Fudge." He had certainly seen everything and with each curl of his lip, he declared that it amounted to nothing. Maggie thought he must be a very elegant and graceful bartender.
He was telling tales to Jimmie.
Maggie watched him furtively, with half-closed eyes, lit with a vague interest.
" Hully gee! Dey makes me tired," he said." Mos`e` ry day some farmer comes in an` tries teh run deh shop. See? But dey gitst` rowed right out! I jolt dem right out in deh street before dey knows where dey is! See?"
" Sure," said Jimmie.
" Dere was a mug come in deh place deh odder day wid an idear he wus goin` teh own deh place! Hully gee, he wus goin` teh own deh place! I see he had a still on an` I didn` wanna giv` im no stuff, so I says:` Git deh hell outa here an` don` make no trouble,` I says like dat! See? ` Git deh hell outa here an` don` make no trouble` ; like dat. ` Git deh hell outa here,` I says. See?"
Jimmie nodded understandingly. Over his features played an eager desire to state the amount of his valor in a similar crisis, but the narrator proceeded.
" Well, deh blokie he says:` T` hell wid it! I ain` lookin` for no scrap,` he says( See?) ,` but` he says,` I` m` spectable cit` zen an` I wanna drink an` purtydamnsoon, too. ` See? ` Deh hell,` I says. Like dat! ` Deh hell,` I says. See? ` Don` make no trouble,` I says. Like dat. ` Don` make no trouble. ` See? Den deh mug he squared off an` said he was fine as silk wid his dukes( See?) an` he wanned a drink damnquick. Dat`s what he said. See?"
" Sure," repeated Jimmie.
Pete continued." Say, I jes` jumped deh bar an` deh way I plunked dat blokie was great. See? Dat`s right! In deh jaw! See? Hully gee, het` rowed a spittoon true deh front windee. Say, I taut I` d drop dead. But deh boss, he comes in after an` he says,` Pete, yehs done jes` right! Yeh` ve gota keep order an` it`s all right. ` See? ` It`s all right,` he says. Dat`s what he said."
The two held a technical discussion.
" Dat bloke was a dandy," said Pete, in conclusion," but he hadn` oughta made no trouble. Dat`s what I says teh dem:` Don` come in here an` make no trouble,` I says, like dat. ` Don` make no trouble. ` See?"
As Jimmie and his friend exchanged tales descriptive of their prowess, Maggie leaned back in the shadow. Her eyes dwelt wonderingly and rather wistfully upon Pete`s face. The broken furniture, grimey walls, and general disorder and dirt of her home of a sudden appeared before her and began to take a potential aspect. Pete`s aristocratic person looked as if it might soil. She looked keenly at him, occasionally, wondering if he was feeling contempt. But Pete seemed to be enveloped in reminiscence.
" Hully gee," said he," dose mugs can`t phase me. Dey knows I kin wipe up deh street wid anyt` ree of dem."
When he said," Ah, what deh hell," his voice was burdened with disdain for the inevitable and contempt for anything that fate might compel him to endure.
Maggie perceived that here was the beau ideal of a man. Her dim thoughts were often searching for far away lands where, as God says, the little hills sing together in the morning. Under the trees of her dream-gardens there had always walked a lover.
Pete took note of Maggie.
" Say, Mag, I` m stuck on yer shape. It`s outa sight," he said, parenthetically, with an affable grin.
As he became aware that she was listening closely, he grew still more eloquent in his descriptions of various happenings in his career. It appeared that he was invincible in fights.
" Why," he said, referring to a man with whom he had had a misunderstanding," dat mug scrapped like a damn dago. Dat`s right. He was dead easy. See? He tau`t he was a scrapper. But he foun` out diff` ent! Hully gee."
He walked to and fro in the small room, which seemed then to grow even smaller and unfit to hold his dignity, the attribute of a supreme warrior. That swing of the shoulders that had frozen the timid when he was but a lad had increased with his growth and education at the ratio of ten to one. It, combined with the sneer upon his mouth, told mankind that there was nothing in space which could appall him. Maggie marvelled at him and surrounded him with greatness. She vaguely tried to calculate the altitude of the pinnacle from which he must have looked down upon her.
" I met a chump deh odder day way up in deh city," he said." I was goin` teh see a frien` of mine. When I was a-crossin` deh street deh chump runned plump inteh me, an` den he turns aroun` an` says,` Yer insolen` ruffin,` he says, like dat. ` Oh, gee,` I says,` oh, gee, go teh hell and git off deh eart`,` I says, like dat. See? ` Go teh hell an` git off deh eart`,` like dat. Den deh blokie he got wild. He says I was a contempt` ble scoun` el, er somet` ing like dat, an` he says I was doom` teh everlastin` pe` dition an` all like dat. ` Gee,` I says,` gee! Deh hell I am,` I says. ` Deh hell I am,` like dat. An` den I slugged` im. See?"
With Jimmie in his company, Pete departed in a sort of a blaze of glory from the Johnson home. Maggie, leaning from the window, watched him as he walked down the street.
Here was a formidable man who disdained the strength of a world full of fists. Here was one who had contempt for brass- clothed power ; one whose knuckles could defiantly ring against the granite of law. He was a knight.
The two men went from under the glimmering street-lamp and passed into shadows.
Turning, Maggie contemplated the dark, dust-stained walls, and the scant and crude furniture of her home. A clock, in a splintered and battered oblong box of varnished wood, she suddenly regarded as an abomination. She noted that it ticked raspingly. The almost vanished flowers in the carpet-pattern, she conceived to be newly hideous. Some faint attempts she had made with blue ribbon, to freshen the appearance of a dingy curtain, she now saw to be piteous.
She wondered what Pete dined on.
She reflected upon the collar and cuff factory. It began to appear to her mind as a dreary place of endless grinding. Pete`s elegant occupation brought him, no doubt, into contact with people who had money and manners. it was probable that he had a large acquaintance of pretty girls.