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.
girl cried out: "Ah,
Tommie, come ahn. Dere's Jimmie
and fader. Don't be a-pullin'
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
near, the little girl burst into
reproachful cries. "Ah, Jimmie,
youse bin fightin' agin."
The urchin swelled disdainfully.
"Ah, what deh
hell, Mag. See?"
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
Jim, d'yeh hear? Leave yer
sister alone on the
street. It's like I can never
beat any sense into yer damned
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
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
"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
The man puffed his pipe calmly
and put his great mudded boots
on the back part of the stove.
"Go teh hell," he
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
"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
"Are yehs hurted much, Jimmie?" she
"Not a damn bit! See?" growled
the little boy.
"Will I wash
"When I catch
dat Riley kid I'll break 'is
face! Dat's right!
He turned his face to the wall
as if resolved to grimly bide
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.
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.
sat blinking at them. She delivered
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
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
child, what is it dis time?
Is yer fader beatin'
yer mudder, or yer mudder beatin'