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
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.
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
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
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
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
"I'll club hell outa yeh when
I ketch yeh," he shouted, and
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'
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
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
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.
seemed to become aroused. "Go teh hell," he
thundered fiercely in reply.
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.
appeared in doorways, and whispered
to and fro. "Ol' Johnson's raisin'
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,
A glow from the fire threw
red hues over the bare floor,
the cracked and soiled plastering,
and the overturned and broken
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
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
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
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.