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Chapter 3


Chapter III

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.

Stephen Crane

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