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
gits t'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, he t'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
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 any t'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.