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Dyson, Edward (1865-1931)
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First Published: 1906 setis australian etexts novels 1890-1909 Fact'ry 'Ands Sydney N. S. W. Bookstall Co.
The bulk of the matter contained in this volume was first published in the pages of the Bulletin, Sydney. “The Man-Eater” is not new to readers of the Kalgoorlie Sun, Westralia.
WHAT may be called the machinery of this book is the outcome of experience in one establishment; the characters and the incidents are gathered from a wide field. Workers in the busy top flat I have described, who may perhaps recognise scenes, situations, and materials, will search in vain for familiar lineaments in these pages. From the smallest prim office boy in the stationery warehouse below to the most frivolous “donah” deftly manufacturing fruit bags in the higher flights, master and man, all were too decorous for my needs. The people here presented are a choice selection from a large circle of acquaintances earning honourable if humble subsistence in jam, pickle, lollie, and biscuit factories, in tobacco factories, box factories, shirt factories, rope works, and paper mills, and I claim for them at least that they are true types of a pronounced Australian class not previously exploited for the purposes of the maker of popular fiction. Feathers, Benno, Goudy, Odgson, Fuzzy Ellis, Billy the Boy, and many others capering through my book spring from germs of reality, but I have used my originals as plastic raw material, remoulding them at my own sweet will, robbing them of semblance, but never quite squeezing vitality out of them in the process, I hope.
There is an aristocracy amongst factory hands as in almost every walk of life.
The superior young ladies who go to business in first class establishments, and provoke the wondering admiration of discerning foreign visitors by their accomplishments, their dainty dress, and the modesty of their deportment, I know only by sight, the raffish hoydens who stream from some smoky, staring building in a side street, raking up unstable garments, brandishing battered crib baskets, and squealing compliments in the dialect are my good familiar people. They scatter like bees from the hive, running for a lift on homeward bound lorries, kicking vagabond limbs from the tail of truck or dray, scampering in little bands, voluble, raucous, gesticulatory, shouting at each other abuse without anger and threats without venom. Termagants at sixteen, it is as well not to provoke them to eloquence if you have the prejudice of a “higher order,” and object to figuring as the object of a public demonstration. Respectability snorts at them like a blood horse, and then they answer with derision in language that compels madam to stop her ears in self defence. Then madam's beautiful toque may suffer. It is all very dreadful, but there are faults on both sides, and you cannot have class distinctions without these little differences.
The males come forth later, more soberly; they do not scamper, they are sparing of effort, if there is anything to say it can be as well said leaning against a post or a building. This is not laziness, they will have done a good day's work, in most cases better than their masters are willing to believe, but have a strong intuitive appreciation of the futility of waste force. Their parting words may sound impertinent to you, genteel reader, but try to remember that the terms that shock you have been refined by usage. Practice makes perfect even in philology. They have a respect for beer that is not always justified by results, and a disrespect for their “superiors” that manifests itself in a grim antipathy to policemen. Larrikins they might have been called had not that useful word been perverted by indiscriminate use to designate either the little knot of sandcarters beguiling a spare half hour with a harmless game of two-up behind the stable, or a brace of garroters putting a strangle hold on an affluent-looking gentleman in an unlit city street.
You may find my factory hands, decked in their best, patrolling the chief thoroughfares of the workingman's suburbs on fine Saturday nights, the girls in twos and threes, the boys in small parties, the “donahs” grimacing and giggling, the lads “wording 'em” with laboured jocularities peculiar to the class. There are conventions even here, but they do not forbid the young lady striking up an acquaintance with the young gentleman who has introduced himself with a few cant witticisms, which, despite their seeming irrelevance, are compliments of a kind, and imply a dawning sentiment of tenderness in the bosom of the humourist.
It is perhaps as well to say here for the benefit of the genteel reader that the result of these meetings is in most cases a trifle of philandering on the part of a lad whose rakish airs may mask a bashful spirit, and a “donah” in whom a good deal of useful knowledge is not incompatible with a very serviceable sort of innocence.
BENNO'S LITTLE BOSHTER 13
A QUESTION OF PROPRIETY 27
A LITTLE LOVE AFFAIR 39
THE MORBID BOY 52
THE FAT GIRL 63
A HOT DAY AT SPATS' 74
THE MAN-EATER 88
THE WOOING OF MINNIE 100
LEVI'S TROUSERS 116
THE PACKER'S LITTLE SILLY 132
SPATS' CATS 148
INTRODUCING MACHINERY 156 Fact'ry 'Ands Chapter I. Benno's Little Boshter.
IT was Monday morning. Benno loitered at the packer's bench. The clerk was possessed with a great unrest, and his high stool could not hold him today.
“She's a little boshter!” he said vehemently. “Y' orter seen 'er.” “Fair or dark?” asked Feathers, with the intention of showing a friendly interest in the matter. This was the fifth time Benno had declaimed on the “boshter” qualities of the unknown, and fraternal sympathy could not be longer deferred with decency. Feathers delayed the completion of a knot, and bit off a morsel of tobacco. He solaced business hours with an occasional quid, smoking on the premises being strictly prohibited by order of the Czar below.
“Fair,” replied Benno, with rapture, “with bloo eyes, 'n' a mouth like a bloomin' baby. Never saw anythin' like it. She's the show biscuit, take it from the man in the business —the top apple, th' 'ole blessed cake-walk, 'n' straight ez a church. Yeh can see it stickin' out. Bin well brought up, yeh know—bit shy, 'n' romantic, 'n' all that.” “This gentle little maiden of to-day,” sang Goudy, the town traveller, to himself, absently, as he reached for 28 of sixes.
“Ah-h-h, go'n 'ave a scratch!” retorted the clerk, bitterly. The town traveller was a Scot, but the insult had no sting for him; he went on cheerfully sorting out his order. “Some men,” said Benno, with cold despair, “ain't got no more fine feelin' than a hotel cat.” “When she left the village she was shy,” hummed the town traveller, changing his tune.
“It 'appened dead simple,” Benno continued, turning a contemptuous shoulder on Goudy. “Me 'n' Billy King was standin' on the usual corner, Satedee night, watchin' the little toms trippin' it, 'n' sortin' out samples, y' know; when 'long she comes with 'er cobber, 'n' blessed iv she don't chance an eye on me noble—jest a little frightened sort iv look, but, s'elp me, I was fitted.” Goudy put his forefinger to his lip, and dropped a lopsided curtsey. “Oh, sir, me father's a clergyman,” he simpered, “and I used to play the organ once.” “Her cobber seemed t' be quite took with Billy's lip whisker,” said Benno, his air and attitude insinuating that the town traveller was offensively dead, “ 'n' yeh know what Billy is. ‘I'll word 'em when they pass again,’ he says, 'n' struth he done it. Billy's the pure glassey. ‘Iv course you know my friend, Percy Chirnside, Miss Fortesque?’ ses he t' the fair one, havin' took over th' other. She blushed, 'n' smiled, 'n' said somethin' about not havin' the pleasure, 'n' in two ticks we was lifelong cobbers, me 'n' 'er. 'Course, I sees 'er 'ome, 'n' we parts at the gate. 'Er father, bein' 'ead salesman at Gum 'n' Tumbledon's, is a bit stiff on ettiket 'n' all that. But she meets me Sund'y afternoon. Feathers, there was nothin' on the grass t' touch 'er. She's a little boshter—a BOSHTER! 'n' I'm 'er one 'n' only.” Feathers winked hard at Goudy, keeping a smooth and sympathetic cheek to Benno.
“ 'Minds me iv a little lady I carried lollies to seven years ago,” Feathers said, softly. “She had feathery, flaxen 'air, 'n' a neye like the grace iv 'Eaven, 'n' she walked about with 'em turned up t' 'allelujah, 'n' a nym-book pressed to 'er 'eart. She died lingerin' iv some kind iv saintly disease, 'n' I've never bin the same man since.” Here Goudy wiped his own eye, and passed the handkerchief to Feathers, and the packer mopped up a covert tear.
“I took the teetotal, 'n' learned some hymns, 'n' cried on her grave every fine Sund'y afternoon for a week 'r more, 'n cot lumbago through it, 'n' passed away in a little white shimmy 'n' a pale-blue light, callin' her name in a low, sweet voice.” Feathers broke down, and Goudy, despite his 50 dishonourable years, uttered a desolate cry, and besought the packer to come up some evening, and tell that beautiful story to his poor old bedridden mother.
“Pigs to you!” said Benno, with incredible scorn—“the pair iv yeh,” and he returned sulkily to his desk.
This was a strange development in Benno the cynic—Benno who had been in the swarming factory from his boyhood, and who on his high stool had looked down upon a world of women, and learnt the sex off like a nursery rhyme. True, his attitude towards girls had always been indulgent, but it was the indulgence of a superior being.
At 21 one is no longer deceived by women, but it does not follow that Benno took no delight in the human girl. It is pleasant to be appreciated by her; it is pleasant to give her the rapture one's kindly notice may confer; so that Benno dressed with many precautions and great difficulty on Saturday evenings, and loved to walk with a young gentleman friend of kindred tastes where the girls were thickest in the favourite city street; and, if a fair percentage looked at him with dawning interest as he passed, he was happy. Spats' Beauties, as a rule, were ignored, but he did not disdain to escort the better-dressed pasters in the great mashing march along the crowded pave. He loved to be seen with women—it helped his reputation as a young devil.
A Panama hat, a high, white, turn-over collar, a small, gay, mechanical tie, a dark suit, carefully creased to preserve a fictitious air of newness, tan boots, a clean shave, and a cigarette, all went to the making of Benno. For the rest, he had a pimply, thin, somewhat foxy face, pale with the pallor that belonged to Spats' factory, and his right ear drooped like a wilted lily.
His expression was one of unnatural precocity, his attitude of mind that of a small and early humourist. He was artificially funny at the expense of all things on earth below and in the heavens above; his conversation was supposed to be delightfully light and sparkling, and consisted mainly of a large collection of street gags and fanciful phrases.
Sometimes the clerk spent 6d. or 9d., perhaps even 1s., on drinks, which expenditure carried with it the splendid privilege of extending an airy patronage to the barmaid; but Benno did not like drink, and the fine moment came in the gay roll forth from the bar, with a flourish of handkerchiefs and a fusillade of badinage. That, too, was necessary to the part of the young devil. Really, when “on his own,” Benno had no vices, and was of a frugal mind; his Savings Bank pass-book was tattered and limp, and stained with long service.
And now the cynical and worldy-wise Mr. Ben Dickson was raving over the perfections of a mere girl with yellow hair and the mouth of a baby, despite the fact that he had seen golden hair come and go on black-browed Beauties times and again, and in defiance of his knowledge of the guile that lurks behind little red lips. His yearning for a confidant drove him back to the packer's bench within an hour. He proudly displayed a coloured photograph in a rolled-gold locket.
“Present from 'er,” he said, proudly. “Ain't she the pick iv the peaches?