"Have ye seen the marnin' papers, Runty?" he inquired.
"Papers, Billy, papers? Vot do I vant wid the papers. No, Billy, I shuns 'em. No man can be a 'abitchual reader huv the papers, Billy, vidout comin' to a bad hend."
Mr. O'Fake drew from his pocket a copy of "The Daily Bazoo," and pointing at a certain paragraph, said: "Rade thot, Runty!"
The queer little man stuck his fork under the tin plate and flipped it off the stove upon the floor, heedless of Mr. O'Fake's wishes. "Hexcuse me, Billy," he said, "I never wiolate my princerples. I 'ave no use for papers an' I never reads 'em. Wot's it say?"
"Bedad, I'll tell ye pwhat it says. It says outrage. It says another wan o' thim ould women has come bechune me an' me daily bread. It says that Tony Scollop's been and hired some ould hag av a gran'mother to shtep in an' discredit the perfession. I was a lad av tin years, sor, when I furst shtepped upon the boords av a doime moosaum in the well-known characther av the Son av the Cannibal King. From that day to this, sor, I have exhibited my charrums to the deloighted eyes av the populus fer tin cints per look. I have been a Zulu Chafetain, a Tattooed Grake, a Noted Malay Pirate, a Bushman from Australier, an' afther a public career which there ben't no better, I am to this day, sor, to this day a Wild Man from Barneo. Widout the natcheral advantages which a ginerous Heaven has besthowed upon you, sor, or upon my honored frind, Misther Kwang, the Chinaze Giant, or upon Maddlemerzelle Bristelli, the bearded Woman, or upon Ko-ko, the T'ree-Headed Girrul,—widout sich natcheral advantages, sor, for to raise me at wanst to the front rank av Frakes, my coorse has been wan av worruk, sor. That worruk has been done; my name as the greatest living Wild Man from Barneo is writ, sor, in letthers av goold upon fame's highest pin—er, pinister! There, sor, it is to-day, and shall I now—"
"Billy," replied the queer little man, "you shall not. Your vords is werry booterful an' werry true. This 'ere bizness of bringin' in Nurse Connellys, an' Marie Wan Zandts, an' the huncles an' hants an' neffies an' nieces an' gran'mothers belonging to influential murderers an' Young Napoleons uv Finance an' sich, is a-puttin' the persitions uv legitermate Freaks in peril. I speaks as the Gran' Worthy Sublime an' Mighty Past High Master uv the Brother'ood an' Sister'ood uv Hanimated Freaks, an' I says hit vont' do! Our rights an' liberties is not thus to be er—is they, Billy?"
"Sor, they air not. They—"
"Vell, then, Billy, you shall come before the Brother'ood an' say so. You shall say it this werry mornin' vith your best langwidge. Vith that tongue o' yours, Billy, an' that 'ere himposin' presence, ef you honly ad' a crook in yer back or ef yer heye vos honly in the middle uv yer 'ed, Billy, you'd be the leadin' Freak on herth!"
With this genial and deserved tribute, which Mr. O'Fake received most graciously, the dwarf tumbled from his keg, which tumbled also in its turn, raked a heavy overcoat and a rough fur cap from a dark closet, and having got himself into them, he begged Billy to accompany him without delay.
The Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Animated Freaks was and is one of the most important and distinguished of the labor organizations of New York. Its membership is composed, as its name implies, of the ladies and gentlemen actually engaged in the entertainment of the public by the exhibition of their interesting bodies. Its purposes are to encourage social pleasures among its members, and to protect them against the encroachments of domineering managers. Such an organization was made necessary by the continued aggressions of the managerial classes, who were led by their unbridled greed to resort to all kinds of unjust expedients whereby to grind down and trample under foot the poor and needy Freak. This sort of foul injustice went on from year to year, rendering the Freaks more and more dependent on the opulent and tyrannical managers, until the wrongs resultant from it cried to heaven for vengeance. At last, from the depths of their misery the Freaks arose and with one masterful effort they threw off their base shackles and declared themselves free.
It was truly a majestic movement. The Brotherhood was firmly established in all parts of America and Great Britain, and it duly resolved that no one should hereafter be a Freak, or be tolerated in the society of Freaks, who was not a member of the Brotherhood in good standing. It resolved that no manager should employ any one claiming to be a Freak who was not thus rendered legitimate. It resolved to various purports, and in phrases most solemn the majesty of the manhood and womanhood of the freakly profession was vindicated.
The managers, of course, retaliated in kind. They organized a trust. They classified the Freaks and rated them. The relations between labor and capital engaged in the museum industry became thereby greatly strained, but as yet no actual rupture had occurred. All hoped in the public interest to avert such a catastrophe, but each side felt that a fierce struggle was imminent.
Only some such incident as had been supplied in the enterprising stroke of business accomplished by Tony Scollop was needed to fan the sparks of resentment into a flame. The flame was already burning in the bosom of Mr. Billy O'Fake, and when he and the dwarf reached the Brotherhood's headquarters they were ready to perform the functions of a torch.
The Executive Council of the Brotherhood, District No. 6, F. I. M. X. T. S. Z., was about to hold a meeting. The Council was composed of seven eminent Freaks—Sim Boles, the Double-Jointed Wonder; Bony Perkins, the Ossified Man; Duffer Leech, the Man with the Phenomenal Skull; Miss Tilly Boles, the Beautiful Mermaid of the Southern Sea; Mrs. Smock, the Bearded Circassian Beauty; Mr. Billy O'Fake, the Wild Man from Borneo, and the President of the Brotherhood, Runty, the Dwarf. These ladies and gentlemen were the leaders, nay, the fathers and mothers of the organization, distinguished for their sagacity, resolution and prudence.
The arrival of Mr. O'Fake and the Dwarf completed the council, which proceeded promptly to business. Runty took the chair, and in a few earnest and well-chosen words, he dispatched the Ossified Man for a pitcher of beer. The transaction of other routine business occupied the attention of the council for a brief while, but it soon gave way to the pressing business of the hour. This came in the shape of a resolution presented by Mr. O'Fake, in these words:
Whereas, Mr. T. Scollop, manager of the Universal Dime Museum of Natural Wonders, has seen fit to involve our honorable profession in disgrace by the employment for exhibition as an Animated Freak of Grandmother Cruncher, so called; and,
Whereas, The said Grandmother Cruncher is not a member of this Honorable Brotherhood, nor a Freak, but merely a person of vulgar notoriety; and,
Whereas, The said employment by the said T. Scollop of the said Female is in violation of Paragraph 13 of Article 210 of Section 306 of Chapter 194 of Book 8 of the Constitution and By-Laws of this Honorable Brotherhood, therefore be it,
RESOLVED, That a committee of three members of this Council be appointed by the Grand Worthy Sublime and Mighty Past High Master to see the said T. Scollop and to inform him of the displeasure which his course herein set forth has excited in this Council, and to insist upon the immediate discharge of the said Cruncher.
"Wid the Chair's permission," said Mr. O'Fake, when his resolutions had been read, "I will spake a worrud wid regard to the riserlooshuns. Sor, I hav no apolergy to make for thim riserlooshuns. They manes business. We are threatened, sor, wid a didly pur'l. It has not come upon us uv a sudden, sor, not to wanst. It is a repetition, sor, av an ould offince, an' I am here, sor, in this reshpicted prisence, sor, to say that the toime has come fer this Brotherhood to make its power filt!"
Mr. O'Fake brought his clinched fist down upon the back of the Chair in front of him with a smart tap and looked proudly at the admiring faces of his fellow-members. Mr. O'Fake was eminent for his attainments as a speaker, and well he knew it. A murmur of applause broke out as he stopped, but he stilled it with a majestic wave of the hand.
"Sor," he continued, "I am wan av those which belaves that the managers nades a lesson. They nades to be towld, sor, that Frakes is not dogs. They have gone on in their coorse—"
At this point a shrill "Mr. Cheerman!" sounded out from the rear of the hall, and to the great indignation of Mr. O'Fake and to everybody else's surprise, Mr. Duffer Leech, the Man with the Phenomenal Skull, was observed to be standing with his arm lifted and his index finger extended towards the Chair.
Mr. O'Fake was much too astonished at Mr. Leech's audacity to express himself. The Chair looked from one gentleman to the other in perplexity, mysteriously winking at Mr. Leech and nodding at Mr. O'Fake as if to call the attention of the one to the fact that the other was already addressing the council. These repeated gestures having produced no other effect than to draw another "Mr. Cheerman!" from Mr. Leech, the dwarf was moved to inquire, "Vell, Duffer, vot's hup?"
"I wants to know wot's all dis talkin' about. I ain't got all day to sit here and listen to chin-moosic. Wot's de trouble?"
It was easy to see that Duffer had been drinking. No man in his senses would have ventured so rudely to have checked the flow of Mr. O'Fake's oratory. Duffer had clearly been drinking, and the lion whose anger he had roused turned upon him quickly.
"Phwat's the throuble!" he repeated, sarcastically. "I should say the throuble was plain enough. If the gintleman has any difficulty seein' it now, he won't long. It'll take the farm av snakes, sor, an' little rid divils wid long tails in doo toime!"
Mr. O'Fake spoke with much dignity and great effect. In the roar of laughter which followed Duffer perceived he had been vanquished and in some confusion he sat down, while his victor proceeded:
"The offince minshuned in me riserlooshuns is a blow at the daily brid av us all, sor. If any ould woman kin be placed in the froont rank av Frakes fer the rayson that her gran'son killed another ould woman, wull ye tell me, sor, phwat becomes av our janius an' harrud work? Sor, I am bould to say that yersilf, honored as ye are fer hevin' the biggest hid on the shmallest body in the world, had yer hid been as big as a base dhrum an' yer body as shmall as a marble, ye would be regarded as av no impartance in comparison wid this ould witch av a Gran'mother Cruncher."
The impression produced by Mr. O'Fake's remarks was evidently deep and painful. He sat down amid silence which was presently broken by the shrill voice of Duffer.
"Mr. Cheerman," said Duffer. "I rise to a p'int o' order."
"Pint o' vot?" inquired the Chair.
"Order, sir, order!" cried Duffer, who had long been a member of an East Side debating club.
"Vell, I hunderstands you, Duffer, hall as far's you've vent. But it's wery himportant, me boy, vot you horders a pint of. If it's a pint of vhisky, vhy, all right; but if it's honly a pint of beer vhen there's seven hon'able ladies an' gents—"
"I bigs the Chair's pardon," interrupted Mr. O'Fake, "but the Chair labors under a slight misaper—ahem!" Mr. O'Fake finished the word with a cough. It was a cough which he always kept ready for use in that way whenever needed. "The gintleman manes he objects to the persadin's."
"He does, does 'e? Vell, if that's vot 'e means, 'e hexpresses hisself in a werry poor vay," answered the Chair, directing a look at Duffer which precipitated him at once into his seat.
Mrs. Smock, the Circassian Beauty, said very decidedly that she didn't want any Grandmother Crunchers on the platform with her, and what was the use of having a Brotherhood if you didn't stop such things, which was debasing as everybody knew, and made her blood just boil every time it happened for she couldn't stand having her rights took away and wasn't going to. These energetic remarks decided the Chair to act.
"Vell," he said, "it happears to be a go. The Chair happoints hisself an' Billy an' Sim Boles, an' the sooner ve sees Tony the sooner vill the band begin to play. If you don't think there'll be moosic as'll make your ears 'um, you don't know Tony Scollop."
The Chair thereupon descended from its lofty place, and with characteristic promptness worked itself into its hat and coat. The occasion was felt by all to be somewhat solemn, and murmurs of advice arose to each of the committee as to the best method of proceeding. It was agreed that the other members of the council should remain in the headquarters until the committee's return.
Runty considered himself something of a diplomat, and he let it be understood while on the way to Mr. Scollop's office that he would present the case. They found Mr. Scollop in an amiable humor and most happy to see them. There was a pause after the greetings, and to relieve it Mr. Scollop remarked again that it was a fine day.
"So it is," rejoined Runty, "vich in combination with the natur' of hour business haccounts for hour smilin' faces."
"That's right," said Tony. "Only if I was you I wouldn't smile in the sun. Three such smilin' faces as yours turned right up at him would produce a shadder, Runty. Now, what are you fellows up to? Some Brotherhood game, I'll bet a hat."
"Wot a werry hactive mind!" cried Runty admiringly. "If you vos to guess again you'd hit the game itself an' save us playin' it."
"No, you'd better lead off."
"Vell, then, clubs is trumps, an' we have got a big von vith a knot on the hend for Gran'mother Cruncher—see?"
Mr. Scollop smiled thoughtfully and said he saw. "I see a long ways," he added. "Cruncher is upstairs now, and the public is piling in head over heels to see her. Her portographs is selling like hot cakes and the more you kicks the more she'll be worth to me. Fact is, I wish you would raise a disturbance. There's nothin' like judicious advertisin' in this mooseum business. It would be worth a little something to have a nice, hard strike. Now, then, do you see?"
Runty smiled in his turn and also said he saw. "If that's vot you vant," he said, "you've got it. The strike is on, an' afore you gets through with Gran'mother Cruncher you'll have so much o' the same kind o' notoriety that you an' her'll make a team, an' you both orter grow rich by just hex'ibitin' of your two selves!"
"Capital!" cried Mr. Scollop in much excitement, ringing his bell vigorously. "This is the best thing 'ats happened to me in ten years. Hey, there, you, Dick! Rush around the corner an' get a canvas painted—make it big—fifteen by twenty feet, and great big black and red letters. Come now, be quick! Take down the words: 'Strike!' Make each letter two feet long! 'Our Freaks Fight Grandmother Cruncher! They Refuse To Exhibit Along With The Old Lady! Jealous Of Her Dazzling Beauty! Manager Scollop Stands Firm! Says He Will Be Loyal To Grandmother Cruncher Till The Heavens Fall! Not A Freak Left! But Grandmother Cruncher Remains Nobly At Her Post! Thousands Shake Her By The Hand! She Is Now Making A Speech To The Multitude! Hurry Up To Hear Her Thrilling Words! Come One! Come All! Only Ten Cents!'
"There, got it down?" continued the Manager, breathlessly. "Got it all down? Then rush off, Dick! By the great horn spoon! Was there ever such a stroke of luck as this! Now, Runty, you fellows hurry up to your headquarters, so's to be there when the reporters come. Tell 'em the whole business. Tell 'em you'll never give in! Tell 'em it's a battle to the death! I'll send up a couple o' kegs o' beer and a lot o' cigars. Be lively, now."
Mr. Scollop sprang from his chair and ran upstairs in frantic haste to give directions for rendering the exhibition-room as commodious as possible, leaving Runty and his fellow-committeemen in quite a state of mind.
"Vell!" said the dwarf, drawing a prolonged breath and elevating his eyebrows with a curious expression of mingled surprise and dismay, "'ere's vot I calls a go!"
Bony Perkins rubbed his ossified eyes with his ossified knuckles and observed that it looked as if somebody was going to get fooled.
Mr. O'Fake arose majestically from his chair, and looked grimly at his colleagues. "Gintlemen," he said, "he'll be talkin' in another tone within a wake. Bedad, we'll tache him phwat he don't know. We'll send out an appale fer foonds, an' we'll give him all the fight he wants."
Mr. O'Fake's hopeful tone was needed to brace up the drooping courage of his friends. They immediately returned to the council and briefly reported that their grievances had been ignored, and that the strike was on and would be general. Orders were at once issued and forwarded to every museum in New York directing all Freaks straightway to quit exhibiting and appeals were issued to the public and to all labor associations for financial aid. The headquarters were soon in a state of commotion. Mr. Scollop's kegs of beer had arrived and aided greatly in increasing the ardor of everybody's feelings. The Ossified Man surrounded himself with the Fat Woman, Little Bow-Legs and the Chinese Giant, and lectured them long and earnestly on the rights of labor and the tyranny of class rule. Mr. O'Fake delivered a full score of beautiful orations, and the entire Brotherhood agreed that its power should be exerted to the last extreme.
Meanwhile Mr. Scollop's museum was the scene of an even greater tumult. The enormous "Strike!" placard had been posted and had produced an immediate effect. Vast crowds of people, wild to see Grandmother Cruncher, besieged the ticket-office and packed the exhibition-room, where, upon the platform, elsewise deserted, stood that noble old lady in all her pathetic beauty. Mr. Scollop, in a condition of rapture scarcely possible of portrayal, stood all the afternoon in his private office opening wine for the gentlemen of the press and giving them the fullest information. He truly said he had nothing to conceal. He had made an honest man's contract and he would stand by it till he dropped in his tracks. He was not the man to desert a poor old woman in her sorrow at the bidding of an irresponsible clique of labor bosses. The Freaks did not want to strike, anyhow. They were nagged on to it by their leaders, who were not genuine Freaks at all, but professional agitators. Aside from his duty to Grandmother Cruncher, he was not going to have his business run by outsiders—not if he knew himself! There would be no abandonment of principle or position on his part, the public might depend on it.
Mr. Scollop professed the deepest sorrow at the annoyance and vexation to which the public was exposed by the unfair conduct of the strikers, but he couldn't help it. It was not his fault. He knew he would have the sympathy of all fair-minded people. He would do his best to satisfy his patrons even under these trying circumstances. The museum was open now, as the reporters could easily see, and would be kept open. Grandmother Cruncher would exhibit and would be the great and permanent feature of his show hereafter, Brotherhood or no Brotherhood!
These remarks, amplified and extended, appeared in the papers, together with interviews with the strikers and many thrilling incidents of the struggle. Public interest was aroused in the most general and intense degree, and Mr. Scollop's cashier made daily trips to the bank with a bushel-basket full of dimes. How long the contest would have continued and what the final result would have been are problems too deep for me. But at the end of the first week Grandmother Cruncher's rheumatism was too much for her and she was compelled to retire. Short as was her professional career, it gave her undying fame. In labor circles many ugly rumors are floating about concerning the management of the strike. It is broadly intimated that the whole thing was a "sell," and significant remark is made upon the fact that Runty, the Dwarf, shortly after the strike was ordered off, appeared upon the street scintillating under a new diamond pin. One of the leading daily journals editorially explained the matter by stating that the rheumatism story was a ruse, that public interest in Grandmother Cruncher began to wane, and that thereupon Manager Scollop "fixed the matter up" with the strikers. Tony, however, declares that the Brotherhood gave in, while Runty says it is stronger than ever and more than ever determined to protect the rights of its members. Where the exact truth lies it is far from me to say, but it may be pertinent to mention that Runty and Mr. O'Fake have started a saloon in the Bowery.