Returning from the long, wearisome ride, she climbed the circular iron staircase—up through parallels of garlic-scented tenement gloom—to her three-room flat, neat as a pin; but not even then did she give way to tears. Tears! No man could make Great Taylor weep!
However, drawing the pins from her straw hat, dyed black for the occasion, she admitted, “It ain’t right.” Grit had left her nothing, absolutely nothing, but an unpleasant memory of himself—his grimy face and hands, his crooked nose and baggy breeches.... And Great Taylor was willing that every thought of him should leave her forever. “Grit’s gone,” she told herself. “I ain’t going to think of him any more.”
Determinedly Great Taylor put some things to soak and, closing down the top of the stationary washtubs, went to the window. The view was not intriguing, and yet she hung there: roofs and more roofs, a countless number reached out toward infinity, with pebbles and pieces of broken glass glittering in the sunlight; chimneys sharply outlined by shadow; and on every roof, except one, clothes-lines, from which white cotton and linen flapped in the wind at the side of faded overalls and red woollen shirts. They formed a kind of flag—these red, white, and blue garments flying in the breeze high above a nation of toilers. But Great Taylor’s only thought was, “It’s Monday.”
One roof, unlike the rest, displayed no such flag—a somewhat notorious “garden” and dance hall just around the corner.
And adjacent to this house was a vacant lot on which Great Taylor could see a junk-cart waiting, and perhaps wondering what had become of its master.
She turned her eyes away. “I ain’t going to think of him.” Steadying her chin in the palms of her hands, elbows on the window-sill, Nell peered down upon a triangular segment of chaotic street. Massed humanity overflowed the sidewalks and seemed to bend beneath the weight of sunlight upon their heads and shoulders. A truck ploughed a furrow through push-carts that rolled back to the curb like a wave crested with crude yellow, red, green, and orange merchandise. She caught the hum of voices, many tongues mingling, while the odours of vegetables and fruit and human beings came faintly to her nostrils. She was looking down upon one of the busiest streets of the city that people sometimes call the Devil’s Own.
Grit had wrested an existence from the debris of this city. Others have waded ankle-deep in the crowd; but he, a grimy, infinitesimal molecule, had been at the bottom wholly submerged, where the light of idealism is not supposed to penetrate. Grit had been a junkman; his business address—a vacant lot; his only asset—a junk-cart across the top of which he had strung a belt of jingling, jangling bells that had called through the cavernous streets more plainly than Grit himself: “Rags, old iron, bottles, and ra-ags.”
This had been Grit’s song; perhaps the only one he had known, for he had shoved that blest cart of his since a boy of thirteen; he had worn himself as threadbare as the clothes on his back, and at last the threads had snapped. He had died of old age—in his thirties. And his junk-cart, with its bells, stood, silent and unmanned, upon the vacant lot just around the corner.