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Jimmie and the old woman listen to the fighting going on. They hear not only the screams of the Johnsons but of other tenants of the building as well. The old woman is a beggar. She sits outside the building all day collecting pennies from people who live elsewhere. She "crooks her legs under her and crouches immovable and hideous, like an idol." One time, a woman dropped her purse and the old woman grabbed it. When she was caught, she cursed so severely that the other woman fainted and then she kicked the police officer in the stomach.
She sends Jimmie to buy her a bucket of beer. He goes to a bar and gets the bucket filled. On his way back, his father stops him and steals the beer from him. Jimmie tells his father the old woman will hurt him for losing her beer, but Mr. Johnson doesn’t take any notice as he drinks the whole bucket down. Mr. Johnson has been in the bar all evening telling anyone who would listen that his home is a regular hell and that is the reason he spends his evenings drinking whiskey.
Jimmie sneaks past the old woman’s door and waits outside his own door listening to his parents argue. His father wants to know why his mother gets so angry about Jimmie fighting. Her answer is that Jimmie tears his clothes. His parents commence fighting again. Jimmie crouches in the hallway. He hears other tenants commenting on the fight. Finally his parents become quiet and he sneaks inside. His mother is asleep. He’s so fascinated with her ugliness that he creeps over to her and looks into her face. She opens her eyes and he screams in terror. She falls back asleep and he crawls to a sleeping place. His sister comes over to him. Their father is sleeping as if he were dead. The "florid moon" shines over the roofs. The two children crouch until dawn.
Chapter 3 extends the horror of the domestic scene to the rest of the world of the tenement building. Jimmie escapes from his parents into the home of an old woman who makes her living from begging. At the end of chapter 2, the reader is given to hope that this old woman is a sort of refuge for the boy. Crane’s readers will probably have thought of the image of the kindly old grandmotherly figure of popular imagination. Instead, this old woman sends Jimmie back into the streets to buy her beer, in payment of a night’s rest in her home.
The chapter ends back in the Johnsons’ apartment where Jimmie has had to run in order to escape the old woman’s anger at his failure to get her bucket of beer back to her safely. The two children crouch in fear as they stare at their sleeping mother. Here, the mother is the central image of what is wrong in this world. Crane plays on the popular image of the mother as a sort of holy resident of the home as he creates her opposite in Mrs. Johnson. He places in her the primary responsibility for the terrified and brutalized lives of her children.