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Title: A Day with a Tramp - and other days
Author: Wyckoff, Walter A.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           A DAY WITH A TRAMP



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              A DAY WITH A
                                 TRAMP

                             AND OTHER DAYS


                                   BY

                           WALTER A. WYCKOFF

         ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL ECONOMY IN PRINCETON
                  UNIVERSITY; AUTHOR OF “THE WORKERS”


                                NEW YORK
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
                                  1901



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          COPYRIGHT, 1901, BY
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                       PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER, 1901


                             TROW DIRECTORY
                    PRINTING AND BOOKBINDING COMPANY
                                NEW YORK



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                PREFACE


The following narratives, like those published in the series of “The
Workers,” East and West, are drawn from notes taken during an expedition
made ten years ago. In the summer of 1891 I began an experiment of
earning my living as a day laborer and continued it until, in the course
of eighteen months, I had worked my way from Connecticut to California.

In justice to the narratives it should be explained that they are
submitted simply for what they are, the casual observations of a student
almost fresh from college whose interest in life led him to undertake a
work for which he had no scientific training.

                                                                W. A. W.

PRINCETON, October, 1901.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                CONTENTS


                                                    PAGE

               A DAY WITH A TRAMP                      1

               WITH IOWA FARMERS                      41

               A SECTION-HAND ON THE UNION PACIFIC    91
                 RAILWAY

               “A BURRO-PUNCHER”                     127

               INCIDENTS OF THE SLUMS                163


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           A DAY WITH A TRAMP



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           A DAY WITH A TRAMP


He was an American of Irish stock; his name was Farrell; he was
two-and-twenty, a little more than six feet high, and as straight as an
arrow. We met on the line of the Rock Island Railway just west of
Morris, Ill.

But first, I should like to explain that in the course of eighteen
months’ experience as a wandering wage-earner, drifting from the
Atlantic to the Pacific, this was the only day that I spent in company
with a tramp.

It was in the character of a workingman and not as a tramp, that I
began, in the summer of 1891, a casual experiment, by which I hoped to
gain some personal acquaintance with the conditions of life of unskilled
laborers in America. Having no skill, I could count on employment only
in the rudest forms of labor, and I maintained consistently the
character of a laborer—a very indifferent one, I am bound to own—yet
finding it possible everywhere to live by the work of my hands.

I did tramp, it is true, walking in all some twenty-five hundred miles
of the distance from Connecticut to California; but I did it from set
purpose, discovering that in this way I could get a better knowledge of
the people and the country and of opportunities for work, than if I
should spend my savings in car-fare from place to place. It cost me
nothing to walk, and I not infrequently covered two hundred miles in the
course of a week, but it generally proved that, in actual cash from the
savings of my last job, I was out quite as much as I should have been
had I ridden the distance. This was because it was often necessary to
pay for food and lodging by the way, an odd job not always being
procurable, and the people being far readier to give a meal than to take
the trouble of providing work in payment for it. I could little blame
them, and I soon began to make use of the wayside inns, trusting for
contact with people more to chance acquaintance and the admirable
opportunities that came with every event of employment, when my savings
were gone.

_Tramp_ is a misnomer, I fancy, as descriptive of the mode of motion of
the members of the professionally idle class which in our vernacular we
call _hoboes_. The tramp rarely tramps; he “beats his way” on the
railroads.

Everyone knows of the very thorough-going and valuable work that Mr.
Josiah Flynt has done in learning the vagrant world, not only of
America, but of England, and widely over the Continent as well, and the
light that he has let in upon the habits of life and of thought of the
fraternity, and its common speech and symbols, and whence its recruits
come, and why, and how it occupies a world midway between lawlessness
and honest toil, lacking the criminal wit for the one and the will power
for the other.

That the hobo, in going from place to place, makes little use of the
highways, I can freely testify, so far as my limited experience goes.
His name was legion among the unemployed in Chicago, and he flocked
about railway centres, but he was a rare bird along the country roads
where work was plentiful.

It is easy to recount individually all that I met: a lusty Yankee beggar
who hailed me as a brother one blistering July day, not far from the
Connecticut border, when I was making for Garrisons; a cynical wraith,
who rose, seemingly, from the dust of the road, in the warm twilight of
a September evening, in eastern Pennsylvania and scoffed at my hope of
finding work in Sweet Valley; a threadbare, white-haired German with a
truly fine reserve and courtesy, who so far warmed to me, when we met in
the frosty air of late November, on the bare, level stretch of a country
road between Cleveland and Sandusky, as to tell me that he had walked
from Texas, and was on his way to the home of friends near Boston; then
Farrell, in central Illinois; and finally, a blear-eyed, shaggy knave,
trudging the sleepers of the Union Pacific in western Nebraska, his rags
bound together and bound on with strings, and a rollicking quality in
his cracked voice, who must have had difficulty in avoiding work among
the short-handed gangs of navvies along the line.

All this is by way of fruitless explanation that I myself was not a
tramp, but a workman, living by day’s labor; a fruitless explanation,
because a reputation once established is difficult to dislodge. I have
grown accustomed to references to my “tramp days,” even among those who
knew my purpose best, and I had no sooner returned to my university than
I found that to its members I was already known as “Weary,” in which
alliterative appellation I saw the frankest allusion to a supposed
identification with the “Weary Willies” of our “comic” prints. And
having incurred the name, I may as well lay bare the one day that I
tramped with a tramp.

I am not without misgivings in speaking of Farrell as a tramp. He had
held a steady job some weeks before, and our day together ended as we
shall see; but if I was a hobo, so was he, and although clearly not of
the strictest sect, and perhaps of no true sect at all, yet let us grant
that, for the time, we both were tramps.

The line of a railway was an unusual course, for I much preferred the
country roads as offering better walking, and far more hope of meeting
the people that I wished to know. Heavy rains, however, had made the
roads almost impassable on foot, and I was walking the sleepers from
necessity.

The spring of 1892 had been uncommonly wet. The rains set in about the
time that I quit work with a gang of roadmakers on the Exposition
grounds. So incessant were they that it grew difficult to leave Chicago
on foot, and when, in the middle of May, I did set out, I got only as
far as Joliet, when I had to seek employment again.

At the yards of the Illinois Steel Company I was taken on and assigned
to a gang of laborers, mostly Hungarians. But my chief association of a
week’s stay there is with a boarding-house, and especially its landlady.

She was a girlish matron, with a face that made you think of a
child-wife, but she was a woman in capacity. Her baby was a year old,
and generous Heaven was about to send another. Her boarders numbered
seven when I was made welcome; and to help her in the care of a crippled
husband and the child and guests, she had a little maid of about
fifteen, while, to add to the income from our board, she took in all our
washing, and did it herself with no outside help. She may have been
twenty, but I should have guessed eighteen, and every man of us stood
straight before her and did her bidding thankfully.

It was a proud moment, and one which made me feel more nearly on equal
terms with the other men, when one evening she came to me and,

“John, you mind the baby this time while I finish getting supper,” she
said, as she put the child in my arms.

On the sofa in the sitting-room we would lay the little wide-eyed, sunny
creature whom we rarely heard cry, and who never showed fear at the
touch of our rough hands, nor at the thundering laughter that answered
to her smiles and her gurgling attempts at speech.

The mother waited at the table, and joined freely in our talk. She had a
way of saying “By gosh!” that fairly broke your heart, and at times she
would stand still and swear softly, while her deep blue eyes widened in
innocent surprise.

They were haunting eyes, and they followed me far out on the rain-soaked
roads of the valley of the Illinois. The walking was not bad at first.
Over a rolling country the way wound past woodland and open fields,
between banks of rank turf and wild flowers; and, but for the evident
richness of soil, and the entire absence of rock, it might have been a
New England valley with nothing to suggest the earlier monotony of
undulating prairie.

But the walking became steadily worse, until by nightfall each step was
a painful pulling of a foot out of the mire then planting it in the mire
ahead, with Morris a good ten miles beyond. I was passing in the late
twilight a farm-house that stood close to the road. In his
shirt-sleeves, and seated in a tilted chair on the porch, was a young
farmer with a group of lightly clad children about him. He accepted the
explanation that I found the walking too heavy to admit of my reaching
Morris that evening, and, readily giving me leave to sleep on his
hay-mow, asked me in to have something to eat.

I was struck at first sight with a marked resemblance in him to my
friend Fitz-Adams, the manager of the logging camp in Pennsylvania. All
through our talk, while seated on the porch in the evening, there were
reminders in his manner and turns of speech and ways of looking at
things of that very efficient boss.

He was living in apparent poverty. The house was small and slightly
built and meanly furnished. Indeed, there was an effect of squalor in
its scant interior, and in the unkempt appearance of his wife and
children. But the man impressed you with the resolute reserve of one who
bides his time and knows what he is about. It appeared in his evident
contentment, joined with a certain hopefulness that was very engaging.
It is true that the spring was wet, so wet that he had not yet been able
to plant his corn, and it was growing late for planting, but, even if
the crop should fail completely, he had much corn in the best condition,
he said, left over from the uncommonly large crop of the year before,
which would be selling in the autumn at a better price. He was depressed
by the persistent rains, but not discouraged, and, as for the region in
which he had cast his lot, he clearly thought it one of the best for a
man beginning the world as a farmer. With land at fifty dollars an acre,
there was a good market near at hand, and money on the security of the
land could be had at five per cent. It was best to buy, he said. Four
thousand dollars would secure a farm of eighty acres, and two hundred
dollars would pay the interest, whereas the rental might reach three
hundred or even three hundred and fifty. Unmistakably he was poor, but
he was certainly not of the complaining sort, and I thought that it did
not require a long look into the future to see him in full possession of
the land and the owner of a more comfortable home besides.

When the barn-yard fowls wakened me in the morning the sun was rising to
a cloudless dawn. But, by the time that I took to the road, all the sky
was overcast again, and progress was as difficult as on the night
before. The stoneless soil was saturated, until it could absorb not
another drop, and water formed a pool in every foot-print and ran in
muddy streams in the wheel-tracks.

Two miles down the road was a railway. I reached it after an hour’s hard
walk and followed it to the tow-path of a canal, which afforded
comparatively firm footing over the remaining eight miles into Morris.
It was now ten o’clock, and for the past hour a steady drizzle had been
falling, which increased to a down-pour as I entered the town. There I
remained sheltered until nearly noon, when the rain ceased and I renewed
the journey. The roads I knew by experience to be almost impassable, so
I found the line of the Rock Island Railway and started west in the hope
of reaching Ottawa by night.

Dense clouds lay heavily upon the fields that stood, many of them, deep
in water. The moist air was hot and sluggish, but under foot was the
hard road-bed, and the course was the straightest that could be cut to
the Mississippi. The line was a double one, and the gutter between
formed a good cinder-track, so that I had not to measure the distance
from sleeper to sleeper at every step, which grows to be a horrible
monotony.

I had cleared the town by two miles or more and was settling to the
swing of a long walk when I saw, not far ahead, a gang of navvies at
work; almost at the same moment there appeared, emerging from the fog
beyond, the figure of a man. We were about equally distant from the
gang, and I had passed the workmen only a few yards when we met. The
impression grew as he drew near that here was a typical tramp, and,
being unaccustomed to his order and its ways, I wondered how we should
fare, if thrown together. But if I recognized him as a tramp, he had
done as much by me; for, when we met, he hailed me as a _confrère_ with,

“Hello, partner! which way?”

“I’m going to Ottawa,” I said.

“How long will you hold Ottaway down?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m only passing through on my way to Davenport.”

That was enough for Farrell as evidence of my being a hobo, however raw
a recruit; but there was a certain courtesy of the road which he wished
to maintain, if he could, in the face of my awkward ignorance. I was
conscious of an embarrassment which I could not understand.

“How far is it to Morris?” he asked next, and the opening should have
been enough for any man, but I answered dully, with painful accuracy as
to the distance that I had come.

Clearly nothing would penetrate such density but the frankest
directness, so out he blurted:

“Well, partner, if you don’t mind, I’ll go with you.”

Light dawned upon me then, and I tried to make up in cordiality for a
want of intuition. Embarrassment was gone at once, and with an ease, as
of long acquaintance, Farrell began to tell me how that, on the day
before, he had lost his partner and for twenty-four hours had been
alone. The loneliness was a horror to him, from which he shrunk, even in
the telling, and he expanded, in the companionship of a total stranger,
like a flower in light and warmth.

Without a moment’s hesitation he abandoned the way toward Morris and
turned back upon his former course, with a light-heartedness at having a
partner that was highly flattering.

Here certainly was life reduced to simple terms. As we stood at meeting
on the railway line, Farrell was as though he had no single human tie
with a strong hold upon him. The clothes that covered him were his only
possessions, and a toss of a coin might well determine toward which
point of the compass he would go. The casual meeting with a new
acquaintance was enough to give direction to an immediate plan and to
change the face of nature.

There was trouble in his blue eyes when we met, the fluttering, anxious
bewilderment that one sees in the eyes of a half-frightened child. It
was an appeal for relief from intolerable loneliness; all his face
brightened when we set off together. He had the natural erectness of
carriage which gives a distinction of its own, and, apart from a small,
weak mouth, slightly tobacco-stained, and an ill-defined chin, he was
good to look at, with his straight nose and well set eyes and generous
breadth of forehead, the thick brown hair turning gray about it and
adding to his looks a good ten years above his actual two-and-twenty. A
faded coat was upon his arm and he wore a flannel shirt that had once
been navy blue, and ragged trousers, and a pair of boots, through rents
in which his bare feet appeared. A needle was stuck through the front of
his shirt, and the soiled white cotton with which it was threaded was
wound around the cloth within the projecting ends.

However accustomed to “beating his way,” instead of going on foot,
Farrell may have been, he was a good walker. Stretching far ahead was
the level reach of the road-bed, with the converging lines of rails
disappearing in the mist. Our muscles relaxed in the hot, unmoving air,
until we struck the gait which becomes a mechanical swing with scarcely
a sense of effort. Then Farrell was at his best. Snatches of strange
song fell from him and remembered fragments of stage dialogue with
little meaning and with no connection, but all expressing his care-free
mood. It was contagious. Oh, but the world was wide and fair, and we
were young and free, and vagabond and unashamed! Walt Whitman was our
poet then, but I did not tell Farrell so; for the new, raw wine of life
was in his veins, and he sang a song of his own.

A breeze sprang up from the west, and the heavy mists began to move, but
from out the east great banks of clouds rose higher with the sound of
distant thunder, which drew nearer, until spattering raindrops fell,
fairly hissing on the hot rails. No shelter was at hand; when the storm
broke it came with vindictive fury and drenched us in a few moments. We
walked on with many looks behind to make sure of not being run down, for
we could scarcely have heard the approach of a train in the almost
unbroken peals of thunder that nearly drowned our shouts. Then the
shower passed; the thunder grew distant and faint again, and from a
clear sky the sun shone upon us with blistering heat, through air as
still and heavy and as surcharged with electricity as before the storm.

Farrell had been quite indifferent to the rain, accepting it with a
philosophic unconcern that was perfect. There was certainly little cause
to complain, for in half an hour our clothing was dry; meantime the
expression of his mood was changed. He had been friendly before, but
impersonal; now he wished to get into closer touch.

“Where are you from, partner?” he asked.

“I worked last winter in Chicago,” I said.

“What at?”

“Trucking in a factory for awhile, then with a road-gang on the Fair
Grounds. I had a job in Joliet, but I quit in a week,” I concluded. I
was short, for I knew that this was merely introductory, and that
Farrell was fencing for an opening.

“I’ve been on the road seven weeks now, looking for a job, and, in that
time, I ain’t slept but two nights in a bed,” he began.

“Two nights in a bed out of forty-nine?” I asked.

“Yes. In that time I’ve beat my way out to Omaha and back to Lima and up
and down; and one night a farmer near Tiffin, Ohio, give me a supper and
let me sleep in a bed in his wagon-house, and one wet night in Chicago I
had the price of a bunk in me jeans, and I says to meself, says I, ‘I’d
sooner sleep dry to-night than get drunk.’”

It came then of itself, needing only an occasional prompting question,
and the narrative was essentially true, I fancy; for, free from
embellishment, it moved with the directness of reality.

Born in Wisconsin of parents who had emigrated from Ireland, Farrell was
bred in an Illinois village, about fifty miles north of where we were
walking at the time. His two sisters lived there still, he thought, but
his mother had died when he was but a lad. His father was a day laborer
at work in Peoria, so far as Farrell knew. He had not seen him for many
years, and he kept up no contact with his people.

Much the most interesting part of the story to me was that which related
to the past year. Farrell was twenty-two; he had grown up he hardly knew
how, and was already a confirmed roadster, with an inordinate love for
tobacco, and a well-developed taste for drink.

In the early summer he had drifted into Ottawa, the very town that we
were nearing, and, being momentarily tired of the road, he sought and
found a job in a tile factory. At this point his narrative grew deeply
absorbing, because of the unconscious art of it in its simple adherence
to life; but being unable to reproduce his words, I can only suggest
their import.

It was a crisis in his history. The change began with an experience of a
mechanics’ boarding-house. He was a vagabond by breeding, with no
clearly defined ideas beyond food and drink, and immunity from work. He
was awaking to manhood, and there began to dawn for him at the
boarding-house a sense of home, and of something more in the motherly
care of the housekeeper.

“Say, she was good to me,” was his own expression, “she done me proud.
She used to mend me clothes, and if I got drunk, she never chewed the
rag, but I see it cut her bad, and I swore off for good; and then I used
to give her me wages to keep for me, and she’d allow me fifty cents a
week above me board.”

The picture went on unfolding itself naturally in the portrayal of
interests undreamed of beyond idleness, and enough of plug and beer. The
savings grew to a little store; then there came the suggestion of a new
suit of clothes, and a hat and boots, and a boiled shirt and collar, and
a bright cravat. Farrell little thought of the native touch of art in
his description of how, when all these were procured, he would fare
forth on a Sunday morning, not merely another man, but other than
anything that he had imagined. A sense of achievement came and brought a
dawning feeling of obligation, and a desire to take standing with other
men, and to know something and to bear a part in the work of a citizen
of the town.

Some glimmer had remained to him of religious teaching before his mother
died, and, in the conscious virtue of new dress, he sought out the
church, and began to go regularly to mass.

I knew what was coming then; there had been an inevitableness that
foretold it in the tale, and I found myself breathing more freely when
he began to speak without self-consciousness of the girl.

He said very little of her, but it was not at all difficult to catch the
ampler meaning of his words. Sunday began to hold a new interest, quite
apart from Sunday clothes. He found himself looking forward through the
week to a glimpse of her at church, but the week was far too long, and
in the autumn evenings he would dress himself in his best, regardless of
the jeers of the other men, and would walk past her father’s corner
grocery. Sometimes he saw her on the pavement in front of the shop, or
helping her father to wait on customers within.

All this was very disturbing; a new world had opened to him with a
steady job. It was unfolding itself with quite wonderful revelations in
the home-life of his boarding-house, and the friendship of the matron,
and the companionship of other workingmen, and the responsibility which
was beginning to replace his former recklessness. Moreover, he was
getting on in the tile factory. He was strong and active, and the
chances of being transferred to piece-work was a spur to do his best at
his present unskilled labor. Utterly unforeseen in its train of
consequences had come into this budding consciousness, the vision of a
girl. He had merely seen her at church, then seen her again, then found
himself looking forward to sight of her, and unable to wait patiently
for Sunday. The very thought of her carried with it a feeling of
contempt for his former life, and a distressing sense of difference in
their present stations, which developed, sometimes, into the temptation
to go back to the road and forget. That was the temptation that was
always in the background, and always coming to the fore when the craving
for drink was strongest, or when the monotony of ten hours’ daily labor
grew more than commonly burdensome. For four months and more he had
resisted now, and, as a reward, he had become just man enough to know
feebly that he could not easily forget, even on the road.

How he plucked up courage to meet her I do not know, for he did not tell
me, and not for treasure would I have asked him at this point of the
story. He did meet her, however, and the wonder of it was upon him
still, as he told me modestly, in quaint speech, that she smiled upon
him.

Oh, ineffable mystery of life, that he, a hobo of a few months before,
should be reading now in a good girl’s eyes an answering liking to his
own! He was little more than a lad, and she but a slip of a girl, and I
do not know what it may have meant to her, but to him it was life from
the dead. Very swiftly the winter sped and very hard he worked until he
earned a job at piecework in the factory, and then harder than ever
until he was making good wages. He could see little of her, for she had
an instinctive knowledge of her father’s probable displeasure, but there
grew up a tacit understanding between them that kept his hope and
ambition fired.

Nothing in experience could have been more wonderful than those winter
months, when he felt himself getting a man’s grip of things unutterable,
that came as from out a boundless sea into the range of his strange
awakening. And this new life was centred in her, as though she were its
source. He lived for her, and worked and thought for her and tried to be
worthy of her, and between his former and his present life was a gulf
which by some miracle she had created.

It came upon him with the suddenness of a pistol-shot one evening late
in March when they stood talking for a moment before saying good-night
at her father’s door. Thundering down the steps from the living-rooms
over the shop rushed the grocer, a large, florid Irishman. In a moment
he was upon them, hot in the newly acquired knowledge that Farrell was
“keeping steady company” with his daughter. His ire was up, and his
Irish tongue was loosed, and Farrell got the sting of it. It lashed him
for a beggarly factory laborer of doubtful birth, and, gaining
vehemence, it lashed him for a hobo predestined to destruction, and
finally, with strong admonition, it charged him never to speak to the
girl and never to enter her home again.

If only he could have known, if only there had been a voice to tell him
convincingly that now there had come a crucial test in his life between
character and circumstance, a voice “to lift him through the fight”! But
all his past was against him. In another hour he was dead drunk and he
went drunk to work in the morning, and was discharged.

The pleading of his landlady was of no avail. He thought that he had
lost the girl. Nothing remained but the road, and back to the road he
would go, and soon, with his savings in his pocket, he was “beating his
way” to Chicago. There he could live on beer and free lunches, and, at
dives and brothels, he would “blow in” the savings of ten months and try
to forget how sacred the sum had seemed to him, when, little by little,
he added to it, while planning for the future. Its very sacredness gave
a hellish zest to utter abandonment to vice while the money lasted; then
he took again to begging on the streets with “a hard-luck story,” until,
in the warm April days, he felt the old drawing to the open country and
began once more to “beat his way” up and down the familiar railway lines
and to beg his bread from the kind-hearted folk, who, in feeding him,
were fast completing his ruin.

We were entering Seneca now, and another thunder-storm was upon us, but,
as it broke in a deluge of rain, we ran for shelter under the eaves of
the railway station. A west-bound passenger-train drew in as we stood
there.

“That’s the way to travel,” I heard Farrell say, half to himself. It was
the sheltered comfort of the passengers that he envied, I supposed. But
not at all.

“See that hobo?” he continued, and, following the line of his
outstretched finger, I saw a ragged wretch dripping like a drowned rat
as he walked slowly up and down beside the panting locomotive.

“Yes,” I answered.

“The train’s got a blind baggage-car on,” he continued. “That’s a car
that ain’t got no door in the end that’s next the engine. You can get on
the front platform when the train starts, and the brakemen can’t reach
you till she stops, but then you’re off before they are and on again
when she starts up. The fireman can reach you all right, and if he’s
ugly, he’ll heave coal at you, and sometimes he’ll kick you off when the
train’s going full speed; but generally he lets you be. That hobo come
in two hours from Chicago and he’s got a snap for as long as he wants to
ride,” he concluded.

Nevertheless, I was glad to see the train go without Farrell’s saying
anything about joining our adventurous brother on the fore-platform of
the “blind baggage-car.”

In the seething sunlight that followed the storm we left the station and
walked along the village street which lay parallel with the railway. At
a mineral spring we stopped to drink, while a group of school-children
who were loitering homeward stood watching us, the fascination in their
eyes which all children feel in the mystery which surrounds the lives of
vagabonds and gypsies.

On the outskirts of the village, when we were about to resume the
railway, Farrell suggested that he should go foraging. He was hungry,
for he had eaten nothing since early morning, while I had bought food at
Morris. I promised to wait for him and very gladly sat down on the
curbstone in the shade.

Two bare-foot urchins, their trousers rolled up to their knees, who had
evidently been watching us from behind a picket-fence, stole stealthily
out of the gate when Farrell turned the corner. Creeping as near as they
dared, they gathered a handful of small, sun-baked clods and began to
throw them at me as a target. It was rare sport for a time, but I was
beyond their range and much absorbed in Farrell’s story. Disappointed at
not having the excitement of being chased back to the shelter of their
yard, they gave up the game and seated themselves on the curb, with
their naked, brown feet bathed in the pool which had formed in the
gutter. I had become quite unconscious of them, when I suddenly realized
that they were in warm discussion. It was about me, I found, for I heard
one of them raise his voice in stem insistence.

“Naw,” he said, “that ain’t the same bum, that’s another bum!”

Farrell returned empty-handed and a trifle dejected, I thought. His mind
was evidently on food. A little farther down the line he pointed out a
farm-house to the right and suggested our trying there. Along the edge
of a soft meadow, where the damp grass stood high, nearly ready for
mowing, we walked to a muddy lane which led to the barn-yard. A lank
youth in overalls tucked into top-boots and a gingham shirt and a
wide-brimmed straw hat stood in the open doorway of the barn, calmly
staring at us as we approached.

Farrell greeted him familiarly and was answered civilly. Then, without
further parley, he explained that we were come for something to eat.

“Go up to the house and ask the boss,” said the hired man.

The farmer was plainly well-to-do. His house was a large, square,
white-painted, wooden structure topped with a cupola, and with well-kept
grounds about it, while the farm buildings wore a prosperous air of
plenitude. Just then a well-grown watch-dog of the collie type came
walking toward us across the lawn, a menacing inquiry in his face.

“Won’t you go?” suggested Farrell.

The hired man had caught sight of the dog, and there was a twinkle in
his eye as he answered, airily,

“Oh, no, thank you.”

“Does the dog bite?” Farrell ventured, cautiously.

“Yes,” came sententiously from the hired man.

“We’d better get back to the road,” Farrell said to me, and we could
feel amused eyes upon us as we retraced our steps to the track.

Once more Farrell tried his luck; this time at a meagre, wooden, drab
cottage that faced a country lane, a hundred yards from the railway. I
watched him from the line and noticed that he talked for some time with
the woman who answered his knock and stood framed in the door.

When he returned he had two large slices of bread in his hand and some
cold meat.

“I didn’t like to take it,” he remarked. “Her husband’s a carpenter and
ain’t had no work for six weeks. But she says she couldn’t have me go
away hungry. That’s the kind that always helps you, the kind that’s in
hard luck themselves, and knows what it is.”

He was for sharing the forage and, hungry as he was, he had not eaten a
morsel of it when he rejoined me. That I would take none seemed to him
at first a personal slight, but he understood it better when I explained
that I had had food at Morris.

There was a cloudless sunset that evening, the sun sinking in a crimson
glow that foretold another day of great heat. The stars came slowly out
over a firmament of slaty blue, and shone obscurely through the humid
air. Farrell and I were silent for some time. Both of us had walked
about thirty-six miles that day, and were intent on a resting-place. At
last we began to catch the glitter of street-lights in Ottawa, and, at
sight of them, Farrell’s spirits rose. He was like one returning home
after long absence. The sound of a church-bell came faintly to us.
Farrell held me by the arm.

“You hear that?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“That’s the Methodist church bell.”

I could see his face light up, as though something were rousing the best
that was in him.

At the eastern end of the town, and close to the railway, we came upon a
brick-kiln. Farrell was perfectly familiar with his surroundings now,
and we stopped for a drink. For some reason the water would not run in
the faucet, so we went around to a barn-like building in the rear.
Through a large, open doorway he entered, while I remained outside. Soon
I heard him in conversation with someone, who proved to be the
night-watchman, and, finding that Farrell was not likely to rejoin me
soon, I also entered.

Some moments were necessary to accustom one’s eyes to the interior, but
I could see at once the figure of a white-bearded old man lying at full
length on a bed of gunny-sacks thrown over some sloping boards. His head
was propped up, and he held a newspaper which he had been reading by the
light of two large torches that hung suspended near him, and from which
columns of black smoke rose, curling upward into dark recesses among the
rafters. Everything was black with smut and grimy dust. Soon I could see
that on one side were great heaps of coal that sloped away to the outer
walls like the talus against a cliff.

Farrell was seated on a coal-heap, and was absorbed in the news of the
town, as he gathered it from the old man. Quite unnoticed, I sat down on
a convenient board and listened dreamily, hoping heartily the while that
we should not have to go much further that night.

Presently I found myself alert to what was being said, for they were
discussing the question of a night’s lodging. It was from the watchman
that the suggestion came that we should remain where we were, and very
readily we agreed. Taking a torch from its socket, he lighted us through
a long passage to another room that was used as a carpenter’s shop. A
carpenter’s bench ran the length of it, and the tools lay strewn over
its surface. From a corner he drew a few yards of old matting, which he
offered to Farrell as a bed; and he found a door off its hinges, which,
when propped up at one end as it lay on the floor, made what proved that
night a comfortable bed for me. With a promise to call us early, he left
us in the dark, and, quickly off with our boots, we wrapped ourselves in
our coats and were soon fast asleep.

The watchman was true to his word; for the stars were still shining when
Farrell and I, hungry and stiff, set off down the track in the direction
of the railway station. His mood was that of the evening before, as
though, after long wandering, he was returning to his native place.
Recollections of those ten months of sober industry crowded painfully
upon him, and he shrunk like a culprit from possible recognition. Yet
every familiar sight held a fascination for him. With kindling interest
he pointed out the locality of the boarding-house, and again held me by
the arm and made me listen, until I, too, could catch the sound of
escaping steam at the tile factory where he had worked.

The iron was entering into his soul, but he knew it only as a painful
struggle between a desire to return to a life of work and the inertia
that would keep him on the road. We walked on, in silence for the most
part, under the morning stars that were dimming at the approach of day.
When Farrell spoke, it was to reveal, unconsciously, the progress of the
struggle within him.

“It ain’t no use tryin’ for a job; I’ve been lookin’ seven weeks now.”
That was the lie to smooth the road to vagabondage.

“I’d have a hell of a time to get square in this town again. Everybody
that knowed me, knowed I got fired for drinkin’.” That was the truth
that made strait the gate and narrow the way that led to life.

In a moment of encouragement he spoke of the boarding-house keeper and
of her promise to take him back again, if he would return to work; but
his thoughts of the girl he kept to himself, and deeply I liked him for
it.

We were leaving Ottawa behind. With a sharp curve the railway swept
around the base of bluffs that rose sheer on our right from the
road-bed, rugged and grim in the twilight, the trees on top darkly
outlined against the sky. At our left were the flooded lowlands of the
Illinois bottom. We could see the decaying cornstalks of last year’s
growth just appearing above the water in the submerged fields, and, here
and there, a floating out-building which had been carried down by the
flood and was caught among the trees.

Was he man enough to hold fast to his chance, or would he allow himself
to drift? This was the drama that was unfolding itself there in the dark
before the dawn, under frowning banks beside a flooded river, while the
silent stars looked down.

We came to another brick-kiln, with its buildings on the bank just above
the railway. A light was shining from a shanty window, and a well-worn
foot-path led from the road up through the underbrush of the hillside to
the shanty door. A night-watchman was making a final round of the kiln
to see that all was right before the day’s work began.

Farrell stood still for a moment, the struggle fierce within him.

“Let’s get a drink of water,” he said.

The night-watchman led us to a spring and answered, encouragingly,
Farrell’s inquiry about a possible job.

“Go up and ask the boss,” he said. “He’s just finished his breakfast.
That’s his house,” he added, pointing to the shanty with the light in
the window.

From the foot of the path I watched Farrell climb to the shanty door and
knock. The door opened and the voices of two men came faintly down to
me. My hopes rose, for it was not merely a question and a decisive
reply, but the give and take of continued dialogue. The suspense had
grown to physical suffering, when I saw Farrell turn from the door and
begin to descend the path.

I could not see his face distinctly; but, as he drew nearer, I caught
its expression of distress. The half-frightened, worried bewilderment
that I had noticed on the day before was back in his eyes, as he stood
looking into mine, evidently expecting me to speak. I remained silent.

“I’ve got a job,” he said, presently, and I could have struck him for
the joy of it.

“Me troubles is just begun, for the whole town knows me for a bum,” he
added, while his anxious eyes moved restlessly behind frowning brows. I
said nothing, but waited until I could catch his eye at rest. Then out
it came, a little painfully:

“I’ll go to the boarding-house to-night, when me day’s work is done, and
put up there, if the missus can take me.”

“Good,” I said, and I waited again until his gaze was steady upon me.

For a day we had tramped together, and slept together for a night, and,
quite of his own accord, he had given me his confidence. We were
parting, now that he had found work, and I hoped that I might receive
the final mark of his trust, so I waited.

He read my question, and his eyes wandered, but they came back to mine,
and he spoke up like a man:

“I can’t, till I’m a bit decent again and got some clothes; but I’ll
hold down me job, and, as soon as I can, I’ll go back to her.”

A warning whistle blew; Farrell went up the path to take his place in
the brick-kiln, and I was soon far down the line in the direction of
Utica.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           WITH IOWA FARMERS



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           WITH IOWA FARMERS


Scarcely a generalization with the least claim to value can be drawn
from my superficial contact with the world of manual labor in America.
If there is one, it is, that a man who is able and willing to work can
find employment in this country if he will go out in real search for it.
It may not be well paid, but it need not be dishonest, and it is
difficult to conceive of its failing to afford opportunities of making a
way to improved position.

And yet, one has no sooner made such a statement than it becomes
necessary to qualify it. Suppose that the worker, able and willing to
work, is unemployed in a congested labor market, where the supply far
exceeds the demand, and suppose that he must remain with his wife and
children, since he cannot desert them and has no means of taking them
away. Or imagine him newly landed, thrown upon the streets by an
emigrant agency, ignorant of the language and of our methods of work,
and especially ignorant of the country itself. To the number of like
suppositions there is no end. Actual experience, however, serves to
focus the situation. I have stood beside men whom I knew, and have seen
them miss the chance of employment because they were so far weakened by
the strain of the sweating system that they were incapable of the strain
of hard manual labor.

Even at the best, much of the real difficulty is often the subjective
one summed up in the sentence of a man who has wide knowledge of
wage-earners in America, to whom I once spoke of the surprising ease
with which I found employment everywhere, except in larger towns.

“Oh, yes,” he replied; “but you forget how little gifted with
imagination the people are who commonly form by far the greater number
of the unemployed.”

It merely serves to show again the futility of generalizing about labor,
as though it were a commodity like any other, sensitive to the play of
the law of supply and demand, while supported by a thorough knowledge of
markets and the means of reaching quickly those that, for the time, are
the most favorable.

The mass which men speak casually of as “labor” is an aggregation of
individuals, each with his human ties and prejudices and his congenital
weaknesses and strength, and each with his own salvation to work out
through difficulties without and within that are little understood from
the outside. You may enter his world and share his life, however rigid,
sustained by the knowledge that at any moment you may leave it, and your
experience, although the nearest approach that you can make, is yet
removed almost by infinity from that of the man at your side, who was
born to manual labor and bred to it, and whose whole life, physical and
mental, has been moulded by its hard realities.

It would be quite true to say that “the problem of the unemployed in
America is a problem of the distribution of workers,” taking them from
regions where many men are looking for a job, to other regions, where
many jobs are looking for a man. But it would be a shallow truth, with
little insight into the real condition of multitudes, whose
life-struggle is for day’s bread and in whom the gregarious instinct is
an irresistible gravitation. It is not difficult to show that congestion
in an industrial centre, with its accompanying misery, might be relieved
by an exodus to country districts, where an unsatisfied demand for hands
is chronic. But the human adjustments involved in the change would be
beyond all calculation; and, even were they effected, it would be not a
little disturbing in the end to find large numbers returning to the
town, frankly preferring want with companionship and a sense of being in
touch with their time to the comparative plenty and, with it, the
loneliness and isolation of country living. A part of the penalty that
one pays for attempting to deal with elements so fascinating as those of
human nature is in their very incalculability, in the elusive charm of
men who develop the best that is in them in spite of circumstances the
most adverse, and in an evasive quality in others who sometimes fail to
respond to the best devised plans for their betterment. But human nature
never loses its interest, and, as earnest of a good time coming, there
are always men in every generation who, through unselfish service of
their fellows, have won

                       The faith that meets
                       Ten thousand cheats,
                       Yet drops no jot of faith.

However little the fact may have applied to the actual “problem of the
unemployed,” it nevertheless was true, as shown in my own experience,
that there was a striking contrast throughout the country between a
struggle among men for employment and a struggle among employers for
men.

Early in the journey I began to note that every near approach to a
considerable centre of population was immediately apparent in an
increasing difficulty in finding work. I had never a long search in the
country or in country villages, and I soon learned to avoid cities,
unless I was bent upon another errand than that of employment.

I could easily have escaped Chicago and its crowded labor market. Offers
of places in the late autumn as general utility man on farms in northern
Ohio and Indiana were plentiful as I passed, and I well knew, during a
fortnight’s fruitless search for work in Chicago in early winter, that
at any time a day’s march from the city, or two days’ march at most,
would take me to regions where the difficulty would quickly disappear.
The temptation to quit the experiment altogether, or, at least, to go
out to the more hospitable country, was then strong at times; but I
could but realize that, in yielding, I should be abandoning a very real
phase of the experience of unskilled labor, that of unemployment, and
that I should miss the chance of some contact with bodies of organized
skilled workmen as well as with the revolutionaries who can be easiest
found in our larger towns. So I remained, and for two weeks I saw and,
in an artificial way, I felt something of the grim horror of being
penniless on the streets of a city in winter, quite able and most
willing to work, yet unable to find any steady employment.

With the return of spring I went into the country again, drifting on
with no more definite plan than that of going westward until I should
reach the Pacific; and here at once was the contrast. Opportunities of
work everywhere; with farmers, when one was on the country roads; in
brick-kilns, when bad walking drove one to the railway lines.

Farrell, a fellow-tramp for a day on the Rock Island Railway in
Illinois, had, for seven weeks, been looking for work from Omaha to Lima
and back again, he told me, and yet he got a job near Ottawa in response
to his first inquiry; while a few miles farther down the line I, too,
was offered work in a brick-kiln at Utica. I did not accept it, only
because I had savings enough from my last job to see me through to
Davenport.

It was on the afternoon of Saturday, June 4, 1892, that I reached
Davenport. I had followed the line of the Rock Island Railway from
Morris, sleeping in brick-kilns, and, one night, at Bureau Junction, in
a shed by the village church, and I was a bit fagged. I had developed a
plan to go to Minneapolis. I hoped to work the passage as a hand on a
river boat.

At the open door of a livery-stable I stopped to ask the way to the
office of the steamboat line, attracted, no doubt, by the look of a man
who sat just inside. With a kindly face of German type, he was of middle
age, a little stout, dressed in what is known as a “business suit,” and
when he spoke, it was with a trace of German accent.

Mr. Ross is a sufficiently near approach to his name. He was not an Iowa
farmer, but he was my first acquaintance in Iowa, and he had things to
say about the unemployed. A director in a bank and the owner of a
livery-stable, he was owner of I know not what besides, but I know that
he was delightfully cordial, and that his hospitality was of a kind to
do credit to the best traditions of the West.

He answered my question obligingly, then asked me whether I was looking
for a job.

“For if you are,” he added, “there’s one right here,” and he waved his
hand expressively in the direction of the stalls at the rear.

This was more than I had bargained for; it was wholly new to my
experience to find work in a town before I even asked for it.

I told him frankly that I was out of employment and that I must find
some soon, but that there were reasons, at the moment, why I wished to
reach Minneapolis as early as possible.

Being without the smallest gift of mimicry I could not disguise my
tongue, and it had been a satisfaction from the first to find that this
lack in no way hampered me. I was accepted readily enough as a
working-man by my fellows, and my greenness and manner of speech, I had
every reason to think, were credited to my being an immigrant of a new
and hitherto unknown sort.

“What’s your trade?” the men with whom I worked would generally ask me,
supposing that clumsiness as a day laborer was accounted for by my
having been trained to the manual skill of a handicraft.

“What country are you from?” they inquired, and when I said “Black
Rock,” which is the point in Connecticut from which I set out, I have no
doubt that there came to their minds visions of an island in distant
seas, where any manner of strange artisan might be bred.

What they thought was of little consequence; that they were willing to
receive me with naturalness to their companionship as a fellow-workman
was of first importance to me, and this was an experience that never
failed.

At last I was west of the Mississippi, and, that I might pass as a man
of education in the dress of a laborer, was a matter of no note, since
men of education in the ranks of workmen have not been uncommon there.

It was plainly from this point of view that Mr. Ross was talking to me.
If I was an educated man, it was my own affair. That for a time, at
least, I had been living by day’s labor was evident from my dress, and
it was not unlikely that I was looking for a job. Happening to have a
vacant place in the stable, he offered it to me, and, being interested
in what I had to say, he led me to speak on of work during the past
winter in Chicago, and my slight association there with the unemployed
and with men of revolutionary ideas.

Before I knew it, we were drifting far down a stream of talk, and time
was flying. Six months’ living in close intimacy with what is saddest
and often cruelest, in the complex industrialism of a great city had
produced a depression, which I had not shaken off in three weeks’
sojourn in the wholesome country. I was steeped in the views of men who
told me that things could never grow better until they had grown so much
worse that society would either perish or be reorganized. The needed
change was not in men, they agreed, but in social conditions; and from
every phase of Socialism and Anarchy, I had heard the propaganda of
widely varying changes, all alike, however, prophesying a regenerated
society, the vision of which alone remained the hope and faith of many
lives.

The pent-up feelings of six months found a sympathetic response in Mr.
Ross; the more so as I discovered in him a wholly different point of
view. He had no quarrel with conditions in America. As a lad of fourteen
he came from Germany and, having begun life here without friends or help
of any kind, he was now, after years of work and thrift, a man with some
property and with many ties, not the least of which was a love for the
country which had given him so good a chance.

The mere suggestion of a programme of radical change roused him. He
began somewhat vehemently to denounce a class of men, foreigners, many
of them, strangers to our institutions, irresponsible for the most part,
who bring with them from abroad revolutionary ideas which they spread,
while enjoying the liberties and advantages of the nation that they try
to harm.

“Why don’t they stay in their own countries and ‘reform’ them?” he
added. “Thousands of men who have come here from the Old World have
raised themselves to positions of honor and independence and wealth as
they never could have done in their native lands. And yet these
disturbers would upset it all, a system that for a hundred years and
more we have tried and found not wanting.

“I am interested in a local bank,” he continued. “The management has
been successful; the directors are capable men, and the investments pay
a fair dividend. Now suppose someone, the least responsible person in
the corporation, were to come forward with a new, untried system of
banking and should insist upon its adoption and even threaten the
existence of the bank if his plan should be rejected. That would be a
case like this of your Socialist and Anarchist.”

He was a little heated, but he caught himself with a laugh and was
smiling genially as he added:

“I see your ‘unemployed’ friends often. Scarcely a day passes that men
don’t come in here asking for a job. My experience is that if they were
half as much in earnest in looking for work as I am in looking for men
that can work, they wouldn’t search far or long. I’ve tried a good many
of them in my time. I can tell now in five minutes whether a man has any
real work in him; and those that are worth their keep when you haven’t
your eye on them, are as scarce as hens’ teeth. There are good jobs
looking for all the men that are good enough for them; if you want to
prove it, start right in here, or go into the State and ask the farmers
for a chance to work.”

I did not say that this last was the very thing I meant to do. Instead,
I began to tell him of the cases that I knew of men, who, through no
fault of their own, were out of work and were not free to go where it
could be easily found. Mr. Ross was sympathetic with what was real and
personal in the sufferings of unfortunate workers; and gathering
encouragement, I went on to speak of suffering no less real which was
the result of sheer incapacity, a native weakness of will or lack of
courage or perseverance. This made him smile again, and, with a twinkle
in his eye, he asked me whether I did not think it was expecting a good
deal of organized society to provide for the unfit. Then drawing out his
watch, he glanced at it and, turning to me with a fine disregard of the
outer man, he asked me to go home with him to supper. I should have been
delighted. Perhaps I ought to have gone. I had not forgotten, however, a
too hospitable minister in Connecticut; but at the next moment I
accepted gladly Mr. Ross’s invitation to drive with him in the evening.

Behind a sorrel filly that fairly danced with delight of motion, we set
out an hour or more before sunset, and Mr. Ross drove first through
business streets, pointing out to me the principal buildings as we
passed, then up to the higher levels of the hillside, on which the city
stands, through an attractive residence quarter. From there we could
look down upon the river flowing between banks of wooded hills, with its
swollen, muddy waters made radiant by the sunset. Then back to the lower
city we went and out over the bridge to the military post of Rock
Island, past the arsenal and the barracks to the officers’ quarters
among splendid trees and broad reaches of shaded lawn, and finally to an
old farm-house, which had been the home of Colonel Davenport at the time
of his struggles with the Indians. It was not a distant date in actual
years, but the contrast with the present sway of modern civilization
seemed to link it with a far antiquity.

The streets were ablaze with electrics as we drove through the cities of
Rock Island and Moline, where the pavements were thronged by slowly
moving crowds.

When I left Minneapolis, a little more than a week later, I had in mind
Mr. Ross’s challenge that any search for work in the interior of the
State would discover abundant opportunities. I was bound next,
therefore, for the Iowa border. It would not have taken long to reach it
at the usual rate of thirty miles a day. But I did not go through
directly. For several days I worked for a fine old Irish farmer near
Belle Plain, whose family was stanch Roman Catholic, and whose wife was
a veritable sister of mercy to the whole country side, indefatigable in
ministry to the sick and poor. A few days later I stopped again and
spent a memorable week as hired man on Mr. Barton’s farm near Blue Earth
City.

It was well along in July, therefore, when I crossed into Iowa from the
north, walking down by way of Elmore and Ledyard and Bancroft to Algona,
where I spent a few days and then set out for Council Bluffs.

The walk from Algona to Council Bluffs was a matter of two hundred miles
and a little more, perhaps. The heat was intense, but, apart from some
discomfort due to that, it was a charming walk, leading on through
regions that varied widely but constantly presented new phases of native
wealth. I should have enjoyed it more but for the awkwardness of my
position. It was embarrassing to meet the farmers, yet I wished to meet
all that I could. It was not easy to frame an excuse for not accepting
the work that was constantly offered to me. To negotiate with a farmer
for the job of helping with the chores in payment for a night’s lodging
and breakfast was trying to his temper, when he was at his wit’s end for
hands to help at the harvesting. I felt like one spying out the land and
mocking its need.

Through a long, hot afternoon I walked from Algona in the direction of
Humboldt, some twenty-six miles to the south. The country roads were
deserted, the whole population being in the hay-fields, apparently. The
corn, which was late in the planting, owing to the spring floods, was
making now a measured growth of five inches in the day.

In the evening twilight I passed through the Roman Catholic community of
St. James and walked on a few miles in the cool of the evening. Not
every farm-house that I saw wore an air of prosperity. I came upon one,
which, even in the dark of a starlit night, gave evidence of infirm
fortune. The garden-gate was off its hinges and was decrepit besides.
With some difficulty I repropped it against the tottering posts when I
entered. In a much littered cow-yard, I found a middle-aged farmer, who
with his hired man had just finished the evening milking. Without a word
he stood pouring the last bucket of milk, slowly through a strainer into
a milk-can on the other side of the fence, as he listened to an account
of myself. What I wanted was a place to sleep and a breakfast in the
morning. In return I offered to do whatever amount of work he thought
was fair. When the bucket was empty he gave me a deliberate look, then
simply asked me to follow him to the house. Throwing himself at full
length on the sloping cellar-door, he pointed to a chair on the doorstep
near by as a seat for me, and began to question me about the crops in
the country about Algona. I was fortunate enough to divert him soon to
his own concerns, and, for an hour or more, I listened, while he told me
of a long struggle on his farm. For fifteen years, he had worked hard,
he said, and had seen the gradual settlement and growth of the region
immediately about him; yet, with slightly varying fortunes, he was
little better off than when he took up the farm as a pioneer.

There was a mystery in it all that baffled him. Low prices were the
ostensible cause of his ill-success; he could scarcely get more for his
crops than they cost him; but back of low prices was something else, an
incalculable power which took vague form in his mind as a conspiracy of
the rich, who seemed to him not to work and yet to have unmeasured
wealth, while he and his kind could hardly live at the cost of almost
unceasing toil.

By five o’clock in the morning we were at the chores, and were hungry
enough when the summons came to breakfast at a little after six. There
is, in certain forms of it, a cheerlessness in farm-life the gloom of
which would be difficult to heighten. The call to breakfast came from
the kitchen, which was a shed-like annex to the small, decaying, wooden
farm-house. The farmer, the hired man, and I washed ourselves at the
kitchen-door, then passed from the clear sunlight into a room whose
smoke-blackened walls were hung round with kitchen utensils. The air was
hot and dense with the fumes and smoke of cooking. A slovenly woman
stood over the stove, turning potatoes that were frying in a pan, while,
at the same time, she scolded two ragged children, who sat at the table
devouring the food with their eyes.

Scarcely a word was spoken during the meal, until, near its close, the
farmer’s wife quite abruptly—as though resuming an interrupted
conversation—broke into further account of a horse-thief, whose latest
escapade had been not far away, but those whereabouts remained unknown.
The very obvious point of which was that, however her husband had been
imposed upon, my efforts to pass as an honest man had not met with
unqualified success with her. In such manner the breakfast was saved
from dulness, and I was sure that the parting guest was heartily speeded
when my stint was done.

There is a high exhilaration in a day’s walk, even in the heat of July.
The feeling of abounding life that comes with the opening day after
sound sleep and abundant food, when one is free from care, and there are
twelve hours of daylight ahead for leagues of delightful country, is
like the pulse of a kingly sport. From higher points of rolling land I
could see far over the squares marked by the regularly recurring roads
that intersect one another at right angles at intervals of a mile. The
farm-houses stood hidden each in a small grove, with the wheel of a
windmill invariably whirling above the tree-tops, and with here and
there a long winding line of willows and stunted oaks marking the course
of a stream.

It was but twelve miles to Humboldt, and I stopped there only long
enough to ask the way to Fort Dodge. The roads were as deserted as on
the day before, and I was some distance past Humboldt before I fell in
with a single farmer.

He came rumbling down the road, sitting astride the frame of a farm
wagon from which the box had been removed. The fine dust was puffing
like white smoke about his dangling legs, while the massive harness
rattled over the big-jointed frames of the horses.

“You may as well ride,” he called, as he overtook me, and I lost no time
in getting on behind.

More fruitful as a field of conversation even than the weather were the
crops at that season. I had picked up a smattering of the lingo, and we
were soon commenting on the abundant yield of hay, and the fair promise
of rye and wheat, and the favorable turn that the unbroken heat had
given to the prospects of the corn, in the hope that it held, in spite
of the late planting, of its ripening before the coming of the frost.
But, for all the good outlook, the farmer was far from cheerful. I
suspected the cause of his depression and avoided it from fear of
embarrassment to myself, while yet I wished to hear his views about the
situation. When they came, they were what I anticipated:

A good hay crop? Yes, there could hardly be a better, but of what use
was hay that rotted in the fields before you could house it, for want of
hands? And this was but the beginning of the difficulty.

The whole harvest lay ahead, and the advancing summer brought no
solution of the problem of “help.” He was very graphic in his account of
the year-around need of men that grows acutest in midsummer, and I did
not escape the embarrassment that I feared; for, when he pressed me to
go to work for him, I could only urge weakly that I felt obliged to
hurry on. He was glad to be rid of me at the parting of our ways, a
little farther down the road, where he turned to the unequal struggle on
his farm, while I walked on at leisure in the direction of Fort Dodge.

A heave of the great plain raised me presently to a height, from which,
far over the roll of the intervening fields, with the warm sunlight on
their varying growths, I could see the church spires in the town
surrounded almost by wooded hills, with the Des Moines River flowing
among them. The air was full of the distant clatter of mowing machines,
which carries with it the association of stinging heat and the patient
hum of bees and the fragrance of new hay.

As I descended into the next hollow there came driving toward me a young
farmer. He was seated on a mower, his eyes fixed on the wide swath cut
by the machine in its course just within a zigzag rail fence that
flanked the road. The green timothy fell before the blade in thick,
soft, dewy widths that carpeted the meadow. A chance glance into the
road discovered me, and he brought the horses to a stand. As he pushed
back his hat from his streaming forehead, I could see that he was young,
but much worn with care and overwork.

“Will you take a job with me?” he asked, and the wonder of it was the
greater, since that whole region has through it a strong Yankee strain,
and men of such stock are sore pressed when they come to the point
without preliminaries.

Again I had to resort to a feeble excuse of necessity to go farther;
but, curious as to the response, I ventured an inquiry about the local
demand for men.

“Oh, everyone needs men,” the farmer rejoined impatiently, as,
tightening the reins and adjusting his hat, he started the horses,
anxious, evidently, to drown further idle talk in the sharp noise of the
swift-mowing knives.

In the river valley I was not long in finding a lane which disappeared
among a scattered growth of stunted trees in the direction of a rocky
bluff that marked the bed of the stream. Every day’s march brought some
chance of a bath, and, at times, I was fortunate enough to fall in with
two or three in thirty miles, and nothing could be more restful or
refreshing in a long walk, or a better preventive against the stiffness
that is apt to accompany it. Here I could both bathe and swim about, and
when I regained the highway, it was almost with the feeling of vigor of
the early morning.

The main-travelled road did not lead me, as I expected, into Fort Dodge,
but to an intersection of two roads, a little west of the town. Instead
of going eastward into the city, I turned to the west, in the direction
of Tara, a small village on a branch of the Rock Island Railway. The
setting sun was shining full in my face, but no longer with much effect
of heat. As I hurried on in the fast cooling air, the way led by an
abrupt descent into a ravine, where flowed a small tributary of the Des
Moines among rocks and sheer banks, forming a striking contrast with the
rolling prairie. It was but a break in the plain. From the top of the
opposite bank, the land stretched away again in undulating surface, with
much evidence of richness of soil and the wealth of the farmers.

Not without exception, however; for, at nightfall, I was nearing a small
house, through whose coating of white paint the blackened weather-boards
appeared with an effect of much dilapidation. When I entered the garden,
passing under low shade-trees, I met a sturdy Irishman, bare-headed, and
in his shirtsleeves, whose thin white hair and beard alone suggested
advancing years.

There was no difficulty in dealing with him. He was not in need of a
hired man, but was perfectly willing that I should have supper and
breakfast at his home and a bed in the barn on the terms of a morning
stint. Accordingly, I followed light-heartedly into the kitchen, where,
in the dim light, I saw his wife and a married daughter, with her son, a
lad of six or eight.

Supper was ready; with every mark of kindly hospitality, the farmer’s
wife, a motherly body with an ill-defined waist, made ready for me at
the table, moving lightly about, in spite of age and bulk, in bare feet,
that appeared from under the skirt of a dark print dress with an apron
covering its ample front. A lamp was lighted, and from the vague walls
there looked down upon us the faces of saints in bright-colored prints.
A kitchen clock ticked on the mantel-shelf, and a kettle was singing on
an iron stove that projected half way into the room. We supped on tea
and bread and hard biscuits, while the farmer questioned me about the
crops along the day’s route, and his wife heaved deep sighs and broke
into a muttered “The Lord bless us!” when I owned to having walked some
thirty-five miles since morning.

I was charmed with my new acquaintances. There was no embarrassment in
being with them, and nothing of restraint or gloom in their home. After
supper I pumped the water for the stock, and helped with the milking.
When the chores were done, I asked leave to go to bed. A heavy quilt and
pillow were given to me, and, spreading them upon the hay, I slept the
sleep of a child.

The cows had been milked in the morning and were about to be driven to
pasture, when there arose a difficulty in separating from its mother a
calf that was to be weaned. The calf had to be penned in the shed, while
the old cow went afield with the others. To imprison it, however, proved
no easy undertaking. With the agility of a half-back, it dodged us all
over the cow-yard, encouraged by the calls of its mother, from the lane,
and it evaded the shed-door with an obstinacy that was responsible for
adding materially to the content of the old man’s next confession.

For some time his wife stood by, her bare feet in the grass, her arms
akimbo, and her gray hair waving in the morning breeze, as, with
unfeigned scorn, she watched our baffled manœuvres. She could not endure
it long.

“I’ll catch the beast,” she shouted presently in richest brogue; and,
true to her word, by a simple strategy, she surprised the little brute
and had it by a hind leg before it suspected her nearness.

But capture was no weak surrender on the part of the calf. For its dear
life it kicked, and the picture of the hardy old woman, shaken in every
muscle under the desperate lunges of the calf, as, clinging with both
hands to its leg, she called to us with lusty expletives, to help her
before she was “killed entirely,” is one that lingers gleefully in
memory. The old man winked at me his infinite appreciation of the scene,
and between us we relieved his panting wife and soon housed the calf.

When my work was done, and I had said good-by to the family, whose
hospitality I had so much enjoyed, I set out for Gowrie, which was
twenty odd miles away. At Tara I found that, to avoid a long _détour_, I
must take to the railway as far, at least, as Moorland, the next station
on the line. Walking the track was sometimes a necessity, but always an
unwelcome one. It is weary work to plod on and on, over an unwavering
route, where an occasional passing train mocks one’s slow advance, and
where, for miles the only touch of human nature is in a shanty of a
section-boss, with ragged children playing about it, and a haggard woman
plying her endless task, while a mongrel or two barks after one, far
down the line.

At Moorland I resumed the highway, and held to it with uneventful march,
until, within a mile or two of Gowrie, two men in a market-wagon
overtook me and offered me a lift into the village.

To me the notable event of the day was a drive of several miles with a
farmer, in the afternoon. He had been to the freight station in Gowrie,
to get there a reaper, which had been ordered out from Chicago. The
machine, in all the splendor of fresh paint, lay in the body of the
wagon, while he sat alone on the high seat in front.

When, at his invitation, I climbed up beside him, I was delighted with
the first impression of the man. In the prime of life and of very
compact figure, his small dark eyes, that were the brighter for contrast
with a swarthy complexion, moved with an alertness that denoted energy
and force. Individuality was stamped upon him and showed itself in the
trick of the eye, and in every tone of his voice.

He asked me where I was going, and said that he could take me five miles
over the road toward Jefferson, “unless,” he added, “you’ll stop at my
farm and work for me.”

I thanked him, but said that I would keep to the road for the present,
and then I changed the subject to the reaper. It was of the make of the
factory in which, for eight weeks, during the previous winter, I worked
as a hand-truckman, and very full of association it was as I looked upon
it in changed surroundings. Hundreds of such tongues John Barry and I
had loaded on our truck in the paint-shop, then stacked them under the
eaves over the platform; scores of such binders we had transferred from
the dark warehouses to the waiting freight-cars below. Equally familiar
looked the “wider,” and the receptacle for twine, and the “binder,” and
the “bar.” I told the farmer that I had been a hand in the factory where
his machine was made, and he appeared interested in the account of the
vast industry where two thousand men work together in so perfect a
system of the division of labor, that a complete reaper, like his own,
is turned out in periods of a few minutes in every working day.

He, too, was autobiographical in his turn. His history was one of the
innumerable examples at the West of substantial success under the
comparatively simple advantages of good health and an unbounded capacity
for work.

From an early home in Pennsylvania, he drifted, as a mere boy, into
Indiana, and “living out” there to a farmer, he remained with him for
five years. Shrewd enough to see his opportunity, and to seize it, he
made himself master of farming, and became so indispensable to his
employer that he was soon making more than twenty dollars a month and
his keep the year around. At the end of five years he had saved a little
more than eight hundred dollars, which he invested in a mortgage on good
land. Then came his _Wanderjahre_. He went to Colorado, worked for two
years on a sheep ranch, and looked for chances of fortune. They were not
wholly wanting, but the prospects were distant, and, rather than endure
longer the lonely life of the frontier, he returned as far as Iowa, and
bought his present farm at the rate of ten dollars an acre. For twelve
years he had lived and worked upon it. Under improvement, and the growth
of population about it, its value had risen threefold, for he had
recently added to it a neighboring farm, for which he had to pay at the
rate of thirty dollars an acre.

The narrative was piquant in the extreme. There was in it so ingenuous a
belief in the order of things under which he had risen unaided from the
position of a hired man to that of a hirer of men. Like Mr. Ross, he had
no quarrel with social conditions, except that they no longer furnished
him with such hands as he himself had been. Under the demoralization of
a demand for men far in excess of the supply, the agricultural laborers
of the present sit lightly on their places, and are mere time servers,
he said, with no personal interest in their employers’ affairs. He
seemed to imply a causal relation between the condition of the labor
market as it affects the farmer and the degeneracy in agricultural
laborers. But whether he meant that or not, he was certainly clear in an
insistence that, from his point of view, the social difficulty is one of
individual inefficiency, and hardly ever takes the form of any real
hindrance to a genuine purpose to get on in the world. All along our
route he enforced the point by actual illustration, showing how one
farmer, by closest attention to business, had freed himself of the
obligations at first incurred in taking up the land, and had added farm
to farm, while such another, less efficient than his neighbor, had gone
down under a burden of debt.

I opened the gate, and stood watching him as he drove up the long lane
leading to his house and barns, while the horses quickened their pace in
conscious nearness to their stalls. A Philistine of the Philistines in
the impregnable castle of his hard-earned home, I could but like and
honor him.

Under the stars, on top of a load of hay that had been left standing in
a barn-yard in the outskirts of Jefferson, I slept that night, and spent
most of the next day, which was Sunday, under the trees of the town
square, in front of the court-house, going in the morning to a Methodist
church, where awaited me the courteous welcome which I found at all
church doors, whether in the country or the town. For food I had a large
loaf of bread, which I had purchased for ten cents at Gowrie. A little
beyond Jefferson, after a delightful bath in the Raccoon River, with the
uncommon luxury of a sandy bottom, I got leave of a farmer on the road
to Scranton to sleep in his barn, and, after the rest of Sunday, I set
out on Monday morning keen and fit for the remaining walk to Council
Bluffs.

Monday’s march took me from a point not far west of Jefferson, by way of
Coon Rapids, to the heart of the hills in the neighborhood of Templeton,
where I spent the night on the farm of a Scotsman of the name of Hardy.
The heat of the day was prodigious. Not like the languid heat of the
tropics, it was as though the earth burned with fever which communicated
itself in a nervous quiver to the hot, dry air, and quickened one’s
steps along the baking roads. The stillness was almost appalling, and,
as I passed great fields of standing corn, I could fancy that I heard it
grow with a crackle as of visible outbudding of the blades.

I did not walk all the way. Twice in the day I had a lift, both of
several miles, and each with a farmer whose views differed as widely
from the other’s as though they were separated by a thousand miles,
instead of being relatively next-door neighbors.

The first lift came in the morning along a main-travelled road which I
took in the hope of meeting an intersecting one that would lead me on to
Manning. A good-looking young farmer, fair-haired and blue-eyed, asked
me to the seat at his side high above the box of a farm wagon. We were
not long in learning that both were interested in the economics of
farming, where he knew much and I little, and where I was glad to be a
listener. It was like talking again with a socialist from a sweatshop in
Chicago. The fire of a new religion was in him. The difference lay
chiefly in that his was not the gospel of society made new and good by
doing away with private property and substituting a collective holding
of all the land and capital that are made use of for production; his
gospel was that of “free silver,” but he held it with a like unshaken
faith in its regenerating power. For months he had been preaching it,
and organizing night classes among the farmers in all the district
schoolhouses within reach, for the purpose of study of the money
question. Just once in the talk with me he grew convincing. There was
much of the usual insistence of “a conspiracy among rich men against the
producing classes,” whatever that may mean, and there were significant
statements to the effect that nine-tenths of the farmers of the region,
which he proudly called “The Garden of Eden of the West,” were under
mortgage to moneylenders, and that farmers in general, owing to the
tyranny of “the money power,” were fast sinking to a condition of
“vassalage;” but at last he rose to something more intelligible. It was
the sting of a taunt that roused him. He had seen copied from an Eastern
newspaper the statement that Western farmers were beginning to want free
silver, because they grasped at a chance to pay their debts at fifty
cents on the dollar. The man was fine in his resentment of the charge of
dishonor.

“We mean to pay our honest debts in full,” he said; “but see how the
thing works out: I borrowed a thousand dollars when wheat was selling at
a dollar a bushel. If I raised a thousand bushels, I could pay my debt
by selling them. But when wheat has fallen to fifty cents a bushel, I
must raise two thousand to meet the obligation. That came of
appreciation in the value of money. It is to the interest of Wall Street
men to have it so, while we need an increased volume of money. They deal
in dollars and we in wheat, and the more they can make us raise for a
dollar, the better off they are. It costs me as much time and labor and
wages to raise a thousand bushels of wheat as when it sold for a dollar,
and the justice of the case would be in my paying my debt with a
thousand bushels, for I don’t raise dollars, I raise wheat.”

No abstract reasoning or historical examples could have convinced him
that an appreciation in the value of money was due to causes other than
a conspiracy among what he called “the money kings,” who, in some
manner, had got control of the volume of currency and so determined the
prices of commodities. But with all his hallucinations in finance, it
was very plain that the charge of dishonesty had been misapplied.

It was toward the end of the day’s march that I came by the second lift.
For miles the country had grown more hilly, and when I left behind me
the village of Coon Rapids I found myself climbing a hill that was
really steep, then making a sharp descent into a valley, only to begin
another hill longer and steeper than any before.

I was slowly ascending one of the longest hills when a farmer in a light
market wagon called to me, making offer of a drive. I waited at the
crest of the hill and climbed to the seat at his side, while the horses
stood panting lightly in the cooler air that moved across the hill-tops.

In the two or three miles that we drove together, the farmer conversed
very freely. Quite as well informed as my acquaintance of the morning,
he was of sturdier calibre than he, and the difference in their views
was complete. He knew of no conspiracy against farmers or any “producing
class,” and he held that almost the most disastrous thing that could be
done would be to disturb the stability of the currency. An appreciation
in the value of money there had been, but it was plainly due to causes
at work the world over, and quite beyond any man’s control. Farmers were
suffering from it now; but a few years ago they had profited by
appreciation in the value of crops, and might look hopefully for a
return of better times for them. As to the farmers of that part of Iowa,
their fortune had been of the best. These hills were looked upon at
first as the least desirable land and were last to be taken up, but had
proved, when once developed, almost the richest soil in the State. The
farmers who settled there had found themselves, in consequence, in
possession of land that was constantly increasing in value. From $10 an
acre it had quickly risen to $20, and many of the owners would now
reluctantly yield their farms for $40 an acre.

There was nothing boastful in the statements. My informant was a person
of quiet speech and manner, but he had the advantage of being able to
enforce from concrete examples all that he had to say, and the histories
of most of the farmers, and every transaction in real estate for miles
around seemed to be at his command.

Nothing could have fitted better the mood in which I left him than my
meeting that evening with Mr. Hardy, at whose farm I spent the night. A
genial Scotsman of clear, open countenance, whose deep, rich voice
seemed always on the verge of laughter; he welcomed me right heartily,
and gave me supper of the best and a bed in the granary on fragrant hay,
which he spread there with his own hands, and a breakfast in the
morning; and for all this he would accept return, neither in work nor
pay.

We talked long together of English politics, but he was at his best on
the condition of the Iowa farmer. A more contented man I have rarely
met, nor a man of more contagious good-humor. As a youth he came from
Scotland, and had been a pioneer among these Iowa hills. For him the
hardships were all gone from farming, as compared with his early
experience. An accessible market, admirable labor-saving machines, ready
intercourse with neighbors and with the outside world, had changed the
original struggle under every disadvantage to a life of ease in
contrast. Very glad I should be of the chance to accept his parting
invitation to return at some time to his home.

Early in Tuesday’s march a young Swedish farmer picked me up, and
carried me on to within five miles of Manning; and, a little west of the
town, I fell in with another farmer, who shared his seat with me over
six miles of the way. A third lift of a couple of miles into Irwin
helped me much on the road to Kirkman. I had not reached the village,
however, when night fell. At a farm, a mile or more to the east of it, I
found as warm a welcome as on the night before. Supper was ready, and
room was made for me; then I lent a hand at the milking with the hired
men. Last, before going to bed, we had a swim. The farmer kept for the
purpose a pool in the barn-yard which was well supplied with constantly
changing water, and nothing could have been more grateful after a day of
work and walking in a temperature of 105° in the shade. I should liked
to have remained there as a hired man almost as much as with Mr. Hardy,
but the journey to Council Bluffs was now well under way, and I was bent
upon completing it before another long stop.

On Wednesday I wished to reduce as much as possible the distance to
Neola, which is a village at the junction of the St. Paul and Rock
Island railways; but I had to spend the night a few miles southwest of
Shelby. This was because I was not so fortunate as on the day before in
the matter of lifts. I got but one drive that day. Turning from Kirkman
into the stage-road leading into Harlan, the county-seat of Audubon
County, I saw approaching me a buggy containing two men. I stepped aside
to let it pass, but it stopped beside me, and one of the men invited me
to get in. The country doctor was writ large upon him, and, at his side,
was a coatless, collarless, taciturn youth, who clearly was his “hired
man.” Crowded between them I sat down, and the physician turned his
sharp, genial eyes upon me.

“Where are you from?”

“Where are you going?”

“How old are you?”

“What’s your name?”

“Where do you expect to go when you die?”

“Why don’t you shave?”

Such were the questions that, with almost fierce rapidity, he plied me
with, waiting meanwhile for but the briefest answer to each. And when
the ordeal was over, he laughed a low, shrewd laugh while his eyes
twinkled merrily, as he remarked, dryly: “I guess you’ll do.”

He allowed me no time to acknowledge the compliment, but went swiftly
on:

“Do you know that Mr. Frick has been shot and may die?”

I did not know it, for I had not seen a newspaper since leaving Algona,
and my intercourse had been with farmers whose news reaches them by the
weekly press,

It was an exceedingly tragic climax to the situation at Homestead, and
not without influence in determining the sympathies of the Western
farmers with the issues involved there. It had been amazing to me to
discover how keen was the interest taken in the strike all along my
route, and it was not a little significant, I thought, to find
everywhere a strong indignation against the use of a private police
force in accomplishing ends legal in themselves and fully provided for
by law and usage. So far in the struggle the feeling of the farmers was
with the men. Beyond that they appeared uncertain. There was a question
of fact to begin with. Did the cut affect more the hands who were
working for a dollar and a half a day or the skilled workmen who were
reported to get, some of them as much as fifteen dollars? Until this was
clear, there could be but speculation.

Most interesting of all, I had found their attitude toward the question
that was widely raised of a right the workmen were said to have in the
property at Homestead, apart from their wages, on the ground of their
having created its value. Here was the real issue of modern
industrialism, and on it I found the farmers conservative, to say the
least.

The American farmer is a landed proprietor with a gift for logical
tendencies that does him credit. His chiefest aim is to maintain, if
possible, his economic independence, and a doctrine that would give to
his hired man an ultimate claim to ownership in his farm is not one that
is likely soon to meet with wide acceptance among his class.

It was with the physician that I talked these matters over, and I was
interested to find my experience confirmed by that of so expert an
observer, whose chances were so good.

Very reluctantly I parted from him at his door and made in the direction
of Neola. Owing to rains that delayed me on Thursday, I did not enter
Neola until the middle of the afternoon of that day, and there I did not
stop in passing, but pressed on to Underwood, where I spent the night.

Friday was clear again and hot, but the roads were difficult, and I had
to desert them for the lines of the St. Paul and Rock Island railways,
that parallel each other side by side for several miles into Council
Bluffs.

For the past day I had not had a single offer of a job. The farmers, as
I approached the town, seemed either less in need of men or less willing
to take up with a chance wayfarer. No doubt I should have had no
difficulty had I set about a search for work. Certainly I could not have
fared better than I did for dinner at a farm, where I was allowed to
lend a hand with a load of hay. And after dinner, when the farmer and I
talked together for an hour, I found in him the same contentment which
struck me as so general among Iowa farmers.

But my letters were in the Post-office at Omaha, and I felt impatient of
delay until I should get them. I did not get them on that day, however,
nor for several days to come. In Council Bluffs I met the unlooked-for
barrier of a toll-bridge across the Missouri. Five cents would give me a
right of way, but I had only one, and must, therefore, look for work. I
counted myself very fortunate when, at nightfall, I got a job in a
livery-stable.

I had crossed Iowa, and Mr. Ross’s promise had been abundantly
fulfilled. On any day of the march I could have found a dozen places for
the asking, and scarcely a day had passed that I had not repeatedly been
asked to go to work. I should have thought this a condition peculiar to
the harvest time, had not many of the farmers told me that, while their
need is greatest then, it is so constant always that no good man need
ever be long without work among them.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         A SECTION-HAND ON THE
                         UNION PACIFIC RAILWAY



------------------------------------------------------------------------



              A SECTION-HAND ON THE UNION PACIFIC RAILWAY


It cost five cents to go from Council Bluffs to Omaha in the summer of
1892. That was the toll of a foot passenger in crossing the bridge
which, spanning the Missouri, joined the two cities. It was a reasonable
toll, I dare say, and paid probably no more than a fair return on the
capital invested in the bridge, but it was five cents and I had only
one. One dingy copper coin, with its Indian head and laurel wreath, was
all that was left of the savings from my last job. I must, therefore,
find work in Council Bluffs, and the letters which had been waiting for
me in Omaha must wait a little longer. But I felt fagged, for I had
reached the end of a six days’ walk of some 200 miles, so I took a seat
on a bench in the shade in the public square near a fountain, whose play
was soothing in the heat of a midsummer afternoon.

I thought regretfully then of the farmer with whom I dined at noon that
day, and with whom I might have remained as a hired man. Besides, I
remembered with some concern two men on foot who met me on the outskirts
of Council Bluffs.

“Where are you from, partner?” one of them asked, with some bluster in
his manner.

“I’ve just come down through the State from Algona,” I replied.

“Is there any work out the way you came?”

“Lots of it,” I assured him.

“Well, there ain’t none the way you’re goin’. Me and me pal is wore out
lookin’ for a job in Omaha and Council Bluffs.”

I had come 1,500 miles as a wage-earner, and I had 1,500 yet to go
before I should reach the Pacific, but not yet had it been hard to find
work of some sort, except when I chose to stay in a crowded city in
winter. The anxiety that I felt in this instance proved groundless, for
when, in the cool of the evening, I looked for employment I found it at
the third application, and I went to bed that night a hostler in a
livery-stable at a wage of twenty dollars a month and board at a “Fifth
Avenue” hotel.

Ten dollars less twelve cents, which were due for the hire of books at a
stationer’s shop, were clear gain at the end of two weeks’ service in
the stable. But the necessity of writing up notes and of answering many
letters, besides the allurements of a public library, kept me for
several days in Omaha, so that my cash had dwindled, when, one afternoon
about the middle of August, I left the city, with the broad State of
Nebraska as the next step of the journey.

It was natural to follow the Union Pacific Railway. It takes its course
westward through the State, and is paralleled by a main-travelled road
that connects the frequent settlements along the line. Just out of Omaha
the railroad makes a southern bend, and I avoided this by following the
directer course of the highway that led next morning to a meeting with
the rails at Elkhorn. The going there was of the plainest. The railway
followed the northern bank of the Platte River and the road followed the
rail. If the day was wet, I left the road and walked the sleepers; if
the day was dry, I walked the road, but always I was within easy hail of
a lift, and so fell in with many an interesting farmer and was saved
many miles of walking.

It was late in the afternoon of a rainy day that there chanced a lift of
the most timely. From low, heavy clouds had been falling since early
morning a misty rain that almost floated in the warm, still air. For a
hundred yards together I might find a tolerable path along the turf at
the edge of the road. Then, as the mud grew deeper, I took to the rails
and kept them, until the monotony of the sleepers drove me to the mire
again. I had seen scarcely a soul that day except the fleeting figures
on the trains and an occasional bedraggled section-hand who looked
sullenly at me, barely deigning a salutation as I passed. It seemed
hardly worth while to be abroad, but I had found it generally best to
stick to the road when I could, and I was beginning now to think of a
shelter for the night and trying to find some satisfaction in having
covered more than twenty miles since morning.

The rumble of a heavy wagon began to sound down the road; and when I
could hear the splash of the horses’ hoofs near by, I was delighted to
catch the call of the driver, as he asked me to a seat at his side. He
was a farm-hand, young and muscular and slouching, as he sat
stoop-shouldered, with the lines held loosely in his bare hands, while
the rain dripped from a felt hat upon the shining surface of his rubber
coat.

Why he had asked me to ride I could not clearly see, for he scarcely
turned his lacklustre eyes upon me when I climbed up beside him, and he
seemed not in the least anxious to talk.

We were driving through a region that was growing familiar from its
changelessness. On every side were fields of corn, unfenced, and bounded
only by the horizon, apparently, as they stretched away into cloudy
space. Like islands in a sea of standing corn were widely scattered
groups of farm buildings, their clusters of cottonwood-trees about them
and sometimes a fruit orchard. And if there was any other break in the
monotony of corn, it was where vast acres had been turned to raising
beets for the sugar trade. Hardly a swell marred the level of the
prairie, and the rails reached endlessly on in an unbending line across
the plain.

The usual subjects of conversation were of no avail with my new
acquaintance. He was not interested in corn and only languidly in the
experiment with beets, and the general election failed to move him,
although he ventured so far as to insist that there was no hope for the
farmers of the West until the free coinage of silver should be secured.
His mood was in keeping with the day, and life was “flat, unprofitable,
and stale.”

He quickened finally, to the theme of work, but only as a vent to his
depression. Work was plentiful enough; for such as he, life was little
else than work, but of what profit was it to slave your soul out for
enough to eat and to wear and a place to sleep?

There was no escaping the tragedy of the man’s history as he told me
simply of his father’s death from overwork in an attempt to pay off the
mortgage on the farm and how his mother was left to the unequal
struggle. He himself was eleven then, and the elder of two children; he
could remember clearly how the home was lost—the accumulated labor of
many years. From that time his life had been an unbroken struggle for
existence, against odds of sickness that again and again had swept away
his earnings and thrown him back to the dependence of an agricultural
laborer.

Once his savings had gone in quite another fashion. It was at the very
point when there seemed to have come a change for the better in his
fortunes. He was $200 to the good at the end of the last autumn, and
with this as an opening wedge he meant to force a way eventually to
independent business of his own. So he went to Omaha, and, in one of the
employment bureaus there, he met a man, past middle life, who offered
him work on a stock farm twenty miles below the city. Thirty dollars a
month were to be his wages from the first, if he proved himself worth so
much, and there was to be an increase when he earned it. In the
meanwhile, he would be learning the trade of rearing horses for the
market, and, if he chose to invest his savings in the business, when he
knew it better, there could be no surer way, his informer said, to a
paying enterprise of his own.

He was committing himself to nothing, he found, so he decided to give
the place a trial. His new employer and he left the office together,
and, having an hour before train time, they went to a restaurant for
dinner, and the stock farmer told his man much in detail of the farm. He
was an elderly person of quiet manner, very plain of speech, and
friendly withal, and very thoughtful; for when they were about to leave
the restaurant, he opened a small leather bag that he carried guardedly
and, disclosing a bank book and a considerable sum of money, which he
had drawn to pay the monthly wages of the hands, he suggested to our
friend to deposit with them his own valuables in safety from the risk of
pickpockets about the station and in the cars, adding, meanwhile, that
he would then entrust the bag to him, as there were one or two places
where he wished to call on the way to the train.

The farm-hand held the bag firmly as his employer and he walked down the
street together, and very firmly as he waited in a shop, where his boss
left him with the plea that he had an errand in an office overheard, but
would return in a few minutes. The minutes grew to an hour, and the
youth would have been anxious had it not been that the bag with his
savings was safe in his keeping. But when the second hour was nearly
gone, his feeling was one of anxiety for the boss, until a question to
the shop-keeper led to the opening of the bag and the discovery that it
contained some old newspapers and nothing more.

He went back to the farm then and worked all winter and through the
summer that was now nearing its end, but illness in his family had
consumed his earnings, and, at the end of fourteen years of labor, he
was very much where he started as a lad, apart from added strength and
experience.

That evening, in a village inn, while the rain poured without, I sat
cheek by jowl with a Knight Templar who had just returned from a
convention of his order in Denver. It was not the meeting that now
inspired him; it was the mountains. Reared on the prairie, he had never
seen even hills before, and the sight of the earth rising from a plain
until it touched high heaven was like giving to his mind the sense of a
new dimension. For hours, he said, he would let his eyes wander from
Long’s Peak to Pike’s and back again, while his imagination lost itself
among the gorges and dark cañons, and in the midsummer glitter of aged
snow. There lay the charm of it, in the plain telling of the opening to
him of a world of majesty and beauty such as he had never dreamed of,
revealing powers of reverence and admiration that he had not known were
his.

The humor of it, touched with charm, was all in his description of
concrete experience of the new world of mystery. His account of an
ascent of Pike’s Peak would have made the reputation of a humorist. An
expedition to the Pole could hardly take itself more seriously. A few of
his fellow-knights and he, with the ladies who were of their company,
set out at midnight from Manitou to make sure of reaching the summit (a
four hours’ walk) before dark of the following day. Not “the steep
ascent of heaven” is beset with greater difficulty and danger for a
struggling saint than was the climb along the line of a “cog” railway
for this band of knights-errant and ladies fair. One can readily
conceive the peril of the adventure—for feet accustomed only to the
prairie—in treading from midnight until dawn the brinks of yawning
chasms, with water falling in the dark.

Nor did day dispel the terrors. The precipices were still there and a
growing awfulness in the height above the plain that caused a
“giddiness” which was the harder to resist because of the increasing
difficulty of breathing the rarefied air. Some of the women fainted on
the way, and the last hour’s climb was an agony to all the company; for
now the effort of a few steps exhausted them, and they despaired of ever
reaching the goal.

It was past noon when finally they sank down at the summit in the
shelter of rocks that shielded them from the piercing wind and ate what
was left of their store of provision.

The unconscious exaggeration took now a form even more comical in an
account of what was visible from the mountain. I have heard, in a
national convention, a young negro from Texas second the nomination of a
party leader with a fervor and in terms that might befit an archangel.
The play of fancy about Pike’s Peak was comparable with it, not in
eloquence, perhaps, but certainly in a pitch which made both speeches
memorable as gems of unstudied humor

From Thursday afternoon, when I left Omaha, until Saturday evening, I
walked as far as Columbus, then rested over Sunday. On Monday morning
the course was still the line of the Union Pacific, which had now turned
southwestward in following the bank of the river.

Tuesday’s march was the longest that I had made so far. From a point
near Clarksville I went to one a little beyond Grand Island, which was,
I judged, about forty miles in all; but as various lifts had carried me
quite a fifth of the way, the actual walking was not much above the
normal amount.

On Wednesday morning, August 24th, my funds were low. I saw the way to a
dinner in the middle of the day, but to no supper or bed at night.
Settling down to work would now be a welcome change, however, after hard
walking, just as I always found the life of the road a grateful relief,
at first, from the strain of heavy labor.

After dinner I began to think of something to do. It would be easy to
apply for work upon some of the many farms that I was passing, and not
difficult to find it, I fancied, from the reports of the farmers with
whom I had talked on the road from Omaha. Still, I had had a little
experience as a farm-hand and I wished to extend the range of the
experiment as far as I could within the limits of unskilled labor, so I
thought again.

I was a little beyond the town of Gibbon. It was a hot August afternoon,
and glancing down the line I saw a gang of section-hands at work, the
air rising in quivering heat-waves about them, and the glint of the
sunshine on the rails. When I reached them I could easily pick out the
boss, a white-haired, smooth-shaven, ruddy Irishman with a clear blue
eye, and, as it proved, a tongue as genial as it was coarse. Two of his
sons were of the gang, well-grown lads, scarcely out of their teens,
dark, good-looking, and reserved. He told me that they were his sons,
and he gave me much information besides; for my applying for a job had
been a signal to the whole gang to quit work and soberly chew the cud of
the situation, while the old man gossiped. The fourth hand was a
slovenly youth, who stood contentedly leaning on his shovel and
listening idly to what was said.

No, the boss could not give me work; he already had the full number of
men, but he knew that the gang of the next section to the west was short
a man when he saw them last, and he thought that my chance of employment
with them was good.

I walked something more than three miles into the next section, which
was the Thirty-second, before I came up with the gang that worked it.
They were three men when I found them and they were bracing the sleepers
near a little station which is known as Buda. I went up to them and
asked for Osborn, the boss, and was answered by a tall, frank-eyed young
Westerner of unmistakable native birth.

Osborn owned at once to being short-handed and said that I might go to
work next morning, if I wished, and then went on, in business-like
fashion, to explain that the wages were twelve and a half cents an hour
for ten hours’ work and that his wife would board me for three dollars
and a half a week.

“Very well,” I said, “I’ll take the job.”

“You can go right over to the house,” he went on, “or wait here and go
home with us at six o’clock.”

I much preferred to wait and leave explanations to the boss, for my
attempts at explaining myself to the women folk of my employers had not
always ended in leaving me perfectly at ease.

The present situation could be taken in at a glance. Four miles farther
on the road was the town of Kearney, built out, for the most part, to
the north of the line. The station at Buda was the conventional frame
building, with a pen for cattle at one end and a fenced platform for
transferring the stock to the cattle-cars. A siding ran for a hundred
yards or more beside the main line, and a few steps beyond it and across
the main-travelled road was the section-boss’s shanty, a lightly built
wooden shell, unpainted and weather-stained. Near an end of the siding,
with a few feet of rails spanning the distance between, stood a little
structure not unlike an overgrown kennel, where the hand-car for the men
and the section tools were housed. For a space about the station and the
boss’s shanty and on either side the railway and the road it was clear,
then began the inevitable corn that stood full-grown on the prairie as
far as the eye could see.

The shadow of the station lay across the high prairie grass under its
eastern wall, and there I lay down to rest.

If I had failed of work at Buda, I should have thought little of it and
should have walked on as a matter of course to further search in Kearney
or in the country about the town. But having found a job and knowing
that I had only to rest until going to work in the morning, there came a
feeling of languor which it was a luxury to indulge. As I lay there in
the high prairie grass at the end of another stretch of nearly 200 miles
of walking, and looked dreamily up at the sky and thought contentedly of
my new post, every muscle relaxed, and the will to summon them to action
seemed gone, until the mere thought of further effort for that day was
an agony which one harbored for the edge it gave to the sense of ease.

It was difficult to respond even to a call to supper. But I got to my
feet at six o’clock and joined the gang, and together, after storing the
tools, we walked over to the boss’s shanty. On a bench outside the
kitchen-door were tin basins and soap and water, with the usual roller
towel, and soon we were waiting for a summons to the evening meal.

Already I was much attracted by Osborn and the section-hands. Tyler was
a young American, a long-limbed youth with clear smooth muscles and an
intelligent, expressive face that suggested breeding, while Sullivan was
a full-faced, stocky Irishman, of five-and-twenty, ready and frank, and
full of energy.

The shop that they talked as we waited outside was still the topic at
the table when we were called to supper in the little front room of the
cabin with its wooden walls papered with old journals. Never had I been
adopted more naturally by any company of fellow-workmen. They asked my
name and where I was from, and having learned that I had come from the
East, they appeared satisfied with the account of myself and made me one
of their number with perfect friendliness. Osborn’s father, a quiet old
farmer, joined us, but we saw the women and children only as we passed
through the kitchen. Osborn’s mother was there with her daughter-in-law
and in one or other of them, perhaps in both, there was a singularly
good cook and housekeeper.

One could see instantly the cleanliness of the house for all its
shabbiness, and the supper to which we sat down was not only clean, but
bountiful and good. We had soup and boiled chicken, with rich gravy, and
potatoes and steaming green corn, besides white bread of the rarest and
a sauce for dessert. I looked with a livelier interest at the women as
we passed out, and I saw in the elder one a serene, sweet-faced, old
farmer’s wife, so trim and neat that she might have stepped from a New
England country side, while the younger woman, in her abounding vigor,
appeared rather a product of the West.

Osborn and Tyler had turned the talk at supper to something that
attracted them to Kearney for the evening, and almost immediately when
the meal was ended they hitched an Indian pony that was Osborn’s to a
light, rickety sulky and drove to town. Sullivan and I were left alone,
for the old farmer had disappeared. We lit our pipes and sat down in the
prairie grass with our eyes to the sunset. The horizon was aglow with
crimson and gold that faded to a clear, cold green before changing to
the purple in which the evening star was set. The keen gleam of
electrics flashed out over the town, and a breeze rustled faintly among
the crisping blades of corn.

Sullivan and I sat smoking lazily in the twilight. He had begun to tell
me about himself, and my spirits were rising, for it was no furbished
tale that I heard.

There is little marvel in leading men to talk of themselves, and
workingmen are no exception; but there is a difference, which is all the
difference in the world, between a narrative that is evidently inspired
by the hope of impressing you, and one that is a spontaneous
self-revelation.

Sullivan was such another waif as Farrell, but older, and with not so
fair a chance of settling ever into the framework of conventional
living. Twice he had crossed the Atlantic as a deck-hand on a
cattle-ship, and, therefore, he knew the nether depths of depravity, but
he boasted nothing of his knowledge. Once only, there came into his
voice a note of exultation. It was at the end of an account of a thirty
days’ term that he once served in the Bridewell, at Chicago. The
description was admirable, for the memory of it was strong upon him, and
he unconsciously made you see the prison and the keepers, and the
flocking of the prisoners into the inner court in the morning, each from
his separate cell.

“They knowed me there for _Cuckoo_ Sullivan,” he said, “which was the
name the cops in Chicago give me; and I guess they’d know yet who you
was after, if you asked at the Harrison Street Station for _Cuckoo_
Sullivan.”

We moved presently to a little platform near the line and were sitting
on the steps smoking contentedly while there came to us the soughing of
the night air in the corn. Sullivan was telling me of a long stay in
Oklahoma and the Indian Territory, of the wild days of the opening of
the reservation, and wilder days, when, with other adventurers, he
roamed the new lands and lived at give and take with strange fortune. He
told me of his loves, and they were many and some of them were dusky;
and of the fights that he had fought, not all of them good; and how,
finally, he had drifted north again as far as Scotia, Neb., and had
worked there as a section-hand before coming to Buda.

Sullivan and I were friends when we turned in that night to our cots in
the attic under the shanty roof. Next morning Osborn paired us as
partners, when the day’s work began. On the stroke of seven we four
opened the tool-house and loaded the car with the crowbars and wrenches
and picks and shovels that would be needed, then placing our dinner
pails on top, we ran the car out to the line and lifted it into
position.

Twenty years earlier our predecessors, who laid the line and who used
the same tool-house, took with them each a rifle every day in readiness
for attacks of Indians. The worn sockets and rests were still to be
seen, where the rifles had stood at night against an inner wall. Giving
the car a start in the direction of Kearney we jumped aboard, and each
taking a handle of the crank, we were soon flying over the rails. The
sun was obscured, the early morning air was cool, and the rapid movement
exhilarating, so that the first impression of the job was a jolly one.
But pumping a hand-car is not the whole of a navvy’s work. Soon we
reached the western end of our section, where there met us on their car
the gang of the section next our own. Osborn had some talk with the
other boss about certain details of the work, then lifting the car from
the line, we settled to the day’s task. Osborn and Tyler worked together
and Sullivan and I. Sullivan seemed not to mind having a green hand to
break in, for he set about it with energy and not a little skill. There
were sunken sleepers that had to be raised and tamped, and new coupling
bars put in to replace those that had split, and spikes to be driven
where the old ones were loose, and nuts to be tightened that were
working free of their bolts.

Five hours on end of this were fatiguing; it was the drill, drill of
rough manual labor, but with the difference of some variety, and there
could not have been a better partner than Sullivan. He taught me how to
tamp about the sleepers and put the new bars in place and tighten the
nuts, but the noon signal was welcome as we heard it sounded by the
steam whistles in Kearney.

We joined Osborn and Tyler then, and taking our dinner-pails from the
hand-car, we all sat down in the prairie grass, settling ourselves to an
hour of keen enjoyment. Slices of bread and cold meat and a bit of
sausage and a piece of pie and cheese with cold tea, made up each man’s
ration and laid the foundation for a smoke. Rough hand labor is always
hard, however trained to it one’s muscles may have been, and ten hours
of it daily are apt to have a deadening effect upon the mind, and time
drags heavily to the end. Yet, when the nooning is reached, or the day’s
work is done, there come with meat and drink a feeling of renewal that
others cannot know as workingmen know it, and a solace in tobacco that
is the very lap of ease.

As we lay there in the prairie grass, our eyes following, dreamily, the
smoke as it curled in the warm sunlight, the talk drifting aimlessly,
eddying now and then about a topic that held it for a moment, then
flowing free again. Once it came my way.

“When you was living East, did you ever go to New York?” asked the boss.

“Yes, quite often,” I said.

“Was you ever in Wall Street?”

“Many times.”

“Well, that’s where them” (I omit the intervening qualifying terms)
“bloated bond-holders lives that we poor devils out here has to work
for.”

It was not worth while to explain that Wall Street is not a residence
quarter, but the statement had an interest of its own, and so I probed
the boss for what lay under it. There was nothing, apparently, beyond a
vague sense of injustice which had bred a feeling of hatred for a class
that the Free Silver agitation had taught him to call “money lords.”
These were a company of men who had got control of the “money market”
and lived, consequently, in much splendor, in Wall Street, at the
expense of the “producing classes,” which appeared to consist solely of
those who work with their hands on their own account or for day’s wages.

The idea would have been not in the least surprising had it come from a
fellow-laborer in a town, where some wave of well-defined revolutionary
agitation might have touched him, but coming from a native-born farmer’s
son, grown to a section-boss, it served to deepen the wonder that one
felt in finding so often among an agrarian population the beginnings of
revolutionary doctrine.

Sullivan did not share the boss’s views. “Money lords” and “the
producing classes” were but idle words to him. Life was a matter of
working or loafing. If you labored with your hands, yours was the
bondage of work; if not, you had escaped the primal curse. His
philosophy was luminous in a single sentence while we were at work in
the afternoon.

It was late in the day, but still very hot, for the clouds had melted in
the morning and the sun gained in strength as the day passed, and no
breeze came to stir the sweltering air. We were employed now near the
eastern end of the section, where some regrading was necessary because
of weakening in the road-bed. Sullivan and I were together as before. It
was pick and shovel labor, and, because of some earlier experience, I
did not need much coaching, so that we were working in silence for the
most part, except that Sullivan now and then would burst into song. But
his snatches of song grew rarer as the afternoon wore away and as the
muscles in our backs protested the more against the continued strain.
With leaden feet the minutes plodded slowly past, sixty minutes to the
hour and five hours of unbroken toil. Like Joshua’s moon at Ajalon, the
sun seemed to stand at gaze, and, from the mid-western sky, transfixed
us with his heat. Five o’clock came, and the next hour stretched before
us in almost intolerable length. For some time Sullivan had been silent,
drudging doggedly on. Now, I saw him draw himself slowly erect, rubbing
with one hand, meanwhile, the small of his back, while his face
expressed comically the pain he felt, and then he said, and I wish that
I could suggest the rich Irish brogue with which he said it:

“Ach, I’m that sorry that I didn’t study for the ministry.”

Two days later the gang from the next section to the east joined us in
the afternoon, and together we put in a new “frog” in the switch near
the Buda station. They were the Irish boss with his two sons and the
taciturn hand of the farm-laborer type. The boss remembered me instantly
and commented favorably on my having taken his advice in applying to
Osborn for a job.

The point of our joining forces was in the necessity of laying the frog
without interfering with traffic. Osborn had chosen the hour in the day
when there was the longest interval between trains, and we had
everything in readiness when, at the appointed time, the other gang met
us, so that with our united labor the frog was in place and secure when
the next train passed.

Much of the talk between the bosses at this time referred to a
later meeting, when, on an appointed day, the gangs for many miles
along the line were to foregather at Grand Island under the
Division-Superintendent’s orders. There was to be a general
distribution then of new sleepers along the railway.

What interested me most at the moment was the tone of the men in
speaking of their superior in the service. I had caught it frequently in
earlier references to the Superintendent among ourselves. He was the
official in command of all the section-gangs in the division and
directly responsible for the condition of the road.

The men told me that he had been a section-hand himself and then a boss,
and that he had worked his way to the position of superintendent in a
long service with the company. The feeling that they bore him was one of
admiration, not unmixed with fear. They respected his knowledge of every
detail of their work, and a certain liking for him grew out of the fact
of his having been a laborer like themselves, but they feared him with
an awesome fear.

I remember his passing one afternoon while we were at work. We had stood
aside at the coming of a freight train, and, as we stepped back to our
work, we caught sight of a wiry little man standing on the rear platform
of the caboose, his hands clasping the railing and his eyes intent on
the road-bed. Osborn thought that he saw the flutter of a piece of paper
in the dust raised by the passing train, and suspecting that it was an
order for himself, he dropped his tools and searched the embankment, and
even the neighboring cornfield to the leeward, with an eagerness that
might have marked a hunt for hid treasure. He could find nothing,
however, and for the rest of the day, and I know not for how much
longer, the incident was upon his mind with a sense of keen anxiety.

When the day appointed for distributing the sleepers came, we boarded at
Buda an eastbound passenger train, and were pressed into a smoking-car
already overcrowded by bosses and section-hands. Osborn vouched for us
to the conductor, as the other bosses did for their men when we picked
up a gang at almost every station.

It was a welcome escape to get off at Grand Island. Like boys set free
from school we clambered over the long freight-train, laden with
sleepers, that stood waiting for us on a siding. Our orders were
perfectly clear. We were to distribute ourselves through the train and,
at a given signal, to unlade the sleepers as fast as we could, throwing
them along the road-bed well free of the line. Each man was to remember,
moreover, that, at the end of his own section, he was to leave the
train.

I found myself in a box-car with three other navvies, all strangers to
me. Sleepers lay piled to the roof from end to end of the floor, with
only a passage across the middle wide enough for us to begin the work. A
blue-eyed young Swede and I had just agreed to be partners when the
Superintendent passed in his way along the train, noting the number of
men in each car.

In a few moments we were off, and we had not gone far before the
prearranged signal came. Then we bent to the work with a will. It was a
break in the regular routine and we took it as a lark. Two men attacked
one side of the passage and the Swede and I the other. Soon it was a
race between us to see which could unload the faster.

The train moved slowly, discharging sleepers that piled themselves in
grotesque confusion along the sides of the embankment, while above the
noise of the cars, rose the voices of the men as they shouted excitedly
in the unwonted rivalry.

Before I realized that we had gone half so far, I caught sight of the
Buda station. Our car was nearly empty, and as nearly empty at our end
as at the other, the Swede and I thought, but our fellow-navvies claimed
a victory when, at the end of the section, I jumped to the ground with
much care to avoid the flying sleepers. Osborn was there, and soon the
other members of the gang gathered, and then we returned to the usual
work until six o’clock.

For two weeks or more I remained at work on this section, then I knew
that I must be going; for the autumn was at hand, and I aimed to cross
the Rockies and reach the milder climate of the Southwest by the
beginning of winter. But the actual parting with the gang presented the
usual embarrassments. I had become used to the men, and they to me, and
we worked together harmoniously and were on terms of easiest
friendliness. Besides, no one had appeared who would take my place, and
there were many sleepers to be laid.

I always stipulated with my employers at the beginning of an engagement
that I wished to be free to go when I pleased, as they were free to
discharge me when they wished, but this rarely smoothed the way of
going, for they lost sight of the agreement as they grew accustomed to
me as a hand.

When I told Osborn one evening that I must be gone in a day or two, his
eyes took on a look of perplexity that did not relieve my embarrassment,
and he began to plead the pressure of the work and the difficulty of
getting section-hands until I felt like a deserter. But there was no
help for it, and early one September morning, after reluctant good-byes
to the family and the men, I set off down the line with my wages in one
pocket and in another a luncheon that the boss’s mother put up for me.

When the sun was setting that evening, I had entered a region where the
cornfields were fewer, where the cattle country had begun, and the
alkali shone white in the soil, and the bones of dead cattle lay
bleaching on the plain.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           “A BURRO-PUNCHER”



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           “A BURRO-PUNCHER”


Mike Price was a prospector by nature; his prospecting through the
summer and autumn of 1892 in the Wagon Wheel Gap country of southwestern
Colorado was a mere incident in a long career. Phœnix, Ariz., was his
head-quarters, and he would fain return there for the Indian summer of
its winter climate; for he hated snow and the hard cold of the Rocky
Mountain camps, where, as he said, a man must hibernate until spring.
But Phœnix was the best part of 600 miles away across a thinly settled
frontier. Burros and blankets and food for the journey were to be had
only for ready money, and Price had not “struck it rich”; indeed, he had
not struck it at all. One after another the parts of his camping outfit
had gone into a pawnbroker’s shop at Creede, in the progress of a
luckless season, until the late autumn found him without burro or
blanket or bacon, and bereft even of the “gun” (a six-shooter) which
General —— had given him in recognition of his services as a scout.

It was late November when I met him, and Price was making a precarious
living at odd jobs for civil engineers. One of these was my friend
Hamilton, who had known Price for years and who proved himself a friend
in need to both of us, for he brought us together and proposed the
journey which took us to Phœnix, and which gave me six weeks’ experience
as a “burro-puncher.”

You could trust Hamilton to find a way out. There is scarcely a phase of
frontier life that he did not know from personal experience, and he saw
at a glance that Price’s position and my own would exactly complement
each other in furthering a plan which was common to us both. Price
wanted to reach Phœnix, and so did I; he knew the way but was without
the means of travel, while I, knowing nothing of the country, yet had
some store of savings.

Wages were high at Creede. The miners were getting $3, and I, as an
unskilled laborer, working with a gang that was cutting a road down
Bachelor Mountain from the New York Chance Mine to Creede, was paid
$2.50 a day. Our board and lodging cost us $7 a week, but they were
worth it, and, even at that rate, there remained a considerable margin
for possible saving.

Hamilton knew my plans; he was one of the few whom I had told, in the
course of my wandering, of the object of the expedition. We had been
spending an evening with a company of kindred Bohemians at the house of
a mine superintendent, and were returning together to his quarters in
the quiet of two o’clock in the morning through a world white with the
first snow of winter and dazzling under a full moon.

I had money enough to take me to Phœnix by rail, and it seemed the
height of folly to go in any other way, so I began to explain why I
wished to walk and why I had already walked most of the way from the
Atlantic. Hamilton listened patiently, but without interest, I thought,
until abruptly he turned upon me with approval, immeasurably beyond my
desert, yet showing so sympathetic an insight into the possible service
of such work, that I saw again, as by a flash, the rich human quality
that had already endeared the man.

“And so you worked with the road gang on Bachelor Mountain to get enough
to grub stake you to Phœnix?” he said, and he laughed aloud. Then he
swore—deeply, resonantly, and from the heart.

Price was sent for on the next day, and, in the afternoon, he turned up
in Hamilton’s office, a dark, bearded, keen-eyed Irishman, slender and
wiry, and all alert at the prospect of getting back to “God’s country,”
which in his phrase meant Arizona. Soon, not merely Hamilton and I, but
our friends the barrister and the editor and the grave mine
superintendent were involved in preparation for the trip. We accompanied
Price to the pawnbroker’s shop, where he identified his belongings, and
I redeemed them. Then we all set about selecting additional blankets and
a fresh store of food.

Our pack animals could not have carried their loads, had we taken all
that was pressed upon us for the journey. Price borrowed a shot-gun from
the private arsenal that was put at our disposal, and I a six-shooter,
and we gladly accepted gifts of tobacco until our pockets were bursting
with plenty.

Weird as it was, our little caravan was but the typical prospector’s
outfit as we moved in single file through the winding street of the
mining camp, an object of interest only to the four friends who bade us
good-by with many slaps on the back and with affectionate oaths. Price
was mounted on his Indian pony and I on Sacramento, a burro of uncommon
size, while our effects were packed on the backs of two other burros,
Beecher and California by name, with two of California’s foals trotting
abreast as a running accompaniment to the show.

Past the shops and saloons and dance-halls and hotels we wound our way
on among the frail shanties at the outskirts of the camp, until we
struck the wagon trail that led southward through a ranching country in
the direction of the pass over the mountain to Durango. Snow lay lightly
on the ground; vast tracts, however, had been swept clear by the wind,
so that ours was an unobstructed course, except where we had to plough
through occasional drifts, which our animals did with ease, tossing the
feathery flakes until they flashed again in the clear sunlight of a
frosty morning. The burros were at their best, keeping the trail at a
steady pace that never hinted at the habit of wandering. Price was
high-spirited at the thought of Phœnix, and, between snatches of song,
he regaled me with the glories of the Indian summer which we should find
across the range. I could well share his light-heartedness. As far as
Creede I had walked alone, picking the way with ease, but, between
Creede and Phœnix, there lay a stretch of the fast-fading frontier which
I longed to cross on foot, yet knew that I could not without a guide.
And here, as by miracle, one had appeared in the person of Price, who
knew the land and them that dwelt therein, and who was more than guide
in being a philosopher and friend. The keen air quickened our blood, as
we breathed deep of its rarefied purity and felt the mild warmth of the
winter sun like the glow of rising spirits. The mountain-peaks rose
white and still above the dark ruling of the timber line, yet radiant in
the light, and serene in a peace that passeth knowledge; and the head
waters of the Rio Grande swept past us in streams that were dark against
the snow, but ablaze where they reflected the sun.

It was long past noon before I thought of stopping, and then I found
that there were to be no mid-day stops on this expedition, for the days
were so short that camp had to be made between four and five in the
afternoon, and, as it was difficult to get started in the morning much
before eight o’clock, we could give at the best but little more than
eight hours in the day to travel.

For some time that afternoon we had been in the shadow of a mountain to
the west, and the light was fading fast, when, as we rose upon a knoll
above the stream whose bed we were ascending, Price saw that it was a
good camping-ground, and the caravan came to a halt. Wood was abundant
about us, so that water was soon boiling, and slices cut from a frozen
shoulder of beef were presently frying in the saucepan, while the tea
drew to a fearful strength at the fire’s edge. After supper and a smoke,
we made ready our bed. An old piece of canvas, some seven feet by
fourteen, was first spread upon level ground; then we arranged upon half
of it all the gunny-sacks that we had brought as cushions for the
pack-saddles. These formed a mattress, over which we spread our
blankets, drawing up finally the unused half of the canvas as a top
covering. Going to bed consisted simply of taking off our boots and
folding our coats for pillows, then disappearing with all speed under
the blankets, with the canvas drawn well over our heads to keep out the
bitter night cold of that altitude in late November. Our animals browsed
near the camp, the bells about their necks tinkling as they moved, until
they, too, found shelter and settled down to rest.

When I wakened it was from deepest sleep, and I looked out from under
cover for some sign of day, but there was none. The stars were shining
undimmed, with the effect of nearness which brought back vividly an
illusion of childhood. Nothing in their position gave me a hint of the
time, but Price, on waking, saw at a glance that the dawn was near.
Scarcely was the fire lit and water put on to boil before the dark bulks
of the mountains to the east were clear cut against a brightening sky.
Breakfast over and the dishes washed, we had a smoke and, having fed the
animals from a little store of grain, we saddled and packed them for the
day’s march.

Nothing in the previous day’s experience suggested the rigor of this
afternoon’s progress. All went prosperously in the morning, for we were
still following the wagon trail, and the burros kept it as by instinct.
Only the snow was deepening, which was a reminder of the warnings we
received in Creede that we were attempting the pass dangerously late in
the year. What with snow and the loss of leaves, the “look” of the
region had so far changed since Price passed that way in spring that,
with small wonder, he could not find the lead of the foot-trail that
crosses the Divide. Again and again we struck in to the left only to
discover presently that we were following a false lead, until Price,
impatient of further dallying, boldly led the way in an ascent of a
trackless mountain whose farther side, he knew, would disclose the lost
trail.

A long, steep climb by a well-trodden way is difficult at the best for
pack animals, but we were now in a forest with the course obstructed by
undergrowth and the trunks of fallen trees, and the uncertain footing
covered with treacherous snow. The burros took it splendidly from the
first, straining their muscles in a toilsome climb that was doubly hard
because of its obstacles. But as the hours passed and the way grew more
difficult, their strength began to fail. Then came long resting spells,
followed by spurts of frantic climbing. Again and again we seemed to be
nearing the top, only to find the crest of a ridge with another summit
towering far beyond. Presently the burros were falling from sheer
fatigue. With a few yards of upward struggle, down they would sink
exhausted, and, after letting them rest, Price and I had our hands full
in dragging them to their feet again.

It was nearing sunset when we gained the top, and, once there, all our
troubles vanished. We passed from the cover of the wood out upon a
treeless slope, swept clear of snow and covered by the past summer’s
growth of grass, brown and dry and excellent fodder. A stream flowed
through the natural meadow, and on a ledge above it, as plain as day,
was the winding trail making off in the direction of the Divide. We
gratefully camped there that night, while our tired beasts gorged
themselves with grass.

Whatever the difficulties of crossing were to be, we were clearly not to
be hampered by foul weather. The night was as still and cold as the last
had been, and the morning again was cloudless. We were up by starlight
as before, and the camp-fire was sending volleys of glowing sparks into
the surrounding darkness when the signs of dawn appeared. I went to the
brook for water and was back just in time to see the sunrise from the
camp. We were in a narrow valley that stretched southwestward in an
upward trend toward the summit of the range. From its northeastern
opening we could see far over a confused mass of mountains whose
outlines grew clearer in the return of day. With infinite majesty the
light streamers flung themselves across the sky, paling the bright
stars; and, when a distant snow-peak caught the first clear ray, all the
others seemed to lift their heads in an ecstasy of praise and welcome.
In another moment the eastern wall of our valley was fringed by a
tracery of fire, where level beams shone through the trees which stood
out against the sky. And last, upon us in the depth of the valley, the
sun rose, prodigal of his splendor and of his gifts of light and life.

I had left Price squatting near the fire with his face to the east as he
cut slices of bacon into a saucepan. On my return from the brook I found
him still sitting there, but grown oblivious to bacon. His forearms were
resting on his knees, while loosely in one hand he held a knife and a
piece of bacon in the other. From under an old felt hat, long, black,
matted hair fell upon his neck and mingled with a dark, unkempt beard.
His face, blackened by the smoke of the camp-fire, was lifted to the
eastern sky, and his eyes were on the sunrise. Such a look, transfixed
with reverence and wonder, seemed to link him with some early epoch of
the race, when the sense of power and beauty awoke in man; and as he
drew himself erect without lifting his eyes from the scene before him,
“It’s not strange,” he remarked, “that men have worshipped the sun.”

The snow grew deeper with every mile of the march that morning. We were
nearing the Divide, and one evidence of it was the piercing wind that
blew down the gorge. Not since the morning of the first day out had
either of us ridden; for the animals had as much as they could do to
carry themselves and their packs, and now we found that we must help
them by opening a path through the snow. It lay a foot deep before us,
then two feet and more as we mounted the Divide, so that Price and I
were soon alternating in the work of breaking a way. One of us would
plunge through until fagged out, then the other would take his place in
treading down the drift, and so we forged ahead, a few yards at a time,
wet to the skin with melting snow and cut to the bone by the wind.

I do not know how far we travelled that day; it could not have been many
miles, and I do not care to think of possible consequences, had we been
overtaken by a storm, instead of having the fairest possible winter
weather. But we put in more than eight hours of continuous work and were
repaid in the late afternoon by reaching camping-ground on the western
side of the Divide, almost as good as that which we found for the night
before.

The next day’s, Tuesday’s, march was one that dwells delightfully in
memory—not for any element of excitement, but for the simple joy of it.
All day we descended by a trail that wound through cañon after cañon,
crossing and recrossing the streams whose waters were flowing toward the
Pacific, as those of the day before were to find a final outlet in the
Atlantic. It was cold, but it seemed like spring in contrast with the
day before, for the sun shone bright, and birds were in the trees, and
here and there the snow had melted, giving to the soil the suggestion of
returning life.

The burros plainly shared the feeling of relief in reaching a more
passable region, and the art of burro-punching began, consequently, to
disclose its difficulties. From one side and then the other of the trail
they would break away in all directions, exploring the surrounding
country, never with an air of mischief, but always with a sober, dogged
perversity that was the more exasperating because it wore a mask of
reason. Once back into the trail, they might keep it faultlessly for
miles on end, and then, from no apparent cause, begin once more to
wander. They were most difficult to manage at the fords. Generally they
scattered to the four winds at the first approach to water, and when we
had corralled them again and forced them down to the brink, they would
stand calmly, planted ankle-deep in the stream, resolutely determined
not to move. It was then that Price gave vent to real profanity, and I
am bound to own that it was effective. When beating and prodding and the
milder invective failed to urge the burros forward, Price would stand
back, pale with rage, and begin to swear, calling upon all his gods and
blasting the reputations of his beasts unto the third and fourth
generation of their ancestors. By some subtle perception they seemed to
understand that this meant business, and slowly at first, but presently,
as though they rather enjoyed the water, they waded through and started
down the trail beyond.

We camped that night in a narrow cañon whose level bed was well grown
with trees and walled by scarped cliffs, which rose sheer above it.
Price said that it formed a miniature Yosemite, and certainly it made
good camping-ground; for with plenty of wood and water, it was well
protected from the wind, and we slept there in great comfort. But our
fare was growing monotonous. We soon exhausted the supply of beef and
had since been living upon bacon and bread, so that we heartily welcomed
the sight of a ranchman’s cabin near the end of the next day’s march,
for there we purchased a peck of potatoes and thus enlarged our bill of
fare to bacon and “spuds” and bread and gravy.

Thanksgiving-day was celebrated by faring sumptuously in the evening and
sleeping under cover. And it was the more delightful celebration for
being wholly unpremeditated. There was no prospect through the day of
anything but the usual march and camp in the open at night. We were
plainly in a more populous region, for we had struck a wagon trail
again, and repeatedly, in the morning, we met farm wagons laden with
solemn families in Sunday dress. As the afternoon wore on we grew
hungrier for thinking of Thanksgiving dinners. At dusk we were passing a
ranch upon which the hay presses had just ceased working for the day. A
little farther down the road we overtook two men who were about to enter
a wooden building, which proved to be a deserted school-house. Price
hailed them and they turned, standing in the open door. Practised as he
was in the amenities of the frontier, it took him no time to strike up
an acquaintance, and soon we were bade welcome to share the school-house
as a camping-place.

Our hosts were a young American frontiersman and his “partner,” an
Indian, who together had a contract for pressing hay on the neighboring
ranch, and who were living meanwhile in this deserted building. Having
admitted us, they completed their welcome by doing everything in their
power for our comfort. They arranged with the owner to pasture our
animals on the ranch for the night, and showed us where to find wood for
a fire and where on the floor to spread our bed. And when the evening
meal was ready, they proposed that we should club together, giving us of
their fresh meat and roasted Indian corn and steaming hot bread in
exchange for our “spuds” and bacon. But we had some chance of making
return, for they had no tobacco to compare with ours, and far into the
night we sat talking, over pipes fragrant of good weed.

Price and I were making progress in acquaintance, and every day I had
fresh cause for self-congratulation at my extraordinary luck in having
fallen in with so good a guide. Of excellent Irish family, Price was not
without education and a taste for letters, although he had chosen,
almost as a boy, the career of an adventurer on the frontier. And now at
middle life, having ranged the Southwest as few men have done, and
having seen all phases of its life and shared most of them, he was
looking forward to further casual living, perfectly content so long as
he had a camping outfit and could wander as he pleased over the face of
nature. That some day he would “strike it rich” he never doubted—and may
his faith come true. Meanwhile he was getting a good deal out of life.
Nature in her milder moods was a constant solace and a joy to him. In
long marches through golden Indian summer days, he sang and spouted
verses of his own, and told me veritable Ulysses’s tales of men and
their strange ways. The few books which he had read he had made his own,
for his memory was retentive, and he never forgot, apparently, a face or
a name, so that his progress through the country was like a walk about
his own neighborhood.

With the instinctive, gentlemanlike reserve of the Western frontiersman,
he never questioned me about myself; he was far more interested in what
knowledge I might have gathered, which he could add to his own. Oddly
enough, it was the little reading that I had done in philosophy that
seemed to attract him most. Many a night when it was mild enough to
sleep with our heads uncovered we lay side by side, “overarched by
gorgeous night,” gazing into the starry firmament, and I would tell him
what I could of theories of the universe from Thales to Herbert Spencer,
feeling all the while the tension of his mind as he reached out eagerly
for these guesses at the mystery of things.

It happened that I had been reading “Coningsby,” at Creede, and Prince
slipped the copy into his pocket as we left the camp. He devoured it by
our camp-fires at night. The story held him, but most of all he was
spellbound by its literary charm, and he added a quaint reason for his
liking in the remark:

“You know,” he said to me, “Lord Beaconsfield was always square with the
Irish.”

His national partisanship was of the stanchest, and he had always given
to the Irish fund when he could; but the outcome of the fight in
Committee Boom No. 15 had been too much for him, and he would stoutly
maintain that never again, so long as the “traitors” who had turned
against Parnell were in the ascendant, would he interest himself in
furthering Home Rule—threads of vital connection which were a little
strange, I thought, between points so widely severed as St. Stephen’s
and the deserts of Arizona.

Elsewhere I have already sketched in outline our trip as we walked south
together from Durango to the San Juan, then through the Navajo
Reservation to the high plateau of northern New Mexico, where, utterly
deserted by fair weather, we camped for a week, while a cold wave swept
over us, forcing the thermometer down to ten and twelve degrees below
zero, and nearly freezing us and our animals in the still cold of the
winter nights.

Even after we got under way again and were making progress southward in
the direction of the “rimrock” of the Mogollon Mountains, persistent
ill-luck followed us in the shape of almost nightly falls of snow and
rain, which added nothing to the comfort of sleeping on the ground or
walking across an almost trackless waste. But if we were disappointed
here, Price’s promise of Indian summer was abundantly fulfilled when
once we had waded through the snow in the great primeval forests that
cover the northern slopes of the Mogollons, and made the abrupt descent
of the “rimrock.” It was like the contrast of Florida with our Northern
winter. The live-oak and budding cottonwood and the warm sun and
sprouting grass gave us royal welcome from the cold and snow beyond;
and, at the end of the first day’s journey in this region, we came out
upon a ranch. It was thirty miles to the nearest neighbor, and the
ranchman and his wife were glad to see anyone, even casual
“burro-punchers,” like Price and me. There chanced to be a considerable
company at the ranch that night. An outfit of three men who were hunting
mountain lion through the range for the sake of the bounty on their
scalps had come there to camp, bringing with them the carcass of a bear.
And the postman, whose beat took him from the Santa Fé line southward
through some Mormon settlements and on to scattered ranches north of the
Tonto Basin, was also quartered there. So that we sat down more than a
dozen strong to dine on bear steak and potatoes and bread and coffee;
and when dinner was over, Price and I again had the good fortune to find
that our tobacco suited well the taste of the company. We were gathered
now in the living-room of the cabin. Some of the men were seated on the
floor and others in rough, hand-made chairs about a wood fire in a
large, open fireplace. The talk ranged at random over phases of hard
living known to such men as these. It was varied and rich and sometimes
racy. In it Price shone as a bright, particular star. None had travelled
the Southwest so thoroughly as he, or experienced so much of its
characteristic life. Then his native readiness at narrative stood him in
good stead, and, penniless prospector that he was, he held unchallenged
the centre of the stage.

The door of the dining-room stood open, and, when I had finished my
pipe, I joined the ranchman’s wife, who sat beside the table in a
rocking-chair, holding in her arms her oldest child, a boy of five or
six. She seemed glad to have someone to talk to. The conversation at
table had swept from end to end in a manner diverting to her, but in
which she as little dreamed of joining as a bird would venture with
untried wings into a high wind. She was too delicately reared to be at
home in the thickening tobacco-smoke of the living-room and so she was
alone with the child, the hired woman being in the kitchen. I praised
the country side which she and her husband had chosen as their home, and
told her how well it contrasted with a region only a few miles to the
north; but, if I found a way to her heart at all, it was in genuine
admiration of the boy, whose light hair rested in moist curls about his
glowing face, as he lay sleeping in his mother’s arms. She was not a
discontented woman—far from it; she was young, and her eyes shone with
health and with vital interest in the things about her. But it was
rarely that she saw anyone from the world outside, and I was a stranger,
and when I owned to having been in the Northwest, she told me eagerly
that her own people and her husband’s lived “back east in Minnesota,”
where they both were born and bred.

How can I suggest the pathos of it? She was not complaining and yet, as
she went on telling me of an earlier time, it was almost as a captive
might have spoken of the wide range of living when he was free. Life in
constant contact with her friends and the breadth of their many
interests was in such striking contrast to existence on a ranch, with
the nearest neighbor thirty miles in the offing, and with never a look
from year to year over the rugged hills that formed the horizon.

One could see at a glance the opposite effects of the change upon the
two natures. Her husband, native-born and country-bred, like herself,
and schooled as a man must be whose bringing up is in a community which
draws its blood and traditions pure from New England, yet had become
more a frontiersman every year, in whom the memories of earlier things
faded fast before the dominant realities of his new surroundings. She,
on the contrary, cherished these memories of her own—her home and
friends and church associations and Chautauqua circle (she told me
particularly of that) until they were enshrined within her, and one
could but see that, however loneliness might oppress her, she had an
escape which must have furnished at times an enjoyment keener, perhaps,
than any which real experience would have brought.

I have forgotten its name, but I think that it was known as “Young’s
Valley,” a region some distance south of the “rimrock” and north of the
hills which hem in the Tonto Basin. There were several ranches there,
and a well-defined trail led on, by way of San Reno Pass, to Phœnix.
When we entered the valley Price was all for veering off to the
southwest and reaching Phœnix by the Natural Bridge, which he wished me
to see. We left the trail near the first cabin which we passed in the
valley, a deserted cabin for the time, and struck across the grass-grown
hills in search of another way. Soon we were in a maze of trails; they
were leading in every direction, but they were cattle-paths, and we came
upon herds feeding over the winter-brown hills. It was a gently rolling
country at the first, where Price had not the smallest difficulty in
steering a course; for, although he had never been there before, yet the
way had been described to him and he had no fear of losing it. Our only
danger lay, apparently, in exhausting our provisions before reaching an
inhabited region beyond. But we thought little of that, and entered
light-heartedly enough upon an exploration that was new and attractive
to us both.

Trouble began with the weakening of our burros. We had very little grain
when we left the Tonto trail, and we counted upon fodder enough from a
grazing country. But the grass grew thinner as we went, and the leanness
of the cattle attested the leanness of the land, until we began to fear
that our beasts would not have strength enough to pull through.
Moreover, the country became increasingly rough, so that the effort of
travel was the greater. Soon there came a day when our animals were weak
and tottering under their loads, and we ourselves had to begin the march
on a breakfast of tea and a few boiled beans, which exhausted our store.
Still Price was confident of getting through, and, if the burros could
hold out, there was prospect of plenty by night.

In the middle of the morning we found lying beside the trail a cow that
was plainly dying. For an hour we worked over her, trying to discover
evidences of a wound or of a broken leg, and trying, too, to ease her
pain. I left her alive regretfully, but Price advised against shooting
her.

Matters grew serious that afternoon. The trail became hopelessly lost,
so that not even Price, with his developed instinct, could find it
again. We were in the heart of the hills now, with cañons opening in
strange confusion about us. One after another we explored them, only to
find each a “box-cañon” at the end. Price was sure that our desired
country lay just beyond, and it was maddening, late in the day, to
acknowledge that he could find no way out but the one by which we
entered. It was a sorry retreat; hungry and worn we went supperless into
camp. By rare good luck, however, we hit upon camping-ground where there
was more grass than we had seen for some time, and in the morning our
burros and the pony were comparatively revived, fit again for a hard
journey. And we gave it them.

Price and I had had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours, and very
little then. Meanwhile we had been working hard in keen mountain air,
and I was so hungry by the time that we got back to the cow, now dead
beside the trail, that I proposed our eating some of her. Price quickly
put an end to the plan, however, not on hygienic grounds, but by
explaining that the cattlemen, if they found her mutilated, would
conclude that she had been killed, and would make matters lively for us
in consequence, hanging being the not uncommon penalty for this offence.

One does not keep close count of days in wandering over a frontier, and
it was only an aggravation of our plight to remember that it was not
Sunday merely but Christmas-day as well. But if Christmas heightened the
sense of hardship, it furnished an admirable setting to its end. By
trusting his instinct for a short cut, Price brought us out in the
middle of the afternoon upon open hills, from which we not only saw a
section of Young’s Valley, but, rising clear from the middle of it, a
column of blue smoke from the chimney of a ranchman’s cabin. We wasted
no time in covering the intervening miles and then we lifted,
light-heartedly, the latch of the road-gate and, with the easy assurance
of the frontier, drove our animals into the yard beside the corral. For
some reason we had not been seen from the cabin, so Price walked on to
the door, while I mounted guard over the burros. From a seat in the sun
on an old hen-coop I could watch them as they nibbled the short grass,
while from the cabin came peals of laughter, denoting that Price had
fallen among friends who were keeping Christmas festival.

I was willing enough to rest outside, knowing that we had reached a
hospitable roof and that a dinner was assured. Sitting there for some
time, I presently began to question what was keeping Price, when the
cabin-door opened and two women appeared. As they walked down the
footpath to the gate, I gathered that they were neighbors returning from
a Christmas call. But this was the least interesting inference, and I
was totally at a loss for others. The wonder grew as they came nearer.
They were young and faultlessly dressed, and one of them was beautiful.
Their dress was of the kind that charms with its perfect simplicity and
the air of natural distinction with which it is worn. They rested frank
eyes on me for a moment as they passed and nodded pleasantly, speaking
their thanks with sweet voices, as I stood holding open the gate. Who
they were remained a mystery, and I was content to have it so, for they
left me not without a sense of Christmas visitation, which stirred again
the memories of my own “God’s country.”

The ranchman was a Virginian, tall, fair-eyed, and soft of speech, and
when he and Price came out together they were stanch friends on the
strength of an earlier acquaintance, and we had the freedom of the
ranch. We unpacked and corralled the animals and then made ready for
dinner. Not for two days had we tasted food, and now we were seated with
our host and hostess and their two sons at a table which groaned under
sweet potatoes and roast corn and piles of bread and great dishes full
of steaming “hog and hominy,” and with it all, the best of Christmas
cheer. For two days we stayed at the Virginian’s ranch and then, having
purchased from him a fresh store of food, we resumed the march by way of
the Tonto Basin and Fort McDowell to Phœnix.

On New-year’s-day we were camped at Fort McDowell; and, when we set out
early on the next morning, there remained but about thirty miles to
Phœnix, so we resolved to cover it in a single march. Night found us
still some miles from the city, but the night was clear and flooded with
moonlight. The moon made plain the way, yet played fantastically over
the face of the country. Long reaches of white sand were converted into
Arabian deserts, with pilgrim caravans moving across them; the irrigated
ranches were transformed into tropical gardens, whose luxuriance was
heightened by the exquisite softness of the night, and then there were
stretches of uncompromising Arizona desert, dusty and cactus-grown and
redolent of alkali.

It was nearing midnight when we entered the town. Price directed the way
to a corral where he was known, and where we left the animals feasting
on fresh alfalfa, while we fared forth to see his friends. It was
precisely as though Price had invited me around to his club. He led the
way to a saloon, and as we entered it, I saw at once its typical
character. At the left of the entrance was a bar, gorgeous with mirrors
and cut glass, while down the deep recesses of the room were faro and
roulette tables and tables for poker. The groups about them were formed
of “cow-punchers,” and prospectors and “Greasers” and Chinamen, and even
Indians, all mingling and intermingling with a freedom that suggested
that in gambling there is a touch of nature that makes the whole world
kin.

But more immediately interesting to us was a group which stood beside
the bar. It was made up, as I found, of politicians, high in territorial
office, all of whom knew Price and hailed him cordially while asking
after his luck. For some time we stood talking with them, then one of
their number, himself not a politician but a business man, proposed our
joining him at supper. We accepted, I the more delightedly because he,
of all the group, had most attracted me. Tall and very handsome, he had
the bearing of a gentleman, and what he told me of himself confirmed my
own impression of a richly varied past. Far into the night we talked,
and I could well believe him when he said that the fascination of the
life which he had led on the frontier had so far grown upon him that,
while he was glad to go back at times to his former home in New York, he
could no longer remain contented there, hearing as he always did after a
few months, at most, the call back to the wild freedom of the plains. It
was under the spell of what he said, enforced by my little experience as
a “burro-puncher,” that I went to sleep that night on a bed of alfalfa
in the corral; and when I wakened in the morning and found letters
urging my return to the East, I was conscious of an indifference to the
idea which was wholly new to my experience.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         INCIDENTS OF THE SLUMS



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         INCIDENTS OF THE SLUMS


If anything is wanting to darken the picture of life in city slums, it
is a sense of the needlessness of much of the suffering. And this is the
sense which I cannot escape in looking back upon a winter in Chicago,
from the vantage point of nearly a year of walking and working through
regions west of that city. I left Chicago in May of 1892, and entered
San Francisco in February of the following year, having gone on foot, in
the meantime, through Illinois and southern Minnesota and western Iowa,
and almost from end to end of Nebraska and Colorado and through some of
New Mexico and much of Arizona and California. It was not in the
character of a tramp, but as a wage-earner, that I made the journey; and
the only notable fact about it was that I not only never lacked for
labor, but I almost never had to ask for it, having scores of
opportunities of work pressed upon me by employers hard up for hands. I
am well aware of the abnormal in my experiment and of its little worth
apart from the value of experience to myself, and I know how slight a
connection with the deeper causes which give rise to congestion in labor
centres the fact of ready employment in the country may have. Yet, as
one result of personal contact, I cannot help seeing much of the misery
of the mass in the light of individuals suffering wretchedly for want of
knowledge of a better chance.

We speak in old-fashioned phrase of a city’s slums as though they were a
local evil in the town, quite remote in connection with the rest of the
corporate whole, while in truth we know, in our haunting, new-found
knowledge of social solidarity, that they form a sore which denotes
disease in every part of the body politic. The conviction grows upon us
that it is often at the cost of much suffering to our kind that we have
food to eat and raiment to put on, and the immunity from personal
responsibility which once we felt in paying high prices for our wares is
fast being undermined by increased acquaintance with the ramifications
of the “sweating system.” Indeed, we seem to see that, from the very
frame of things, if one enjoys, another suffers, and that the unwitting
oppressors of the poor are often the poor themselves, while the
destruction of the poor is their poverty. Men tell us that things were
growing worse, and that hope lies that way, because it points to
ultimate dissolution and a new order. I find it impossible to share this
form of optimism, and I cannot see that things are really getting worse,
but rather incomparably better as measured, for example, by the standard
of the last century of industrial progress. And so far from seeing hope
in a belief that matters are getting worse, I find it rather in the view
that much that is worst in modern life is fast becoming intolerable in a
society which grows increasingly conscious of vital interdependence and
relationship. Meanwhile the concrete facts remain, and here is a glimpse
of some of them as they appear in a partial record of fragments of two
days’ experience in Chicago.

I was working as a hand-truckman in a factory far out on Blue Island
Avenue. My wages were $1.50 a day, and I was paying for board and
lodging, in a tenement across the way, $4.25 a week. As one result, I
was saving money and would soon be able to leave the job and write up my
notes, while widening my acquaintance with the town before looking for
other work. Already I had a little knowledge of the city. For two weeks
after entering it I had been among its unemployed and had suffered some
and had seen the real suffering among others of my class, before I found
occupation in a West-side factory.

It was during those two weeks that I came to know a widow, with whom
this tale is first concerned. I met her early in December; it was now
nearing the end of January, and we factory hands were marking with
delight the lengthening of the days, for we were beginning to have a
little daylight left when work was over. At last one afternoon the
setting sun came pouring through the kitchen window while we were
washing up for supper at Mrs. Schultz’s boarding-house. That was because
it was Saturday, and we had quit at five o’clock, being given, as was
the custom in the factory, a half hour on Saturday afternoons.

The usual week’s end excitement was running high among the men. Gibes
and louder talk than common were rife, as black hands and faces came
white from soap and successive basins of hot water. Some of the men were
going in the evening to a “show,” others to a “fancy-dress ball,” and a
few were saying nothing. We scattered widely after supper, leaving the
house to the family, which must have been a welcome change to them, for
generally, through the week, we all foregathered in the sitting-room at
night and romped with the children and played cards until bed-time.

Mrs. Stone will serve as the widow’s name, and my first errand that
evening took me to her home, which was in the basement of a building on
Boston Avenue. We were both concerned in pressing a claim which she had
upon her husband’s people, a highly just claim, I thought; for he had
deserted her some time before his death, leaving her alone in the
support of herself and their two children. Why she had ever come to the
city, I could never make clearly out, beyond what had seemed to be to
her a strong appeal to her reason that, if she must make her own living
and the children’s, she could hope to do it better in town than in the
country where she was born and bred. And the marvel was that she had
succeeded in keeping them all alive. The city had, of course, furnished
an awful disillusionment. The children proved an insuperable barrier to
employment at domestic service, and, failing to find any other labor,
she was rescued finally from starvation by getting a job from a
“sweater.” She deserved success, for she was an heroic creature. To hear
her describe the struggle, you would gather that hers had been the best
of luck. She merely wanted a chance to work, so that they might live;
and had she not found it, just when she thought, for lack of it, that
they must starve?

From the sweater’s shop she would carry the goods two miles to her home,
walking both ways, for she could not afford car-fare. Then all day and
through much of the night she made the garments. They were boys’ waists,
and the materials, ready cut, besides the necessary thread and buttons,
were furnished her. There was left for her to do all the remaining work,
down to sewing on the buttons and making the button-holes, and she was
paid for the finished waists at the rate of thirty-five cents a dozen.

It was hard, she did admit, to feed and clothe her family and pay the
rent on a wage-rate like that, and she was near to going under when
another and a crowning stroke of fortune fell. In answer to a notice
tacked on her door, two women, who worked in a neighboring book-bindery,
applied for board, and each agreed to pay two dollars a week. The five
then lived together in the basement-room, whose furniture consisted
chiefly of dry-goods boxes, but the boarders took kindly to the home and
the children, and things had gone comfortably ever since. Gradually the
children, a boy of nine and a girl two years younger, were learning to
help at some of the simpler forms of sewing and in the housework.

This, I beg to interpolate, was the small beginning of Mrs. Stone’s
success. Haying shrewdness as well as energy, she soon discovered that
keeping boarders was more profitable than making waists, and so she
developed that side of her enterprise. When I saw her last, in the
following May, she was mistress of a well-appointed mechanics’
boarding-house on Milwaukee Avenue, but her troubles had taken new form,
for the contamination of the slums had begun to appear in her son, who
was fast developing into an incorrigible, and she had sent for me in
order to consult about a plan of placing him in a reformatory.

But to return to the February evening, on which I called to talk with
Mrs. Stone about a claim upon her husband’s people: I found her at home.
One ran little risk of failing to find Mrs. Stone at home, her
engagements abroad being confined to trips to the sweater’s shop for
materials. I heard the swift clatter of her sewing-machine as I walked
down the steps from the filthy pavement to the door of the basement
where she lived. The room had always to me an effect of being
brilliantly lighted. It was due to the illumination of two large lamps
which were kept faultlessly clean and were burning often in the day as
well as night, and in part to the general cleanliness of the room, not
to mention the cheerfulness which radiated from Mrs. Stone. She turned
from her machine as I drew up an empty soap-box and sat down in front of
her, and one would have thought, from the contagion of her manner, that
she never knew any mood but one of hopeful courage. But she had no time
to spare, and when our talk was ended, she turned again to work, while I
went over to another corner and chatted with the children and the
boarders.

I was waiting for my friend Kovnitz, whom I had asked to meet me there.
Kovnitz was himself employed in the same trade as Mrs. Stone, although
in quite another branch of it. He was a coatmaker, and had been brought
up to work under the sweating system. Much of the value of his
acquaintance, apart from my personal liking for him, lay for me in his
thorough knowledge of the trade. He was a socialist, and a very ardent
one; but his efforts for reform were directed mainly toward effecting
organization among the workers of his kind, and with this I warmly
sympathized. We were to go together in the evening to a gathering of the
cloak-makers, and, when he appeared at Mrs. Stone’s, we lost no time in
starting for the meeting-place on the South-side.

One was never at a loss for conversation with Kovnitz, but it was always
conversation which had to do with the condition of his class. That was
uppermost and foremost in his mind. Other things interested him only as
they were related to that. Although a collectivist, he wasted little
thought upon a future socialistic state, and he cared little for present
concerted political action in his party. The one supreme necessity, in
his view, was that all wage-earners should be led to act together as a
class, until their predominance in an industrial age is recognized. When
once wage-workers are known to be the most powerful as a class, then
social institutions will change in accordance with their interests. It
was curious to see how this, the central principle of his creed,
absorbed him. It was the criterion of all his judgments, and it gave
color and meaning to everything he saw. Generally he noticed little of
what was about him. The inferno of those city streets at night seemed
not to impress him as we passed. All the varied play of life upon them
did not divert him from preoccupation in what he was telling me of the
work of organization among wage-earners. Once only his attention was
drawn off, and even then his habitual cast of thought moulded the new
impression. In glancing up, his eyes had fallen upon a building newly
occupied as a department store. It was Saturday evening, and, for some
reason, the place was still open. Streams of shoppers were entering the
doors and pouring from them. More even than by day, the store gave at
night an impression of a bee-hive in full activity. The swarming of the
crowds within, the lights from a hundred windows, and the brave array of
goods formed the outer picture. But Kovnitz said nothing of that.

“There are two men in that store who are as different in general
character as men can be,” he remarked to me, as we stood at the curb.
“One of them,” he went on, “is a man of scholarly instincts. He is a
disciple of Kant, and knows the Kantian philosophy well. Just now he is
giving his leisure to reading Goethe. He is an enthusiast in philosophy
and literature, and a man of really fine sensibilities. The other chap
is a human brute, and looks it. Nothing interests him beyond his
business and his dissipations. Both of these men are at the head of
departments of ready-made garments in the store, and I know that they
both draw salaries of $4,000 a year. They have good business heads, and
manage their departments well, but what makes them specially valuable to
their employers is the fact that they know thoroughly the sweating
system. They keep carefully informed on the condition of the labor
market, and the demand for work; and, when the competition is keenest
among the sub-contractors and the workers, they know how to pit the
bidders against one another, until the tasks are finally let out at the
lowest possible figures. Mrs. Stone is making boys’ waists for
thirty-five cents a dozen, and there are more than 20,000 sweatshops in
Chicago where similar prices prevail, and Chicago is but one of a score
of cities in this country where sweating is in vogue.”

Late that night, after the labor meeting, I was passing the store again.
I was alone, for Kovnitz had gone home another way. The street lay
quiet, and almost deserted through its length, and I could hear the echo
of my tread under the glare of electrics. The sound of jangling music
came faintly from a long line of almost continuous saloons. There was
some movement in front of them which contrasted sharply with the general
desertion of the street.

One is rarely at a loss to trace the antecedents of a sharp impression,
and I can remember clearly that I was conscious of a man and woman who
stood talking in low tones as I passed, and who disappeared that moment
into an open passage. The next instant I was keenly alive to them, for I
heard the woman scream as though in mortal fear, and turning, I saw the
man dragging her violently out upon the pavement. Events followed one
another then in quick succession. I was near enough to watch them at
close range, and I had the sense of interpreting them as they moved. I
saw the instant flash of anger in the face of a young mechanic who stood
near, and the first quick thrust of his arm which sent the man reeling
from the girl, then the swift onslaught of the two men, and I heard the
rain of blows and oaths, and the loud asseverations of the one attacked
that he was an officer, while the crowd thickened about them, and the
girl pleaded piteously to be loosed from the grasp of someone who held
her.

Two officers in uniform came down upon us from opposite quarters, and
the fighting gave way to noisy explanations. It developed then that the
attack had been made upon an officer in citizens’ clothes who was doing
detective duty against street-walkers. But he was wholly to blame for
the disturbance, I thought; for he had handled his prisoner with
needless violence, and the blow from the mechanic was so obviously the
instinctive, chivalrous act of a man who sees a woman ill-treated.
Technically, however, he was guilty of “resisting an officer while in
the discharge of his duty,” and he must answer for it, so that the group
which started for the Harrison Street Station-house was made up of the
three officers, the girl, the mechanic, and four or five stragglers, of
whom I was one.

It was easy to learn at the station what course the case had taken. Both
prisoners were admitted to bail, and bondsmen having been found, they
went free that night under a charge to appear before the court on a
certain morning of the following week. When the morning came I was on
hand too, for by that time I had given up my job in the factory.

I went early, not knowing at what hour the case might come up, and;
although there were already many persons seated on the wooden forms, I
looked carefully through both of the court-rooms without seeing those in
whom my interest lay. Finding a vacant seat in the inner room, I sat
there, watching intently the changing groups at the bar. They were made
up of the commonest criminals of the town, and it was rare that a novice
appeared to disturb the atmosphere of perfect naturalness. Law-breakers
they were without question; the magistrate knew them as well as the
police, and frequently he spoke to them by familiar names, reminding
them of earlier warnings and threatening them with severer penalties for
the future. It was a sort of clearing-house, where a certain residuum of
habitual criminals was dealt with by a doctrine of averages in an effort
to regulate and control the crime inevitable in a great city.

Sitting beside me on the form was a young girl, plainly dressed, with an
air of perfect neatness. Her gloved hands lay folded in her lap and in
one of them she held a purse. Her mackintosh of dark material was
unbuttoned and thrown open, with the cape falling loosely over her arms.
It was the trimness of her hair and a certain trig simplicity in her hat
which struck me first, and, when she spoke, the tone and manner were in
keeping with her quietness of dress.

“Will you tell me, please, what time it is?” she asked, and, having
learned the hour, “What are _you_ up for?” she continued, abruptly.

There was nothing about her which had in the least prepared me for the
question, and I floundered about in an explanation that I was there
merely out of interest in a case which I expected to come up in the
course of the morning.

She smiled wearily at that, regarding me with eyes which asked whether I
knew how young I was and how dreary that sort of thing made her feel. I
was afraid that I had cut short the conversation and was delighted when
she continued, quite simply:

“_I’m_ up for shop-lifting. It was at Walker’s, and it was the hardest
luck, for I had everything well concealed. But they suspected me, and,
when they brought me here, the matron searched me and soon found the
goods. And there I was, red-handed! Now I’m trying to think up some
story, but the judge knows me and he warned me well last time.”

It was charming then, for we fell to talking as though we had known each
other long. Her small gray eyes that looked straight into mine were as
frank and innocent as a child’s. There was little beauty but an entire
composure in the lines of her face, heightened by a natural pallor very
becoming to her. Her features betrayed no nervousness, and one saw the
change of feeling only in her eyes and in a subtle quality in her smile
which was expressive and sometimes sweet.

We were two children, who had met by chance, and, sitting there in the
dingy light of a station-house court-room, we were presently unaware of
anything but the fact that we had a great deal to tell each other. I
told her of the mechanic and the girl, and she half believed me, and, in
turn, began to tell me of herself. There was no system in her story,
only a simple sequence of spontaneity that charmed me. I had but to
listen and watch her inscrutable face and ask questions where my dull
intuitions were at fault. In the foreground was the incident of
shop-lifting, and running from that was a chain of events which led back
inevitably into the distant perspective of memory. She had never an air
of giving me her confidence, rather of speaking freely as man to man.

It was bad to be caught at shop-lifting, and the more annoying because
she had so often carried it off with success. At the best, shop-lifting
was a wretched business, entailing much anxiety both in getting and
disposing of the goods. But there was the stubborn fact that one must
live. Of course she had worked as a shop-girl earning $3.50 a week. And
here she began to count up on her fingers the items of bare subsistence
with their cost, and the smile with which she concluded was touched with
the question, “When you have spent your all upon mere living, what have
you left to live on?” There had been something of this idea in her
protest to her employer, and he met her frankly with the assurance that,
if she found it impossible to live on her wages, it would give him
pleasure to introduce her to a “gentleman friend.” Other employments
which were open to her were no better in point of wages; some of them
were not so good, but they were all alike in offering relief by the way
suggested at the department store.

“I’m not what you’d call a ‘good girl,’” she said, “only, you know, I’d
so much rather die than do that.”

And the revulsion of the child’s nature against what to her was this
infinite terror led her to tell me of her bringing up. Her memory did
not go back to the beginning of her stay in a convent near Dublin, where
her parents placed her to be taught. Life had begun for her in the
peaceful routine of the sisterhood. All her deepest impressions were got
there, and, when as a child of twelve, she came out to emigrate with her
people to America, she was instantly in a new world on leaving the
convent walls. It had been an almost overwhelming discovery to her to
find that the standards of goodness and purity which prevailed within
were apparently almost unknown outside the convent. It staggered her
intelligence as a child, and, during a long experience of earning her
living as a girl, she had slowly constructed a philosophy of life which
was drawn from the facts of hard struggle with a world which seemed bent
upon compassing her ruin.

She spoke reverently of the teachings of the sisters, and of the
influence of their devoted work, “But you know,” she added, “I cannot
believe any longer that only those are Christians who are members of the
Catholic Church, and that all others will be lost. The world would be
too horrible, if that were true. To be a Christian must be simply to
follow Christ.”

It was from this revery that we were roused by the loud calling of her
name. I watched her walk to the bar and stand there with perfect
composure, while the clerk read the indictment, and the witnesses were
mechanically sworn, and the girl was heard, and the magistrate gave his
verdict.

“Minnie,” he said, in closing, “I told you, when you were here last,
that the next time you came up, you should go to the Bridewell, and now
to the Bridewell you shall go. Minnie, why can’t a smart girl like you
be decent?”

Her profile was toward me, and I saw a faint smile play for a moment on
the clear lines of her face.

“Your honor,” she replied, “it is a little late now, but when I began to
earn my living I wanted nothing so much as the chance to be decent.”

Meanwhile, two reporters were quickly sketching her where she stood—a
singularly well-poised figure—while others were noting the salient facts
of the case; for it was a good “story,” having already attracted
attention. With wide notoriety as a thief, she went to prison that day,
and, when she came out, a not too hospitable world was the more on its
guard against her. An officer accompanied her from the room, but she did
not forget to nod to me and smile as she passed out.

Engrossed as I had been in Minnie, I had not noticed the coming of the
mechanic and the girl whose case had drawn me there. I saw them now when
I looked around. The sight of the girl was perplexing at first, for she
sat with another woman at the end of a neighboring form, and they looked
so much alike that I could not distinguish the one who was there on
trial. Crossing the passage, I asked leave to sit beside them. They drew
up at once to make room for me, and I saw then that, the girl next me
was the prisoner. The other was a twin sister, as she frankly told me,
and the resemblance fully sustained her. I explained that I had come to
the station-house because I happened to see the affair of a few nights
before, and was anxious to find what course it would take in court. The
girl agreed with me that the mechanic was in no way to blame.

“He never know’d that it was an officer that was draggin’ me down the
steps, and out into the street. I never know’d it neither till I see his
star under his coat. I thought he was crazy, and was goin’ to kill me
like ‘Jack the Ripper.’” She was a girl in age, and obviously one of the
most helpless of her order.

There is a common impression that such women are attracted to their ruin
by vanity and a love of dress. You lose that idea among the wrecks who
walk the city streets at night. Anything to flatter their vanity or to
gratify their taste is the least likely of all possible experiences to
most of them. It is a matter of keeping soul and body together. Some are
dexterous pick-pockets, who make large hauls at times—not always,
however, for themselves; most are ill-fed, ill-dressed slaves, who, when
their tributes are paid, are penniless. Any degree of viciousness may be
found among them, and you may find as well a high degree of the
innocence of the unmoral, the sense of morality completely lost in the
instinct of self-preservation.

The girl beside me was like fragile porcelain, her thin lips and
nostrils and delicate skin all marred by a pasty, white unwholesomeness.
There was a hectic flush in her sister’s face and her eyes were ablaze
with disease. We were talking about the case and drifted naturally into
further talk about themselves. They were orphans and had long supported
themselves by working in a tobacco factory, but there their health had
failed, and when they were well enough to work again, they found
employment in a laundry. To supplement the “sweating” wages, they had
taken to street-walking, and then their end was near. But they spoke as
frankly of this last as a “business” as of the earlier occupations, and
you saw that, to their thinking, it was only a degree more complete a
sale of soul and body.

“But business is poor,” the ill sister was saying, presently, “and I
ain’t very well, which I wouldn’t mind, but there’s my baby, and, if
anything happens to me, who’s goin’ to take care of him? You don’t think
I’ve got consumption, do you?” And she turned upon me a face with the
cheeks sunk to the bone and the eyes dilating with the fire which was
burning out her life.

When our case came up, it went through without a hitch. The officer told
his story with a pompousness that was due to wounded pride and he dwelt
over-much upon his efforts to make his assailant understand from the
first that he himself was a member of the force. The girl was simplicity
and frankness itself; not an effort to conceal her character, but a
straightforwardness about the officer’s brutal roughness which threw it
into strong relief. But the young mechanic was the best. He was new to
courts as he abundantly proved, and when his turn came to testify, he
stood licking his dry lips like one with stage-fright. Speech came
haltingly from him at the first, while his face flushed, but the sense
of injustice urged him on to a perfectly clear statement of how, while
“doing the town,” he had seen this girl ill-treated and had struck the
man without knowing that he was an officer.

I knew that all was well, for I saw a smile pass vaguely now and then
over the magistrate’s face, and when he spoke, the girl was dismissed
with a fine and the young mechanic with a friendly warning against
“doing the town,” while the officer was held up in open court for
reproof and told that, if he knew no better how to handle his prisoners,
he was ignorant of the first principles of the special service to which
he had been assigned.

It is only a few steps from the station-house to the heart of the
business section of the city. I passed through it now, as I often did,
for the sake of the feeling that it gives one of the reach and strength
of the industrial forces which are centred there. Here is no sense of
failure or of loss, but of energy and skill trained to high efficiency
in the co-operation of productive powers. Men are there producing for
all mankind, and in spite of the present waste of human life, I cannot
doubt that, with the problems of production so widely solved, the genius
of the race is turning surely to the subtler questions of a fairer
distribution.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).





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