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Chapter 4


Chapter IV

The babe, Tommie, died.  He went away in a white,
insignificant coffin, his small waxen hand clutching a flower that
the girl, Maggie, had stolen from an Italian.

She and Jimmie lived.

The inexperienced fibres of the boy's eyes were hardened at an
early age.  He became a young man of leather.  He lived some red
years without laboring.  During that time his sneer became chronic.
He studied human nature in the gutter, and found it no worse than
he thought he had reason to believe it.  He never conceived a
respect for the world, because he had begun with no idols that it
had smashed.

He clad his soul in armor by means of happening hilariously in
at a mission church where a man composed his sermons of "yous."
While they got warm at the stove, he told his hearers just where he
calculated they stood with the Lord.  Many of the sinners were
impatient over the pictured depths of their degradation.  They were
waiting for soup-tickets.

A reader of words of wind-demons might have been able to see
the portions of a dialogue pass to and fro between the exhorter and
his hearers.

"You are damned," said the preacher.  And the reader of sounds
might have seen the reply go forth from the ragged people: "Where's
our soup?"

Jimmie and a companion sat in a rear seat and commented upon
the things that didn't concern them, with all the freedom of
English gentlemen.  When they grew thirsty and went out their minds
confused the speaker with Christ.

Momentarily, Jimmie was sullen with thoughts of a hopeless
altitude where grew fruit.  His companion said that if he
should ever meet God he would ask for a million dollars and a
bottle of beer.

Jimmie's occupation for a long time was to stand on streetcorners
and watch the world go by, dreaming blood-red dreams at the passing
of pretty women.  He menaced mankind at the intersections of streets.

On the corners he was in life and of life.  The world was
going on and he was there to perceive it.

He maintained a belligerent attitude toward all well-dressed
men.  To him fine raiment was allied to weakness, and all good
coats covered faint hearts.  He and his order were kings, to a
certain extent, over the men of untarnished clothes, because these
latter dreaded, perhaps, to be either killed or laughed at.

Above all things he despised obvious Christians and ciphers
with the chrysanthemums of aristocracy in their button-holes.  He
considered himself above both of these classes.  He was afraid of
neither the devil nor the leader of society.

When he had a dollar in his pocket his satisfaction with existence
was the greatest thing in the world.  So, eventually, he felt
obliged to work.  His father died and his mother's years were
divided up into periods of thirty days.

He became a truck driver.  He was given the charge of a painstaking
pair of horses and a large rattling truck.  He invaded the turmoil
and tumble of the down-town streets and learned to breathe maledictory
defiance at the police who occasionally used to climb up, drag him
from his perch and beat him.

In the lower part of the city he daily involved himself in
hideous tangles.  If he and his team chanced to be in the rear he
preserved a demeanor of serenity, crossing his legs and bursting
forth into yells when foot passengers took dangerous dives beneath
the noses of his champing horses.  He smoked his pipe calmly for he
knew that his pay was marching on.

If in the front and the key-truck of chaos, he entered
terrifically into the quarrel that was raging to and fro among the
drivers on their high seats, and sometimes roared oaths and
violently got himself arrested.

After a time his sneer grew so that it turned its glare upon
all things.  He became so sharp that he believed in nothing.  To
him the police were always actuated by malignant impulses and the
rest of the world was composed, for the most part, of despicable
creatures who were all trying to take advantage of him and with
whom, in defense, he was obliged to quarrel on all possible
occasions.  He himself occupied a down-trodden position that
had a private but distinct element of grandeur in its isolation.

The most complete cases of aggravated idiocy were, to his mind,
rampant upon the front platforms of all the street cars.  At first
his tongue strove with these beings, but he eventually was superior.
He became immured like an African cow.  In him grew a majestic contempt
for those strings of street cars that followed him like intent bugs.

He fell into the habit, when starting on a long journey, of
fixing his eye on a high and distant object, commanding his horses
to begin, and then going into a sort of a trance of observation.
Multitudes of drivers might howl in his rear, and passengers might
load him with opprobrium, he would not awaken until some blue
policeman turned red and began to frenziedly tear bridles and beat
the soft noses of the responsible horses.

When he paused to contemplate the attitude of the police
toward himself and his fellows, he believed that they were the only
men in the city who had no rights.  When driving about, he felt
that he was held liable by the police for anything that might occur
in the streets, and was the common prey of all energetic officials.
In revenge, he resolved never to move out of the way of anything,
until formidable circumstances, or a much larger man than himself
forced him to it.

Foot-passengers were mere pestering flies with an insane
disregard for their legs and his convenience.  He could not
conceive their maniacal desires to cross the streets.  Their
madness smote him with eternal amazement.  He was continually
storming at them from his throne.  He sat aloft and denounced their
frantic leaps, plunges, dives and straddles.

When they would thrust at, or parry, the noses of his champing
horses, making them swing their heads and move their feet,
disturbing a solid dreamy repose, he swore at the men as fools,
for he himself could perceive that Providence had caused it clearly
to be written, that he and his team had the unalienable right to stand
in the proper path of the sun chariot, and if they so minded,
obstruct its mission or take a wheel off.

And, perhaps, if the god-driver had an ungovernable desire to
step down, put up his flame-colored fists and manfully dispute the
right of way, he would have probably been immediately opposed by a
scowling mortal with two sets of very hard knuckles.

It is possible, perhaps, that this young man would have
derided, in an axle-wide alley, the approach of a flying ferry
boat.  Yet he achieved a respect for a fire engine.  As one charged
toward his truck, he would drive fearfully upon a sidewalk,
threatening untold people with annihilation.  When an engine would
strike a mass of blocked trucks, splitting it into fragments, as a
blow annihilates a cake of ice, Jimmie's team could usually be
observed high and safe, with whole wheels, on the sidewalk.
The fearful coming of the engine could break up the most intricate
muddle of heavy vehicles at which the police had been swearing for
the half of an hour.

A fire engine was enshrined in his heart as an appalling thing
that he loved with a distant dog-like devotion.  They had been
known to overturn street-cars.  Those leaping horses, striking
sparks from the cobbles in their forward lunge, were creatures
to be ineffably admired.  The clang of the gong pierced his breast
like a noise of remembered war.

When Jimmie was a little boy, he began to be arrested.
Before he reached a great age, he had a fair record.

He developed too great a tendency to climb down from his truck
and fight with other drivers.  He had been in quite a number of
miscellaneous fights, and in some general barroom rows that had
become known to the police.  Once he had been arrested for
assaulting a Chinaman.  Two women in different parts of the city,
and entirely unknown to each other, caused him considerable
annoyance by breaking forth, simultaneously, at fateful intervals,
into wailings about marriage and support and infants.

Nevertheless, he had, on a certain star-lit evening, said wonderingly
and quite reverently: "Deh moon looks like hell, don't it?"

Stephen Crane

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