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Tahan
Chapter XXXIII Jerry, My Pal


IT was in Houston that I met unkempt, cadaverous Jerry.

Jerry was a tall man when he stood straight up and down, but he usually resembled an interrogation point. He had no teeth when I first knew him, and his face crumpled up like an accordion, every time he shut his mouth tight. He was a typical hobo, but he proved to be the best friend I ever had. He was a philosopher, and he taught me some of the greatest and most important truths of human life, and he was good.

I never learned his full name, but I called him Jerry, and he called me Injun.

My unkempt comrade of the underworld had a song which he often sang after his inner man was satisfied. The words ran as follows:

“We are two bums, two jolly old bums,
We live like royal Turks,
If we have good luck a-bummin, our chuck,
To hell with the man that works.”

We left Houston one night on top of a passenger coach bound for New Orleans, but we rode in box cars and on brake beams before we arrived.

One evening at dusk we were put off of a freight train which we had ridden all day. We were hungry and thirsty.

We sighted a large house in grounds studded with shrubbery and flowers and surrounded by a high stone wall. At the back of the lawn was a well with an old-fashioned sweep.

Under Jerry’s directions, I scaled the high iron gate, reached the well and began to lower the bucket. The sweep made a great squeaking, and presently I found myself surrounded by a lot of women in black dresses and white bonnets. They carried candles and chattered in an unknown tongue.

I was on the point of making a dash for liberty when Jerry at the gate spoke to the women in their own language. Two of them entered the house and returned with food in their kind hands. As we ate it on the curb, my comrade explained that the big house was a convent of French-speaking women.

When possible Jerry always cadged enough chuck for two, but there were days and days we didn’t have enough to eat.

One of these times, I was grumbling because I was hungry. We were sitting on the curb, and a moving-van full of furniture passed along the street. After crossing an alley it stopped. On the rear end of the van was a large mirror.

A shaggy billy goat came out of the alley. He looked into the mirror and shook his head. The goat in the mirror did the same. That was a challenge for a fight. The old billy began to back away. So did the other goat. Then there was a rear and a catapultlike movement, and a smash.

Old Billy had finished the other goat.

“Injun, yeh’re that goat,” Jerry declared to me. “This is a mighty good world,” he went on, “as that was a first-rate lookin’-glass. But yeh’re so dumed mean y’rself, that yeh think everybody else ’s th’ same. Yeh jes’ see a reflection of y’rself in other people.”

I did. Every one does. And we only do the world and ourselves harm by bumping our heads against the fact.

At another time we were in the country sitting in a fence-corner by the roadside. A well-dressed young fellow with a beautiful young girl at his side drove past.

“Jerry, it’s blamed tough,” I complained, “I can’t never do that.”

“Growlin’ again,” said Jerry. “Why, Injun, yeh c’n do that ef yeh want t’ bad enough, en air willin’ t’ pay th’ price. Look’t here!”

He held up before me a cocoon out of which a butterfly was struggling.

I knew he would draw some lesson from it, for he was always making me see the invisible in the visible.

“What about it, Jerry?” I asked. “That’s only a bug.”

“Yes, but watch that bug. Notice! He’s a-tryin’t’ git aout.”

“So I see. Why don’t yeh take y’r knife en help ’im out?” I asked.

“Worst thing I could do to it,” he said. “Why, Injun, ef I’d help this pore little bug aout of its shell, it wouldn’t be able t’ fly. It’s th’ work en th’ struggle t’ git aout that makes it strong enough to go. En’ besides, it wouldn’t look like a piece of a rainbow a-floatin’ around. It’s th’ trouble en’ th’ work en’ th’ agony it has in gittin’ aout that paints th’ beauty on its wings en’ makes it strong enough t’ fly.”

He stopped a moment, smiled at me, and went on.

“Injun, yeh’re that bug. Th’ fact that yeh want t’ git aout en’ up into whar yeh belong, is a sure sign that yeh’ll git there some day if yeh try hard enough en’ air willin’ t’ pay th’ price. Remember, Injun, yeh’re that bug,” he finished soberly, “en’ yeh cain’t git anything worth havin’ without payin’ f’r it.”

I have remembered.

Jerry and I were content with each other, but sometimes we were forced to be more democratic and travel in other company.

One night we shared our box-car with a gang of tramps. The motion of the car jostled one of them against me. In this way he found out I was carrying a small bundle. It was bread and meat which my partner and I were saving for future use.

Guessing it was food, the hobo roughly demanded it.

Had he asked me for it in a different spirit I would have given it to him cheerfully.

I blankly refused.

The hobo fastened his fingers around my throat, choked me to the floor and robbed me of the precious stuff.

When Jerry learned the trouble and protested, several of the gang set upon him. It was pitch dark, but my friend struck right and left with his big bony fists and knocked two of the fellows through the doorway.

By this time I had got free from my assailant and was groping my way toward Jerry. His voice guided me. He was roaring out big oaths which sounded to me like prayers for help.

When I reached him his fist smashed me in the face and knocked me out of the car. The train was running at good speed, but I was unhurt by the fall.

Two days later I found Jerry. He was sitting on a fence watching a gang of men at work. They were clearing away the wreckage of a train. It was the train that had carried our box-car. There had been a collision and one of the tramps was killed. Jerry escaped without injury.

We drifted into Morgan City, Louisiana. We also drifted into work.

The roustabouts on the dock were on a strike, so together with a number of our kind, we got a job loading a ship with bales of goods.

As I was coming up the gang-plank with my truck for a load, a big negro raised a club over my head.

“Drap dat truck!” he ordered.

I dropped it.

The same demand was made of each one of our gang in turn, and each made the same ready response.

But we were mad; not so much because we were forced to quit, but because that negro and his gang were, for the time, our masters.

And the captain of the ship was mad. For some reason he could get no protection from the officers of the law, and he was anxious to get his ship loaded.

We who had been forced out of our work held a council of war. We decided that if the captain would furnish us guns and ammunition we would load his cargo.

Jerry put the proposition to the captain, and he agreed to it.

He brought out three shot-guns and a sixshooter. At my earnest pleading he allowed me to take the six-shooter.

My brother “warriors” answered to my call and we charged the gang of blacks, cutting out from it the big buck who had made us surrender to his club. The rest of the gang found refuge behind the boxes and bales of goods.

Then I made the big darky dance. I cut the dust around his feet with my gun, and he went at it in good style. When he showed signs of letting up my gun would speak, the dust would fly up near his feet, and he would hoe it down in the double shuffle speedily if not gracefully.

The captain roared his laughter and shouted his encouragement. Our fellows nearly choked with the fun.

I made that black bully dance until he was dripping with perspiration and was as gentle as a Jersey cow. Then I let him go.

We went back to work, but the negroes soon capitulated and we lost our job. However, the captain paid us handsomely for breaking the strike.


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