THE COMING OF SLIPPY MCGEE
On a cold gray morning in December two members of my flock, Poles who spoke but little English and that little very badly, were on their way to their daily toil in the canning factory. It is a long walk from the Poles’ quarters to the factory, and the workpeople must start early, for one is fined half an hour’s time if one is five minutes late. The short-cut is down the railroad tracks that run through the mill district—for which cause we bury a yearly toll of the children of the poor.
Just beyond the freight sheds, signal tower, and water tank, is a grade crossing where so many terrible things have happened that the colored people call that place Dead Man’s Crossin’ and warn you not to go by there of nights because the signal tower is haunted and Things lurk in the rank growth behind the water tank, coming out to show themselves after dark. If you must pass it then you would better turn your coat inside out, pull down your sleeves over your hands, and be very careful to keep three fingers twisted for a Sign. This is a specific against most ha’nts, though by no means able to scare away all of them. Those at Dead Man’s Crossin’ are peculiarly malignant and hard to scare. Maum Jinkey Delette saw one there once, coming down the track faster than an express train, bigger than a cow, and waving both his legs in his hands. Poor old Maum Jinkey was so scared that she chattered her new false teeth out of her mouth, and she never found those teeth to the day of her death, but had to mumble along as best she could without them.
Hurrying by Dead Man’s Crossin’, the workmen stumbled over a man lying beside the tracks; his clothing was torn to shreds, he was wet with the heavy night dew and covered with dirt, cinders, and partly congealed blood, for his right leg had been ground to pulp. Peering at this horrible object in the wan dusk of the early morning, they thought he was dead like most of the others found there.
For a moment the men hesitated, wondering whether it wouldn’t be better to leave him there to be found and removed by folks with more time at their disposal. One doesn’t like to lose time and be consequently fined, on account of stopping to pick up a dead tramp; particularly when Christmas is drawing near and money so much needed that every penny counts.
The thing on the ground, regaining for a fraction of a second a glint of half-consciousness, quivered, moaned feebly, and lay still again. Humanity prevailing, the Poles looked about for help, but as yet the place was quite deserted. Grumbling, they wrenched a shutter off the Agent’s window, lifted the mangled tramp upon it, and made straight for the Parish House; when accidents such as this happened to men such as this, weren’t the victims incontinently turned over to the Parish House people? Indeed, there wasn’t any place else for them, unless one excepted the rough room at the jail; and the average small town jail—ours wasn’t any exception to the rule—is a place where a decent veterinary would scruple to put a sick cur. With him the Poles brought his sole luggage, a package tied up in oilskin, which they had found lying partly under him.