Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
An Aged Laborer

By Richard Jefferies

(English essayist and nature student, 1848–1887)
FOR weeks and weeks the stark black oaks stood straight out of the snow as masts of ships with furled sails frozen and ice-bound in the haven of the deep valley. Never was such a long winter.  1
  One morning a laboring man came to the door with a spade, and asked if he could dig the garden, or try to, at the risk of breaking the tool in the ground. He was starving; he had had no work for six months, he said, since the first frost started the winter. Nature and the earth and the gods did not trouble about him, you see. Another aged man came once a week regularly; white as the snow through which he walked. In summer he worked; since the winter began he had had no employment, but supported himself by going round to the farms in rotation. He had no home of any kind. Why did he not go into the workhouse? “I be afeared if I goes in there they’ll put me with the rough ’uns, and very likely I should get some of my clothes stole.” Rather than go into the workhouse, he would totter round in the face of the blasts that might cover his weak old limbs with drift. There was a sense of dignity and manhood left still; his clothes were worn, but clean and decent; he was no companion of rogues; the snow and frost, the straw of the outhouses, was better than that. He was struggling against age, against nature, against circumstances; the entire weight of society, law and order pressed upon him to force him to lose his self-respect and liberty. He would rather risk his life in the snow-drift. Nature, earth and the gods did not help him; sun and stars, where were they? He knocked at the doors of the farms and found good in man only—not in Law or Order, but in individual man alone.  2

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