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.
Moleskin Joe
(From “Children of the Dead End”)

By Patrick MacGill

(A young Irishman, called the “Navvy poet”; born 1890. From the age of twelve to twenty a farm laborer, ditch-digger and quarryman. As this work goes to press, he is fighting with his regiment in Flanders)
’TWAS towards the close of a fine day on the following summer that we were at work in the dead end of a cutting, Moleskin and I, when I, who had been musing on the quickly passing years, turned to Moleskin and quoted a line from the Bible.  1
  “Our years pass like a tale that is told,” I said.  2
  “Like a tale that is told damned bad,” answered my mate, picking stray crumbs of tobacco from his waistcoat pocket and stuffing them into the heel of his pipe. “It’s a strange world, Flynn. Here today, gone tomorrow; always waiting for a good time comin’ and knowin’ that it will never come. We work with one mate this evenin’, we beg for crumbs with another on the mornin’ after. It’s a bad life, ours, and a poor one, when I come to think of it, Flynn.”  3
  “It is all that,” I assented heartily.  4
  “Look at me!” said Joe, clenching his fists and squaring his shoulders. “I must be close on forty years, maybe on the graveyard side of it, for all I know. I’ve horsed it ever since I can mind; I’ve worked like a mule for years, and what have I to show for it all today, matey? Not the price of an ounce of tobacco! A midsummer scarecrow wouldn’t wear the duds that I’ve to wrap around my hide! A cockle-picker that has no property only when the tide is out is as rich as I am. Not the price of an ounce of tobacco! There is something wrong with men like us, surely, when we’re treated like swine in a sty for all the years of our life. It’s not so bad here, but it’s in the big towns that a man can feel it most. No person cares for the like of us, Flynn. I’ve worked nearly ev’rywhere; I’ve helped to build bridges, dams, houses, ay, and towns! When they were finished, what happened” Was it for us—the men who did the buildin’—to live in the homes that we built, or walk through the streets that we laid down? No earthly chance of that! It was always, ‘Slide! we don’t need you any more,’ and then a man like me, as helped to build a thousand houses big as castles, was hellish glad to get the shelter of a ten-acre field and a shut-gate between me and the winds of night. I’ve spent all my money, have I? It’s bloomin’ easy to spend all that fellows like us can earn. When I was in London I saw a lady spend as much on fur to decorate her carcase with as would keep me in beer and tobacco for all the rest of my life. And that same lady would decorate a dog in ribbons and fol-the-dols, and she wouldn’t give me the smell of a crust when I asked her for a mouthful of bread. What could you expect from a woman who wears the furry hide of some animal round her neck, anyhow? We are not thought as much of as dogs, Flynn. By God! them rich buckos do eat an awful lot. Many a time I crept up to a window just to see them gorgin’ themselves.”  5
  “I have looked in at windows too,” I said.  6
  “Most men do,” answered Joe. “You’ve heard of old Moses goin’ up the hill to have a bit peep at the Promist Land. He was just like me and you, Flynn, wantin’ to have a peep at the things which he’d never lay his claws on.”  7
  “Those women who sit half-naked at the table have big appetites,” I said.  8
  “They’re all gab and guts, like young crows,” said Moleskin. “And they think more of their dogs than they do of men like me and you. I’m an Antichrist!”  9
  “A what?”  10
  “One of them sort of fellows as throws bombs at kings.”  11
  “You mean an Anarchist.”  12
  “Well, whatever they are, I’m one. What is the good of kings, of fine-feathered ladies, of churches, of anything in the country, to men like me and you?”  13

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