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John Sanders, Laborer
by [?]

[The outlines of this story were given me by my friend Augustus Thomas, whose plays are but an index to the tenderness of his own nature.]

He came from up the railroad near the State line. Sanders was the name on the pay-roll,–John Sanders, laborer. There was nothing remarkable about him. He was like a hundred others up and down the track. If you paid him off on Saturday night you would have forgotten him the next week, unless, perhaps, he had spoken to you. He looked fifty years of age, and yet he might have been but thirty. He was stout and strong, his hair and beard cropped short. He wore a rough blue jumper, corduroy trousers, and a red flannel shirt, which showed at his throat and wrists. He wore, too, a leather strap buckled about his waist.

If there was anything that distinguished him it was his mouth and eyes, especially when he smiled. The mouth was clean and fresh, the teeth snow-white and regular, as if only pure things came through them; the eyes were frank and true, and looked straight at you without wavering. If you gave him an order he said, “Yes, sir,” never taking his gaze from yours until every detail was complete. When he asked a question it was to the point and short.

The first week he shoveled coal on a siding, loading the yard engines. Then Burchard, the station-master, sent him down to the street crossing to flag the trains for the dump carts filling the scows at the long dock.

This crossing right-angled a deep railroad cut half a mile long. On the level above, looking down upon its sloping sides, staggered a row of half-drunken shanties with blear-eyed windows, and ragged roofs patched and broken; some hung over on crutches caught under their floor timbers. Sanders lived in one of these cabins,–the one nearest the edge of the granite retaining-wall flanking the street crossing.

Up the slopes of this railroad cut lay the refuse of the shanties,–bottomless buckets, bits of broken chairs, tomato cans, rusty hoops, fragments of straw matting, and other debris of the open lots. In the summer-time a few brave tufts of grass, coaxed into life by the warm sun, clung desperately to an accidental level, and now and then a gay dandelion flamed for a day or two and then disappeared, cut off by some bedouin goat. In the winter there were only patches of blackened snow, fouled by the endless smoke of passing trains, and seamed with the short-cut footpaths of the yard men.

There were only two in Sanders’s shanty,–Sanders and his crippled daughter, a girl of twelve, with a broken back. She barely reached the sill when she stood at the low window to watch her father waving his flag. Bent, hollow-eyed, shrunken; her red hair cropped short in her neck; her poor little white fingers clutching the window-frame. “The express is late this morning,” or “No. 14 is on time,” she would say, her restless, eager blue eyes glancing at the clock, or “What a lot of ashes they do be haulin’ to-day!” Nothing else was to be seen from her window.

When the whistle blew she took down the dinner-pail, filled it with potatoes and the piece of pork hot from the boiling pot, poured the coffee in the tin cup, put on the cover, and, limping to the edge of the retaining-wall, lowered it over by a string to her father. Sanders looked up and waved his hand, and the girl went back to her post at the window.

When the night came he would light the kerosene lamp in their one room and read aloud the stories from the Sunday papers, she listening eagerly and asking him questions he could not answer, her eyes filling with tears or her face breaking into smiles. This summed up her life.