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Jo, The Crossing Sweeper
by [?]

Jo lives in a ruinous place, known to the likes of him by the name of Tom-all-Alone’s. It is a black dilapidated street, avoided by all decent people; where the crazy houses were seized upon when their decay was far advanced, by some bold vagrants, who, after establishing their possession, took to letting them out in lodgings.

Jo sweeps his crossing all day long, and if he is asked a question he replies that he “don’t know nothink.” He knows that it’s hard to keep the mud off the crossing in dirty weather, and harder still to live by doing it. Nobody taught him that much–he found it out.

Indeed, everything poor Jo knows he has had to find out for himself, for no one has even taken the trouble to tell him his real name.

It must be a strange state to be like Jo, not to know the feeling of a whole suit of clothes–to wear even in summer the same queer remnant of a fur cap; to be always dirty and ragged; to shuffle through the streets, unfamiliar with the shapes, and in utter darkness as to the meaning, of those mysterious symbols so abundant over the doors and at corners of the streets, and on the doors and in the windows. To see people read, and to see people write, and to see the postman deliver letters, and not to have the least idea of all that language,–to be to all of it stone blind and dumb.

It must be very puzzling to be hustled and jostled, and moved on, and to really feel that I have no business here or there or anywhere; and yet to be perplexed by the consideration that I am here somehow, too, and everybody overlooked me until I became the creature that I am.

One cold winter night when Jo was shivering near his crossing, a stranger passed him; turned, looked at him intently, then came back and began to ask him questions from which he found out that Jo had not a friend in the world.

“Neither have I, not one,” added the man, and gave him the price of a supper and lodging. And from that day Jo was no longer friendless, for the stranger often spoke to him, and asked him whether he slept sound at night, and how he bore cold and hunger; and whether he ever wished to die; and other strange questions. Then when the man had no money he would say, “I am as poor as you to-day, Jo,” but when he had any he always shared it with Jo.

But there came a time not long after this, when the stranger was found dead in his bed, in the house of Crook, the rag-and-bottle merchant, where he had lodgings; and nothing could be found out about his life or the reason for his sudden death. So a jury had to be brought together to ferret out the mystery, if possible, and to discover whether the man’s death was accidental or whether he died by his own hand. No one knew him, and he had never been seen talking to a human soul except the boy that swept the crossing, down the lane over the way, round the corner,–otherwise Jo.

So Jo was called in as a witness at the inquest. Says the coroner, “Is that boy here?”

Says the beadle, “No, sir, he is not here.”

Says the coroner, “Go and fetch him then.”

“Oh, here’s the boy, gentlemen!”

Here he is, very muddy, very hoarse, very ragged. Now, boy! But stop a minute. Caution. This boy must be put through a few preliminary paces.

Name Jo. Nothink else that he knows on. Don’t know that everybody has two names. Don’t know that Jo is short for a longer name. Thinks it long enough for him. Spell it? No. He can’t spell it. No father, no mother, no friends. Never been to school. What’s home? Knows a broom’s a broom, and knows it’s wicked to tell a lie. Don’t recollect who told him about the broom or about the lie, but knows both. Can’t exactly say what’ll be done to him after he’s dead if he tells a lie to the gentleman here, but believes it’ll be something wery bad to punish him, and so he’ll tell the truth. “He wos wery good to me, he wos,” added the boy, wiping his eyes with his wretched sleeves. “When I see him a-laying so stritched out just now, I wished he could have heerd me tell him so. He wos wery good to me, he wos.”