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Jo, The Crossing Sweeper
by [?]

The jury award their verdict of accidental death, and the stranger is hurried into a pine box and into an obscure corner of that great home for the friendless and unmourned,–the Potter’s field,–and night falls, hiding from sight the new-made grave.

With the night comes a slouching figure through the tunnel court, to the outside of the iron gate of the Potter’s field. It holds the gate with its hands, and looks in between the bars. Stands looking in for a little while. It then takes an old broom it carries, softly sweeps the step, and makes the archway clean. It does so very busily and trimly; looks in again a little while, and so departs.

Jo, is it thou? Well, well?

Though thou art neither a gentleman nor the son of a gentleman, there is an expression of gratitude and of loyalty, worthy of gentle blood, indicative of noble character, in thy muttered reason for this:—-

“He wos wery good to me, he wos.”

Once more without a friend, Jo sweeps his crossing day after day. Before the stranger came into his life, he had drifted along in his accustomed place, more unreasoning than an intelligent dog; but the hand of a human comrade had been laid in his, and it had awakened his humanity; and now as he sweeps he thinks–about the stranger–wonders where he has gone to, and how he died.

As it seemed to Jo that the world was bounded on all sides by the events in Tom-all-Alone’s, he was not at all surprised one day to have another stranger come to his crossing and ask him many questions concerning the dead man. He was glad to talk of him, to tell again all that he knew of his life and death, and to show where they had buried him. The interview over, Jo is overwhelmed to find his hand closed over a piece of money larger than he has ever owned before.

His first proceeding is to hold the piece of money to the gas-light, and to be overpowered at finding that it is yellow gold. His next is to give it a one-sided bite at the edge, as a test of its quality. His next, to put it in his mouth for safety, and to sweep the step and passage with great care. His job done, he sets off for Tom-all-Alone’s, stopping in the light of innumerable gas-lamps to produce the piece of gold, and give it another one-sided bite as a reassurance of its being genuine; and then shuffles off, back to his crossing; little dreaming–poor Jo!–that because of his presence at the inquest, and because of this interview, the rest of his existence is to be even more wretched than his past has been. He little dreams that persons great and powerful in the outer world were connected with the secret of his friend’s life and death; but it is even so, and those who fear to have anything brought to light concerning him, hire officers to hunt Jo away from Tom-all-Alone’s,–the only home he has ever known,–to keep him as far out of reach as possible, because he knew more about the stranger than any one else. He does not understand it at all, but from that minute there seems always to be an officer in sight telling him to “move on.”

At a summons to his shop one day, Mr. Snagsby, the law-stationer (in whose employ the dead man was, and who has always been kind to Jo when chance has thrown him in his way), descends to find a police constable holding a ragged boy by the arm. “Why, bless my heart,” says Mr. Snagsby, “what’s the matter?”

“This boy,” says the constable, calmly, “although he’s repeatedly told to, won’t move on.”

“I’m always a-moving on, sir,” cries the boy, wiping away his grimy tears with his arm. “Where can I possibly move to more nor I do?”

“Don’t you come none of that, or I shall make blessed short work of you,” says the constable, giving him a passionless shake. “My instructions are that you are to move on.”