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Jo, The Crossing Sweeper
by [?]

“But where?” cries the boy.

“Well, really, constable, you know,” says Mr. Snagsby, “really that does seem a question. Where, you know?”

“My instructions don’t go to that,” replies the constable. “My instructions are that this boy is to move on, and the sooner you’re five miles away the better for all parties.”

Jo shuffles away from the spot where he has been standing, picking bits of fur from his cap and putting them in his mouth; but before he goes Mr. Snagsby loads him with some broken meats from the table, which he carries away hugging in his arms.

Jo goes on, down to Blackfriars Bridge, where he finds a baking stony corner wherein to settle his repast. There he sits munching and gnawing–the sun going down, the river running fast, the crowd flowing by him in two streams–everything passing on to some purpose, and to one end, until he is stirred up, and told to move on again.

Desperate with being moved on so many times, Jo tramps out of London down to St. Albans, where, exhausted from hunger and from exposure to extreme cold, he takes refuge in the cottage of a bricklayer’s wife. A young lady who happens to be making a charity call on the woman in the cottage–sees his feverish, excited condition, and questions him.

“I am a-being froze,” said the boy hoarsely, with his haggard gaze wandering about. “And then burnt up, and then froze, and then burnt up, ever so many times in an hour, and my head’s all sleepy, and all a-going mad like–I’m so dry–and my bones isn’t half as much bones as pains.”

“When did he come from London?” the young lady asked.

“I come from London yesterday,” said the boy himself, now flushed and hot. “I’m a-going somewheres. Somewheres,” he repeated in a louder tone. “I have been moved on and moved on, more nor I wos afore. Mrs. Snagsby, she’s allus a-watching and a-driving of me. What have I done to her? And they’re all a-watching and a-driving of me. Everyone of them’s doing of it from the time when I don’t get up to the time when I don’t go to bed. And I’m a-going somewheres, that’s where I’m a-going!”

So in an oblivious half-insensible way he shuffled out of the house. The young lady hurried after him, and presently came up with him. He must have begun his journey with some small bundle under his arm, and must have lost it or had it stolen, for he still carried his wretched fragment of a fur cap like a bundle, though he went bareheaded through the rain, which now fell fast.

He stopped when she called him, standing with his lustrous eyes fixed on her, and even arrested in his shivering fit. She urged him to go with her, and though at first he shook his head, at last he turned and followed her. She led the way to her home, where the servants, sorry for his pitiable condition, made a bed for him in a warm loft-room by the stable, where he was safely housed for the night and cared for.

The next morning the young lady was awakened at an early hour by an unusual noise outside her window, and called out to one of the men to know the meaning of it.

“It’s the boy, miss,” said he.

“Is he worse?” she asked.

“Gone, miss!”


“Dead, miss? No. Gone clean off!”

At what time of the night he had gone, or how or why, it seemed hopeless ever to divine. Every possible inquiry was made, and every place searched. The brick-kilns were examined, the cottages were visited, the woman was particularly questioned, but she knew nothing of him; the weather had been for some time too wet, and the night itself had been too wet, to admit of any tracing of footsteps. Hedge and ditch, and wall and rick, and stack were examined for a long distance round, lest the boy should be lying in such a place insensible or dead; but nothing was seen to indicate that he had ever been near. From the time when he left the loft-room he vanished, and after five days the search was given up as hopeless. Where had poor Jo moved on to now?