the supertramp - W.H.Davies - proseClick image for Davies home



AS he marched us along, he made several enquiries as to our finances, to know if we were prepared to pay a fine. Being assured of this he took a very despondent view of our case.

Brum explained afterwards, when it was too late, that trespassing on the railroad was always considered a very serious offence during this month of the year, when men were returning with their small earnings from the hop fields; which were not sufficient to enable them to travel as passengers. He explained that trespassing on the railroad was not only overlooked, but was openly encouraged when men had to pick hops to fill their pockets; but as soon as those pockets were filled by picking hops, the local magistrates lost no time in giving the police strict orders to fall to, arrest and detain, so that a picker's pocket might be picked by them of his little earnings.

The marshal stopped several citizens, enquiring as to the whereabouts of a person named Stevens. To my surprise, we were not lodged for the night in the common jail, but were led into a public house, which in that country is referred to as a saloon. As we entered this place, and stood in front of its bar, we did not look much like prisoners. Brum called for four drinks, and the marshal drank his respect for us in a very friendly manner indeed, After which he took the landlord aside for a short consultation, in which I heard the man Stevens mentioned more than once, Then he came back and had another drink, this time at the expense of Australian Red. Some customers now arrived, followed by a lean, solemn looking person, whom the marshal took no time in accosting as Judge Stevens. This gentleman at once called for whiskey, then looked from the marshal to us, and from us to the marshal, at the same time nodding his head approvingly to the latter. The marshal cleared his throat and began: 'I found these men trespassing on the railroad, and at once arrested them.' The judge again nodded his head in approval to this red, burly individual, who had made a claim of being robbed of his sleep day and night, and turning to us said: 'Boys, we have to put a stop to these things, drink and follow me.' He led the way into a small back room, and we followed with the marshal, the citizens bringing up the rear. The marshal gave evidence of our arrest, making special mention of our possession of money. The judge wished to be informed of the exact amount, and being told that it was something like ten dollars each, summed up the case at once. 'Boys,' he said, 'I fine you each five dollars, in default of which you must go to Syracuse for thirty days' -at which place was the county jail. Now, I was always outspoken, and was never forced by fear, under any circumstances, to conceal my thoughts, which if I saw real injustice or hypocrisy, would be blurted out in a more dignified court than this. This mock trial, which at first had been highly amusing, exasperated when it came to paying half of my hard earnings, so I told this judge plainly that my friends might please themselves, but that he would not get one cent out of me. Brum supported me in this, but Australian Red began to finger his dollars, whereat the marshal quickly snatched them out of his hand, deducted five dollars, which he gave to the judge, and returned the rest. Judge Stevens looked at us steadily for a time, and then asked this astounding question: 'Boys, how much are you prepared to pay?' Brum, who had very little sense of justice, and being such a good beggar, set very little value on money, asked the judge if he would accept three dollars from each of us. If I had been alone at this time I would have paid nothing, but to save Brum from going to prison, who I knew would support me through all, I satisfied myself that, if the judge approved of this amount, I would pay it without further comment. The judge appeared to weigh the matter seriously, and then cried, with a magnanimity that was irresistible- 'Pass over the dollars, boys; you shall have a chance this time.'

The trial was not here ended, as most of us believed. A citizen, who had been an interested spectator of this scene, and who had been fidgeting in his seat for some time, now rose to his feet, and said- 'Where is the justice of this? These men are all guilty of the same offence, and yet one is fined five dollars, and the other two get off more leniently, with the loss of three dollars each; this certainly cannot be called justice.' At this the judge showed the first signs of passion. 'Sir,' he shouted in wrath, 'who is the judge, I or you? if you ever again interfere with our proceedings, in this manner, I shall fine you for contempt of court-contempt of court, sir, contempt of court.' This citizen and lover of justice, collapsed stricken with awe, bluffed and discouraged. 'Come, boys,' said the judge, and he led the way back to the bar. There, he produced a two dollar bill, which was part of our fine, and called for drinks for the house. We followed his example, late prisoners and citizens, and were all happy together until a late hour.

The marshal, who seemed to have a little respect for me, for having shown the spirit of free speech before the judge, took me aside and asked whether we intended to take advantage of the invitation given by the citizen who had been threatened for contempt of court-to spend the night at his house. 'I don't think so,' I said; 'we have had enough of this town, and intend leaving it to-night.' Shortly after these words we left the saloon, but had scarcely reached the street end, when I heard steps following, and to my surprise, the marshal was soon at our side. Now comes the most extraordinary part of this story, which I have often been diffident in relating, thinking it would not be credited. 'Boys,' said this burly fellow, who could not get any sleep day or night, 'get you to the railroad, and if any one interferes with you, tell them that the marshal sent you; I shall be with you in about twenty minutes.' We were soon at the railroad, were not interfered with, and the marshal followed in a short time. 'Listen,' he said to us, who were again trespassers on the railroad, at his pleasure and instigation: 'There is a train already made up to start in five minutes' time; get into this empty car, and by heavens, no man shall interfere with you.' Which we did, and when the train started, the marshal was there, beside the car, wishing us a pleasant good-bye. 'Why,' said Brum, when I commented in astonishment at all this, 'it is nothing unusual. One day,' he began, 'I was in a small town in Ohio. Seeing a freight train leaving the station, I leaped into an empty car, just as the train started. When safe inside, I turned and stood in the open doorway, and looking out, saw the marshal standing on the platform, looking after me, so I waved him a sarcastic farewell. But the train, instead of increasing in speed, began to slow, and coming to a standstill, began at once to back towards the station. Before I could decide on my course of action, we were again standing in front of the station, with my car facing the marshal, who seemed to have waited, expecting this to happen. "Halo," he cried, "come out of that for you are under arrest." I was lodged in the jail, and was next morning brought up for trial. The marshal gave evidence as to seeing me jump the train, and I was charged with that offence. Having no money, I was about to be sent to jail when the judge asked the marshal to examine my hands which, although I had done no work for a number of years, were still hard and horny. I said that I was a seafaring man, and exhibited pictures of boats and anchors tattooed on my arms, at the same time offering to show the Polly Jane in full sail across my breast. My strange calling, in that inland town more than a thousand miles from the coast, appeared to greatly interest the judge, who, after several friendly questions, discharged me with a caution. Instead of at once taking advantage of my freedom, I sat down, waiting the end of the court. Another prisoner was then brought up who had been seen loafing on the station platform all the previous day. This prisoner pleaded guilty, and said that he had waited in vain for hours for a freight train to carry him to his destination, he having no money to pay his fare as a passenger. "Hold," cried the marshal, "that is a lie, for I myself saw a train steaming out when you were loafing indifferently on the platform." "Ten dollars, or sixty days," said the judge. This will show you how one prisoner was charged for stealing a ride on a freight train, and another prisoner was charged for not doing so as the opportunity occurred, happening in the same court, and under the same judge. Again,' continued Brum, 'I know a prisoner, in an adjoining state, who was sentenced to ten years for embezzlement. The money was never recovered, and he probably has it safe until his time expires. This prisoner is receiving a salary of ten dollars a week for keeping the prison books, is allowed to converse with anyone, and is entrusted to go the rounds of the turnkey. He is the one man allowed to wear private clothes, and is even allowed at night the liberty of a stroll in the open air, and unattended, with the one stipulation that he returns before a certain hour at night. And,' continued Brum, 'what with the money he has concealed-held probably by a relative-and his weekly salary often dollars as the bookkeeper of the prison, he will never need work more, after his sentence is served. But, listen to me,' continued Brum more earnestly, 'some of these queer laws are to a tramp's advantage. The winter is already here, and promises to be a most severe one. Now, if you would like to rest and grow fat during the coldest months. come with me to Michigan. You can there enter jails without committing offence of any kind, and take ten, fifteen, twenty or thirty days, all at your own sweet discretion. No work to do, good food to be had, and tobacco daily supplied. There is nothing else but begging before you, for the coming winter,' said Brum, warming to his subject, 'but if you like to enter with me those blessed havens of rest, where one can play cards, smoke or read the time away, you will become strong and ready for work when the spring of the year arrives.'

This project did not seem to me to be very attractive. For one thing, it was a long journey to that part of the country, and the weather being cold, we were forced to travel at night and sleep in the day. I was certainly not a very pleasant companion at this time, being occupied so much with my own dreams, which ever took the one shape of a small comfortable room with a cosy fire; books, papers, tobacco, with reading and writing in turns. At any rate, we decided to follow Brum's suggestion, and, instead of going to New York, we got off, and took another road.

We had a rough time in beating our way to Michigan. We were marched out of one town by the marshal, where we were waiting to catch a train. This necessitated us either to walk three miles to catch a train as it was on a grade, or to walk ten miles to the next watering tank, where all freight trains stopped. We decided on doing the former. To do this required an activity of which I hardly thought Brum to be capable. The grade was long and before the train reached the top, its speed would be slackened to about ten miles an hour, or less, if it had heavy freight. It was necessary to lie low, and out of sight, until the train appeared, and then run beside it, so as to leap and catch the handle bar, the feet at the same time catching the iron step; after doing which we could step on to the bumpers, or climb the ladder to the top of the car. if either the hand or foot failed to do its duty, it meant a fall, and a very serious accident or death. I was the youngest and most active, and leapt the first part of the train. As soon as I was safe I looked around the car, and had the pleasure of seeing Australian Red succeed just three cars behind, and Brum succeeding on the next car to him. When we reached the next stopping place, we all got together on the same car, so as to be prepared for any trouble with the train's crew. A brakesman passed over the top, and shouted to us in a friendly manner; passed and re-passed several times before the train reached its destination, but treated our presence with the utmost indifference, which is often the case in that part of America.

What a difference it made to our feelings, this changing of seasons! It seemed but a few days ago the birds were singing, the orchards were heavy and mellow with fruit, and we could sleep in the open air al night. It was now necessary to light great fires, when the front parts of our bodies burned whilst a cold chill crept up and down the spine; and the first fall of snow, which was likely to occur at any time, would soon make it difficult to enjoy even this small comfort.

At last we reached a small town in Michigan which, Brum informed us, was the county town; and which, said he, chuckling with delight, had an exceedingly pleasant jail.