The Clean Man and the Dirty Angels
by John A. Hill
When I first went firing, down in my native district, where Bean is
King, there was a man on the road pulling a mixed train, by the name of
Being only a fireman, and a new one at that, I did not come very much in
contact with Clark, or any of the other engineers, excepting my
'Lige Clark was a character on the road; everybody knew "old 'Lige;" he
was liked and respected, but not loved; he was thought puritanical, or
religious, or cranky, by some, yet no one hated him, or even had a
strong dislike for him.
His honesty and straightforwardness were proverbial. He was always in
charge of the funds of every order he belonged to, as well as of the
Sunday-school and church.
He was truthful to a fault, but above all, just.
"'Cause 'tain't right, that's why," was his way of refusing to do a
thing, and his argument against others doing it.
After I got to running, I saw and knew more of 'Lige, and I think,
perhaps, I was as much of a friend as he ever had. We never were chums.
I never went to his house, and he never went to mine; we were simply
roundhouse acquaintances; used to talk engine a little, but usually
talked about children—'Lige had four, and always spoke about "doing the
right thing by them."
'Lige had a very heavy full beard, that came clear up to his eyes, and a
mass of wavy hair—all iron grey. His eyes were steel grey, and matched
his hair, and he had a habit of looking straight at you when he spoke.
On his engine he invariably ran with his head out of the side window,
rain or shine, and always bareheaded. When he stepped upon the
footboard, he put his hat away with his clothes, and there it stayed. He
was never known to wear a cap, excepting in the coldest weather.
Once in a while, when I was firing, I have seen him come in, in winter,
with his beard white with frost and ice, and some smoke-shoveling wit
dubbed him Santa Claus.
'Lige had a way of looking straight ahead and thinking of his work, and,
after he got to running express, would go through a town, where other
trains were side-tracked for him, looking at the track ahead, and at the
trains, but never seeming to care that they were there, never nodding or
waving a hand. Once in a while he would blink his eyes,—that was all.
The wind tossed his mane and hair and made him look for all the world
like a lion, who looks at, but appears to care nothing for the crowds
around his den. Someone noticed the comparison, and dubbed him "The
Lion," and the name clung to him. He was spoken of as "Old 'Lige, the
Lion." Just why he was called old, I don't know—he was little more than forty then.
When the men on the road had any grievances, they always asked 'Lige to
"go and see the old man." 'Lige always went to lodge and to meetings of
the men, but was never known to speak. When the demands were drawn up
and presented to him, he always got up and said: "Them air declarations
ain't right, an' I wouldn't ask any railroad to grant 'em;" or, "The
declarations are right. Of course I'll be glad to take 'em."
When old 'Lige declined to bear a grievance it was modified or
abandoned; and he never took a request to headquarters that was not
granted—until the strike of '77.
When the war broke out, 'Lige was asked to go, and the railroad boys
wanted him to be captain of a company of them; but he declined, saying
that slavery was wrong and should be crushed, but that he had a sickly
wife and four small children depending on his daily toil for bread, and
it wouldn't be right to leave 'em unprovided for. They drafted him
later, but he still said it "wa'n't right" for him to go, and paid for a
substitute. But three months later his father-in-law died, up in the
country somewhere, and left his wife some three thousand dollars, and
'Lige enlisted the next day, saying "'Tain't right for any man to stay
that can be spared; slavery ain't right; it must be stopped." He served
as a private until it was stopped.
Shortly after the war 'Lige was pulling the superintendent over the
road, when he struck a wagon, killing the driver, who was a farmer, and
hurting his wife. The woman afterward sued the road, and 'Lige was
called as a witness for the company. He surprised everybody by stating
that the accident was caused by mismanagement of the road, and explained
as follows: "I pull the regular Atlantic express, and should have been
at the crossing where the accident occurred, an hour later than I was;
but Mr. Doe, our superintendent, wanted to come over the road with his
special car, and took my engine to pull him, leaving a freight engine to
bring in the express. Mr. Doe could have rode on the regular train, or
could have had his car put into the train, instead of putting the
company to the expense of hauling a special, and kept the patrons of
the road from slow and poor service. We ran faster than there was any
use of, and Mr. Doe went home when he got in, showing that there was no
urgent call for his presence at this end of the line. If there had been
no extra train on the road this farmer wouldn't have been killed: 'twa'n't right."
The widow got pretty heavy damages, and the superintendent tried to
discharge 'Lige. But 'Lige said "'twa'n't right," and the men on the
road, the patrons and even the president agreed with him, so the irate
super. gave the job up for the time being.
A couple of weeks after this, I went to that super.'s office on some
business, and had to wait in the outer pen until "His Grace" got through
with someone else. The transom over the door to the "Holy of Holies" was
open, and I heard the well-known voice of 'Lige "the Lion".
"Now, there's another matter, Mr. Doe, that perhaps you'll say is none
of my business, but 'tain't right, and I'm going to speak about it.
You're hanging around the yards and standing in the shadows of cars and
buildings half the night, watching employees. You've discharged several
yardmen, and I want to tell you that a lot of the roughest of them are
laying for you. My advice to you is to go home from the office. They'll
hurt you yet. 'Tain't right for one man to know that another is in
danger without warning him, so I've done it; 'twouldn't be right for
them to hurt you. You're not particularly hunting them but me, but you won't catch me."
Mr. Doe assured "the Lion" that he could take care of himself, and two
nights later got sand-bagged, and had about half his ribs kicked loose,
over back of the scale house.
When the trouble commenced in '77, old 'Lige refused to take up a
request for increase of pay, to headquarters; said the road could afford
to keep us just where we were, which was more than some roads were
doing, and "'twa'n't right" to ask for more. Two months later they cut
us ten per cent., and offered to pay half script. Old 'Lige said
"'twa'n't right," and he'd strike afore he'd stand it;—and, in the end, we all struck.
The fourth day after the strike commenced I met 'Lige, and he asked me
where I was going to hunt work. I told him I was going back when we won.
He laughed, and said there wa'n't much danger of any of us going back;
we were beat; mail trains all running, etc. "'Tain't right, Brother
John, to loaf longer'n you can help. I'm goin' out West to-morrer"—and he went.
Some weeks afterward Joe Johnson and I concluded that, contrary to all
precedent, the road was going to run without us, and we also went West;
but by that time the country was full of men just like us. When I did
get a job, it was drying sand away out at the front on one of the new
roads. The first engine that come up to the sand house had a familiar
look, even with a boot-leg stack that was fearfully and wonderfully
made. There was a shaggy head sticking out of the side window, and two
cool grey eyes blinked at me, but didn't seem to see me; yet a cheery
voice from under the beard said: "Hello, Brother John, you're late, but
guess you'll catch on pretty quick. There's lots of 'em here that don't
know nothin' about railroading, as far as I can see, and they're running
engines, too. 'Tain't right."
The little town was booming, and 'Lige invested in lots, and became
interested in many schemes to benefit the place and make money. He had
been a widower for some years, and with one exception his children were
doing for themselves, and that one was with his sister, and well cared
for. 'Lige had considerable means, and he brought it all West. He
personally laid the corner-stone of the courthouse, subscribed more than
any other working man to the first church, and was treasurer of half the
institutions in the village. He ought to have quit the road, but he
wouldn't; but did compromise on taking an easy run on a branch.
'Lige was behind a benevolent scheme to build a hospital, to be under
the auspices of the church society, and to it devoted not a little time
and energy. When the constitution and by-laws were drawn up, the more
liberal of the trustees struck a snag in old 'Lige. He was bound that
the hospital should not harbor people under the influence of liquor, or
fallen women. 'Lige was very bitter against prostitution. "It is the
curse of civilization," he often said. "Prostitutes ruin ten men where
whiskey ruins one. They stand in the path of every young man in the
country, gilded tempters of virtue, honesty and manhood; 'tain't right
that they should be allowed in the country." If you attributed their
existence to man's passions, inhumanity or cruelty, or woman's weakness,
he checked you at once.
"Every woman that becomes a crooked woman does so from choice; she
needn't to if she didn't want to. The way to stop prostitution is for
every honest man and woman to refuse to have anything to do with them in
any way, or with those who do recognize them. 'Tain't right."
In this matter 'Lige Clark had no sympathy nor charity. "Twa'n't
right"—and that settled it as far as he was concerned.
The ladies of the church sided with old 'Lige in his stand on the
hospital board, but the other two men wanted the doors of the
institution to be opened to all in need of medical attention or care,
regardless of who they were or what caused their ailment. 'Lige gave in
on the whiskey, but stood out resolutely against the soiled doves, and
so matters stood until midwinter.
Half the women in the town were outcasts from society—two dance-houses
were in full blast—and 'Lige soon became known to them and their
friends as the "Prophet Elijah, second edition."
The mining town over the hills, at the end of 'Lige's branch, was
booming, too, and wanted to be the county seat. It had its church,
dance-halls, etc., and the discovery of coal within a few miles bid fair
to make it a formidable rival.
The boom called for more power and I went over there to pull freight,
and 'Lige pulled passengers only. Then they put more coaches on his
train and put my engine on to help him, thus saving a crew's wages.
Passenger service increased steadily until a big snow-slide in one of
the gulches shut up the road. I'll never forget that slide. It happened
on the 26th of January. 'Lige and I were double-heading on nine coaches
of passengers and when on a heavy grade in Alder Gulch, a slide of snow
started from far up the mountain-side, swept over the track just ahead
of us, carrying trees, telegraph poles and the track with it. We tried
to stop, but 'Lige's engine got into it, and was carried sideways down
some fifty or sixty feet. Mine contented herself with simply turning
over, without hurting either myself or fireman—much to my satisfaction.
'Lige fared worse. His reverse lever caught in his clothing and before
he could get loose, the engine had stopped on her side, with 'Lige's
feet and legs under her. He was not badly hurt except for the scalding
water that poured upon him. As soon as we could see him, the fireman and
I got hold of him and forcibly pulled him out of the wreck. His limbs
were awfully burned—cooked would be nearer the word.
The passengers crowded around, but did little good. One look was enough
for most of them. There were ten or twelve women in the cars. They came
out slowly, and stood timidly away from the hissing boilers, with one
exception. This one came at once to the injured man, sat down in the
snow, took his head in her lap, and taking a flask of liquor from her
ulster pocket, gave poor 'Lige some with a little snow.
I got the oil can and poured some oil over the burned parts to keep the
air from them; we needed bandages, and I asked the ladies if they had
anything we could use for the purpose. One young girl offered a
handkerchief and another a shawl, but before they were accepted the cool
woman holding 'Lige's head got up quickly, laying his head down tenderly
on the snow, and without a word or attempt to get out of sight, pulled
up her dress, and in a second kicked out two white skirts, and sat down
again to cool 'Lige's brow.
That woman attended 'Lige like a guardian angel until we got back to
town late that afternoon. The hospital was not yet in shape, so 'Lige
was taken to the rather dreary and homeless quarters of the hotel.
As quick as it was known that Elijah Clark was hurt, he had plenty of
friends, male and female, who came to take care of him, but the woman
who helped him live at the start came not; yet every day there were
dainty viands, wine or books left at the house for him—but pains were
taken to let no one know from whom they came.
One day a month after the accident I sat beside 'Lige's bed when he told
me that he was anticipating quite a discussion there that evening, as
the hospital committee was going to meet to decide on the rules of the
institution. "Wilcox and Gorman are set to open the house to those who
have no part in our work and no sympathy with Christian institutions,
and 'tain't right," said he. "Brother John, you can't do no good by
prolonging the life of a brazen woman bent on vice."
"Don't you think, 'Lige," said I, "that you are a little hard on an
unfortunate class of humanity, who, in nine cases out of ten, are the
victims of others' wrong-doing, and stay in the mire because no hand is
extended to help them out? Think of the woman of Samaria. It's sinners,
not saints, that need saving."
"They are as a coiled serpent in the pathway of mankind, Brother John,
fascinating, but poisonous. There can be no good in one of those creatures."
"Oh yes there is, I'm sure," said I. "Why, 'Lige, don't you know who the
woman was that gave you brandy, held your head, and used her skirts for
bandages when you were hurt?"
Old 'Lige raised up on his elbow, all eagerness. "No, John, I don't, but
she wa'n't one of them. She was too thoughtful, too tender, too womanly.
I've blessed her from that day to this, and though I don't know it, I
think she has sent me all these wines and fruits. She saved my life. Who
is she? Do you know?"
"Yes. She is Molly May, who keeps the largest dance-house in Cascade
City. She makes lots of money, but spends it all in charity; there has
never been a human being buried by the town since she has been there.
Molly May is a ministering angel to the poor and sick, but a bird of
prey to those who wish to dissipate."
The hospital was opened on Easter, and the first patient was a poor
consumptive girl, but lately an inmate of the Red-Light dance-house.
'Lige Clark did not run again; he became mayor of the little city, had
faith in its future, invested his money in land and died rich some years ago.
'Lige must have changed his mind as he grew older, or at least abandoned
the idea that to crush out a wrong you should push it from all sides,
and thus compress and intensify it at the heart, and come to the
conclusion that the right way is to get inside and push out, thus
separating and dissolving it. For before me lies the tenth annual
prospectus of a now noted institution in one of the great cities of the
continent, and on its title page, I read through the dimmed glasses of
my spectacles: "Industrial Home and Refuge for Fallen Women. Founded by
Elijah Clark. Mary E. May, Matron."