Little Jim, An Incident of the Strike at the Bonny Belle Mine

You’re right! Not every time you’ll meet a millionaire like me
That planks you down a check like that for your Christmas charity.
It’s downright joy for me to give, but they’ve more sense, they say—
The other fellows—but, you see, somehow that’s not my way.

Tell you just why? Well, I don’t care; but now there’s quite a lot
O’ men who make their pile of cash and hope the past’s forgot;
But I’m not one o’ them, no sir! I don’t care if ‘tis true
That, once instead of being rich, I was poor as Lord knows who!
And far from owning the Bonny Belle, I worked for a miner’s pay—
As black as any, and just as tough—hard at it, day by day.

Well, at that time, I was crazed almost; for months the strike was on;
My wife had died; I’d taken to drink; and most everything was gone.
The rent was due for the very house where I lived with little Jim—
Her boy and mine—you’ve guessed it right, the story’s concerning him.

And it’s not a pleasure for me to tell this story; but then, you see,
I don’t know why—somehow my heart will burst, it seems to me
If I don’t tell somebody, ‘specially now, when everything kind o’ draws
Us to the little folks, bless their hearts! Who are looking for Santa Claus.

‘Twas Christmas then, the night before; no wonder my eyes get dim
When I think, while all the world was glad, there was nothing for little Jim.
And the year before—how proud he was! He set out his little shoe,
And Santa Claus filled it to the top. He made such a big ado
When he woke up and saw it by the bed, stuffed full and blacked so fine;
He was sure Saint Nick stayed long enough to give his shoes that shine!

But as I said, ‘twas a year from then, the strike was at its height;
We men were all wild with drink and rage; for a train that Christmas night
Was to bring in the troops and a new supply of hands to take our place.
They’d drive us out like dogs, they said. There was murder in every face
When we met and swore they’d kill us first, then, oh, that drink-cursed brain
That planned the the ruin and death of all, that proposed to wreck the train!

Quick as a flash, for the time was short, we’d torn the long bridge down;
We had no fear of the telegraph, for the mob it held the town.
And there yawned a chasm wide and deep, a chasm black with death;
The train was due in five minutes more, the dense mob held its breath!

But just before this, I’d run up home to get an axe. ‘Twas dim
Inside the house, yet not so dark but I soon spied little Jim.
He’d knelt down close by the smouldering fire, his hands were cold and blue,
And when I’d struck a match I saw he’d set out his little shoe.

Somehow—forgive me, God!—I felt a demon rage within
At the sight of that simple trust of his. I thought of what once had been;
But it brought no softness to my heart. I cried out, “Get you gone!
You needn’t look for Santa Claus, for we’ve fixed the train he’s on,
And there’ll be a wreck where the bridge is down!” I spurned the little shoe.
“Get to bed! What do you care for Santa Claus? He’s mad at me and you!”
Like the fiend I was, I dashed outside, and I never can forget
How I heard him cry as I slammed the door, “Oh, daddy!” I hear it yet.

Down where the mob in frenzy surged! It makes me faint; my brain
Seems turning round; I hear it yet—the roar of the coming train.
I see the rows of lights flash out, hear the locomotive’s breath
As onward it bore that human freight, nearer and nearer to death!
Then a whistled shriek far  up the road as a light swings ‘cross the track!
The train is upon it—still swinging yet—the wheels they begin to slack!
The engine crawls to the chasm’s edge, we hear the loud alarms,
A brakeman leaps out, then returns—with something in his arms!

‘Twas Jim! With his little face all white—to the lantern holding on—
His little body crushed, Oh, God! And his breath and speech most gone.
“Daddy, the train is safe, ain’t it?—waved—the light.” A pause.
The men crowd round, then he faintly said: “Is that one Santa Clause?”
The Bonny Bell’s owner in heavy coat, said, “Yes my little man;
You’ve saved his life! And Santa Claus will help you all he can.”

A light broke over the little face—so like his ma! He said:
“Then you ain’t mad at daddy nor me?” The big man shook his head,
And couldn’t speak. “Oh, I’m so glad! Now, daddy, set my shoe
Up by the chimney, and when I wake——” His little fingers blue
Clasped like his ma had taught him, then—that’s all. My story’s done,
Except to tell you, because of Jim, there wasn’t a single one
Of the men punished nor one turned off; and because of him, you see
I’ve been made what I am to-day. “Santa Claus” has been good to me.

But I’ll never get over that awful night. Somehow, I can’t forget
His little blue hands that reached for mine; and his shoe, I’ve got it yet.
All rusty and worn at heel and toe, and wrinkled down at the side,
Just like when it waited for Santa Claus that night before he died.

And you may think it’s a foolish trick, but every Christmas eve
I set the little, old, worn-out shoe by the fireplace, and make believe
He put it there, and Santa Claus fills it full up to the brim
With all that it waited for years ago. And it seems that little Jim
Comes back again and climbs my knee—such wondrous things to show!
And pats my cheek and says, “Daddy!” like he used to, long ago.

Dear little lad! ‘Tis years and years since they made his grave that day;
The bells have run out their story old, oft-times since he went away;
But with each return of their happy chimes, my heart it bleeds anew;
And Santa Claus finds at my empty hearth a little worn-out shoe.

Little Jim, An Incident of the Strike at the Bonny Belle Mine
By Minnie Reid, The People’s Home Journal, December, 1898

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