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[Illustration: THE TRAIL OF THE TRAMP by A-No. 1
“THE FAMOUS TRAMP WHO TRAVELED 500,000 MILES FOR $7.61”]
[Illustration: Portrait of A-No. 1]
THE TRAIL OF THE TRAMP
BY A-No. 1
THE FAMOUS TRAMP
WRITTEN BY HIMSELF FROM ACTUAL EXPERIENCES OF HIS OWN LIFE.
Illustrated by JOSEPH EARL SHROCK
PRICE, 25 CENTS.
Where to Obtain Our Books
_To The Public_:–
You may purchase our books of any news agent, aboard every passenger train in the United States, Canada, England and Australia, carrying a “news butcher.” At depot and other news stands and all up-to-date news and book stores. If residing far in the country, your store keeper, always willing to handsomely add to his income, may get our titles for you by requesting us to furnish him the address of the nearest jobber.
_To The Dealer_:–
The American News Company and all its branches throughout the United States and Canada, and all other reliable jobbers from Halifax to San Diego and from Dawson City to Key West _always_ carry a complete line of our books in stock.
Dealers should furnish a fair display to our books and explain to customers that their text is not only good reading but also that the stories are based on actual experiences of the author who wasted thirty years on the Road.
Do not bury the “A-No. 1 Books” on shelves or in train boxes, but give them a chance to prove their great selling merit. One copy sold is sure to bring a sale of the complete set to the reader, so entertaining are the stories which cover every interesting phase of tramp life.
Yours respectfully, The A-No. 1 Publishing Company
_Erie, Pa., U.S.A._
“It is my turn tonight to relate for your entertainment a story of my past, and I shall repeat to you the most pathetic happening that I have ever experienced in all my life. I have never been able to eradicate its details from my memory, as I witnessed its beginning with my own eyes, and its ending, many years later, was told to me by one of the principal participants.”
“I shall not repeat to you one of the same, old, time-worn tales of how slick hoboes beat trains, nor fabled romance concerning harmless wanderlusters, nor jokes at the expense of the poor but honest man in search of legitimate employment, but I shall relate to you a rarely strange story that will stir your hearts to their innermost depths and will cause you to shudder at the villainy of certain human beings, who, like vultures seeking carrion, hunt for other people’s sons with the intention of turning them into tramps, beggars, drunkards and criminals–into despised outcasts.”
The man who spoke was a typical old-time harvester, who was known amongst his acquaintances as “Canada Joe”, and the men for whose entertainment he offered to tell this story had, like himself, worked from dawn until nearly dark in the blazing sun and the choking dust of the harvest field, gathering the bounteous wheat crop of one of South Dakota’s “Bonanza” farms, and who, now that their day’s toil had been accomplished and their suppers partaken of, were lounging upon the velvety lawn in front of the ranch foreman’s residence, and while the silvery stars were peacefully twinkling in the heavens overhead, they were repeating stories of their checkered lives, which only too often brought back memories of those long-ago days, before they too had joined the flotsam of that class of the “underworld”, who, too proud to degrade themselves to the level of outright vagrancy while yet there was a chance to exchange long and weary hours of the hardest kind of labor for the right to earn an honorable existence, were nevertheless, included by critical society in that large clan of homeless drifters–“The Tramps”.
[Illustration: This evening it was Canada Joe’s turn to tell a story.]
* * * * *
And this evening it was for “Canada Joe” to tell a story.
[Illustration: a farm scene]
Many years have passed since the day that “Peoria Red” and I were caught out of doors and entirely unprepared to face one of the worst blizzards that ever swept down from the Arctic regions across the shelterless plains of the Dakotas.
We had been “hoboing” a ride upon a freight train and had been fired off by its crew at a lone siding about fifty miles east of Minot, North Dakota. In those early days trains were few and the chances that one of them would stop at this lone siding were so small that we decided to walk to the nearest water tank, which in those days of small engines were never more than twenty miles apart, and there catch another ride.
It was a clear winter morning, and the sun’s rays were vacillating upon the snow, that like a gigantic bedspread covered the landscape, and which made walking upon the hidden and uneven track a most wearisome task, the more so as neither of us had tasted a mouthful of food since the preceding day’s dinner hour. While we were debating and wondering how and where we would rake up a meal amongst the few and widely scattered ranches, the wind veered to the north and commenced to blow with ever increasing force. Soon heavy, gray clouds followed in its wake, and quickly overcast the sky, and by two o’clock in the afternoon the rapidly growing fury of the wind commenced to drive sharp pointed particles of snow before it, which, as the storm increased to cyclonic proportions, changed to masses of rotating darts, which cut into the exposed portions of our illy-clad bodies and made breathing a serious problem.
We soon gave up the small hope of being able to reach a ranch house, as to leave the railroad track would have spelled death, as we would have lost our way in a few minutes, as even now, while it was yet broad daylight, we could barely see a couple of telegraph poles ahead of us, and when night approached the ever increasing fury of the blizzard greatly reduced even this short distance.
Staggering against the snow storm our one ardent prayer was that we would reach our only hope for succor–one of those railroad section houses, which are located ten miles apart along the right of way of every railroad, and are the homes of a foreman and a crew of laborers who repair and keep the track under constant surveillance.
Every moment the cold increased, and although we were spurred on to almost superhuman efforts by sheer desperation to thwart the fate we knew would be ours should we falter by the way, gradually our strength failed us, and although we tried to encourage each other to quicker progress, it took every vestige of our will power to drag our benumbed feet from step to step against the howling, snow-laden hurricane.
Peoria Red piteously pleaded with me to stop so he could recuperate, but well knowing the result should we linger, I shouted my warnings to him above the screaming of the storm, and when he reeled and even sank into the snow, I pulled him back upon his feet and forced him to move on.
Presently I felt myself overtaken by the same drowsiness that had enthralled Peoria Red, and a queer numbness which as it crept upwards from my feet seemed to kill my ambition to battle for life against the “Death of the Arctic.”
Just as the last gleam of the blood-red sky which reflected the setting sun was swallowed up in the swirling masses of ice motes, Peoria Red sank beside the track, and although I tried everything to cause him to realize his danger if he failed to follow me, he keeled helplessly over into the snow, while a glassy stare in his half-shut eyes told me that he was doomed.
Then my own danger came home to me. Self-preservation is the first law of nature, and I promptly realized that to save my own life I must reach the section house, which I felt assured could not be many miles ahead of me, and where I would not only find shelter for myself, but perhaps obtain assistance to rescue my pal before it would be too late.
After taking one more farewell look at Peoria Red I made a step towards the track, but fell heavily to the ground. During the minutes I had lingered to save the life of my partner my feet seemed to have been turned into solid lead. I laughed aloud. As I was yet in full possession of my mental faculties this seemed to me a cruel joke, and I tried to arise so I could by stamping revive the circulation of the blood, but every time I arose half way I tumbled helplessly back into the snow. The desire to live increased, and when I felt the numbness creep from my limbs into my body, I crawled alongside Peoria Red and snuggled closely against him, hoping that our mutual body warmth would stave off the crisis to the last possible moment. He was groaning, and mustering the last vestige of control I yet had over my benumbed hands, I searched about in the darkness until I found his frozen fingers, and clasping them in my own I placed my mouth close to his ear and pleaded with him to bid me farewell. He was too far gone to speak, but twice a faint pressure against my frozen fingers told me that he had understood me, and I responded in the same manner. These were our farewells to each other in this world, a fitting finish to the tragedies of our toilful and thankless lives. I sank back into the snow and while I dreamily watched the snowflakes weave our spotless shroud, I dozed away and dreamed of those glorious, care-free days when I was yet with the “old folks” at home, chasing bright-hued butterflies in the warmth of the sunshine of youth and happiness.
The next thing I recall was a burning sensation in my throat, which involuntarily caused me to open my eyes. I felt as if I had slept for such a long time that all my faculties had become useless, for I could not, try as I might, utter a word or move a muscle, although to this day I vividly remember having heard a man, whom I could plainly see as he poured a steaming liquid into my open mouth, exclaim: “Thank God we are having better luck reviving this poor fellow than we had with the other one! Look, he has just opened his eyes, and listen, can you not hear him faintly groan?” Then I wandered back into dream-land–into a most dangerous delirium which lasted for several weeks and during which I hung as if by a mere thread, betwixt life and death.
When I recovered my reason, I found that I was domiciled in the bunk house, that together with the section house and tool house form the total of buildings upon every railroad “section” reservation. The foreman and his family resided in the section house, a two-story building; the tool house was used for storing the hand car and the track tools, while the bunk house, a small, one-story building, formed primarily the sleeping quarters, and secondly the social center of the section crew, whose five roughly dressed men were only permitted to enter the adjacent section house, where they boarded, at meal hours, as the foreman’s home was at all other times considered by them a sort of hallowed spot. But the bunk house was their own, as within it they slept at night in the wooden “bunks”, which were nailed one adjoining the other, all around the boarded walls, while in the center a small stove in which a roaring fire was kept up, made things comfortable for the inmates when they returned in the evenings after their day’s work was done, and all day every Sunday–their day of rest.
While the men were absent and I was yet unable to attend to my needs, a sweet-faced lady looked after my wants and gave me my medicine. She was the foreman’s wife, and her ever cheering words with never a sign of weariness that I, a sick and penniless harvester, should have so unexpectedly become a charge upon her hands, were most grateful to me.
I made inquiries among the laborers and ascertained from their answers that I was being cared for at the very section house that Peoria Red and I had striven to reach during the howling blizzard. I tried to find out what had become of my partner, but somehow they evaded my questions and it was many days before I managed by slow degrees to learn from them the facts concerning his absence.
During the height of the blizzard the foreman had ordered his crew out and upon their hand car driven at a lively rate by the power of the wind they had inspected every switch and car standing on sidings upon their section, to assure themselves that everything was properly safeguarded. While they were slowly “pumping” the hand car homeward, fighting against the force of the raging snow storm, they discovered us lying closely cuddled together, all but buried in the snow and beginning the eternal sleep of death. They stopped, and finding that we were yet faintly breathing, they loaded us upon the hand car and brought us to the section reservation.
Here by every means known to them they tried to revive the flickering sparks of life left in our frozen bodies. In my case they were successful, but Peoria Red, poor fellow, failed to respond to their heroic efforts. The following day they buried him on a slight elevation, diagonally across the track from the bunk house, where, whenever I looked in that direction, I could plainly discern the white board cross that the whole-souled laborers had erected to mark his grave.
The section foreman’s name was Henry McDonald. He was a kind-hearted, yet stern man who demanded utmost obedience of those whom he commanded, while at the same time he was a loving father to his family. Foreman McDonald had none but the friendliest of greetings for me and he spent many moments at the bunk house trying to cheer me in my hard luck. Whenever I felt ill at ease for having added such a heavy burden to his small income, his quaint answer would always be: “Joe, what little we can do for you we would cheerfully do for any human being in distress. We do not ask for your excuses, as I feel that the Almighty above us will take care of me and my family, the pride of my humble life.”
When I recovered some of my former strength I did the “chores” for the section foreman’s wife, who not only boarded the five members of her husband’s crew, but took proper care of her four healthy and ever hungry children.
The oldest one of them, a boy of sixteen, was named Donald. Then came a set of lively boy twins of fourteen, who had been baptized “Joseph” and “James”, but who were for convenience called Joe and Jim. These twins resembled each other so closely that only their parents and intimate acquaintances could tell them apart. They were inseparable companions, and full of boyish mischief. The fourth child, the pet of everybody, was a beautiful, doll-like baby girl of three, whose name was Helen.
[Illustration: When I watched Baby Helen repeat her evening prayer, I turned away, for I realized that I missed that what is most sublime in all creation: A loving wife and devoted mother; a healthy baby and one’s own “Home, sweet Home.”]
There was one singular imperfection about these children, that they had inherited from their father, which was a freak growth of an inch-wide streak of white hair which started from the center of their heads and continued downwards to the base of their skulls, and which as it showed plainly in their black hair made this strange birth-mark all the more conspicuous. Otherwise they were mentally, morally and physically perfect, and while I was convalescing I often stood by the window and watched them at play in the snow and it caused me to shudder every time I heard those youngsters shout with glee while they enjoyed the winter’s sports, when I thought of poor Peoria Red whom this same merciless snow helped to murder.
In the evenings after supper had been served, I could see from the bunk house window how baby Helen in her sleeping room across the road in the section house knelt and humbly repeated her evening prayer, and then just before she was put to rest for the night, her father would kiss her “good-night”, and as soon as he had left the room her sweet-faced mother would smother her with kisses before she tucked her darling between the spotless sheets of her cradle, and many were the times that I turned away from this picture of perfect domestic happiness as tears were welling into my eyes, for I realized that I had missed that which is most sublime in all creation:
A loving wife and devoted mother; a healthy baby and one’s own “Home, sweet Home.”
[Illustration: Baby Helen playing in the fields]
Gradually I regained the use of my one-time totally frozen limbs, and when I felt myself able to do the severe labor required of men who toil upon a railroad section to earn their daily bread, I begged Foreman McDonald to allow me to work with his crew. I explained to him that this would be the greatest favor he could do for me, who found himself marooned many hundreds of miles from a city, without a job and penniless, in the midst of a bleak, snow-buried prairie. I also argued with him that to give me employment would be the easiest means for me to discharge my debt to him, which, although he absolutely refused to listen to any talk of indebtedness on my part, amounted to a tidy sum. He finally consented, and I commenced my task, fully equipped with warm clothes that were generously donated to me by my fellow laborers. The first time the pay-car stopped and the paymaster handed me my envelope I repaid Foreman McDonald every cent I owed him, and although this settled my financial indebtedness to him, the debt I owe him to this day for his timely help can never be repaid with mere coin.
One other time the pay-car stopped, and then the glad holidays of Christmas approached, and when the happy Yule-tide was just a week away, Foreman McDonald procured for each laborer a return pass to St. Paul. We went and made our Christmas purchases and returned after an absence of three days, each of us staggering under the weight of a heavily-laden sack which we carried slung over our backs, from the train into the bunk house.
Every spare minute until Christmas Eve there was a mysterious activity within the crowded space of the small bunk house. We were not only busy sorting over the purchases we had made in the big cities, which included a suitable present for each one of our foreman’s family down to baby Helen, and one for each of the laborers, but we were kept busy keeping the youngsters from prying into the secrets which we did not wish to be revealed to them until Christmas Eve.
One of us had smuggled in a small Christmas tree, while another one had purchased the long whiskers that always go with a genuine “Santa Claus”, so dear to the hearts of the children.
At last the natal feast of the Savior arrived, and to the complete surprise and delight of the McDonald family, we marched over to the foreman’s home, led by old “Santa Claus”, who in all his glory of a fur cap, long white hair and snowy whiskers, carried a wondrously decorated Christmas tree. We were royally welcomed, and after the Christmas tree’s colored candles had been lighted and our presents had been distributed, we received those which had been purchased for us by the foreman and his thoughtful wife. Amidst the shouts of glee of the youngsters, and especially of Baby Helen, the hours flew past only too soon. The time came for her to be put to bed, and the moment arrived for our departure, but just before we went, the stern overseer of our work descended to the level of a satisfied father, and proudly permitted each one of us to kiss his baby’s forehead, a most signal honor considering circumstances. As we were returning to our bunk house, he called from the porch of the section house, reminding us to be sure to be in proper shape on the coming day to enjoy the best Christmas dinner that his wife, who was a very good cook, had ever placed before guests.
No sooner had we entered our bunk house than we threw off all the restraint of etiquette which we had to observe at the “big” house, and quickly had a roaring fire in our stove, and while out of doors another blizzard was playing a tattoo upon the telegraph wires and was piling tons of snow upon the right of way, we had brewing in a pot upon the stove something that is not altogether in accordance with the tenets of temperance, but which meant additional cheer to us, whose thoughts were ever and anon slipping back to those days when we spent happy Christmas Eve’s in very different surroundings. It was a curious fact, that although we celebrated till into the wee, small hours of the morning, when the first one of us crawled into his bunk it was only a few minutes until all of us had followed his example. We seemed to hate to be left alone.
About daybreak a loud pounding upon the door of our bunk house aroused us from our slumbers, and while we rubbed the drowsiness out of our eyes we heard Foreman McDonald calling to us to make haste, as a wrecking train was waiting to take us up the line to clear away a bad wreck.
It took little time for us to slip into our clothes, rush to the tool house and throw our track implements aboard the wrecker, and then climb into the coaches provided for our accommodation, in which were other section crews who had been picked up below us, and into which were loaded those for whom we stopped west of our reservation.
We had the right-of-track over every other train upon the line, and with six powerful engines pushing a snow-plow at full speed ahead of us, we reached our destination in almost record time, where we were put to work clearing away a serious wreck, which had been caused by a heavy passenger train running into a snow drift during a blinding blizzard, and having at the same time been derailed from the tender back to the rear truck beneath the last sleeper. For three days and nights we worked like beavers, taking turns in eight hour shifts, sleeping and dining in the “bunk” cars attached to the wrecking train, shoveling away the solidly packed snow, “jacking” up the coaches, one at a time, and replacing the trucks upon the rails, and in the afternoon of the third day our combined efforts were rewarded, for amid the gladsome whistling of its engine the released train resumed its interrupted, eastbound journey.
We laborers were detained an additional day removing the wreckage, reloading the apparatus used and putting everything into a first-class condition for the resumption of the regular schedule. Then we boarded the wrecker to be distributed along the line.
The wrecking train’s speed rapidly closed the gap of miles separating us from our reservation, and when at last–at about supper time–we entered upon our own section, we noted a satisfied sparkle in Foreman McDonald’s eyes, when the cars, which had heretofore been lurching like ships at sea, spun with hardly a perceivable motion over the well attended road bed. Now the whistle blew for our section house; the brakes gripped the flanges of the wheels, and we gathered our belongings so as not to unnecessarily delay the others, and when the train stopped we soon had our track tools piled in front of our tool house. Then the wrecking train continued its journey, and while we stored our tools away we noted the disappointed look in our foreman’s face when neither his wife nor any of his children came to greet him, or at least inquire as to the extent of the wreck, a most interesting item of gossip, considering the lonely location of our reservation.
When we had finished our task and the foreman had carefully locked the tool house, and while he walked towards the “big” house where not yet a single soul had opened the door to give him the usual glad greeting, although by the lamp that was illuminating the parlor we could see Mrs. McDonald and her children sitting about the heater, we hustled over to the bunk house, in which we quickly kindled a fire and then brought order out of the chaos we had left behind when we had been so unexpectedly called away to clear the track.
While we were thus busily engaged, our work was suddenly interrupted by several almost demoniacal shrieks that seemed to belong to Hades, and as if driven by some common impulse, we rushed pell mell out of doors and towards the “big” house. But before we could even reach it, we stopped short as if rooted into the ground, for there upon the front porch, with his face uplifted towards the starry firmament above him, stood Foreman McDonald, tearing like a raving maniac at the hairs of his head, while through the quietude of the night reverberated his heart-rending shrieks: “Oh God! Give me back my baby! Bring back my darling Helen! Merciful Father, do not punish me so cruelly as this!”
[Illustration: “Oh God! Give me back my baby! Merciful Father, do not punish me so cruelly as this!”]
While we stood there wondering as to the causes of Foreman McDonald’s strange pleading, his wife, pale as the snow, came from around the rear of the section house and begged us to take hold of Mr. McDonald to prevent him from harming himself, and when at this moment we saw the strong man sink into a corner of the porch and commence to pray aloud, we made a rush and after we took hold of him it required every bit of strength we six husky men could muster to restrain and drag him into the section house, where we stretched and tied him upon his bed and gave him narcotics that caused him to fall into a deep slumber.
While we sat about his bed watching his every move, poor Mrs. McDonald repeated to us, amid heart-racking sobs, the dire calamity that had overtaken her happy family since our departure. That Helen, the pet of the family and of the rough section men, had disappeared from her home, leaving not a trace. Further questioning elicited from the distracted mother this information:
The blizzard had given way to a perfectly calm afternoon, and after they had enjoyed their Christmas dinners, Mrs. McDonald had watched Helen toddle behind her brothers to where the passing siding turned away from the main line, permitting a small pond to form, which, being smooth as glass and swept clear of snow by the storm, offered a splendid opportunity to try out their new skates, which they had received amongst their presents.
The youngsters were altogether too busy enjoying their rare sport to pay heed to their baby sister, and when darkness approached they scampered back to the house where they told their mother of the good time they had had. Her first question, however, was concerning the whereabouts of little Helen, as she quickly noted her absence from the returning children. “Boys, where have you left your little sister?” “Why, mother,” readily replied Donald, her eldest son, “Helen must have been back to the house long ago, as we have not seen her since she watched us put on our new skates.”
Tormented by a mother’s instinct which told her that all was not well with her child, Mrs. McDonald, assisted by her sons, made a thorough search of the house, thinking that perhaps the baby might have toddled back to its home, tired of watching her brothers skate upon the pond, and had, unobserved by her mother, entered one of the bed rooms and gone to sleep. Carefully she looked through every room and then she searched the whole building from cellar to garret, all the while loudly calling for her missing darling, but the search proved futile.
Then she lit lanterns, one for herself and one for each of her boys, and together they searched through the bunk house, the tool house and every other out-building on the reservation, but all their hunting was of no avail, as they found no trace of the child.
Up and down the right-of-way they searched, hoping to find the tracks in the soft snow showing the direction the tot might have taken, but every effort was in vain, and they had almost reached the garden gate of the house, all of them broken-heartedly weeping, having given up all hope of ever hearing again of their Helen, when “Spot”, the shepherd dog, the playmate of the children, came racing towards them, swinging a rag, that he held between his sharp teeth, playfully about his head. He had been awakened by his mistress’s calls for her child, and the lighted lanterns they carried had fooled the intelligent canine into reasoning that this was to be a prolongation of the Christmas festivities of the preceding night, and he had promptly entered into the spirit of the game.
Mrs. McDonald called the dog to her side, and examined the supposed rag the beast had played with, and found it to be the first clue that she had thus far discovered, as it was little Helen’s red flannel undergarment. Reeling but upheld by the thought that she might not yet be too late, poor Mrs, McDonald ordered her boys to take securely hold of Spot, and then she ran as fast as her fright and weakened feet would carry her, to the dog’s house, but its interior and the usual slim appearance of the watch dog, disproved the terrible notion which had caused her to make the hasty trip, that Spot had made a meal of her baby. Grateful from the bottom of her heart for even this small relief in her terrible perdicament, she rejoined her boys, and as sort of forlorn hope, she rubbed Helen’s tiny garment against the dog’s nose, and ordered the collie to go and find the missing child.
The intelligent animal seemed to understand what was demanded of him, for presently, whining as if to appeal to them to go with him, he rushed forward, and as they followed he led them to the pond, then across the tracks where he stopped by a small pile of clothes, which proved to be every stitch of little Helen’s garments–shoes, stockings and all, with the sole exception of a tiny gold locket containing her parents’ pictures, which Mrs. McDonald had hung by its gold chain around the baby’s neck, and the red flannel garment that the dog had brought to their attention, no doubt considering it a most welcome plaything.
Back to the section house she dragged herself carrying the tiny garments. Arriving there, she carefully questioned the boys and brought out only one more useless item, that a westbound immigrant train had pulled into the siding to permit an eastbound passenger train to pass them.
For four seemingly endless days the poor mother with her three small boys helplessly waited for someone to assist her, her husband and all the other men having gone to the wreck. Telephones were unknown in those days, and with no strong hands to pump the heavy hand car through the foot-high snow that now covered the track, there was nothing else to do but to hope, as she did not dare send one of her sons to the nearest village, not knowing at what moment a blizzard might add another calamity to her burden of woe. In all those long days, until the released passenger train flew past, not a single train passed up or down the line, so all she and her children could do was to weep and wait for her husband’s return, to whom she then told all the circumstances of the child’s disappearance, which affected him far more than she thought it would be possible.
After she had finished her sad story she asked us to give her our opinion as to the cause of the baby’s disappearance. One of our men had the most likely solution of the riddle as he thought that the baby had watched her brothers discard their overcoats, and later their coats, as the exercise while skating warmed them, and Helen, childlike, thinking this the proper thing, had in a playful mood discarded her clothes, intending to skate barefooted upon the glistening ice, and finding that the cold snow hurt her feet, and being unable to don her garments, had wandered out upon the bleak prairie and had been frozen to death, the fate that had overtaken Peoria Red and so many strong men.
Leaving one man to act as nurse to the foreman, we others returned to the bunk house, as Mr. McDonald’s heavy and regular breathing assured us that he would at least rest peacefully until the following morning.
For several days, undaunted by constant failures to accomplish anything, we carefully searched the right of way and the prairie for our pet, and had Spot, the collie, assist us, but finally were forced to believe that little Helen had departed for the land of the Angels.
In the evenings, to while away the hours and to be in readiness when in the Spring the warm rays of the sun would remove the snowy shroud and reveal to us her mortal remains, we constructed a small coffin, that we carefully painted a somber black, and we also whittled another white cross, which should in due time mark her eternal resting place.
For weeks Foreman McDonald raved in a high fevered delirium, but gradually, assisted by the railroad company’s physician, who made frequent calls at the section house, and the loving aid and attention of his ever faithful wife, he rallied so far that he again became able to take us out on the track and personally direct our work.
Night after night, for months after her disappearance, when our supper had been served at the big house, and we had returned to the bunk house and had blown out the lamp before retiring, the stern foreman, now only a broken hearted father, yearning for his own sweet baby girl, would slip noiselessly, and he thought unobserved, out of the front door of the section house, and slink stealthily to the very spot where his darling’s tiny garments had been found, and there amid heart-rending shrieks, which we in our bunk house could plainly hear above the weird moanings of the winter storms, he would dig with his bare hands deep into the cruel snow, searching for his lost baby–his own little Helen.
[Illustration: He would dig with his bare hands deep into the cruel snow, searching for his lost baby–his own little Helen.]
As Spring approached the warming rays of the sun finally conquered the thick snow blanket that covered the landscape, and led by our foreman we carefully searched the prairie, praying to be permitted to give at least a human burial to his daughter’s earthly remains, but it nearly wrecked his mind when even this privilege was denied him, as we found not a trace of the child.
Then, hoping to lighten somewhat the fearful burden of woe borne by her parents, we placed those last mementos of her brief visit upon earth into the little black coffin that we had constructed, and gave the baby’s garments a solemn burial alongside the mound of my partner, Peoria Red, and above the new mound we erected the other white cross to keep company with the first one, and tell its silent story to the passengers who flew past aboard swift trains, that two pitiful tragedies had been enacted at this lone section reservation within the short span of a few months.
[Illustration: decorative symbol]
And Spring came back to the Northland. The trees and bushes commenced to bud. As if by magic the brown winter tints of the water and frost bogged prairie were transformed into a daintily colored green carpet by the sprouts that the slumbering grasses sent forth into the balmy air, while here and there a venturesome flower spread its multi-colored petals towards the warming rays of the sun, and lastly the song birds, the infallible sign of nature’s complete resurrection, came home from the Southland and rebuilt their storm-torn nests amid the warbling of gladsome notes, their jubilee song of happiness and satisfaction.
With these signs of the re-awakening of Nature there came to me the strange “Call of the Road”. Heretofore it had never come as strongly as it came at this time, when after a long and monotonous winter’s toil the rattling trains as they shot over our section, the darting birds as they foraged their subsistence, and even the thumping of the wheels under our hand car seamed to beckon me to follow their example and move away. Although I tried with might and main to resist its call, gradually the bunk house became a dungeon, the endless prairie a prison, and the Dakotas themselves became entirely too small to hold me, and when the pay car stopped to hand me my month’s wages, I could no longer withstand the temptation to follow the “Call of the Road” and be up and gone. It was a hard matter for me to bid Foreman McDonald and his family farewell, and the last promise I made before I left was, that should circumstances permit I would find my way back in the fall to again take my place with the section crew, that until then would be held open for my return.
I drifted to Saint Paul and then down to hustling St. Louis, and from there to beautiful San Antonio, and when the binders cut wide swaths into the ripening, top-heavy, golden grain on the banks of the Rio Grande, I found myself back in my chosen element, toiling long hours during the day in the harvest field, and then until way into the night dancing the fantastic fandango with dark eyed Mexican Senoritas, to the accompaniment of twanging guitars and squeaking mouth organs, and staking my come-easy, go-easy earnings against the “Monte” layouts dealt by swift-handed Mexican Senores, who had crossed the river from the Mexican side for the double purpose of helping to harvest the wheat and trimming, by means of “sure thing” games, the American harvesters.
Then came the harvest dance, the festival which indicated that upon the ranch the harvest had been finished, and that I was no longer wanted. So I drifted northward, following the ripening wheat, ever toiling, ever squandering, and always attending the harvest dance which celebrated my exit.
When the inclement weather set in, for want of something better to do, I drifted back towards the lone prairie section reservation to take my place in the ranks of those who tamp the ties and tighten the “fish-plates,” which hold the rails together.
I had hoboed a freight train as far as the water tank, that stood a scant six miles east of the section reservation, and now I walked leisurely through familiar scenery towards my former winter home, hoping every minute to surprise Foreman McDonald and his crew at work on the track. That day, however, they happened to be repairing on the other end of the section, so I managed to slip unobserved up to the front door of the “big” house, where intending to surprise Mrs. McDonald by my unexpected return, I knocked on the front door. To our mutual delight Mrs. McDonald opened the door, and after giving me a glad welcome, asked me into the house. She soon had one of her best meals steaming in front of me, having correctly surmised that a man riding freight trains and walking six miles, needed a hearty repast. Although I was more than anxious to inquire about many items of interest, especially if my long journey had not been made in vain, as my place might have been filled by some other fellow in search of employment, she seemed to completely ignore my presence, for she was only in the dining room during the brief moments when she placed the filled plates upon the table.
I finished my dinner, and then, uninvited by Mrs. McDonald, but just as she had taught me a year ago, when I helped her to do the chores about the house while convalescing from my freezing experience, I carried the soiled dishes into the kitchen. Noticing that she was still in full mourning, I made careful inquiries as to whether any trace had been found of the missing child during my absence, to which she sadly replied that nothing had ever become of the land-wide search that had been made. Her apparent reticence caused my curiosity to mount high, and I followed up my question by pleasantly inquiring as to Foreman McDonald’s present state of health. She looked at me with an expression of terror in her eyes, as if my words had stabbed her to her heart, but did not answer, and a moment later she could not answer had she wanted to, for heart-broken sobs choked her voice, but she beckoned to me to follow her to the front porch and there she pointed her trembling finger in the direction where they had buried my pal, Peoria Red, and there I could plainly see three small, white crosses. Steeled by the many other woes that she had during a long and dreary year borne with fortitude, she temporarily overcame her weakness, and with a clear voice she counted: “One, two, three,” and then the poor woman paused, it seemed the strain had almost been too much for her, and then in a faltering, almost inaudible voice she continued: “Peoria Red, Helen McDonald, Henry McDonald,” and then collapsed.
I carried her limp, unconscious form into the parlor, and after some efforts managed to bring her out of the faint, and when she had fully recovered so as to withstand the ordeal, she slowly repeated to me the story of her summer’s experience, how Foreman McDonald, unable to be without his Helen, had wasted to a shadow of his former self; and in August had died of a broken heart, and how only the thoughts that upon her own frail self had now devolved the duty to provide for their three small sons had given her the strength to resolve not to succumb to a like fate. Her voice brightened when she told me that in all her misery there had come one tiny streak of good fortune to her, a poor, helpless widow cast upon the mercy of the world with three children. The new section foreman, whom the company had sent to fill the vacancy caused by Mr. McDonald’s death, proved to be a crusty, old bachelor of perhaps sixty-five who no doubt appreciating a few extra comforts at his age, gladly consented to have Mrs. McDonald remain and continue taking charge of the section house, and the boarding crew, in return for a small stipend and a shelter for herself and her fatherless children.
When in the evening the new foreman and the crew came home from their work, Mrs. McDonald spoke a word in my favor, and although there was no need of an additional laborer, the new foreman, after he had heard my story, engaged my services.
Until the thawing of the snow I faithfully worked upon the section, but when Spring again set in with full force, there came another attack of the strange fever that drove me onward every year, and, following the “Call of the Wanderlust”, I left for the South, having again promised that with the approach of winter I would be on hand to fill my place with the section crew.
I drifted along with the harvest, but after the wintry storms that swept over the endless expanse of the plains had twisted off the last leaves which the autumn had burnished to a fiery red, and the nights became too chilly to make out-of-door camping a pleasure, I found my way back to my North Dakota section reservation, which I now considered my regular winter quarters.
I arrived at the section house almost at the time when the hand car was due to return for supper, and intending to surprise Mrs. McDonald, knowing that in all the world it would be the poor widow who would give me, a homeless harvester, a glad welcome, I slipped almost noiselessly up to the porch and knocked on the door, but no answer came to my repeated knocks. Then I tried to open the door, which during Foreman McDonald’s time had never been known to be locked, and to my surprise I found it bolted. Thinking that perhaps the widow had gone to purchase provisions, I walked around to the rear of the building and tried every door, but found that all of them were locked. A miserably starved black cat, that made a ten foot leap when she first espied me, was the only sign of life on the place, while the many rag-stuffed broken window panes plainly indicated that great changes had been made at the “big” house since my last departure. There was something uncanny in the silence about the place, and a strange gloom seemed to have settled over everything that foreboded to me only evil happenings.
For want of something better I resolved to await the return of the section crew from their day’s work, and walked back to the front of the house and took a seat upon the steps. I casually glanced across the tracks to where my pal, Peoria Red, was sleeping his eternal sleep, and I was almost stunned by surprise when instead of the three crosses which I had left behind when in the Spring I drifted to the Southland, I counted five of those ill-omened messengers of death. In vain I tried to solve the riddle of these added graves, and was about to cross over to the grave plot beyond the tracks, hoping to find some inscriptions upon the new crosses that would give me a key to the new tragedies that I knew must have caused their presence, when the hand car with the returning crew came into view, and forgetting all other matters, I walked down to the tool house to meet it and was soon cordially welcomed by my old comrades who had “held down” their jobs through the hot summer months.
The same foreman, who had taken Foreman McDonald’s place was still in charge of the section reservation, and he good naturedly ordered the crew to take proper care of me at the bunk house, where quickly a hot supper, which the laborers cooked and served themselves, was made ready, a welcome meal for a man who had not tasted a mouthful since the early morning.
After supper had been cleared away and everything had been made snug about the house, my chance came to inquire why I had found everything about the reservation topsy-turvy, as compared with former days, and I especially inquired as to the well-being and whereabouts of Mrs. McDonald and her three youngsters, and the following is the information one of the laborers gave me:
[Illustration: I walked around to the rear of the building where a miserably starved cat, that made a ten foot leap when she first espied me, was the only sign of life on the place.]
Mrs. McDonald, with the assistance of her three sons, who had grown into strong lads, had given to the crew of the section house the same motherly care that characterized those days when yet her husband’s presence and praises spurred her on to make her best efforts. Every school day she saw her boys ride off to the school house in the early morning upon ponies she had purchased for them, as the school was five miles south from the railroad.
Amid the work of the household and the enjoyment that her three sturdy sons gave her, as they fairly adored their mother and did everything to cause her to forget the sorrowful past, gradually the deathly pallor of Mrs. McDonald’s face and the lusterless eyes with their heavy black rings beneath them, gave way to red cheeks and the same brilliancy that were hers when she was yet the proud mother of baby Helen. Some days, especially when the darkness had hidden those ominous crosses from her vision, she would sing the songs she used to sing in the days of her happiness, which showed to us rough laborers the fight this weak woman was waging with herself trying to forget, for the sake of her sons, those many sad days which had been hers, so that her mourning for things that had been, would not embitter their future.
Almost unawares the Summer followed the Spring, and soon came the glad days for the school children–the annual vacation of the schools–and the three sons of Mrs. McDonald came home to rest from their studies. Gradually unrest, especially in Joe and Jim, the twins, could be noted, as they found time hanging heavily upon their hands. They begged the foreman to permit them to work with the section crew during the months of their vacation, but as they had not sufficient strength to do the strenuous work required of a section laborer, the foreman had to refuse their request. Then they tried to find employment amongst the scattered ranches which here and there commenced to break the monotony of the prairie, but as the planting had been finished long ago, and the harvest would not commence until after school had re-opened, their appeals were in vain. Then they discovered that we had stacked a lot of useless, decayed railroad ties in the backyard of the section house, and they reduced these into stove lengths. After this task had been finished, despair seemed to have taken hold of the boys as there was nothing for them to do to occupy their time.
Idleness breeds mischief. One morning when their good mother wondered why Joe and Jim did not show up at the breakfast table, she sent Donald, her eldest boy, upstairs to arouse them. He returned and reported that they were not in their room. Her hasty investigation proved that they had not only not occupied their beds, and their savings bank had been emptied of its contents, but the broken-hearted mother was nearly frantic when she found that her thoughtless sons had disappeared without leaving even a short note apprising her of their intentions, or at least bidding her a brief farewell.
This was the last and most cruel blow an unkind fate had inflicted upon poor, suffering Mrs. McDonald, and it was days before they were sure that she would not succumb. In the meantime the foreman and every other friend of the sorrow-stricken widow put every bit of legal and police nachinery they could command into motion, trying to find at least a trace of the twins, and although for weeks they searched far and wide, not a single clue as to their whereabouts was found, nor was a single line or letter received from them by their mother, who prayed for weeks for this favor of Heaven, while at the same time her very appearance, her returned pallor and her lusterless eyes told far better than any words how this last calamity was slowly but none the less certainly eating out her heart.
It was almost a month after their disappearance that the bereaved, helpless and hopeless mother received her first clue as to her sons whereabouts. A freight train had been held up on the siding on account of a bad washout, and the crew, finding itself short of provisions had come up to the section house and had requested Mrs. McDonald to prepare for them a meal. While they were dining, one of the brakemen caused Mrs. McDonald to fall into a dead faint when he in a rough but jocular way remarked to her: “I bet you, Mrs. McDonald, that your Joe and Jim are having the time of their lives down in Minneapolis, as I haven’t seen them around the reservation since the night I found them hoboing my train into Grand Forks, although our train has passed through here many times since that day. They told me then that they were bound for the “Twin Cities” to pick up a fortune. Have you heard from them lately, Mrs. McDonald? Are they prospering?”
The police authorities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis were notified, and although correspondence was exchanged, nothing was accomplished. For two more months Mrs. McDonald waited in vain, hoping against hope that at least they would send a letter to appease her piteous fears as to their fates, while in the meantime she faded away to a mere shadow of her former self, and then suddenly decided to quit the reservation forever. It seemed as if she wished to tear herself away from the place which had brought to her such merciless misfortune. She decided to move into Canada, in those days a newly discovered Eldorado, to which all those turned who were willing to work and to hustle while tempting fickle fortune.
On the evening preceding the day Mrs. McDonald and Donald were to depart, after we had finished our suppers, we presented her with a purse of fifty dollars, that we had made up among ourselves, as a token of the high esteem in which we held the unfortunate woman, and too, to assist and cheer her on the journey into an unknown land. Then we filed back to our bunk house, and while we sat about its single room, the gloom that seemed to hold us, spoiled all desire to open a conversation, as the widow’s departure meant the loss of one who had been almost a mother to us rough and homeless laborers. Just as we made ready to retire someone knocked on the bunk house door, and thinking that perhaps some wandering tramp had the nerve to bother us at this late hour in the night, we roughly ordered the intruder to be gone. Instead of going, the knocks continued, and angry at the persistence of the person, we pulled the door open, and to our complete surprise found that it was Mrs. McDonald who had knocked for admission. Realizing the great honor she was conferring upon us, we politely bade her to enter and asked her to be seated. She was attired in the dress in which she intended to make the journey on the following day, and its sombre black of deepest mourning, aided by the yellow light of our lamp, transformed the pallor of her haggard face into an almost ghastly white. We patiently waited for her to open the conversation, of course expecting that she had come to thank us once more for having presented her with the purse. It was some time before she could find her voice and then in the saddest tone that weaver heard, she begged of us strong men, as the last favor she would ever ask of us, to make for her two more white crosses, the same as stood above the other graves, and to deliver them to her in the early morning, and then, as if this last humble request had completely shattered her nerves, she tottered, an almost lifeless wreck, out into the moonlit night.
None of us uttered a single word, it seemed we had been stunned by the solemnity of the poor widow’s request, but we opened the bunk house door to see that no harm befell her upon her trip back to the “big” house. To our surprise, instead of going to the section house she tottered over to where Foreman McDonald lay buried, and we saw her pray long and earnestly by the little mound that held his remains; then she arose and wearily dragged herself to the place by the railroad track where little Helen’s garments had been found, and here once more she sank upon her knees in prayer, and then staggered back towards the “big” house, where, just before she entered the gate of the fence surrounding the yard, she knelt a third time to utter a prayer. While we silently stood and watched and pitied the poor broken-hearted woman, she heavily keeled over. We rushed to her side to give her assistance, and found she had fainted away, but in her unconsciousness she muttered the words “Joe” and “Jim”, and we readily understood for whom her last farewell prayer had been offered.
We carried her into the section house where we revived her, and then we returned to the bunk house and until late into the night sawed, hammered and whittled those two crude crosses into shape, supposing Mrs. McDonald intended to take them with her into Canada, to keep as a memento of her sad experiences.
In the morning after we had been served with breakfast, we handed her the crosses which we had carefully wrapped in paper so that upon her journey their ominous outlines would not recall unpleasant memories and cause her needless anguish. Then we went back to the bunk house to await the arrival of the train and assist in loading aboard the bagggage that Mrs. McDonald was to take with her into Canada. Only a few minutes had elapsed, when to our surprise, the foreman called us to the door and commanded us to follow him, Mrs. McDonald and Donald, who carried the two crosses we had made for his mother.
We followed them to the little graveyard upon the right-of-way, and while we stood by bareheaded, frail Mrs. McDonald planted the two new crosses at equal distances from the other three, and we saw that upon one of them was written “James” and upon the other “Joseph.” After she had scattered prairie flowers over all the graves, we offered up silent prayers, and then with not a single dry eye in our sad procession, we returned to the reservation.
In the afternoon we flagged the westbound passenger train, and after wishing her God speed, we tenderly placed the sobbing widow and Donald aboard, bound for the then little known and undeveloped western section of Canada, and when the tail end of the train passed us, a sportily dressed fellow, who, with other passengers, was sitting upon the observation platform of the last Pullman, upon perceiving those plain, white crosses, which glared so conspicuously above the green sward of the prairie to the right of the train, while he pointed his finger derisively in their direction, made some remarks to the other passengers, and laughed. He did not know the story of the tragic events which caused their presence nor that under four of the little crosses the hopes and happiness of poor Mrs. McDonald lay buried.
[Illustration: Five crosses look over the railroad tracks]
“The Call of the City.”
It was the “Call of the City”, the true brother of that other curse of humanity, the “Call of the Road”, that had been heard by Joe and Jim. For years previous to their unannounced departure they had felt its subtle influence when they read about the grand city in the newspapers which were occasionally found upon the right-of-way, having been thrown there from the passing trains by passengers who had read them. The “call” had also come to them while listening to the stories of adventure among the wonderful palaces and the sodden slums which comprise every city, which were told them by passing tramps as they stopped to rest, to ask for employment, or more often to beg food at the section house. But the strongest incentive of all was the hoboes, who as they passed by aboard of freight trains, with their feet dangling out of open box car doors or hanging to the mail and express cars of passenger trains, waved friendly greetings to the lads, which they interpreted as a beckoning to the city.
Except for the rare instances, when the railroad company transferred their father to take charge of some other section, or the few times when they had made trips to the nearest villages, which were small and had but few inhabitants, the McDonald boys had never seen another world except the one whose boundaries melted into the endless, undulating prairie around their home.
Their parents, who were ever worrying about how to properly provide for their family, had–as nowadays so many other parents do–entirely overlooked the fact that growing boys should be permitted to travel, even if only upon an excursion, to curb within them the inborn and almost irresistible desire to roam, which all have inherited from ancestors, who attired in wooden shoes and coarse apparel, and carrying gunny sacks, had landed not so many years ago at Castle Garden, after having crossed the stormy Atlantic in the steerage of a sailing vessel, and who instead of bringing along a fancy “family tree”, had brought with them a pair of calloused, but willing hands, intending to win with them a way to wealth and fame, in the New World, for their own humble selves and their “proud” descendants.
The “Call of the City” found in the twins willing listeners as the cessation of their school duties, the enforced idleness at the reservation, and the monotony of their existence became a bane to them. They hearkened to the call that had already conquered a vast army of other boys, sons of those who till the soil and labor out-of-doors earning a fair competence, which although it demands hard toil, gives in exchange pure air, healthy food and every comfort and luxury that willing hands backed by intelligence can produce.
For months prior to their departure on their trip, whenever they could gallop beyond ear shot of their elder brother, while riding to and from school, and at night when alone in their bedroom, Joe and Jim pictured to each other the grand future which they thought every city offered to them, comparing it favorably with the drudge of the life of monotonous toil that would be theirs at the section reservation. They repeated the stories of success they had read in the newspapers, the magazines and even in their school books, which told in glowing words of poor lads who had forsaken the country to become rich and famous in the cities, but they never repeated, for they had never read the stories of those unaccountable numbers who had “moved to town” and who had been swallowed up by the city’s whirlpool, to become slaves of the mills and the factories, serfs of the bars and the counters, and who had been forced to toil from dawn to dusk to barely eke out an existence that meant residing high up in the simmering, sweltering tenements, or in damp, pest-ridden basements, deep down in the bowels of the earth, which coupled with improper food, quickly reduced their vitality, so that although they were young in years, the merciless lash of the city’s fight for a living had bent their backs and prematurely aged them.
Joe and Jim realized that it would have been an impossibility for them to wring from their mother her consent to let them try their luck in the city, for since their father’s death, they had become her moral support. They felt ashamed to be loafing idly about the reservation until school opened again and have their widowed mother support them, as they were now sixteen years of age, and more than able to support not only themselves, but could and would gladly have supported her had an opportunity been offered them. The more they argued the matter between themselves, the more they became resolved to journey to some city, and at least until the time came for them to be on hand at school opening, make their own way and perhaps their fortune, which seemed to them within easy reach. They had saved almost fifty dollars, which had been earned running errands and working as water-boys whenever an “extra” gang had been sent from the division point to assist their father’s crew in putting in a new culvert, building a new switch or doing other heavy work requiring more man-power then the reservation crew could supply. This money was kept in a small savings bank, to which they had easy access.
Their scheming and plotting had finally reached the point where it needed only the least provocation to cause them to skip, and this chance came to them one evening while the section crew was in their bunk house, and their mother and Donald, whom they had not taken into their confidence, were busy in the kitchen, when a long, eastbound freight train pulled in upon the siding to let the westbound passenger train pass it. The boys were lounging in the front yard and as the freight train slowly drew past them they espied some open, empty box cars, and as if driven by some strange impulse, they pressed each other’s hands and whispered that now “the time had come,” and then dashed up to their room, emptied the savings bank, packed their few necessities into small bundles and, carefully avoiding the rear of the section house where the kitchen was located, and keeping on the alert to prevent meeting or being seen by any of the section men or train crew, they ran down the side of the train, which was just pulling out of the siding, climbed–as they had so often seen hoboes do–into an empty box car, and slinking back into the darkness of its farthest corner, they were soon traveling beyond familiar landscape. Gradually they became accustomed to the jolting and rattling of their side-door Pullman and stretched themselves upon its hard floor and fell asleep.
It must have been almost morning when, as they stopped at the last water tank west of Grand Forks, they were aroused from their slumbers by the bright rays shed by a lighted lantern held in the hands of a brakeman who roughly shouted: “Which way, kids?” “To Saint Paul,” answered Joe. “Got some money, lads, with which you can square your ride?” inquired the railroad man, as he raised his lantern higher so he could the better estimate the fare he could charge his hobo-passengers, who had now risen and were rubbing their sleep-laden eyes, and then he recognized the twins, whom he had so often greeted from his passing train, and added: “Well, I will be danged if you hoboes aren’t Widow McDonald’s twins,” and then, after he had questioned them as to their destination, and while he withdrew his lantern from the door, he finished the conversation by excusing himself: “It’s all right, my lads,” he cheerfully said, “all charges have been settled as we brakemen do not collect toll from friends. It’s the hoboes we are after to make them ‘hit the grit’.” and with that he was gone.
[Illustration: They were aroused from their slumbers by the bright rays shed by a lantern held by a brakeman who discovered them in the box car.]
A few hours later they landed at Grand Forks, N.D., and by keeping close to their side-door Pullman they had the luck to reach, unmolested, the outskirts of Minneapolis on the evening of the third day after leaving their home.
When the freight train slowed up to pull into the railroad yards, imitating the other hoboes whom they saw diving out of all sorts of hiding places, they jumped to the ground, scaled the right-of-way fence and made a bee line for the wonder of all wonders, that they had read, heard and dreamed so much about–“The City.”
[Illustration: The train enters the city]
“The Golden Rule Hotel.”
It required some moments before the boys became accustomed to the strange sights which spread themselves out before their wondering eyes. The speed and the clanging of the horse-drawn street cars, the shouts of the teamsters, the gas lamps, which now as darkness was approaching were lit, while the brilliantly illuminated saloons, the gayly decorated windows of the stores and shops, in fact everything seemed to them a far different world from the one they had just left behind them upon the bleak prairie.
They walked about the streets until they felt that they must find a shelter for the night, but being afraid to accost one of the many strangers who rushed past them and who not even deigned to cast a glance at the open-mouthed lads who marvelled at the people’s haste to be gone, they tackled a gaudily uniformed policeman. “Yes, my lads,” the good-natured guardian of the peace explained to them, after he had noted their red-bandana wrapped bundles and that their suits were somewhat the worse for their three days riding in the box car, “you of course do not wish to stop at the Windsor, the highest classed hotel in Minneapolis, but I think that I know the proper place for you, it’s the ‘Golden Rule Hotel’, the best place in our city for lads like you.” And then he directed them so they could easily find the hotel, and as a parting word, told them that it was a most reasonably priced place, as they charged only fifteen cents for a night’s lodging, and then finished his fatherly advice by adding, that every cent saved meant a cent gained.
They followed the officer’s instructions, and within a short time found the “Golden Rule Hotel”. They entered its office, a spacious well-kept room, but the next moment they were almost frightened out of their shoes by the loathsome sight which met their eyes, as they found themselves in the midst of a lot of cursing, semi-sober harvesters; crippled, alcohol-marked vagrants; blind mendicants; drunkards and blackguards, in fact a choice collection of the most degraded specimens of humanity.
James nudged Joe and whispered: “Brother Joe, this is no place for fellows like we are. No place for lads who have come to seek employment. Let’s get out of here as quickly as we can and hunt a different lodging house.” Joe, who acted as the treasurer, having in mind the sum that they could save by stopping at a reasonably-priced lodging place, calmed his brother’s fears by replying: “Wait and see what sort of a place this is. The company may not exactly suit us, but has not the policeman told us that this is the best hotel in Minneapolis for us, and look, Jim, doesn’t this office look rather inviting?” While they yet argued the point, the manager of the hotel, an oily-faced fellow, accosted them: “Strangers in Minneapolis, eh?” he queried, with utmost kindness, while at the same time his shifty eyes scanned the country-style suits they wore. “I welcome you to our hustling city, and invite you to make your headquarters at the “Golden Rule Hotel” during your stay.” Noting that the lads were yet undecided what to do and correctly surmising that they had received an old-fashioned, Christian home training, he suavely added: “Our charges are most reasonable, only fifteen cents per night, and every Sunday morning we hold here in the office a most beautiful song and prayer service, and I am sure you lads will be glad to join us in singing grand hymns.”
This last statement settled the whole matter, for the twins felt that a place in which prayer meetings were held and holy hymns chanted could never be an unfit place for the likes of them, and instead of landing in a “hobo-joint” as they had first feared, they concluded that they had actually struck a home. Perceiving the splendid impression his appeal had made upon the newcomers, the manager almost pushed the lads before the counter and made them write their names upon the soiled and tattered register. Then he explained to them that the charge was fifteen cents for one night’s lodging, but if they wished to settle in advance by the week only seventy-five cents would be the rate. Seeing that he could save sixty cents, Joe paid for each a week’s lodging. They left their bundles in the manager’s care, and then inquired for a reasonable priced restaurant, to which they went and satisfied their appetites.
It was nearly midnight when they found their way back to the “Golden Rule Hotel”, whose manager was waiting their return, and who explained to them that as every “room” was taken he was anxious to show them to their “beds”, so he could lock the hotel and retire for the night. He lighted the stub of a candle, and telling the boys to follow him, he led them up a creaky stairway. Higher and higher he mounted, and when the twins thought he must have almost reached the roof, he opened a small door, and picking his way by the flickering light of the candle between wooden partitions, he at last stopped in front of two unoccupied bunks, one above the other, and after telling his surprised guests that these were the “beds” for which they had paid, and after cautioning them to blow out the candle as soon as possible, he bade them good-night and vanished into the darkness, and a moment later the slamming of a door below them told the lads that they were virtually prisoners, as the hotel had been locked for the night.
“Joe,” whispered Jim to his brother, after both had inhaled several whiffs of the foul atmosphere into their lungs, which had heretofore only been accustomed to breathing the pure air of the prairie, “in what sort of an inferno have we landed?” And then he held the candle high, and by its unsteady, sickly-yellow light he counted five bunks, one above the other, in the tier they were to sleep, built from the floor right up to the ceiling, with only sufficient space intervening for a human being to crawl into. These vertical tiers of bunks looked for all the world like boarded up book shelves in a library, one adjoining the other as far as their eyes could penetrate the darkness of the hall, and in each and every bunk was a snoring human wretch, while the suffocating atmosphere caused by the overcrowding and the insufficient ventilation, which was greatly enhanced by the heat of the summer, made the “Golden Rule Hotel” an absolutely unfit place for human habitation.
“Let’s get out of this horrid place, even if we have to sleep upon the chairs down below in the office,” whispered Jim; but before he could add another word or make a move to leave the hall, a threatening voice, emanating from the tier of bunks in the darkness behind them, whose owner had evidently been disturbed by their conversation, roughly commanded them to “hush up and blow out the candle.”
Unused to the ways of the city, the frightened boys obeyed the command, and after they had undressed in the darkness, they climbed into the bunks and being tired out by their sight-seeing, they were soon asleep.
In the early morning, after they had made their toilets by an open faucet to which a cake of perforated laundry soap had been chained, they descended to the office and there demanded of the manager the return of the money they had paid for their week’s lodging, less the cost of the lodging of the preceding night, but this worthy not only absolutely refused to refund a single cent, but derided them so for being “Reubens” that they decided to stop, just for spite, at the “Golden Rule Hotel” until they received their money’s worth.
After a hasty breakfast, they copied from the want columns of the Minneapolis Tribune, the best paper in the city, the addresses of those who had inserted advertisements which the twins thought would suit them, and set out to search for a job, that they had long ago planned should form the first stepping stone towards the fortune and the fame they had resolved to gather in the city.
It is an easy job for someone who has had experience in this line to find employment in a city. Many a bright city chap quits his job in the evening to be almost certain to pick up a new one the following morning. But for Joe and Jim, filled as they were with childish dreams of easy fortune, it was a far different matter, especially while they had dollars clinking in their jeans, as a boy possessing plenty of loose change is mighty particular about the employment he accepts, so, although the lads hunted high and low, from early till late, they could not find suitable places, and after supper they returned to the “Golden Rule Hotel” to “roost” again in their bunks, surrounded by those occupied by the riff-raff of the slums.
[Illustration: “Let’s get out of this horrid place,” whispered Jim, when by the unsteady yellow light of the candle he counted five bunks, one above the other, each of which held a sleeping hobo.]
Joe and Jim were awakened the following morning by the racket the rising “guests” of the hotel made, and when they reached for their trousers to dress themselves, they not only found that these had disappeared, but that their shoes, hats and what proved to be their heaviest loss, their coats in which they had their purses with every cent that they possessed, had taken wing during the night from beneath their pillows, where they had hidden them for safety. They tried to explain their loss to the other inmates, but instead of receiving sympathy for their trouble, only malicious grunts and malevolent leers were their reward.
A few moments later the manager, having been apprised of the theft, entered the dimly lighted quarters, not to search the other bunks for their stolen property, but merely to console his robbed guests, so they would not report their loss to the police and cause unpleasant comment in the papers. While they listened to him they saw only ugly scowls upon the rum-soaked visages of the other inmates of the place, who had crowded around and seemed to greatly enjoy their misfortune, and who broke into shouts of boisterous laughter when the manager explained to the boys that the golden rule of the “Golden Rule Hotel” had always read: “Do everybody–before they do you.”
[Illustration: decorative element]
The manager of the “Golden Rule Hotel” raked up a couple of outfits of cast-off hobo clothing, and coaxed Joe and Jim into dressing themselves into these, and then advised the twins to quickly find employment so they could purchase better attire.
On the preceding day, when they were yet the possessors of almost fifty dollars, they had refused many offers of good employment, but now when they made the rounds calling upon the same employers, dressed as they were in their tattered clothes, to plead for a chance to be permitted to earn a living, these same men had suddenly become stony-hearted and some of them even refused to listen to their tale of how their clothes had been stolen from them. They attempted to fill jobs at common labor, but even in this they did not succeed, as their young bodies lacked the necessary strength to wield the heavy picks and shovels.
When the dinner hour arrived, Jim, who had never been in all his life as hungry as he was at this moment, remarked that he thought it would be best to hobo the next train back to their home, but Joe caused him to quickly get over this attack of homesickness, when he asked if Jim had the nerve to dare face their mother without a cent and in the rags he wore.
When the street lamps were lighted and the stores and offices commenced to be closed for the night, they made their way back to the “Golden Rule Hotel” where, luckily for them, they had at least a place to sleep in the bunks for which they had settled a week in advance.
While they walked down the city’s thoroughfares, they were attracted by the splendor and the brilliant illumination of a restaurant. They stopped and with famished countenances looked through the French plate glass windows and watched the diners enjoy toothsome tidbits, and then wearily moved on–their pride would not permit them to wait for a departing diner to accost him for the price of a loaf of bread wherewith to still their gnawing hunger.
When they entered the “Golden Rule Hotel” office not a single word of greeting or sympathy was extended to them; on the contrary, the manager cautioned them to be careful not to have their present suits stolen from them during the night, and they realized how true was the perverted meaning he had given to the Golden Rule.
It was yet early in the evening and none of the other inmates had retired for the night, but so completely exhausted were the boys that they asked for a candle and then in the semi-darkness of the hall found the numbers of the bunks they had occupied the preceding nights. Remembering the manager’s warning to take better care of their property, they placed their clothes under the straw stuffed mattresses.
They blew out the candle, but just at the moment when they were ready to crawl into their bunks, Jim whispered to Joe: “Brother, come let us pray the way, mother has taught us.” And there in the darkness of the hall they knelt upon the bare floor, and while their torturing consciences told them that their own misfortunes were only a fraction of the woe they themselves had inflicted upon their poor, widowed mother, they pleaded with God to assist them in the extremity of their distress and at least not permit them to perish of sheer starvation.
At break-of-day, aroused from a fitful sleep by the gnawing of their hunger, they dragged themselves down to the hotel office to scan the morning papers for some chance to find employment. But even this early there were several fellows ahead of them eagerly copying addresses from the want columns. While they waited for their turn to look into the paper, several lodgers came down stairs. “Are you looking for jobs, my lads?” they were addressed in a friendly manner by one of these early-risers, who was a rather small fellow and whose clothes and general appearance were somewhat above the average of the other inmates of the hotel, and as the twins nodded assent to his query, he continued: “Are you strangers in Minneapolis?” And as Joe affirmed this question he in a still more friendly tone added: “It’s a hard matter for strangers, expecially if they are not dressed in style, to find employment in this city at this time of the year.” His confiding conversation so impressed the thoroughly disheartened twins that upon his further questioning, they recounted to him their experiences since the moment they climbed into the empty box car that brought them to Minneapolis.
[Illustration: They stopped in front of a brilliantly illuminated restaurant and watched with famished countenances diners enjoy toothsome dainties.]
The fellow listened attentively to their story of misfortune and then asked them to give to him their correct name and home address. Joe, thinking that at last they had found a sympathizing friend, cheerfully furnished the stranger with their correct names, and gave to him as the address of their home the name of their lone prairie siding, Rugby, North Dakota. Then their newly made acquaintance pulled out a notebook into which he carefully wrote their addresses. Next he proposed that they wait for the appearance of his pal, who was yet on the floor above them, when all of them would go out and eat breakfast.
“A man’s stomach is his best friend”, and no sooner had the fellow invited the starving lads, who for more than thirly-six hours had not tasted a solid bite, than they overwhelmed their friend with proofs of their gratitude.
A little later their benefactor’s partner, a medium-sized, clean shaven and neatly attired fellow, came down the stairway. Their friend called him aside and they held a hurried conversation. Then they joined the twins and all went to a nearby restaurant. While the lads made away with a quantity of food that caused the astonished waiter to gape with surprise, their two benefactors, while they rattled silver dollars in their pockets, explained to the lads that Chicago was a far better city for them to find employment in than either Minneapolis or St. Paul, and that if the twins would join them on a hobo trip to that city they would see to it that they would not suffer until a job was found for them.
It was just like hanging candy before a baby, and Joe and Jim without a second thought accepted their offer. After they had settled for their breakfasts, they took the agreeably surprised youngsters into a clothing store and bought for each of them a serviceable outfit of clothes, and it now was not a matter if the boys would go with the strangers, but if the strangers would accept the boys, soul and body.
“I propose that we get out of Minneapolis as quickly as we can,” suggested the fellow whom they first met in the “Golden Rule Hotel” office, and his pal assented and they walked to the railroad station where they purchased tickets to the first station beyond St. Paul and within an hour they were aboard a train traveling to their new destination.
Upon their arrival at this station, a small hamlet, their first acquaintance told them that his road name was “Kansas Shorty” and his partner’s “Slippery”. The lads were surprised that these men should not use their Christian names, but as they were accustomed to hearing all the section laborers and every harvester called by a “monicker” or “name-de-rail”, they kept their thoughts to themselves, and Joe, after listening to these instructions gleefully remarked: “Gee, I wish that you would give each of us a hobo name the same as you have.” After some discussion they nicknamed Joe, “Dakota Joe” and Jim, “Dakota Jim.”
They waited for some time to try to hobo some passing train, but as none of them stopped or slowed up sufficiently for them to risk swinging onto it, when the dinner hour drew near, Slippery visited a nearby country store and soon returned carrying canned foods and other material from which they could prepare a substantial “Mulligan”, which is made by stewing in a large tin can almost everything edible over a slow fire. They collected some castaway tin cans and then went to a thicket by the side of a rippling brook, where they built a roaring fire and when the embers began to form they placed upon the glowing coals the tin can containing the “mulligan”.
Then all repaired to the side of the brook to scour the cans and make their own dinner toilets, and here, while the twins washed their faces, their pals noticed for the first time the singular white hair-growths upon the backs of their heads, their inheritance from their forefathers. Joe explained to their wondering companions that these streaks of white hair were their birth-marks, but Slippery, afraid that these conspicuous freaks of nature would draw too much attention to their young comrades, collected some sprigs of sage, and after he had pounded the same to a pulp between some stones, rubbed it into the white hair upon the boy’s heads, with the result that within a few moments they were dyed to almost the same shade as the rest of their scalps.
By this time the “mulligan” was ready to serve and they dined upon the savory hobo-stew, and after they had filled their inner selves, according to hobo usage they stretched themselves in the shade of the trees to take their after-dinner rest. Unused to the ways of the road, yet pleased with the fate that had brought them into the partnership of men who at least provided them with substantial meals, soon the satisfied snores that emanated from their throats proved to the others that the twins had landed in dreamland.
The moment Kansas Shorty, who had anxiously waited for this chance, had assured himself that the lads were soundly sleeping, he beckoned to his pal and both moved beyond the earshot of the sleepers. “Slippery,” Kansas Shorty addressed his pal, “what do you think of our lucky catch in the ‘Road Kid Line’? Don’t you think that we are the luckiest tramps that ever rambled over any railroad to make a catch of two healthy and good-looking lads as these two are?” And then after he had permitted his cunning eyes to wander back over the forms of the peacefully sleeping lads he continued: “And wasn’t it funny to see how they appreciated the breakfasts we bought for them, the new store suits we paid for, and how eagerly they accepted our offer to permit them to hobo with us to Chicago, and how now they are blindly devoted to us, willing to follow us through Hades?” Here Kansas Shorty paused and added in a whisper, “And wouldn’t they be surprised if they knew the truth, that they had paid for their own as well as our meals, their new suits, their railroad tickets, and even the mulligan with their own money, as we are the ones who, during the darkness of the night robbed their bunks at the Golden Rule Hotel?” Then the two rascals broke into hearty laughter, as they recalled how, amongst the hundreds of the homeless wretches who lodged at the Golden Rule Hotel, they were the ones guilty of having stolen everything the twins possessed in the world, and when Kansas Shorty repeated: “First we stole their clothes, then we found their well-filled purses, and now, to finish our streak of luck we have them thrown into the bargain,” they renewed their laughter, which was abruptly stopped when Kansas Shorty suddenly asked his pal what he intended to do with the lads. “Of course we can take them to Chicago with us and find them some sort of a job, and thus rid ourselves of their presence,” answered Slippery, intending to shed himself of their useless company, and ever wary of trouble he wisely added, “Kansas Shorty, you well know the trite saying: ‘Two is company; three is a crowd; four is the road to disaster,’ so let us give the lads a square deal and take them with us to Chicago and ‘drop’ them there after finding employment for them.” But hardly had he finished this well-meant suggestion, than Kansas Shorty almost in a rage retorted: “Slippery, you are proving yourself to be a regular yegg by the soft talk you have just been giving me. You belong to the class of men who steal and rob, while I am a “plinger”, and beg for a living. To your kind a boy is a handicap, while to our class a good-looking boy is a most decided asset as a boy to us means a heavy increase of our incomes and of our comforts, and now you tell me that you are anxious to find jobs for these lads whom I could easily train into first-class Road Kids.” Slippery, dumfounded at the almost monstrous proposition his comrade made, who was ready and willing to spoil the youngsters’ futures by transforming them into common beggars, failed to find an immediate answer, and now Kansas Shorty, abusively speaking, continued: “You, Slippery, have been my rambling-male for almost a month, but now I propose that we part comradeship and you travel on to Chicago and let me take charge of these sleeping lads, as I do not wish other plingers to know that I have been guilty enough to permit two likely looking lads to slip through my hands by permitting them to accept employment, and” he added as a sort of final argument, “when I take charge of these kids, I shall know how to keep my bread well buttered.”
Although Slippery himself was a confirmed criminal, he bore only the deepest of loathing for that class of scoundrels of which Kansas Shorty had proudly proclaimed himself a member, and his hatred of the begging class of tramps welled up in him and with a sudden movement his hand swung back to his hip pocket and glaring in a most menacing manner at Kansas Shorty he waited for further developments. Seeing that Slippery meant business, this scoundrel now took recourse in diplomacy. “Slippery, old pal,” the miserable coward stammered, while at the same time his eyes followed the yegg’s arm down to where he saw his hand gripping a large caliber revolver, and although perceiving his danger should he further provoke the anger of his pal, he was unwilling to give up the youngsters without at least a struggle, “what is the use of two such chums as we have been until this moment, to quarrel about a couple of good-for-nothing runaway kids? Let me make you a fair proposition. You said that two is company, while three is a crowd, and as I am sure you will not court the risk to drag two road kids with you past all the Johnny Laws (policemen) who will get wise to you when you have a “family” hoboing with you, I propose that you take one of these lads with you to Chicago, while I shall take it upon me to look after the other one,” and when he noted that Slippery’s hand had loosened its grip from the pistol, he said in almost pleading tones, “two of them will be entirely too many for you, while one will make a good companion for you in yegging, and the other one will make a good assistant for me in plinging, and to promptly settle the question whom each one is to take let’s flip a dollar into the air, and if it falls with the head up you take your choice, while if the eagle turns up I have the first pick.”
Slippery gave in to Kansas Shorty’s plausible argument because he not only wished to avoid bloodshed, but he also realized that the two lads would be a handicap to him, as he had his face and Bertillon measurements in every rogue’s gallery in the country, and he saw a chance to thus peaceably rid himself of his companion, whom he now despised far more than he would a rattlesnake.
He gave a nod with his head and Kansas Shorty flipped the dollar high into the air, and when it fell to the ground the eagle showed up on top, and Kansas Shorty went over to Jim, who seemed to him somewhat more tractable then his brother Joe, and more suited for his purposes. He awakened him and then aroused Joe, and explained to both that instead of rambling directly to Chicago, while they had been sleeping, Slippery and he had decided to tackle for employment the many farms which they saw on both sides of the railroad track, and that Joe should accompany Slippery, while Jim had been selected by him as his companion in this job-hunting venture. The unsuspecting lads readily assented to this fair sounding proposition, the more as Kansas Shorty, although he cautioned Slippery to meet him and Jim that evening under the “big oak”, never exchanged another word with his partner.
“So long, until tonight,” called Jim to Joe, who returned his brother’s farewell, and soon Kansas Shorty with Jim by his side was walking northward upon the railroad track, until around a curve, which placed them out of view of the other pair, who were walking upon the track southward, he left the right-of-way at a road crossing and struck westward upon a public highway into the interior.
The flip of the coin had decided their fate. It meant for James McDonald that he had become an apprentice to Kansas Shorty, the Plinger–a begging tramp; while for Joseph McDonald it spelled that he had become a companion to Slippery, the Yegg–a criminal tramp.
[Illustration: Walking the rails]
“Busting a Broncho.”
For three long days after they had parted company with the others, Kansas Shorty kept Jim aimlessly wandering with him about the country, carefully avoiding the railroads, as he did not wish to meet other tramps while Jim was yet “green” to the dark ways of the road, as they by wily tricks and methods often entice new road kids from their partners, who in the language of the road are known as “jockers”.
From the moment that Kansas Shorty had Jim out of the view of Slippery and Joe, he commenced training the lad into the infamous ways of the road, so as to properly prepare him for his future work. The first and most important lesson he gave the unsuspecting youngster consisted in poisoning his faith in humanity by teaching him that henceforth he must consider and treat every human being, except his pal, as his bitter enemy. To prove that to be a fact he would call the lad’s attention to the suspicious looks everybody whom they passed upon the public highway would cast at them. The second lesson was to impress upon Jim the importance of never revealing his correct name and address to any inquisitive questioner, but to always take refuge behind some common name such as Jones, Brown or Smith, and to give some faraway city as his place of residence. He taught the boy many other vicious tricks, and to prevent suspicions arising in the lad’s mind that everything was not on the square, Kansas Shorty would let him wait for him in the public highway, after he had told him that he would call at a nearby farm house and try to find jobs for both. He would then knock on the farm house door, and if someone answered his knocks would ask for a match, a pin or some other trifle and then return to the waiting lad and bitterly complain about his inability to find employment.
Towards the evening of the first day, Jim becoming somewhat anxious to meet his brother, and observing that Kansas Shorty made not the slightest move to reach the “big oak”, which he had told Slippery should be their meeting place, he casually remarked: “Say, friend, is it not close to the time that we should find our way to the “big oak” where we are to meet Slippery and my brother Joe?” “It’s plenty time until then,” was Kansas Shorty’s reply, and then to show Jim that he was from now on his master, he angrily added: “You do not need to remind me again, as I shall take care of you.”
Just as dusk blended into the night, after they had supped upon a handout that he had begged at a farm house, Kansas Shorty pointed his hand in the direction of some oaks which were growing some distance from the highway and told Jim that beneath the tallest of them was the place where they were to meet Slippery and Joe.
They climbed over fences and crossed fields, and the closer they approached the tree the more Jim’s heart palpitated, so anxious was he to rejoin his twin brother, whose inseparable companion he had been since their birth until this day, and strange forebodings seemed to have told him that all was not well, as Kansas Shorty during their conversation had contradicted himself in many statements, and too, they had passed farm house after farm house and many people in the public highway during the last two hours without his trying to apply to them for a job.
When they reached the oak and Jim found that neither Slippery nor Joe had put in an appearance, he began to lament, and when Kansas Shorty assured him that he could only account for their absence by believing they had been jailed on a “suspicious character” charge, the frightened lad commenced to sob.
Kansas Shorty feeling in need of a night’s rest, climbed across fences into a nearby field and gathered some new-mown hay from which he fashioned beneath the protecting branches of the oak a comfortable resting place for himself and Jim. But before he went to sleep, to prevent Jim from taking French leave, he induced the boy to take off his shoes and his coat out of which he made for himself a pillow, and after he had assured the lad that Slippery and Joe would certainly find them should they arrive during the night, he turned over on to his side and was soon soundly sleeping.
On the morning of the fourth day they struck a railroad for the first time since they left it. It proved to be the St. Paul-Omaha main line of the Chicago and Northwestern System, and as luck would have it, while they were walking up a steep grade a stock train loaded with sheep passed them so slowly that they found it an easy matter to swing themselves onto it and they climbed through an open end-door into one of the stock cars, in which, hidden amongst the sheep, they managed to hobo unmolested through many division points where they bought provisions while the sheep were being fed and watered. On the morning of the third day they landed, not at Chicago, as Kansas Shorty had until now made Jim believe, but at Denver, the beautiful capital city of Colorado.
While they walked about the streets of the city, Kansas Shorty met a friend whom he addressed as “Nevada Bill,” and who as soon as the former told him that Jim was “his road kid”, placed his hand under the boy’s chin and after sizing the lad up just as a butcher would a beef, he whispered: “Well, well, Kansas Shorty, I see you have brought a fine ‘broncho’ to town with you. I hope that you will be able to make a first-class road kid of him.” To which coarse remarks Kansas Shorty laughingly replied: “Never fret, Nevada Bill, I have trained many a road kid into good plingers.” Nevada Bill then told him where a gang of plingers had their headquarters, and as Kansas Shorty seemed to be acquainted with most of them whose monickers Nevada Bill repeated to him, he decided to pay this gang a visit.
They wended their way through Denver’s lowest slums and finally arrived at the headquarters of this gang of professional tramp beggars, who always prefer cities in which to ply their trade, and only strike out to visit smaller places and the country at large–and then only in separate pairs–when too many of them drifted into the same city, so as to make combing the public for money an unprofitable business, or when the police made a general raid upon vagrants of their class.
This last reason was hardly to be feared, for as in this gang’s case, they invariably have their headquarters in the building above a slum saloon, whose proprietor would and could not be in business very long unless he knew how to protect his lodgers against police interference, as a gang’s quarters needed to be raided only one time, and ever after all plingers in the land would give this unsafe “dump,” as tramps call this class of hangout, a wide berth, as this raid sufficiently proved to them that this slum saloon was not properly “protected.”
Up the well-worn stairway they climbed and when they reached the second floor of the building Kansas Shorty knocked on a door, which was only opened to them after he had given an account of his identity, and when they entered the room, that by another open door was connected with an adjoining second one, Jim, to his complete surprise found himself in the company of eight grown, burly hoboes of the roughest imaginable type and almost a school class of road kids.
Kansas Shorty was most cordially welcomed by the men occupying the rooms, who insisted that he and his road kid should make their home with them during their stay in Denver, which offer he gladly accepted. Then he introduced Jim as “Dakota Jim” to the others and made the lad shake hands with each and everyone of the ragged, filthy and foul-visaged fellows, who, as Kansas Shorty had told Jim upon the street before he had found their hiding place, were “proper” tramps and explained to him that this meant that all of them were recognized amongst their own kind as worthy members of the fraternity.
After he had shaken hands with the ugly, rum-bloated specimens of humanity, Jim had a chance to take a look at the two rooms which were to be his future home, and his thoughts went back to his mother’s cleanly kept section house, for the total of the furniture in these rooms consisted of some empty soap boxes which served for chairs, a slime-covered table, a couple of rough wooden benches, a piece of mirror glass that was upheld by nails driven into the bare walls, a range, upon which at this moment a dinner was cooking, and two dilapidated beds, the pillows, blankets and mattresses of which–there was no trace of linen–were in an even far more filthy condition than the bunks of the “Golden Rule Hotel” at Minneapolis.
Jim was aroused from his survey of the rooms by Kansas Shorty, who now introduced him to each one of the road kids, whose jockers called aloud the name-de-road of each.
Some of these jockers had as many as four of these lads, whose ages ranged from ten to twenty years, and whose sizes were from that of mere children to fellows who shaved themselves daily so as to pass muster as “road kids”. To have seen these road kids one would have never imagined that within the course of a few short years every one of these boys would be transformed into the same class of sodden wretches their jockers now were, who had trained them into the ways of the road, and that they in turn during their life time would spoil the futures of scores of sons of respectable parents, which proves that degeneration breeds degeneration.
One of the road kids in the den of the plingers, who was known by the name of “Danny” because of his neat appearance and superior intelligence, attracted Jim’s attention and gave a fair average example of the parentage of the rest. When after their short acquaintance in a burst of confidence Jim acquainted Danny with the fact that his late father had been the foreman and commander of a section crew of a North Dakota railroad, Danny puckered up his lips in utter contempt when he informed and proved to the surprised Jim that he was the son of a wealthy banker of Fort Worth, Texas, and–another proof of boyish thoughtlessness–had skipped school to hop freight trains in the railroad yards of his home city. One day he had watched some wandering hoboes cooking a mulligan by a campfire, and had helped to eat the stew, and through this had made the first acquaintance of his present jocker, who had enticed the little lad to run away from his home and follow him out on the road; had trained him into making a living for both; had taught him first to drink, then to like and last to crave strong liquor, and although he treated the lad as a master would his slave, he gave him daily a regular allowance of diluted alcohol, which caused his young victim to quickly forget all desire to return to his home and his parents as there he could not secure the dram he yearned.
Their conversation was interrupted by one of the grown hoboes, who, acting as cook, called all hands to “dinner”. This dinner, which was another mulligan, was placed in the center of the table in the same pot in which it had been cooked, and each member of the gang, just as if they were still camping about a hobo fire in the woods, by means of a small wooden paddle pulled as much of the mulligan as he desired, onto a tin plate, that had never been touched by dishwater, but had only been scraped since the day it arrived at the rooms.
During their meal, also before they commenced to dine and after they had finished, in fact all the time except when they were sleeping, a “human chain” was kept busy fetching from the slum saloon on the ground floor of the building a steady stream of “growlers” filled with beer and diluted, sweetened alcohol, which passed as “whiskey”, and returning the empty tin cans for further supplies, as not the small rent of the rooms but the large and steady thirst of their inmates made it very profitable for the dive keepers to lodge this class of human perverts.
After they had finished their dinner the two filth-laden beds, the benches, the table and even the slime covered floor became sleeping places for the satiated tramps and their road kids, and gradually as their cigarettes burned low and their coarse conversation lagged, all of them, greatly assisted by the strong drink they had swallowed, dozed away.
All of them–with the exception of James McDonald, who had not yet sunken to the sodden level of these brutes in human forms who lay scattered about the two rooms, dead to the world in maudlin sleep, proving themselves to be living models of every stage of the decaying influences of hobo life, from men whose countenances had been turned into bloated visages down to the pale faces of the younger boys who had just commenced to feel the curse of the lives which they had been forced by these jockers to lead.
While Jim sat amongst them upon an empty upturned soap box, his eyes wandered from one to the other of these wretched beings, who from this time on would be his pals and companions and whose lives gave him a vivid picture of what his own future would be. Suddenly the blood welled up in him, and although he knew that hundreds of miles of unknown country separated him from his home and mother, one desire outbalanced everything, that was the wish to escape the fate of these hoboes and the longer he looked at the alcohol disfigured masks of these human vultures who, too, had once been clean and manly lads, the more fierce became his resolve to now or never escape the clutches of Kansas Shorty, who was sleeping as heavily as the others.
He scanned again the face of each one of the hoboes, and especially that of Kansas Shorty, and after he had assured himself that all were soundly sleeping he carefully stepped over the bodies of those who lay between him and his liberty–the door that led into the hallway–but as he turned its knob, which being rusty from age and filth, creaked considerably, its grating noise awakened one of the road kids, who fathoming the reason of Jim’s opening the door and darting into the hallway, let out a piercing shout, “that Kansas Shorty’s kid was making his get-away”. This warning shriek not only awakened every one of the sleepers but sobered Kansas Shorty so suddenly that he made a headlong dive through the open door, beyond which Jim was running down the hallway trying to make his escape. He caught the lad before he even reached the stairway and dragged the shuddering boy back into the filthy room, carefully locking the door behind them.
He pulled the boy across the table, and after one of the inhuman monsters had stuffed a filthy rag into the poor lad’s mouth to smother his screams, Kansas Shorty, as the jocker of the lad, gleefully assisted by the others in his savage task, pounded poor Jim until he became unconscious.
[Illustration: Kansas Shorty pulled the lad across the table, and after one of the inhuman monsters had stuffed a filthy rag into the poor boy’s mouth to smother his pitiful screams, they pounded him until he became unconscious.]
When Jim came to, Kansas Shorty, of whom he expected this last of all, was sitting upon the edge of the bed upon which he had been placed, and while he fanned the poor boy’s bruised and battered face with a folded newspaper, he was talking to him in a softly purring voice, telling him how sorry he felt to have been forced to punish him for having attempted to run away from his “protector”, who intended to make out of “Dakota Jim” a “man” who in the future would be proud to tell other plingers that Kansas Shorty had been his jocker.
Kansas Shorty continued to speak in this petting and almost flattering vein, while at the same time he fed the feverish and maltreated lad with pieces of choice candy and other tidbits for which he had sent while Jim was yet unconscious, and stroked the boy’s hair and dressed his wounds with vaseline-soaked rags and showed in every possible manner how true a friend he was to Jim, to whom he repeated over and over the fact that he had clothed and fed him in Minneapolis when he and his brother Joe were on the verge of death by starvation. He never stopped his flow of pleasing language, ever harping upon the good he had done and would do for Jim, if the latter would only trust him, until forced by sheer friendless loneliness the boy folded his bruised arms around Kansas Shorty’s neck and amid heart-broken sobs begged his pardon for having tried to leave him, and while the other hoboes in the room, old as well as young, who had all passed through the same sort of treatment, had a hard time to suppress their smiles, he solemnly promised to never again attempt to escape.
Then the poor boy sank back upon the bed and gradually, urged on by Kansas Shorty’s assurance that sleep would heal all the quicker the bruises and marks the terrible beating had left on him, a reminder of his promise, and a warning of far worse punishment should he dare to break it, he fell asleep.
Then the other plingers sent down to the slum saloon for a new supply of beer and “whiskey”, and while they took care not to make noise enough to awaken the new recruit to the army of professional beggars, they drank to Kansas Shorty’s health and congratulated him upon the successful culmination of the first step necessary to make a good-for-nothing parasite of society out of a respectable boy. This inhuman brutality is administered to every boy who falls into the clutches of a plinger, as it not only deadens the spirit of pride and honor, but makes the boy obedient to the least command of his jocker.
This cruel maltreatment is called amongst those hoboes who have boys tramping with them: “Busting a Broncho”.
[Illustration: Four tramps]
The following law, if passed and enforced without mercy, would quickly put a stop to the common practice of degenerates spoiling the lives and futures of other people’s children by training them to become tramps, drunkards, professional beggars and even dangerous criminals, viz: “Should any minor be found beyond the limits of his legal residence tramping, peddling, begging or stealing at the command or for the benefit of an adult person, who cannot prove that he had the legal consent of the minor’s guardian, then this adult person shall be sentenced to a long term at hard labor in the state penitentiary.”
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(The actual experiences of the Author, who when a young boy was at one time a plinger’s road kid, are embodied into this chapter and have been even far more revolting than herein described.)
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It was several days after the terrible thrashing before Jim recovered sufficiently to be able to show himself upon the streets.
On the morning of the fifth day after his arrival at Denver, he was told by Kansas Shorty to accompany Danny upon his day’s work and watch how this small, weak boy managed to earn a living for himself and his master, who under the pretense of “showing him the world”, had enticed him away from his home.
Danny had been trained by his jocker, an ugly ex-convict, who on account of his ape-like face had been dubbed “Jocko”, to peddle needle cases from house to house. These needle cases are paper packages containing an assortment of needles and are always retailed in every store in the land for five cents. These harmless packages have made more useless, if not dangerous men out of harmless youngsters than any other cause, as printed in bold type across their face are these words:
“PRICE 25 CENTS”.
This fictitious price mark works straight into the hands of the jockers who purchase these needle cases by the gross for about two cents each and teach their road kids to dispose of them, at a huge profit. If needle cases can not be had, sticking plaster, aluminum thimbles, pencils, shoestrings and other such articles are given to the road kids to peddle.
From the pages of a Denver City Directory, Jocko had copied upon sheets of paper the name, street and house number of every resident in the city, overlooking none, as sometimes those who occupy humble homes buy more needle cases and turn out more revenue than those who reside in marble palaces.
Jocko had handed Danny a list of names and addresses and the road kid’s trick, which his ugly jocker had most carefully rehearsed with him, was worked by calling at residences and by correctly quoting the names foil