THE CALL OF THE CITY_ THE TRAIL OF THE TRAMP_ CHAPTER FIVE_
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.
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."