FALSE FRIENDS_ THE TRAIL OF THE TRAMP_ CHAPTER SEVEN_
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.
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.