BUSTING A BRONCHO_ THE TRAIL OF THE TRAMP_ CHAPTER EIGHT_
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.
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".