THE ABYSS_ THE TRAIL OF THE TRAMP_ CHAPTER NINE_
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."
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 the servants and obtain an interview with the lady of the house to whom he would tell a story that would make a "stone weep." With Jim by his side this morning he spoke of him as being his cousin, and with a string of woeful lies attached to his yarn he usually managed not only to receive the price printed upon the package, which he held up in such a position that the lady could not fail to see its fictitious value, but oftentimes he received more than this sum.
They sold a number of the needle cases, and although Jim had a look of complete disgust upon his face, showing how he disapproved of Danny's lying, the latter, proud as a peacock, instead of being ashamed of swindling kind-hearted ladies, said in a tone of voice which left no doubt that he would do exactly as he proposed: "Eh, Jim, when I get to be a plinger I shall have at least a dozen road kids peddling for me and not like Jocko, who besides myself has only three other kids hustling for him," and after a pause he disdainfully added, just as if his jocker was not already doing incalculable harm, "only four kids, with so many of them hoboing about the country."
At one of the houses, after Danny had repeated his tale of woe, a charitable lady told them to await her return as she had left her purse in her bed room, located on the second floor. Never suspecting that boys appealing for assistance would turn into ingrates, she left the front door ajar. The next moment Jim almost sank to the floor when he saw Danny sneak into the house, enter the nearest room, and just as the lady descended the stairs, dart back to his former place upon the porch, holding a silver spoon in his hand, which he hid in his pocket. After the lady had paid him for a needle case they left.
Danny repeated this disgraceful trick of basest ingratitude at several other houses. Then he coaxed Jim into making the lying appeal necessary to sell the needle cases, and whenever Jim managed to make a sale Danny's praises knew no bounds. Finally Danny had just one needle case left out of the stock Jocko had handed to him to peddle, and while they waited before the open entrance door of a palatial residence for the return of the lady of the house, who had left them to find her pocketbook, and whose footfalls they could hear as she descended the stairway leading into the basement of her home, Danny deliberately pushed the unsuspecting Jim through the half-open door into the hall of the mansion, and told him in a whisper that if he did not steal something he "would tell Kansas Shorty."
In all his past life Jim had never stolen a single cent's worth of other people's property, but with Danny threatening to tell Kansas Shorty should he refuse to do as told, and remembering the cruel pounding he had received at the hands of this fiend only such a short time before, and the warning ere he and Danny set out upon their begging trip to do exactly as Danny ordered, he realized that perhaps another far more brutal beating would be his should he disobey Danny's command.
Before him was an open door, and when he entered the room he found it to be the parlor. Looking about he saw a glittering gold watch lying upon the piano, and picked it up, and gazed at it for a moment. "No, I must not disgrace my honest name by becoming a common thief for the mere sake of furnishing sodden wretches with rum," he mused, but while he hesitated he heard the footfalls of the lady of the house as she ascended the stairs, then the fear of the terrible punishment that would be his if he disobeyed conquered his honesty and he slipped the time piece into his pocket and joined Danny at the entrance.
When the lady of the house came to the door she handed Danny a bright silver dollar and when he wanted to give her the needle case she refused to take it from him, and while tears of pity streamed down her face she said: "May God forbid that I take from you poor unfortunate boys an article that you could dispose of to others, and thus further assist your starving parents", and before the lads could utter a sound she had shut the door in their faces.
It was now half past eleven in the morning, and as road kids do "housework" only between nine and this time of the day, as after these hours the police commence to be more active and the ladies become far less inclined to listen to a tale of distress, they went back to the plinger's headquarters.
In strict accordance with the unwritten code of the road although Jocko, his ugly-visaged jocker, was amongst those in the room, Danny paid not the least attention to his presence, but stepped up to the table upon which an empty tin plate had been placed for just this purpose, and deposited upon it every cent he had in his pockets and whatever he had pilfered from the houses.
Danny now told Jim to place the watch he had stolen upon the tin plate, which he did. Kansas Shorty picked it up and estimated its value at not less than one hundred dollars, and then praised Jim for having upon his first raid proven himself to be a first-class road kid, and that the "gang" was proud to call him a pal. When Jim was out of hearing Danny received much praise for having turned an honest boy into a beggar and a thief by the same methods that he had been taught by his jocker and other road kids.
So quickly had these rum-soaked, heartless monsters converted an absolutely harmless lad into a criminal, that Jim pleaded with Kansas Shorty to permit him to try unassisted to peddle needle cases. He was not accorded this privilege, but was sent out with a boy nicknamed "Snippy". This boy had a most repulsive looking sore upon his arm, reaching from the wrist four inches upward. His graft consisted of visiting offices located in the business district and showing to persons this noisome sore, and then handing them the begging letter his jocker had faked for him, he collected alms, while at the same time he contorted his face as if suffering agony from his "disease".
When they returned to the hangout at the end of his working hours at 2 p.m., as the afternoon mails made charity calls of this class unprofitable, Jim was given his third lesson by a lad who went by the hobo name of "Spanish John."
On the preceding evening John and Jim had played catch ball in the hallway and the way John chased after a ball he had failed to catch caused Jim to greatly admire the boy's agility.
But this morning John certainly looked for all the world as if he had passed through a long war. He upheld his body by means of a pair of crutches and his face was all furrowed as if he were suffering agony, while his left foot was drawn high above the ground just as if a cannon ball had made its acquaintance, and it was with such a sad voice that he called to Jim to follow him, that Jim felt so sorry for John he forgot to ask him what had happened to him since both chased the elusive ball in the hallway.
Spanish John had a sore upon his left leg just like Snippy had upon his arm, and he used this sore, assisted by small cards called "duckets", upon which an "appeal" was printed, to swindle honest and well meaning people out of money. Proprietors of stores and shops were his favorites. When supper time approached and while upon their way back to the plingers' quarters, after they had left the business section, John handed his crutches to Jim to carry, and told the astounded lad, who supposed John had actually been crippled, that limping with crutches was a "most tiresome job."
Everyone of the road kids had been trained by his jocker to become a specialist in some particular brand of the begging game. One of them had around his arm a plaster of Paris casting, that during his begging trips would be filled with cotton upon which a few drops of carbolic acid or some other "medicinally" smelling liquid had been poured, to give the "phoney" broken-arm trick a cloak of respectability. When not at "work" the "dummy" was shoved far above the boy's elbow and tied so that it did not interfere with his playing "tag", and other boyish games.
A simple-faced chap, but one who knew the game from A to Z, played the deaf and dumb game, for which purpose his jocker had forced him to learn the sign language. Another boy had been taught to throw his hand and fingers so far "out of joint" that a real crippled-for-life paralytic could not have improved upon the deceptive deformity. Both of these lads used duckets, pencils, shoestrings and thimbles as an addition to their mute appeals, although it is a well-known fact that no genuinely afflicted paralytics or mutes, least of all boys, ever resort to begging for their living.
In the evening after supper had been served and things had somewhat quieted down in the rooms, almost dumfounded by surprise Jim watched Snippy's jocker paint a strong solution of lye into the dreadful sore—known in the hobo vernacular as a "jigger"—upon the road kid's arm. The poor little lad shrieked with pain as the acid ate into his quivering flesh, which deepened the wound still more and gave it a "fresh" look, which greatly added to its horrid repulsiveness so as to all the more arouse the pity of those from whom he would be forced to beg on the coming morning.
Joe made careful inquiries of one of the friends he had made among the road kids, and this boy told him that oftentimes these inhuman monsters continued the lye treatment for such a length of time and so fearfully corroded their helpless victim's limbs, that blood-poisoning set in and made amputations necessary to save their lives. The deeply seared, white scars which these "jiggers" leave during the balance of the road kids' natural lives, prove to those who are versed in the ways of the road, in which school of crime a criminal branded with these tell-tale scars received his first lesson.
Just before Jim went to rest for the night upon one of the bare wooden benches that had been given to him for his bed, Kansas Shorty warned him that if he ever said a single word of what had occurred since he left Minneapolis, or would occur in the future, he would not only murder him but would ramble to Rugby and tell his mother that her son had robbed a house, and then he pulled out his notebook and repeated to Jim his correct name and address, which the boy had in his innocence given him at the Golden Rule Hotel.
The poor lad first shuddered with terror as he thought how his poor mother would suffer should she be informed how he had disgraced her, then he snuggled close to the black-souled fiend and solemnly promised never to divulge a single word to any mortal.
The following morning Kansas Shorty gave Jim a package of needle cases and in words that Jim could not misunderstand ordered him not to come "home" until every one had been peddled.
Luck was with him. His rosy cheeks and his neat appearance opened the hearts and loosened the purse strings of charitable ladies and it was just ten o'clock when he returned to the hangout, having sold all of his stock.
Jim pleaded to be permitted at least until the noon hour to sell more needle cases, and his jocker, pleased to see the the lad so anxious to support an able-bodied hobo loafer in idleness, consented and gave him another supply.
Again fortune favored him and when a nearby clock pointed its hands to a quarter of twelve he had just one needle case left. He rang the door bell of a residence, and as if luck was with him, the lady of the house, a matron with snowy hair and features which in every line bespoke the kind-heartness of her soul, opened the door. After he had explained to her his errand, she took the needle case out of his hand and then told him to await her return as she had left her pocket book in her bed room upon the second floor of her home. She went, leaving the front door ajar.
Jim heard the lady of the house mount the stairway, then the second flight, now she was walking towards the rear of the building, and when he heard a door slam, indicating that she had entered the bed room, like a flash of lightning an evil thought shot through his mind. It was just one step to the open parlor door. He craned his head, and looked into the parlor, and when he saw that the shades were drawn, which would prevent his being seen from the outside, he thought that this would be a fine chance to show to Kansas Shorty, Danny and all the rest of his "friends" how well he had learned their lessons.
Without the least hesitation he stepped into the semi-darkness of the parlor, where his eyes were attracted by the gleaming steel of a large caliber revolver lying upon the center table. He heard the lady's footfalls as she descended from the second flight of stairs, and quickly reaching out his hand he picked up the pistol and slipped it into his pocket. He then turned about, to quietly take his former place before the front door, but just as he turned, he felt a pair of hands grip him from behind by the throat. He struggled hard to free himself from the ever tightening grip, and then lost consciousness.
When he opened his eyes he found he was lying upon the floor in the entrance hall of the residence, and he gazed upon two pairs of handcuffs, one of which was clasped around his wrists, while the other held his ankles in their steel embrace, while above him, watching his every movement, was a man dressed in the uniform of a captain of police who in a most menacing manner fingered the trigger of a revolver, which Jim recognized as the same weapon that he had attempted to steal off the parlor table.
Jim could not speak, as his badly crushed throat would not permit this even had he wished to do so, but he further saw the same charitable lady who had been so willing to purchase his last needle case, bending over him, and while she looked at him as he lay there upon the floor before her, handcuffed like a hardened, dangerous criminal, he heard her plead with him. "Boy," she said, while her pitying eyes looked straight into his own, "is there not somewhere in this world a good mother who has taught you that honesty is always the best policy?" And while tears of bitter repentance commenced to course down the poor boy's cheeks she repeated the question, which caused the now heart-broken lad to sob aloud in his anguish.
A moment later the police patrol was heard clanging in the distance—it had been called by telephone. It stopped in front of the house and presently two blue-coats saluted their superior and then picked up the boy, but before they carried him to the waiting police patrol the captain told them that as he had come home for dinner a little earlier than usual, he had divested himself of his heavy pistol and then, while he was taking a mid-day rest upon the parlor lounge he had watched the boy sneaking into the room, picking up the revolver from the center table, and then he pictured to the policemen how he had quietly arisen from the lounge and like a bolt from the blue sky made a prisoner of the chap, whom he described as a most dangerous sneak thief—he did not know the true story of the boy's past nor that not two weeks had elapsed since the same handcuffed lad would have willingly laid down his life before he would have permitted himself to stoop so low as to touch property belonging to another person with the intention of stealing same, nor was the captain acquainted with the fact that a tramp within an even shorter space of time had killed this honesty, had spoiled the future and virtually wrecked the life of the lad by forcing him to become his road kid.
Within an hour's time the plinger gang in their rooms above the slum saloon had been apprised by the subtle and mysterious means which is a sixth sense with criminals, that the missing Jim, who had not shown up for dinner, was behind the bars of the city prison, and afraid that he would "peach" they made haste to vacate their quarters and scattered to the four winds, each jocker taking his road kids with him. Just as they separated, while the other scoundrels tried to console Kansas Shorty for having so quickly been deprived of such a good road kid as Jim had proven himself to be, he cheerily replied to their words of consolation: "There are many more cities like Denver in the States and Canada where we can ply our profession the same as we have here, and there are any number of other people's sons whom I can entrap and can force through fear of exposure and by brutality into becoming tramps, drunkards, beggars and criminals, all at one and the same time."
They carried Jim to the city prison and locked him into a dark dungeon, from which, after several hours of solitary confinement, three detectives took him into the chief of police's office and there pleaded with him to reveal the whereabouts of his jocker, as they were well aware that this lad was merely a tool in the hands of some designing scoundrel, but Jim, as all the other road kids before him have done, refused to divulge the least word that would have caused his jocker's apprehension.
Finding that pleading and threats were unavailing, the officers in their efforts to catch the man "higher up" swore at Jim, then cuffed him and finally, angry at the stubborn silence of the boy, they beat him dreadfully, but even this punishment was in vain for Jim ever repeated in his mind at every cuff and lick he received, that Kansas Shorty had his mother's correct address and that this scoundrel would do far worse than merely murder him, should Jim fail to keep the promise not to tell who was his jocker.
Unable to extort a word from Jim that would lead to the arrest of his jocker, the officers dragged the staggering, heart-broken lad back to his cell and locked him up. When from sheer exhaustion he fell asleep late in the night, he dreamed that Kansas Shorty's grinning face was pressed against his steel-barred cell door. "Jim, Jim," he could distinctly hear the scoundrel say mocking him in his helplessness, "come on, Jim, let us go and peddle needle cases and loot more houses." Jim leaped from his bunk at Kansas Shorty's throat, as if he were a wounded tiger, to strangle with his bare hands the fiend who had so wantonly spoiled his life, but he only gripped the cold steel bars of his cell and awakened, then as he sank back upon the edge of the prison-bunk, he realized that now it was too late—and he burst into bitter tears.