SLIPPERY, THE YEGG_ THE TRAIL OF THE TRAMP_ CHAPTER TEN_
After Slippery, the Yegg, and Joe had parted company with Kansas Shorty and Jim, they walked leisurely southward upon the railroad track. For some time their conversation lagged, as Slippery was absorbed in thoughts centering upon the boy who was walking by his side. Slippery had up to this moment lived strictly in accord with the laws laid down by the "Code of Crime", the rules of which, although not printed and bound into a costly volume, nor even written, are nevertheless strictly observed by those who defy law and order.
A tradition of this unwritten code was to the effect that a "wise" yegg must never have a minor hoboing with him about the country, as not only would the youngster be of little value when committing a crime and a most decided handicap in making a getaway, but the greatest of danger lay in the fact that should they be arrested, the boy would be more than likely to not only reveal all he knew of the latest exploit of the yegg and tell everything he had seen and heard since their first day's comradeship, but he would undoubtedly turn state's evidence, and help to send the yegg to the penitentiary for a long term. Slippery also weighed the chances which he faced should he by misfortune "ramble" into other "brethren of the gun" who happened to be abroad in the land, especially along oft-traveled routes like those between St. Paul and Chicago, as they would not only frown upon a yegg who had offended the ethics of their clan by having a road kid traveling with him, but they would quickly spread the fact broadcast throughout the land to the detriment of the heretofore good reputation Slippery had enjoyed amongst the numerous members of the "Fraternity of the Dark Lantern."
As a result of these reflections he decided to rid himself of Joe's company as soon as possible, and the easiest and fairest method he could think about to pull himself out of this dilemma was to find a job for the boy upon one of the many farms which were scattered along the right of way.
After having tried for hours to find some sort of a job for the boy, Slippery, thoroughly disgusted at his vain efforts to rid himself of his unwelcome companion, whom he considered by this time a nuisance, decided that the next best plan would be to take Joe to Chicago and find there a employment for him. Then the fact that they were supposed to meet the others at the "big oak" in the evening flashed through his mind, and that perhaps on account of this, Joe would object to hoboing any sort of train.
In furtherance of this plan Slippery visited several additional farm houses to seek employment for the boy, acting after each failure even more discouraged than ever in not being able to find a job, and his disgust increased to such a degree, that it finally became an easy matter for him to have the lad consent that they quit their resultless efforts in this line and instead strive to reach the "big oak" that Slippery assured Joe was growing close to the right of way several miles to the south of them, and there meet the others, whom he had no doubt had had no better success in finding employment.
Slippery now began to paint in most wonderful colors for his younger companion, word-pictures of the grand sights and scenes which were awaiting their arrival at Chicago, and unintentionally drifted into describing the many cases he had heard about, where penniless boys there had risen in a comparatively short time to the rank of multimillionaires.
Joe, who until now paid more attention to the rough, stone ballasted track beneath his feet that made walking a hardship, became greatly interested in the subject that Slippery had reached in his conversation, as it concerned the same matter that Jim and he had threshed out so many times before they left their section home at Rugby, and when Slippery spoke in glowing terms of the many advantages that employment in a large city like Chicago held out to a hustling lad, Joe threw all his troubles to the winds and laid bare to his older comrade every movement since his childhood, and finally came to the point where he and Jim had planned to run away to a city and there by watching for every chance of advancement offered them, and by saving every cent and especially by adhering strictly to honesty, had intended to work their way up the ladder of success until they had reached a respected and independent position. After he had paused to take a second breath, with a true boyish fervor, he commenced to build aircastles as to what he would do when the day arrived when they would not have to look so closely to the saving of their pennies. The more enthusiastically Joe spoke of this bright future, the less he became aware that his hopes had caused the answers he received to his many questions he asked his older companion to become more curt and sullen, nor did he realize that every word he spoke stabbed Slippery's conscience as if it were a two-edged dagger.
Slippery, although he belonged to the the yeggs, had like ninety-nine out of every hundred of his kind, been in his youth a harmless boy who had been enticed by some good-for-nothing tramp to forsake his home, and showing more ambition than to end his days as an alcohol-rotted wreck, had drifted along with criminals, who for the sake of a few dollars or even a handful of unused postage stamps did not hesitate to commit murder, and who had in time taught Slippery the various divisions and subdivisions of their dangerous existence.
Now that Slippery was barely thirty years of age, he was, although young in years, old in crime and had been in many collisions with those who represented law and order, and had served many long terms at hard labor behind the stone walls of state and federal penitentiaries.
One evening, just before Slippery had finished his last sentence, after the prisoners had been locked up for the night, his cell-mate in a spirit of fun suggested that, to while away the time until the lights would be turned low, they compute the average daily wage their crime-steeped lives had earned for them. Although both were regarded by their brethren of crime as most successful in their chosen profession, they found after tedious calculating that the average daily wage of their miserable existence since the day they left their homes had been a fraction less than twenty cents. In this total they did not include the many years they spent behind prison bars, performing, without pay, ambition crushing toil under the eyes of brutal guards, fed upon poor food, sleeping in unhealthy quarters, dressed in coarse, zebra-striped suits and ruled by a most cruel discipline, all of which they were unable to reduce to a dollar and cents basis.
Until that evening his bosom friends had been other equally desperate criminals, as misery loves company, but even few of these could he trust, as "stool pigeons" far outnumbered those whom he could implicitly depend upon and even amongst the few, only too many were snatched from his side by the stern hand of the law to linger for years in penal institutions, if they did not become targets for revolvers or were strangled upon a gallows. The more he thought of this shady side of his past, the more changed became the point of view with which he judged the rest of the world. The laborer whom he saw in the early morning swinging his dinner pail while with light steps he marched to the daily task in mill and factory, and whom he watched in the evening's dusk after the factory sirens had blown the working man's curfew, hurrying home anxious to reach his humble fireside, and for whom heretofore he had only known feelings of deepest contempt, suddenly had become a man who benefitted preciously far more of his life than any yegg he could recall.
A strange yearning to join those who carried the dinner pails and who had homes and firesides of their own made itself felt, and still later this desire to foreswear his past and reform became ever stronger, especially when one day by a singular chance he happened during recess to pass a school house, and stepping behind a tree from where with a wistful look in his eyes he watched the rosy-cheeked, romping children, while at the same time revolting pictures of his own misspent life and thoughts of the far worse to-be-spent future, and the fact that he had been heretofore his own worst enemy came so strongly to his mind that he could barely keep himself from sobbing.
From that evening when he for the first time in his whole life, studied the life of a yegg from a commonsense and strictly commercial side and found it in all its phases a losing game, dated the desire to quit the life of crime when the first opportunity presented itself, but whenever he tried to picture himself as having a happy home of his own, there, like a black cloud suspended in a blue sky, came to him the knowledge that never more could he hide his past, for from the moment that he should endeavor to walk the narrow path, every yegg in the land would point to him as a former brother-in-crime, and gossiping tongues would quickly force him back into the fold, even while with his calloused hands he would be toiling to earn an honest living.
While all of these pictures of his past flashed through his active mind and the desire to be for just one time, a man who needed not to be afraid to associate with honest people, he attentively listened to the boy who was just now unfolding his plans for a bright future, and who was telling about his section home by the side of the railroad track in the midst of the endless prairies of the Dakotas, and although he described the siding of Rugby as being a most desolate place, the desire to reform became almost irresistible to Slippery when Joe told how every evening the railroad laborers returned to their humble quarters worn and tired out by the hard toil of the day, but happy with the satisfaction that by performing their task they had added their share to the world's work for the common good of all humanity.
This was the boy of whose most unwelcome company only a few minutes before Slippery had wished to rid himself as he considered him a serious handicap to his career as a professional criminal, and who was now telling of his plans, how he wished to atone by leading an honest life for the wrong he had done to his widowed mother by leaving his home without her consent, and as he continued to speak of his hopes of a clean and glorious living, the same queer feeling that had attacked him before came with ever increasing force over Slippery, and it almost stunned him when the lad with his true-ringing, youthful voice, exclaimed, "Slippery, you are going to be my partner, for all of us working together can accomplish much more in Chicago to make our way to wealth and fame than we two could. And then, when we have made our fortune, I will want you to come back with us to Rugby and stay with us, even if you have to buy for yourself a prairie farm, for I know mother will wish that you stop with us, because she will always thank you for having taken such good care of her Joe." After he had given vent to this boyish dream he paused, expecting to receive an answer from his older companion, but Slippery only nodded in assent, while at the same time he rubbed his eyes with his hands as if tiny cinders had lodged in them. His emotions caused him to avert his face so Joe could not see the tears of repentance which his hurting conscience forced to run down his cheeks. And then his better self got the master hand over him and he silently swore that at this moment had arrived the oft wished for opportunity for him to forsake the road and quit the crooked game of crime.
Now came Slippery's time to make plans. His first thoughts were to discover the best method to fullfil the promise he had just made to himself to lead a new and different life. The best method as it appeared to him would be for Joe and himself to ramble on to Chicago and there procure employment, as he realized that to separate from his younger companion would mean to him a rapid drifting back into his old ways. This plan looked mighty good and he slyly chuckled as he thought that it would be only a short time until his pay envelope would bulge from the sum to which his wage would quickly increase, for he felt assured that it would be an easy matter for him to be advanced into an ever better salaried position, for a man who had the nerve to attempt to force a living for himself from the world by means of the dangerous ways of crime could easily accomplish anything once his perverted ambitions were directed into the straight and narrow path. But suddenly his smiles ceased and he felt a queer shuddering sensation shake his spine, for he thought of the many criminals who made their headquarters in Chicago, and who would be only too willing to spoil his plans to quit their company and reform, so as to keep others of the brotherhood from quitting the game and thereby making it all the more hazardous for hardened and irreformable criminals to ply their nefarious vocations. He weighed the chances he stood to reform in Chicago and abandoned the scheme as impracticable.
Then Slippery recalled Jim's narrative of his lone prairie section home, and he adroitly questioned the lad and discovered that the country about Rugby was a desolate prairie, that post offices and banks were few, widely scattered and poorly patronized, and that Joe had never heard of any one of these being robbed, nor even a residence or farm house being entered, and when the lad finished by telling of the fertility of the soil and the fact that homesteads could still be had there for the mere filing of the necessary claims, Slippery again became absorbed in his thoughts.
Then he had a vision. He saw himself drilling into a safe. Then came a dull explosion and when the safe's door was torn from its hinges he saw himself upon his knees filling a large bag with the gold coins which poured out of the dynamited treasure box. Then he saw Joe and himself dressed in the best that money could purchase, speeding along aboard a Pullman to Rugby, North Dakota. He felt the hearty hand grip as Joe's mother thanked him for having kept her boy from coming to harm, and when he saw himself the prosperous owner of an immense and well worked farm, he then and there swore a silent but nevertheless solemn oath that after the next successful safe-blowing exploit he would do exactly as this vision had showed him would be the best method to turn over a new page of his life.
"Look out, Slippery, jump for your life!" suddenly came a frightened cry from Joe's lips, and instinctively Slippery followed Joe's example and leaped off the track, upon which they had been so peacefully walking, blissfully ignorant of how close to death they had come. In the next fraction of a second a "Limited" thundered past them, whose ashen-faced engineer was frantically pulling at the whistling cord and blowing the danger signal, while he shook an angry fist at the frightened fellows, who had so narrowly escaped an impending calamity.
"Joe," stammered Slippery, when he again found his voice that from sheer fright failed him for some moments, "boy, you have saved my life and come what may I shall stay and work with you and then after we have made a 'stake' we will go to Rugby and I shall buy a farm and make my home near your home and finish my days in peace and plenty."
From this moment Slippery became a different kind of companion to his younger comrade, and while both now entered into an animated conversation, Joe came to the conclusion that Slippery after all was the best chum he had ever had. They were so busily engaged picturing their futures, that not until evening approached did Joe make any remark concerning the whereabouts of the "big oak" where they were to meet Jim and Kansas Shorty.
They were just approaching a water tank, the destination Slippery intended to reach, and pointing at a large oak close to the track he told Joe that it was the place where he had agreed to meet the others. They went over to it, and after they had made for themselves some coffee, they sat beneath the wide spreading branches of the oak and while dusk turned into night and the calls of the owls echoed over fields and moor, and the moon cast its pale light over the landscape, they patiently waited the arrival of the others. The longer they waited and the more anxious Joe became to meet his twin brother again, the more Slippery denounced Kansas Shorty's tardiness, and when midnight arrived and they heard in the distance to the north of them the rumbling of a train, Slippery had so completely won the confidence of Joe, that the latter consented to accompany the yegg to Chicago without waiting for the arrival of the others, whereupon Slippery tore a page out of his memorandum and after writing on it a brief note, telling Kansas Shorty that he and Joe had rambled into Chicago, and to meet them there, he silenced any rising suspicions Joe might have had that everything was not all right by pinning this note to the trunk of the tree.
When the train, which proved to be a long string of empty, open box cars, pulled southward, after having filled its engine's tender at the water tank, Slippery and Joe had safely stowed themselves away in one of the "empties" and were soon rolling on towards Chicago, and had become a most contented pair of hobo-partners.
Early on the third morning they landed at Chicago, and Joe found that Slippery's tales as to the magnitude of this city had not been exaggerated, for they rode hours and miles upon horseless "cable" cars before Slippery beckoned to Joe to follow him, as they had arrived at their destination, the center of the city's business district.
After eating their breakfast in a restaurant, they sauntered through the streets to see the sights. While they walked aimlessly about the city, Slippery acted at times so strangely that he called the attention of Joe to him, who did not suspect the reason of his singular demeanor, nor that he was walking with a man who in police circles had earned a well merited reputation of being one of the most desperate criminals in the land. Whenever Slippery would spot a policeman ahead of him he would turn into an alley or by-way to avoid passing the guardian of the law. At other times, just after they had passed some well dressed and often really benign looking citizen, Slippery would roughly nudge him and whisper, "that was one of those 'fly mugs'—a detective", and then it would be some moments before he reverted to his former cheerfulness, proving to Joe how much he feared or despised those who uphold the law.
The ringing of the church bells had just announced the noon hour, when Slippery was stopped in the street by a neatly attired gentleman, who, after they had most cordially shaken hands, entered into a whispered conversation, which Joe overheard.
"Hello, Slippery, old boy, when did you find your way back to Chicago?" were the first words of the stranger's greeting, who acted as if he were greatly pleased with the return of Joe's pal to the "Windy City." "I too am glad to be once more where one's eyes do not tire looking into nothingness, bounded only by the horizon and the blue sky," answered Slippery, and then in a whisper, he added: "Say, Boston Frank, give me a square tip where Bunko Bill's gang is, so I can find a temporary hangout until I get straight as to the lay of the land." "Oh, is that what you wish to know, Slippery? Well they are in a private flat on South Clark, just below LaSalle Street, second house from the corner, on the fifth floor, and a dandy place at that, but," here he paused and with an ill-disguised look of resentment he stared at Joe and then queried: "Slippery, whose boy have you toting along with you?" And as Slippery did not promptly answer him he added with contempt in his voice, "I always understood that only a low-lived plinger dragged a road kid about with him and never a proper crook." Then to Joe's terror, he heard the man whom he had until this moment taken to be as honorable as his own late father answer: "Boston Frank, this lad is the wisest and shrewdest young crook that ever walked the streets of Chicago." This explanation pleased Boston Frank, who now asked Slippery to introduce him to the lad, which the former did, using his new nickname, "Dakota Joe." Listening to their further conversation, to his horror Joe became for the first time aware that Slippery was not a man looking for an honest job, but a criminal whose dislike for the police, which he had so openly manifested, was the natural result of the life he had been leading. Joe decided to keep this unpleasant discovery to himself, as he was a penniless lad in the center of an immense city.
When they parted company with Boston Frank, Slippery and Joe found the house that he had described to be the "gang's" hangout, and after they had climbed five flights up a narrow stairway, Slippery rang the door bell of a flat. A shutter in the panel of the door that fitted so perfectly into an opening that Joe did not observe its presence before, was withdrawn and from behind a heavy wire screen a pair of glistening, suspicious eyes searched their faces, and then a voice demanded what they desired. Instead of an answer Slippery gave some differently sounding knocks upon the panel above the screened opening and whispered, "It's I, Slippery, the yegg."
Joe could distinctly hear the same person who had carefully replaced the shutter over the once more invisible spy-opening unbolt, then unlock and finally slowly open the door, and after she, a middle-aged woman, had again most suspiciously scanned the features of her visitors, she permitted Slippery and Joe to slip within the slightly opened door, that she promptly shut, and then bolted and carefully locked, as if the flat, instead of a home for human beings was a safe-deposit vault of an immensely rich bank.
"Hello, Marie," Slippery addressed the woman after she had tried the door knob to assure herself that the steel sheeted door was as correctly closed as before she opened it, "how are you and the rest of the gang?" And while they shook hands Joe looked about in the semi-darkness of the hallway trying to see some members of the gang Slippery had spoken about when he inquired of Boston Frank as to their whereabouts, and about whom he had just repeated the question, which to Joe seemed odd because there was not a sound to be heard in the flat, that, as it was supposed to be the home of a "gang", should have at least shown these signs of human habitation.
After the woman and Slippery had exchanged other brief greetings all three went towards the rear of the hallway, and here she opened a door and bade them enter, and by the brilliant illumination they saw it was the dining room of the fiat. Around its well provisioned dinner table were seated a number of men and women who in a most friendly, but noise avoiding manner, greeted Slippery and while they questioned him as to his latest movements, they gave Joe a chance to recover from the surprise that completely shocked him, when he discovered that this strangely secluded flat was the home of seven men and four women, all of the latter—with the exception of the woman who had opened the door—being barely more than young girls.