THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH_ THE TRAIL OF THE TRAMP_ CHAPTER ELEVEN_

"Look here, friends," remarked one of the men seated at the table, who was dressed in the height of fashion, and later proved to be the leader of the others, after he had greeted Slippery and had for a brief moment gazed at Joe, "Slippery has brought a road kid along with him, no doubt intending to imitate the ways of the accursed plingers and add another tramp to those who already hobo about the country." Slippery, to whom this tart rebuke was addressed, now explained that the lad by his side was his "pal", and not his road kid; this explanation seemed to satisfy the speaker for he stretched out his hand and greeted Joe in a most cordial manner, while Slippery introduced him to the party, not by his honest Christian name, but by his road name, "Dakota Joe". But the next moment a far greater surprise was in store for the boy when Slippery commenced to introduce him to the well attired gentlemen and richly gowned ladies, whom he supposed, judging by their general appearance, were far removed from the level they had chosen for themselves, for presently Slippery announced the name of the "gentleman" with whom he had just shaken hands as "Bunko Bill", and Joe's unpleasant suspicions that he had been led into a nest of human vipers were greatly increased when his pal called off the names of the other inmates of the flat. The nearest fellow was "Brooklyn Danny, the Dip"; the next one went by the name of "Buffalo Johnny, the Strong Arm Man"; the fourth responded to "Ohio Jack, the Sneak"; a neat looking fellow who sported a diamond stud upon his shirt bosom answered to the appropriate name of "Diamond Al"; while the criminal tendencies of the sixth were plainly stamped in his nickname, "Niagara Swifty, the Shop Lifter", while the last one, a red-haired, wary-looking chap answered to the rather suggestive name of "Atlanta Jerry, the Hold-Up."

Joe, who had heard at home the section men tell about the "monicker" every tramp bore, could not help but note that these "names-de-crime" which Slippery had just now given as the ones with which these gentlemen addressed each other, so very closely resembled those used by the hoboes that perhaps every one of the men before him had formerly been a road kid.

The boy's astonishment was greatly increased when next Slippery introduced the "ladies". The one who so cautiously opened the door for their entrance was honored by the name of "Dippy Marie"; the second on account of the color of her hair was known as "Red Annie"; while a third was titled "Noisy Jane", and the last, the youngest and best looking one of them, went by the nickname of "Babe".

After this introduction Bunko Bill invited Slippery and Joe to make their home with them during their sojourn in Chicago, which offer was readily accepted and then all sat down to dine. After dinner Slippery under the pretense of wishing to show Joe the city, managed to keep out of complications which might have been caused by some of the inmates too closely questioning the lad, and he took the boy for a walk to the nearby shores of Lake Michigan.

After Joe had enjoyed for some time the beauty of the marine scenery that spread like a gigantic panorama before his eyes, he broke the silence by bluntly asking Slippery how and when they were to meet his brother Jim. Slippery assured Joe and quieted him by saying that it would be merely a matter of days before they would meet Jim in the street in the same manner that they had met Boston Frank.

They returned to the flat in time to join the others at supper, and after this had been served Joe wondered why one after another, all the members of the gang cautiously slipped out of the door and vanished down the stairway with the sole exception of "Dippy Marie", who showed them to their bedroom.

In the morning Boston Frank made a call at the flat, and behind locked doors had a long conference with Slippery and the others. After his visit Slippery became a busy man and Joe watched him oiling, filing and tempering a collection of jimmies, nippers, wedges, pliers, saws, and other such tools for which an expert mechanic could find a proper use. When Joe carelessly picked up a small bottle that stood upon the table before Slippery, the yegg's face turned pale, and then he explained to the boy who too commenced to shudder the longer he listened, that the harmless looking liquid in the bottle was fearfully dangerous nitro-glycerine.

The following afternoon Boston Frank made a second visit and then he and Slippery, each carrying a heavy satchel filled with the tools Slippery had so carefully looked after, followed by Joe, around whose left leg they had bandaged, despite his most vehement protests, the small bottle containing the deadly explosive, left the flat. They took a street car to the railroad station, where Boston Frank purchased tickets to Dixon, one of the prettiest and most hustling cities in western Illinois. Soon they were rolling out of the railroad yards and across the fertile plains and arrived at their destination late in the night.

They left the train from the rear platform of the last Pullman, and climbed to the ground from the opposite side of the station platform, and after they had hurriedly walked about a mile in the darkness, Boston Frank stopped at a barn, and while Slippery and Joe walked ahead, he noiselessly opened the barn door and after hitching the owner's fastest horse to his best buggy he leisurely overtook the others and made them climb in, after they had placed the heavy satchels in the buggy's body, and then he carefully drove the horse on into the night.

During their conversation, which Joe overheard, Boston Frank mentioned to Slippery that the "P.-O." had been reported to be a regular mint, and he repeatedly assured him that no one was sleeping in the "P.-O." as he had tried several nights in succession to purchase tobacco at the "P.-O.", but his knocks were not answered.

At a cross-roads country store they stopped and here Joe understood what Boston Frank had meant with "P.-O.", as it bore a large sign that had the words "Post Office" painted upon it.

While Boston Frank hitched the horse and buggy to a nearby tree, Slippery carried the heavy satchels containing the tools to the rear of the store, while he ordered Joe to carefully unwrap the nitro-glycerine bottle from his leg, which the boy gladly did to be rid of the dangerous explosive, and then handed it to Slippery.

Joe, who had not yet the least inkling what sort of mysterious night work was contemplated by his older companions, suddenly came to the realization of his own danger when Slippery in a decidedly unfriendly manner, roughly commanded him to stand guard in front of the store, and after he had placed the lad so he could scan the different roads, he did something that has made more blood thirsty desperadoes out of harmless boys than any other trick, he pressed a cocked, large calibered revolver into the unsuspecting boy's hand and curtly ordered him, under pain of losing his own life if he failed to obey this order, to blaze away at any approaching human being. Then he disappeared towards the rear of the building.

For a moment Joe's brain worked overtime, especially when he looked at the murder tool the other fellow had placed into his trembling hand and he promptly decided to cast the pistol into the middle of the roadway and run for his life to escape not only the clutches of these fellows, whom he now realized were desperate robbers, but to escape a possibly far worse fate. Just as he started to follow out this idea, Slippery stepped around the corner, and after he once more warned the lad not to falter in shooting to kill, he gave Joe a spool of fine copper wire to hold and when the surprised boy wished to know the reason, he showed Joe where he had the other end of the same wire twisted about his wrist, and cautioned him to hold it taut and that every time he gave the wire a sharp pull the boy should answer with the same signal, and that if he saw anyone approaching several sharp pulls should be the danger signal. Then he again left the lad, and whenever he tugged on the wire Joe answered with the agreed signal, and by this simple means Slippery had not only forced a harmless boy to do dangerous outpost duty, and was assured that he was always on guard, but what was most important, he had a noiseless danger signal that, even should the boy fail to kill somebody, he would thus notify the robbers that all was not well and give them plenty of time and a far better chance to make their getaway than the boy himself had, especially if he "shot to kill", as he had been commanded to do, which would have meant a long term behind the prison bars if not a trip by the route of the hangman's rope.

While Joe had thus been forced to become their involuntary accomplice, the two yeggs pried open the rear entrance of the store, and then Slippery worked at his profession of safe blowing. When all had been made ready to explode the charge, they carried the satchels with their tools out of the store and placed them in the buggy and made everything ready for an instant escape. Boston Frank unhitched the horse and held it by the head, while Slippery went back to the store, lit the fuse and then stood at the rear door until an explosion, which seemed to tear the store asunder told the waiting yeggs that the moment to commence their dangerous harvest had arrived. While Boston Frank had trouble to quiet the madly plunging, frightened horse, Slippery dove into the store to emerge again an instant later choking, sneezing and almost blinded just as if he had dynamited a box loaded with powdered red pepper instead of a common fireproof safe. Foiled in stealing the contents of the safe, amid awful curses, he climbed into the buggy and called to Joe to jump upon its rear, and while they heard all around them loud calls and even pistol shots of the farmers, who had been aroused out of their slumbers, Boston Frank turned into the highway leading back to Dixon and the race for their liberty commenced.

They dashed down the wagon road at top speed, Boston Frank ever urging the horse on to greater efforts, as in speed lay their only salvation.

Passing the first farm house which fronted upon the wagon road, they could see by the light cast by a lantern that stood beside him upon the porch, a man dressed in his night robe raise a revolver and after taking a careful aim at the approaching buggy, just as they were in line with him, discharge point blank in quick succession its six messengers of death into their midst. But Boston Frank did not slacken the pace, on the contrary he urged the horse to ever greater speed.

Not a word was exchanged by the inmates of the buggy during this race, and for several miles farther they drove at the utmost speed, then the horse's terrific gait commenced to slacken, and now that they were beyond the aroused neighborhood, Boston Frank slowed the horse and turned in at a road crossing to throw possible pursuers upon a wrong trail.

Just as they realized how close an escape they had, Slippery keeled over against Boston Frank and said hoarsely: "Frank, for mercy's sake take me where I can get a drink of water. The fellow who fired at us from the first farm house hit his mark, for I am shot." "Slippery, old boy," now queried Boston Frank, not believing that such a dire calamity had overtaken them, "you are joking, aren't you?" And then, when Slippery did not answer, he looked into his pal's face and saw there the pallor of death while two dark lines emerging from the corner of his mouth caused by the wounded man's life blood, trickling away, proved to him that his comrade in crime had only too accurately spoken the bitter truth. Now he coughed and when Boston Frank saw a stream of blood shoot out of the wounded man's mouth and heard a choking noise in his throat, he readily recognized the nature of the hurt and that Slippery had been shot through his lungs.

Boston Frank in sheer desperation again urged the rapidly tiring horse to one last effort, but soon the best speed he could get out of the animal was a slow trot. Again Slippery most piteously begged for a drink of water, and taking a desperate chance, when he saw in the darkness an open gate that led into a field, he guided the tired horse into it, and after Joe had closed the gate behind them he drove ahead until a thick thorn hedge stopped further progress. Here they lifted the wounded man out of the buggy and laid him upon the ground. He continued to plead most piteously for a cooling drink of water to appease his torturing fever thirst. "Joe," cautioned Boston Frank, after he had securely tied the horse to the hedge, "you take care of poor Slippery until I return with my derby filled with water, as I cannot bear to listen longer to the poor fellow's heart-rending appeals." Then he disappeared into the night, resolved to find water at any price.

"Joe, Joe, come here, Joe," the lad heard Slippery weakly calling a moment later, and he knelt beside the wounded man and asked him what he desired. Just then Slippery could not answer, as he was again vomiting blood, and Joe tried to ease his breathing by elevating his head with boughs he broke from the hedge.

"Joe," the wounded fellow called again, "where are you, Joe?" The boy placed his hand in the outstretched, searching hands of Slippery, who feebly pressed them with his own and said, "Joe, I know I am mortally wounded, and want you to make me, a dying man, a promise. I meant to forsake crime and live the life of an honest man for your sake after we had successfully pulled off this job—my last one." He paused a moment and then continued, "I took you with us, so when you and I went to your home in Rugby you would never forget that you had been my accomplice and would not be apt to peach on me. I know that the wound I received is the just punishment for the greatest wrong mortal man can commit, that of leading a harmless boy astray." Again he paused, as if his troubled conscience overpowered him, and then with a renewed effort that heavily taxed his fast ebbing vitality, he added, "Joe, for the love you bear for your mother, of whom you have spoken so often, swear now, before the Almighty, that you will from this moment forward shun the three evils which have brought me to this, and which are 'Bums, Booze and Boxcars', and that you will not further associate with the criminals at the flat, for if you return to them, on account of this night's work you will be forever one of their number." And there in the solitude of the night, kneeling beside his dying companion, with his arms uplifted towards the starry firmament, Joe solemnly swore that he would beware of "Bums, Booze and Boxcars", and quit the very people whose acquaintance he had made through Slippery.

For a moment all was silence, which was interrupted only by the gurgling of the blood as it welled up into the mortally wounded yegg's throat, then came the pitifully human appeal from the lips of the dying man, "Joe, where are you, Joe? Do not leave me alone, Joe, now that all have left me and everything is so dark before my eyes." Then after a brief pause he painfully stammered, "Joe, find your brother Jim, then both of you go back to your mother and be once more her boys." He again became silent and then, now that it was too late, he plainly showed, that although he was a despised yegg, there was one place in this wide world where there would be one true friend waiting in vain for his return, for he slowly added, "Joe, believe me, there is no friend like mother and no place like home."

Then came another hemorrhage and a stream of his life blood shot into the air and then, with a last effort, he drew Joe's hands to his parched, suffering lips, and while he covered them with kisses, the rattling in his throat increased, then decreased, and finally stopped—he had expired.

When Boston Frank returned with the water, he only found his dead pal, as Joe, horror stricken by the dead man's glassy stare, by the blood covered corpse, by the quietude of the night and all the horrors which had transpired, had fled into the night as if furies and demons were pursuing him, bent only upon placing as much space as possible between his living self and the gruesome tragedy he had left behind. He climbed over fences and forced his way through hedges; forded creeks and swam streams, until from his frantic exertions he became so completely exhausted that when he fell into a clump of bushes he was unable to rise, and gradually sank into a deep sleep.

Then a strange dream came to him. He dreamed he was a prisoner locked up in a narrow cell, and that he saw Slippery, the yegg's face pressed against its cross-barred steel door, while on both sides of him stood officers of the law. They were leading him to the gallows, upon which he had been condemned to expiate his crime, and now on his way to face his doom he had stopped to bid Joe a last farewell, and Joe could distinctly hear his words: "Good-bye, Joe, do not do as I did, who when a youngster ran away from a good home to follow Bums, Booze and Boxcars, but go back to your waiting mother before it is too late, for remember, 'The Wages of Sin is Shameful Death'."