SCATTERED TO THE WINDS_ THE TRAIL OF THE TRAMP_ CHAPTER TWELVE_
The sun stood high in the heavens when Joe awakened, and it was some moments before he remembered the horrible occurrences of the preceding night. But most vividly of all he remembered the solemn promise he had made to his dying pal and to strengthen himself in his resolve to strictly live up to his pledge, he fell upon his knees and repeated the solemn oath.
At a rippling brook he washed and removed every trace of the ordeal he had passed through, and then inquired from a farmer the direction to the railroad station at Dixon, where he intended to hop a train to Chicago and, arriving in the city, find a job so he could support himself honestly, while keeping on a lookout for his missing brother Jim.
After an hour's walk he arrived at the railroad station and found a crowd surging about a baggage truck which stood upon the station platform, and when he managed to push his way through the throng he found that the people were staring at a blood soaked blanket that covered a carcass of some sort. Joe only stopped for a moment, for when one of the men, more curious than the others, lifted up a corner of the blanket, Joe gazed into the lifeless features of Slippery, the yegg, and forced by his emotions he retreated quickly to another part of the platform.
Here he overheard some of the citizens discussing the post office robbery, and he heard them say that the railroad and city policemen had identified the dead robber as one of the most dangerous criminals in the land for whose apprehension "dead or alive", the government offered a large reward. He also heard that the same country store post office had been dynamited twice in the past three months, and that the postmaster had set a trap with the aid of his neighbors, to give the next gang of burgling yeggs a hot reception.
Presently a loud shout was heard and the crowd made a rush to the front of the station. Joe followed and saw a dirt covered man, securely manacled to an officer, entering the waiting room. Joe instantly recognized Boston Frank, and heard that he had been caught by a farmer's posse, who, following a trail of blood that had dripped from the buggy, had surprised Boston Frank while he was busy at work burying the satchels containing the burglar tools.
Joe caught Boston Frank's eye and forthwith pushed himself alongside the yegg. While the officer to whom he was manacled paid close attention to the postmaster, who told him that although yeggs had spoiled his safe for a third time, he had protected his own and the government's valuables by having placed a quart bottle of formaldehyde in the safe, Boston Frank contrived to whisper to Joe that he had Slippery's purse in his hip pocket, and for him to take it and keep its contents, as he himself would have little use for cash in the penitentiary, for a long term now stared him in the face, and he ordered Joe to purchase a ticket and take the first train leaving for Chicago and to warn the others, as the officers, while searching him had found an incriminating letter that bore upon its envelope the correct address of the gang's hangout.
Joe did as Boston Frank had directed, and a moment later he had, unobserved, abstracted a well-filled purse from the latter's pocket and hid it in his own. He then made his way to the ticket window and called for a ticket to Chicago. When he pulled out the purse that Boston Frank had told him belonged to the slain criminal, he almost dropped it from sheer surprise, as he instantly recognized it as his own purse, the very one that had been stolen from him at the Golden Rule Hotel, and the loss of which had started all of his misfortunes. He paid for the ticket and then in a secluded spot he counted the contents of the purse, which proved to be a windfall to the penniless lad, as it amounted to twelve dollars.
While he waited for the arrival of the train, marvel as he might, he could not solve the riddle connected with the strange return of his purse that had so mysteriously managed to come back to its rightful owner after having disappeared at a place five hundred miles removed from Dixon, Illinois.
He rode to Chicago on the same train upon which the government officers were bringing the corpse of the slain robber, and while Boston Frank was chained to a seat in the smoking car, Joe sat silently in the first-class coach, thinking of the lucky escape he had had and ever and anon repeating the oath he had made to the now lifeless clay in the baggage car ahead.
While Joe was thus occupied he must have attracted the attention of one of the train men, who good-naturedly stopped to chat with him, and inquired where he was going. Joe told him that Chicago was his destination, and innocently added that he intended to find employment in the city. "Say, kid," the good-natured brakeman advised him, more as a huge joke than in a serious vein, "if you cannot find anything better, hit my boss for a job." And then he gave Joe the correct address of his superior.
When the train arrived at the Chicago terminal, Joe boarded a street car that brought him quickly to the flat where he intended to acquaint its inmates with the misfortune that had overtaken Slippery and Boston Frank, and also to deliver the verbal message the latter had given him. To his surprise he found the front of the house in which the flat was located kept clear of public traffic by a cordon of policemen, while several police patrols were backed against the curb, and were not only loaded with the handcuffed criminals, who had been caught like rats in a trap, upon the telegraphic advice of the Dixon police authorities, but with thousands of dollars worth of stolen property that had been found in trunks and other hiding places.
While Joe stood in the crowd watching the finish of those who had transgressed the law, with far better reasons than the curious idlers about him could suspect, he felt someone sharply pull his coat sleeve. He felt himself turning ashen-gray from fright as he thought some detective had recognized him, and when the same sharp pull was repeated, trembling with fear, he turned to see who it was that knew him in Chicago, and recognized that his dread was groundless as it was "Babe" who had pulled his sleeve, the youngest girl in the den of the thieves, who luckily happened to be away from home when the police commenced the raid of the flat.
"Come, Joe," she whispered, "I want to speak to you." He followed the girl and both walked to the nearby shore of Lake Michigan, where he repeated to her word for word everything that had occurred since he last saw her at the flat, and when he remarked that both of them should thank a kind Providence that had kept them out of the hands of the police, tears trickled down their cheeks, while they gazed out over the restless waters of the lake.
It was "Babe" who broke the silence by remarking: "We are indeed lucky, Joe. Just think of what would have been our fate had we been arrested with the others. You would have been sent to a penal institution to emerge years later an ex-convict, a marked man forever afterwards, while I would have been sent to a home where I would have been forced to associate with the most degraded wretches. I was only seventeen last month and was sent from a faraway western city to a boarding school in the east, where the "blue stocking" matrons made the unfettered life that I had learned to love at home such a misery for me, that I ran away and came to Chicago to seek employment. I fell in with evil company, but, thank God, I have yet enough common sense left to know when to quit, and that is right now. For obvious reasons, I am not going to tell you my address, but," here she turned and out of a hiding place in her dress pulled a fair-sized roll of greenbacks, and then she continued, "I have managed to look out for a day just like this one and have saved a few dollars so I could get back home in the west, and" now she peeled a hundred dollar bill from the roll she held in her hand, "I want you to accept this sum and forget that you ever met me." Here her emotions got the best of her and she put her arms around Joe's neck, who was sobbing, being unable to express in any other manner his appreciation of the girl's generosity, and after she had kissed the boy she whispered: "Joe, for the sake of your mother I want you to swear that you will never again become a companion of criminals." Joe repeated to her the same solemn oath he had pledged to the dying Slippery, and promised that he would faithfully adhere to it as long as he lived. When he finished, for the want of something better to give her as a souvenir, he emptied the purse that had so strangely come back to him and made the girl accept it as a token of his gratitude for her timely help, when a mere dozen dollars stood between him and temptation.
After making Joe promise that he would not attempt to follow her, she bade him farewell and walked to the nearest street crossing, and while Joe was busy wiping his eyes with one of his hands, he waved her farewell with the other until she mounted a street car and was whirled beyond his vision.
After Joe had furnished himself with a proper outfit of clothing, and all the other things required by a young man who intends to find a respectable position, he engaged a room at a first-class hotel. He ate his supper in company with honest people and later retired for the night. He turned off the light, and while he lay there between the sheets waiting for sleep to overtake him, the fearful experiences of the last two days followed one another through his agitated mind just as if they were moving pictures. When he came to the scene where he knelt by the side of the flying yegg and solemnly swore to forever quit the path Slippery had shown him, he felt a strange power drag him out of the bed, force him to kneel upon the floor and repeat the sacred promise to shun Bums, Booze and Boxcars and then, when he went again to bed, it was only a few moments until he was soundly sleeping.