WHERE IS MY BROTHER JAMES_ THE TRAIL OF THE TRAMP_ CHAPTER THIRTEEN_
On the following morning after he had breakfasted, he carefully copied all suitable advertisements inserted in the daily papers and set out to find employment, resolved to accept the very first job offered him, having profited by his Minneapolis experience when he and Jim refused many offers of employment which for the moment did not look good to them, but for which on the following day they actually begged.
Filled with hope to quickly land a good job, he called at the different addresses, and, although he walked for hours up and down the streets and avenues, everywhere he inquired the place had been secured by some other person who had called earlier in the day. When afternoon approached, wearied by the resultless job-hunt and discouraged by his continued misfortune, he sank upon a bench in a city park to take a rest.
While listlessly watching the passersby a touch of homesickness almost got the mastery of him. He was just at the point of deciding if it would not be best for him while yet he had the funds to do so, to purchase a ticket back to Rugby and ask his mother's forgiveness. He even arose from the bench to put this idea into execution, but he only made a few steps when he faltered and returned to his seat, the courage to face his mother without his brother James failed him. To find James now became his one desire, but think of whatever scheme he might, it seemed that to have patience and wait to meet him in Chicago was the only method he could discover.
Just then, whistling a lively tune and with a toothpick saucily sticking out of one corner of his mouth, a small Western Union Messenger boy, dressed in all the brass buttoned glory of his snappy uniform, passed the tormented Joe, and somehow the latter's dejected countenance did not please the telegram carrier, and he greeted him with a withering, sneering look that caused Joe to double his fist within his pockets, aching to have it out with the fresh fellow. But before he could muster sufficient anger to start trouble, the messenger boy, no doubt fearing a sound thrashing, quickened his steps and hastened beyond the danger zone. Joe watched him until he passed around a street corner and wondered what caused him to be so overbearing, and just then the uniform of the messenger reminded him of the advice the brakeman gave him on the train, that should he be unable to find a job to tackle his superintendent for employment. He consulted his notebook into which he had entered the address, and taking a street car, a few minutes later he climbed the stairway of a large railroad office building and quickly found himself in the ante-room of the railroad ruler's office.
When his turn came he entered the superintendent's office, whom he found to be a very kindly spoken gentleman, and brought matters to a quick head by blandly asking him for employment. The superintendent smiled to see a youngster like Joe daring to ask him, the master of thousands of employees, for a job, but Joe quickly convinced him that he was able to do a man's work and told how his late father had been a railroad employee at the time of his demise. The superintendent became interested in the open-faced lad, who most insistently pleaded to be given a chance to prove his desire to make good.
In those days, the railroad companies were not so strict in the hiring of their employees as they are at present, and when the superintendent asked Joe what sort of job he thought he could fill, the latter, remembering the natty uniform of the passenger train's crew, promptly replied that a brakeman's job aboard a passenger train would just suit him, which answer caused the superintendent to break out into a hearty laugh, after he had told Joe that he was several sizes too small to fill that position. But Joe was entirely too much in earnest to be turned away this easily, and drawing himself to his full height, he pleaded that, as he had no home and neither touched tobacco nor strong drink, he should at least be given a trial, and then finished his appeal by telling the superintendent that a young, live and accommodating trainman was preferred by the patrons of every railroad to a cranky one.
This last statement pleased the superintendent so well that he told Joe to report a week after date in a regulation uniform and that he should have a chance to prove his side of the argument. Joe thanked the superintendent for his kindness and after he closed the office door he jumped down the stairway three steps at a time, so happy was he. In fact he realized that he had not only found a job that would decently support him, but one that strictly conformed with his somewhat restless disposition, as it permitted him to travel to his heart's content aboard the flying trains, giving him at the same time a chance to earn an honest living and see a bit of the world.
He gave a tailor a "hurry" order for a trainman's uniform, and when he reported on the appointed day at the superintendent's office, he was put in charge of a conductor who quickly became his fatherly friend, because Joe did everything required of him in a most satisfactory manner. Each pay day he placed a large percentage of his salary in a savings bank, and as his wages were from time to time increased, he soon became the owner of a comfortable bank account.
He always kept a sharp lookout for his brother Jim, but five years rolled around in which time he found no trace of his missing brother. Finally he was attacked by a severe case of homesickness; somehow he felt a strange loneliness come over him, and the picture of his mother could not be effaced from his mind, and fearing as much as ever to return home without his twin brother, he finally wrote a long letter, pleading for her forgiveness and inquiring if anything had been heard from James since they left home together. He wrote his own address in the upper corner of the envelope and dropped the letter into a mail box. But from the moment the letter left his hands, his anxiety while waiting for an answer became such a burden that he was unable to attend to his duties, and had to ask for a lay-off. As hours were added to hours and days to days without an answer arriving, the strain of the suspense finally became so fearful that mute desperation was written in every line of his face, and to end the misery he was busily packing his suitcase ready to leave for Rugby, letter or no letter, the following morning and there upon his knees plead with his mother to forgive his boyish prank, when someone knocked on the door and when he opened it he found it was his landlady who handed him a letter, and he recognized it as being the same one he had addressed to his mother at Rugby, but there was this time written across its face: "Moved to Canada. Present address unknown."
Joe stared at the letter for some moments as if dazed, then he locked the door, and when on the following afternoon his landlady knocked to inquire if anything was wanted he opened it. His bed was still unruffled, showing that he had not occupied it during the night, and when she saw the same letter she had brought to him, its writing blurred and tear-stained, lying open upon the dresser, and noted the red and swollen eyes and woe-begone expression of Joe's face, her motherly heart quickly surmised the pitiful drama that had been enacted behind the closed door of the room. She stepped close to the broken-hearted man, who was sitting upon a chair, mutely holding his head between his hands, and while she lightly stroked his hair she pleaded with him to go to the street, as she thought that mingling with the crowds would prove the best heart-balm for him.
Joe took his kind landlady's advice, and while walking about the streets he felt that the pangs of remorse for the prank which had deprived him of his good mother were less severe, and when he began to feel more like his former self he retraced his steps to his lodging house.
When he reached South Clark Street, his progress was blocked by a jam of vehicle traffic. The ever increasing crowd of delayed people forced Joe into the vestibule of one of the many slum saloons abounding in that locality, and here he watched the mounted police hard at work trying to again open the thoroughfare. While he thus passed the time until he could cross the street, he was accosted by a typical Chicago rum-soaked bum. "Say, friend," the semi-maudlin wretch pleaded while he edged most uncomfortably close to Joe, "would you mind assisting a hungry fellow who has not eaten a square meal in a week?" More for the sake of getting rid of his unpleasant company, than from a desire to accord charity, Joe went into his trouser pockets for a small coin to hand to the beggar, but while fumbling for the money he caused his trainman's cap to fall to the pavement. He reached down and picked it up, and when he straightened himself he pulled out a dime and handed it to the beggar, who, instead of accepting the proffered donation, disdainfully pushed aside the hand holding the alms and stepping closer he almost insultingly leered into Joe's face. "Say, McDonald," he hissed, "when did you make your getaway?" Before the astonished Joe could utter a single word the tramp pointed at Joe's trainman's cap and added: "I see you are working now for the Chicago & North-Western Railroad," and when still no sign of recognition came from Joe's mouth he in a most threatening manner finished: "Do they know your record over there?"
Joe, although he trembled with ill-suppressed rage at this street beggar's impudence to openly insult him in such barefaced manner, held his peace for the moment, as he tried in vain to fathom how and where the mendicant had learned to call him by his correct name. To wring this information from the sodden wretch was his first purpose. "Say, fellow," Joe almost pleasantly asked the beggar, "who told you that my name is McDonald?" "Did you think I did not recognize you?" replied the bum in a most insolent tone while at the same time he pointed his hand at Joe's birthmark. "When you bent forward to pick up your cap I remembered you the moment I put my eyes on that streak of white hair," and then, sure that he had before him a victim whom he could blackmail with perfect impunity, he inquired, "Have you been back to Rugby since I saw you the last time, and say, McDonald, how are the chances for your helping a poor friend to the price of a meal and a bunking place for the night?"
Joe felt greatly relieved when he heard the fellow's more familiar talk, as it seemed to prove that the beggar had been one of his late father's section laborers, and he searched his pockets once more and pulled out a silver dollar and pressed the coin into the man's outstretched palm, and then, wondering why he did not even deign to thank him for this generous gift he inquired if he had lately been back to Rugby, and if he ever heard what had become of his mother, Mrs. McDonald. Instead of an answer to his question the beggar straightened himself to his full height, "So you have not been home?" the bum mocked in a most impudent manner, "a little scared to show up amongst the folks at home with that soiled record chalked behind their honest family name, eh?" As yet no reply came from the trainman's trembling lips, still under the impression that he was speaking to Joe's twin brother, the bum added, while a most diabolical grin spread over his ugly visage, "Haven't peddled needle cases lately, have you?" "I do not understand what you are referring to," the now thoroughly mystified Joe interrupted the beggar, "I have never peddled a needle case in all my life." "Trying to wiggle yourself out of your past, eh?" the vagrant scornfully retorted, and thinking that his victim was trying to slip out of his net, he continued, "guess you think you can fool this old plinger and try to work the 'innocent' game on your old jocker, eh?"
Joe again insisted that he did not understand what the fellow was trying to say, and tiring of the unpleasant conversation he blandly asked the beggar if he were not somewhat rum crazed. "Call me rum crazed," the wretch shrieked in towering rage, feeling that his victim was getting the better of the argument, that he intended should form a base upon which he would later collect blackmail, and while he shook his dirty fist in Joe's face, he added, "I, crazy? How dare you call me crazy? I, Kansas Shorty, the plinger?" Then he stepped back a pace and while his hideous, rum-bloated face was made all the more repulsive by his malevolent eyes with which he glared at the shuddering Joe, who only now, that the fiend had revealed his name-de-road recalled and recognized in the person of the beggar, the tramp who had taken charge of his brother James.
While the rogue was yet gloating over the apparent discomfort his words had caused, Joe suddenly threw himself upon the vagabond, and while he bore him to the pavement and while his hands throttled the viper's throat, he shrieked into the beggar's ears. "I am Joseph McDonald, and you die on this spot unless you tell me what you have done with my brother James." They struggled desperately, one to free himself from the strangle hold, while Joe wished to force a confession from the fellow beneath him whose staring eyes were bulging out of his skull, and whose face had commenced to turn a bluish-black.
Quickly the usual city crowd gathered about the fighting men and a second later the slum saloon in front of which they were battling, emptied its filthy scum into the street, all anxious to enjoy the combat. Some of the plingers amongst this riff-raff must have recognized their mate, and thinking that the trouble was merely a case of a street beggar insulting a citizen, and noting that this one wore the hated uniform of a railroad man—every tough's sworn enemy—they made common cause and the next moment Joe saw a heavy beer bottle descending upon his head, then all was darkness.
When he regained consciousness he was lying upon the floor of the slum saloon, with his pockets turned inside out and his watch missing, and a dull pain almost bursting his skull. He staggered to his feet, and while he tried to steady himself against a table, the bartender took hold of his coat and shoved him through the swinging doors into the street, and advised him to make a quick getaway unless he wished to be arrested for attempting to murder a "poor and harmless working man".
For a week his conductor did not see Joe, who was, during every moment of this time, ceaselessly combing the slums, the dives, the police courts and even the "jungles" upon the outskirts of the city in a vain effort to get a glimpse of Kansas Shorty.
To some of the fellows whom he recognized as having been members of the "mob" which prevented his choking Kansas Shorty into a confession, he told the story of his missing brother and repeated the strange conversation that had passed between them before he felled the scoundrel to the pavement. These plingers, knitted together by the common knowledge that of all human vultures they are the most despised, had only shrugs for the unfortunate man, and when one of them, tiring of his repeated pleadings, condescended to hand him a mite of consolation, all the information he cared to impart was contained in the rejoinder that "Kansas Shorty had jumped the city."