THE NOBLE WORK OF THE SALVATION ARMY_ THE TRAIL OF THE TRAMP_ CHAPTER FOURTEEN_
A most decided change had come over Joseph McDonald when he again reported himself ready for duty. Since his struggle with Kansas Shorty he had repeatedly weighed every word this rascal had spoken and adduced from it that something most dishonorable must have been Jim's fate, and the oftener he attempted to unravel the mystery that lay concealed behind the ill-omened remarks made by this scoundrel, the more morose he became from the constant strain, for his troubled conscience caused him to feel that he was equally to be blamed for any disgrace that might have overtaken his missing brother.
The more he worried the more he became resolved that even should he never be able to see his brother again, the chances that he would some day run across Kansas Shorty were far more favorable, as he well knew how drifters of his class roved aimlessly over the country as their fancy, the wanderlust, and more often the police drove them onward.
To find Kansas Shorty became an obsession with Joe. If luck favored him in his search, he planned to plead with the scoundrel, but should this prove of no avail, then he intended to strangle him until he would divulge the secret which shrouded Jim's fate.
Oftentimes, especially when late in the night, after the passengers had gone to sleep upon the coach seats, and Joe thought himself unobserved, his fellow trainmen, to whom he had confided his life's story, watched Joe, to whom a troubled conscience refused peace, raise his hands before him and slowly close the fingers with such suggestive motions, that it caused the trainmen to shudder when they imagined the same fingers executing like motions while entwined about Kansas Shorty's throat.
Joe's second hobby was to study the hobo monickers written upon or carved into the railroad company's property. From the time his train left the Chicago Terminal until it pulled into the Union Station at Omaha, where Joe's "trip" ended, he employed every spare moment while they stopped at stations or water tanks, to carefully read every hobo sign that the drifters passing to and fro over the line had left behind them, ever hoping to discover a clue to Kansas Shorty's whereabouts by finding his name-de-rail with a date and an arrow beneath it pointing in the direction he was traveling.
Joe's third and favorite hobby was to hunt hoboes who dared to beat their way upon his train. He finely discriminated between the man in search of employment, the harmless tramp who had fallen a victim to the wanderlust, the sneaking rogue who "toted" a six-shooter for the special purpose of killing human beings, preferring railroad employees and hoboes, and the rascal who had trained other people's sons to beg a living for him, exactly as an Italian organ grinder would train a performing monkey or bear. Many were the railroad lanterns Joe had to replace for those he broke over the heads of the two latter classes of tramps, especially the last ones, who clung even more obstinately to their road kids than a tiger clings to his prey. The youngsters he had rescued, if he was not able to send them safely home, he would turn over to proper authorities, for well he knew that each one of these runaway boys had not only somewhere a broken-hearted mother waiting for his return, but that, if they were not stopped drifting to the abyss while still young, with the evil training that depraved tramps gave them, it would be merely a matter of time before they too would have learned to destroy and pilfer railroad property; rob box cars and stations, and thus repay with almost brutal ingratitude those who had permitted them to travel unmolested upon their trains.
The years rolled quickly by and although Joe had now been in the company's employ for almost fifteen years, he refused every offer of promotion, preferring his humble trainman's job, that, although he had years ago given up all hope of ever seeing his brother James again, gave him a chance to atone for his own blighted past by his self-appointed mission, that of trying to combat single-handed and unassisted the most vitally important and yet most revolting phase of the whole tramp problem. His endeavor in this line caused much ridicule among his fellow railroad men and those who had stopped to listen to tramps and especially to plingers, whom Joe's unselfish work had deprived of victims and who denounced him as a "Stool Pigeon", as a "Spotter" and whatever other venomous attribute their black souls could hurl at him, in an attempt to damage his well earned reputation as a benefactor to humanity, who in spite of many threats of bodily injury, by pointing to the seriousness of the road kid evil, proved to the world its intimate connection with the never lessening, nay, ever increasing, numbers of thieving and murdering vagrants.
At both ends of his "run", at Chicago, as well as at Omaha, Joe had a rest of twelve hours before he again had to report for duty. One evening, just after he arrived at Omaha, his attention was attracted by a band of the Salvation Army holding a public service on a street corner. Their leader was loudly extorting and pleading with the crowd listening to his service, for penitents to come forward and permit the band to pray for their salvation. He was a good orator, and to hear him the better, Joe pushed his way through the crowd until he stood at the curb.
Just at the moment when some of his audience commenced to titter at the poor success the appeal seemed to have, forcing his way through the crowd came a half drunken, shaggy bearded and poorly dressed man, who, when he reached the open center of the meeting, pleaded with the Salvation Army's leader to pray for him. Undaunted by the fellow's rough appearance and the very evident marks of his craving for strong drink, the leader shook his hand and after he bade him welcome asked him as a primary step towards complete salvation to make a public confession of his sins.
Sobered by the solemnity of the moment the penitent wretch straightened and then gave a brief review of his life. It was the oft-repeated story of a runaway boy, hailing from a good family, drifting into hobo-companionship with all the rum, filth and crime that such association implies, and ended by telling that on this day, after having so wantonly wasted the best years of his life, he had made up his mind to end it all by placing his head upon the rails. On his way to the railway yards he had stopped to listen to the service of the Salvation Army, and when he heard their leader plead for lost souls, especially those who had been rejected by every other denomination, he felt it to be an act of God that had caused him to stop, and he came forward to try and make a second and better start in life.
When he finished his pitiful story of a blasted life, there was hardly a dry eye amongst the listeners, and taking advantage of the good impression the confession had made, the Salvation Army leader asked all those who were believers in Christ to offer up a silent prayer for the penitent sinner.
Joe joined the many others who complied with this request, and holding his cap before him, he bent his head in prayer. Then a strange incident occurred, for just as he replaced his cap the same repentant wretch for whose regeneration he had just prayed, came towards him and while tears rolled down his seamed face he stretched forth his hands and pleaded, "James McDonald, unfathomable are the ways of the merciful God, for here at the moment when I had resolved to henceforth lead a clean life he has sent you so I could beg your pardon for the greatest wrong a human being could inflict upon a harmless boy, that is, to wantonly spoil his future. James McDonald, I recognized your white hair streak when you lowered your head to pray for the salvation of the very man whom you had far better reason to curse. Will you not now forgive me, whom you have known as Kansas Shorty, and who will seek in the morning the first honest job he has ever done in his whole life?" Joe, dumfounded at meeting the fellow whom, although aged and disfigured by the unnatural life he had been leading, he now recognized as the tramp for whom he had searched for so many years, held his peace, for he recalled how he had at Chicago spoiled by undue haste his chance to discover the fate of his missing brother, who had resembled him so much that Kansas Shorty for a second time made the same error in their identity.
He told the wretch that he forgave him, and then drew back and became lost in the crowd, but while he stood well out of Kansas Shorty's view, he never took his eyes off the form of the new recruit of that immense army of human wrecks which the Salvationists have dragged out of saloons, gutters, penal institutions and back from suicide to convert and transform them into useful members of society.
When the Salvation Army's street service had been concluded, led by flying flags and keeping step to the beating of a drum they marched to their prayer hall. Kansas Shorty, supported in his unsteady gait by two brethren of the Army, walked in the midst of the procession, while Joe kept some distance in the rear, never permitting his eyes to stray off the shambling form of the man who held the key to the riddle that had so effectively spoiled Joe's joy of life.
After the army had entered the meeting hall, Joe called on the leader and gave him a brief outline of his past and asked him to assist him to cause Kansas Shorty to make a complete confession. The leader called his latest convert into his private office and explained to him that it was not James but his twin brother Joe of whom he had begged forgiveness, and he spoke so earnestly to the penitent outcast that the latter made a clean breast of all he knew concerning James McDonald, and although the leader as well as Joe tried to make him reveal more, he steadfastly maintained that after Jim's arrest at Denver he had left that city in a hurry and did not know anything further concerning his fate.
When Joe left the Salvation Army's headquarters it was he who had to seek support to keep himself from falling, as the information he had just received unnerved him so completely that he could barely walk, for what Kansas Shorty had told not only proved that with Jim's disappearance he had lost every member of his family, but that his brother had also disgraced their good name.
Late that night while he rolled restlessly about upon his bed, tormented by this last disappointment, and while he puzzled his feverish mind, a strong resentment came over him that Jim should have permitted himself to be so easily led astray by a good-for-nothing tramp, but when he remembered the circumstances of his own experience with Slippery, the yegg, brotherly love got the mastery over him and an idea flashed through his mind, that if Jim had been arrested at Denver the court records there should show the sentence the Judge had imposed, and that, although it seemed merely a forlorn hope, there was a chance to pick up the trail that would lead to something, and even if he failed to accomplish anything, for the sake of his own satisfaction, that he had done everything possible to clear up his brother's disappearance, he decided to leave on the morning for Denver.