The Trailer for Room No. 8 by Richard Harding Davis
The "trailer" for the green-goods men who rented room No. 8 in
Case's tenement had had no work to do for the last few days, and was
cursing his luck in consequence.
He was entirely too young to curse, but he had never been told so,
and, indeed, so imperfect had his training been that he had never been
told not to do anything as long as it pleased him to do it and made
existence any more bearable.
He had been told when he was very young, before the man and woman
who had brought him into the world had separated, not to crawl out on
the fire-escape, because he might break his neck, and later, after his
father had walked off Hegelman's Slip into the East River while very
drunk, and his mother had been sent to the penitentiary for grand
larceny, he had been told not to let the police catch him sleeping
under the bridge.
With these two exceptions he had been told to do as he pleased,
which was the very mockery of advice, as he was just about as well
able to do as he pleased as is any one who has to beg or steal what he
eats and has to sleep in hall-ways or over the iron gratings of warm
cellars and has the officers of the children's societies always after
him to put him in a "Home" and make him be "good."
"Snipes," as the trailer was called, was determined no one should
ever force him to be good if he could possibly prevent it. And he
certainly did do a great deal to prevent it. He knew what having to be
good meant. Some of the boys who had escaped from the Home had told
him all about that. It meant wearing shoes and a blue and white
checkered apron, and making cane-bottomed chairs all day, and having
to wash yourself in a big iron tub twice a week, not to speak of
having to move about like machines whenever the lady teacher hit a
bell. So when the green-goods men, of whom the genial Mr. Alf Wolfe
was the chief, asked Snipes to act as "trailer" for them at a quarter
of a dollar for every victim he shadowed, he jumped at the offer and
was proud of the position.
If you should happen to keep a grocery store in the country, or to
run the village post-office, it is not unlikely that you know what a
green-goods man is; but in case you don't, and have only a vague idea
as to how he lives, a paragraph of explanation must be inserted here
for your particular benefit. Green goods is the technical name for
counterfeit bills, and the green-goods men send out circulars to
countrymen all over the United States, offering to sell them $5,000
worth of counterfeit money for $500, and ease their conscience by
explaining to them that by purchasing these green goods they are
hurting no one but the Government, which is quite able, with its big
surplus, to stand the loss. They enclose a letter which is to serve
their victim as a mark of identification or credential when he comes
on to purchase.
The address they give him is in one of the many drug-store and
cigar- store post-offices which are scattered all over New York, and
which contribute to make vice and crime so easy that the evil they do
cannot be reckoned in souls lost or dollars stolen. If the letter from
the countryman strikes the dealers in green goods as sincere, they
appoint an interview with him by mail in rooms they rent for the
purpose, and if they, on meeting him there, think he is still in
earnest and not a detective or officer in disguise, they appoint still
another interview, to be held later in the day in the back room of
Then the countryman is watched throughout the day from the moment
he leaves the first meeting-place until he arrives at the saloon. If
anything in his conduct during that time leads the man whose duty it
is to follow him, or the "trailer," as the profession call it, to
believe he is a detective, he finds when he arrives at the saloon that
there is no one to receive him. But if the trailer regards his conduct
as unsuspicious, he is taken to another saloon, not the one just
appointed, which is, perhaps, a most respectable place, but to the
thieves' own private little rendezvous, where he is robbed in any of
the several different ways best suited to their purpose.
Snipes was a very good trailer. He was so little that no one ever
noticed him, and he could keep a man in sight no matter how big the
crowd was, or how rapidly it changed and shifted. And he was as
patient as he was quick, and would wait for hours if needful, with his
eye on a door, until his man reissued into the street again. And if
the one he shadowed looked behind him to see if he was followed, or
dodged up and down different streets, as if he were trying to throw
off pursuit, or despatched a note or telegram, or stopped to speak to
a policeman or any special officer, as a detective might, who thought
he had his men safely in hand, off Snipes would go on a run, to where
Alf Wolfe was waiting, and tell what he had seen.
Then Wolfe would give him a quarter or more, and the trailer would
go back to his post opposite Case's tenement, and wait for another
victim to issue forth, and for the signal from No. 8 to follow him. It
was not much fun, and "customers," as Mr. Wolfe always called them,
had been scarce, and Mr. Wolfe, in consequence, had been cross and
nasty in his temper, and had batted Snipe out of the way on more than
one occasion. So the trailer was feeling blue and disconsolate, and
wondered how it was that "Naseby" Raegen, "Rags" Raegen's younger
brother, had had the luck to get a two weeks' visit to the country
with the Fresh Air Fund children, while he had not.
He supposed it was because Naseby had sold papers, and wore shoes,
and went to night school, and did many other things equally
objectionable. Still, what Naseby had said about the country, and
riding horseback, and the fishing, and the shooting crows with no cops
to stop you, and watermelons for nothing, had sounded wonderfully
attractive and quite improbable, except that it was one of Naseby's
peculiarly sneaking ways to tell the truth. Anyway, Naseby had left
Cherry Street for good, and had gone back to the country to work
there. This all helped to make Snipes morose, and it was with a
cynical smile of satisfaction that he watched an old countryman coming
slowly up the street, and asking his way timidly of the Italians to
The countryman looked up and about him in evident bewilderment and
anxiety. He glanced hesitatingly across at the boy leaning against the
wall of a saloon, but the boy was watching two sparrows fighting in
the dirt of the street, and did not see him. At least, it did not look
as if he saw him. Then the old man knocked on the door of Case's
tenement. No one came, for the people in the house had learned to
leave inquiring countrymen to the gentleman who rented room No. 8, and
as that gentleman was occupied at that moment with a younger
countryman, he allowed the old man, whom he had first cautiously
observed from the top of the stairs, to remain where he was.
The old man stood uncertainly on the stoop, and then removed his
heavy black felt hat and rubbed his bald head and the white shining
locks of hair around it with a red bandanna handkerchief. Then he
walked very slowly across the street toward Snipes, for the rest of
the street was empty, and there was no one else at hand. The old man
was dressed in heavy black broadcloth, quaintly cut, with boot legs
showing up under the trousers, and with faultlessly clean linen of
"I can't make the people in that house over there hear me,"
complained the old man, with the simple confidence that old age has in
very young boys. "Do you happen to know if they're at home?"
"Nop," growled Snipes.
"I'm looking for a man named Perceval," said the stranger; "he
lives in that house, and I wanter see him on most particular business.
It isn't a very pleasing place he lives in, is it—at least," he
hurriedly added, as if fearful of giving offence, "it isn't much on
the outside? Do you happen to know him?"
Perceval was Alf Wolfe's business name.
"Nop," said the trailer.
"Well, I'm not looking for him," explained the stranger, slowly,
"as much as I'm looking for a young man that I kind of suspect is been
to see him to-day: a young man that looks like me, only younger. Has
lightish hair and pretty tall and lanky, and carrying a shiny black
bag with him. Did you happen to hev noticed him going into that place
across the way?"
"Nop," said Snipes.
The old man sighed and nodded his head thoughtfully at Snipes, and
puckered up the corners of his mouth, as though he were thinking
deeply. He had wonderfully honest blue eyes, and with the white hair
hanging around his sun-burned face, he looked like an old saint. But
the trailer didn't know that: he did know, though, that this man was a
different sort from the rest. Still, that was none of his business.
"What is't you want to see him about?" he asked sullenly, while he
looked up and down the street and everywhere but at the old man, and
rubbed one bare foot slowly over the other.
The old man looked pained, and much to Snipe's surprise, the
question brought the tears to his eyes, and his lips trembled. Then he
swerved slightly, so that he might have fallen if Snipes had not
caught him and helped him across the pavement to a seat on a stoop.
"Thankey, son," said the stranger; "I'm not as strong as I was, an'
the sun's mighty hot, an' these streets of yours smell mighty bad, and
I've had a powerful lot of trouble these last few days. But if I could
see this man Perceval before my boy does, I know I could fix it, and
it would all come out right."
"What do you want to see him about?" repeated the trailer,
suspiciously, while he fanned the old man with his hat. Snipes could
not have told you why he did this or why this particular old
countryman was any different from the many others who came to buy
counterfeit money and who were thieves at heart as well as in deed.
"I want to see him about my son," said the old man to the little
boy. "He's a bad man whoever he is. This 'ere Perceval is a bad man.
He sends down his wickedness to the country and tempts weak folks to
sin. He teaches 'em ways of evil-doing they never heard of, and he's
ruined my son with the others—ruined him. I've had nothing to do with
the city and its ways; we're strict living, simple folks, and perhaps
we've been too strict, or Abraham wouldn't have run away to the city.
But I thought it was best, and I doubted nothing when the fresh-air
children came to the farm. I didn't like city children, but I let 'em
come. I took 'em in, and did what I could to make it pleasant for 'em.
Poor little fellers, all as thin as corn-stalks and pale as ghosts,
and as dirty as you.
"I took 'em in and let 'em ride the horses, and swim in the river,
and shoot crows in the cornfield, and eat all the cherries they could
pull, and what did the city send me in return for that? It sent me
this thieving, rascally scheme of this man Perceval's, and it turned
my boy's head, and lost him to me. I saw him poring over the note and
reading it as if it were Gospel, and I suspected nothing. And when he
asked me if he could keep it, I said yes he could, for I thought he
wanted it for a curiosity, and then off he put with the black bag and
the $200 he's been saving up to start housekeeping with when the old
Deacon says he can marry his daughter Kate." The old man placed both
hands on his knees and went on excitedly.
"The old Deacon says he'll not let 'em marry till Abe has $2,000,
and that is what the boy's come after. He wants to buy $2,000 worth of
bad money with his $200 worth of good money, to show the Deacon, just
as though it were likely a marriage after such a crime as that would
ever be a happy one."
Snipes had stopped fanning the old man, as he ran on, and was
listening intently, with an uncomfortable feeling of sympathy and
sorrow, uncomfortable because he was not used to it.
He could not see why the old man should think the city should have
treated his boy better because he had taken care of the city's
children, and he was puzzled between his allegiance to the gang and
his desire to help the gang's innocent victim, and then because he was
an innocent victim and not a "customer," he let his sympathy get the
better of his discretion.
"Saay," he began, abruptly, "I'm not sayin' nothin' to nobody, and
nobody's sayin' nothin' to me—see? but I guess your son'll be around
here to-day, sure. He's got to come before one, for this office closes
sharp at one, and we goes home. Now, I've got the call whether he gets
his stuff taken off him or whether the boys leave him alone. If I say
the word, they'd no more come near him than if he had the cholera—
see? An' I'll say it for this oncet, just for you. Hold on," he
commanded, as the old man raised his voice in surprised interrogation,
"don't ask no questions, 'cause you won't get no answers 'except lies.
You find your way back to the Grand Central Depot and wait there, and
I'll steer your son down to you, sure, as soon as I can find him—see?
Now get along, or you'll get me inter trouble."
"You've been lying to me, then," cried the old man, "and you're as
bad as any of them, and my boy's over in that house now."
He scrambled up from the stoop, and before the trailer could
understand what he proposed to do, had dashed across the street and up
the stoop, and up the stairs, and had burst into room No. 8.
Snipes tore after him. "Come back! come back out of that, you old
fool!" he cried. "You'll get killed in there!" Snipes was afraid to
enter room No. 8, but he could hear from the outside the old man
challenging Alf Wolfe in a resonant angry voice that rang through the
"Whew!" said Snipes, crouching on the stairs, "there's goin' to be
a muss this time, sure!"
"Where's my son? Where have you hidden my son?" demanded, the old
man. He ran across the room and pulled open a door that led into
another room, but it was empty. He had fully expected to see his boy
murdered and quartered, and with his pockets inside out. He turned on
Wolfe, shaking his white hair like a mane. "Give me up my son, you
rascal you!" he cried, "or I'll get the police, and I'll tell them how
you decoy honest boys to your den and murder them."
"Are you drunk or crazy, or just a little of both?" asked Mr.
Wolfe. "For a cent I'd throw you out of that window. Get out of here!
Quick, now! You're too old to get excited like that; it's not good for
But this only exasperated the old man the more, and he made a lunge
at the confidence man's throat. Mr. Wolfe stepped aside and caught him
around the waist and twisted his leg around the old man's rheumatic
one, and held him. "Now," said Wolfe, as quietly as though he were
giving a lesson in wrestling, "if I wanted to, I could break your
The old man glared up at him, panting. "Your son's not here," said
Wolfe, "and this is a private gentleman's private room. I could turn
you over to the police for assault if I wanted to; but," he added,
magnanimously, "I won't. Now get out of here and go home to your wife,
and when you come to see the sights again don't drink so much raw
whiskey." He half carried the old farmer to the top of the stairs and
dropped him, and went back and closed the door. Snipes came up and
helped him down and out, and the old man and the boy walked slowly and
in silence out to the Bowery. Snipes helped his companion into a car
and put him off at the Grand Central Depot. The heat and the
excitement had told heavily on the old man, and he seemed dazed and
He was leaning on the trailer's shoulder and waiting for his turn
in the line in front of the ticket window, when a tall, gawky, good-
looking country lad sprang out of it and at him with an expression of
surprise and anxiety. "Father," he said, "father, what's wrong? What
are you doing here? Is anybody ill at home? Are you ill?"
"Abraham," said the old man, simply, and dropped heavily on the
younger man's shoulder. Then he raised his head sternly and said: "I
thought you were murdered, but better that than a thief, Abraham. What
brought you here? What did you do with that rascal's letter? What did
you do with his money?"
The trailer drew cautiously away; the conversation was becoming
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Abraham, calmly.
"The Deacon gave his consent the other night without the $2,000, and I
took the $200 I'd saved and came right on in the fust train to buy the
ring. It's pretty, isn't it?" he said, flushing, as he pulled out a
little velvet box and opened it.
The old man was so happy at this that he laughed and cried
alternately, and then he made a grab for the trailer and pulled him
down beside him on one of the benches.
"You've got to come with me," he said, with kind severity. "You're
a good boy, but your folks have let you run wrong. You've been good to
me, and you said you would get me back my boy and save him from those
thieves, and I believe now that you meant it. Now you're just coming
back with us to the farm and the cows and the river, and you can eat
all you want and live with us, and never, never see this unclean,
wicked city again."
Snipes looked up keenly from under the rim of his hat and rubbed
one of his muddy feet over the other as was his habit. The young
countryman, greatly puzzled, and the older man smiling kindly, waited
expectantly in silence. From outside came the sound of the car-bells
jangling, and the rattle of cabs, and the cries of drivers, and all
the varying rush and turmoil of a great metropolis. Green fields, and
running rivers, and fruit that did not grow in wooden boxes or brown
paper cones, were myths and idle words to Snipes, but this "unclean,
wicked city" he knew.
"I guess you're too good for me," he said, with an uneasy laugh. "I
guess little old New York's good enough for me."
"What!" cried the old man, in the tones of greatest concern. "You
would go back to that den of iniquity, surely not,—to that thief
"Well," said the trailer, slowly, "and he's not such a bad lot,
neither. You see he could hev broke your neck that time when you was
choking him, but he didn't. There's your train," he added hurriedly
and jumping away. "Good-by. So long, old man. I'm much 'bliged to you
jus' for asking me."
Two hours later the farmer and his son were making the family weep
and laugh over their adventures, as they all sat together on the porch
with the vines about it; and the trailer was leaning against the wall
of a saloon and apparently counting his ten toes, but in reality
watching for Mr. Wolfe to give the signal from the window of room No.