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CHAPTER I TWO TRAMPS
A man and a boy were ascending a steep street in a country town in eastern New York. The man was tall and dark-complexioned, with a sinister look which of itself excited distrust. He wore a slouch hat, which, coming down over his forehead, nearly concealed from view his low, receding brow. A pair of black, piercing eyes looked out from beneath the brim. The first impression produced upon those who met him was that he was of gypsy blood, and the impression was a correct one. Where he was born no one seemed to know; perhaps he did not himself know, for all his life he had been a wanderer, but English was the tongue which he spoke, and, apart from the gypsy dialect, he knew no other.

His companion was a boy of fourteen. Between the two there was not the slightest resemblance. Though browned by exposure to the sun and the wind, it was easy to see that the boy was originally of light complexion. His hair was chestnut and his eyes blue. His features were regular and strikingly handsome, though owing to the vagrant life he was compelled to lead, he was not able to pay that attention to cleanliness which he might have done if he had had a settled home.

It was five o’clock in the afternoon, and the boy looked weary. He seemed scarcely able to drag one foot after the other. His companion turned upon him roughly.

“What are you dawdling that way for, Tony?” he demanded. “You creep like a boy of three.”

“I can’t help it, Rudolph,” said the boy wearily; “I’m tired.”

“What business have you to be tired?”

“I’ve walked far to-day.”

“You’ve walked no further than I. I don’t dawdle like you.”

“You’re a man. You’re stronger than I am, Rudolph.”

“And you’re a milksop,” said the man contemptuously.

I’m nothing of the sort,” said the boy, with a flash of spirit. “I’m not made of cast iron, and that’s why I can’t stand walking all day long. Besides, I have had no dinner.”

“That isn’t my fault, is it?”

“I didn’t say it was, but it makes me weak for all that.”

“Well,” said Rudolph, “perhaps you’re right. I feel like eating something myself. We’ll go to some house and ask for supper.”

Tony looked dissatisfied.

I wish we were not obliged to beg our meals,” he said; “I don’t like it.”

“Oh, you’re getting proud, are you?” sneered Rudolph. “If you’ve got money to pay for your supper we won’t beg, as you call it.”

“Why can’t we do as other people do?” asked Tony.

What’s that?”

“Live somewhere, and not go tramping round the country all the time. It would be a good deal pleasanter.”

“Not for me. I’m a vagrant by nature. I can’t be cooped up in one place. I should die of stagnation. I come of a roving stock. My mother and father before me were rovers, and I follow in their steps.”

The man spoke with animation, his eye flashing as he gazed about him, and unconsciously quickened his pace.

Then I’m not like you,” said Tony decidedly. “I don’t want to be a tramp. Were my father and mother rovers like yours?”

“Of course they were,” answered Rudolph, but not without hesitation. “Ain’t I your uncle?”

“I don’t know. Are you?” returned Tony searchingly.

Haven’t I told you so a hundred times?” demanded Rudolph impatiently.

Yes,” said the boy slowly, “but there’s no likeness between us. You’re dark and I am light.”

“That proves nothing,” said the elder tramp hastily. “Brothers are often as unlike. Perhaps you don’t want to look upon me as a relation?”

The boy was silent.

Are you getting ashamed of me?” demanded Rudolph, in a harsh tone.

I am ashamed of myself,” said Tony bitterly. “I’m nothing but a tramp, begging my bread from door to door, sleeping in barns, outhouses, in the fields, anywhere I can. I’m as ignorant as a boy of eight. I can just read and that’s all.”

“You know as much as I do.”

“That don’t satisfy me. When I grow up I don’t want to be—?—”

Tony hesitated.

You don’t want to be like me. Is that it?” asked Rudolph angrily.

No, I don’t want to be like you,” answered Tony boldly. “I want to have a home, and a business, and to live like other people.”

“Humph!” muttered Rudolph, fixing his eyes thoughtfully upon his young companion. “This is something new. You never talked like that before.”

“But I’ve felt like that plenty of times. I’m tired of being a tramp.”

“Then you’re a fool. There’s no life so free and independent. You can go where you please, with no one to order you here nor there, the scene changing always, instead of being obliged to look always upon the same people and the same fields.”

“What’s the good of it all? I’m tired of it. I’ve got no home, and never had any.”

“You’ve got no spirit. You’re only fit for a farmboy or an apprentice.”

“I wish I was either one.”

“Sit down here if you are tired,” said the man abruptly, throwing himself down under a wide-spreading tree by the roadside.

Tony stretched himself out at a little distance, and uttered a sigh of relief as he found himself permitted to rest.

Have you been thinking of this long?” asked Rudolph.

Of what?”

“Of not liking to be a tramp?”

“Yes.”

“You have not spoken of it before.”

“I’ve been thinking of it more lately.”

“How did that come?”

“I’ll tell you,” said Tony. “Don’t you remember last week when we passed by a schoolhouse? It was recess, and the boys were out at play. While you were away a few minutes, one of the boys sat down by me and talked. He told me what he was studying, and what he was going to do when he got older, and then he asked me about myself.”

“What did you tell him?”

“What did I tell him?” said Tony bitterly. “I told him that I was a tramp, and that when I got older I should be a tramp still.”

“Well,” said Rudolph sharply, “what then?”

“The boy told me I ought to get some regular work to do, and grow into a respectable member of society. He said that his father would help me, he thought, and—?—” “So you want to leave me, do you?” demanded Rudolph fiercely. “Is that what you’re coming to, my chicken?”

“It isn’t that so much as the life you make me lead. I want to leave that, Rudolph.”

“Well, you can’t do it,” said the man shortly.

Why not?”

“I say so, and that’s enough.”

Tony was silent for a moment. He was not greatly disappointed, for he expected a refusal. He changed the subject.

Rudolph,” he said, “there’s something else I want to ask you about.”

“Well?”

“Who am I?”

“Who are you? A young fool,” muttered the tramp, but he appeared a little uneasy at the question.

I want to know something about my father and mother.”

“Your mother was my sister. She died soon after you were born.”

“And my father?”

“He was put in jail for theft, and was shot in trying to make his escape. Does that satisfy you?”

“No, it doesn’t, and what’s more, I don’t believe it,” said Tony boldly.

Look here,” said Rudolph sternly. “I’ve had enough of your insolence. Do you see this strap?”

He produced a long leather strap, which he drew through his fingers menacingly.

Yes, I see it.”

“You’ll feel it if you ain’t careful. Now get up. It’s time to be moving.”


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