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CHAPTER II AT THE FARMHOUSE
“Where are we going to stop to-night?” asked Tony ten minutes later.

There,” answered Rudolph, pointing out a farmhouse a little to the left.

Suppose they won’t let us.”

“They will admit us into the barn at least, if we play our cards right. Listen to what I say. You are to be my son.”

“But I am not your son.”

“Be silent!” said the other tramp, “and don’t you dare to contradict me. You have been sick, and are too weak to go further.”

“That is a lie, Rudolph.”

“That doesn’t matter. If they believe it, they won’t turn us away. Perhaps they will let you sleep in the house.”

“Away from you?”

“Yes.”

Tony was puzzled. It seemed as if Rudolph wanted him to be more comfortably provided for than himself, but the boy knew him too well not to suspect that there was some concealed motive for this apparent kindness.

Well, what are you thinking about?” demanded Rudolph, suspiciously, as he observed the boy’s earnest gaze.

Why do you want me to sleep in the house?” he asked.

I will tell you. When all the family are asleep, I want you to steal downstairs, open the back door, and let me in.”

“What for?” asked the boy, startled.

Never you mind. Do as I tell you.”

“But I don’t want to do it. You never asked me to do that before.”

“Didn’t I? Well, I had no occasion. I ask you now.”

“What are you going to do? Are you going to harm anyone?”

“No. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, but mind you, if you breathe a word to any being, I’ll cut your tongue out.”

Tony looked troubled, but not frightened.

Go on,” he said.

Rudolph continued in a rapid tone.

I want money to carry out a plan of importance. This farm belongs to a farmer who is rich, and who keeps a part of his money in the house.”

“How do you know that?”

“A friend of mine stopped there last week, and found out. He put me on the scent. The old man keeps from two to three hundred dollars in his desk. I must have that money.”

“I don’t want to help you in this, Rudolph,” said Tony. “I won’t betray you, but you mustn’t compel me to be a thief.”

“I can’t get along without you, and help me you must.”

“Suppose we fail?”

“Then we must take to our legs. If we’re caught we’re both in the same box. I don’t ask you to take any risks that I don’t run myself.”

Tony was about to remonstrate further, but it was too late. They had already reached the farmhouse, and caught sight of the owner standing under a tree in the front yard.

Remember!” hissed the older tramp. “Follow my lead, or I’ll beat you till you are half dead. Good-evening, sir.”

This last was said in an humble tone to the farmer, who advanced to the gate.

“Good-evening,” said the farmer, ingenuously.

He was a man of sixty, roughly dressed to suit his work, with grizzled hair, a form somewhat bowed, and a face seamed with wrinkles. He had been a hard worker, and showed abundant traces of it in his appearance.

We are very tired and hungry, my boy and I,” whined Rudolph. “We’ve traveled many miles since morning. Would you kindly give us some supper and a night’s lodging?”

“My wife’ll give you something to eat,” said the old man. “Thank Heaven! we’ve got enough for ourselves and a bit for the poor besides. But I don’t know about lodging. I don’t like to take in strangers that I know nothing about.”

“I don’t blame you, sir,” said Rudolph, in a tone of affected humility. “There’s many rogues going round the country, I’ve heard, but I’m a poor, hard-working man.”

“Then why are you not at work?”

“Times are hard, and I can get nothing to do. I am in search of work. I can do almost anything. I’m a carpenter by trade.”

Rudolph knew no more of the carpenter’s trade than the man in the moon, but that would do as well as any other.

“Where are you from?”

“From Buffalo,” he answered, with slight hesitation.

“Is business dull there?”

“Nothing doing.”

“Well, my friend, you haven’t come to the right place. There’s nothing but farming done here.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” said Rudolph, hastily, for he had no disposition to be set to work in the fields.

I don’t need any extra hands,” said the farmer.

I am glad of that,” thought the tramp.

“Go round to the back door, and I will speak to my wife about supper,” said the old man.

Come, Tony,” said Rudolph, motioning to take the boy’s hand, but Tony did not see fit to notice the movement, and walked in silence by his side.

A motherly looking old woman made her appearance at the back door.

Come in,” she said. “Come right in, and sit down to the table. Abner, make room for the poor man and his son.”

Abner was a stalwart youth of eighteen, hard-handed and muscular. He was the only permanent “hired man” employed on the farm. In haying time there were others transiently employed.

A farmer’s table is plentiful, though homely. The two tramps made an abundant meal, both doing justice to the homely fare. The farmer’s wife looked on with hospitable satisfaction. She could not bear to have anybody hungry under her roof.

You’ll excuse our appetite, ma’am,” said Rudolph, “but we’ve had nothing to eat since breakfast.”

“Eat as much as you like,” said she. “We never stint anybody here. Is that your son?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Tony bent his eyes upon his plate, and frowned slightly. He wanted to deny it, but did not dare.

He don’t look a bit like you,” said the woman. “He’s light, and you’re very dark.”

“His mother was light,” said Rudolph. “He takes after her.”

“How old is he?”

“Tony, tell the lady how old you are.”

“Fourteen.”

“He is well grown at his age.”

“Yes; he will make a good-sized man. He’s been sick.”

“Has he? What has been the matter?”

“I don’t know. Poor folks like us can’t call in a doctor.”

“He don’t look sick,” said the farmer’s wife thoughtfully.

He’s delicate, though he don’t look it. It’s sleeping out in the open air, I expect.”

“Do you have to sleep out in the open air?”

“Yes; we can’t afford to pay for lodgings, and people won’t take us into their houses. I don’t mind myself—I’m tough—but Tony can’t stand it as well as I can.”

While this conversation was going on, Tony fixed his eyes upon his plate. He was angry that such falsehoods should be told about him, but if he should utter a word of objection he knew that there would be an explosion of wrath on the part of his guardian, and he remained silent.

The farmer’s wife was a simple-minded, kind-hearted woman, and though Tony did not look at all delicate, she never thought of questioning the statement of Rudolph. Indeed she was already revolving in her mind inviting the boy to sleep in the house. She was rather prejudiced in favor of Rudolph by his show of parental solicitude.

When supper was over, having in the meantime consulted her husband, she said to Rudolph:

“My husband says you may sleep in the barn, if you don’t smoke. We can find a bed for your son with Abner. You won’t mind taking him into your room?”

“He can come,” said Abner good-naturedly.

So it was arranged. At half-past eight, for they retired at that early hour in the farmhouse, Rudolph left the fireside, and sought the barn. As he left the room he looked suspiciously at Tony, and shook his head warningly.


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