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CHAPTER VI ABNER’S RUSE
Abner and Joe had gone about half a mile when from the bushes by the roadside Rudolph emerged. He had seen the hat, and he felt sure that Tony was trying to escape him in that way.

Well,” said Abner, with a grin, as he recognized his midnight foe, “how do you feel this morning?”

“None the better for you, curse you!” returned the tramp roughly.

Abner laughed.

That’s what I thought,” he said, cracking his whip.

Rudolph would like to have punished him then and there for his humiliation of the night before, but Abner looked too powerful as he strode along manfully with vigorous steps. Besides, he had a heavy whip in his hand, which the tramp suspected would be used unhesitatingly if there were occasion. The prospect was not inviting. But, at any rate, Rudolph could demand that Tony be remitted to his custody.

Where’s my boy?” asked the tramp, keeping at a safe distance.

Didn’t know you had a boy,” said Abner.

I mean that villain Tony. Isn’t that he on that load of hay?”

“Kind o’ looks like him,” answered Abner, grinning.

Rudolph looked up, and caught sight of the hat.

Come down here, Tony,” he said sternly.

Joe, who had been instructed what to do, answered not a word.

Come down here, if you know what’s best for you,” continued the tramp.

Guess he’s hard of hearing,” laughed Abner.

Stop your wagon,” said Rudolph furiously, “I want to get hold of him.”

“Couldn’t do it,” said Abner coolly. “I’m in a hurry.”

“Will you give me the boy or not?” demanded the tramp hoarsely.

He can get off and go along with you if he wants to,” said Abner. “Do you want to get down, Tony?”

“No!” answered the supposed Tony.

You see, squire, he prefers to ride,” said Abner. “Can’t blame him much. I’d do it in his place.”

“Where are you going?” demanded the tramp, who hadn’t discovered that the voice was not that of Tony.

I’m going to Castleton,” answered Abner.

“Are you going to leave the hay there?”

“Yes, that’s what I calc’late to do.”

“How far is it?”

“Six miles.”

“I’ll walk along, too.”

“Better not, squire, you’ll get tired.”

“I’ll risk that.”

Rudolph’s plan was manifest. When the hay was unloaded, of course Tony would have to get down. Then he would get hold of him.

You can do just as you’ve a mind to,” said Abner. “You’ll be company to Tony and me, but you needn’t put yourself out on our account, hey, Tony?”

There was a smothered laugh on top of the hay, which the tramp heard. His eyes snapped viciously, and he privately determined to give Tony a settlement in full for all his offenses just as soon as he got hold of him.

So they jogged on, mile after mile. Abner walked on one side, swinging his whip, and occasionally cracking it. The tramp walked on the other side of the road, and the boy rode along luxuriously imbedded in his fragrant couch of hay. Abner from time to time kept up the tramp’s illusion by calling out, “Tony, you must take keer, or you’ll fall off.”

“I’ll catch him if he does,” said Rudolph grimly.

So you will,” chuckled Abner. “You’d like to, wouldn’t you?”

“Certainly. He is my son,” said Rudolph.

Do you hear that, Tony? He says you’re his son,” said Abner, grinning again.

There was another laugh from the boy on the load of hay.

You won’t find anything to laugh at when I get hold of you,” muttered Rudolph.

So they journeyed into Castleton.

From time to time Abner, as he thought how neatly the tramp had been sold, burst into a loud laugh, which was echoed from the hay wagon. Rudolph was not only angry, but puzzled.

Does the boy hope to escape me?” he asked himself. “If so, he will find himself badly mistaken. He will find that I am not to be trifled with.”

“Say, squire, what makes you look so glum?” asked Abner. “Maybe it’s because I didn’t let you in when you called so late last night. We don’t receive visitors after midnight.”

Rudolph scowled, but said nothing.

How long has the boy been with you?” asked Abner, further.

Since he was born,” answered the tramp. “Ain’t I his father?”

“I don’t know. If it’s a conundrum, I give it up.”

“Well, I am, and no one has a right to keep him from me,” said the tramp, in a surly manner.

I wouldn’t keep him from you for a minute,” said Abner innocently.

You are doing it now.”

“No, I ain’t.”

“I can’t get at him on that hay.”

“He can come down if he wants to. I don’t stop him. You can come down if you want to, Tony,” he said, looking up to where the boy’s hat was visible.

Tony did not answer, and Abner continued:

“You see he don’t want to come. He’d rather ride. You know he’s been sick,” said Abner, with a grin, “and he’s too delicate to walk. He ain’t tough, like you and me.”

“He’ll need to be tough,” muttered the tramp, as he thought of the flogging he intended to give Tony.

What did you say?”

“Never mind.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” said Abner. “You can say what you want to. This is a free country, only you can’t do what you’ve a mind to.”

Rudolph wished that he had a double stock of strength. It was very provoking to be laughed at and derided by Abner, without being able to revenge himself. A pistol or a knife would make him even with the countryman, but Rudolph was too much of a coward to commit such serious crimes where there was so much danger of detection and punishment.

At last they entered Castleton.

The hay was to be delivered to a speculator, who collected large quantities of it, and forwarded it over the railroad to a large city.

It had to be weighed, and Abner drove at once to the hay scales.

Now,” thought Rudolph, with exultation, “the boy must come down, and I shall get hold of him.”

“I guess you’d better slide down,” said Abner. “I can’t sell you for hay, Tony.”

There was a movement, and then the boy slid down, Abner catching him as he descended.

Rudolph’s face changed ominously when he saw that it wasn’t Tony who made his appearance.

What does this mean?” he demanded furiously.

What’s the matter?”

“This isn’t Tony.”

“Come to look at him, it isn’t,” said Abner, with a twinkle in his eye.

Didn’t you say it was Tony?” asked the tramp, exasperated.

I guess I was mistaken, squire,” said Abner, grinning.

Where is he, then?”

“I don’t know, I’m sure. It seems he didn’t come. Guess he must have given us the slip.”

The tramp, unable to control his rage, burst into a volley of execrations.

“Hope you feel better, squire,” said Abner, when he got through.

I’d like to see you hanged,” retorted Rudolph bitterly.

Thank you,” said Abner, “I’ll invite you when it comes off.”

The tramp strode off, vowing dire vengeance against both Abner and Tony.


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