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CHAPTER VIII TONY HIRES OUT
Tony was not slow in going to sleep. Neither his hard bed nor his strange bedchamber troubled him.

Generally he slept all night without awakening, but to-night, for some unknown reason, he awoke about two o’clock. It was unusually light for that hour, and so he was enabled to see what at first startled him. The old man had raised a plank forming a part of the flooring, and had lifted from beneath it a canvas bag full of gold pieces. He was taking them out and counting them, apparently quite unconscious of Tony’s presence.

Tony raised himself on his elbow, and looked at him. It occurred to him that for a man so suspicious it was strange that he should expose his hoard before a stranger. Something, however, in the old man’s look led him to think that he was in a sleep-walking fit.

Ninety-five, ninety-six, ninety-seven,” Tony heard him count; “that makes nine hundred and seventy dollars, all gold, good, beautiful gold. Nobody knows the old man is so rich. There’s another bag, too. There are one hundred pieces in that. Three more and this will be full, too. Nobody must know, nobody must know.”

He put back the pieces, replaced the bag in its hiding place, and then, putting back the plank, lay down once more on his heap of rags.

How uneasy he would be,” thought Tony, “if he knew I had seen his treasures. But I wouldn’t rob him for the world, although the money would do me good, and he makes no use of it except to look at it.”

Tony slept till six when he was awakened by a piteous groaning.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

Who’s there?” demanded Ben, terrified.

It’s only I. Don’t you remember you let me sleep here last night?”

“Oh, yes. I remember now. I’m sick; very sick.”

“How do you feel?”

“I’m aching and trembling all over. Do you think I’m going to die?” he asked, with a startled look.

Oh, no, I guess not,” said Tony reassuringly.

I never felt so before,” groaned Ben. “I’m an old man. Don’t you really think I shall die?”

Tony knew nothing of medicines or of diseases, but he had the sense to understand that the old man would be more likely to recover if his terror could be allayed, and he said lightly:

“Oh, it’s only a trifle. You’ve taken cold, very likely. A cup of hot tea would be good for you.”

“I haven’t any tea,” groaned Ben. “It costs a great deal, and I’m very poor. I can’t afford to buy it.”

Tony smiled, remembering the hoard of gold.

I guess you’ve got some money,” said Tony. “You’d better let me go to the store, and buy some tea and a fresh roll for you.”

“How much will it cost?” asked Ben.

I can get some bread, and tea, and sugar for thirty or forty cents,” answered Tony.

Forty cents! It’s frightful!” exclaimed Ben. “I—I guess I’ll do without it.”

“Oh, well, if you prefer to lie there and die, it’s none of my business,” said Tony, rather provoked.

But I don’t want to die,” whined Ben.

Then do as I tell you.”

Tony jumped up, unrolled his coat and put it on.

Now,” he said, “I’m ready to go for you, if you’ll give me the money.”

“But you may take it and not come back.”

“If you think you can’t trust me, you needn’t.”

“I think I’ll go myself,” said Ben.

He tried to raise himself, but a twinge of pain compelled him to lie down again.

No, I can’t,” he said.

Well, do you want me to go for you?”

“Yes,” answered Ben reluctantly.

Then give me the money.”

Ben produced twenty-five cents from his pocket.

Isn’t that enough?” he asked.

Better give me more,” said Tony.

He produced ten cents more, and vowed it was all the money he had in the world.

Tony decided not to contradict his assertion, but to make this go as far as it would. He put on his hat and started out. He meant also to stop at the doctor’s, and ask him to call round, for he thought it possible that the old man might be seriously sick.

After he left the grocery store, he called at the house of the village doctor.

Old Ben sick?” said Dr. Compton. “How did you happen to be in his house?”

Tony explained.

He has been repaid for taking you in,” said the doctor. “I’ll put on my hat and go right over with you.”

After Tony left the house, old Ben tormented himself with the thought that the boy would never come back.

He was relieved by seeing the door open and Tony enter. But he looked dismayed when he saw the doctor.

What did you come for?” he asked peevishly.

To see what I can do for you, Mr. Hayden.”

“But I can’t pay you,” whined old Ben.

We’ll talk about that afterward.”

“You can’t charge when I didn’t send for you.”

“Make your mind easy. I won’t charge for this visit. Let me feel your pulse.”

Old Ben no longer opposed medical treatment, finding it would cost nothing.

Am I going to die?” he asked, with an anxious look.

You need nourishing food and care, that is all,” was the reply. “You have had a chill, and you are reduced by insufficient food.”

“I have some bread and tea here,” said Tony.

Then make a fire and boil the tea. And, by the way, Mr. Hayden needs somebody for a few days. Can you look after him?”

“If he will give me money enough to buy what he needs,” said Tony.

Old Ben whined that he was poor, and had no money, but the doctor interrupted him impatiently.

That’s all nonsense,” he said. “You may not have much money, but you’ve got some, and you’ll die if you don’t spend some on yourself. If you don’t agree to it I shall advise this boy here to leave you to your fate. Then your only resource will be to go to the poorhouse.”

This proposal was not acceptable to Ben, who was unwilling to leave the house where his treasures were concealed. He, therefore, reluctantly acceded to the doctor’s conditions, and Tony got his breakfast.

Well,” thought Tony to himself, with a smile, “I’ve got a situation as plain cook and housekeeper. I wonder how long it will last, and what’ll come of it. I don’t believe Rudolph will look for me here.”



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