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CHAPTER XVII TWO CONSPIRATORS
“You want to see Mrs. Middleton?” demanded the hotel clerk, surveying Mr. Rugg’s exterior.

Yes,” said the tramp.

I don’t think she’ll see one of your sort.”

“That’s where you’re mistaken, young feller.”

“You’re a strange visitor for a lady.”

“What if I am? There’s my card.”

The clerk took the card, and looked at it doubtfully. Then summoning an attendant, he said:

“Take this up to 57.”

Presently the servant returned.

The gentleman is to go up,” he said.

Rudolph looked at the clerk triumphantly.

What did I tell you?” he said.

Show the gentleman up,” said the clerk, purposely emphasizing the word.

As Rudolph entered the handsome parlor occupied by Mrs. Middleton, she said:

“Take a seat, sir.” Then to the attendant: “You may go. You are Rudolph Rugg?” she commenced when they were alone.

Yes, ma’am,” he answered; “and you are Miss Vincent, the governess. I haven’t forgotten you.”

“I am Mrs. Harvey Middleton,” she said haughtily.

Excuse me, ma’am. I hadn’t heard as you had changed your condition. You was the governess when I knowed you.”

“You never knew me,” she said.

Well, I knowed Mr. Harvey, at any rate.”

“That is not to the purpose. Do you know why I have sought you out?”

“I couldn’t guess, ma’am,” said Rudolph cunningly.

He could guess, but he wanted to force her to speak out.

Where is the boy? Is he living?”

“What boy?” asked Rudolph vacantly.

You know very well. Anthony Middleton, my husband’s cousin, whom you stole away when he was scarcely more than an infant.”

“Can you prove what you say, Miss Vincent—I mean Mrs. Middleton?”

“Yes. It is idle to beat about the bush. My husband has told me all.”

“Then he has told you that he hired me to carry the boy off, in order that he might inherit the estate?”

“Yes, he told me that,” she answered composedly.

Well, I didn’t think he’d own up to that.”

“My husband and I had no secrets.”

“What does he want of the boy now?” asked Rudolph.

It is I that want to find the boy.”

“Without his knowledge?”

“If you refer to my husband, he is dead.”

“Well, I didn’t expect that. Who has got the estate?”

“I have.”

The tramp whistled. Here was a poor governess, who had succeeded in life with a vengeance. When he knew her she was not worth fifty pounds in the world. Now she was mistress of a fine English estate, with a rental of two thousand pounds.

Wasn’t there no heirs?” he asked.

Only this boy.”

“And if this boy was alive, would the estate be his?”

The lady paused, meanwhile fixing her eyes steadily upon the man before her. Then she approached him and placed her jeweled hand on his arm.

Rudolph Rugg,” she said, “do you want to be comfortable for life?”

“Yes, ma’am, that’s exactly what I do want.”

“It will come to you now if you say the word,” she said.

I’ll say it quick enough. Tell me what you want.”

“You talk like a sensible man. But first tell me, is the boy living?”

“He is alive and well.”

“When did you see him last?”

“Last week.”

“Very well, you know where he is. That is important. Now, in order that you may understand what service I want of you, I must tell you a little of my circumstances. I told you that my husband left me the estate.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“But only in trust.”

“For the boy?” asked the tramp, in excitement.

Precisely.”

“Well, I’ll be blowed.”

“What excites you, Mr. Rugg?”

“To think that Tony the Tramp should be the owner of a splendid estate in old Hingland.”

“I am the owner,” said the lady, frowning.

But you’re only takin’ care of it for him.”

“I don’t mean that he shall ever know it.”

Rudolph whistled.

My husband secured the inheritance, as you are aware, through the disappearance of his young cousin.”

“And mighty well he managed it.”

“But after he was given over by the doctors, he became a prey to superstitious fears, the result of his weakness, and at times experienced great regret for the hand he had in the abduction of the boy.”

“You surprise me, ma’am. He wasn’t that sort when I knew him.”

“No; he was then bold and resolute. Ill health and the approach of death made him superstitious.”

“You ain’t that way, ma’am, I take it.”

“No; I have a stronger will and greater resolution.”

Her face did not belie her words. There was a cold look in her light gray eyes, and a firmness in her closely pressed lips, which made it clear that she was not likely to be affected by ordinary weakness. She was intensely selfish, and thoroughly unscrupulous as to the means which she employed to carry out her selfish ends.

So you’re afraid the boy’ll turn up, ma’am?”

“Precisely.”

“Then why do you look for him?”

“I want to guard against his ever turning up.”

“He don’t know about the property.”

“But he might have learned, or you might. My husband, with the idea of reparation, left the property to me, in trust, but if it should ever be fully ascertained that the boy had died, then it was to be mine absolutely.”

“I begin to see what you’re driving at, ma’am.”

“You say the boy is alive?”

“Stout and hearty, ma’am. He’s been under my care ever since he was a young un, ma’am, and I’ve treated him like he was my own.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m poor, but I’ve always shared my crust with him, givin’ him the biggest half.”

“Very kind, I’m sure,” said the lady, sarcastically. “I suppose you’re very fond of him.”

“Of course I am,” said Rudolph. “But,” he added, after a slight pause, “there’s one thing I like better.”

“What is that?”

“Money.”

“Good! I see we understand one another.”

“That’s so, ma’am. You needn’t be afraid to say anything to me. Business is business.”


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