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CHAPTER XVIII ROGUES CONFER
“It appears to me, Mr. Rugg, that you have not prospered,” said the lady.

That’s where you’re right, ma’am.”

“I am sorry for that.”

“So am I,” said the tramp, adding, with a cunning look, “but times will be better now.”

“Why will they be better?” asked Mrs. Middleton.

Tony won’t see me want when he comes into two thousand a year.”

“Who said he was coming into it?”

“You said he was the heir.”

“He hasn’t got the estate, and I don’t mean he shall have it.”

“How will you prevent that, ma’am?”

Mrs. Middleton again put her hand on the man’s tattered coat sleeve, and, in a voice scarcely above a whisper, said:

“Mr. Rugg, you must prevent it.”

“How can I prevent it?” asked the tramp, with an assumption of innocence.

Mrs. Middleton said, with slow significance:

“This boy is in my way. Don’t you think he might manage to get sick and die?”

“Perhaps he might,” said Rudolph, who did not appear to be shocked at the suggestion.

Couldn’t you manage it?” she asked.

I might,” he answered shrewdly, “if it was going to do me any good.”

“Then the only question is as to pay,” she continued.

That’s about it, ma’am. It’s a big risk. I might get caught and then money wouldn’t do me much good.”

“Nothing venture, nothing have. You don’t want to be a pauper all your life?”

“No, I don’t,” answered the tramp, with energy. “I’m tired of tramping round the country, sleeping in barns and under haystacks, and picking up meals where I can.”

“Do as I wish and you need never suffer such privations again,” said the tempter.

How much will you give me?” asked Rudolph.

Five hundred dollars down, and five hundred dollars income as long as you live.”

This was good fortune of which Rudolph had not dreamed, but he understood how to make the most of the situation.

It is not enough,” he said, shaking his head.

Not enough!” exclaimed Mrs. Middleton. “Why, it seems to me very liberal. You can live comfortably all your life just for doing one thing.”

“A thing which may bring me to the gallows. It’s all very well to talk, but I can’t risk my neck for that.”

The lady was not surprised. She had expected that she would be compelled to drive a bargain, and she had named a sum less than she was willing to pay.

You see,” continued Rudolph, “it’s going to be a great thing for you. You’ll be sure of a big estate and an income of two thousand pounds—that’s ten thousand dollars—a year, and it’ll be me that gives it to you.”

“You overestimate your service, Mr. Rugg,” she said, coldly. “If I decline to proceed further the estate will be mine.”

“Not if I bring on the boy, and say he’s the real heir.”

“I shall deny it,” said the lady, composedly, “and challenge you to the proof.”

“Then I’ll prove it.”

“Who will believe you?” asked Mrs. Middleton, quietly.

“Why shouldn’t they?”

“You are a tramp, and a discreditable person. I suppose the boy is one of the same sort.”

“No, he isn’t. I don’t like him overmuch, but he’s a handsome chap, looks the gentleman every inch.”

“I should charge you with conspiracy, Mr. Rugg. You’d find it uphill work fighting me, without influence and without money.”

“Then, if there ain’t no danger from me or the boy, why do you want me to put him out of the way?”

Mrs. Middleton hesitated.

I may as well tell you,” she said. “I take it for granted you will keep the matter secret.”

“Of course I will.”

“Then it is this: I married Mr. Harvey Middleton to secure a home and a position. I didn’t love him.”

“Quite right, ma’am.”

“He had no reason to complain of me, and when he died he left me in charge of the estate.”

“For the boy?”

“Yes, for the boy, and this has given me trouble.”

“He hasn’t never troubled you.”

“Not yet, and but for one thing I would not have come to America in search of him.”

“What is that?”

“I want to marry again.”

The tramp whistled.

Mrs. Middleton frowned, but went on:

“This time I love the man I want to marry. He is from an excellent family, but he is a younger son, and has little or nothing himself. If the estate were mine absolutely, there would be no opposition on the part of his family, but with the knowledge that the boy may turn up at any time nothing will be done.”

“I see,” said the tramp, nodding.

But for this I would never have stirred in the matter at all. I did not think it probable that the boy would ever hear of his inheritance.”

“He don’t even know who he is,” said Rudolph.

You never told him, then?” said the lady.

No. What was the good?”

“There was no good, and you did wisely. Now I have told you how matters stand, and I renew the offer which I made a few minutes since.”

“It is too little,” said the tramp, shaking his head.

Tell me what you expect.”

“I want just double what you offered me, ma’am.”

“Why, that’s extortion.”

“That’s as you choose to consider it, ma’am.”

“Suppose I refuse?”

“Then I’ll go and see a lawyer.”

“Even if you succeeded, and got the boy in possession, do you think he would give you any more than I?”

This was a consideration which had not occurred to the tramp. He asked himself, moreover, did he really wish Tony to come into such a piece of good fortune, after the boy had been instrumental in having him arrested. No, anything but that! “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, ma’am,” he said. “I’ll say eight hundred dollars down, and the same every year.”

To this sum Mrs. Middleton finally agreed.

You say you know where the boy is?” she asked.

Yes, ma’am.”

“Then there need be no delay.”

“Only a little. But I shall want some money.”

Mrs. Middleton took out her purse.

Here are a hundred dollars,” she said. “The rest shall be paid you when you have earned it.”

Rudolph went downstairs, thinking:

“That woman’s a devil if ever there was one. How coolly she hires me to kill the boy. I don’t half like the job. It’s too risky. But there’s money in it, and I can’t refuse. The first thing is to find him!”



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