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some of the other ladies sent out a bundle, and I've got another
down at the door right now, to carry over to the Hosmer cottage."

"I must say I honor your mother, Thad, for being so tender-hearted,"
said Hugh, warmly.

"Of course you do, Hugh," sighed the other boy, "but it's too bad
they had to give in before that big eater was starved out, and took
to the road again, where he could always make sure of begging a full
meal at back doors. Now he'll just decide to squat down and stick
through the summer, yes and winter in the bargain, acting as if he
might be almost dying every little while, and then recovering his
appetite _wonderfully_ soon again. Oh! it makes me furious, that's
what it does."

"Well, as you've asked me to go along, Thad, I'll accommodate you;
but have you any little scheme on foot today?" continued Hugh, leading
the way toward the back door, since he under stood that his chum had
left his bundle there before hunting him out.

"I wish I did, Hugh," replied the other, eagerly, "but try as I may,
it seems to me I just can't think up anything worth while. After
that grand scheme of ours fell so flat it took all the wind out of
my sails. I'm trusting mostly to luck to have something come up
that we can grab hold of, so as to give him a boost."

They were soon on their way. Thad talked almost incessantly, and
begged his companion to try his hardest to conceive some promising
plan that might turn out a shade better than the one connected with
that imaginary marshal from Texas.

So they presently arrived at the Hosmer cottage. Thad did the knocking.
He had decided to go in at the slightest invitation, in hopes of
meeting Brother Lu again, and ascertaining what the prospects were for
his departing to the other world.

To the surprise of both boys, when they were admitted by Matilda they
discovered the object of their thoughts seated in a chair, with a
thick shawl across his shoulders. He looked as though he might be
a trifle ill, too. At the sight of them one of his accustomed grins
came over his face, now rough again with a three days' growth of
gray beard.

"Hello, boys!" the reformed tramp called out, as though really pleased
to see them again; "you find me under the weather this time for keeps.
Had one of my little bad attacks, and just beginning to feel a shade
better. Perhaps I'll go off in one of these spells some fine day,
sooner or later. Matilda she's been a good nurse to me, and I'm
beginning to believe I did the wisest thing ever when I decided to
hunt my last remaining blood relative up, and stay with her till
the end came."

Matilda looked pained to hear him speak in that way, but Thad was
not in the least impressed. According to his mind the other had
only caught a little summer cold, and which had caused him considerable
distress, with its accompanying sneezing discomforts. He did not
believe it was anything serious.

Determined, however, to stay a short while and study the man, in
hopes of discovering some loophole through which he might be reached
and made to give up his soft berth in the Hosmer home, Thad took a
chair, and settled himself for a visit.

Hugh asked the man a number of questions concerning his illness, and
took note of the fact that every time Brother Lu had occasion to
glance toward his sister a wonderfully tender gleam would come into
his blue eyes. Apparently he had learned what everybody in Scranton
always knew, that Matilda Hosmer was the kindest and softest-hearted
creature alive. Hugh wondered whether this knowledge might not in
time cause the man to feel ashamed of imposing upon her strength and
generosity, so that of his own free will he would take his departure
for other scenes.

"Matilda is going to have a birthday in a few days," he confided
to the boys, at a time his sister chanced to be in the kitchen, "and
me'n Brother-in-law Andrew, we've made up our minds to surprise her
with a little present. 'Course it can't be anything much, because
we haven't a superabundance of ready cash; but Matilda, she's stood
by her poor old wandering brother so handsomely I'd be glad to give
her a whole hundred dollars, if only I possessed that sum."

Thad looked surprised, indeed he may have begun to suspect that after
all the grizzled old hobo might not be quite so heartless as
appearances would indicate. This unexampled spirit of self-sacrifice
shown by Matilda was beginning to have its influence on his hard
nature. As for Hugh, he listened with considerable interest, listened
and sat there, watching the play of emotions across the face of
Brother Lu, and forming certain opinions of his own at the same time.

While they sat there a heavy knock came at the door. Upon Matilda
venturing to open the same a big man pushed his way inside, and
started talking roughly in a loud, almost abusive tone.

Thad recognized him as a certain well-to-do farmer and dairyman who
had an unenviable reputation as a cruel taskmaster with his hired
help. He was also known to be exceedingly harsh in his treatment
of any with whom he had dealings, who chanced to be unable to meet
their obligations to the minute. Because he had been able to accumulate
his "pile," Mr. Abel Bernard seemed to believe everyone should be
capable of doing the same. If they could not afford a thing they
ought to do without it. He never took excuses from anyone. It
was all business with Abel - -pay up or quit, was his daily motto.

Hugh, listening, quickly determined that a little more fresh trouble
had dropped down upon the poor head of Matilda. She had been taking
a quart of milk a day from Farmer Bernard, and the bill had run two
months and more now. He shoved an account at her in a most savage
manner, Thad thought, and the boy felt as if he could have kicked
the grim dairyman with rare good pleasure to settle the account.

As for Hugh, if he had chanced to have the money with him just then
he would only too gladly have loaned or given it to Matilda, so
that she might get rid of the abusive farmer, whose very tone was
harsh and rasping.

"It's my rule never to let anybody get away with more than a second
month's milk," the big man was saying in that loud, abusive voice
of his. "You asked me to let the account go on another spell when
I handed you the same before, and now you tell me you haven't got
the five dollars it calls for because some old tramp of a brother
that you haven't seen for twenty years has dropped down on you,
and had to be taken care of. Well, Mrs. Hosmer, I'm not helping
to run a hospital, let me tell you; I've got all I can do to look
after my own folks. You mustn't expect me to deliver you any more
milk till you can pay this; and I hope you'll get the cash soon,
too, because I've some accounts of my own I want to settle."

Matilda was near tears, for such a scene as this frightened her.
Poor old Mr. Hosmer tried to bustle forward and enter into the
conversation; but the husky dairyman just brushed him aside as though
he were no more than a child.

"I'm not talking to you about it, Mr. Hosmer," he went on to say,
almost brutally; "it's your wife I do business with. I'll be looking
to her to settle my account. And if what I hear honest folks a-sayin'
is near true, the sooner she gets rid of her disreputable brother the
better for all concerned."

Matilda's eyes flashed.

"You need not add insult to injury, Mr. Bernard," she flashed, showing
a little touch of spirit that Hugh hardly believed she possessed. "He
is the only living tie to bind me with my long past childhood. We were
once very fond of each other; and now that poor Luther has fallen
sick, and fears he has not long to live, I mean to stand by him, no
matter how people talk."

Brother Lu looked as though this sort of thing gave him something akin
to joy. He even shot a tender glance across at Matilda, and then a
triumphant one toward the two boys, as though to say: "Didn't I tell
you my sister had a tender heart?"

Then he got on his feet. He really seemed a trifle weak, showing that
he had actually been under the weather latterly.

"How much does my sister owe you, man?" he demanded in as stern a
voice as he could command.

"Oh! does that interest you at all, Mister Weary Willie?" sneered
the irate farmer; "well, if you want to know, my account is an even
five dollars. Perhaps, now, you'll put your hand into your jeans
pocket and hand out that amount with pleasure."

"I've got that much tied up in my old bandanna handkerchief, it
happens," said Brother Lu, to the astonishment of Thad. "It's true
me 'nd Brother-in-law Andrew expected to do something different with
my little fortune, but then let that pass. You wait till I get it,
you grasping milk raiser."

He started from the room, followed by the admiring gaze of Matilda,
who evidently saw in this wonderful offer of her brother a full
settlement for all the tender care and affection she had bestowed
upon him during the past weeks.

Presently, after a little delay, the reformed hobo came into the
room. Sure enough, he was holding a brand-new five-dollar bill in
his extended hand, and there was a look of actual pleasure to be
seen on his grizzled face.

"There you are, Mister Man," he said as he thrust the money at the
farmer; "now you sign that bill in a hurry, and never show your face
here again. We'll either find another party to deliver us milk,
or go without."

Hugh saw something that gave him an unexpected thrill. It was a
simple matter, and no doubt escaped Thad's attention entirely, yet
it might mean a great deal. As he looked closely at the fresh and
new bank bill of the denomination of five dollars, Hugh saw that
it had only three distinct creases marked across its face, as though
it might have been taken from some flat receptacle like a bill-book;
certainly when Brother Lu declared that he had such a bill tied up
in his bandanna handkerchief he prevaricated, for it would under such
conditions have been crumpled instead of looking so smooth! Hugh
from that moment began to smell a rat!




CHAPTER XV

THE PUZZLE IS FAR FROM BEING SOLVED


When, a little later on, the two chums came away from the Hosmer home,
Thad seemed unusually quiet, for him. Hugh, noticing this, and
wishing to ascertain whether the other had begun to get on the track
of the truth, presently remarked:

"What makes you so glum, Thad? Coming over you rattled away like a
blue streak, and now you haven't so much as said ten words since we
started back home?"

"Well, to tell you the truth," admitted Thad, shaking his head after
the manner of one who is sadly puzzled, "I just don't know what to
say, after seeing that little affair."

"Do you mean you feel badly because Matilda was so reduced in finances
that she couldn't even meet a small account like her milk bill?" asked
Hugh, fishing for a bite.

"Why, yes, partly that," said Thad, slowly; "but it knocked me all in
a heap to see that old rascal of a Brother Lu walk out with the last
dollar he had in the wide world, and gladly hand it over to liquidate
that same account. Say, if we didn't just know he was a bad one,
I'd call that a really generous act."

"Oh," chuckled Hugh, "not so very generous, after all, when you come
to examine things closer. Don't forget, Thad, that he's been sponging
on that poor couple for a good many weeks already; and then, if our
calculations are correct, he means to fasten on them for keeps."

"That's so," agreed the other, heaving a sigh as though he felt
somewhat relieved in his mind to have his comrade point out a solution
to the problem. "Of course, he's imposing on his relatives something
shameful, and the least he could do was to toe the scratch when an
emergency came along. But he did the thing up brown, I must admit."

"And then again, how do we know that five dollars was every cent he
had in the world?" asked Hugh, insinuatingly.

"He said as much," declared Thad, instantly; and then laughed as he
hastened to add: "though for that matter what would one little white
lie mean to a fellow as case-hardened as an old hobo? There's another
thing I'm thinking about, Hugh."

"I can guess it," the second boy immediately told him. "You're
wondering what it was Brother Lu meant to buy with his little fortune,
eh?"

"Well, five dollars isn't so _very_ much when you come to think of it,
Hugh, but to a tramp it might seem a pile. But didn't he tell us he
and Brother-in-law Andrew had some sort of a little scheme hatched
up to give Matilda a surprise on her birthday, tomorrow, Saturday?"

"Just what he did," admitted Hugh. "They've been plotting how to
spend five dollars recklessly, so as to get the most for their money.
Such men are apt to find heaps of enjoyment in blowing in their money
a dozen times, and changing off just as often. I wouldn't be
surprised a bit if they even calculated whether they could run
across a nice little home that they could buy and present to Matilda
for a birthday present - -faithful, big-hearted Matilda."

"What! for five dollars!" ejaculated Thad, and then he laughed;
"but, of course, you're joking, Hugh. Still, it looks like a big
sum to men who've seldom handled as much at a time; and I guess a
confirmed tramp never does. I hope, though, he didn't steal that
money."

"What makes you say that, Thad?"

"Oh! I don't know, but it looked so nice and fresh and new. Great
Jupiter! Hugh, you don't think for a minute, do you, that it might
have been a counterfeit bill?"

Hugh shook his head.

"Lots of things may turn out to be counterfeit, Thad, men as well as
bank bills, but that one was perfectly good. I could even see the
colored threads of silk fiber that the Government uses in the paper
to protect the currency. So don't let that bother you again."

"I'm glad to hear you say so, because it would be terrible if poor
Matilda should get into more trouble on account of passing bad money.
But is this going to alter our plans any, Hugh?"

"I don't see why it should," came the steady reply.

"We'll continue to do business at the old stand, shall we, then?"
pursued Thad; "and try our level best to find out some way to force
that leech to let go the hold he has secured on his sister?"

"We'll keep on trying to learn something about Luther that will give
us an advantage, so we can make him do just what we want," explained
Hugh; and it might have been noticed that he was now very particular
just what words he used when he spoke of the reformed tramp.

"Huh! there's only one answer to that," grunted Thad; "which is to
influence him to move on his way, and clear out. Scranton will
never miss Brother Lu; and the wide world he loves so well beckons
to him to come on. After all, once a tramp always a tramp, they say;
and as a rule such fellows die in the harness."

"It's really a disease, I've read, like the hookworm down South, that
makes so many of the poor, underfed whites in the mountain districts
seem too lazy for any use. It gets in the blood when they are boys,
and they feel a strong yearning just to loaf, and knock around, and
pick up their meals when and where they can."

"Well, I can believe a part of that, Hugh, but the meal end is too
much for me to swallow. Whoever heard of a tramp who didn't respond
to a dinner-bell on a farm? Eating and sleeping are their long suits,
and they can beat the world at both. When it comes to going in
swimming now, they draw the line every time, for fear of taking cold,
I reckon. But I own up Brother Lu Isn't a bad looker, now that he's
reformed far enough to keep his face and hands clean, and wear
Mr. Hosmer's Sunday-go-to-meeting suit of clothes, which just fits
him by squeezing, and turning up the trouser-legs several inches at
the bottom."

"Yes, he isn't a bad-looking man, and if we didn't know how fierce
he seemed at the time we first ran across him in the patch of woods,
we'd hardly dream he'd ever been down and out. Matilda's cooking
seems to agree with him."

"Shucks! it agrees too well with him, and that's the trouble. Now, I
wonder if there could be any way to make him sicken on his bill of
fare. I'm going to think it over, and see if I can evolve a scheme
along those lines."

"You'll find it hard to do," suggested Hugh, "because he eats just
what Andrew does, I suppose; as for Matilda, I do believe she stints
her appetite so as to be able to give her sick charges their fill."

"She does look thinner than before, that's a fact!" exclaimed the
indignant Thad. "What a burning shame all this is, Hugh! Surely
there must be some remedy for it. I've got a good notion to have
a talk with Dominie Pettigrew, and spin him the whole painful story.
He might find a way to separate Brother Lu from his quarry."

"Take my advice, Thad, and wait a little longer," Hugh told him.
"Tomorrow will be Saturday and we play Belleville again in the
afternoon. Besides, didn't he tell us it was going to be Matilda's
birthday, and that he and Andrew had fixed it to surprise her a
little? Well, don't say anything to the Parson until next week,
and by that time perhaps we'll know a heap more than we do now."

Thad looked keenly at the speaker, but Hugh kept a straight face. If
a glimmering suspicion that Hugh might know of something he was
averse to confiding to even his best chum darted through Thad's mind
just then he allowed it to slip past.

"All right, Hugh, I guess it won't do any harm to hold up a few more
days. Matilda has stood it so long now that it isn't going to hurt
her to endure another week or so of her brother's company, and his
appetite in the bargain. I'll try and forget all about it in
thinking of our game with Belleville. We've just got to clinch that,
as sure as anything, if we hope to have a look-in at that pennant."

"We're going to do it, Thad," said Hugh, with set teeth. "Once
we put Belleville in the soup for keeps we can devote our undivided
attention to Allandale. They have the jump on us, of course, owing
to hard luck. But, thank goodness, Alan Tyree is all right again,
and he told me this morning he felt that his arm was better than ever
before. That means Belleville won't be able to do anything with
his delivery tomorrow afternoon."

"This time we play on our own grounds," suggested Thad, "and the
advantage is all in our favor. Everybody seems to think we should
have an easy snap."

"I rather think everybody stands for Ivy Middletown, Sue Barnes
and Peggy Nolan," jeered Hugh, causing his chum to give a confused
little laugh, as though the shot had gone home. "But what do girls
know about baseball? It's a game of uncertainties all the way through.
Many a time a pitcher, believing himself safe and invincible, because
his club is away ahead, has eased up a trifle, and the other fellows
start a batting bee that nearly puts the fat in the fire, and gives
him the scare of his life. Belleville went down to defeat last
Saturday before Allandale, and the score looks rotten, but you remember
they fought like tigers."

"You're right, Hugh."

"And only for some hard luck they would have started a streak of
hitting that might have pulled them out of the hole. Half a dozen
fierce drives were taken on the run by Allandale fielders, any one
of which, if sent ten feet one way or the other, would have counted
for a three-bagger easily. That's how luck has a hand in defeating
a team, and there's no way of denying it, either."

"Well, we mean to put up our best sort of game, and not count it won
till the last man goes down in the final inning," avowed Thad.

"It's always wise to play safe in baseball," declared the field
captain of the Scranton High team, "and take nothing for granted.
Hit as hard as you can every time you're at bat, and don't allow
yourself to be tempted to ease up out of sympathy for the other
fellows. It's scant sympathy they'll show you, once they get at
your prize pitcher, to knock him out of the box. Instead it'll
be jeers, and taunts, and every sort of thing calculated to sting."

"But after the game's been won?" expostulated Thad.

"Oh, that's a different thing," admitted his chum. "Then we feel
that we can afford to be generous without being put in a possible
hole. Every true player is ready to take off his cap and give a
beaten rival a hearty cheer. It sort of eases up the sting of defeat
a bit, too, as all of us know."

As they parted at the gate in front of Thad's home he once more
returned to the subject that had such a strong hold on his mind.

"If anything crops up that you think would interest me, about that
tramp, of course, I mean, Hugh, please give me the sign, won't you?"
Thad asked.

Hugh did not seem disposed to take his chum into his confidence just
then; perhaps he wanted to make more certain that his faint suspicions
were well grounded before committing himself to a disclosure.

"Sure I will, if I learn anything positive, Thad," he merely said;
"and in the meantime we'll keep tabs on Brother Lu's eccentric actions,
hoping to catch him off his guard," and later on Thad realized that
these last words were rather significant.




CHAPTER XVI

AN ADVENTURE ON THE ROAD


On Saturday morning Hugh had an errand that took him out of town. Once
again it was to the farm where his mother secured that lovely sweet
butter, without which the hot biscuits would never taste quite so
fine. And as her customary supply had not turned up, with Sunday just
ahead, nothing would do but that Hugh must take a little run out on
his wheel, and fetch several pounds home with him.

It was about half-past eight when he threw himself in the saddle
and started. A more charming summer morning could hardly be experienced.
The sun might be a bit hot later on, but just then the air was
fragrant with the odor of new-mown grass, the neighbors' lawns having
been attended to on the preceding day, but not raked up; the birds
sang blithely in the hedges and among the branches of the trees,
and in Hugh's soul there rested the joy that a tired high-school
scholar finds when the end of the week brings a well-deserved holiday.

As he rode quietly along, not desiring to be in too great a hurry,
Hugh's mind somehow reverted to the last occasion when he had gone
out to this same farm, in Thad's company, as it happened. He could
again in imagination see the old tramp as he got his solitary meal,
with the aid of those useful empty tomato cans, and the little blaze
he had kindled among the trees alongside the road.

Passing the spot revived these memories vividly. To think that weeks
had gone and all that time Brother Lu had stuck to his guns, holding
out at the humble Hosmer cottage, and eating the bread of dependence!

"But something tells me the end is coming pretty soon now," Hugh
muttered, as he continued on his way.

It was not so very far beyond that identical spot he discovered a
large car standing at one side of the road, where the woods grew
quite thickly. The chauffeur sat there, idly waiting, it seemed.
Hugh had more than once known the same thing to happen, when parties
touring from some neighboring town stopped to eat lunch in a spot
they fancied, or, it might be, to gather wild flowers.

He was not much interested as he passed, with a nod to the man, who
looked around at his approach, save to notice that the car was a
pretty fine one, and which he remembered seeing once or twice in
Scranton, always empty save for the driver.

Hugh had just turned a bend lying a little away from the car when he
distinctly saw some one hastily jump aside, and disappear amidst a
screen of bushes growing along the road.

"Now, that was queer," Hugh told himself; "whoever that fellow could
be he didn't want me to see him, it looked like. And by the same token
there was something familiar about him, though I only had a faint
glimpse, he jumped so fast."

As he slowly rode past the bushes he heard no sound. Hugh considered
it good policy not to betray the fact that he had noticed anything
out of the way; he did not as much as turn in the saddle, but continued
to look straight ahead along the dusty white road.

There was another bend a short distance away. No sooner had he
turned this than Hugh was off his wheel like lightning, and running
back to take a look, as though his curiosity might have been aroused.

What he saw caused him to give a low whistle. Out of the bushes came
a form he recognized. It was a rather compact figure upon which he
gazed, and the clothes greatly resembled Brother-in-law Andrew's
Sunday-best. Yes, Hugh no longer had any doubts, for the man was


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