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- The Adventures of a Boy Reporter - 5/23 -
he was thankful to have a corn-husk bed to sleep on, and was soon in a stupor which was so sound as to be almost like death.
Again the next morning he was awakened at daylight, and he was made to work even harder than on the second day. He had by this time become somewhat used to the labour, however, and stood it better. He was more successful in his work, too, and Farmer Tinch had less opportunity for cursing him. But at night he seemed more tired, even, than before, and he longed for his home again. He thought of the cosy bed he would now be enjoying if he had only taken his mother's advice, and he felt almost like getting up in the night and stealing away on the road to the north. But, always a sensible lad, Archie realised that this discouragement could not last, and he lost himself in sleep, looking forward three days, when his week should be up, and he would be on his way to the city, with four dollars more to add to his slender store.
The three days passed slowly, but at length the Saturday night came, and he prepared to be off. But good Mrs. Tinch entreated him to remain with them over Sunday, and, as Archie wasn't sure that it would be quite right for him to travel on Sunday, he decided to do so. So the next day he brushed his only suit of clothes, and drove with his late employer to church, where Farmer Tinch sat in a front seat and passed the bread and wine at communion. Archie's heart rose to his throat as he saw this paragon so devout in church. He felt like rising in his seat and denouncing him before all the people as a tyrant and a hard-hearted wretch. But he kept quiet, though he found it impossible to partake of the communion under such circumstances.
The Tinches had brought their dinner with them, and at noon they all sat on one of the grassy mounds in the churchyard, to take some refreshment before the afternoon service began. When they had finished, Archie wandered off, and came to a crowd of boys who were romping behind the church. When they saw him approach, they all stopped their noise, and looked at him wonderingly. Evidently they were not used to seeing strange boys. The silence was soon broken, however, by one of the boys calling out, "Why, fellers, thet's the chap what's been workin' fer Hiram Tinch." This announcement was enough to make Archie an even greater object of interest than before, for the boys seemed to think that any person who could work for Farmer Tinch, and come out of the ordeal none the worse for wear, must be something wonderful. Archie was soon on good terms with them all, however, and told them of his plan of going to New York. The boys were all attention, and soon he was the hero of the occasion. When the bell rung for the afternoon service he was still telling them of the things he was going to do, and none of them wanted to go into the church. Archie persuaded them to enter, however, but he was not surprised to meet them all along the road when he left Tinch's early Monday morning.
It was almost time to go to bed when they reached the farmhouse that night, so Archie went at once to his attic, being anxious to start fresh on his journey the next day. He was now determined to push on as rapidly as possible, hoping to reach the city within three or four days. He was somewhat afraid that he wouldn't be able to do this, but he was going to try, anyhow.
At daylight Monday morning he was on the way, and when the various boys he met the day before said good-bye to him and wished him good luck, he felt that his stay at Tinch's had not been without benefits of some sort. He had made some boy friends, and he was four dollars richer, Archie was sensible enough, too, to realise that his experience would be a valuable one to him in the future. He knew now what hard work was, at any rate.
The morning walk was delightful. The September weather was perfect, and all along the road were fruit-trees laden with every sort of good thing to eat a boy could wish for. And as the trees were on the public thoroughfare, Archie did net hesitate to help himself freely as he went along, so that he didn't require any meal at noon.
As night drew near, however, he began to wonder what he would do for a bed, and the question became more important with every hour. He had come to no towns since morning, and knew that he couldn't expect to reach one of any size until the next day, anyhow. There were farmhouses, of course, but after his experience of the past week the lad felt that he would rather remain outdoors all night than risk being thrown in with another Hiram Tinch. He didn't know enough of farmers to know that few of them resemble Mr. Tinch in nature, and he did what he thought was best in keeping away from farmhouses after this.
It was five o'clock in the evening, and Archie was beginning to feel very tired and hungry, when he came to the ruins of an old colonial mansion, which lay far back from the road, surrounded by trees, and almost hid with shrubbery. "How interesting," he thought to himself. "It looks just like the pictures of old ruins we see in geographies. I think I must go up and see what they look like at close range." And, fired with a spirit of adventure, and making believe that he was an explorer in an ancient country, the boy made his way through the trees and shrubbery. The ruins looked more and more interesting as he advanced. This had evidently been a magnificent estate at one time. There were massive pillars which had once supported a stately portico at the front of the house, and above all there rose a massive chimney, which seemed to be exceedingly well preserved. As Archie came nearer, he was surprised to notice a thin column of smoke rising from the top of the chimney, and for a moment he stood still with fright. What could this mean? Who could be building a fire in the midst of these ruins. It was almost like what one reads about in books, he thought.
For some time he could not decide what to do, whether he had better keep on, or whether the wisest policy would be to get back to the road as quickly as possible. Finally, his curiosity and thirst for adventure persuaded him to go on, and he continued to push his way through the shrubbery until he stood before the ruins. He then climbed a flight of steps, and stood in what had once been the main entrance to this massive palace. Before him he saw a scene which was almost weird in its unusualness. A fire of pine-knots was blazing in the ruins of the great fireplace, and seated in a semicircle around the fire were several men of picturesque appearance, whose faces looked up angrily when they were disturbed.
STEALING A RIDE-- KICKED OUT BY THE BRAKEMAN.
ARCHIE was dumbfounded. Never before had he been among such a motley crowd, and his first impulse was to turn and run. But on second thought he decided that it would be best to put on a bold face and walk up to the men. This he did, and when he reached the fire the men jumped up and asked him who he was. In a few words he told them his simple story, and they all laughed and sat down again about the fire, making a place for him. "You're one of us, then, laddie," said the leader of the gang. "We're all soldiers of fortune, all dependent upon the generous public for our livelihood. But we're not goin' to the city. There's nothin' there for us, and our advice to you is for you to steer clear of the place, too. Them police takes ye and throws ye into jail as quick as a wink, and there's no chance of gettin' anythink to eat at basement doors, neither. They're all on to us, there, laddie, and ye'd better stick to the country."
This bit of advice was endorsed by the entire company, and it was in vain that Archie tried to make them understand that he was no ordinary tramp, walking about the country in search of an easy time. He tried to tell them that he was going to the city to work, not to beg; but the leader, a big, dirty fellow, weighing two hundred pounds or over, said, "Never mind, laddie, we knows you've run away from home to get away from the folks, and we appreciates yer position. If yer a mind to stand by us, we'll stand by you, and see thet ye comes to no harm."
On thinking things over, Archie decided that it was perhaps the wisest thing for him to appear to sympathise with the tramps, and make himself agreeable while with them. He had undoubtedly run into a gang of the worst sort of vagabonds, and there was no way of getting away from there without arousing their suspicions. So he partook of their slender meal, and joined in the general laughter when the leader, "Fattie Foy," made some crude attempt at punning. The meal was one to be remembered. The coffee had been heated in an empty tomato can over the fire, and from its taste was evidently a combination of various collections made from the farmhouses round about. Besides the coffee there was a various collection of sandwiches and bread and butter, and two pieces of cake. One man had succeeded in striking a good house, and came back laden with pickles and crackers and cheese, which were probably the remains of some picnic basket. Another fellow had brought some pieces of cold bacon, and these were warmed on sticks over the fire until they looked really appetising. From some barn had come a half-dozen fresh eggs, and these were quickly boiled in a can of hot water, and made a very fair showing on the slab of granite which served as a table.
When everything was ready the provisions were equally divided among the crowd, and every one shared alike. It made no difference how much more one man collected than another, it was always shared with the entire crowd. Poor Archie found it almost impossible to eat, but the men insisted that he take something, so he did manage to swallow a few sips of coffee and eat a slice of bread and butter. But as he looked about him at the dirty hands and faces, and the filthy garments of the tramps, he determined not to eat again while with them.
When the meal was over the two tin cans were washed at a spring of water, and as it was now quite dark, they all sat close to the fire, in order to see. Some one produced a pack of dirty cards, and they began a game of some kind. Archie was asked to join, but he told them he didn't know anything about card-playing. The poor lad was beginning to wish he had never left home, and felt more miserable than at any other period of the journey. He walked over to a corner of the ruins where the light from the fire did not penetrate, and, once there, he sat down and sobbed bitterly for a time. When he had finished crying it seemed impossible for him to sleep. The scene about the fire fascinated him. The men were seated in every sort of picturesque attitude, and as the flickering light fell upon their dark faces it wasn't hard for the poor lad to imagine that he had fallen among a crowd of brigands. He watched them as they played until he could see no longer, and then he fell into a sound sleep.
When Archie woke it was still dark, but the moon was shining brightly overhead, making everything as light as day. He rubbed his eyes and sat up, and it was some time before he could realise where he was. Then, as he saw the tramps lying about the ground, he remembered his adventures of the night before, and, horrified that he had allowed himself to sleep, he hastily jumped up, and determined to get away from the ruins as quickly as possible. The tramps were all sleeping soundly, and the only noises to be heard were the sound of their breathing and the blood-curdling hoot of some owl perched on the pillars of the old portico. The boy picked his way carefully between the bodies of the sleeping men, and in a minute stood once more on the grand flight of steps outside. He was trembling for fear some tramp would awake and prevent his going, and when a bat brushed him in its flight he almost screamed with terror. Far out beyond the trees and the shrubby he could see the road glistening in the moonlight, and he made his way as rapidly as possible out of the grounds, and was once
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