Chapter III. Fun on the Farm
 

Two days passed and the boys felt once more at home on the farm. The strain of the recent examinations and the closing exercises at school had gone and as Sam declared, "they were once more themselves," and ready for anything that might turn up.

In those two days came another telegram from Mr. Rover, sent from Philadelphia, in which he stated that he had caught his man, but had lost him again. He added that he would be home probably on the following Sunday. This message came in on Monday, so the boys knew they would have to wait nearly a week before seeing their parent.

"I am just dying to know what it is all about," said Tom, and the others said practically the same.

Tom could not keep down his propensities for joking and nearly drove Sarah, the cook, to distraction by putting some barn mice in the bread box in the pantry and by pouring ink over some small stones and then adding them to the coal she was using in the kitchen range. He also took a piece of old rubber bicycle tire and trimmed it up to resemble a snake and put it in Jack Ness' bed in the barn, thereby nearly scaring the hired man into a fit. Ness ran out of the room in his night dress and raised such a yell that he aroused everybody in the house. He got his shotgun and blazed away at the supposed snake, thereby ruining a blanket, two sheets, and filling the mattress with shot. When he found out how he had been hoaxed he was the most foolish looking man to be imagined.

"You just wait, Master Tom, I'll get square," he said.

"Who said I put a snake in your bed?" demanded Tom. "I never did such a thing in my life."

"No, but you put that old rubber in, and I know it," grumbled the hired man and then went back to bed.

Tom also had his little joke on Aleck Pop. One evening he saw the colored man dressing up to go out and learned that he was going to call on a colored widow living at Dexter's Corners, a nearby village.

"We can't allow this," said the fun-loving Rover to his younger brother. "The next thing you know Aleck will be getting married and leaving us."

"What do you think of doing?" asked Sam.

"Come on, and I'll show you."

Now, Aleck was rather a good looking and well formed darkey and he was proud of his shape. He had a fine black coat, with trousers to match, and a gorgeous colored vest. This suit Tom was certain he would wear when calling on the widow.

When in Ithaca on his way home the fun-loving Rover had purchased an imitation rabbit, made of thin rubber. This rabbit had a small rubber hose attached, and by blowing into the hose the rabbit could be blown up to life size or larger.

Leading the way to Aleck's room, Tom got out the colored man's coat and placed the rubber rabbit in the middle of the back, between the cloth and the lining. It was put in flat and the hose was allowed to dangle down under the lining to within an inch of the split of the coat tails, and at this point Tom put a hole in the lining, so he could get at the end of the hose with ease.

It was not long before Aleck came in to dress. It was late and he was in a hurry, for he knew he had a rival, a man named Jim Johnson, and he did not want Johnson to get to the widow's home ahead of him. He washed up and donned his clothing with rapidity, and never noticed that anything was wrong with the coat.

"Now, Sam, you fix his necktie for him," whispered Tom, who, with his younger brother, was lying in wait outside the house. "Tell him it doesn't set just straight."

Sam understood, and as soon as Aleck appeared he sauntered up side by side with Tom.

"Hullo, Aleck, going to see your best girl?" he said pleasantly.

"I'se gwine to make a little call, dat's all."

"He's after the widow Taylor," put in Tom. "He knows she's got ten thousand or so in the bank."

"Massa Tom, you dun quit yo' foolin'," expostulated Aleck.

"If you are going to make a society call you want your necktie on straight," said Sam. "It's a fine tie, but it's no good the way you have it tied. Here, let me fix it," and he pulled the tie loose.

"I did hab a lot ob trubble wid dat tie," agreed the colored man.

"It's too far around," went on Sam, and gave the tie a jerk, first one way and another. Then he began to tie it, shoving Aleck again as he did so.

In the meantime Tom had gotten behind the colored man and was blowing up the rubber rabbit. As the rubber expanded Aleck's coat went up with it, until it looked as if the man was humpbacked. Then Tom fastened the hose, so the wind could not get out of it. Next the youth brought out a bit of chalk and in big letters wrote on the black coat as follows:

I have got to hump to catch the widow.

"Now your tie is something like," declared Sam, after a wink from Tom. "It outshines everything I ever saw."

"I'se got to be a going," answered Aleck. "Much obliged."

"Now, Aleck, hump yourself and you'll get the widow sure along with her fourteen children."

"She ain't got but two children," returned the colored man, and hurried away. His appearance, with the hump on his back and the sign, caused both the Rovers to burst out laughing.

"Come on, I've got to see the end of this," said Tom, and led the way by a side path to the Widow Taylor's cottage. This was a short cut, but Aleck would not take it, because of the briar bushes and the dust. As the boys were in their knockaround suits they did not mind this.

The widow's cottage was a tumbled down affair on a side street of Dexter's Corners. A stovepipe stuck out of a back window, and the front door lacked the lower hinge. In the front yard the weeds were several feet high.

"I don't see why Aleck wants to come and see such a person as this," observed Sam. "She may be pretty, as colored widows go, but she is certainly lazy and shiftless."

"Yes, and she has more than two children and I know it. Why, once I came past here and I saw her with at least seven or eight."

When the boys came up they saw several colored children hurrying away from the house. As they did this the widow came to the door and called after them:

"Now, Arabella, go to the cemetery, jest as I tole yo', an' stay thar!"

"I ain't gwine to stay long," answered Arabella.

"You stay an hour or two," answered the widow. "To morrow, I'll give yo' money fer lolly pops."

"What is she sending the children to the cemetery for?" asked Tom, in a whisper.

"Maybe to keep 'em quiet," answered Sam, with a grin.

"Must be wanting to keep them out of Aleck's way."

At that moment the figure of a tall, lanky colored man came down a side street. The man entered the widow's cottage and received a warm welcome.

"Glad to see you, Mistah Thomas. Hopes yo' is feelin' fine this ebenin'," said the widow graciously.

"I'se come fo' to make yo' an offah," said Mr. Thomas. "Yo' said yo' would mahrry me soon as I had a job. Well, I'se got de job now."

"Is it a steady job?"

"Yes, at de stone quarry dribin' a stone wagon."

"How much yo' gits a week, Peter?"

"Twelve dollahs," was the proud answer.

"Den I closes wid you," said the widow, and allowed the suitor to embrace her.

Just then Aleck came in sight. As he saw the couple through the open door he straightened up.

"Maybe yo' didn't look fo' me around, Mrs. Taylor," he said, stiffly.

"Oh, Yes, I did, Mistah Pop," she said, sweetly. "But yo' see--I-- dat is--" She stopped short. "Wot's dat?" she cried.

"Wot?"

"Dat hump on yo' back?"

"Ain't no hump on my back," answered Aleck.

"Suah da is."

"He's got a sign on, too," put in Peter Thomas. "Look wot it reads, 'I hab got to hump to cotch de widow.' Hah! hah! hah! Dot's a good one."

"Yo' needn't hump yo'self to cotch me," cried the widow, wrathfully. "I'se engaged to Mistah Thomas." And she smiled on the individual in question.

Crestfallen and bewildered, Aleck felt of his back and took off his coat. He squeezed the rubber rabbit so hard that it exploded with a bang, scaring himself and the others.

"Dat's a trick on me!" roared the Rover's man, and tore the rabbit from his coat. "Dem boys did dat!"

"I can't see yo' to night, or any udder night, Mistah Pop," said the widow. "I'se engaged to Mistah Thomas."

"Den good night," growled Aleck, and turning on his heel he started for home.

Tom and Sam saw that he was angry, yet they had to roar at the scene presented. They wondered what Aleck would say when he got back to the farm.

"We have got to square ourselves," said Tom.

"How are you going to do it?"

"Oh, we'll do it somehow."

They took the short cut, but so did Aleck, and consequently all three soon met.

"Yo' played dat joke yo' can't go fo' to deny it!" cried the colored man.

"We are not going to deny it, Aleck," said Tom. "But it was no joke. We did it for your good."

"Huh!"

"We certainly did," put in Sam. "Why, Aleck, we can't bear to think of your getting married and leaving us."

"Huh!"

"We want you to stay with us," said Tom. "Besides, that widow has a lot of children and is after your money."

"She ain't got but two chillen. She had moah, but she dun told me all but two was in de seminary."

"The seminary?" queried Tom. Then a light broke in on him. "You mean the cemetery."

"Persackly--de place da puts de dead folks."

"Well, they are in the cemetery right enough--but they are a long way from being dead."

"Wot yo' mean, Tom?"

"We saw her send five of them away this evening--she told 'em to go to the cemetery and stay there awhile."

"Wot! Yo' is fooling dis chile!"

"It is absolutely true," said Sam. "I am quite sure she has seven children."

"Huh! If dat's de case dat Thomas nigger can hab her," grumbled Aleck, and walked on. "But I ain't takin' yo' word fo' dis," he added cautiously. "I'se gwine to make a few investigations to morrow."

"Do so--and you'll thank us from the bottom of your heart," answered Tom; and there the subject was dropped. It may be added here that later on Aleck discovered that the widow had ten children and was head over heels in debt, and he was more than glad that the boys had played the trick on him, and that the other colored man had gained Mrs. Taylor's hand.