The Mysterious Highwayman

The warm afternoon sun was gently caressing the countryside. A little man was walking up the dirt road. He had gotten in some trouble in the last town he had visited and was planning to make a new start in a new town, as he always did when disaster struck.

The little man was a tramp, with ragged clothes, dusty from the dirt road. He stopped often to brush himself off with a clothes brush from his knapsack, but it didn't have much effect. He wore large, worn shoes; the soles of which were breaking away in the front and they contributed to his very odd gait. He wore a dusty black derby and carried a bamboo cane.

The tramp stopped for a moment and looked across the fields which stretched for miles in both directions. He spotted a stream a small distance away and headed through the tall grass toward the water. He was thirsty and hadn't eaten since the night before when he was unceremoniously thrown out of a café because he couldn't pay the bill.

The tramp was almost at the stream when he unexpectedly fell over something in the tall grass. He pitched head down toward the water, but was able to pull himself back up before landing in the stream. He brushed himself off and stopped to look at what he had fallen over. He was shocked to see a body…it was a woman dressed in a long white dress with a black cape and hood. He knelt down next to her. She was fully covered with the dress except for her left ankle. The tramp could see where she had been grazed with a bullet on the ankle.

The tramp felt her wrist for a pulse. She had a weak pulse and putting his hand near her face, he could feel her still breathing. He knew he must get her to a doctor. He went to the stream and procured some water with his tin cup. He wiped the blood off of her ankle. He sprinkled a bit on her face, hoping to awaken her. She groaned but didn't awaken. He drank some water, then put the cup away.

He hooked his walking stick into his breast pocket and picked up the girl. He stuck the end of his knapsack into the back pocket of his extremely-too-large grey trousers. The girl was slim and not heavy. He carefully put her arms around his neck and her head on his shoulder. He supported her weight with his arms around her back and her legs. He started on his way to the next town, which he hoped was not too far away.

As he walked, he could smell her light fragrant perfume. Her hair brushed against his neck and felt very nice.

The tramp stopped every few minutes to rest a bit. He was sweating profusely with carrying the girl, who seemed to be getting heavier with every weary step. After about a half hour, the girl groaned and appeared to be awakening. The tramp put her down in the soft grass and knelt next to her.

"Where am I?" asked the girl, as she opened her eyes. She had hazel eyes. Her hair had been pulled up on top of her head in curls, but was now in disarray. She focused on the tramp's face. "And who are you?" She looked confused.

"I found y' back a mile or so, near the stream…y' got a bullet what grazed y' ankle…it don't look too bad…I'm glad y' awakened."

"Oh!" The girl seemed to remember something. "Yes, I know what happened…I must have fallen and hit my head…" She touched the back of her head. Then she looked at the tramp with a direct gaze. "Who did you say you are?"

"I didn't say," smiled the tramp. He had a soft voice and spoke with an odd accent that sounded Cockney mixed occasionally with some rural Americanisms. "Me name is Charlie. Pleased t' meet y'." He tipped his hat.

"I'm Eleanore," said the girl. She made a move to get up.

"Do no' get up, Ma'am…y' ankle…it's 'urt…"

"Oh," said Eleanore, as if she just noticed the pain. "Oh! It does hurt…and where is Black Jade?"

"What's Black Jade?" asked the tramp.

"My horse…I was riding him when this happened. I suppose he was startled and ran. I should look for him…."

"Ma'am…Miss Eleanore…y' need to 'ave a doctor look at y' ankle…"

"Here, give me your arm," said Eleanore. "I think I can walk…"

The tramp pulled her to her feet carefully and dubiously offered his arm. She was almost exactly as tall as he was. She took a few steps.

"I think I can make it all right…Charlie, is it?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Please call me Eleanore…" The tramp tipped his hat and smiled at her. She held on to his arm and the two walked slowly down the dirt road. They made an odd couple, she, limping and he, with his strange, awkward gait.

"Do y' live down this way, Miss Eleanore?"

"Yes, Charlie, in the next town."

"Can y' make it that far? Would y' like me t' carry ye again?"

"No, no, you have been so nice to me already. If we just walk slowly, we will get there soon enough."

In a short while, the roofs of a small town came into view as the dusk settled on the land. The first building the travelers came to was an ancient hotel and pub.

"Let me sit inside the pub, Charlie. If you will get the doctor, who lives right over there, I would be very grateful." She pointed in the direction of a group of homes on a hill.

"Don't y' want t' go 'ome and rest? I will tell yer doctor t' see y' at 'ome…"

"No, I have a little business to conduct," smiled the lady. She sat down at a table and put her leg up on the wooden bench. She looked up at the tramp. "I am so grateful that you found me and took care of me," she said sincerely.

The tramp tipped his hat and went to fetch the doctor. When he returned with the doctor, Eleanore had a plate of food and a bottle of ale in front of her. She kept on eating as the doctor took care of her ankle. The tramp was extremely hungry by this time and he couldn't keep his eyes off her plate of food. Finally Eleanore noticed.

"Are you hungry, Charlie?" He nodded. She waved over a waiter and told him to bring Charlie the special and something to drink.

"I ain't got no money, Miss Eleanore," said the tramp. "I promise t' pay y' back soon's I get me a job…"

She smiled. "Don't worry about it, Charlie. I owe you a lot more than just a meal."

She watched Charlie surreptitiously as he was eating. He had very good table manners, but he ate very fast and acted as if he had not eaten in a while and was extremely hungry. He was very thin and looked as if he could use a few good meals.

Eleanore wasn't sure how old the tramp was. When he took off the derby, Eleanore could see Charlie's very curly, black hair, with just a touch of grey at the temples and a few light strands mixed in here and there with the black. He wore a small, squarish, black moustache. He had large, expressive bright blue eyes.

The tramp's clothes were very shabby, though. His black cutaway coat was a bit too small and was patched in several places, torn in several others. His grey trousers had a large patch on the back and were ragged at the bottom of the legs. They were so large, they formed a "pocket" in the front through which the tramp's shirt could be viewed underneath his threadbare yellow plaid vest. His shirt had a wing collar and he wore a blue bow tie. His black kid gloves with a few fingers torn open or missing, were placed on the seat next to him, atop his somewhat battered black derby and bamboo cane.

When the tramp finished eating, Eleanore smiled at him. "Are you still hungry?" The tramp shook his head no, then looked at her and changed it to yes. She had the waiter bring Charlie another helping of food.

"Now, I'm sure you don't have a place to stay in this town, seeing as you just got here…let me put you up at my ranch. I have a lot of room…"

"Ain't yer 'usband gonna objec'?" asked the tramp.

"No," smiled Eleanore. "I'm not married….at least not at the moment…" she said quixotically. She gave him directions and told him to have one of the servants make up a room for him.

The tramp was surprised at Eleanore's kindness. "I will pay ye when I ge' meself a job, Miss Eleanore…"

"I thought perhaps you would be interested in working for me, Charlie. I need someone to look after the horses and do some other work around the ranch, mostly odd jobs…what do you say?"

Charlie smiled. "Yes, Ma'am…when y' want me t' start?

"We'll talk about it tomorrow. Now off with you…I have some things to attend to and I will see you in the morning."

The tramp was excited at the prospect of getting a job so quickly and he stood up, bowed and tipped his hat at Eleanore…just as a waiter was coming by with two large trays of food, one in each hand. Charlie upset the man as he bent over to bow, and the waiter and his trays went flying. Charlie was knocked over, saw the mess, gave a guilty grin and scooted out the entrance before anyone saw who caused the uproar.

Eleanore had seen the tramp's faux pas and was laughing until she had to dab at her eyes.


The little tramp arrived at Eleanore's ranch. He didn't want to ask the servants to make up a room for him; he was certain they wouldn't believe that Eleanore had hired him until she told them. It was pitch black now, with only the full moon for light. Charlie went inside the barn and found a nice haystack in a corner. He curled up and went to sleep.


Several hours later, the tramp was awakened by horses' hooves outside the barn. He opened his eyes but didn't move. Two horses rode into the barn and he heard two people alight.

"It was an extremely profitable night!" spoke a woman's voice. The tramp recognized Eleanore.

"It certainly was…you have this down like clockwork!" spoke a man's voice, unrecognized by Charlie. "I never thought I would say this, Ellie, but I have to hand it to you, you really know what you're doing!"

"Take this in the house, won't you? You know where to put it!" spoke Eleanore.

The tramp wondered what they were talking about; however it was none of his business and he just didn't want to be discovered. The tramp heard the man's footsteps leave the barn, and heard Eleanore taking care of the horses for a few minutes. Then he heard her leave. She was still limping perceptibly and her cloak made a swishing sound when she passed through the door. Eleanore closed the barn door and the tramp heard her footfalls diminish as she walked to the ranch house.

The tramp closed his eyes and fell asleep quickly.

Hours later, the tramp was still sleeping soundly, curled up in a fetal position, in the sweet smelling hay, when he was rudely kicked awake. He sat up quickly and blinked his eyes. He saw a tall man standing above him.

"What are you doing in our barn, buddy? Come on, get up!" The tramp didn't move quickly enough for the man, who grabbed Charlie and pulled him to his feet by the back of his collar. "Who are you?"

The tramp brushed off the hay from his clothes. "I talked t' Miss Eleanore yestid'dye; she give me a job."

"Well, we'll see about that…" The man pushed Charlie unceremoniously toward the door and headed for the ranch house. Inside the house, Eleanore was laying on the settee with her ankle elevated. She wore a beautifully becoming medium blue silk dress with flowers at the bodice.

"I found this little tramp in the barn, Ellie. He says you gave him a job."

"I did, Jim. Charlie, why didn't you come in the house last night? I thought you had decided not to stay with us."

"Nobody'd b'lieve me, Miss Eleanore, nobody b'lieves me now…"

"Jim, I hired Charlie to help with the horses and do some odd jobs around the ranch. He found me yesterday when I hurt my ankle and helped me like a Good Samaritan. I want you to treat him with respect!"

The man obviously didn't think much of the tramp. He said, "Hmmmmph!" and left the room.

"Don't pay him any attention, Charlie. He's harmless. He helps me manage the ranch. You know, day to day business, etc." Charlie suspected that Jim was not all that harmless, but didn't say anything. Sometimes it was wiser to be silent.


The next few weeks went well for the tramp. Eleanore had a room prepared for him at the ranch, on the second floor of the house, and it was very cozy. He slept in a comfortable bed for the first time in a very long time and it made him feel well rested in the morning. He ate meals with the other ranch hands and it was nice to know where his next meal was coming from.

Charlie was walking into the barn one morning when he noticed there was a thick coating of hay at the entrance, leading across the whole barn. He closed the barn door. He was thinking about where he had to do this morning when he stepped on the end of a rake hidden under the hay. It jumped up and hit him in the nose. Surprised, he grabbed at his nose and at the rake at the same time, only managing to fall forward on the ground and hitting himself with the rake again. As he sat up in the hay, he was sure he heard muffled laughter from somewhere in the barn.

Promising himself to be more careful, he began cleaning the horses' stalls. Walking backwards a step at a time, he suddenly put his foot in a rusty bucket. He fell backwards this time and sat up to try to remove the bucket. His large shoe was wedged tightly in the bottom of the bucket. He had to remove his foot from the shoe to get the shoe out of the bucket. At this rate he wasn't going to get anything done. And he knew that the bucket hadn't been there a minute before when he had started working in the stall.

He finished with the first stall and started on the second, when he felt a raindrop on his forehead. He looked up. There were no perceptible holes in the ceiling. He continued working and it continued raining on him. The water was coming from the hayloft. He wondered if it was raining outside. He went over to the barn door and as he opened it, a bucket of water fell off the top of the door and soaked him from head to foot.

Again the tramp heard laughter, this time he looked up in the hayloft. He wiped the water off his face with his shirt sleeve and climbed the ladder and into the loft. Suddenly all was quiet. He spotted movement over in one of the corners and pulled the hay away. He found two boys about eight years old hiding under the hay.

"Come on outa there," said the tramp. "Come on…" The boys came forward slowly. They were still grinning. They glanced at each other and started giggling again.

The tramp stood with his hands on his hips and looked at the boys. "Wha' y' do that fer?" he asked.

"You sure talk funny," said one of the boys, trying not to giggle at the sight of the very wet tramp.

"Come 'ere, boys, sit down wi' me. Now why d' ye think ye should be playin tricks on someone tryin to work in 'ere?"

"We don't like you," said one of the boys. He had curly, blond hair and blue eyes. He was the taller of the two. The smaller boy had straight black hair and dark eyes. He elbowed his companion in the arm and said, "Ssshhh!"

The tramp sat in the hay and motioned for the boys to sit also. "So why don't y' like me?"

The boys looked at each other. "Pa says you're a dirty little tramp," said the blond boy.

"Oh tha' so," said the tramp. He paused. "I seen y' abou' 'ere…What's yer name, son?"

"It's Jimmy, and I ain't your son!"

"Just a manner o' speakin, lad." He nodded toward the dark haired boy. "And what's yer name?"

"Robbie."

"Nice to meet ye both. Me name's Charlie. Ye two lads reside 'ere?"

"Pa's name is James Gatewater…he runs this place!"

"Oh the manager….yeah, I met 'im…and y'self, Robbie? Y' live 'ere too?"

"No, I'm Jimmy's cousin. My Pa is Robert Gatewater. We live over yonder at the next ranch. My Pa owns the ranch over there." He pointed in a southerly direction.

"So lemme git this straight…y' don't like me b'cause I talk diff' rent, and b'cause ye say I'm a "dir'y, lit'tle tramp. Got any other accusations ye wanna 'ave at me?"

The boys looked at each other thoughtfully. "I know!" said Robbie. "Your Pa said he was stupid! And nasty!"

"Anythin else?"

"That you'd never last here because tramps are too lazy to work."

"Hmmm. Tha' so…and because o' all tha', y' play tricks on me, so I'll leave the ranch. Tha' wha' y' wan'?"

Robbie looked at Jimmy thoughtfully. He turned back to Charlie. "We thought it would be fun. We thought you were a stupid, nasty man. And Jimmy's Pa said so…"

"I ain't gonna say y' Papa is wrong, Jimmy. Maybe he just don't know. But we wasted a lotta time what I could be workin; if y' don't bother me no more, we might 'ave some time left at th' end o' the day and maybe we c'n go fishin. Wha' y' say, lads?"

The boys looked at each other and smiled. "That would be great!" said Jimmy. Robbie nodded.

"Now, y' c'n talk t' me, if y' wan', but stay outa me way, so I c'n git me work done!"

By the end of the work day, the two boys and Charlie were friends. Charlie took them over to the stream, and not having fishing poles with them, Charlie showed them how to do make-shift poles from branches and twine and other odds-and-ends he just happened to have in his pockets. The three caught some fish and carried them back to the ranch. On the way back, Charlie and the boys climbed several trees and they chased each other through the fields.

The boys had a lot of fun that day with Charlie. The three walked in the ranch house door…to a very unsmiling James Gatewater.

"Where have the three of you been? Where have you been with the boys, Charlie?"

" I finished work an' took 'em fishin."

"Who said you could take them fishing?"

Charlie was surprised to be admonished by the man. He hadn't dreamed that he was doing anything wrong. Just then Eleanore came down the staircase behind James. She was walking slowly as if her ankle still hurt.

"Jim, let me handle this. Charlie, where have you been?" Her voice wasn't angry, just inquisitive.

"Finished me chores, Ma'am, then I took them two lads fishin. Sorry if I weren't s'posed to do tha'."

"It's all right, Charlie." She smiled. "But don't take the boys anywhere without letting someone in the house know. We've been looking for them."

"Yes, Ma'am." He smiled back shyly. She was being very nice about it.

"And Charlie?"

"Ma'am?"

"Whatever did you do to your face…you look awful."

Charlie touched his hand to his nose and winced. It hurt. "Struck meself wi' a rake, Ma'am. Was stupid and clumsy o' me. I'll be more careful in th' future."

"Boys, did you have anything to do with this?" asked Eleanore.

Charlie could see the boys suddenly looked afraid. "Ma'am, it is completely me own fault. I shoulda watch'd where I was steppin."

"Can Robbie stay over tonight, Pa?" asked Jimmy of his father. James nodded reluctantly and the boys rushed up the stairs together. The tramp followed after nodding to Eleanore and James.

The tramp went inside his room and took off his vest and shoes. He was brushing out the dust and sweat from his hair and caught a glimpse of his face in the full length mirror on the back of the door. He was a little shocked. He looked like he had been beaten up. His left eye was swollen and had turned a lovely shade of purple. He was about to put his shoes back on and go downstairs to ask for ice when there was a knock on the door. Eleanore had brought him some ice. She was wearing a black riding outfit, odd this time of night.

"Thank ye, Miss Eleanore," said the tramp, gratefully. She looked at him, smiling.

"Your eye looks quite attractive, Charlie…" she teased. She reached over to touch his face softly. She came a little closer. He put down the ice bag and before he knew what had happened, he had wrapped his arms gently around her and kissed her softly on the lips. Then he let go, realizing he had overstepped his bounds.

He backed away a step or two and gave her a guilty look. "Sorry, Ma'am…I f'got meself…"

"That's all right, Charlie…I certainly didn't mind…" she came closer again and touched his cheek softly. Then she nodded toward the table. "You'd better get that ice on your eye before the color becomes permanent!" She smiled. She touched his chin with her finger and went out the door.

The tramp turned out the gas light on the wall and sat down in a rocking chair near the window, put a small pillow behind his head and leaned back with the ice bag on his eye. He closed his eyes. Eleanore certainly was a strange woman. She was very strong and confident and always seemed in charge. She never lost her self confidence. And she never seemed to get upset no matter what happened. He was not quite sure how to approach her. And he hadn't meant to kiss her. He was glad she hadn't taken offence. Other women would have slapped him and kicked him out … and that had happened too many times before to count!

The tramp was shaken out of his reverie by voices below his window. It sounded like James and Eleanore. She was shouting, "Charlie! Charlie!" The tramp came outside and she asked him to get Black Jade saddled and ready for something. Charlie wondered where Eleanore could be going this time of night. He checked his pocket watch surreptitiously…it was half past nine in the evening.

Black Jade and Eleanore seemed as if they were made for each other. The tramp had watched Eleanore ride the small wiry mare. The horse was very fast, even though small. She could gallop and then stop on a dime. She was very intelligent and followed Eleanore's every subtle signal. Eleanore was a wonderful horsewoman and the two moved as one entity.

James told him to saddle Ebony Knight also. Ebony Knight was James' black stallion. He watched the mare and the stallion gallop away. The tramp went back to his room, then put the ice back on his eye. He slowly drifted off to sleep, vaguely hearing the low moan of a steam engine whistle in the distance, blowing for a crossing. By the time that the engine's whistle blew again announcing an approaching stop, Charlie was sleeping soundly.


Several hours later, the tramp was again awakened by some noise below his open window. He saw two figures, presumably James and Eleanore leading their horses into the stable. Charlie took the ice bag off his eye; it was completely water now anyway. He stood up and stretched; he was a little stiff from falling asleep in the chair. He took off his trousers, waistcoat and shirt and got into bed with just his long underwear on. He pulled the covers over him. He enjoyed the feel of being in a real bed, with soft clean covers. He had spent too many nights in dirty rented beds or even outside in the open, in various uncomfortable, often filthy places. He idly wondered if there was a chance he could ever settle down and have a calm, stable life. He liked it here and hoped the job would last a long time.

He thought also about Eleanore. He wondered if he had a chance with her. Although, she seemed to spend a lot of time with James. Was it all work? And where did they go so late at night? Well, it wasn't any of his business, and he had gotten himself in trouble other times for sticking his nose where it didn't belong. He would probably find out the answer anyway, if he stayed about here long enough.


The next morning the tramp finished his chores early. Robbie came over to spend some time with Jimmy and Charlie asked them if they wanted to go fishing again. "I shall ask thi' time b'fore we go…"

The boys received permission to go with the tramp. He had found a small row boat on the ranch and they took it to the stream. They enjoyed the warm sun and the boys caught several fish.

Then Charlie said nonchalantly, "Jimmy, where does yer Papa go late at night?"

"I don't know, Charlie. He and Eleanore go to fetch things very late at night. I don't know what. She says they make their living at night."

"Interestin'" said the tramp.

Now Charlie was more curious than ever.


The tramp knew that curiosity killed the proverbial cat, but he was determined to find out what Eleanore and James were up to. He tried to think of a way to follow them, but short of borrowing a horse or an automobile, there wasn't any way he could.

The following day the tramp was asked to go to town for supplies and take the pickup truck. He decided to take his time and see what he could find out. After buying the supplies, he stopped at the pub for a drink. He sat in a corner table by himself watching the other customers. He ordered some food and asked the waitress, "Do y' know Miss Eleanore from the ranch?"

"Not very well, Mister." The girl looked as if she were about 17 or 18 years old. She had black curly hair and dark prominent eyes. She had rosebud lips.

"She come in 'ere often?"

"Once in a while…Like I said, I really don't know her well... Waited on her a couple times. She is usually with Mr. Gatewater."

The tramp stood up and tipped his hat. "Jus' curious, Ma'am."

The girl came closer and whispered, "Sometimes it ain't smart to be too curious, Mister."

The tramp asked a few judicious questions of the bartender and several customers. No one seemed to know anything about Miss Eleanore except that she was very generous and ran the ranch efficiently with James Gatewater's help. No one seemed to know how the ranch made any money either, but James and Eleanore always had plenty of money which they spent liberally and publicly. It was a mystery.

The tramp drove the pickup back to the ranch and decided to bide his time.


The next day, the tramp was in his room washing up after his morning chores had been completed. There was a knock at his door and he heard Eleanore's voice. "Charlie, may I come in?"

He opened the door for her and smiled. He stepped aside and she entered the room. "Charlie, I'd like to give you some time off this afternoon…James will drive you into town."

"I c'n drive meself into town, Ma'am."

"Let James drive you…we need the truck this afternoon and he can pick you up later."

"I c'n walk t' town, Ma'am, an' walk back. If y'self is givin me time off, maybe I ain't wantin' to go t' town no how."

Eleanore looked like she was becoming impatient, something Charlie hadn't seen her do before.

"Charlie, I said, you are going into town, do you understand?" She almost stamped her foot as she said it.

He didn't understand, but he said emphatically, "Yes, Ma'am!" He put his coat and hat on, grabbed his cane and came down the stairs to wait for James.

The tramp didn't look forward to driving into town with James. The man had always been unpleasant to him. But James was in a rare good mood and he chatted about various things and made small talk. Charlie thought him to be rather pleasant today and he asked how the ranch made money.

"We do various things, Charlie," James said vaguely.

They entered the pub and James ordered up a round of drinks for them. "I thought y' 'ad t' be back at the ranch wi' the truck…" said the tramp.

"No hurry," said James. "We have plenty of time. Tell me about yourself."

The tramp thought it a very odd subject for conversation. He said there wasn't much to say about himself. They kept on talking about various subjects.

The tramp didn't notice that James kept refilling Charlie's glass as soon as he emptied it, but hadn't refilled his own. James was still on his first drink when Charlie had had four or five. The tramp was starting to slur his words and he was having a hard time concentrating on what James was talking about. When James started to refill his glass again, Charlie put his hand over the glass.

"I think I 'ad enough, Jimmy Jim…is tha' y' name?" The tramp giggled and put his other hand over his mouth.

"I like to see you enjoy yourself, Charlie. Have a couple more…" He pushed the tramp's hand away and refilled the glass.

"No, I could no' drink a drop more…" He picked up the full glass and stared at it. "Bu' nobody said nothin' 'bout a full glass more…" He waved the glass around. "An' 'ere's t' y'self, JimBob or whateva y' name is…wha' is it agin?" The tramp hiccupped and giggled, putting his hand over his mouth coyly.

"It's James, Charlie."

"Yeah, y'correct, James Charlie, thass y'self, no wait, thass meself… I canno' remember…" He held the glass up again. "So 'ere's t' both o' us an' long may we drink an' be frien's…" He giggled again and clinked the glass against James' glass, spilling a little on the table. Then the tramp emptied the glass.

James smiled menacingly, which of course Charlie didn't notice. He was too drunk.

"Have one more, Charlie. Then I think we're ready."

James refilled the tramp's glass again. The tramp picked it up and looked at it closely. "Now thass wha' I calls a be-yoo-tee-ful sight!" He hiccupped again. He looked at the glass closely with one eye, then the other. "Wha' d'ye say?"

"I say, drink it down, Charlie…we have to go…" The tramp emptied the glass. "Come, on Charlie, let's go."

"Where we goin'?" Charlie struggled to his feet and held onto the chair to keep his balance. Everything was going around and around and he blinked his eyes, trying to see straight.

James grabbed the tramp's arm roughly and pulled him toward the door of the pub.

Neither James nor Charlie saw the waitress that the tramp had met a few days previously, watching them leave.

Charlie walked right into the doorframe because he didn't see it. He fell down the steps in front of the pub. Struggling to get up, the tramp found he couldn't stand up by himself. Impatiently, James grabbed his collar and dragged Charlie along behind him.

James took him around the back of the pub. It was dark except for a gas light burning in the corner of the expanse of grass in the yard. A light rain was falling.

James propped Charlie against the lamp and took the tramp's hat off roughly and pulled his cane out of his hand. He tossed them a distance away. Then James took a mighty swing at the tramp. It knocked Charlie to the ground.

"Did y' do that or did I fall down?" asked the tramp, surprised. He touched his mouth where it was bleeding.

"I did that and I meant to do it, you meddlesome little man!" He pulled the tramp up by his collar and hit him hard several more times. The tramp tried to swing at him and missed. "That's for asking too many questions! Don't you cross Ellie again or this will look like a walk in the park!"

"Miss El'nore tole y' t' do thi'?" The tramp grabbed the lamp and tried to pull himself up to a standing position. He finally gave up, and ended up sitting on the ground, his legs splayed at an awkward angle.

"And don't you ever, ever kiss her again, you filthy little tramp!" He kicked Charlie hard repeatedly. The tramp caught his leg after the first couple kicks and held onto it while James struggled to keep his balance. The tramp finally managed to pull off James' shoe and sock. James fell down on the grass and Charlie threw the shoe at him. James grabbed the shoe, pulled the sock away from the tramp, then stalked away on one bare foot.

If Charlie would have been sober, he would have been in a lot of pain. He sat at the bottom of the gas lamp his arm wrapped around the bottom of the lamp. Mercifully, he passed out quickly. Soon it began to rain very hard and the little tramp became soaked, but he didn't notice…yet.

When the young waitress had a chance, she ran out into the back yard of the pub. She saw the tramp slumped over with one arm hugging the lamp post, his head down. She ran over to him and tried to wake him. He was soaked to the skin from the rain.

"Mister! Mister!" said the girl, shaking the tramp to wake him. Finally he blinked his eyes. He looked confused.

"You'd better get inside, Mister or you'll catch your death of cold!"

The tramp didn't remember where he was and he was still drunk, so he just nodded. The girl helped him to his feet and put her arm around his shoulder. She saw the hat and cane laying to the side and she picked them up. She led the tramp back to a seat in the pub.

"Can I get you something Mister…you're bleeding!"

The tramp touched his mouth…his lip was indeed bleeding. "It ain't nothin' Miss…" He looked up at her. If y' ge' me some coffee, I'd be grateful…"

For a while the tramp couldn't remember what had happened. Then it slowly started to come back to him. The girl brought coffee. She sat down across from him. She looked concerned.

"Ain't y' s'posed t' be workin', love?" asked the tramp.

"It's okay. Mister, you're shivering…"

"I'm frightful cold, Miss," said the tramp. Even with the hot coffee, he was shaking, for he was still very wet. His curly hair was stuck to his forehead in soggy disarray and dripped an errant drop on his nose now and then. He started to sneeze.

"Mister, why don't you come upstairs to the inn…I think you should be wrapped up in bed…"

"Ain't got that kinda money on me, Miss…"

"It's okay…the manager understands….Mr. Gatewater has done this before…" She suddenly looked as if she had said something wrong and put her hand over her mouth."

"I think I'll take y' up on tha', Miss. I'm feelin poorly ri' now…"

The waitress took him upstairs to a room. He sat down on the bed.

"Let me get you a towel," said the waitress. She returned with two large towels and helped him dry his hair. She put the other one around his shoulders.

She rummaged in the closet. "Here, Mister, here's a man's nightshirt. You can change your clothes behind the screen."

Charlie removed his dripping clothes and hung them over the top of the screen. He put on the nightshirt. He came out and stood in front of the bed. The little waitress was still there. She started to giggle.

"Wha' sa matta?" asked the still half-drunk little tramp.

"The nightshirt is way too big for you…and you have it on backwards!"

He looked down at it solemnly, took a few steps and tripped over the bottom of it. The waitress helped him up and told him to hold the side of it up a bit so he wouldn't fall over it.

"Get into bed…" she commanded. She helped him into bed and noticed he was still shivering so she brought him a hot water bottle. She pulled the thick comforter up to his neck. He smiled gratefully.

"Sorry, I'm is bein' rude, bu' I can't think straight ri' now…din't introduce meself - me name is Charlie…an' y'self?"

"My name is Brianna, but everyone calls me Belle."

"A very b'yu-tiful name, Belle…both of 'em."

"Thank you, Mr. Charlie."

"Don' be so formal, Belle…it's jus' Charlie."

She smiled and came over to plump up the pillows. She touched his forehead. "Charlie, you're burning up…you must have a fever…"

"Then why am I so cold? I can't ge' warm…"

"Just stay in bed and go to sleep. I can come back later and see if you're all right…I'll put the key on the table. I can leave the door unlocked, if that's okay…"

The tramp nodded and smiled. He beckoned with his eyes. She came closer and he reached up and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. "Tha's f' 'elpin' me out Belle…I'm appreciative…"

She blushed and smiled. "You're welcome, Charlie. I'll check in on you later." She turned out the lights and left the room.

The tramp fell into a fitful sleep. Weird images darted in and out of his dreams, making them more like nightmares. When he awoke between dreams, he thought the weird images to be leftovers from his drunken binge of last evening or perhaps the fever was having its way with his mind.

Then he fell into a deep reverie and the images started to be understandable. This was the dream:

Charlie felt a rocking rhythmic motion. He opened his eyes (in his dream) to find he was inside a stage coach. Like a page out of another time, he could see the stark red sandstone desert formations of the American southwest. The stage was moving at a fast clip and the evening was becoming dark and chilly. The light was fading fast.

The tramp removed his hat and looked at it. It was a black silk top hat, almost new. He looked down at his clothes. He was dressed in a very fine, expensive well-fitting suit and his Inverness cape was folded at his side, presumably for use when the evenings turned into cold nights. There was a small briefcase sitting on top of the cape. He pulled it toward himself and looked inside curiously. He almost dropped it when he saw the contents, hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills! He closed it quickly and replaced it atop the cape.

His fellow passengers were but two. A lady was dressed in a very plain looking Victorian dress with a large flowered hat over her curly black hair. She had her eyes closed and looked exhausted. Her threadbare coat was laying by her side also, a plain cloth coat with a brooch of some sort pinned on the collar. The third passenger was a shabby looking little man, his dark curly hair turning grey, wearing worn out clothes with patches and tears. His derby hat was pulled down over his face as he slept. Oddly, both of the passengers looked very familiar, as if he knew them, but he just couldn't put his finger on it.

Suddenly there was a commotion. The stage stopped abruptly. The tramp looked out the window. Two figures dressed in black, on ebony horses, were brandishing pistols at the driver and his guard. One of the figures alit from his horse and came over to the stage door and motioned with the pistol for the passengers to come out. Charlie noticed that this robber was small, and slight, about the same height as himself, a boy perhaps, being trained in the fine art of being a highwayman.

The three came out with their hands up. Then Charlie noticed that the small man or boy seemed to be the one in charge. Wordlessly, the small one motioned for his tall companion to search the passengers for money and jewelry. The dilapidated looking man, who looked drunk, gave his money, which wasn't much, but balked at giving away his pocket watch. "Thass all I 'ave…me only thing o value…lemme keep it, please won't y'?" The small bandit pulled it out of his hand, anyway.

Charlie said, "I 'ave a suitcase fulla money, I shall give it to ye, but give th' fella back 'is watch first…"

"Where's the money?" said the small bandit. The voice was that of a young boy.

"Give the man 'is watch back first!" said Charlie with an air of authority. The small bandit returned the watch to the drunk. Charlie handed over the suitcase full of money.

The small bandit turned his attention on the lady. "All right lady, hand over your jewelry!"

"Ain't got none, 'cept this brooch!" She took the pin off of her coat and handed it to the robber. "Can barely afford thi' stage fare…me 'usband 'ere don't 'ave no more money neither…thank y' for returnin' 'is watch…"

"Listen lady, I know no woman goes out without a lot of jewelry…where are your earrings?" The lady showed her ears - no earrings. "How about a ring…wedding or engagement ring?"

"Please…don't take me ring!" She shook the drunk. "Say somethin'! Make 'im stop!"

"Don't y' take me wife's ring…or y' regret it…" The drunk didn't have much of an air of authority. His wife looked like she was holding him up. He put his arm around her waist and hugged her close.

Charlie thought he had better step in…the drunk was no match for the two highwaymen. He suddenly grabbed the small robber by the front of his coat and said,"Leave them alone! Ge' outa 'ere…ye got all me money, wha' more y' want? Oughta be ashame'd…robbin' them poor people!"

The tall robber was about to push Charlie away, when the smaller one said, "He's right; let's go." Momentarily, as Charlie still held the boy's coat in his hand, the scarf slipped from his face. Charlie almost cried out in surprise…the boy was not a boy at all…or a man…it was Eleanore!

The tramp awoke suddenly and remembered every part of his odd dream. What could it mean? Was some unconscious sense trying to help him unravel part of the mystery? Was it something his unconscious brain knew that his conscious mind didn't? He also realized that the other two passengers resembled himself, even the woman…they must be parts of his mind too. Having never read Dr. Freud or any other psychology, he still came close to interpreting his own dream.

But could Eleanore be mixed up in some sort of robbery gang? If she were, obviously James was also involved. The beating started to make more sense if his dream had any reality.

James must have wanted to scare the tramp off, so he wouldn't come back to the ranch or ask any more questions. But Charlie wanted to bring this thing into the light, no matter what it was. He must go back to the ranch and act like he didn't have an inkling.

Charlie found out that Belle lived at the inn. She went out of her way to make sure he was all right. She checked up on him often the first night. In the two days following, she waited on him hand and foot. She brought him food and washed his clothes. They talked for hours and hours.

Soon Charlie felt good enough to walk back to the ranch. James' beating had taken a toll on the tramp. He was bruised and black and blue almost everywhere and his lip was still a bit swollen. The fever and cold passed within a day. Charlie felt weak, but he was determined to go back. He dressed and came down into the pub for breakfast.

Belle served him and he waved her to sit down across from him. "I'll pay y' back fer the room and food once I 'ave me job back, Belle."

"Don't worry about it Charlie. I think Mr. James should be paying for it really, but that probably won't happen."

"I wanna thank y' f' all the 'elp y' been t' me, love."

"My pleasure, Charlie," smiled Belle.

"May I see y' agin, Belle? I don' meanin' 'ere, I want t' take y' somewhere…"

"I'd be very pleased, Charlie. You know where I'll be."

"Tha' I do!" he said.

When he was ready to go, the tramp walked to the door of the pub and beckoned to her. He took her outside and kissed her, away from prying eyes.

"I really like y', Belle. I 'ope t'is mutual."

She nodded shyly and hugged him. "I have to get back to work…see you soon!" She blew him a kiss.

Charlie started walking back to the ranch. He was elated about Belle and his step was sprightly. Luckily it was a warm summer day and he enjoyed the walk, carrying his coat, his long sleeves rolled up. When he reached the ranch several hours later, he was exhausted. But he was resolute in his decision to ask for his job back.

As he walked up the dirt road coming upon the ranch, Jimmy and Robbie greeted him. "Charlie, where you been? We missed you!" said Jimmy.

"I been feelin a lit'tle poorly, lads. I'm much betta now."

"What's that?" said Robbie, pointing to a purple bruise on Charlie's arm.

"Ain't nothin'. Musta 'urt meself on somethin. Dunno wha' it was." He did know exactly what it was…it was James' shoe, but he would never say that to the boys.

Charlie knocked on the ranch house front door, the boys standing behind him.

James opened the door, surprised to see Charlie. The tramp walked in the door before James had a chance to close the door in his face.

"Miss Eleanore abou'?" asked the tramp.

"Yes…" said James, still surprised. "Eh…what happened to you?" he asked, feigning ignorance.

"Jus' go' a lit'tle drunk an' 'urt meself." He turned around to the boys. "Le' tha' be a lesson to ye lads…drinkin' t' excess ain't no good thing…ye c'n 'urt y'self pretty bad!"

The boys tittered a bit and James shooed them out of the room.

"What do you want, tramp?" asked James as soon as the boys had left the room.

"Want t' speak t' Miss Eleanore," said the tramp.

"She's not seeing anyone, least of all you."

"Then I wan' me job back."

"I wouldn't give you your job back if you paid me. You're a stupid, incompetent little tramp and you stick your nose where you have no business being, if you know what I mean…"

"Yeah, I know exactly wha' y' mean. I also know that I ain't stupid or incompetent. I wan' t' see Miss Eleanore!" The tramp was adamant about it. James was about to throw him out, when the tramp looked up on the staircase and saw Eleanore at the landing. She was lovely in a white silk brocade gown.

James turned to see what the tramp was looking at.

"If he wants to talk to me, let him, Jim. And you can stay…" she gave James a meaningful look.

"Jus' wanna ask f' me job back. I been sick las' coupla days, sorry I ain't been 'ere…"

"Where have you been Charlie, and what is that awful bruise on your arm? Your lip looks swollen too…I don't recall anyone getting more bruised up in just living from day to day…"

"It's purely me own fault, Ma'am. When I went t' town, I got meself really drunk an 'urt meself some'ow. Then I slep out in th' rain an' got meself a fine cold an fever. I feel much betta now an I'm 'umbly askin y' fergiveness and requestin' me job back." Charlie gave her his pitiful, but humble look. It worked with most women.

Eleanore gave James an odd look. She walked down the stairs. Her ankle seemed to be healed; she wasn't limping any more. She kept a decent distance between herself and the tramp. "Yes, all right, you can have your job back. But please be careful…"

Charlie feigned innocence although he knew what she wanted to say. She wanted to tell him not to snoop anymore. He smiled inside. He was determined to figure this out even if he received another beating!

The tramp bowed slightly to Eleanore, in lieu of not having a hat to tip. "Thank y', Ma'am. I'm very grateful." He stepped past her to go up to his room. He turned on the stairs a bit above her. "If y' want, I shall start me chores right away…"

"No, Charlie. Start tomorrow, early. You look…rather exhausted."

She was right. The tramp was quite exhausted. He took another nap, then came down for dinner with the other ranch hands. He wondered if any of them had any knowledge of what was going on. He decided just to listen, not to ask questions

It seemed that no one ever talked about the odd things going on. He didn't even ask, for fear of it getting back to Eleanore and James. After going back up to his room, Charlie decided he had to follow James and Eleanore the next time he saw them leave. He thought about how he could follow them - obviously an automobile would be too loud and he could never keep up on foot…but there were several horses that he could ride.

Just then Charlie heard some barely discernable noise from below his window and saw two figures fly out to the stable and ride out on their black steeds.

He ran down to the stable and saddled another black horse. He had his dark jacket on, but left his hat and cane in the room. He didn't want to be identifiable, if possible. He rushed out after the two and caught sight of them far up ahead. They were now trotting their horses, no longer galloping. He slowed down. He kept the horse close to the side of the road, where it would be less visible, next to the vegetation and tall trees, should one of them turn around. Everything went well.

James and Eleanore stopped at the edge of a clearing, near the railroad tracks, not far from the station in town where the passenger train would make a stop. The tramp took a back road which led on top of a cliff, overlooking the tracks. He could look down on what was happening from his vantage point, and the vegetation behind him combined with his dark clothes and horse shouldn't be discernable if he didn't move. The two stopped momentarily to confer about something, then they rode back up toward the station.

Charlie, from his higher vantage point, followed in the same direction as James and Eleanore. They soon tied their horses up at a tree and ventured further toward the station on foot. The tramp continued to follow them and soon they reached the station. Coming down from the hill, he found a place to tie up his horse a short way behind the station. He stayed near the side of the building, where he was in the shadows. He had a good view of his targets.

Apparently, Eleanore and James had changed their clothes. They were now in normal street clothes and were both carrying carpetbags. They looked like two people going away on a short holiday.

The train pulled into the station and stopped, the engine breathing and letting off steam with short hisses. The passengers waited to get on as the departing travelers climbed down the steps from each car and onto the platform. From a distance, Charlie watched to see where the duo entered. As soon as they boarded the train, he ran up to the back of the queue waiting to enter the third car on the train, which was a passenger coach. The baggage car was immediately ahead of the passenger coach and the very first car on the train was the RPO (railway post office car) sitting immediately behind the steam engine and its tender.

The tramp sat up front. He didn't have a ticket and hoped the conductor wouldn't come around soon to take the fares. The tramp looked around, then he walked nonchalantly into the baggage car. No one stopped him, although passengers were normally not allowed on the post office or baggage cars.

The train started up again slowly. The tramp lay down behind one of the large piles of suitcases and other baggage items. Suddenly, he realized that there was someone in the car with him. Thinking it a railway employee, he snuggled further into the pile of baggage. Then he became aware of a flowery scent…it was Eleanore's perfume! She was in the car!

The tramp peeked around and saw Eleanore opening her carpetbag. He got up, tiptoed around and grabbed the girl from behind. He put his hand over her mouth and said, "Do not scream; they cannot 'ear y' from 'ere."

"Charlie?" she said, her voice muffled by his hand. He pulled it away for a moment. He had found rope in a corner and he bound her hands and feet.

Eleanore looked dismayed and surprised, but mostly angry. She was used to being in charge. "What's the matter with you, Charlie? Why are you doing this?"

The tramp remained calm and didn't say anything more until he had put a gag in her mouth and tied it with rope so she couldn't make any sound. He carried her to his former hiding place, behind the stacks of luggage. He placed her gently on the floor.

"I'm sorry, Miss Eleanore, I don' mean t' 'urt y'; bu' I know what y're up to and it 'as t' stop." He quickly looked in her carpetbag. He pulled out her black clothes and looked at them. He was sure they would fit him. He dressed quickly and put on the black cape and hood, tying the scarf over his face. He pulled out her gun and tucked it in his trousers.

He knelt down beside her. "Are y' comfortable, Miss Eleanore?" He put her empty carpetbag under her head. She nodded. Her eyes were wide with fear. The tramp had never seen her look like this. "I ain't gonna 'urt y'." He stayed kneeling until James entered the baggage car.

"Ellie?" said James. "Are you here?" Charlie came out from behind the baggage in his disguise. "There you are! Ellie, we have to hurry. We have to be off the train with the gold before the train reaches the next station." Charlie nodded.

"According to my information, the gold is in the post office car. There is an armed guard there, besides two postal workers. We have to be careful." During this time, James changed his clothes into the black disguise inside his own carpetbag. James motioned for "Ellie" to follow him into the RPO car. He got very close to Charlie and whispered, "This is going to be a huge amount of gold, honey, we won't have to do another train robbery for a little while…we can lay low and bide our time…Ellie, give me a kiss for good luck!"

The tramp was horrified at the thought and he shook his head coyly. He also didn't want James to get too close to him because his blue eyes looked very different from her hazel eyes. He kept the hood as far over his face as he could and his eyes looking down. Also he figured he probably didn't smell as nice as Eleanore. He hoped James wouldn't notice.

The two entered the post office car with their guns held out in front of them. "Hand over the money!" yelled James in an authoritative voice.

The guard held his hands up while Charlie kept his gun trained on the two postal workers, who looked frightened. The guard said, "I don't have no key to this locked box. It's steel and you can't break the lock without no key."

"So who has the key?" asked James.

"They must have it at the bank…after all it's their money…"

"Then I'll shoot it off!" James said, pulling his gun. He carefully sized up the large heavy box so that he would shoot the lock off without damaging the money inside.

Charlie sidled up to the postal workers. "Do y' 'ave guns on ye?" They nodded and gestured toward the wall where two gunbelts were hung on the wall. "Go get 'em," he whispered. "Quietly!"

They brought the guns and handed them to Charlie. He shook his head. "Point 'em at me partner!" he whispered. The postal workers looked at Charlie in disbelief, but obeyed.

"Jim," shouted the tramp, "Look over 'ere…" James looked confused at the strange voice, as he turned to see his "partner" and the two postal clerks with guns trained on him. This gave the guard time to pull his gun on James also. The guard pulled the gun away from James.

The tramp pulled off the hood and scarf and James stared in disbelief. "Charlie? Where's Ellie? What are you doing here?"

"Tie 'im up, men," said the tramp, in an authoritative voice. It felt good to be in charge for once. "'Ow do we ge' th' police t' come an' get 'im…an' 'is partner?"

"We'll wire the next station. They'll be waiting," said the guard.

James was now tied up and Charlie had told the guard where Eleanore was. They brought her out and placed her next to James. Charlie removed Eleanore's gag. "Are y' awright?" asked the tramp.

"If you mean comfortable, I'm all right. If you mean anything else, the answer is no." Eleanore looked angry.

"Miss Eleanore, Mr. James asked me t' kiss 'im jus' now. Mr. James, ain't y' glad I didn't oblige ye?" teased the tramp. Eleanore looked at James with a strange look. James looked as if he were going to be ill.

"I suppose I should thank you for that, Charlie," said James.

At the next station, the train stopped and several armed guards came on board to take Eleanore and James away. The man guarding the gold was joined with another armed guard and Charlie got off the train to go back to the place he had originally boarded. He started walking when the conductor said, "Wait, mister…"

The tramp turned, and gave him an inquisitive look.

"Mister, you saved the bank's gold…and the railroad's reputation…where would you like to go; you can certainly ride for free…"

"Was jus' planning' t' walk back, sir, it was jus' the las' station," said the tramp.

"Why that's over fifty miles! Just wait…" he called a red cap over and told him to get the tramp a return ticket.

"Why, thank y', sir!"

Charlie boarded the next train back and then alit when it reached the station. The sun was just coming up in the east. The tramp went to where his horse was still tied to a tree. He patted the horses' neck. "We be back 'ome soon, fella. I feeds y' then."

He rode over to where Eleanore and James had left Black Jade and Ebony Knight and tied their reins to the back of his horse's saddle. The three horses and the tramp arrived at the ranch about an hour after sunup.

The tramp was exhausted from his sleepless night, but as he rode up, Robbie and Jimmy came running up to him. They looked frightened.

"Where's my Pa gone?" asked Jimmy. "Do you know, Charlie? We can't find him or Miss Eleanore…have they been kidnapped? And all the ranch hands are gone…just left!" Jimmy looked at the two empty-saddled horses. "Are they all right?"

The boys looked terrified. The tramp told them to follow him and the horses into the barn. He fed the horses and groomed them as he talked to the boys.

"Lads, Eleanore and James ain't comin' back right away. I'll take y' both over to Robbie's ranch when I'm done wi' the 'orses."

"Charlie, where are they?" Jimmy was almost crying and Robbie looked worried too.

The tramp finished with the horses. "Miss Eleanore and Mr. James done a bad thing. They were goin' t' rob the train of a lotta gold bein' ship'd to the bank. I think tha' was wha' they been doin all along. I've been tryin' t' find out, but nobody tells me nothin'. They're in gaol ri' now….I 'ad t' turn 'em in, Jimmy…I'm sorry."

"You turned them in! Charlie, how could you do that when you knew they would go to jail? My Pa was right…you are nasty and stupid!"

"If all the ranch 'ands're gone, an' I leave too, y'll be all alone, lads. Come back 'ere an' listen t' me." Jimmy came back and sat in the hay, his head down.

"Charlie, did you know Miss Eleanore was going to marry my Pa?" She was gonna be my new Mama! Now you messed everything up!"

"I didn't know tha', Jimmy. Bu' I didn't do meself no favors neither, Jimmy…I'm outa a job, too. I c'n stay on 'ere til we find somebody t' take care o' all the animals, then I gotta be goin' too….Jimmy…Robbie…when y' do the right thing, sometime it ain't the bes' thing f' y'self…but if it the right thing t' do, y' mus' do it. Ye get me drift?"

Jimmy was crying now and the tramp offered him his worn handkerchief. The boy blew his nose and wiped his eyes. Charlie stuffed the kerchief back in his pocket. He pulled the boy closer and hugged him, rubbing his back comfortingly. Jimmy hugged the tramp back.

"Le's go lads, we 'ave t' take care o bus'ness." The three walked the several miles over to Robbie's father's ranch.

Robbie's father looked almost exactly like his brother James but with dark hair and eyes. And his personality was totally opposite. He hadn't heard of the previous night's events, but said he wasn't surprised. He said that ever since his brother had met Eleanore, they had been up to something. The ranch was really James' ranch, Eleanore had taken it over when she moved in from somewhere…no one knew where she had come from. She had persuaded James to sign the ownership of the ranch over to herself, and under her, the ranch had started to do well financially. But the money didn't seem to be coming from crops or sale of animals or dairy products. No one knew where the money came from, but many began to suspect something was amiss after many mysterious robberies in the surrounding areas.

None of the other ranch hands were brave enough to check into the odd goings-on until the tramp arrived. Robert said that Jimmy could stay with him and his wife and he would make arrangements to have the animals cared for and brought over to the his ranch or sold. Robert said that the tramp could stay on at his ranch as long as he wanted. Charlie thanked him gratefully, but said he would probably be moving on.

Then the tramp decided he wanted to see Belle again. He wanted to tell her what had happened. He asked to borrow the truck and was told he was welcome to use it.

Arriving in town, he headed for the pub and found it was very crowded. He found a place to sit in the corner. He had to share a table with three other men. They were talking about the capture of evening last.

"I heard it was some itinerant who figured out what was going on!" said the first man.

"Yeah, some shabby tramp put the finger on them two. Guess everybody else was afraid of 'em." said the second man.

"Was it the little drunk that James beat up a while back?" asked the third one.

"Yeah, I 'eard it was 'im," spoke up the tramp. "Does ever'one know all about thi'?"

"Sure, the mayor said he was some kinda hero or something." said the second man. "Seems to me the mayor should have figured out what was going on a long time ago."

"Don't you know the mayor was in Gatewater's pocket?" commented the first man. "There are quite a few who were in his pocket…just watch how they act innocent now! Someone at the telegraph office too…told them when gold shipments were coming through…convenient!"

The tramp was enjoying listening to the small talk, and he didn't even see Belle step up to him and put her arms around his neck. She whispered in his ear, "You're a hero, sweetie!"

The three men looked at the tramp strangely when Belle put her arms around him. He pulled her down on the bench next to him. He didn't care who saw it. He hugged her. "Belle, I've been waitin' f' y'self! Let's go outside…"

Belle and Charlie went outside and around the back, away from prying eyes. They sat on a bench and the tramp took Belle in his arms and kissed her gently. She kissed him back."

"Belle," said the tramp, "I'm outa a job agin…I guess that's me own fault…" he smiled when he said that.

"I'm out of a job after tonight too…" she smiled ruefully. "And they let me have a room at the hotel as long as I had a job there at the pub…that's gone too. I have to leave tomorrow…"

The tramp frowned. "Why they let y' go?"

"I know too much…I talk too much too…I told several people about the telegraph operator, the mayor, and others who were involved. I didn't think much about it until I put it together after you captured Eleanore and James…"

"Belle, y' wanna come along wi' me?"

"Where are you going?"

"Dunno. We jus' go where the wind take us…"

"Charlie, I'm only eighteen…I'm on my own, but I'm scared to just go off like that…"

"I'll be there to take care o' you…"

She hesitated a moment, then smiled. "I feel safe with you…all right, let's do it!"

"Ye 'ave one more night at y' job…we c'n start away in the mornin'. I 'ave somethin to do today anyway, a lit'tle bus'ness t' finish. I'll meet y' in th' mornin." The tramp held Belle for a few minutes longer. He kissed her and ran his fingers through her hair gently. Then they parted.

The tramp went over to the jail. He wanted to see Eleanore. The guard let him into her cell. She wasn't especially pleased to see him, to say the least.

"What are you doing here, Charlie?"

"I came t' say g'bye, Miss Eleanore. I ain't planning' t' be 'ere much longer…ye always been kind t' me, Miss Eleanore…wanted t' thank ye…sorry it 'ad t turn out this way…"

"Me, too, Charlie. I didn't think you had it in you to find us out that way and turn us in. I severely underestimated you….but you have always been kind to me, too…and a good ranch hand…"

"Sorry I kissed ye tha' day, didn't know James was yer beau…"

"I wanted you to kiss me, Charlie…there is something kind and gentle about you…I don't know how James found out about that one stolen kiss…I am sorry you got the worst of it."

"I asked f' it when I started snoopin," said Charlie, with a laugh. "Tell me, Miss Eleanore, didja tell Mr. James t' git me drunk an' beat me bloody tha' night?"

Eleanore pursed her lips ruefully, then looked at the tramp. "I told him to give you a good talking to; scare you a little so you wouldn't ask any more questions. I never told him to beat you up. And as for getting you drunk, that was pretty cowardly of him…I guess he didn't want you to have any chance of fighting back. I'm sorry about that, Charlie."

Eleanore was sitting on the jail cot. She looked up. "Come here, blue eyes," she said invitingly. She beckoned to him with her finger and patted the cot next to her. He sat next to her hesitatingly.

Eleanore wrapped her arms around the tramp and kissed him gently on the mouth. She ran her fingers through his curls. He kissed her softly, breathing in the scent of her hair.

"I've wanted to do that ever since we met, when you acted as a Good Samaritan of sorts," she whispered. "And you were so kind to me even when you were getting me arrested…I really do appreciate that…I can't think of anyone else who would tie me up and then ask if I was feeling alright…" She laughed.

"I wanted t' kiss y' ever since we met, too," admitted the tramp. "Glad Mr. James ain't around t' see; 'e'd beat me bloody f' this…"

She smiled. "I hope Belle doesn't mind me borrowing you…"

"Y' know about me an' Belle?"

"Charlie, I know everything that goes on in this town. And I still will know even while I'm in prison. Don't ask me how…I have my ways."

"Y're an amazin' woman, Miss Eleanore."

The tramp hugged her and kissed her again. Then they heard a wolf whistle at the cell door. The two looked up to see the guard. Charlie jumped up, startled. The guard was swinging his keys around and whistling.

"Time for you two lovebirds to break it up…visiting time is over."

"I was jus' sayin' goodbye…" said the tramp as the guard let him out of the cell.

"Of course you were…" the guard winked at the tramp. Charlie hurried out the cell door and out into the street again.


The next morning, the tramp went to the pub and up to the hotel. He knocked on the door to Belle's room.

"Are y' there, love…ready t' go?" He was wearing his hat, coat and carrying his cane, his few meager belongings stuffed into the pockets of his trousers and in his knapsack. He had a canteen hanging on his shoulder.

The door opened. "Yes," she said. She exited the room with her coat and hat on, and carrying her purse.

"Come on, then. I 'ave money enough f' breakfas' f' us both." They went downstairs to the pub and sat in a four person booth. Charlie ordered breakfast. Belle had her eyes cast down and she looked pouty.

"Whatsa matta, Belle?" He tipped her chin up with his finger. She finally looked at him.

"I heard about you kissing Miss Eleanore."

"The grapevine 'bout 'ere is amazin!"muttered the tramp under his breath. "Belle, I was sayin g'bye an' thankin 'er f' er' kindness t' me…"

"Oh…" Belle looked unhappy.

"I'se sorry if y' re jealous…sometime that kinda thing jus' 'appen…"

She finally looked up at him and made eye contact. She had tears in her eyes. "All right."

"Belle, maybe y're too young t' understan' them things…but I am sorry if I 'urt ye."

"No, no, I'm not too young! It's all right…everything is all right…kiss me, Charlie, kiss me."

The tramp came over to the other side of the booth and pushed her into the corner where no one could see and kissed her on the mouth. He held her a long time and closed his eyes, rubbing his face against hers. She giggled when his mustache tickled and scratched her face a little. Then they heard, "Ahem!" The waiter set down the plates in front of them. Charlie tipped his hat to the waiter, then paused until the man had walked away.

Charlie took some food on his fork and fed it to Belle. She giggled. She felt better now and by the time they finished their meal, all was forgiven.


Returning the truck to Robert Gatewater's ranch, the tramp thanked him for his kindness. The two vagabonds set off down the road.

After walking several days on the dusty road, the tramp started to wonder if he had made a good decision in asking Belle to come with him. He was used to walking everywhere and the inconveniences of the road, but little Belle seemed to be tiring easily. She didn't utter a word of complaint, but he could see her weariness.

"Why don't we sit down f' a bit, Belle, y' look tired."

"I'm fine!" she smiled at the tramp.

"Le's sit down anyway. Do me some good t' rest." He spread out a tattered and thin blanket on the ground for her to lay down on. He took off her shoes and massaged her feet.

"That feels so good, Charlie…no one ever did that for me before…"

"I shall do it f' y' whenever y' wan', me lady!" said the tramp. "'Ere, are y' thirsty?" He offered the canteen. She accepted.

The tramp drank from the canteen and Belle said, "Sweetie, I'm hungry. I don't want to complain, but we have to eat soon…"

"I know, Belle, I'm thinkin' about tha'…I'm very 'ungry too. I think up a bi' further, there's a town…"

The tramp and the girl walked for several miles more. They soon came to a town. It was mid-afternoon and the farmers still had their fresh food wares displayed at the open market. He gave Belle his very large kerchief and showed her how to tie it over her wrist and hold it so he could surreptitiously drop a few food items into it when the farmers weren't looking.

They filled up the bag and walked quickly to a park. At a picnic table, Charlie spread out his blanket once more on the table top and they looked at the items he had pilfered.

"Quite a haul, Charlie! You're good!"

He smiled. "Hurry and eat…we don't wanna be caught wi' no evidence!"

After eating, the two vagabonds started up the road again. In the middle of the town, they saw a crowd. A man, standing on a makeshift stage on a wagon, was touting the merits of a product in a bottle. It was called Tucker's Fine Elixir. It apparently cured all ills, including ague, gout, melancholy, cholera, dropsy and many other diseases not even known to medical science.

"What is it, Charlie…it sounds wonderful!"

"Don't know, Belle, but we ain't got none o' them ailments and no money besides…"

"Can we stay to watch the show?"

The tramp smiled. "I ain't y' Papa…y' don't need t' ask me…sure, y' c'n stay; tha' y' decision!"

Just then the man announced: "I am sorry to disappoint you folks, but the musical show won't be on tonight; I just lost my performers in the last town…I will be on the lookout for some talented people…it's a good job and comes with fringe benefits!"

"Charlie, I can sing and dance…I could get a job with him…" said Belle.

The tramp looked skeptical. "Wonder if 'e's honest…"

Belle had already run up to the front of the crowd and was trying to get the man's attention. Most of the crowd had dispersed. The tramp came and stood behind her.

"What can you do?" asked the man.

"I can sing and dance," said Belle.

"What does your partner do?" asked the man, indicating Charlie.

The tramp put his hand on his chestm indicating himself. "Me?" He shook his head No

"I'm looking for a two person act…if he don't want to join you, I can't use you."

Belle looked at Charlie pleadingly. "Pleeeeeaaaassse!"

The tramp looked pained but nodded.

"So what do you do?"

"I dance a lit' tle, play a few music instruments a lit' tle…"

"Which instruments?"

"Piano, violin, cello…"

"Do you sing?"

"Such as it is…"

"You are both hired! Come in the wagon and let me show you around."

The man introduced himself as Mitchell Tucker. He was medium height with blondish hair and a handlebar mustache. He wore a tan top hat and brown coat with tails for the show. His vest was green and matched his bow tie. His clothes were immaculate and everything inside the wagon was very clean and neat.

"So wha' y' wan' us t' do, Mr. Tucker?" asked the tramp.

"First thing I want to hear is your act. How long have you been performing together? Is this your daughter?"

The tramp blushed a little, but Belle seemed to have presence of mind for once. "Yes, this is my father. We've been performing together ever since I was very young!" The tramp rolled his eyes. Belle did have a big mouth.

"Very nice!…I have a violin you can use, there is a small piano in the wagon…what would you like?"

"I'll take the violin," said the tramp, wondering if they were heading for destruction. I need t' restring the violin, though…I play left-'anded."

It took a few minutes to restring the violin and retune the instrument.

He sidled up to Belle. "What songs do y' know, Belle?" he whispered. She named several folk songs. He chose one and they started. He expected disaster, but oddly enough, everything worked out well. Belle had an extraordinarily lovely voice and Charlie, although he felt a bit rusty on the violin, managed to give a nice accompanyment. Then Tucker played a ragtime tune on the piano and the two vagabonds danced. It seemed they were made to perform together.

"You are both very good! I will have you perform before my speech and then afterwards you can help me sell my Elixir."

"Jus' wha' is y' product, Mr. Tucker?"

"It's a fine blend of Middle Eastern spices and herbs from the mysterious Far East, along with several other secret ingredients. It is guaranteed to cure…"

The tramp interrupted, "We 'eard y' talkin 'bout it before…does it really work?"

"Absolutely! I swear by it myself! Why, I wouldn't be able to walk around here without crutches if I didn't take my daily dose of this product!"

"Y' go' the gout, Mr. Tucker?" asked the tramp.

"Oh, badly! And arthritis, too! Why, it even healed a broken bone for me…in just a week!"

The tramp looked skeptical.

"Here, try some…since you're working for me, it's free. After two bottles, you'll feel like a new man!" The tramp took the two bottles.

"So where do we sleep?" asked Belle.

"I have a tent we can put up for you. I sleep in the wagon."

The tramp gave Belle an odd look. He helped Tucker raise the tent.

"Belle, wha' did y' ge' us into?" whispered the tramp.

She giggled.

The tent was a two person tent, and the tramp unfolded his tattered blanket and attached it from the top of the tent, so it would make a barrier between Belle and himself.

Belle and Charlie took a long walk through the town to see what it was like. It was a charming village that seemed as if hadn't changed a bit in a hundred years. The country was hilly and the two vagabonds enjoyed their walk, especially because they both had jobs now and Tucker had promised to provide some meals for them.

Charlie went to a place where there was bread and other bakery being sold outside. The items were covered by a glass case, open on the baker's side.

"Belle, y' want somethin? I 'ave enough money for one…'ere get y'self a sweet."

"Don't you want any, Charlie?"

"Don' worry 'bout me…jus' go…" he shooed her away.

She looked at all the items and Charlie stood at one end waiting for her, his hands behind his back, his cane's handle tucked into his breast pocket. When Belle found something at the opposite end, and had the baker's attention, Charlie grabbed a piece of waxed paper and carefully reached around the glass barrier to pick up a donut with icing. He put it behind his back.

Belle came back with her purchase. "Want a bite, Charlie?" He shook his head.

"Le's go sit down in the park."

"You sure you don't want a bite?"

"Got me own!" said the tramp, smiling.

"I wondered if you were going to do that…that's why I went way down to the end."

Charlie laughed. "Yer catchin' on fast, me lady!"

They sat down and ate their sweet pastries. "It's been a really long time since I 'ad one o' them!" said the tramp.

After wandering around the town taking in more of the atmosphere, the two came back to the wagon just before dusk. Tucker had told Charlie that he planned to have two shows the following day, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. He told the two vagabonds to get some sleep and then practice their act in the morning so they would be ready.

The tramp and Belle crawled in their tent. "Now, ye stay over there, lit'tle lady, in yer own place, an' I shall stay 'ere! Ye gonna be good?"

She giggled and nodded. He gave her a big kiss on the lips. "We can't be kissin and huggin out in th' open no more since ye came out with that we're father an' daughter! Whyja say tha'?"

"You were blushing when you thought I was going to say we were girlfriend and boyfriend…I thought it was a good thing to say."

"Yeah, it was a good thing." He smiled and kissed her again. "Now get t' sleep." She crawled over to her part of the tent and pulled her blanket over herself.

The tramp wanted to be in as good shape as possible for the little show tomorrow, so he decided to try the medicine. It must have preventive qualities as well as healing qualities, if what Tucker said was true. He took the two bottles and went outside and sat in a chair Tucker had placed next to a tree. What had Tucker said? 'After two bottles, you'll be a new man!'

The tramp opened the first bottle and smelled it. Didn't smell too bad for medicine. The bottles were pretty large too. He drank some right from the bottle. Didn't taste bad. He drank some more. He was glad it didn't taste bad if he had to drink two whole bottles. It tasted a little familiar too…he wasn't sure what that was…the spices were interesting…gave it a strange, but pleasant flavor. He finished the first bottle in about a half hour. He started on the second.

The tramp tried to read the label on the bottle to see if Tucker had put any of the ingredients on it. Charlie couldn't read the label; the print was too small. He looked for his spectacles, which he usually kept in his inside coat pocket for reading. For some reason, he couldn't get the glasses out of his pocket. The medicine seemed to have a strange effect. He was starting to feel dizzy. He stood up and lost his footing right away. He fell down on the grass and his legs went up in the air in a partial sommersault.

The tramp didn't know what was wrong with him. He grabbed onto the chair and tipped it over on himself. He looked for the full bottle and found it. He drank some more, hoping the odd effect would be cleared up. He managed to sit up on the grass and he finished the rest of the bottle. Then he stood up shakily and tried to right the chair. He couldn't quite figure out which way it went. Finally he gave up and sat down at the picnic table nearby.

Inside the tent, Belle had been sleeping. Some slight noise outside woke her. "Charlie," she said softly. She put her hand under the blanket to see if he was still sleeping. He wasn't there. She sat up and crawled out of the tent. She saw the tramp sitting at the picnic table with his head down.

"Charlie, are you all right, sweetie? You should be sleeping. We have to be ready for tomorrow…"

The tramp looked up at her. His face showed no emotion. He nodded. Belle thought he looked a little odd.

"Are you sure you're all right? You look strange."

"I am jesh fine…never felt betta…" Charlie was talking very quietly and, uncharacteristically, very slowly.

"I can't understand you, Charlie…what did you say?"

He smiled a little and put his forefinger to his lips to signal silence. He held on to the top of the table as if it were moving. Suddenly he let go and fell off the end of the picnic table seat. Finally Belle figured out what was wrong with him.

"Charlie, you're drunk!"

"I ain't drunk…I ain't been drinkin'…'elp me up, 'love,'tha' med'cine is rather strong."

Belle turned the chair right side up and got Charlie situated in it. She wanted to make some coffee for the tramp, but she didn't want Tucker to see Charlie in this condition.

"Where did you get the alcohol, Charlie?" said Belle, concerned.

"Din't drink no alc'hol, Belle, an' I ain't drunk neither…" He was slurring his words so badly she could barely understand him. He hiccupped and put his hand over his mouth. He giggled. He looked at her cross-eyed. "Belle…is tha' short f' Belladonna?" He laughed at his own "wit." He hiccupped again.

Belle didn't know what to do. "Ssshhh, we don't want Mr. Tucker to hear you."

"Misser Tuck'r t' 'ear me wha'? Sing? Y' wan' me t' sing?"

"No!!" Belle put her hand over his mouth.

The tramp started to laugh… "I thot ye was the one wi' th' big mouth!"

Belle thought if they walked around that maybe the tramp would sober up. She still couldn't figure out where he got the alcohol from. She got him to stand up and then, with her steadying hand behind his back, they walked to the park and sat down at a bench overlooking a small pond.

He put his arm around her and hugged her. "Yer some kinda girl t' carry me all tha' way…"

"I didn't carry you…you walked!"

"Then I mus' be cured…Misser Tuck'r is ri…it cured me!"

"Charlie, what are you talking about?"

"Why, Tuck'r said if I drink two bo'tles o medicine, I'd be cured o anythin."

"You've been drinking that stuff he's selling?"

He nodded solemnly. "Said I mus' drink two bo'tles…"

"Charlie, that stuff must be pure alcohol!"

"Cannot be. 'E said they 'ave a secret ingred'ent in it."

Belle didn't want to argue any more with Charlie. She would talk to him in the morning, when hopefully he would be rational. He was beginning to wind down now anyway. He put his head on her shoulder and closed his eyes. Even though he was a small, slight man, he was dead weight laying on her shoulder and it was uncomfortable.

Belle was trying to get Charlie into a more comfortable position. He was sleeping soundly now. A police officer approached. "Hey lady, what's going on here? That your father? Is he drunk?"

"Yes, it's my father. But he isn't drunk; he's sick."

"Well, he can't sleep here, even if he's sick. Where are you taking him?"

"We can't go home…." Belle was making it up as she went along.

"Oh?"

"My mother doesn't want him around anymore because he's a drunk…ummm, I mean….sick."

"So he is drunk. Well, he should be put in the lock-up overnight for public drunkenness!"

"No, please don't do that…"

"What are you going to do with him outside? Are you going to carry him somewhere yourself?" asked the cop with a snide smile.

At that moment, Charlie came to in some sort of consciousness. He opened his eyes and said, "'Ello osiffer, ofsifer, fosiffer, Misser Cop, how y' do?" He tipped his hat. The police officer rolled his eyes.

"Lady, I have to take him in. Are you coming or not?" Belle sighed and nodded. This had started as a great day, but it had certainly deteriorated….

The officer brought his police vehicle over and put Charlie inside. Belle sat in back with the tramp.

When they got to the police station, they propped Charlie up in a chair. He kept slipping down onto the floor. Finally they laid him on a bench. The officer brought the paperwork. "I need some information…what's his name?"

"Hiss name iss Charlie," spoke up the tramp, without opening his eyes.

Belle gave the officer Charlie's complete name and hers also. She panicked when he asked for an address. She quickly gave her former address. "You live with him?"

"My mother kicked him out."

"Yes, you mentioned that before."

The officer asked a lot of other questions, then said, "I have to put him in jail for the night. Since it's a first offence, I'll just write a ticket. If he pays that tomorrow, he can leave right away."

"How much is the ticket?"

"$25.00"

Belle gasped. "Oh, we could never afford that! And we just got a job, the two of us, if he doesn't show up tomorrow, we'll both be out of a job….and then we won't have any money at all…"

Belle looked so young and pretty and so sad, the officer, quite young himself, relented. "Well, it's my call after all. All right, a night in jail and no ticket. But I don't want to see him drunk again, or he goes right back in jail!"

"Thank you, Officer! I really appreciate that!"

"I do too…I really, 'preciat tha'…" spoke up the tramp. He opened his eyes. The young officer helped Charlie to his feet. "Ossifer, yer a good man!" He gave the man a big kiss on the cheek. The officer looked a little ill.

Between the policeman and Belle, they got Charlie to a jail cell. He laid down on the cot and fell asleep right away.

"I don't want to leave him here alone," said Belle.

"He's a big boy…he'll figure it out in the morning."

"Please, can I stay here? I'm so upset about this!"

Again, the young officer felt sorry for the young pretty girl.

"Usually men and women go in separate cells…"

"Well, don't put anyone else in there with him except me…"

"You didn't do anything…"

"So why are you keeping me away from my dear Papa?"

"I shouldn't do this…"

"Thank you!" said Belle. She blew a kiss at the officer. He blushed and let her in the cell with Charlie.

As soon as she got inside the cell, she tried to make the tramp more comfortable. She rearranged the pillows under his head and took off his shoes and socks. She managed to get his coat off too. He actually still had his derby on and she removed it. He had his arms and legs wrapped around the bamboo cane and she extricated that from his grasp. She turned him on his back and straightened his legs and pulled a blanket over him. She lay down at the foot of the bed and fell asleep at the tramp's feet.

The tramp awoke the next morning feeling quite ill. The medicine was good in small doses and might truly lend a feeling of well-being, but in large doses, it was quite literally nauseating. He looked about and realized he was in jail. He didn't know how he had gotten there. He felt something warm on his feet…it was Belle! He sat up.

"Psssttt, Belle! Where are we?"

Belle was very groggy from having gotten only a few hours sleep and from struggling with Charlie the night before. "Sweetie, we're in jail."

"Wha' did we do?"

"I didn't do anything. You got drunk, very drunk, on those two bottles of "medicine. I think they're pure alcohol."

"But Tucker tole me t' drink down two bottles o' tha' stuff and I would feel like a new man…"

"I suspect he meant to have a little every day, then after a few weeks or so you would feel like a new man. You drank it all at once, Charlie."

"'E didn't say tha', Belle. I even tried to read the bot'tle, but I couldn't find me specs."

Belle was getting irritated with the tramp. "Maybe you should use your head once in a while, Charlie! Don't you have any sense? You know, common sense!"

Charlie didn't reply. He looked a little hurt.

"Charlie, you're the one who got us into this predicament!"

"Belle, t'was y'self wha' wanted th' job…"

"And I thought it was a good idea." She went on, "you really didn't have to drink that stuff, you know." Belle told him everything that went on the night before.

Charlie was silent for a few minutes. He put on his hat and coat. Then he said, "I'm sorry, Belle. I thank y' f' takin' care o' me. … I really 'preciate it. Come 'ere."

She came closer and they embraced and kissed. The young police officer from the evening before was just getting off his shift and was going to let Charlie out. He was taken aback at the sight of the middle-aged tramp and the teen-aged girl embracing so lovingly and romantically and kissing each other on the mouth…father and daughter???…he decided not to say anything. The officer let the two vagabonds out of jail.

Charlie didn't look well this morning and he felt even worse. He didn't say anything, but with every step he felt sicker and more nauseated. Belle noticed he was leaning on the cane and not swinging it as usual. Belle offered her arm. He smiled.

Finally the two vagabonds reached the medicine show trailer. "Belle, I jus' dunno 'ow I'm gonna perform this afternoon…" He sat down exhausted in the outside chair.

"After we eat a bit of food, sweetie, you'll probably feel better." At the word food, the tramp turned paler than usual.

"Le's start wi' coffee, Belle."

She nodded. She knocked on Tucker's door. "I'll make breakfast for us, Mr. Tucker." Tucker let her in to get the food and coffee and she made breakfast for the three of them.

The tramp drank a lot of coffee. He didn't feel any better. Finally, he excused himself and went off by himself to a wooded area. He came back about a half hour later and looked much better. "I'll take th' rest o' the breakfas' now, Belle."

Belle and the tramp performed at the appointed time, Charlie accompanying Belle's singing with the violin. He felt he was out of practice, but no one else seemed to notice. Tucker played some ragtime on the piano and the two vagabonds danced together. The crowd seemed to like it and clapped loudly. Then Tucker came out with his spiel about the medicine. Charlie listened closely and Tucker did say that after two bottles, you would feel like a new man. That seemed a bit misleading.

Tucker promised that if enough bottles were sold, he would have his performers sing and dance again. This seemed to promote sales and the two vagabonds gave another good performance. When it was over, Tucker seemed happy.

"Didja make a lotta money?" asked the tramp.

"I made over $200 this afternoon…you will each get $10 out of that!"

"Seems like we deserve more than tha', Mr. Tucker, seein as we done mosta the work t' bring in th' customers…"

"You're getting 10% of my take…and I had to provide the product, you know. Why the Church only gets 10%…"

"Mr. Tucker, there two o' us, an' we gotta eat an' find a place t' stay…seems t' me, we deserve more than tha', but we settle f' 10% each."

Tucker didn't look happy. "All right, you win. You did work hard. But all your performances had better be as good as that one…or better…or I'll slash your pay."

"Tha' seems fair," said the tramp.

"I'll pay you after the evening performance. Then we'll be on our way to the next town. You are both coming, correct?"

"We'll be comin along, Mr. Tucker."

After the evening performance, Tucker disappeared into the trailer and closed the door.

Belle looked at the tramp. "He forgot to pay us, Charlie."

"F'got?" The tramp gave her a knowing look. "I think 'e f'got a bi' conveniently."

The tramp knocked at the door of the medicine show trailer. "Mr. Tucker?"

"What do you want?" came the voice from within.

"C'n I talk t' y', Sir?"

Tucker opened the door a crack. He was in his nightshirt. "I'm trying to sleep!"

The tramp held his hat in his hands politely. "Jus' wonder'd if y' f'got t' pay us…Me daughter and meself, we need the money bad…"

"Had to buy feed for the horses; nothing left over, except a bit for food for the three of us."

"We 'preciate y' feedin us sir, but we worked f' the money…"

"What more do you want? I give you a place to sleep and two meals a day…"

"Mr. Tucker, Sir, I clearly r'member y' promising t' pay us after the las' show tonight…"

"You're remembering wrong. I have to take care of my overhead first. The Elixir is very expensive to make."

Charlie put his hat back on and tipped it to Tucker. "Yes, sir. We shall talk about thi' 'nother time."

Belle was standing near the door of the wagon. She had heard everything. She looked dismayed.

The tramp put his arm around Belle and led her over to the picnic table to talk. "'E's a con man; no question 'bout tha'. He ain't gonna pay us, less we do somethin t' make 'im do it."

"What are you going to do, Charlie?"

"Dunno yet….bu', I think we should stay about f' a while…we c'n find a way t' make 'im pay us…an' tha' medicine…I think yer correct, it's made outa pure alcohol wi' some spices added f' flavor."

The following morning, Belle made breakfast for herself and the men. The tramp sat at the picnic table with Tucker. Tucker avoided his eyes.

"Mr. Tucker," said the tramp, "I jus' thought o' somethin' what might make the med'cine show bet'ter; y' could sell more Elixir…"

Tucker looked up. "Oh?"

"Y'see, y' 'asta 'ave someone what c'n say th' wonders the Elixir done f' them." Tucker looked interested.

"So where do I find some spokesmen to do this for me?"

"Y' go' 'em ri' 'ere, Mr. Tucker."

"What are you talking about?"

"Belle an' me. I see y' go' some costumes in y' trailer, Sir. I also seed y' got stage makeup…wha' d' y' use tha' fer?"

"Sometimes in the past, I have gone through towns several times in a year…didn't want them to recognize me or my performers, we did a bit of …"

"Disguisin' y'self?" asked the tramp, innocently.

"You might say that. And on occasion the law decides they don't want us somewhere…"

"I understan' complete'y. So me idea is tha' Belle an' me pertend t' be dif'rent people and sing th' praises of y' produc'. Tha' way, it'll seem like we 'ave many good things t' say bout it."

"Not a bad idea…you will still do the show, though…that really brings them in…"

"We'll do tha'…fer sure, Mr. Tucker!"

"All right, you may have access to the costumes and makeup…in fact, I have another tent I can put up in back so you can change easily, come around front during the show and seem like you're part of the audience, just a man or woman on the street to sing the praises of my Elixir."

The tramp smiled and tipped his hat. "We'll make it a good show, Sir." Tucker looked happy that the tramp hadn't brought up the question of money.

Tucker and the two vagabonds packed up the tent and the other items and got ready to leave. "There's only room enough for one person besides myself on the top of the wagon to drive the team of horses. Who wants to sit there and who wants to ride the horse?"

Belle wanted to ride with the tramp, but since she couldn't, she volunteered to ride the horse. She didn't want to be alone with the slimy Tucker.

The medicine show took off for another town. It was a long way down the road and it took a whole day to get where Tucker wanted to set up his show. They went through the main street of the town, so people would know they were near, then, at the outskirts of the town, parked the wagon and set up camp.

In their tiny tent, Charlie and Belle looked over the makeup Tucker had given them. He had quite an assortment. The tramp figured Tucker had been at odds with the law quite a few times before. The tramp quietly explained how they were going to get Tucker to pay them.

Belle smiled. It sounded like a grand plan!


The following morning, the medicine show rode into the small town. Tucker chose to set up in a small park. He and the tramp put up a tent behind the trailer for Belle and Charlie to change and put on makeup.

After their musical act to attract customers, Tucker went into his spiel. He lauded the attributes of the product, then said… "We want you to be totally convinced that this is a great product…I've told you how I have taken it and now don't have any arthritis or gout any more. It even healed my broken bones…but don't believe me…there are some of you out in the audience who I am sure would be happy to come up and tell their story…."

Belle was in the audience dressed in a little girl's outfit. She looked perhaps 12 years old, and she was carrying a crutch.. She raised her hand.

"Yes, young lady, would you come up?" Belle ran up to the stage and up the three steps. "Tell us about your experience…"

Belle made her voice more child-like. "I had to use a crutch ever since I fell out of a tree when I was but four years old!" She held up the crutch and the audience aww'd. "But my Pa, he got me some of this great medicine…and now I can dance!" She threw down the crutch and did a few dance steps. The audience roared with appreciation. Belle bowed and ran off the stage, coming around surreptitiously behind the wagon and into the tent again to change into another character.

"Anyone else?" said Tucker as he scanned the audience. Charlie raised his hand. He had on a red plaid shirt, suspenders and denim trousers. "Come on up, sir," said Tucker.

The tramp jumped on the stage with a flourish. "I'm a lumberjack, you see," said the tramp, in a surprisingly good impression of an American backwoodsman's accent. He had lowered his voice a bit. "Well, one day, my saw slipped and I cut my leg clean off!" The audience shrieked in horror. "The doctor stitched it back on and said I'd never walk again…But after two bottles of Tucker's Fine Elixir product, I went back to my lumberjacking job and I dance on the side, too!" The tramp did a few ballet steps which looked incongruous in his lumberjack outfit. The audience applauded and cheered.

Tucker was rather impressed with both Belle and the tramp…they were both good actors and their plugs for the product seemed to be convincing the naiive audience. He knew Belle was up next. He looked for her in the crowd.

"Anyone else like to tell us their story?" Belle raised her hand. She was dressed as an old woman. She scurried down to the front with an odd walk. She ran up the steps energetically. She used an old woman's voice as she said, "I'm 82 years old…I was feelin rather poorly with the gout and had to walk with this here cane." She held up a gnarled walking stick. "I even had to give up pitchin on the women's baseball team. But look at me now…two bottles of the Elixir…I'm back on the team!" She threw a baseball out to the audience, where it was caught by Charlie in his next costume.

Tucker beckoned to Charlie. The tramp had on some sort of a middle-Eastern dancing outfit, dressed as a woman. Tucker didn't recognize him at first. Belle stayed onstage a minute as the tramp walked up to the stage in a slinky woman's gait. He had a lot of jingling coins on the costume and a veil over the bottom part of his face so no one could see the mustache. He wore a long black wig under a veil. He whispered to Belle when he got on stage.

"This is another lady on our baseball team. But she's too shy to speak up. She says she had cholera, diphtheria and the melancholy, then she discovered Tucker's Elixir and after two bottles, she's a new woman!" The tramp danced energetically over to where Tucker was standing. He put his arm around the man and his head on his shoulder, batting his eyes temptingly. He could see that Tucker didn't like it. "Play along, Mr. Tucker," whispered the tramp. Tucker put his arm around the tramp and patted his arm, audience clapped its approval.

As the tramp left the stage, Belle ran up to the stage, dressed in a lovely, sophisticated long green silk gown and matching large hat with numerous flowers. Her red hair, a wig, was arranged in a becoming uplifted coif with tiny curls around her face and ears.

"I am an actress and singer. I had horrible bouts of headaches and even worse, I was losing my voice! My career, yea, my very life was in jeopardy." Belle lifted her arm up dramatically. "Then I discovered the Elixir and after only two bottles, voila!…I am truly a new woman!" She sang a couple very high notes for the audience. She received an overwhelming applause.

"Anyone else?" asked Tucker. The tramp raised his hand; he was standing near the front, with two bottles of the Elixir in his hands. Tucker nodded. Charlie was swaying and seemingly having a very hard time walking up the three steps. Several people reached over to help him. He staggered over to the middle of the stage.

He was wearing a top hat and tails. The clothes were very well fitting, but a bit awry. His tie was twisted, the top hat a bit askew. His waistcoat was partially unbuttoned. He swayed a little and looked out at the audience. Is nose was a lovely shade of red. Some of the women were looking aghast at him.

He stood there a minute and grinned. "I jush come t' tell y' bout thish fab'lush 'likker, no elixir…" he grinned again. The audience was very still.

The tramp held up one of the bottles. "Mr. Tucker, 'e tells th' truth when 'e says all y' gotta do is drink two of them bot'tles o' likker…um…elixir…an' y' will be a new man. Well, I tell y' this, I used t' be a drunk, you shoulda seen me…now, I don't drink none at all…cured me…I jush drink two o' these bottles and I am a new man."

"How often do you drink them two bottles?" came a voice from the back of the crowd.

"Oh, two-three times a day, whenever I feel meself getting too sober……" He grinned. "Y'know, it 'ave some magic quality too….it make yer wife look really purdy, even if she normally look like a old witch."

The tramp walked over to the edge of the stage and teetered perilously. The audience said, "oh!" almost in one breath. Several men at the front tried to catch the tramp, but he didn't fall off the stage. He just teetered back and forth a few times, at one point, on one foot.

Tucker was standing in the background, not sure what to do. He was getting angry.

Charlie pointed to Belle in the audience. "Come on up, love…want y' t' meet the girl what introduced me to Tucker's Fine Likker Product…it's me daughter…"

Belle had on another long gown, this one a bit too long for her. She had a flowered hat on backwards. Her dress was unbuttoned at the collar. She had on one glove. Her hair was askew under the hat. She stumbled up to the stage, also carrying a bottle of the Elixir in her hand. She grabbed onto the tramp and they both tumbled in a heap on the stage. Belle pretended to drink from the bottle. Then she stood up and announced, "Yessir, thish likker made me a new woman too…jush like me dear Papa…I wan' every one o yous t' get two bottles o' this stuff and yer gonna thank me!" Belle helped the tramp to his feet. Then she tripped on the hem of her dress and fell down again. The tramp tried to pull her up, but he fell down next to her. They both started laughing.

By this time, the crowd was dispersing. The women went first, shaking their heads and talking about the shameful father and daughter. Most of the men followed, being pulled by their wives. A couple boys stood near the back of the crowd, giggling and tittering. A few men showed up near the stage wanting to buy some of the product, seeing as they could probably get away with drinking "medicine" without their wives objecting. Belle and the tramp did their best to convince them that they would only get sick if they drank too much of it.

When the crowd had finally dispersed, the tramp and Belle looked over at Tucker. They were pretty sure they were going to get fired.

Tucker wasn't angry any more, in fact, he started laughing. "You two were priceless…drove all my customers away, but you were funny!"

"So do we get paid or just fired, Mr. Tucker?" asked Belle.

He sighed. "I'm going to pay you. But I don't want to see the "Two Drunks" act again. The others were good and would have helped to sell a lot of Elixir. But that one…really funny…but it drove everyone away.

"That was th' idea, Mr. Tucker. Ain't fair tha' we been workin' f' nothin…"

"I suppose. I took in $200 twice yesterday. You each get 10% as we agreed, so that's $10 each." He handed Belle and the tramp each a $10 bill.

"I ain't no mathematical genius, Mr. Tucker, bu' I do not think y' figgered thi' out correc'ly…"

Belle spoke up…"He's right…two times $200 is $400. Ten percent of that is $40. You say we each get ten percent. That's $40 each."

"Then I owe you another $10 each. All right, here it is…" Tucker handed them each another $10 bill.

Belle looked at the tramp. He rolled his eyes in disgust.

"Mr. Tucker, what do we 'ave t' do t' convince y' tha' yer math'math skills ain't so good?" asked the tramp, who was very irritated.

"What more do you want? You said ten percent and $40 dollars is ten percent of $400."

"We agreed to ten percent each, Mr. Tucker." said Belle.

"Well, that's not going to happen. I never agreed to that and I have to pay my overhead. I have things to do." Tucker went inside the trailer and slammed the door.

The tramp opened the foldup chair and put it under a tree. He beckoned for Belle to come over and sit on his lap.

"'Belle, I'm sorry we did not get all o our money. I was 'opin tha' we'd make enough t' git married…"

"Charlie, you want me to marry you?" Belle said in surprise.

"Yeah…tha' didn't come out right, did it? 'Ere lemme git down on me knee an' I shall ask y' propa." The tramp sat Belle down on the chair and knelt at her feet.

"Belle, me sweet girl, wouldja marry me?"

"Yes, Charlie, I love you!"

"I love y' too, me lady."

They embraced and kissed romantically on the lips. They didn't see Tucker stick his head out of the wagon and look on disapprovingly.

"So y' wanna do it right away, love? We c'n go get the license and find us a preacher an' ge' married soon…tha' awright?"

"Oh, that's wonderful, Charlie!"

Tucker had scheduled another show for that evening, so Belle and the tramp had the whole afternoon. They went to the city hall and got a license. They found they would have to wait one day at least, and they made arrangement to be married by the local preacher in a private ceremony. He said he would provide witnesses for them.

Charlie had hoped that Tucker would pay them the agreed 10% ; he wanted to get a ring for Belle very badly. But there was no chance of that now. They went to a local ice cream parlor and Charlie bought Belle and himself an ice cream cone. He looked pensive and Belle asked him what was wrong.

"I wanted t' git y' a nice ring, Belle, thought if Tucker'd pay us what we agree upon, we'd be able t' afford it." He looked sad.

Belle touched his face. "Don't worry about it…everything will turn out all right." She smiled brightly which cheered him up.

Their evening show went well. They included the various costumed characters who lauded the wonderful elixir. The singing and dancing were a success. They sold a lot of elixir, in spite of their previous show. These must have been people who hadn't heard about the earlier show.

That night, in the little tent, the blanket still separated Belle and the tramp, but they held hands under the bottom of the blanket.

In the morning, while Belle was off getting some water, Charlie thought he would try again to get some money out of Tucker. "'Ow much didja make las' night, Mr. Tucker?"

"Not much, I'm afraid," said Tucker. "Barely over $100."

"Looked like y' sold a lo' more than tha'," said the tramp.

"Can't afford to pay you this time, Charlie."

"Mr. Tucker, I mus' come clean wi' y', Belle an' I are gettin' married today; I'm desperate f' some money t' git 'er a ring…"

"You're marrying your daughter?"

"No, she ain't me daughter. We lied about tha', sorry f' the deceit."

Tucker sat in his wagon, and pulled on his handlebar mustache.

"Tell you what, I will give you each $10 and we'll call it even." He counted out the money and handed it to the tramp. "Now we're even and I don't want to hear any more about it, do you understand?"

The tramp nodded. This was the best he was going to do for now. "Does that mean y' ain't gonna pay us f' future shows?"

"Certainly I'll pay you for future shows…but I can't always give you ten percent. I'm a generous man, but you're asking too much."

"That's fine, Mr. Tucker; I'm appreciative."

"One more thing, Charlie…" He took down the violin in its case. "Here's a little wedding present." He handed the violin to the tramp.

Charlie brightened. "Yer a very generous man, Mr. Tucker, thank y'!"

"Well, I don't play the thing and after you screwed around with the strings, no one else is going to want it anyway. By the way, I've scheduled an evening show only today…you can have some time for your wedding…Off with you now…." He closed the door in Charlie's face.

Tucker was certainly an odd man. But getting the violin was wonderful! They would be able to make some money on the side, what with Belle's singing and his tramp felt very good.

He sat down and started playing the violin. Belle came back. "That sounds beautiful, sweetie."

The tramp grinned broadly. "Mr. Tucker gave it to us as a weddin' present. You ready to get wed, love?"

"Yes, Charlie, but I wish I had a nice dress."

"At least we go' us some money t' ge' a propa ring, Belle." He gave her her half of the money Tucker had grudgingly paid Charlie.

They went to a pawn shop and found a lovely, vintage ring for Belle. Then they went to the church and got married. Outside, there was a photographer with a camera who asked if they wanted a tin type. Charlie thought they could afford it and the photographer said it would be ready in the afternoon.

To celebrate their marriage, Charlie took Belle to the fanciest place he could afford to eat lunch. He splurged on a glass of wine with their meal and Belle was the happiest girl in town that day.

They picked up their tin type and then the tramp checked their money in the afternoon before they went back to the medicine wagon for the evening show. They still had money left and hopefuly Tucker would pay them at least something for tonight's show.

The tramp and his bride arrived at the campsite, but the medicine wagon was gone. "E left withou' us!" exclaimed the tramp. He glanced at Belle…she looked very upset.

"Belle, do not cry on yer weddin day…we 'ave some money, we'll ge' a propa room in a nice 'otel. I was goin' t' do tha' anyway." Belle smiled and hugged her husband.

The following day, the little tramp and his petite bride started on the next phase of their lives. The tramp was full of hope for his new life with Belle. Although they had no place to settle down at this point, and no jobs, things would work out. He had his Belle. She hugged him and they walked down the road arm in arm.

THE END