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CHAPTER VIII


FUN AT THE HOTEL


The long ride had made all of the boys hungry, and when they procured supper at the hotel they cleaned up nearly everything that was set before them.

"Nothing the matter with your appetites," observed a sour-looking individual who sat next to Tom at the table.

"Nothing at all, sir," answered the fun-loving youth. "What made you think there was?"

"Eh?"

"What made you think there was something wrong with our internal machinery, whereby we might be wanting in a proper regard for victuals?"

The man stared at Tom, and while a few at the table snickered, the man himself looked more sour than ever.

"See here, don't you poke fun at me!" he cried.

"Never dreamed of it, my dear sir," said Tom, unruffled. "By the way, how's your heart?"

"Why—er—my heart's all right."

"Glad to hear it. Yesterday I heard of a donkey who had his heart on the wrong side of his body. Odd case, wasn't it?"

"See here, you young imp, do you mean to call me a—er—a donkey?" and the man grew red in the face.

"A donkey? Why, no, sir! What put such a notion in your head?"

"You said——"

"So I did. Go on."

"You said——"

"So you said before."

"You said——"

"You said that before. You said, I said, and I said, so I did. It's perfectly clear, as the strainer said to the tea."

By this time, all sitting at the table were on a broad grin. As a matter of fact, the sour-looking man was not liked in that locality, and the boarders were glad to see somebody "take him down."

"I won't put up with your foolishness!" stormed the man. "I am not a donkey, and I want you to know it."

"Well, I am glad you mentioned it," said Tom calmly. "Now, there won't be the least occasion for a mistake."

"Don't insult me!"

"No, sir; I am not looking for work."

"Eh?"

"I said I wasn't looking for work."

"What do you mean by that?"

"That, sir, is a mystery puzzle, and there is a reward of one herring bone for the correct solution. Answers must be sent in on one side of the paper only, and have a certificate added that the sender has not got cold feet."

At this quaint humor, some at the table laughed outright. The sour-looking individual looked thoroughly enraged.

"I—I'll settle with you another time, young man!" he roared, and dashed from the room.

"Tom, you made it rather warm for him," remarked Dick.

"Well, he had no right to find fault with our appetites," grumbled Tom. "We are paying for our meals, and I am going to eat what I please."

"And I don't blame you, young man," said a gentleman sitting opposite. "Sladen is very disagreeable to us all and makes himself especially obnoxious to newcomers. He imagines the hotel is here for his especial benefit."

"Well, he wants to treat me fairly, or I'll give him as good as he sends, and better."

During the evening Sladen made himself particularly disagreeable to the Rovers and their chums. This set Tom to thinking, and he asked one of the hotel men what business the man was in and where he usually kept himself.

"He is a traveling salesman," was the answer. "He sells horse and cattle medicine."

"Oh, I see," said Tom, and set his brain to work to play some joke on the sour-looking vender of stock remedies.

Tom's chance came sooner than expected. A batch of colored folks had drifted into the place under the impression that a certain planter was going to give them work at big wages. They were a worthless lot, the scum of other plantations, and nobody wanted them.

Sitting down, Tom penned the following note and got it to one of the negroes in a roundabout fashion:

"The man who wants you and all of the others is Sandy Sladen. He does not dare to say so here at the hotel, but all of you had better go up to him on the sly and tell him you are ready to work, and ask for a dollar in advance—that's the sign that it is all right. Do not let him put you off, as he may want to test you. This is the chance of your life."

The communication was signed with a scrawl that might mean anything. The negro read it and passed it to his friends. All were mystified, but they decided that they must do as the letter said, and without loss of time.

Sladen was sitting in the reading-room of the hotel smoking a cheap cigar, when he was told a negro wished to see him.

"Very well, send him in," he said in his loud, consequential tone.

The burly negro came in almost on tiptoes and, putting his mouth close to Sladen's ear, whispered:

"I'se ready to go to work, sah. Hadn't yo' bettah gib me a dollah, sah?"

"What's that?" demanded the traveling man.

The negro repeated his words in a slightly louder tone.

"I don't want you to work for me!" cried the sour-looking individual. "Get out!"

"Dat's all right, sah. I can do it, sah."

"I don't want you."

"Yes, yo' do, sah. Won't you han' ober dat dollah, sah? It will come in mighty useful, sah."

"Say, you're crazy!" cried the traveling man.

By this time two other colored men were coming in. Both approached as secretly as had the first.

"I'se ready to go to work fo' you, sah," said each, and added: "Kin I hab dat dollah?"

"Look here, what does this mean?" roared the irate man. "Get away from here, before I boot you out!"

But the negroes did not go, and in a few minutes more three others entered. Soon the reading-room was full of them, all talking in an excited manner.

"We'se ready to work fo' you!" they cried.

"Give me a chance fust?" bawled one big, coal-black fellow.

"No, de fust job comes to me!" put in the man who had received the letter.

"Dat job is mine!" called out a third. "Ain't dat so?" and he caught Sladen by the arm.

This was a signal for the others, and soon they completely surrounded the traveling man, who tried in vain to ward them off.

"Give us dat dollah!" called out several.

"We want work, an' yo' has got to gib it to us."

"Yo' can't bring us to dis town fo' nuffin!"

They pushed and hustled the traveling man all around the room, while the rest of the guests looked on in amazement. Tom and his friends stood by the door and enjoyed the scene immensely.

"He is surely getting all that is coming to him," observed Fred.

"Say, he vos so mad like a bumbles bee," came from Hans.

"If you don't go away, I'll call an officer!" came frantically from the traveling man. "I don't want to hire anybody."

"Yes, yo' do!" was the chorus. "Give us dat dollah!"

By this time the owner of the hotel had heard of the excitement, and he came bustling in.

"See here," he said to Sladen, "you can't use this hotel for an employment office. If you want to hire help, you have got to do it on the outside."

"I don't want help!" stormed the traveling man.

"These men say you sent for them."

"Maybe he wants them to try some of his horse remedies," suggested a man who did not like Sladen. "If so, I advise them not to take the job." And a general laugh arose at the sally.

"You have got to get out of here," said the hotel man, speaking to the negroes. "And you must go, too," he added to the traveling man.

"Me?"

"Yes, you. You have made trouble enough around here. After this, when you come to town, you can go to some other hotel."

"This is an outrage!"

"We want a job, or some money!" bawled two of the colored men. And they rushed at Sladen and began to shake him violently. He pushed them away and started for the door. They went after him, and in the hallway he got into a free fight and almost had his coat torn from his back.

"I'll get even with somebody for this!" he almost foamed. "If I find out who played this joke on me——"

"Go on, and do your talking outside," interrupted the hotel proprietor, and then the disgruntled traveling man had to leave, with the angry mob of colored men following him. He was so pestered by the latter that he had to take a train out of town the very next morning.

"That was piling it on pretty thick, Tom," said Dick, after the excitement was over.

"He deserved it, Dick. I made some inquiries around the hotel, and not a single person liked him. He was the torment of all the hired help, and was keeping them in hot water continually."

"Well, if he finds you out, he'll make it warm for you."

"I intend to keep mum," answered the fun-loving Rover, and he did keep mum. It may be added here that he never met Sladen again.