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ONCE there was a bad boy named Tom, and the older he grew, the wiser and slyer he thought himself. Many were the tricks he played until no one liked him or trusted him.
One day he asked his grandmother for some money. She had plenty, but she would not give him any. So that evening Tom went to the pasture and caught the old woman’s black cow. He took the cow to a deserted house which stood at a distance from any other, and there he kept her two or three days, giving her food and water at night when nobody would see him going and coming.
Tom made his grandmother believe that some one had stolen the cow. This was a great grief to her. At last she told the lad to buy her another cow at a fair in a neighboring town, and she gave him three pounds with which to make the purchase.
He promised to get one as near like the other as possible and went off with the money. Then he took a piece of chalk, ground it into powder, steeped it in a little water and rubbed it in spots and patches over the head and body of the cow he had hidden.
Early the next morning he took her to an inn near the fair and spent the day in pleasure. Toward evening he drove the cow home before him, and as soon as he got to his grandmother’s the cow began to bellow. The old woman ran out rejoicing for she thought her own black cow had been found, but when she saw the spots and patches of white she sighed and exclaimed, “Alas, you’ll never be the kindly brute my Black Lady was, though you bellow exactly like her.”
“ ‘Tis a mercy you know not what the cow says,” Tom remarked to himself, “or all would be wrong with me.”
The old woman put her cow to pasture the following morning, but there came on a heavy shower of rain, which washed away the chalk. So the old woman’s Black Lady came home at night and the new cow went away with the shower and was never heard of afterward.
But Tom’s father had some suspicions, and he looked closely at the cow’s face and found some of the chalk still remaining. Then he gave Tom a hearty beating and turned him out of the house.
Tom traveled about from place to place, and by hook or by crook contrived to make a living till he reached the size and years of a man. He was always planning ways to get hold of other people’s money, for he did not like to exert himself to earn what he needed.
Once he met a party of reapers seeking work. At once he hired the whole company of about thirty and agreed to give them a week’s reaping at ten pence a day, which was two pence higher than any had gotten that year. This made the poor reapers think he was a very honest, generous, and genteel master.
Tom took them to an inn and gave them a hearty breakfast. “Now,” he said, “there are so many of you together, it’s quite possible that while most are honest men, some may be rogues. You will have to sleep nights together in a barn, and your best plan is to give what money you have to me to keep safe for you. I’ll mark down each sum in a book opposite the name of the man whose it is, and you shall have it all when I pay you your wages.’
“Oh! very well, there’s my money, and there’s mine, and here’s mine,” they said.
Some gave him five, six, seven, and eight shillings, all they had earned through the harvest. Tom now went with them out of the village to a field of standing grain, remote from any house, and set the men at work. Then he left, telling them he was going to order dinner for them, but in reality he set off at top speed to get as far away from them as possible, lest, when they found out his trick, they should follow and overtake him.
Soon the farmer to whom the grain belonged saw the reapers in his field and came to ask what they were about. “Stop!” he cried, “I have given you no orders to reap this grain, and besides it is not ripe.”
At first they persisted in keeping on with the work, but finally the farmer convinced them that they had been fooled, and the reapers went away sorely lamenting their misfortune.