Harry Castlemon.

A Struggle for a Fortune





CHAPTER I.
About Money

It was in a little log cabin with a dirt floor and a stick chimney which occupied almost the whole of one side of it, situated a few miles from Pond Post Office, a small hamlet located somewhere in the wilds of Missouri, that the opening scene of this story took place. There were four occupants of the cabin, sitting around in various attitudes, and they all seemed to be looking at a fifth person, Jonas Keeler by name, who was standing in the middle of the floor with a whip in his hand and a fierce frown on his face. Something was evidently troubling this man Jonas, and, if we listen to a few scraps of the conversation that passed between him and his wife, perhaps we can ascertain what it was.

And is there any thing else that you want? inquired Jonas, in a tone that was fully as fierce as his frown. It beats the world how many things I have to get when I go to town. It is coffee here, and flour there, until I have to have a memory as long as this whip-stock for fear that I will forget some of them.

But, father, we have got to live somehow, said his wife, who was seated on a rickety chair. We cant grow fat on air.

To be sure you cant, but it seems to me that you might make things last longer. We wasnt in this fix before the war. Then we had a house and something that was fit to eat; but ever since the rebs and the Yanks have got in here and burned us out, things is all mussed up and I dont know which way to turn.

Why, father, you have money now, said his wife.

Where did I get money? Not much I aint. It has been this way ever since that old man Nickerson came here to board. I didnt agree to take him for nothing, and I would not have done it if you hadnt showed signs of getting up on your ear.

I know you didnt. He gave you one thousand dollars when he first came here, and you said it would be more than enough to keep him as long as he lived.

But I did not suppose he was going to last forever, did I? He has chawed that up in tobacco long ago; and every time I go to town I am getting him a plug out of my own pocket.

Do you mean to say that he has used up a thousand dollars in three years? asked Mrs. Keeler, in a tone of astonishment.

Now look at you. You seem to think that amount of money will last forever. He has chawed that up and more, too. He must have had more than a thousand dollars when he came here. The folks down to Manchester used to say he was worth ten thousand dollars. What did you do with all that money, old man?

This question, addressed in no very amiable tone of voice, was spoken to a person who was seated in a remote corner of the cabin as if he was anxious to get out of reach of the speaker. He was a very aged man, with white locks that came down upon his shoulders and hands that trembled in spite of all he could do to prevent it, and there was something in his eyes and face which he turned toward Jonas that would have appealed to any heart except the heart of Jonas Keeler.

The old man was not in his right mind. He had worked hard and laboriously, his hands showed that, for the little money he possessed Jonas said it was more than a thousand dollars but those days were passed now. Something, no one could have told exactly what it was, had operated on his mind until he hardly knew what he was doing. But there was one thing he did know and that was that during the last year his supply of tobacco had been extremely limited. What Jonas did with the thousand dollars that he gave him when he first came to his cabin and took up his abode with him, no one ever knew. Some believed that he had invested it in a mortgage while others thought he had it stowed away so that he could draw on it whenever necessity required it. At any rate his money went somewhere, and Jonas never got him a thing when he went to town without finding fault about it.

There had been a time when this Mr. Nickerson who lived a short distance from Manchester, was thought to be the richest person in all that county. Every thing he had about him went to show it. His horses were the fattest, his beef cattle brought the most money and his farm was nicely kept up. But the war broke out about this time, and Mrs. Keeler often wondered what had become of old man Nickerson who lived twenty miles away. He had been the husband of her sister, but since her death he had lived alone on his farm. He often said that he would not go into either army, he had no hand in bringing on the war and those who were to blame for it could settle the matter among themselves, and the consequence was he was robbed by both Union and Confederates. Every thing he had in sight was gone except one thousand dollars, which he finally gave into the hands of Jonas Keeler with the understanding that the amount was to support him while he lived.

I dont much like the idea of giving up my money, said Mr. Nickerson, after he had taken a long time to think the matter over. If I keep it with me I can get tobacco and other little things that I need; but now that I have let Jonas have it, I dont know; I dont know. The first thing I know that thousand dollars will all be gone, and then what will I do? Well see what sort of a man Jonas is to live up to his word.

Jonas Keeler did not believe in war either, and he tried by every means in his power to keep out of it. He hid in the woods when either army came near him, and of course he lost everything he had. The Confederates stole his horses and cattle, and the Union fellows said if he were not a rebel he ought to be, and burned his house over his head. But Jonas had the thousand dollars to go on and with this he was remarkably content. He kept along until the war closed and then he was ready to set out and make his living over again; but he found that it was a hard thing to do. It was tiresome work to get up where he was before, he never grew any richer, and Jonas, from being a quiet and peaceable man, became sullen and morose, did not like to hear anybody talk of spending money, even though he knew he must spend some in order to live, and finally got so that his family were afraid of him. There was one thing that he never could get through his head: Mr. Nickerson had never said anything about what had become of the rest of his money, and Jonas finally came to the conclusion that it was concealed somewhere, and he wanted to know where it was.

You need not talk to me about that sum being all the old man had, said he, when he had held one of his long arguments with his wife. He had more money than that and I know it. What did he do when Daddy Price took him off into the army? He buried it; thats what he did with it.

But the rebels must have got it, said Mrs. Keeler. You know they went all over his house and took everything there was in it.

But they never got any money, said Jonas. The old man hangs onto a dollar until the eagle hollers before he will give it up, and if they had found anything he would not fail to say so. He has got that money hidden somewhere, and I wish I knew where it was. He makes me so mad when he denies it, that I have half a mind to take him by the scurf of the neck and throw him out of doors.

Dont do that, Jonas; dont do that, said Mrs. Keeler in alarm. The old gentleman is getting feeble, I can see that plainly enough, and the only way you can do is to treat him kindly.

Good gracious! Aint that what I have been doing ever since he has been here? demanded Jonas in a heat. I tell you that his tobacco money is pretty near gone, and when it is all gone he will not get any more. It is high time he was quitting that bad habit.

Mrs. Keeler made no remark when she heard this. The idea that a man ninety years old could cease a habit that he had been accustomed to all his life, was absurd. Jonas himself really delighted in a good smoke. How would he feel if he were deprived of that privilege? Furthermore, his wife did not believe that all Mr. Nickersons money was gone. She was certain that Jonas could find a good deal of it if he looked around and tried.

This conversation took place some time previous to the beginning of our story. Mr. Nickersons thousand dollars were nearly gone, at least Jonas said so, and at the time we introduce them to the reader it was all gone, and the old man did not know what he would do next. He had not a bit of that staff of life, as he regarded it, remaining, and now Jonas wanted to know where he had hidden the rest of his money. He had held a long talk with the old man down to the stable but could not get any thing out of him. That was one thing that put him in such bad humor.

What did you do with all that money, old man? repeated Jonas, when Mr. Nickerson looked up at him with a sickly smile on his face.

What money? inquired the old gentleman, as if he had never heard of the subject before.

Aw! what money! said Jonas; and when he got into conversation on this matter he nearly always forgot himself and shouted out the words as if the man he was addressing were a mile away. I mean the money you had stowed away in your pocket-book where the soldiers could not find it; the money we were talking about down to the barn. Where did you put it?

I gave you every cent I had left, was the reply. If there was any more the rebels have got it. Say, Jonas, are you going to get me a plug of tobacco when you go down town?

There it is again. No, I aint. Your money is all gone, and you will have to do without it from this time on.

Jonas started toward the door as if he were in a hurry to get out, but before he had made many steps he suddenly paused in his walk, gazed steadily at the dirt floor and then turned to Mr. Nickerson again.

Dont you remember where a dollar or two of that money went? said he; and he tried to make his voice as pleading as he knew how. If you could remember that, I might find you a plug or two of tobacco while I am down town.

There was no more of it in the purse other than the money I gave you, said the old man, once more resting his forehead on his hands and his elbows on his knees. That was all I had left to give you. You saw the inside of the purse as plainly as I did.

But you must have some other that was not in the purse, said Jonas. Where did you put that?

All I had was there in my pocket and you have got that. I want a plug of tobacco, too.

Well, you dont get it out of me this trip, shouted Jonas. If you wont tell where your money is you can go without tobacco.

Jonas went out, climbed into his wagon and drove off while the old man raised his head from his hands, tottered to the door and watched him as he was whirled away down the road. Then he came back and seated himself on the chair again.

Jonas still sticks to it that I had more money in that purse than I gave him, whined Mr. Nickerson. I hid it under the doorstep before Price took me away to the army. He knew that I was not able to do anything toward driving the mules, I was too old; but he took me along just to let me see that the Confederates ruled this State instead of the Union people. He set me to getting the mules out of the mud holes they got into, but in a few days he saw that I was not of any use at that, so he discharged me where I was all of one hundred miles from home, and left me to get there the best I could. I made it after awhile, although I suffered severely while I was doing it, found my thousand dollars right where I had left it and came up here and gave it to Jonas, consarn my picture. He said it would be enough to get me all the tobacco and clothes I needed, and now it is all gone. What I am going to do beats me.

I have not got a cent, Mr. Nickerson, said Mrs. Keeler. If I had I would give it to you in a minute. I have not seen the color of any bodys money since the war.

I know you havent, Mandy, said Mr. Nickerson. I have not any kith nor kin of my own, but you have always been good to me, and some day

The old man started as if he had been shot, looked all around him, his gaze resting on the faces of the two boys who stood near the door listening to what he had to say, and then hid his face in his hands and burst into a loud cough, doubling himself up as if he were almost strangled. Perhaps the boys were taken by surprise and perhaps they were not; but Jonass wife was really alarmed.

Why, Mr. Nickerson, what is the matter? she inquired.

Oh, it is nothing. It will pass off in a few minutes. I get to coughing that way once in a while.

Especially when you are going to say something you dont want to, murmured one of the boys under his breath. And some day you are going to pay mother for her goodness to you. I wish I knew what you meant by that.

The boys turned and left the cabin, but they did not go in company with each other. In fact, they tried to get as far apart as possible. There was something wrong with them a person could see that at a glance. What these young fellows had to make them enemies, living there in the wilderness with not another house in sight, shall be told further on.

CHAPTER II.
A Friend In Need

Nat, what do you reckon he meant by that?

Meant by what?

Why he said that mother had always been good to him, and that some day then he went off coughing and didnt say the rest.

I dont know, I am sure.

I reckon he has got some money stowed away somewhere, as pap always said he had, and that when he is gone mother will come into it. By gracious! I wish I could find it.

Would you take it away from your mother?

Yes, sir, I would. I would take it away from any body. I need some clothes, dont I?

You would have to go down to Manchester if you got any money, and that is a long ways from here.

I dont care; I would find it if I was there. Are you going to get him any tobacco?

Me? What have I got to buy him tobacco with? You talk as if I had lots of money hidden away somewhere.

Cause if I see you slipping away any where and I cant find you, I will tell pap of it when he comes home. You know what you will get if I do that?

Well, you keep your eyes on me and see if I slip away any where except down to the potato patch, said Nat, indignantly. That is where I am going now.

The two boys separated and went off in different directions, Nat wending his way to the potato patch and the other going toward the miserable hovel they called a barn to finish his task of shelling corn.

What a mean fellow that Nat Wood is, said Caleb Keeler, as he turned and gave his departing companion a farewell look. That boy has got as much as four or five dollars hidden away about this place somewhere, and I tell you I am going to find it some day. Then wont I have some clothes to wear? Ive got a pair of nice shoes which pap made him give me, but I will have more if I find that money. Dog-gone him, he has no business to keep things hidden away from us.

These two boys, Caleb Keeler and Nat Wood, cherished the most undying hatred to one another, and as far as Nat was concerned, there was reason for it. It was all on account of his lost shoes, and they had been taken away from him a year ago. The weather was getting cold, every morning the grass and leaves were wet and it was as much as a bare-footed boy wanted to do to run around in them, and Nat had prepared for it by going down to the store one evening and purchasing a pair of brogans and two pairs of stockings. He fully expected to get into trouble on account of them, and sure enough he did. The next morning he came out with them on, and his appearance was enough to create astonishment on Calebs part who stood and looked at him with mouth and eyes wide open.

Well, if you havent got a pair of shoes I never want to see daylight again, said Caleb, as soon as he had recovered from his amazement. Where did you get them?

I bought them, said Nat.

Where did you buy them?

Down to the store.

Where did you get your money?

I earned it.

You did, eh? Well, you aint been a doing any thing about here to earn any money, declared Caleb, after he had fairly taken in the situation. If you have money to buy a pair of shoes you can get a pair for me too. How much did they cost you?

Two dollars.

Have you got any more of them bills?

Not another bill, said Nat; and to prove it he turned his pockets inside out. There was nothing in them except a worn jack-knife with all the blades broken which nobody would steal if he had the chance.

I dont care for what you have in your pockets, exclaimed Caleb, who grew angry in a moment. You have got more hidden around in the bushes somewhere. You want to get two dollars between this time and the time we get through breakfast, now I tell you. I will go down to the store with you.

Well, I wont do it, said Nat.

If you dont do it I will tell pap.

You can run and tell him as soon as you please. If you want shoes, go to work and earn the money.

Caleb waited to hear no more. He dropped the milk bucket as if it were a coal of fire and walked as straight toward the house as he could go. He slammed the door behind him but in two minutes he reappeared, accompanied by his father. Things began to look dark for Nat.

There, sir, I have lost my shoes, said he. If Uncle Jonas takes these away from me he will be the meanest man I ever saw. They are mine and I dont see why I can not be allowed to keep them.

When Jonas came up he did not appear so cross as he usually did. In fact he tried to smile, but Nat knew there was something back of it.

Hallo, where did you get them shoes, Natty? was the way in which he began the conversation.

I got them down to the store, was the reply, and Caleb wants me to buy him a pair; but I have not got the money to do it.

Dont you reckon you could find two extry dollars somewhere? said Jonas.

No, nor one dollar. I will tell you what I will do, said Nat, seeing that the smile of his uncles face speedily gave way to his usual fierce frown. I will tell you right where my money is hidden and then Caleb can go and find it.

Well, thats business, said Caleb, smiling all over.

If you will do that then me and you wont have any trouble about them shoes, chimed in Jonas, once more calling the smile to his face. Where have you got it? How many years have you been here, Natty? continued Jonas, for just then an idea occurred to him. You have been here just eleven years you are fourteen now and you have kept that money hidden out there in the brush all this while. Now why did you do that?

It was right on the point of Nats tongue to tell Jonas that he did not have the money when he came there, but he knew that by so doing he would bring some body else into trouble; so he said nothing.

I was older than you and knew more, and you ought to have given me the money to keep for you, continued Jonas. If you had done that you could have come to me any time that you wanted a pair of shoes, and you could have got them without the least trouble.

Wont you take what there is left in my bag after you see it? asked Nat, hopefully.

That depends. I want first to see how much you have in that bag. Where is it?

Caleb, you know where that old fallen log is beside the branch near the place where we get water? said Nat. Well, go on the off side of that and you will see leaves pushed against the log. Brush aside the leaves and there you will find the bag.

Caleb at once posted off and Jonas, after looking in vain for a seat, turned the milk bucket upside down, perched himself upon it and resumed his mild lecture to Nat over keeping his money hidden from him for so many years. He was the oldest and knew more about money than Nat did, he was a little fellow when he came there when Jonas reached this point in his lecture he stopped and looked steadily at the floor. Nat was only three years old when he came to take up his abode under the roof of Jonas Keeler, to be abused worse than any dog that ever lived, both by Jonas and his son Caleb, and how could he at that tender age hide away his money so that Jonas could not find it?

Wh-o-o-p! yelled Jonas, speaking out before he knew what he was doing.

What is the matter? inquired Nat.

Nothing much, replied Jonas. I was just a-thinking; thats all. If Nat was only three years old when he came here to live with me, he added to himself, he couldnt have had that money. Somebody has given it to him since, and it was not so very long ago, either. Whoop! and it was all he could do to keep from uttering the words out loud. He has got it from the old man; theres where he got it from. And didnt I say that the old man had something hidden out all these years? He didnt give me a quarter of what he saved from the rebels. Now he has got to give me that money or theres going to be a fracas in this house. I wont keep him no longer. You can bet on that.

At this point in his meditations Jonas was interrupted by the return of his son who was coming along as though he had nothing to live for, swinging his hand with the bag in it to let his father believe that there was nothing in it that he cared to save.





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