Harry Castlemon.

A Struggle for a Fortune





Come now, Nat, you see how pap is going to lick you, dont you? said he. Now tell me where the money is and you will get off scott free. Come now, Nat. Me and you has always been the best of friends

What else Caleb was going to say he did not have time to say it, that is while he was standing erect. The place on which Nat was standing was suddenly vacant, Calebs left arm received a wrench and his foot a trip, and both of them sent him headlong into the bushes. A moment afterward Nat dashed into the bushes and was out of sight in an instant.

By gum! said Caleb, slowly raising himself upon his elbow and gazing in the direction Nat had taken. Pap, he has got away.

Well! exclaimed Jonas, who being concealed from view of the boys had not seen Nat when he made his bold dash for freedom. Has he run away?

Yes, sir, he has run away; and he throwed me

Jonas came around the tree and found that Nat was not there. He glanced all around in every direction but the boy he had hoped to try the switch upon was somewhere else. Caleb was just crawling to his feet.

And did you stand there and let him go? demanded Jonas, and he half raised the switch as if he had a mind to lay it over Calebs shoulders. Why didnt you stop him?

You might as well try to stop a hurricane as to stop that fellow, said Caleb, holding one hand to his elbow. I never saw a boy go so before.

Well, now, catch him; catch him, shouted Jonas. Which way did he go?

Out there among the bushes; and pap, I just aint a-going in there after him. Maybe hell get those ghosts on his side.

Jonas, who had been on the point of rushing into the bushes in pursuit of Nat, stopped when he heard those words and pulled off his hat and dashed it upon the ground at his feet. Then Caleb saw that his father was afraid of ghosts as he was himself. It was only his desire to possess the money that had induced him to come there. Caleb stood holding fast to his elbow and waiting to see what he was going to do about it.

Dog-gone such luck! said Jonas.

Thats just what I say, replied Caleb. Why did not the old man leave his money to you or mam like he had oughter do? Now nobody wont get it.

Nobody except that miserable Nat, sputtered Jonas. I have a good notion to use the switch on you for letting him go.

Well, pap, you would not make anything by that. I was talking to him like a Dutch uncle, and the first thing I knew I was flat on my back, and he was just going out of sight. I did not hear anything of him from the time he struck the bushes. Do you hear him now?

Jonas listened but all the sound he heard was the chirping of birds and the faint sough of the wind as the breeze swept through the bushes. Everything was as still as a graveyard; it seemed too still for the woods. Jonas listened for a moment and then gathered up his hat and put it on his head.

Lets go home, whispered Caleb.

This aint no place for us.

Thats just what I was thinking of, said Jonas, in the same cautious whisper. Lets take everything he has got in his lean-to and dig out. We shall have to hurry because it will be dark before we reach home.

I dont believe in taking Pelegs valise and gun back to him, observed Caleb. He brought them out here and he can take them back.

Well, that is so, said Jonas, who was busy picking up the spade and pick-ax and such provisions as he could find. But in the present opportunity we want Peleg and his pap to believe that we were here. We have got a fearful story to tell when we go back, and we want them to believe us.

That is so, too; but, pap, we wont go back through the bushes, will we?

Not much we wont, exclaimed Jonas, as if he were surprised at the mere mention of such a thing. Nats in there, and who knows but what he has got some of the ghosts to help him along?

Ill bet you that is just what he did, said Caleb, dropping the armful of things which he had gathered up. I did not hear hide nor hair of him after he got into the bushes.

Father and son were not long in picking up the things that were scattered about the lean-to (they did not find the ax because that was concealed in the bushes), and with them in their hands they beat a hasty retreat from the camp, following the course that Peleg had pursued when he was there on a former occasion. They reached the bars, stopping now and then to cast furtive glances behind them, and when they got fairly into the road their courage began to return to them.

I will tell you just what is the matter with us, said Jonas. We have not got a rabbits foot between us.

I do think in my soul that thats whats the matter, said Caleb, stopping short and looking at his father. Do you reckon that Nat has one of them?

Now a rabbits foot is something that is held in high esteem by the negroes at the South, and by some of the white people, too. Whenever you kill a rabbit, take one of the feet off and put it into your pocket; or, if you are already provided for in that respect, take the foot and give it to some one who has not got any. Thus equipped you are free from every danger. Ghosts can not disturb you, and if you have to pass a graveyard or a house that is haunted after dark, it will see you safely through. Beyond a doubt this was what was the matter with Jonas and his son. They had thought of their rabbits feet when it was too late to be of service to them. They were kept at home on the mantle piece, snugly stowed away so that they could be seized at a moments warning, and they had come away and never thought a word about them.

Now did anybody ever hear of such luck? said Jonas, in disgust. I have a rabbits foot and so have you; and by leaving them at home is what has beaten us. We will go down there to-morrow or next day and see what luck we shall have.

Do you reckon that Nat has one of them! repeated Caleb, who was greatly relieved to know what it was that had brought them such ill luck. Of course he had, or he never could have called upon them ghosts to help him.

Dog-gone such luck, repeated Jonas, who kept turning this matter over in his mind. He wouldnt go away and leave his rabbits foot behind when he was engaged in such business, would he? I tell you I am going to keep it in my pocket wherever I go. It aint safe to be without it.

It was a long way by the road to the place where they had left their horse, and every step of the way they looked at the bushes fearful that Nat would come out at them accompanied by one or more of the ghosts. When they reached the wagon Jonas climbed in without any words, leaving Caleb to turn the horse around, and to take care of his rifle which he hastily handed to him.

I think I will drive going back, said he, He is going toward home now, and perhaps I can make him step pearter than you did.

Caleb saw through his fathers little trick, but he gave in to it without saying a word. He was going to have the handling of the rifle now, and he breathed a good deal easier as he clutched the weapon and seated himself on the seat beside Jonas. He did not care if Nat had three or four ghosts to back him up. He was a sure shot with a gun, and he was certain that there would be one ghost less in the country should one show himself.

The old horse stepped out wonderfully under the new driver, and it was not long before Jonass courage all came back to him and he could talk about what happened there in Mr. Nickersons dooryard without shouting himself hoarse.

That there is whats the matter with us, Caleb, said he, turning on his seat and greeting him with an approving wink. It beats the world, as long as I have lived in this country, that I did not think of that rabbits foot before I left home. But we will try them again some day

It has got to be pretty soon too, pap, interrupted Caleb. Nat has seen that money already. He has got it hidden somewhere else.

I believe you are right, said Jonas, or else how come that dirt on his spade? And to think we had to give it up just on account of not having that rabbits foot! These little things sometimes make big changes in our affairs, Caleb?

Caleb must have thought of this matter all the way home, but he breathed a little easier when the ancestral roof came in sight. His mother was there and she came down to the bars to lower them. As the tired old horse entered the yard she looked at Jonas, but the latter shook his head in a most discouraging manner.

I just knew how it would be, said she.

And just on account of leaving that rabbits foot behind, said Caleb.

I noticed them, and I had a good notion to holler at you and tell you to take them with you, said Mrs. Keeler. But I supposed that you knew what you were doing.

None of the family said anything more until they had got to the barn and turned the horse out, and fed him with a handful of grass, and then Jonas seated himself on a bucket, which he turned upside down, and gave his wife a full history of the events that had happened to them since they went away in the morning; that is he had the groundwork of truth for its foundation, but there was many a little item which he put in that occurred to him as he went along. Whenever he touched upon anything which his wife found it hard to believe, he always appealed to Caleb, and the latter never failed to corroborate all he said.

And do you think that he got those spirits to help him when he went into the bushes? asked Mrs. Keeler.

He did; else why didnt he make some noise while he was going through them? asked Jonas, in reply. He went along as still as a bird on the wing. It was of no use for anybody to try to follow him. Well, that is once we failed, but the next time we will fight him with his own weapons. Caleb, dont you forget those two rabbits feet the next time we go.

You bet I wont, replied Caleb.

CHAPTER XIV.
The Storekeeper in Action

Nats heart was in his month because he did not believe he could escape from Jonas, and Caleb so easily. The noise he necessarily made in running through the bushes would naturally guide them in the pursuit, and Jonas was noted for his lightness of foot, and Caleb also, for that matter. But it was now or never. The switch was being prepared for him, and in a few minutes more he would feel the full weight of Jonass arm; and that it would fall by all his strength, Nat did not doubt in the least.

Here goes, said Nat, to himself. If I fail they cant any more than whip me, and if I get away

Nat did not wait to finish all the sentence that was in his mind. He bounded from his place as if he had been set upon springs, a short skirmish with Caleb who was overturned as easily as a child, and he was safe in the bushes which closed up behind him, and the twigs in his path seemed to give away before him on their own accord. He ran down the path with all the speed he could command, jumped as far to the left as he could and stretched himself out flat on the ground and waited to see what was going to happen. By the merest accident he lay down not ten feet from his camp, and consequently he was within full hearing of their voices while they remained there.

By gum! said Caleb, slowly, as he picked himself up from the bushes into which he had been thrown. Pap, he has got away.

He heard Jonas when he came around the trees and knew when he raised the switch intending to use it on Caleb for not keeping guard over Nat. He listened in the hope that Caleb would feel the full force of that switch, for he had a long account against him and he did not think that any blow he could have received would have been amiss.

He has got my shoes, said Nat to himself, and it was all that he could do to refrain from speaking the words outright. Give him a few good licks to pay him for that.

But we know that Jonas did not use the switch upon Caleb, but talked with him about other matters. He knew when they examined the spade again to find the dirt upon it, but all thoughts that they would pursue him were turned into another channel by Calebs request: Let us go home. This is no place for us. But there was another fear that came over him just then. They were going home, but they intended to remove everything there was in his camp, provisions and all, and leave Nat to get along as best he could.

Never mind; Ive got my money in my hat, said Nat, pulling off the article in question and feeling of his roll of bills. And even if he robs me, what harm will it do? I have some more money stowed away, and it is where nobody can find it.

Nat lay there in his concealment and waited patiently for Jonas and Caleb to get through with picking up the articles they wanted to take with them and leave the camp. He knew they would not come back through the bushes, but would go across the field and so steer clear of them. He drew a long breath of relief, and finally raised himself upon his knees as they passed out of the ravine, but still he did not think it wise to show himself until the creaking of wheels, loudly proclaiming their need of wagon grease, was heard, slowly at first, then increasing in volume as the horse responded to the whip, and when it had died away entirely he got upon his feet and made his way back to the camp. Everything that could have been of use to him had disappeared.

Now the next thing will be something else and what shall it be? said Nat, throwing himself upon his bed of boughs and turning the matter over in his mind. I cant live without something to eat that is plain enough to be seen; and I dont know about going down to Manchester for more grub. Of course somebody there saw Jonas when he came through, and what kind of an excuse will I make for coming back there after more provisions! I have told so many lies lately that I want to keep out of it now, if I can.

For ten minutes Nat laid there trying to make up his mind what to do, and then got up prepared for action. He wanted to see where he had left his money, and then he would go on to Manchester and be governed by circumstances. If Jonas had not stopped there to converse upon his object of going to old man Nickersons fields, well and good. He would purchase some new clothes, the first he had ever owned, enough crackers and cheese to last him on his way to St Louis, come back to his camp after dark, secure his money, and then the place which had known him so long would know him no more forever. When be was away among strangers and nobody knew who he was, he would be ready to begin his life over again.

That is what I will do, said Nat, wending his way up the hill. My first thing must be to get some new clothes, or when I come to put that money in the bank they will think right away that I have stolen it, and there will be more trouble for me. I should not dare to send for anyone here to prove who I am, for they would turn me out the biggest rascal upon earth, so that they could get the money; so what should I do? By George! I am not out of trouble yet.

In a few minutes Nat arrived beside the log under which he had buried Mr. Nickersons money, or rather he called it his own money now, and everything looked just as it did when he left there. No one had been near it. He threw some more bushes over the place, kicked some leaves around it and then set out for Manchester. He felt his responsibility and it is not right to say that he carried a light heart beneath his jacket, for he did not. He began to see that there was a big difference in wishing for money and having it. He found that it was some trouble to take care of his treasure.

He shortly reached the road near the spot where Jonas and Caleb had left their horse, but there was no one in sight. He climbed over the fence and kept on his way, looking neither to the right hand nor the left, so impatient was he to reach his journeys end, and finally he stood in the store where he had been several times before; but he did not know what those two men in the back part of the store were talking about. They looked up as Nat entered, and instantly a smile overspread their faces and one of them hastened forward to greet him.

Well, if here aint that smart looking boy again I dont want a cent, said he, and he was so pleased to see Nat that he laughed all over. Say, Jonas and Caleb have just been here, and I would like to know what made them leave in such a hurry. They did not see any ghosts, did they!

No, said Nat, in disgust. Have you been treating them to some stories, too? They left some work to do back at home, and went there to attend to it. You scared one fellow out but you cant scare me out.

I never was so sorry for anything in my life, said the man. I saw that Peleg could be easily frightened, and so I started that ghost story on him.

Have you got anything to eat in the store? asked Nat, who did not want to talk about the ghosts any more. They took away all the provisions I had.

Of course we have, said the man briskly. What do you want? Say. Did you find that money you were looking for?

What money? asked Nat, in surprise.

Oh, come Nat, there is no use of your trying to play off on us in that style, said the storekeeper; and there was just a shade that darkened his brow as if he were getting angry. You went up there to dig up some money, didnt you, now?

I wish you would give me those provisions and let me go along back, said Nat, who did not much like the way the man eyed him. I dont know anything about any money.

See here, Nat, whispered the man, putting his face close to the boys ear and holding his arm, if you will tell me where that money is

I tell you I dont know anything about it, declared Nat, pulling away from the mans grasp. If you dont want to sell me some grub, I will go elsewhere.

Come with me; I want to see you, whispered the storekeeper, retaining his hold upon Nats arm and drawing him toward a side door.

Say what you have got to say right here, said Nat. There is no secret about it. I dug up no money while I was there, and I dont care who knows it.

But I dont want that everybody should know what I am going to say to you, urged the man; and as if to add emphasis to his words he seized the boy with both hands, fairly lifted him from the floor, carried him through the side door which closed behind him. Now will you listen to what I have to say to you? he added, with a wicked glitter in his eye. I have got you now, and here you are going to stay as long as I want you.

At this moment the door opened and the customer came in. He, too, was in the plot if such it could be called, for he evinced no surprise at what he saw.

Is the way all clear? asked the storekeeper.

Yes; there is no one on the streets, replied the customer. Now what be you going to do with him?

Well take him back in the storeroom and shut him up there, was the answer. What do you think of that, my boy? There you will wait until you are ready to reply to such questions as I ask you, with a big bull dog to keep an eye on you. If you try to get out there wont be anything left of you in the morning.

While the man was talking in this way he was dragging rather than leading Nat toward the back part of the store, and at last halted in front of a door where he released him, and began searching in his pockets to find the key. It was dark in there, owing to the fact that there were no windows to let in light upon the scene, and when he found the key and inserted it into the lock, a growl followed by a deep-toned bark came from the inside. The animal that uttered it must have been fierce; that was easy enough to be seen.

Now you see what youll get if you try to get away, said the storekeeper, throwing open the door. I reckon you will think twice before you come any of your tricks on Benny; hey, old dog.

Nats heart seemed to stop beating. If there was anything in the world that he was afraid of it was a savage dog. He looked at Benny, and rightly concluded that he would not come any of his tricks on that beast. He was the worst looking dog that Nat had ever seen. He was small, but he had an immense head, and his under jaw stuck out so that his teeth could be plainly seen. He was yellow all over except his head, which was as black as if he had been painted, and he was bob-tailed. He did not appear to be gratified by this intrusion at all. He would hardly get out of his way when the man pushed him aside and pointed to a box and told Nat to sit down there.

I tell you I dont know anything about that money, said Nat, who was quite alarmed at the idea of being shut in that room over night with such a dog for a companion. I will go up there with you and help you dig for it; that is if you think it is in the ground.

Of course we know it is in the ground or else you wouldnt need a spade and pick-ax to throw it out with, answered the storekeeper. You tell us where it is, and let us go up and dig for it.

I cant tell you for I dont know; said Nat.





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