Harry Castlemon.

A Struggle for a Fortune

Very well; then you can stay here until you find out, said the man, fiercely. When you get so hungry and thirsty that you cant stand it any longer, you just yell and I will be around. Will you tell us?

I have already answered your question until I am tired of it, said Nat, seating himself on the box, with a determined look on his face. If I stay here until I die you wont get anything else out of me.

Well, good-by, said the man, moving toward the door. We are going up right now to look for it, and when we come back, perhaps we will tell you how much we have made. Watch him, Benny. Keep an eye on him, and if he goes near that window, just take him down and serve him the way you did that burglar that got into the store last week.

With this parting advice to his dog the storekeeper went out followed by his customer, and Nat heard the key as it grated harshly in the lock. He sat perfectly still, he was afraid to do otherwise, for, now that his eyes became somewhat accustomed to the darkness, he could see that the dog kept his position beside the door, and seemed to be awaiting some move on his part. Once or twice he licked his huge jaw as if he were tired of waiting.

Well, sir, I am in for it now, said Nat, running his eye along the wall as if he were looking for that window of which the storekeeper had spoken. I would not be safer if I were shut up in jail. That dog Whew! I dont want anything to do with him.

The dog evidently knew what opinion Nat cherished toward him, for after waiting in vain for him to make some advances, he came over to Nat and laid his chin upon his knee. Nat could hardly keep from yelling when he saw the dog advancing toward him, but when he reached the boy and worked his nose as if he were trying to place his hand upon his head, his heart gave a thrill of delight.

Well, by gum! said Nat, unconsciously making use of the same expression that Caleb had used when Nat threw him headlong into the bushes. I believe the dog is friendly; and he raised his hand and placed it on the dogs head.

Nat had never been more astonished in his life. The dogs appearance was against him; but that was as far as it went. He was a good, honest dog in reality, and seemed to sympathize with Nat in his trouble.

Benny, good Benny; I believe you are a good dog yet, said Nat, reaching down and patting the animal on the side. Benny not only submitted to it, but when he saw that Nat was about to stop he worked his nose again as if he meant him to continue. I believe now that I will try that window, said Nat, a bright idea striking him. Since Benny is all right if I sit here, he will be all right if I move around.

Nat had by this time located the window, and he arose from his box and moved toward it as though he had a perfect right there. Benny moved with him, and did not raise any objections when Nat seized the staple with which the window was fastened and exerted his strength to open it.

It was a heavy window, and was doubtless used for passing in and out bulky goods that would take up too much room in the store; but it yielded to Nats muscle at last, and by pushing it open a little way he let a flood of light into his prison and could also see what there was outside. He found that the opening gave entrance into a kind of stable yard, bounded by a shed on one side, and by pushing it open a little more, he saw that on the other side it ran down to the street. His escape was now only the question of a few minutes had he cared to leave at this time.

Glory! whispered Nat, closing and fastening the shutter and stooping down to caress Benny. I dare not try it now, for fear that that storekeeper may be on the watch; but when it comes dark, we wont stay in this house any longer. Hail! Columbia happy land!

Nat now felt at ease. He pulled off his hat, felt of his roll of bills and then began to pat the dog and talk to him. He had certainly determined on one thing and that was to take the dog with him. He had some money, how much he did not know, and it would be the source of immense relief to him to know that he had someone whose looks would help him through.

I will bet that there wont be anybody pitch into me to see what I have got with me, if he only takes one look at you, said Nat, stroking the dogs head. I never had a dog take up with me this way before. I tell you, Benny, you came in just right.

It must have been two oclock by the time Nat was shut up in that room, so he had six or seven hours of waiting to go through before the storekeeper would come around again to see how he felt over telling him where he had left that money. There was one thing about it: He would not tell him; he would die first He kept repeating this resolution over and over again until the sun went down, and it began to grow so dark in his prison that he could not see his hand before him. An hour passed, and then a key rattled in the lock, the dog gave one of his tremendous barks and took his stand in front of the door, which presently opened admitting somebody, it was so dark that he could not see a single feature on him. But it was the storekeeper. He knew him as soon as he spoke.

Nat Wood, Gentleman

Hi there! exclaimed the storekeeper, as he threw open the door and stepped over threshold. Keeping watch over him yet, aint you, Benny? I told you it wouldnt be safe for you to try to get away. Yes, heres some supper for you, Benny. Nat cant have any until he gets ready to talk to me. How do you come on, Nat?

About as comfortably as I can, kept here in the dark and with a savage dog for a companion, said Nat. I wish you would take me out where it is a little lighter.

I could not possibly think of it, said the man, with a laugh. You think you are smart, dont you! We know where that money was hidden, and we have been up there and got it.

It was lucky for Nat that the storekeeper had come in there without a light, for the way these words were spoken fairly took his breath away. This was something that he had not bargained for. He settled back on his box trying to find something to lean against, and could not say anything to save his life.

What do you say to that, my boy? asked the man. You did not know that we could find that money without asking you, did you?

Where where did you find it? stammered Nat, suppressing his excitement, and it was all he could do to utter the words.

Oh, we found it under a tree where the old man had left it, said the storekeeper, carelessly. I tell you he must have gone down deep, for we dug a trench there that was as deep as we were.

Nat straightened up again and drew a long breath. If the storekeeper told the truth, he had not yet found the money. He had not dug in the place where it was concealed in the first instance, because he did not say anything about the stone which needed a lever to pry it out of its bed.

Well, you have done more than I could do, said he, after thinking a moment. You have the money How much did you get?

Oh, about fifteen or twenty thousand dollars, replied the man. We were in such a hurry that we didnt stop to count it. But we have enough to keep us without work as long as we live.

Now what is to hinder you from turning me loose? asked Nat I cant do you any more good by staying here.

I forgot to speak about that to my pardner, said the man, who was taken all aback by this proposition. And he has gone away and I shant see him for a week.

And are you going to keep me here all that time?

We might as well. You see we dont want you to go up and tell Jonas and Caleb about this thing, for they might make us trouble.

Ill promise you that I shall not go near Jonas and Caleb. I want to get as far away from Manchester as I can. You might give me something to eat, any way.

Well, I will see what my pardner says about it. If you keep still

Why, your partner has gone away, said Nat.

I mean when he comes back. It wont take you long to stay here a week. Now if you keep still

Are you going to keep me a whole week without anything to eat? asked Nat, in surprise. I cant possibly live as long as that.

Maybe my pardner has not gone yet, and I can speak to him. Now if you keep still, that dog would not pester you; but if you get up and go to roaming around, hell pin you. Then you wont tell me where the money is humph!

This was another evidence that the man had not been near the place where the money was supposed to be hidden. He came pretty near letting the cat out of the bag that time. Nat did not say a word in reply. He wanted the man to believe that he put faith in his story.

Well, good-by. I shall not be in here before to-morrow morning; and if you have anything to say to me

What have I got to say? You have found the money, and what more do you want?

The man muttered something under his breath that sounded a good deal like an oath by the time it got to Nats ears, turned on his heel and walked out, slamming the door after him. Nat waited until the sound of his footsteps had died away, then threw himself back on his box and laughed silently to himself.

If everybody is as big a fraud as that man, my money is safe, said he, rubbing his hands together. He has found the money, and yet he wanted me to tell him where it was. Now, Benny, placing his hand upon the dog, which just then came up and put his head upon his knee. We will wait until twelve oclock, and then we will start for Pond Post Office. I know it is a small place but I reckon I can get some clothes there, and a couple of big valises that I can carry my money in.

The time now seemed longer to Nat than it did before. He felt at his ease, and he longed to be up and doing. Every minute that he lingered in his prison-pen was just so much taken away from the enjoyment of his money; and he fretted and chafed over it. He wanted to get up and pace the room in order to make the time pass more rapidly away, but was checked by the thought that the storekeeper might come back there and listen at the door to see what he was doing, and thus put it out of his power to escape by the window.

If he hears me walking about he will know that Benny and me are all right, said Nat, and that will arouse his suspicions so that he will put me somewhere else. I reckon I had best sit down here on my box and wait for the hours to go by.

A short time afterward, perhaps it was two or three hours, he heard a faint rustling outside the door, whereupon the dog left him and took up his stand directly in front of it to see what was going to happen. If it was the storekeeper and he wanted to know what was going on in the room, he had his trouble for his pains. Whatever it was that made the noise outside it finally ceased altogether and then everything was quiet.

This happened two or three times, and on each occasion Nat was sure that he was being watched; but every time the watcher went away without hearing or seeing anything suspicious. At last Nat heard some sounds coming from the store which indicated that the proprietor was going to shut up for the night; and then his heart began to beat more rapidly. The time for action was fast approaching. He heard the banging of shutters, the goods which had been outside for inspection during the day, were brought in and stood up beside the counter, and finally the storekeepers tread was heard outside the door. He tried the lock and found that it was safe.

Are you all right in there? Nat heard him inquire.

As tight as you please, answered Nat; but in half an hour more I will be down the road, he added, to himself.

You dont know anything about that money yet, I suppose? said the man.

How can I know anything about it when you have got it? asked Nat. You have hidden it away somewhere. The best thing you can do is to take it up and clear yourself before I get out.

You are going to make trouble for me, are you? said the voice, angrily. Well, if you get tired of waiting for grub just let me know. Good-by.

Good-by. And it will be a long time before you see me again, said Nat mentally.

Nat knew when the storekeeper went out and locked the door behind him, and then he heard him go down the street. He knew that he did not sleep in the building but his house lay at some distance from the store, so the coast was clear at last. He resolved to make the attempt at once, being satisfied if he were well on the street it would take a better man than the storekeeper to overhaul him. It was but the work of a few seconds to go to the window and remove the hasp with which it was confined. As the shutter swung loose he found that the moon was shining brightly and that the ten miles that lay between him and Pond Post Office could be made easily as it could by broad daylight.

Come along, Benny, said Nat placing both hands upon the sill and springing up so that all he had to do was to drop his legs outside. But maybe you dont want to go.

While Nat was talking about it he was free; and he afterward said that he never felt anything so good as he did when he found the solid earth under his feet once more. The dog made three attempts to follow him, but the window was rather high and all he could do was to get his fore feet upon the sill and each time he fell back making more noise than was agreeable to Nat. The next time he tried it Nat seized him by the thin skin on the back of his neck, and in a moment more he was standing by Nats side on the ground. We say he was standing by Nats side; but if the truth must be told, he was prancing around all over the ground as if he were overjoyed at finding himself at liberty once more.

I will tell you whats the matter with you, said Nat, after he had looked carefully around him and had drawn a bee-line for the bars that led him out into the street. You have been shut up and deprived of your freedom so long that you dont know what to do with yourself when you are let out. Well, you stick to me and I will see that you are not shut up any more.

Nats first impulse, when he found himself outside the bars, was to strike up a whistle; but before the first note had fairly left his lips he caught his breath and looked all around to see if there was anybody within hearing. The street was silent and deserted; but that was no sign that there was not somebody stirring in the houses by which he passed so rapidly. He felt of his roll of bills to make sure that he had it, and settled down into a good fast walk, turning his head occasionally to be certain that he was not followed. There was one thing that Nat kept saying to himself: I have had a struggle for this fortune, and now that it is fairly within my grasp, nobody need think that I am going to give it up. If I dont enjoy it, the money can stay there until it rots.

The next thing that Nat had to decide upon was, as he expressed it, something else. He was free but his money was not free. The way to get his fortune to St. Louis was what troubled him; and he thought about it until he arrived within sight of Pond Post Office. He began to feel sleepy, too. It was then about two oclock, so that he had to wait for five long hours before the single store of which the village could boast would be open and ready for business. So he climbed the fence, followed by the dog, found himself a comfortable place under the protection of a beech tree and stretched himself out and prepared to go into the land of dreams. That would have been considered a hard couch by some lads who are raised in the city, but Nat had so long been accustomed to hard things that he did not mind it. He slept until the sun was well up, and his dog kept watch over him.

Now the next thing will be something to eat, Benny, said Nat, pausing for a while in his operations of smoothing down his hair to pat the dog on the head. I think you could eat a good breakfast, dont you? I tell you what we will do: If they dont have anything at the store worth eating, we will go to someones house and ask for a meal. Ive got money to pay for it.

Nats next duty was to take out his roll of bills and select enough to pay for his clothes and have a little left over for a bite to eat. When this had been done he put the balance of the roll back again, and the rest into his pocket where it would come handy. Then he climbed the fence and started for Pond Post Office again. He found very few people stirring there but the groceryman was up, and to him Nat at once addressed himself.

You look as though you had something to eat here, said he.

Well, yes; thats our business, said the man, smiling upon Nat. Gracious! What a horrid looking dog. Will he bite?

Not while I am around, said Nat. Have you got a suit of clothes! You see I need one badly enough.

Well, I should say you did. I was looking at your clothes when you came up. How big a priced one do you want! We have some for $5.00 and some as high as $20.00.

Let me see a sorter of betwixt and between, said Nat, as he followed the man into the store. Something that will do to wear between here and St. Louis.

Are you going as far as St Louis? asked the man, in amazement. Then you want something pretty nice. Now theres a suit that will jest suit you.

Nat had never bought any clothes before, and consequently he was rather awkward about it. As far as he could see the clothes were well made (the man took his measure around the chest and of the length of his leg to make sure that they would fit him) the price suited him and he took them on the spot. Then he needed a couple of shirts, two pairs of stockings and a pair of shoes and a hat; all of which he took upon the mans recommendation, and so his trading was quickly done.

Now I wish to get a couple of valises to put them into, said Nat, looking around the store and trying to select the articles in question.

Ones going to be enough for you, said the man. Now here is a valise

That is not the kind I want, said Nat. I want some old-fashioned carpet things, with a mouth like a catfish. You see I have lots of things to carry with me.

Are you going to walk? asked the storekeeper, still more amazed. Why, it must be as much as one hundred and fifty miles.

I dont care how far it is, I have got to go there, unless I can find some person who is kind enough to give me a lift.

You can do that, of course; but I was just thinking that your legs will ache before you get there. Now you hold on a minute. I have two old carpet sacks in my garret that are doing no good to anybody, and if you will wait a minute I will bring them down to you.

The man went to his drawer, put away the money that Nat had given him and went out, leaving him for the next ten minutes there alone in the store. What a chance it would have been for Nat to steal something; but the thought never came into his head. He was leaning back against the counter when the man left, and that was the way he was standing when he came back.

Those are just the things, said he, taking the carpet sacks and turning them over to see that there were no holes in them. How much apiece for them?

Oh, a quarter; or, as you were raised in this country, two bits, said the storekeeper, smiling at Nat. How do I know that you were raised in this country? I know it by your looks. I was raised in New York. Now do you want something to eat? Well, come here. I dont know whether I have anything that dog will eat or not. Where did you get that fellow? He would be just the one to guard a fellows melon patch, wouldnt he? There, take your pick. Its my treat.

Nat knew enough about the ways of the country to know that the storekeeper was going to give him his provisions for nothing because of the dry goods he had purchased. The only things he could find were some crackers and cheese. He took enough of them as he thought to last him to Manchester and back, and then the groceryman excused himself once more and went into the back room with a huge knife in his hand. When he returned he brought with him a piece of fresh meat which he handed to the dog.

I did some butchering yesterday, and I think that if that dog wont eat anything else, he will eat fresh meat, said he. See him take it down.

The dog did take it down and devoured his meal as if he were almost starved. It was no wonder that he wanted Nat for a master when he was going to get such good living as this. He put all the things he had purchased into one of his valises, bade the proprietor good-by and took his way back toward Manchester, feeling much lighter hearted than he did when he came down. But he did not go very far before he began looking up and down the road to see if anyone was watching him; and having satisfied his mind on this score he once more climbed the fence into the woods, and when he was safe from everybodys view he stopped, and lowered his bundles to the ground.

Now when I put these things down I am Nat, the tramp; and when I put on my other clothes, I am something else, said he, taking his suit out and unfolding it before him. Let us see how it looks to be dressed up as a white man.

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