Harry Castlemon.

A Struggle for a Fortune





This was Nats object in getting so far away from the road so that he could make a change in his appearance. To take off the clothes he then had on did not require a seconds time, but it took more time than it did to put on the others. In fifteen minutes he was all dressed, and then he wished he had a looking glass to view himself. He certainly did look like a different person; and it is doubtful if any one who was acquainted with him had met him on the road, if he would have recognized him. His first care was to put what remained of his roll of bills safe in his vest pocket. There were no holes in the vest for the bills to work out, and when Nat tucked them away he felt that he was somebody.

Now I am Nat Wood, gentleman, said he, as he surveyed himself as well as he could by turning first one leg and then the other to make an estimate of himself. I tell you it makes a fellow feel grand to be dressed up as I am. Supposing Caleb should see me now? Whoo-pe! He would not rest easy until he got these things on his own back.

Having put away his old clothing in one of the valises it is true the clothes were old but they might be of some assistance to him some day he took a carpet sack in each hand and kept on his way toward Manchester. The dog did not know hardly what to make of it. He looked at Nat closely; for several minutes before he would follow him, and then he seemed to think it was all right and ran on as freely as he did before.

Nat did not go through Manchester; he knew too much for that. He went ahead until he saw the roofs of the houses, and then turned out into the fields and took a round-about course to bring him to the woods back of Mr. Nickersons yard. He was very still about it, halting every few feet to listen, and finally he stopped in a ravine where he threw his bundles off again. He was now within reach of the place where he had hidden his money. He wanted to be sure that his fortune was safe before he had anything to eat.

Come this way, Benny; it is right out here, said Nat. If that is gone I am gone; but I dont think there has anybody discovered it.

Nat presently stood beside the log which concealed his treasure, but this time he was not satisfied with what he saw on the outside. The leaves and twigs were there as he had left them, but that did not suit him. He looked sharply through the woods in all directions, then kneeled down beside the log and with a few sweeps cleared away all the debris which he had placed there. The bags were where he had left them. He ran his hand over them and could distinctly feel the yellow boys with which they were filled.

Thank goodness, it is all mine, and no one else has a right to lay a claim to any of it, said Nat, as he pushed the twigs and branches back to their place. Mr. Nickerson gave it to me before he died, he has neither kith nor kin to say that he owns it, and now if I can find some honest lawyer in St Louis to stand up for me, I am all right.

This was a matter that created considerable confusion in Nats mind.

He did not know where to go to find an honest lawyer, but he supposed that there must be some people who would look out for him if he only knew whom to speak to. As he had done a hundred times before he dismissed this matter with the thought that it would be time enough to attend to that when he reached St. Louis; and he turned to go back to the ravine where to solace himself with a handful of crackers and cheese.

CHAPTER XVI.
Benny, the Tramp

That was a long night to Nat Wood for, if the truth must be told, he did not once close his eyes in sleep. He had an opportunity to judge of the watchfulness of his new friend, for Benny seemed to be wide awake and never once forgot that everything depended on Nats vigilance. He lay close beside Nat on the leaves, and once or twice he raised his head and growled at something, but nothing came near to disturb them. At the first peep of day Nat arose from his couch, he and the dog finished what was left of the crackers and cheese and then the boy went to the place where he had left his treasure and filled up his carpet sacks; and when he had them loaded he was surprised at their weight. It did not seem possible that he could carry that gold one hundred and fifty miles.

But I may strike a railroad before I have gone far, said Nat, drawing in a long breath and picking up a valise in each hand. I will go as straight South as I can go, and when I become tired of my burden I can put it down and rest. I will reach St. Louis or die in the attempt.

Nat took good care to keep clear of the road until he had passed Manchester for fear that some one would see him and recognize him in spite of his new suit, and when at last he climbed the fence into the highway, he drew another long breath and went ahead with new zeal. He did not fail to look back occasionally to see if he were followed, but every time there was no one in sight, and he was more than once tempted to believe that his struggles were over; that the money was his own, and all he had to do was to hurry down to St. Louis and deposit it in the bank. But it would be a week at least, and perhaps two, before that would happen, and in the meantime he was resolved that he would go hungry and sleepless, too, but that his treasure should be safe.

Nat wanted to buy some more crackers and cheese and feed his dog before he left the country where he was known, and with this object in view he approached the store at which he had purchased his new suit. The man was busy sweeping out, but he knew Nat in spite of the wonderful change in his appearance.

Well, sir, you got your things, didnt you? said he, with the smile which Nat had noticed on his face the day before. You are off now, I suppose? But you must not try to walk all that distance. It is too far.

I am off now, replied Nat. But I should like to have some more crackers and cheese and a bite of fresh meat for Benny, if it is not too much trouble for you to get it.

Of course I can. I was thinking about you yesterday after you had been in here, and there is no need that you should walk all that distance. Follow this road about twenty miles and you will strike a little village called Bridgeport. There you will hit the Alton road, and all you have to do is to pay your fare and get on board. You have money enough for that, I suppose?

Nat selected a couple of crackers and a liberal piece of cheese from the amount the grocer weighed out to him, saw his dog devour a huge piece of beef which had also been furnished to him, leaned against the counter to rest his tired limbs and pondered upon a thought that had just then occurred to him. He had never ridden on a railroad, he did not know what to do when he got there, but what would be done with Benny!

But there is one thing about it, said the man, giving utterance to the thought that was in Nats mind. You cant take your dog with you on a passenger train.

I have been thinking about that, and the best thing I can do is to go on foot all the way, said Nat. I cant think of leaving Benny behind.

Of course I dont know what rules they have with their freight trains, said the man. Perhaps they will let you take him with you, and perhaps they wont. You can tell when you get to Bridgeport. Good-by. I hope you will get safe through.

Nat picked up his valises again and left the store. It seemed now that Benny was a hindrance to him rather than a success, and for a minute or two he did not know but he would prefer to give him up than keep him. It did not seem possible that he could walk all the way to St Louis and carry his treasure besides, and he looked down at Benny who gazed back at him, and wagged his tail in a forlorn sort of way as if the man had given him a bad reputation.

No, I wont do it Benny, said Nat, putting one of his valises on the ground long enough to pat the dog on the head. Ill keep you with me until the time comes for you to show what you are made of; then if you fail me, I will know what to do with you.

Perhaps, when Nat came to think about it, it was better after all to keep the dog and trust to luck. There were plenty of persons who met him on the road who would have been glad to snatch his valises and make off with them, if they only knew how much was in them; and with Benny there to protect him he did not think they would attempt it. So Benny was accepted on sufferance.

Nat had not proceeded very far on his road before he heard the sound of wheels behind him, and in a few minutes a man drove by in a lumber wagon. The man looked down at Nat and then pulled up his team.

Soger, would you work? said he, with a laugh. You have a heavy load there. Are you going fur?

I am going down to Bridgeport, said Nat. If you have a place for me I shall be glad to get in.

You are as welcome as the flowers in May, said the man. Climb in. Gosh! What an ugly looking dog you have. Will he bite?

He has never bitten anybody since I had him, said Nat, lifting his carpet sacks one after the other and putting them into the wagon with a good deal of trouble. He wont bite if he is let alone.

Well, you just bet your bottom dollar that I wont interfere with him. What you got in there? It seems mighty heavy.

Yes. It is some tools that I work with. Do you know anybody in Bridgeport?

This question got the man off on a new subject, and during the ride to Bridgeport, and he went all the way so that Nat had his arms well rested by the time they got there, he never referred to the contents of the valises again. Benny ran along the wagon in front of him, and every time the man saw him he would remark on his savage appearance, and say that he did not see what a man could be thinking of to have such an ill-looking brute hanging around him. The man had been in the Confederate army, too, and during the ride he kept Nat interested in his exploits, until Nat was really surprised when he pointed to the roofs of some houses in the distance and said:

We are near our journeys end at last. There is Bridgeport Did you say that you wanted to get out at the depot? Well, I am going right there.

After a few cracks with the whip and turning several corners the man drew up at a long, low building, and Nat, after thanking him for his kindness, took his valises and got out. Presently he was standing in front of an open window, on the other side of which, on a high stool, was perched a clerk who was busy smoking a cigar.

Well, my friend, what can I do for you on this fine morning? was the way he greeted Nat.

I want to know what is the fare to St Louis, said Nat.

Eight seventy-five, said the clerk, laying down his cigar and reaching for a ticket Do you want to go there?

Yes, sir; but I want to know in the first place whether or not you will take my dog on a passenger train, said Nat.

Wheres the dog?

He is right here.

Hold him up so that I can see him.

I cant. He is too heavy.

The clerk reached for his cigar again, got down from his stool and unlocked the door leading into his room. He came out of it, but He went back in less time than it takes to tell it.

Good Lord! Do you want to take that beast on the train? said he. He vanished in his room on the instant and closed the door, all except a little opening through which he talked to Nat. No, sir. There is not a baggage-smasher on the road who will take charge of that dog between here and St. Louis. You must be crazy.

Well, would they take him on a freight train?

Cer-tainly not. We want to have some men to handle the freight train when they get to St. Louis, dont we?

I suppose you do; but what is the reason you cant have them any way?

Why, that dog will eat the train men all up, if he once gets in action. No, sir. You cant take that beast on any train on this road.

Then I dont see any way but for me to go on foot, said Nat, who was very much disappointed.

Thats the only way that I know of, unless you will kill the dog.

I wont do that, you bet. Does this road go straight to St. Louis?

As straight as a die, and thats the way, said the clerk, pointing out the direction. I dont see what you want with that thing. The best thing you can do is to kill him.

Nat picked up his valises, walked slowly out of the other side of the depot and looked down the track. For miles it was perfectly straight, and there was not another house within sight. His arms ached awfully when he thought of the many miles of such track he would have to face during his tramp, but he never once was guilty of a traitorous thought to Benny. They were in for it, and the sooner they started in on it, the sooner it would be done.

Now the first thing to be done, Benny, is to lay in a lot of provisions, said Nat, as if the dog could understand every word he said. And the next thing is to start on our way. Let us go down this way and see what we can find.

Nat had set out with the intention of finding a grocery store and a butcher shop at which to purchase his provisions, but he had not made many steps before he found one much sooner than he had expected; or rather, some thing who kept guard over it saw him coming down the street and sprang to meet him half way. It was the big dog which kept watch over the butcher stand. He saw Benny, he did not like the looks of him and proceeded to let him know it in language that anybody could understand. He came at full speed down the road, seize Benny by the neck and rolled him over in the gutter. They were both fair sized dogs, and those who saw the movement were pretty certain that they were about to witness a good fight; but it was all over in less than two seconds, Benny seemed surprised to find himself in the gutter, turned his head to see who it was that had dared to molest him and went to work in earnest to put a stop to it. He seized his assailant by the foreleg, but before he had taken a fairly good hold the butchers dog set up a fearful howl, slunk out of the fight as quickly as he could and limping on three legs, howling at every jump, he went back to his place in the butchers shop. A moment later the butcher appeared. Nat knew that it was the butcher, for his coat was off, he had his apron on and his sleeves were rolled up.

Now, Benny, you have got me into a terrible scrape, said Nat, reaching down to give the dog a reassuring pat. He will want to kill you, but he will have to kill me first.

The butcher seemed to be surprised to find that his favorite had been whipped, but still he did not show it. He examined his dog and then looked up to see what had caused it; and when he saw Nat approaching he grinned all over.

Young man, is that your dog? said he.

Nat replied that it was.

Well, sir, he is a nobby fellow, said the butcher; and giving no heed to Bennys savage looks he caught him by the upper jaw and raised his lips so that he could see his teeth. Then he released his hold upon him and patted him on the side so loudly that you could have heard it across the street. I have said that I would give twenty-five dollars for any dog that could whip Barney, and this dog has done it with just one grip. You will take that for him, wont you?

No, sir, replied Nat. The dog is not for sale.

Then I will give you twenty plus ten, which makes thirty when I went to school. Come in and get it.

That is more than the dog is worth, but he is not for sale at any price. I need the dog more than you do. But I will tell you what I would like to have. He wants a piece of meat.

Well, if you wont sell the dog, come in and fill him up on meat You wouldnt look at forty dollars for that dog, would you?

No, Nat thought that he would not sell the dog, and he went into the butcher shop and got a piece of meat that fairly made him open his eyes. He was not charged a cent for it, either. While the butcher was examining the dog and complimenting him, Nat managed to unclose one of his valises and crowd the meat into it, and no one was the wiser for what he had done.

Of course the victory that Benny had won brought him into notice along the street, and when he went into another store to buy his crackers and cheese, he had plenty of friends to admire him. But Nat got away as soon as he could, and felt much easier when he was walking down the track toward St. Louis.

Thats a good name for you, Benny, and you will keep it as long as I have anything to do with you. Benny, the tramp. Thats what you are, Benny, and you must always come when I call you.

Nats first care was to find a place where he could sit down and satisfy his appetite without having some one to talk to him about Benny. A mile further on he found it, and there he and Benny made away with enough meat and crackers and cheese to last them until night. While there a passenger train went along, and it went swiftly, too, as if the distance that lay between it and St. Louis was just nothing at all for it to accomplish. Nat sighed but he looked at Benny, and got up and followed after the train.

We might make this portion of our story still more interesting by telling of the wonderful scrapes that Nat and his money got into from the rough looking tramps who met him along the way and who wanted to know what was in his carpet-sacks, which he never allowed out of his grasp; but unfortunately Nat did not meet with any such adventures. It is true that one or two tramps Nat was sure they were tramps although he had never seen one before made some inquiries in regard to the contents of his valises, but the sight of the dog, which growled and showed his teeth every time one of them came up, induced them to be satisfied with what Nat had to say about it that he had some tools which would be necessary to carry on his business when he got to St. Louis. He bought his food from farm houses which were scattered at intervals along the railroad, slept beside the fence or in deserted barns every time he got the chance, and finally, when he was thinking about taking one of his gold pieces to buy him another pair of shoes, for his bills, although he had held on to them until the eagle hollered, were all gone, he discovered, one night when the sun was about two hours high, some buildings in the distance, which were larger than any he had seen yet. By cautious inquiries at the next house at which he stopped to buy food, he learned that he was at his journeys end. How his heart thrilled with the thought! He had been more than two weeks on the way, and to say that he was tired would be hardly saying enough. In a few days his money would be safe, and then he could lie down and sleep.

But our labor is not over yet, said Nat, as he separated the meat from the sandwiches that he had purchased and handed it to the dog. Now is the time to look out for every person we meet. There is not one of them who would not knock me on the head to gain this money. And yet I am to find a good, honest lawyer in all this crowd of people!

Nat did not know how he was going to succeed, whether or not he could find what he wanted in all that crowd, but he resolved to try it at the first opportunity. Arriving at a place where a road ran across the track he turned into it, making out with much difficulty some of the signs that graced the front ends of buildings as he walked along, and finally stopped at the front of a more pretentious building than the rest, for there was a sign that struck his eye; Lodgings 50 cents.

Nat pushed the door open and he and Benny walked in. He did not like the appearance of the room in which he found himself, but then he supposed that all hotels in the city looked like that. There was a bar in one corner of it, behind which stood a man that reminded him of Jonas Keeler as far as his appearance was concerned. On the other side of the room were tables in front of which were men playing cards, and others with men sprawling out upon them with their heads pillowed upon their arms as if fast asleep. He thought of backing out and trying it again at another place; but the man behind the bar discovered him and came out.

Ah! Here you are. You want a supper and some lodging, I suppose? Are you traveling far? Hello? Where did you get that dog? Will he bite?

He has been with me a long time, and I never saw him bite anybody yet. He always sleeps with me and he wont let any one harm me. I want a bed but I dont want any supper.

Heavens and earth! Whats in your grip? said the man lifting one from the floor where Nat had placed it.

They are tools I work with; hammers and the like.

Oh. You are a machinist, are you? Well, come along and I will show you to your room. I hope that dog wont nail me until I get down.

The man stepped behind the bar to obtain a key to Nats room, and carrying the carpet-sack in one hand while Nat followed with the other, they went through the room and up the stairs to Nats apartment.

There, sir, you can lock yourself in and be safe until morning. Good-night.





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