Harry Castlemon.

A Struggle for a Fortune

Nat was too tired to look around his room and see what sort of a place it was. He turned down the quilts with the remark that the sheets might have been cleaner, pulled off his clothes, and tumbled into bed; and he had hardly struck the pillow before he was sound asleep.


There was one little thing that troubled Nat, and it came to him the first thing when he opened his eyes in the morning. His bills were all gone, and he must unlock one of his valises, undo one of his bags and take out gold enough to pay the proprietor for his lodgings. There was not anything so very wrong in that, but suppose the proprietor should become suspicious and ask to see the rest of his valise; and suppose, too, that he should take it away from him?

It has got to be done, and I might as well have it over with, said Nat, throwing aside the quilts and jumping out on the floor. You will stand by me, Benny, wont you?

Nat went to his valise and opened it, and was surprised to find that one of the bags was decayed and its contents had ran out. But the carpet sack had caught them and there was none of them missing. He took up a ten dollar gold piece and put it in his pocket; and then went on with his dressing with all possible speed. It was early yet and he hoped to find no one in the bar except the proprietor. He did not want any breakfast, either. It would be time enough to think about that after he had seen his money safe. The proprietor was alone in the room, engaged in washing up, but he greeted Nat with a hearty good morning.

I want to pay for my lodging, said Nat. My bills are all gone and so I will have to hand you that.

W-h-e-w! exclaimed the man, as Nat laid his piece on the counter. You must have been living with some rich people since you were here.

The man took up the ten dollar gold piece, jingled it upon the counter to see if it was all right, then turned to his drawer to get the money that he was to give Nat in change.

Breakfast will be ready in a little while, lad, you had better wait, said he, at length.

Nat made some excuse, he hardly knew what, took up both his valises and left the room to run into the arms of a policeman before he got to the sidewalk. He knew it was a policeman, because he had a badge on his breast, was dressed in uniform and was swinging his club along as if waiting for a chance to use it on somebody. The police were always ready to assist a friendless person, and Nat was certain that this one would assist him. He walked up to him and put his valises down by his side.

Well, sir, what have you got there? said he; and Nat was delighted to see him smile in a friendly sort of way.

It is money, said Nat, sinking his voice.

Money? said the officer, more than half inclined to believe that the boy was crazy. What are you going to do with it?

I want to get it into the bank where it will be safe, said Nat.

You dont believe it, do you? Well, step here and I will show you.

Nat drew off on one side and the policeman, placing his club behind him, strolled slowly after him. He saw Nat unlock the valise with a smile, but when the contents of it were shown to him the smile gave away to a look of profound astonishment.

Where did you get all this? he asked.

In the ground. Have you got a hotel or any place you stop at when you are asleep?

Hotel? No. We have a police court, if that is what you mean.

Well, have you got any lawyers there?

Oh, yes; there are plenty of them there.

I want to find a good, honest lawyer who will take charge of this money and tell me what to do with it. You see I am a stranger here.

Yes; I saw that.

Now can I find such a one up there?

Yes, of course you can, and it is the very place for you to go. I will show you where it is. I will carry one of your carpet sacks and you can carry the other.

There were more people stirring now than there were when Nat came out of his hotel, and nearly all who passed him on the street turned too look at him with astonishment and others with amusement. They thought that Nat was being arrested for something he had done; but those who looked at his innocent face as he walked along talking to the policeman, knew better than that.

I am so glad to be where I can tell the truth regarding this money, said Nat; and the long-drawn sigh that he uttered gave evidence to his words.

What did you tell folks you had? asked the officer.

I told them that I had tools which I needed to work with when I reached St Louis, said Nat. And they thought I was a machinist, and did not ask any more questions. But I will tell you what is a fact: The presence of that dog has saved me from being robbed more than once.

The policeman said he was sure of that, and at last turned to the right and led Nat up a flight of stone steps and into the court room. There were plenty of police officers standing around, but they all made room for them to pass and looked at Nat with some curiosity. The room in which the trials were held was arranged with benches and chairs, and around the outside were more chairs and to these he conducted Nat and set him down in front of a window.

Now you keep still right here, and when the judge comes you can talk to him, said he.

But I dont know the judge when I see him, said Nat.

I will speak to one of those policemen there and he will tell him. I must go now.

Why cant you stay with me?

Because I must go on my beat. If anybody talks to you about your money, you can say what you please. Theres men enough here to protect you. So long.

There was a good deal of this talk that Nat could not understand, but he asked no questions. Everybody could see that he was a stranger there and to the city besides, and all he wanted to know now was where to go to place his money so that it would be safe. He looked at the policemen, but they did not seem to have anything to do but just to stand around and wait for somebody. They were tall, broad-shouldered fellows, and he was certain that Jonas, if he could have found his way into that court room, would think twice before laying claim to any of Nats money. When he grew tired of looking at them he turned and looked out of the window. The people seemed to have increased in numbers, and it was a mystery where they all came from. He thought he would never get weary of looking at them, and when he turned to look at the policemen again, he found that the court room was filled; but no one paid any attention to him. A few looked at the dog, others cast glances toward the carpet-sacks, and Nat finally wondered what had become of the police justice all this time; but while he was turning the matter over in his mind the crowd in front of the door gave way, and two gentlemen who seemed to have a right there, came in. They exchanged greetings with those they met, and presently one of them was stopped by a policeman, who seemed to be communicating something to him. Nat was certain that one of them was talking about him, for they nodded their heads in his direction, and finally the two men came toward the corner where he was sitting.

Do you want to see me, young man? one of them inquired.

I want to see the judge when he comes, replied Nat. I want to find a good, honest lawyer to tell me what to do.

Humph! exclaimed the man. You want to find a good, honest lawyer, do you? Well, you have come to a bad shop to find him. How do you think Judge Daniels will suit you?

I dont know the man, for I am a stranger in a strange place; but I will talk to any man whom you recommend.

Daniels, I guess you are in for it, said the man, turning to his companion. This is Judge Daniels, and you may tell him what you want.

The speaker turned away and Nat proceeded to give the man who had been called Judge Daniels a good looking over. All he saw was the mans face. It was a benevolent looking face, and more than all there was a smile upon it which instantly won Nats heart.

What do you want to say to me? was the way in which he began the conversation.

I have a long story to tell, and you will have to sit down beside me while I tell it, said Nat. In the first place, you will not steal every thing I have got will you?

No, I dont think I shall do that, said the man, as he seated himself in one of the chairs alongside of Nat. There is no necessity for it.

Well, sir, it is money that I have in these two carpet-sacks, said Nat, sinking his voice to a whisper. I have dug it out of the ground, and carried it all the way from Bridgeport on foot.

The man continued to regard him with a smile until Nat unlocked his valise; and then he looked surprised. He listened while Nat told his story never once interrupting him, but he kept his eyes fastened upon the boy as if he meant to look him through.

You want in the first place, to put that money in the bank where it will be safe, said he, at length. Then are you willing to go back with me to Bridgeport so that I can collect evidence that your story is true?

Yes, sir; I will go with you anywhere, said Nat.

This was all that Judge Daniels wanted. He had been doing a heap of thinking while Nat was telling his story, and when he had seen Nat close his valise he got up and walked over to where the police justice sat in his chair. The court was just about ready to begin. He was evidently astonished at what the judge had to tell him, and when he came back he was full of business.

I will carry one valise, you can carry the other, and we will go down, get a carriage and take them to the bank, said he. That will be the first job done. I hope the dog will not bite me?

Nat hastened to assure him that the dog would not, and together they left the court room and in a few moments more were seated in a hack, with Benny for company, and were being whirled away toward the bank in the lower end of the city. At every turn Nat found something to wonder at. The streets were crowded with all sorts of vehicles and Nat more than once held his breath for fear that their driver would run into some of them.

Pedestrians crossed and recrossed before them until Nat was certain that somebody would be run down; but he did not have time to take it all in. Judge Daniels had a good many questions to ask, and while Nat was trying to make everything clear to him, they drew up in front of the bank.

Judge Daniels was so well known there that he was invited at once into the private office where there was no one to see them but the president. At his request Nat related his story once more, the judge watching it closely to detect any flaws in it, and when the money was poured out on the table before the president, the latter could scarcely restrain his astonishment. Several clerks were summoned to count the money, and Nat strange as it may seem, did not bother his head whether they counted it right or not. The money was out of his hands, it had been surrendered to those whose duty it was to look after it, and he was satisfied. Finally one of the clerks presented a paper to the president, who looked at it and said:

Do you know how much money you have here, Bub?

Nat replied that he did not. He took the money as he found it without stopping to count it.

I dont think you could have counted all this money in a hurry, said the president, with a smile. You have here $40,000 lacking $10. Now what are you going to do with it?

Nat was obliged to confess that he did not know. Judge Daniels and the president exchanged a few words in a lower tone, and then the latter arose and picked up his hat.

Well let it lay here until we go up to that place of yours, said he. Now, Nat, you want some good clothes. Look at your shoes. They are all giving out.

How different this was from what Jonas said to him the last time he referred to Nats shoes! He readily surrendered himself to Judge Daniels guidance, and in half an hour more came out of the tailor shop with a wonderful change in his appearance. The clothes he had taken off would do very well for the country but they would hardly do for the city. It was not possible that anybody who had known him in Manchester could have recognized him. Then after he had been to a barber shop and had his hair neatly trimmed, the transformation was complete.

The next thing was to go to Judge Daniels home and get dinner; and here Nats admiration and surprise knew no bounds. It did not seem that those chairs were made to sit on, or that the carpet was made to walk on; or that the lady who came to see him, would not take wings and fly up out of his sight. It was the judges wife. She seated herself beside him on the sofa, listening in unbounded astonishment to Nats story, the Judge watching it all the time to see if there were any flaws in it, and when it was over she reached down and patted the dog, and Benny never raised any objections to it.

During the afternoon they went down to the Judges office where there was another consultation held between him and his partner. The latter was amazed, but he thought that the best thing the Judge could do would be to accompany Nat to his home and get all the evidence there was to be had; so the next morning, Benny being left with the hostler, they took the cars for Bridgeport. This was the first time that Nat had been on a railroad train, and sometimes, when he looked out at the window and saw how fast they were going, he could not help clutching the seat for fear that the train was going to leave the track. Arriving at Bridgeport they went to a hotel for the rest of the night, and the next morning they hired a carriage to take them to Pond Post Office. We can scarcely imagine what Nats feelings were when he gazed upon the scenes which were so familiar to him; and when at last he got out of the carriage and opened the bars so that it could be driven through to where Jonas was standing in the door waiting for them, he felt like yelling. On the contrary he controlled himself and said quietly:

How do you do, Mr. Keeler?

Well, I will be dog-gone! was all Jonas had to say in reply.

Getting the evidence he was in search of was not difficult. Jonas saw in a moment which side of his bread had the butter onto it, and answered all his questions readily; while the antics which Caleb went through were enough to make Nat fairly burst with merriment. They were all sincere, too. He said dog-gone the luck several times in a whisper, felt of Nats clothing with his fingers, and could not bring himself to believe that the thing was true. But it was to Mrs. Keeler that Nat devoted the most of his attention. The woman seemed really glad of his good luck, and Nat assured her that at some future time there was a thousand dollars awaiting for her out of Mr. Nickersons money.

It was a happy moment for Nat when they seated themselves in the carriage bound for Bridgeport, and Judge Daniels declared that, as far as he could see, Nats story was all true, and that the money which he had struggled so hard to obtain was all his. All that remained to do now was to have a guardian appointed and get ready to go to school.

It will not take me five minutes to select a guardian, said Nat. Will you take it Judge Daniels?

The judge said he would and so the matter was settled.

Years have passed away since the events that are recorded in this story took place, and if you go to a certain law firm and ask to see Nathaniel Wood, you would be fairly surprised to see in that tall, well-dressed man who is coming toward you the ragged, dirty-faced boy who was wont to do the chores about Jonas Keelers place. Jonas thinks the world of him, although to tell the truth, he does not do any work to speak of as long as his remittance from St. Louis lasts.

Do you know Nat Wood, that little snipe who used to work on my farm? he would say to some listener. Well, he has got to be a big lawyer in the city. If he ever runs for President, I am going to vote for him.

Benny is dead; he served his day and generation faithfully. He soon grew to be a regular favorite around the Judges house, and although a tramp would have passed by on the other side, people who came there on business were readily admitted, and no questions asked. Nat is the same fellow he always was. He was an honest boy and he grew up to be an honest man. He is always ready to live over old times; but those he likes best to talk about are those that attended his Struggle for a Fortune.

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