Harry Castlemon.

A Struggle for a Fortune





Dog-gone my buttons! He has got some money there, whispered Caleb, so excited that he could scarcely stand still. If he hasnt got money he has some tobacco, and I will just take it when he goes.

While he was wondering how he was going to work to find out what Mr. Nickerson had found there, he cast his eyes toward the upper end of the field and saw that Nat had ceased his work, was standing with his hands resting on his hips and closely watching Mr. Nickerson. He made no attempt to stop him, and according to Calebs way of looking at it, that was all the evidence he wanted to prove that Nat was in some way interested in what was hidden there.

Now what is to be done? said Caleb to himself. Nat must know what is concealed there. I declare I have two fellows to fight now.

CHAPTER IV.
A Keepsake

Caleb stood and thought about it. He could not go to the fence corner where the old man was while Nat was in plain sight, and he must think up some way of getting him away from there. It is true that he might have waited until darkness came to conceal his movements, but Caleb was a boy who did not believe in doing business that way. He wanted to find out what was in that fence corner, and he must find it out now. He could not afford to wait until night came.

You must come away from there, Mister Nat, said he, as he crouched down behind the bushes and made his way toward the house. You must come away in five minutes, for I am not going to run any risk of your slipping up and hiding that thing, whatever it is, that the old man has found.

In a few minutes he reached the house and went directly to the water-pail in order to quench his thirst; but there was no water there.

Mother, send Nat down to the branch after some water, said he.

Suppose you go yourself, was the reply. Nat is busy digging potatoes.

I cant go. I am busy getting that corn ready for pap to take to mill tomorrow. I am so thirsty I cant speak the truth. Nat can go as well as not.

Bessie, go out and call Nat to get some water, said Mrs. Keeler. I suppose he will have to go.

Bessie went, and as soon as she was clear of the house Caleb bent his steps toward the barn and from the barn to the bushes, where he arrived just in time to see Mr. Nickerson come out of the fence corner, biting a plug of tobacco as he came.

Thats all the tobacco you will get out of that pile, chuckled Caleb, as he rubbed his hands together. I will take it all and give it to pap.

Presently Bessie was heard calling Nat. The latter threw his hoe spitefully down and went to obey the order, and as soon as he was out of sight Caleb arose from the bushes and ran for the fence corner. He had taken particular pains to mark the corner, and in fact there was little need of it, for the old mans marks were plainly visible there. He found the leaves raked to one side, a little hollow exposed but there was nothing in it.

Caleb threw himself on his knees and made the cavity larger, but there was not a thing that rewarded his search.

There was just one plug of tobacco left and he got it, said Caleb, who was very much disappointed. And theres no money in it either. Now had I better tell pap or not? There is a heap of skirmishing going on here, the first thing you know, and if I keep watch perhaps I can find some money. I guess Ill think about that for awhile.

Being anxious to reach the cover of the bushes before Nat should return, Caleb did not stop long in the fence corner, but made all haste to get out of sight. And he was none too soon. The bushes had hardly closed up behind him before Nat came into view.

When darkness came the boys began to do their chores and Jonas returned from town. One could always tell Jonas when he was half a mile away because he shouted at his horses as though they were hard of hearing. Mr. Nickerson heard him coming and went down to the barn to meet him.

Did you get any tobacco for me, Jonas? said he, in a whining voice which had of late years become habitual with him.

No, I did not, roared Jonas. You wont tell me where your money is, and you can go without tobacco. I wish there was something else you liked as well as you do that weed, and I would shut down on that too.

I shall not be with you long, began Mr. Nickerson. I feel that I am going

Aw! Get along with, that, interrupted Jonas, who hung one of his harnesses on its peg and then turned savagely upon the speaker. You have always got something the matter with you when you dont get any tobacco.

I have a keepsake for you up at the house, continued the old man. If you will come up there when you get through I will give it to you.

Jonas began to prick up his ears at this. He wished now that he had brought the old gentleman some tobacco; but as he had not done it, he made all haste to smooth matters over as well as he could.

I didnt mean anything, Mr. Nickerson, said he, coming forward to shake him by the hand. But I met with a heap of bother while I was down town to-day, and I absolutely forgot all about your tobacco. Never mind; I will send Nat down after it.

Thank you. Thank you, said the old man. It will be a heap of comfort to me. You dont know how long the time seems without it.

Yes, I know. I like a smoke pretty well, and I would not give it up to please anybody. Now you run along to the house and in a few minutes I will be there. A keepsake, he muttered to himself. It is money, I know. I believe I took the right course when I shut down on that mans weed.

It was astonishing what that word keepsake made in Jonass feelings. He had but two expressions which came to his face the smile and the frown. No one to have seen him as he finished putting out his team, would have thought that a frown ever came on his countenance. He was all smiles, and once or twice he forgot himself so as to try to strike up a whistle. This attracted the attention of Caleb who was amazed at it.

Whats the matter with you, pap? said he.

There is nothing the matter with me, replied Jonas, cheerfully. When a man does right he always feels happy. Thats the kind of opinion you want to grow up with. If you make everybody around you jovial, of course you are jovial yourself.

Are you happy because you didnt get the old man what he wanted? continued Caleb, who would have given everything he had to know what had brought about that wonderful change in his fathers appearance. Caleb knew that he could bring the frown back to his face in short order. He had but to mention that the old man had a plug of tobacco in his pocket, and that he had seen him dig it out of the fence corner; but something told him that he had better keep quiet. He was going to keep close watch of Nat and Mr. Nickerson now he did not know how he was going to do it, for he kept close watch of them already and perhaps they would lead him to the place where they had concealed some money.

Yes, sir, that is a point that I want you to remember all your life, Jonas went on. I forgot all about Mr. Nickersons tobacco, and that was the reason I didnt bring it. But I will make up for it after supper. Have you milked, Caleb? Then pick up your pail and lets go up to the house. A keepsake, Jonas kept saying to himself, as he walked along. He knows that I want money worse than anything else, and that was what he meant. The idea that he should keep money in that house so long, and I was looking everywhere for it!

Jonas was in a hurry, anybody could have seen that and he kept Caleb in a trot to keep pace with him. When he opened the door he greeted his wife with a cheerful hello! and picked up his youngest child and kissed him. Mrs. Keeler was as much amazed at his actions as Caleb was. She stood in the middle of the floor with her arms down by her side and her mouth open, seemingly at a loss to comprehend his movements.

Now, then, where is Mr. Nickerson? said Jonas, pulling an empty chair toward him.

Mr. Nickerson, said Caleb to himself. There is something in the wind there. He never called him Mr. Nickerson before unless he had something to make out of him. He was always that old man or that inspired idiot when he wanted him to do errands for him. Whats up, I wonder?

I forgot all about his tobacco, said Jonas, seating himself and repeating what he had said to Caleb. I had a heap of trouble down town, but I will send Nat down after it as soon as we get a bite to eat. Ah, Mr. Nickerson, you are on hand, I see. Whats this?

The old man had in his hand the keepsake which he intended to give to Jonas. It was a book bound in cloth. It had been well-read evidently, for some of the leaves were loose and one cover was nearly off. But the leaves were all there, and there was something in it that Jonas did not know anything about; if he had known it he would have received it very differently.

What is that? asked Jonas.

It is the keepsake I promised you, said Mr. Nickerson. Take it, read every word of it and you will find something in it before you get through that will make you open your eyes and bless your lucky stars that you have been so good to me.

Jonas took the book and ran his thumb over the leaves. He turned the back of the book toward him and read the name Baxters Saints Rest on it in gilt type. The expression of intense disgust that came upon his face when he looked at the book set Caleb to snickering, and even Nat, who was leaning against the door post a little distance away, smiled in spite of himself.

And is this the only keepsake you have got to give me? shouted Jonas.

It is the only one, said Mr. Nickerson. Read it carefully, every word of it, and you will thank me for giving it to you.

Wheres the money? exclaimed Jonas, who could not get that thing out of his mind.

You have got all the money I have to give you. I gave you a thousand dollars

Jonas became furious all on a sudden. With a muttered exclamation under his breath, he drew back the book with the intention of throwing at the old mans head; but he stayed his hand in time. Then he turned it upon Caleb; but the boy had rushed out of the door and was safe. But Nat stood there, he had not moved at all, and instantly the book left Jonass hand and flew with terrific force at the boys head. It struck the door post and bounded out of doors, and Nat slowly straightened up and went after it. It was a work of some difficulty to pick it up, for the leaves were scattered in every direction, but Nat got it done at last and went away with it.

Jonas, Jonas, you will be sorry for that, said Mr. Nickerson, who covered his face with his hands.

Get out of here! Get out, you inspired idiot! roared Jonas, striding up and down the cabin as if he were demented. Dont you dare come into this house again.

Oh, father! exclaimed Mrs. Keeler.

Shut up your yawp, old woman, said Jonas, turning upon her. That was the keepsake he had to give to me, was it? I thought it was money, dog-gone it, and here he comes and presents me with a book! He shant stay in my house no longer.

Mr. Nickerson went out and tottered to the barn, and when Nat found him there a few minutes later he was doubled up with his elbows on his knees, but his jaws were working vigorously. If there was nothing else which could comfort him, he found it in his tobacco.

Heres your book, Mr. Nickerson, said Nat, who, if he had been big enough, would have resented the way the old man had been treated. Shall I take it back and put it among your things?

No; never mind that now. Jonas has told me that I can not go into his house again, and he may rest assured that I will never do it.

He did not mean what he said, exclaimed Nat. He is all over his passion by this time.

It is too late. He will never see a cent of my money. Did you put those leaves all in just as you found them?

I tried, but I reckon I did not succeed very well.

Did you find anything that did not belong there?

I found two leaves that were pasted together, said Nat, and he grew excited at once when he saw the expression that came upon Mr. Nickersons face. Did you know about those two leaves?

Have you brought them with you?

I have. I would have left the whole book behind before I would them, for I knew they meant something, said Nat, producing them from his pocket the leaves of which he had spoken. Now, by holding it up to the light this way, he added, in order to see what was in them, I can see through the leaves, and I can see a third piece of paper in there.

Yes; and there is something on that paper, too, said the old man rising to his feet and going toward the door. We must first make sure that there is nobody coming; for you have a fortune right there in your hands.

A fortune? gasped Nat.

It was the money I had in the bank at the time the war broke out, said Mr. Nickerson, who, having looked up and down the place and toward the house to satisfy himself that he and Nat were safe from intrusion, returned to his seat. It is all in gold, too.

How-how much is there of it? said Nat, who did not know whether to believe the story or not.

As much as three or four thousand dollars; perhaps more; I did not count it. You see I drew this money at different times, and as fast as I got it, I hid it. When the rebels came there and took me away, they searched the house high and low for some money that they supposed I had, but it was not in the house; It was out in the field. You see this black line? he continued, taking the two leaves and pointing with his shivering finger to one of the marks on the inclosed paper. By the way, you dont want to take this out until you are already to go to work, for fear that somebody may steal it from you. Well, you go to the house

But how can I tell where it is? cried Nat. Those men cleaned you out. They thought they would get something by doing that.

They didnt, so they might as well have left me my house. However, it dont matter much now. I shall never live in it again. You can tell where the house stood, even if it isnt there now, cant you? You go to the corner of that house nearest the woods, hold this paper before you and follow as straight a course as you can down the hill and across the break until you come to a brier patch. It is made up entirely of briers, for I cut them down and put them there. Then leave that to your right and go thirty yards and you will strike a stone, as big as you can lift, which does not look as though it had ever been touched. But it has been, and you can pry it up if you want to. When you get that stone out of its place, you dig down about two feet, and there you will find it.

Nat listened with all his ears, but there was one thing that did not look right about it: The old man talked about the place and the way to find it as though there had never been anything the matter with him at all. If there was something wrong about his mind, Nat failed to see what it was. He talked as though he were reading from a book.

But what makes you give all this to me? said Nat at length. You dont act as though you had any interest in it at all.

I am not going to last long, and I know it, said Mr. Nickerson. I have neither kith nor kin in this land, or in any other so far as I know, and since Jonas does not want the money, why you can have it. I know enough about law to know that there is nobody can take it away from you. If you could, I say if you could without too much trouble, call and see Jonass wife after you get the money, and give her one thousand dollars, I could rest easy. Could you do that much for me?

Of course I can. I will give it all to her if you say so.

No, I dont want you to do that. I know you would give it all to her, because you are an honest boy. You have been good to me during the years I have been here, never had anything cross to say to me, you dont like Jonas, and neither do I. Mandy has been good to me, too, but you see if I give her this money Jonas will have a chance to take it. I dont want him to see a cent of it.

But Mr. Nickerson, what was your object in pasting your description in the book this way? The book might have been stolen.

But it was not stolen. As many as fifty soldiers, Union and Confederate, have had that book in their hands, and when they came to turn it up and see what the title was, they threw it aside. No soldier wants to read a book like that. It is growing late and I must lie down somewhere.

Come into my room and turn into my bunk, said Nat. You will sleep well there.

Jonas has turned me out of his house and I am going to stay out, said Mr. Nickerson, with more spirit than he usually exhibited. I will lie down here and die in his barn.

Dont talk that way, Mr. Nickerson, said Nat; and some way or other he could not get it out of his head that the old man was in earnest. If you are going to stay here I will go up and get a couple of blankets and a pillow for you. I will see you all right in the morning.

He laid the book beside the old man, folded up the two leaves and put them into his pocket and hurried toward the house. Somehow he did not feel exactly right about Mr. Nickerson.

CHAPTER V.
Jonas Tries to Make Amends

It is hard to tell what Jonas Keelers feelings were as he paced back and forth in his narrow cabin, his eyes flashing, his hands clenched and his lips framing to himself words that he dared not utter aloud. He was disappointed sorely disappointed because Mr. Nickerson, who knew that he wanted money, that he thought of nothing else, had presumed to present him a book for a keepsake. Sometimes he felt so angry at him that he had half a mind to go out, find the old man and throw him over the bars. His wife said nothing for some minutes, but seeing that Jonas was getting madder instead of better natured, she ventured to put in a word or two.

Father, you didnt do right in talking to the old man the way you did, said she, hardly knowing how her words would be received.

The old fool! hissed Jonas, throwing his hat into one corner and burying both of his hands in his hair. What did he want to give me a book for when he knows how badly I need money? I am sorry that I was so good natured with him afterward.

But father, there was something in the book, continued Mrs. Keeler, a sudden idea occurring to her.

Jonas stopped quickly and faced her, a queer expression on his face.

There may have been something in the book that told you where his money was. That is if he has got any money; which I dont believe.

Jonas began to see the matter in a different light now. He pulled a chair close to his wifes side and sat down in it.

Do you think there was money in the book? he almost whispered.

No, I dont. You threw the book with force enough to tear it all to pieces; but there may have been a paper or something else in the leaves which told where his money was hidden. But between you and me, I would not put the least faith in it.

Why wouldnt you?

Because the old gentleman is not in his right mind. You have talked about money, money and nothing but money ever since he has been here, and you have finally got him in the way of believing that he has some.

Well, I dont know about that. The old fellow talks plainly enough sometimes, and then again he rattles on and you cant make head or tail of what he says. But I wonder if there was anything in that book? If there was anything there, it must have been put in years ago, when the old man was right in his top story.

It would not do any harm for you to find out. You can tell him that you did not mean anything by what you had said

That depends upon whether I do or not, said Jonas hastily. I will wait until I see what is in that book first. If there is a plan in there which tells where to go to find the money, but you say he hasnt got any, why then I will be kinder good natured with him; but if there is nothing there, he can just keep out of my house; and thats all there is about it.

Jonas thought that by this time Mr. Nickerson had gone to bed, so he went out and started toward a little lean-to, it could scarcely have been called any thing better, which was the place where the old man slept. There were leaks in the roof and sundry cracks through which the severe winds could seek entrance, but that was not the kind of sleeping place Jonas had in the cabin. There everything was tight, and there were a few articles of furniture scattered around, such as a table and chairs and a wash stand. In place of a shake-down he had a regular bed-stead and the blankets and quilts on it were abundant to keep him warm in the coldest weather. It was dark in the lean-to, but Jonas knew the way. He groped his way up to the shake-down but there was nobody in it. In fact the bed had not been slept in at all.

By George! I reckon the old fool took me at my word, said Jonas, as he turned toward the door. I did not think the fellow had so much pluck. I wonder where he is!





: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13