Harry Castlemon.

A Struggle for a Fortune





He bent his steps this time toward the lean-to which Nat called his room. It was a little better than Mr. Nickersons and but a very little better. It was tight but there was no furniture in it; the dirt floor did duty as chairs and washstand. Whenever Nat got up in the morning and desired to perform his ablutions, there was the branch handy, and it was but little trouble to go down there. It was dark in here, too, but a slight feeling among the bed clothes showed Jonas that somebody had been there. The pillow was gone, and so were the quilts that Nat usually spread over him.

This beats my time all hollow, said Jonas, pulling off his hat and wiping his forehead. If he should go out among the neighbors but then he cant have gone that far. Nat is going to make him up a bed somewhere.

Jonass next trip was to the barn, and there he found Mr. Nickerson stretched out on a rude bed which Nat had made for him, and a lighted lantern throwing a dim light over the scene. Jonas first impulse was to find out what had become of that book. It was there, lying on the pillow close beside Mr. Nickersons head. Nat was seated on the floor a little ways from him, but he did not say anything when Jonas came in.

Hello! said the new-comer, with an attempt to appear cheerful. What you laying down out here for? Why dont you get up and go to your own room?

You have told me once that I need not come into your house any more, said the old man, in his usual whining tone, and I am going to take you at your word. I shall never go into your house again.

Shaw! said Jonas, with a sorry effort at a laugh. You didnt pay any attention to what I said, do you? If I had brought your tobacco you would be all right now; but I was bothered so with a heap of things that happened while I was down town, that I forgot all about it. I didnt mean nothing. Is this the book you were going to give me for a keepsake!

Oh, yes, thats the one.

What does it say in it? continued Jonas; and Nat could see that he was turning over the leaves very carefully.

I wanted you to read it all, every word of it, and perhaps it would have done you some good.

Well, get up and go into the house. The old woman has got some hot tea left for you, and you will sleep better there than you will here. Have you got a programme, or whatever you call it, so that I can find where your money is hidden!

No, there is nothing of the kind there, said Mr. Nickerson, with a movement which showed plainly that he wished Jonas would go away. There is nothing but reading in the book.

Jonas was getting angry again. Nat could see that by the looks of his face.

Are you sure there is nothing in it? he asked, in a voice which trembled in spite of himself.

Not a thing. You can examine it and see for yourself. I shall not last long

I dont want to hear no such talk as that. You will last longer than I will, I bet you.

Nat, have you got any of this book stowed away about your good clothes?

No, sir, I have not, answered Nat, rising to his feet. You can search me and see.

Nat was perfectly safe in making this proposition. We said he had put those two leaves into his pocket; so he did; but he had taken pains to conceal them since. In a remote corner of the barn were some corn huskings which Caleb had left there as he was working at the grain to be taken to the mill. Underneath that pile were the two leaves that Jonas wanted to find.

Thats the way you always serve me when you think I have got anything you want, said Nat boldly. You took a quarter away from me that I had left after buying my shoes, and I havent seen it since.

Of course I did. It was the properest thing that I should have the handling of all your money; but any more such talk as that will bring the switch down on your shoulders in good shape. You hear me? Theres nothing but reading in this book, you say old man?

Thats all, and you would not have it when I offered it to you. I gave you a thousand dollars which you promised

Aw! shut up about that, said Jonas, rising to his feet; for in order to hold conversation with Mr. Nickerson he had kneeled down by his side. Theres nothing in here that tells about the money?

No, no, there is nothing of that kind, I have not got any money. I am a poor, feeble old man and shall not last long

I will bet you wont, roared Jonas, livid with rage and shaking his fist in the old mans face. You wont get a bite of anything to eat until you tell me where that money is; you hear me?

I dont expect it; I never have expected it. I shall die before morning

Jonas did not wait to hear any more, nor did he say anything further about Mr. Nickerson getting up and going to his own room. He did stop long enough to throw the book at Nat, but Nat was on the alert and the missive did not touch him. It ruined the book so far as reading was concerned. The remaining leaves were torn out of it and scattered all over the floor, and it was useless for anybody to think of putting them together again.

Thank goodness, he has gone at last, said Mr. Nickerson, with a long drawn sigh of relief. I expected he would come here.

So did I; and I took my leaves and hid them under this pile of corn, said Nat. Now I wish there was something else that I could do for you.

There is nothing, nothing. I shall not be here much longer to bother him, but he will think of me when I am gone. Nat, you must try to get that money. Dont you let anybody see that paper. Hide it carefully so that no one can find it. Good night. I want to sleep now. Come in in the morning and see me.

I will do it, said Nat getting upon his feet and shaking the old man cordially by the hand. I shall not wait until morning, either. You may want something or other during the night.

Nat went away feeling heavy hearted over what had just occurred. Something, he did not know what told him that the old man would never live to see the sun rise again. He felt guilty in going away from him, but Mr. Nickerson had requested it and he did not see what else there was to be done.

I wont take my clothes off at all when I lie down, said Nat, going into his lean-to and shutting the door behind him. And to think that I am rich and going to be rich through his death! I wish the old man was in perfect health and was going off with me. I would make his life be as peaceable as I knew how.

Nats brain was so upset with all that had happened that he could not think very readily, but he did not ponder upon anything so much as he did upon what the old gentleman had said to Jonas: I shall die before morning. That was bringing the matter pretty close to him, and he resolved that he would not go to sleep at all; but his work with the potatoes had wearied him, and almost before he knew it he was in the land of dreams. He awoke with a start and it was broad day-light. To roll off his shake-down, seize his hat and make his way to the barn was the work of a very few minutes. Everything seemed quiet and still there. With cautious haste he opened the door and saw Mr. Nickerson lying on his shake-down just as he left him the night before. He wanted to say something to him but he did not dare. He drew a step closer and one look was enough. With frantic speed he ran to the house, pushed open the door and seized Jonas by the shoulder.

Wake up, here, he said, in a trembling voice. The old man has bothered you for the last time. He is dead.

Jonas was a sound sleeper and it was a hard task to awaken him; but there was something so thrilling in Nats words that he was on his feet in an instant. He looked at the boy as though he did not know what he meant.

Mr. Nickerson lies dead down in your barn, said Nat, earnestly. He told you last night that he would die before morning, and sure enough he has.

Why-I-You dont mean it! exclaimed Jonas, his eyes wide with excitement.

Dont stop to talk, Jonas, said Mrs. Keeler nervously. Did you see him, Nat?

I have just come from there.

Then go along and see if you can do something, urged his wife. Maybe he aint dead.

Jonas had by this time hurriedly put his clothes on, and he led the way to the barn with top speed, stopping only to call Caleb on the way. Everything was as Nat had left it the night before. There was Baxters Saints Rest with the leaves all torn out of it, lying by the dead mans head, and it seemed as though the old man had not moved a finger since Nat bade him good night.

Well, sir, he has gone up, said Jonas; and Nat looked to see some little twinge of remorse in his tones. But there was not a particle that he could see, not even an expression of regret.

Yes, he is gone, and now what remains for us to do? We cant let him lie here, said Nat, as he looked at the withered form of the old man.

Say, Nat, dont you say any thing about his being out here where the neighbors can hear it, said Jonas, with a scowl, pulling Nat up close to him and whispering the words in his ear. If you do, remember that switch.

I am not at all afraid of your whipping me, said Nat, wrenching his arm out of Jonass grasp. You have done that for the last time. You had better make arrangements to do something with Mr. Nickersons body, if you are going to.

Jonas stood and looked at Nat as if he could scarcely believe his ears. The rebellion, which he had been working up for so long, had come suddenly and promptly, too, and the man was afraid of it. What was Nat going to do? There was but one thing that came up in Jonas mind and that was money. It dawned upon him that Mr. Nickerson had possibly taken the boy into his confidence and Jonas saw that if such were the case he must keep quiet in order to find out what it was.

I dont mean to harm you, Natty, said he, but his looks certainly belied him, but you can see for yourself how the neighbors will talk if they find out that the old man had been sleeping in my barn.

I understand all about that, said Nat. You need not fear of my saying any thing. You had better shut up Calebs mouth if you want the thing kept secret.

Jonas evidently thought so too. He took Caleb off on one side and held a very earnest conversation with him, and after this, with Mrs. Keelers help, who came down to the barn as soon as she was fairly dressed, they made out to carry the old mans body up to the house and lay it on Jonass bed. Nobody passed along the road while they were doing it. When the neighbors came there they would think that Mr. Nickerson had died in that room; they would not think of the barn at all. When this much had been done Nat was sent off post haste on a mule for the doctor, and Caleb was commanded to go around to those who lived close by and tell them of the bereavement that had come upon the house of Jonas Keeler during the night. After that Jonas seated himself upon a chair in the cabin, folded his arms, dropped his chin upon his breast and waited for the neighbors to come.

After that each one had his particular duties to perform, though the neighbors did the most of it. Jonas was too weak and dispirited to do any thing, even to doing the chores, and left it all to Caleb, who went about wondering if the old mans taking off was going to work any change in his circumstances. Nats first care was to find the two leaves that were pasted together and hide them where there was no possibility of any bodys hunting them out. Then he settled down to think about his future. Mr. Nickerson was gone, and what had he to keep him longer under Jonass roof? He had seventy-five dollars in money, he had kept a strict account of that, and what was there to hinder him from going down to Manchester and making an effort to enrich himself? It required long study, but by the time the funeral was over Nat had decided upon his course.

CHAPTER VI.
Nat Sees a Friend

Theres just this much about it, said Nat, when Mr. Nickerson had been laid away in a little grove of evergreens behind the barn, and the neighbors had gone home one after the other and the family had returned to the house, it is going to be something of a job for me to go down there and get that money. In the first place there is Jonas, who will be furious when he finds that I have run away from home, especially if he thinks I am going to make something by it. He will follow me night and day, and I cant make a move of any sort without he will see it. Then he will bring me home and wont I ketch it, though?

This bothered Nat more than any thing else. He wanted some little time to think seriously about the way to beat Jonas at his own game, and went into the barn, drew a milk-stool to the threshold so that he could see anybody that approached him from the house and sat down to go over the points again.

I have got to have help, thought Nat, and there is only one boy in the settlement that I can trust; and when it comes to that, I cant trust him, either. He is a lazy, good-for-nothing fellow, and worse than all, I dare not tell him what I am looking after. I must go it alone if I can; but if I find that I cant do it, I must see Peleg Graves about it.

Come to look at the matter Nat was in bad straits, and that was a fact. Of course there were plenty of boys he could have got to assist him, but the trouble was he did not know any of them. He and Caleb were much alike in this respect. The families around them were a little better off than they were, nobody liked Jonas on account of his shiftless ways, and his boys, Nat and Caleb, had been brought up to follow very much in his footsteps, and his bad example had a deteriorating effect on their character they were like dogs without a master. That was the way Nat looked at it, and it was the source of infinite annoyance to him.

Whenever I go down town I can just go alone, Nat had often said to himself. All the boys there have their friends who are glad to see them. It is Hello, Jim! or Hello, Tom! here and there and everywhere; but if any one looks at me he seems to say: What you doing here, Nat? You have not any business to come to town. And I have more money to spend than any of them. But Peleg has never been that way. He has always seemed glad to see me, but I think the candy I was eating had something to do with it.

After long reflection Nat finally made up his mind that he would call upon Peleg and see what he had to say about it; but there was one thing on which he was fully resolved: He would not let Peleg know what they were searching for until they found the money. He was not going to stay about Jonass house any longer that was another thing that he had decided upon; and something happened just then to make him adhere to this decision. The door of the house opened at this point in his meditations and Caleb came out. Of course he was very solemn, almost any body would be if one had died so near him, but he came along toward Nat as if he had something on his mind.

Well, Nat, your friend has gone at last, said he, by way of beginning the conversation.

That is a fact. He was the only friend I had about the house.

You will not have any more money to buy tobacco for him, will you? asked Caleb. What are you going to do?

How did I get any money to buy any tobacco for him? inquired Nat. That was just what Nat had been doing for a number of years, but how did Caleb find it out?

Oh, you cant fool me, said Caleb, with a laugh. I saw him go into the fence corner the day before he died and take a plug of tobacco out of there. I did not say any thing to pap about it, for I did not know but it was some secret business that you and old man Nickerson had. I did not want to go back on you

If he found any tobacco there he must have got it himself, said Nat, for he did not care to listen any more to the falsehoods Caleb was about to utter. I dont know any thing about it.

Aw, now, what is the use of fooling in that way? I would like to know how Mr. Nickerson could have got any tobacco for himself. He has not been to town in two years to my certain knowledge. You got it the last time you were there and stowed it away where he could find it.

Nat was amazed at this revelation. In spite of all his cunning Caleb had succeeded in getting upon his secret at last. If the latter told his father of it he would feel the switch sure enough; that is if he stayed about the premises. Without making any reply he picked up his stool, moved it back where it belonged and made ready to walk out of the barn.

You see I am on to those little tricks of yours, said Caleb. Dont go yet for I have something to say to you. Now I will tell you this to begin with, Nat Wood: You know where Mr. Nickerson had the rest of that money hidden.

What money? asked Nat, innocently.

The money he had hidden when he came here, Caleb almost shouted, doubling up his fists as though he had more than half a mind to strike Nat for professing so much ignorance. Pap says you know where it is and he is going to have it out of you, too.

I will bet you he dont, said Nat to himself. That money is mine and if I dont have it, it can stay there until it rots.

Now I will tell you what we will do, Nat, continued Caleb, dropping his threatening manner and laying his hand patronizingly on Nats shoulder. Me and you will keep this still from pap, and go down to Manchester and dig up that money. Oh man alive, wont we live high

You seem to think it, if there is any of it at all, is in the ground, interrupted Nat.

Where else should it be put? If it is in the ground no one can stumble on it while he is roaming around through the woods. I will go with you and will start now, if you say so.

Well, if you are going down to Manchester to look for that money, which I dont believe is there, you can go, said Nat. But I will stay here. I am not going to dig around unless I can make something by it.

Oh, come on now, Nat, said Caleb, coaxingly. You know where it is and I will bet on it.

If you do bet on it you will lose whatever you bet. But I have already had my say. I wont go down to Manchester with you.

If you dont go I will tell pap, said Caleb, growing angry again.

You can run and tell him as soon as you please. If I could see the money sticking up before me this minute I would not give you a cent of it. It does not belong to you.

Then I bet you I am going to tell pap, said Caleb, who was so nearly beside himself that he walked up and down the barn swinging his hands about his head. You will get that switch over your shoulders before you go to bed tonight. Whoop-pe! I would not have the licking you will get for anything.

Caleb marched away as if he were afraid he would forget his errand before he got to the house, and Nat leaned against the door-post and watched him. There was one good reason why Caleb would not tell his father of the tobacco hidden in the fence corner, and that was the fear that the switch would be used upon himself. Why had he not told his father of it when he came from town? Jonas was in just the right mood to use that switch then, and he would have beaten Nat most unmercifully until he got at the full history of the tobacco money. But Caleb had let it go for three days now, and perhaps Jonas felt differently about it. Nat did not know this. He stood there in the door of the barn waiting for Jonas to come, but he waited in vain. Nat was doing some heavy thinking in the meantime, and he finally concluded that he would go and see Peleg and have the matter settled before he went any further. With a parting glance at the house he put the bushes that lined the potato patch between them, broke into a run and in a quarter of an hour he was at Pelegs barn. Peleg was there. He was engaged in getting some corn ready to go to the mill and he was husking it.

Well, Nat, where are you going to find another friend like Mr. Nickerson was to you? was the way he greeted Nat when he came into the barn.

I dont know, was Nats reply. I am left alone in the world. There is nobody who cares a cent whether I live or die.

When Peleg saw what humor Nat was in, how solemn he talked about the loss of his friend, he faced about on his seat and looked at him. Any boy who had been in Nats place would have been satisfied that Peleg could not be trusted, and would have turned away from him to look elsewhere for a friend. He was not a bad looking boy, but he had a kind of sneaking, hang-dog way with him that did not go far toward making his friends. But he had friends and that was the worst of it. It was a sort of policy with Peleg to agree to every thing that any body said to him. He did that with an object, and Nat always thought that he listened with the intention of learning something. Perhaps if we follow him closely we shall see how nearly he drew Nat on to tell him all about the money and the plans he had laid for obtaining possession of it.

Shaw! I would not talk that way, said Peleg, throwing an ear of corn into the pile. You have got friends enough here. There is Caleb and Jonas





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