A Struggle for a Fortuneñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“I reckon you don’t know what sort of friends they are to me,” Nat interposed.
“Well, between I and you, I have often thought that they might have used you a little better,” said Peleg, sinking his voice almost to a whisper. “Jonas uses that switch on you most too much.”
“Yes, and he has done that for the last time. I am not going to stand it any longer.”
“What are you going to do – run away from home?”
“I am going to run away from Jonas. I don’t call that my home – I never had one; but I want to get away and make my own living.”
“That’s right, my boy; that’s right. You will make a better living than you do there. Look at the clothes you wear!”
“I will have better before long,” said Nat, crossing one leg over the other when he saw that Peleg was looking steadily at the huge rent in his overalls.
“Say,” whispered Peleg, getting upon his feet and approaching his face close to Nat’s. “Did old Nickerson leave you any money? You need not be afraid to talk to me about that,” he continued, seeing that Nat looked down at the ground and hesitated. “They say that the old man was, or had been, powerful rich, and if he was a friend to any body in that house he ought to be to you.”
“I know he was my friend. He always had something kind to say to me.”
“I knew it; I knew it all the time. Say! Jonas has not used up all that thousand dollars that the old man gave him?”
“What do you know about that?” asked Nat, in surprise. “Has Jonas been talking about it?”
“I won’t say that he has or that he hasn’t,” said Peleg, with a knowing shake of his head. “I don’t mind telling you, for I know it won’t go any further, that I have heard something about it. You would not expect me to say more without breaking my word, and that is something I never do. But I tell you that he has got a heap of that thousand dollars left.”
“That’s what I have often thought. Where has he got it hidden?”
“That’s another thing I must not tell you, but I know where, or at least I can come within a thousand miles of it, where he hides it. You see I know a heap of things that people don’t think I do. If you should tell me that you know where that money is – ”
“But I don’t,” said Nat. “I know where some of it is – that is the most of his fortune is concealed.”
“Aha!” said Peleg while a smile, a very faint smile which nobody would have noticed, overspread his face. He did not give utterance to this expression but said it to himself, while Nat himself, always on the lookout for some such signs, did not know how extremely delighted he was by it. Peleg was in a fair way to learn all about it. “If you should tell me where this money is hidden,” he went on after controlling himself, “I would die before any one should find out from me the exact spot. You see the way the thing works with me is this: If a person tells you a secret, that is yours to keep. Don’t tell any body of it; and in a very short time people will learn that you can be trusted.”
“I don’t know just where this money is,” said Nat, and he hesitated a long while before he said the next words.
“I know where the papers are.”
“The papers that tell where the money is hidden.”
“Where are they?”
“I have got them safe and I should like to see any body find them.”
“That’s right; keep them safe,” said Peleg, although he was much disappointed because the papers were not instantly produced. “Don’t you let a living soul into it unless you find some one to tell the secret to.”
“I am going down to look those papers up now,” said Nat.
“Down to Manchester,” replied Nat; whereupon that same smile came upon Peleg’s face once more. He was thinking how he was going to work to get a sight at those papers.
“It is going to be no easy task to go down there and find the papers all by myself,” continued Nat, walking back and forth across the floor and wondering how in the world he was going to propose the matter to Peleg. “You see the minute I go away Jonas will suspect something, and if there is any point he will go for it will be Manchester.”
“That’s a fact,” said Peleg, a bright idea striking him. “And if he found you there your chance of digging up the papers would be up stump. When do you want to go?”
“I would go now, this very night, if I had some one to go with me. I would find the money, if there is any, and go away where I am not known.”
“That is just what I would do,” replied Peleg, with sundry motions of his head which he thought added emphasis to his words. “Then nobody can ask you where you got so many stamps.”
“I don’t fear for that,” said Nat, hastily. “I want everybody to know where I got them. I will get away and put them in the bank; then I should like to see any body get hold of them.”
“That’s the idea. When you once get it into the bank it is safe. You say you want somebody to help you. That shows you are wise. If there is any body on top of this broad earth who will be up to tricks, it is that Jonas Keeler.”
“There is Caleb,” suggested Nat. “He won’t come out where any body can see him, but he will sneak around in the bushes. Jonas and Caleb will go together.”
“Oh, Caleb,” said Peleg, contemptuously. “Caleb is a fellow to be – Well, I reckon we would best look out for him too,” he added, for it suddenly occurred to him that the more persons Nat had against him the greater need he would have for somebody to protect him. “If there is any body can get away with Caleb, I am the one. There ain’t any scheme that boy is up to that I can’t see through. I will go halvers with you on that money, or rather the papers that will tell where it is hidden, when we get it.”
“Then you and I can’t hitch,” replied Nat, surprised at the proposition. “I can not pay any such sum as that.”
“What for?” demanded Peleg. “You are going to make as much as three or four thousand dollars by it.”
“I don’t know what I will make and I don’t care. It will be enough to take me away from the house in which I now live, and that is all I want. I might as well go home.”
“Well, what will you give? Maybe you think it is fun to go down there and beat Jonas and Caleb when they are trying to get the money or the papers away from you? I shall want good pay for doing that.”
“I will give you good pay; more than double what you can make here. I will give you a dollar a day, payment to begin when we strike Manchester.”
It was now Peleg’s turn to be astonished. He stared hard at Nat to see if he was in earnest, and then went back to his seat and began husking corn.
Mr. Graves Is Astonished
There were two very badly disappointed boys in Peleg Graves’s barn that day, and each one thought that he had good grounds for it.
“The little fule!” said Peleg, spitefully snatching up an ear of com which happened to be nearest to him. “Here he is, almost rolling in wealth, and he won’t go halvers with me on that money. A dollar a day! Well, that is more than I could get for shucking corn or digging potatoes these times, and now Peleg, I want to ask you a question: Did you make a mistake there? I reckon you did. Suppose he makes a go of it and finds the papers – ‘Shaw! I can see through a ladder as plain as he can. The papers are the money; that’s what’s the matter. And suppose he finds it with my help, what is there to hinder me from getting up some dark night and taking the money – Whoop-pee! Why did not I think of that?”
“I reckon I may as well go home, and I am sorry that I ever came up here,” said Nat to himself, as he walked listlessly about the barn floor. “I have put Peleg on his guard now, and he will make another one that I will have to fight in order to get that money. Peleg would go halvers with me on that money! I will give him a dollar a day and that is every cent I will give him.”
“Are you off, Nat?” inquired Peleg, facing around on his stool again.
“Yes, I might as well,” replied Nat, who had started for home. “You want altogether too much for helping me.”
“Well, now, hold on. Don’t go yet. Maybe you and I can come to some understanding. You don’t think it is worth while to watch Jonas and Caleb, but I tell you – ”
“Yes, I do. But supposing I don’t find the money? Then I can’t pay you a thing.”
“That’s so,” said Peleg, for the thought was new to him. “I did not think of that. Now see here; I will tell you how we will fix this thing. You want me to stay with you until you find the money, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” said Nat.
“Well, you give me a dollar a day – But hold on. Have you got any money at all? I had better know that before we start.”
“Oh, yes, I have as much as – as ten dollars, and I will give you your pay every night.”
“Where did you get ten dollars?” asked Peleg, who was very much surprised. “Why don’t you buy a new pair of overalls?”
“I have my reasons. They are good ones, too. Are you going with me or ain’t you? We have some other little matters to decide, and it is getting along toward dark.”
“If you say so we will go tonight,” replied Peleg, getting upon his feet again.
“What will you say to your folks?”
“I will tell them that I am going out after the cows, or any thing else that I think of. My folks won’t trouble us, I will bet on that. But we have got to have something to eat.”
“I have thought of that, and I can buy everything we want in Manchester – every thing except the meat. You have a gun – ”
“Yes; but we must get some powder and shot for that. I am all out.”
“We can do that, too. Now I will tell you what I have decided upon.”
The two boys drew closer together and for fifteen minutes there was some whispering done between them. At the end of that time it was all over and the boys departed satisfied – at least one of them was.
“I am afraid I made a mistake in coming here at all,” was what Nat said to himself. “I ought to have gone on and done the best I could by myself. Peleg is up to something and he will bear watching. Do you suppose he means to run down and tell Jonas about my running away?”
This thought created consternation in Nat’s mind and he faced about and looked at the barn in which he had left Peleg. But if the truth must be told, Peleg had no intention of going near Jonas. He was too sharp to throw away the easy means he had of making a fortune by doing that. When Nat went away he leaned against the hay-mow, or rather the place where it would have been if there had been any hay there, and broke into a silent but hearty fit of merriment.
“Peleg, the thing you have often wanted has come to you at last,” he whispered, walking to the door and peeping slyly out to see if Nat had really gone. “Your fortune has come to you at last. Now what be I going to do; for I must get away from here as soon as it comes dark. In the first place I will go in and tell pap about it.”
Peleg hurried to the house without taking pains to shut the barn door, and broke into the living room where his father and mother were sitting engaged in smoking. This was the way in which they always passed their time when they could find nothing better to do, and that happened very frequently.
“Have you got that corn all shucked?” inquired his father.
“Naw; and what’s more, I ain’t a-going to shuck no more to-night,” replied Peleg.
“What’s to do now?”
“Well I will tell you,” said Peleg, drawing a chair without any back close in front of the fire. “I have got a chance to make a fortune; but if I tell you what it is you must go halvers with me, or I shan’t tell you a thing.”
Mr. Graves and his wife were both amazed. They took their pipes from their mouths, straightened up and looked hard at Peleg to see if he were in earnest.
“You remember old man Nickerson, I reckon, don’t you?” continued Peleg. “Well, he’s gone dead, you know, and he has willed a whole pile of money, or papers and such things which shows where the money is, and Nat wants me to go down to Manchester with him and help dig it up.”
“Who teld you about this?” demanded Mr. Graves.
“Nat was here not two minutes ago and he told me himself. He’s going as soon as it comes dark.”
“Now the best thing you can do is to run over and tell Jonas about it,” said Mr. Graves, knocking the ashes from his pipe and getting upon his feet. “The idea of that little snipe having a whole pile of money – it is not to be thought of.”
“Well, I just ain’t a-going to say a word to Jonas about it,” said Peleg. “They isn’t any body knows about that money excepting you and me. I am going to have it all.”
Mr. Graves looked hard at his son again and finally took his chair once more. He saw in a moment what Peleg was up to, but he wanted to hear the whole plan.
“What you going to do? How be I going to help you?”
It did not take Peleg many minutes to make his father understand what he had decided to do, and in fact there was not much for him to explain. He was going to get his gun and go over to Nat’s house and wait until he was ready. When he came out he was going to join him, and together they would go to Manchester and camp out until they found the papers which would tell them where the money was concealed. After that was done he would be ready to begin operations. Mr. Graves might blacken up his face to resemble a negro, come up and overpower them and take the money, or he might watch his opportunity and approach the camp while the two boys were away buying provisions.
“Who told you about this?” said Mr. Graves, who was lost in admiration of Peleg’s cunning. It sounded like some novel that he used to read in his schoolboy days.
“Nobody didn’t tell me of it,” said Peleg. “I got it all up out of my own head. Don’t you think it will work?”
“Of course it will. How long are you going to stay down to Manchester?”
“I didn’t ask him about that; probably not more’n three or four days.”
“But you have got to live while you are looking for the papers. Have you got any thing cooked, S’manthy?”
“That’s taken care of, for Nat is going to support us. He has as much as ten dollars that he is going – ”
“Where did he get ten dollars? It looks to me as though that boy has been stealing.”
“Couldn’t old man Nickerson have given him that sum while he was alive? That boy has come honestly by his money, and, look here, pap, don’t you fool yourself. If Nat has got ten dollars he has got twenty dollars; and don’t you forget it.”
“Do you reckon that old man Nickerson gave him all that money?” said Mr. Graves, who was profoundly astonished at Nat’s wealth.
“I don’t know where else he could have got it. Now I want some clothes to take with me and my gun. What be you going to do, pap, when we find that money?”
“You have got to find the papers first.”
“Now just listen at you,” said Peleg, with evident disgust. “There ain’t no papers there. When we find the place where the thing is hidden, it will be money, and nothing else. Nat ain’t got no papers. You hear me?”
“Then I reckon I had best wait a while until I see you again,” said Mr. Graves, reflectively. “If you find the money I want to take it all.”
“How much will that be, Peleg?” said the woman, who had been so surprised at this conversation that she had taken no part in it. “It will be as much as three or four hundred dollars, won’t it?”
“Three or four hundred fiddle-sticks!” said Peleg. “Old man Nickerson was worth a power of money, and if he has got any hidden it all amounts to three or four thousand dollars.”
“Good lands!” gasped Mrs. Graves, settling back in her chair. “I can have some good clothes with that. Three or four thousand! I reckon I’d best fill up for another smoke.”
Peleg began to stir about and in a short time he had collected his wardrobe, which did not amount to much seeing that he carried the whole of it in an old valise, and his gun that was going to furnish them with game while they were looking for the money. It was about as worthless a thing as ever was fashioned in wood and iron, but still it managed to bring down a squirrel or rabbit every time Peleg went hunting.
“Now if any body comes here and wants to know where I am, you can tell him that you don’t know,” said Peleg, as he slung his bundle on his single barrel and put the whole on his shoulder. “You had better come down that way to-morrow, pap, but let me tell you one thing: You had better keep out of sight. If Nat so much as suspects that there is somebody watching us, he will quit the work right then and there, and we shan’t find any money.”
Mr. Graves said that he would take abundant care of that, and Peleg opened the door and went out. There was no “good-by” about it. As soon as he was gone Mr. Graves proceeded to fill up for another smoke.
“That there is a powerful good boy who has just went out,” said he. “What on earth should we do without him? I tell you, S’manthy, we are going to be wonderful rich in a few days from now. I know of three or four horses that I want – ”
With this introduction Mr. Graves went on to enumerate the various horses and cows and farming utensils he needed and must have to make his calling as agriculturist successful, and when he got through his wife took up the strain, and by the time that twelve o’clock came they had not only three or four thousand dollars of Mr. Nickerson’s money laid out, but they had some more thousands besides. It is hard to tell what they did not provide for. They had a new house built up, the weeds all cut down, an orchard in full bearing where the worthless brier patch used to stand, and every thing fixed up in first-class shape. But they got tired of this after a while, and went to bed.
“Pe-leg!” shouted Mr. Graves, when he awoke at daylight. “It is high time you was up. Well, now, what am I calling him for? He is a long way from here by this time, and, S’manthy, perhaps he has got onto that money after all.”
“He could not have found it before he got where it was,” suggested Mrs. Graves. “He must camp out some time, else why did he take his gun with him?”
“That’s so,” said Mr. Graves, after thinking a moment. “I don’t feel like myself at all this morning; do you, S’manthy? Now I have got to get up and build the fire; but I don’t mind that. In a little while we’ll have somebody to build it for us. Who’s that coming there?” added Mr. Graves, who, as he drew on his trousers, went to the window and glanced up and down the road. “If there ain’t Jonas I am a Dutchman. He wants to see what has become of Nat.”
“You won’t tell him, of course?” said his wife.
“Mighty clear of me. I don’t know where he is and neither do you.”
The silence that followed on the inside of the cabin was broken at last by the hasty crunch of earth and stones outside the door, and then Jonas laid his heavy hand upon it.
“Who’s that?” shouted Mr. Graves.
“It is me; don’t you know Jonas?” answered a voice. “Get up here. I want to ask you a question.”
“All right. I will soon be there. Now, old woman, you cover up and don’t open your head while he is here.”
In a few minutes Mr. Graves opened the door and the two men greeted each other cordially.
“Howdy, Jonas. What started you out so early? How’s all your family?”
“My family is all right, but I am just now hunting for that boy, Nat. Ain’t seen anything of him, have you?”
“Nat? No; has he run away?” asked Mr. Graves, accidentally letting out the very thing which he was afraid his wife would mention to Jonas if she were allowed to talk. “I mean – you have been using that switch on him lately,” he hastily added, after he had caught his breath.
“No, I hadn’t, but I wish I had,” declared Jonas, for the idea of Nat’s running away was the very thing that was uppermost in his mind. “I have used that boy altogether too well; and now that old man Nickerson has gone, he has cleared out.”
“Well, now, what does the fule boy want to run away for?” said Mr. Graves, looking down at the ground. “He will want some money, if he is going to do that.”
“He has plenty of it, or thinks he has,” said Jonas, angrily. “You ain’t seen Peleg around here lately, have you?”
“Peleg? No, he has gone out after the cows,” said Mr. Graves; and a moment later, as if to show how very much mistaken he was, one of the cows in the barnyard set up a prolonged lowing as if to inquire why somebody did not come out and milk her. “I declare, there’s the cows already,” added Mr. Graves, not at all abashed. “That boy is around here somewhere. Pe-leg,” he shouted, looking around as though he expected Peleg to appear.
“You needn’t call to him that way, pap, ‘cause he ain’t there,” said Mrs. Graves under the bed clothes. “Didn’t you hear him say that he was going fishing to-day?”
“That’s so; so I did. What do you want of Peleg, Jonas?”
“I just wanted to know if he could tell me where Nat was; but if he ain’t here, of course he can’t tell me. You’re sure he ain’t gone to Manchester along with Nat?”
“No,” said Mr. Graves, as if he were surprised to hear it. “What does he want to go down to Manchester for? If he don’t come home pretty soon I will go after him.”
“Nat has got an idea that there is some money down there, and he has gone after it. If he only knew it, I have got all the money that was there long ago.”
Mr. Graves was really surprised now.
“The old man did not have but a thousand dollars, and he gave that to me to spend for him,” said Jonas. “When that boy gets through looking I hope he will come back.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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