Harry Castlemon.

A Struggle for a Fortune





The speaker went away without saying another word, and Mr. Graves stood in his door and watched him go. If Jonas told the truth Peleg had his journey for nothing.

CHAPTER VIII.
The Storekeeper Speaks

Very different were Nat Woods feelings as he walked slowly toward the place he called home. He was certain that during the last hour of his life he had made a bad mistake in that he yielded to his first impulse and took Peleg into his confidence. But the thing had been done, Peleg knew that the money was there, or somewhere about Manchester, and now he had to watch his corners very closely in order to succeed at all.

There is one thing about it, said Nat, as he went up behind the bushes which stood between the potato patch and the house. I will keep a close watch of Peleg, and if I have any reason to suppose that he is working for himself, I will lead him off the track and go somewhere else. Peleg is a pretty sharp boy, but I dont believe he can get ahead of me.

While Nat was thinking this matter over he drew up behind the bushes and took a long and earnest survey of the house. There was no one stirring around it. Having made sure that no one was watching him Nat hurried to a fence corner, not the one that Mr. Nickerson went to in order to get his plug of tobacco, but another one that lay further off, and after a few minutes search arose to his feet with two articles in his hand which he hastily crammed into his pocket. One was a roll of money he did not look it over for he knew how much there was in it and the other was the two leaves of Baxters Saints Rest, still pasted together, which told him where the money was concealed. The money was what he had left from the sum Mr. Nickerson had last given him for the purchase of tobacco.

I dont see what is the need of my taking these two leaves with me, said Nat, as he pushed the remnants of the twigs and bushes back to the place which they had occupied before. Peleg might find it and then know as much about the money as I do. I reckon I had best get that in my head and then destroy the leaves.

To think with Nat was to act. He produced the two leaves from his pocket, seated himself upon the ground and tore them open. The stray leaf, the one on which the diagram that showed where the money was concealed, fell out; and although it was pretty dark so that he could barely trace the lines, they were made with a heavy lead pencil, and furthermore there were but two lines on the page. The first led from a pile of rubbish Nat did not know what else to call it; it probably intended to represent the ruins of Mr. Nickersons house to a second pile of rubbish, which was doubtless intended to show the pile of briers. The second line ran across a little wavering stream which was intended to stand for the brook, up to another pile, and there it stopped. If Nat could only find that pile, his fortune was secure.

It did not take Nat long to make himself master of this diagram, and hastily putting the leaves back again, he buried them in the hole from which he had taken them out, smoothing over the leaves so that no one would suspect that anybody had been there.

So far so good, said Nat, with a long-drawn sigh of relief.

I dont believe that either Jonas or Caleb will find them there. Now the next thing is something else.

It was to separate ten dollars from his roll of bills so that he could show them to Peleg when he came to pay for the various things at Manchester. If he showed more than that amount something would be added to Pelegs suspicions, and no doubt it would lead to an open rupture. The rest of the bills he stowed away in his hat, pressing them down tightly between the outside and the lining, and holding them there by means of a pin which he took from his sleeve. His work was all done now, and he was ready to meet Peleg as soon as he put in an appearance. But in order to make sure that he had not been watched Nat drew along the fence corner into the bushes, until he came within sight of the house again. There was no one there, and no one in the barn, either; so he concluded that he had done this part of his work without being seen.

If I can get through with the rest without having some one to see me, I shall be glad of it, said Nat, going past the house and out to the bars. Good-by, old home, for it is the only home I have had since I can remember. I hope some day to have a place that I can call my own.

His soliloquy was interrupted by the appearance of a person on the road who moved and acted in a way that showed him that the time for operations had come. It was Peleg. He carried his single barrel over his shoulder, supporting an old-fashioned valise which contained his change of underwear.

Well, I am all ready, said Peleg, in a whisper.

So am I, said Nat.

Why, you have not taken a thing with you, said Peleg, when he looked around to see Nat pick up something. Are you going to come back here after your clothes?

All the clothes I have in the world I have got upon my back, said Nat, holding up both hands and turning slowly around so that his companion could see him. I am ready to go if you are.

You must have a clean shirt if nothing more. What will you do when the one you have on now is all soiled?

I will take it off and wash it.

You will? exclaimed Peleg, in unbounded astonishment. Dont you have no women to do that sort of work? My mother always washes my clothes.

Well, you are lucky to have a mother. I have had none since I can remember. I have to do all such little things myself.

This beats me. What did you say to Jonas?

Not a thing. I have not seen him since I saw you.

Have you got your papers? said Peleg, who was particularly anxious on that score. You had better give them to me; because when Jonas overhauls us he will search all your clothes.

Let him search, said Nat, turning upon Peleg and looking at him as closely as he could in the dark. I have got my papers, but they are right in here, he added, touching his forehead with his right hand. He wont get them out of there.

Well! said Peleg, looking down at the ground they were so rapidly leaving behind. Thats a pretty way to do business. You have got me to help you in looking for that money, and you had ought to let me into the whole of it.

In other words, I must tell you my secret, must I? demanded Nat, stopping in his headlong gait. I did not agree to do that. You may go back on me the first thing.

No, I wont; I pledge you my word that I will stay by you. Now if you dont tell me all of it I wont go.

These were very pleasant words to Nat Wood. He had been wondering all the time how he was to be rid of Peleg, and now he was going to accomplish his object without half trying. Peleg stopped when he uttered this threat, but Nat kept on as fast as ever.

I tell you I wont go if you dont tell me just what you are going to do and all about it, said Peleg, taking his bundle off his shoulders.

All right. Then stay where you are. I can get along without you.

You forget Jonas and Caleb, said Peleg, raising his voice as to reach the ears of Nat who was rapidly widening the distance between them. Who is going to watch them while you are doing the digging? The little fule, muttered Peleg, raising his bundle to his shoulder again and hurrying after Nat. What has come over him to make him so mighty independent all at once? A little while ago he was just begging me to go with him; but now he wants to shake me off altogether. Hold up, Nat.

But Nat was past holding up for Peleg or anybody else. He kept on his way without changing his pace, and when at last Peleg overtook him he had passed a half a mile down the road.

Whats the use of you being in such a hurry, Nat? panted Peleg. I cant keep up with you if you go so fast.

Ive got to hurry in order to get to my camping grounds before daylight, replied Nat. If you want to go with me, come on; if you dont, stay back.

But, Nat, it aint right for you to do all the work by yourself, said Peleg.

I dont intend to do it all. You must do some of it, if you go with me. I wont pay you a dollar a day for doing nothing.

Of course. I expect to do some of it; but how can I know what to work at unless you tell me something.

I will tell you what I want as soon as we come to our camping ground, and that ought to satisfy you, said Nat, who plainly saw that he was not going to get rid of Peleg so easily. I may want you to watch for Jonas while I work.

Well, if you do that, it will be right into my hand, said Peleg, to himself. Only I would rather watch for pap. If I see him, I wont let you know a thing about it.

Seeing that Nat was neither to be frightened nor coaxed into revealing his secret, Peleg finally gave up the attempt in disgust, and hurried along by Nats side toward Manchester. Nat had but little to say to him for he was thinking over what was to be done when they once reached their camping grounds. He must be rid of Peleg in some way, and the more he thought about it the more he saw that his success depended entirely upon his finding the money alone and unaided.

If ever a boy deserves kicking I am the one, Nat kept saying to himself. Why didnt I leave Peleg alone husking his corn? He would have been safe there, but now he has got onto my back and I cant shake him off. Can I get him to go back to the store after some provisions, while I look for the money? Thats a plan worth thinking of.

The way to Manchester seemed wonderfully long, it is always long if one is anxious to reach a place, and it was after daylight when they came within sight of it. Fortunately the stores were open and the boys had no difficulty in buying what they wanted. The first thing was the ammunition for Pelegs shotgun; and when that had been purchased and stowed away in the boys valise, the provisions came next, and they found that they had more than they could carry.

There are other things to come, said Nat, pulling out his ten dollars at which Peleg glanced with envious eyes. I must get a spade and pick-ax before I go any further.

Why, what do you want to do with them? asked Peleg, in surprise.

How am I going to do any digging without them? asked Nat in reply. There is no telling how deep the money is in the ground.

Peleg was obliged to be content with this explanation although he was not satisfied with it. He could not bear to see any of Nats money go for such useless things as a spade and pick-ax, because he calculated at some future time to handle all that money himself. And when they were purchased there was another thing that filled him with astonishment.

I wish you would set these implements away somewhere, together with the provisions that we shall not be able to take with us, until Peleg comes after them, said Nat to the storekeeper. He will be after them bright and early to-morrow morning.

All right, said the storekeeper. I will set the whole thing right here in this corner, and if my partner is in here you will know them when you see them. Any thing else that I can show you?

Nothing else, thank you, replied Nat I have every thing I need.

What are you boys going to do up there in the woods? asked the storekeeper. You are not going after rabbits with nothing but a single barrel shotgun. You wont get enough to pay you for your ammunition.

Oh, no; we are going up there to see about some timber that belongs to us.

Well, dont let the ghosts catch you, said the man, with a laugh.

Ghosts! replied Peleg; and he let the butt of his single barrel heavily down upon the floor.

Yes; there is lots of them up there.

Why why whereabouts? inquired Peleg; and it was all he could do to pronounce the words so that the storekeeper could understand him.

Well, I dont know that they have any particular place, but the heft of them appears up about old man Nickersons farm, said the man; and he drew a little on his imagination because he saw that Peleg was frightened. If anybody goes on that place he wants to look out. You see, here the storekeeper leaned his elbows on the counter and sank his voice almost to a whisper. They used to tell here before the war that the old man was worth a power of money, and the rebels came here to gobble it up.

Did they get any? asked Peleg.

Naw they didnt. I was in that party and I know just what they got. It was all in gold, too, but the old fellow had it hidden so that we could not find it. We took him off and put him in the army, but he was too old to be of any use there, and so we turned him loose. Theres been a power of men up there looking for it, but they stay just one night.

They see the ghosts, do they? said Nat

Thats what they do, said the storekeeper, looking all around the room as if he expected to see something advancing upon him. And I tell you they dont wait until daylight comes. I have seen as many as two or three on my porch waiting for me to open the store, and the tales they told were just awful. They say Whew! Ill bet you dont get me up there for no five thousand dollars.

What do they say? asked Nat. Is old man Nickerson among the ghosts?

Yes, he is there, and he is the worst one in the lot; but the worst of it is, he has been somewhere and got ten or a dozen other ghosts to help him along, and the screeching they keep up is enough to drive one crazy. But I reckon you boys aint going up as far as old man Nickersons.

That is the place where we are going, said Nat. We shall not stop until we get there.

Among all them ghosts? exclaimed the storekeeper, and he staggered back from the counter as if Nat had aimed a blow at him. Well, good-by. I shall never see you again, added the man, as he straightened up and thrust his hand out toward Nat. You need not think to be free of them for they come to see everybody that goes there.

But the others came back in safety and so can I, said Nat.

Yes; but the last time they appeared to a person they told him that the next one who came there he would leave his bones for the vultures to pick over, said the man, and he tried to shiver when he uttered the words. I would not go up there, if I was you.

I want to see what a ghost looks like. Come on, Peleg. We have wasted too much time already. You will have those things ready for Peleg tomorrow?

Yes, provided he is able to come after them. And say, Peleg. I want you to take particular notice of the way the ghosts look and what they say and what they do, and all that

You had better get somebody else to go up there, if that is what you want to find out, said Peleg. If I see one of them, or hear him coming through the bushes, I will start a running till you cant see me for the dust. If Nat isnt afraid of the ghosts, I am.

Nat had by this time taken as many of the provisions as he could carry and had left the store, and Peleg, after some hesitation, prepared to follow him. Nat did not believe in ghosts; and even if ghosts were there and Mr. Nickerson was among them, he would not let the rest of the spirits trouble him, for he had given him the money before his death, and had told him just where it was concealed. But his nerves now were not as firm as they were before he went into that store. He did not know what he had to contend with up there in the woods, and the woods were so far away from everybody that it was useless for him to call for help in case he needed it.

But I am going after that money, said he, firmly, as he walked along as if there were no such things as ghosts in the world. It is up there, there was not any ghosts around when it was hidden and I dont believe there are any ghosts now. At least I must see them before I will give it up.

At this moment Peleg overtook him. One glance at his face was enough to show him what he thought about it.

CHAPTER IX.
Peleg Sees Enough

Say, Nat, said Peleg, catching his companion by the arm and speaking almost in a whisper as if he were afraid that the ghosts might overhear him, dont lets go any further. Let us go back.

What will we do with all these provisions? exclaimed Nat.

Lets take them home and eat them there. I am afraid to go to those woods. Dont you believe in ghosts?

I dont know what to say, said Nat, pulling his arm out of Pelegs grasp. That storekeeper talked as though he meant all he said, did he not? He would not try to scare us.

No, sir, said Peleg, emphatically. Let us go back. I dont believe there is any money hidden around here anyway.

It was no part of Nats plan to make Peleg think differently. If he thought they were on a wild goose chase, so much the better for Nat. He would go on and prosecute the search, and if he succeeded, no one would be the wiser for it.

If pap were here, continued Peleg, and then he suddenly stopped.

Does your father believe in ghosts, too? asked Nat.

Of course he does. He has seen them.

Then of course he believes in them. I must see one before I will put any faith in it.

But what will you do if you leave your bones up here for the vultures to pick? urged Peleg, with a shudder. I reckon you will believe in them then.

That will be my misfortune and not my fault. So, Mr. Graves believes in ghosts, does he? said Nat, to himself. I wish to goodness that I knew whether or not Jonas and Caleb believed in them, too. Somehow I feel more afraid of those two men than I do of anything else. Then aloud he said: If I believed as your father does I would not come up here for anything; but I have not seen the ghosts yet, and until I do, I am going to stick to my plan. You can carry the provisions up to Mr. Nickersons house, cant you, and then you can put them down and go back if you want to.

And do you mean that you are really going on? exclaimed Peleg, who was really amazed at the boys courage.

Yes, sir, I am going on; and no one will care whether I succeed or not. Come on, Peleg. You must walk faster than that.

There was no use of trying to get rid of Peleg; Nat saw that plainly enough. He increased his pace and Peleg, as if afraid of being left behind, increased his own and readily kept up with him. He did not have any more to say about the ghosts until after they had covered the half of a dozen miles that lay between them and Mr. Nickersons farm; and then they turned off the road, climbed a fence and found themselves in a thicket of bushes which enveloped them on all sides so that they could not see two feet in advance of them. Then Pelegs courage gave away altogether.

I believe I wont go any further, said he; and he made a move as if he were going to put down the provisions he was carrying. It is awful dark in there, aint it?

Pretty dark, whispered Nat, bending down and trying to see through the bushes. But this is nothing to what it will be when night comes. If we are going to hear anything we will hear it then. Will you be afraid to come down here to get the spade and pick-ax to-morrow?

You just bet I will, answered Peleg, and Nat noticed that his face was as white as it could get. If you dont get that spade and pick-ax until I bring them up to you, you will wait a long while before you do any digging.

Well, pick up the provisions and come along, said Nat, who was getting really impatient. Stay right close behind me, and if I see any ghosts I will shoo them off.

Once more Nat started on and Peleg, not daring to remain behind, gathered up his burden and kept along close on his heels. It was a long way through the bushes to the back of Mr. Nickersons farm, and with almost every step Peleg heard something that alarmed him; a bird chirped in the thicket close beside him or a ground squirrel vociferously scolded them as they drew near and hurried off to his retreat, and several times he was on the point of throwing down the provisions and taking to his heels. But there was the money that they were after. That had a stronger attraction to him than his fear of the ghosts, and when Nat threw aside the last branch and stepped out into the open field, Peleg was right behind, although he was all out of breath and sweating so, as he affirmed, that he could hear it rattling on the leaves.

When we go back let us go the other way, panted Peleg, looking around for a place to sit down. I am just tired out. Now what are you going to do? Here is the spot, and if you have not got them papers with you, how do you know where to dig?

The papers are all in my head where no one will get them, said Nat, laying down his armful of provisions and looking around to see if there was a path that led down the hill. You stay here and rest, and I will go on and see

Not much I wont stay here, exclaimed Peleg, rising to his feet as Nat started off. I am going to stay close by you. I wish I had known about the ghosts. I wouldnt have come one peg.

So do I, said Nat to himself. If I can get up some way to scare you to-night, I shall be happy.





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