Harry Castlemon.

A Struggle for a Fortune





To have seen Nat go to work one would have supposed that he knew where the money was hidden and all about it. He went as straight as he could go to the corner of the ruins of Mr. Nickersons house, and there he stopped and his lips moved as if he were holding a consultation with himself.

Six to one and a half dozen to the other, he muttered, as if he were not aware that Peleg was anywhere within reach of him. That paper is burned up here in the ruins, but I have got it in my head.

What are you trying to get through yourself, Nat? said Peleg. Talk English so that I can understand you.

Nat did not act as though he had heard him at all.

The next is a beech tree on the right hand side, continued Nat. Now let me see if that can be found.

What about the beech tree? There is one down there at the foot of the hill.

Nat had already started off toward the beech tree, and a little way from it found a pile of briers; but did not look at them more than once. He went around on the left hand side of the beech tree, and throwing back his head gazed earnestly into the branches.

Now whichever way that limb points, it points to the hiding-place of the papers, said But there are not any limbs that point Nat. any way. They all seem to point upward to the sky. If this is the tree Ill soon make the limb move. Here, watch that branch and see if it dont stir. Six of one and half a dozen of the other.

What do you keep saying those words for all the time? inquired Peleg. Why dont you talk so that I can understand it?

That is a secret that Mr. Nickerson used while he was engaged in burying the papers, said Nat, a bright idea striking him. Come here and I will tell you all about it, he added, catching Peleg by the arm and drawing his face close to his own. You see these trees and everything about here is in sympathy with Mr. Nickerson, because he is dead, you know. I might come up here or you might come up here and look for those papers, and if we did not have the secret that Mr. Nickerson used while concealing them, why, we wouldnt know any more about it than we do now. I declare that branch moves; dont you see it?

Peleg looked earnestly into the tree but could see nothing. Nat even got hold of him and pulled him around and twisted his head on one side so that he could see the upper part of the tree, but the moving of the limb was something that Peleg could not discern.

It only moved a little bit so that I could see it, said Nat, in explanation. You have got to be quick or you cant see it. Now we will go off this way and see if we can find something else.

There was some little thing about this that was certainly uncanny something that did not look natural to Peleg. The idea of a boy having some mysterious words at his command which made inanimate nature obey him was a new thing to him, and he did not know what to make of it; but Nat seemed to think it was all right and went ahead as if he had been expecting it.

He stepped across the brook and moved up the hill, but before he had taken many steps he came back and put his face close to Pelegs again.

I must tell you one thing so that you will not be frightened, said he, in a whisper. When I get on the track of those papers youll hear something.

What is it like? said Peleg, in the same cautious whisper.

I dont know. It may be like the report of a cannon; or it may be like something else you never heard of. You must keep your mind on those papers while we are looking for them.

Nat went on ahead and in a few moments more he stepped upon the very stone which was buried half way in the earth and covered the hiding place of his money. His heart bounded at the thought. If Peleg was away and he had the pick-ax and spade at his command he would be a rich boy in less than half an hour.

I dont see it, said he, dolefully.

Dont see what? said Peleg. If you repeat your words once more perhaps it will come to you.

Six of one and a half dozen of the other, exclaimed Nat; and instantly there came a response that he had not been expecting. A huge dead poplar, which stood on the bank a hundred feet away, suddenly aroused itself into life and action, took part in Nats invocation and sent a thrill of terror through him and Peleg. A branch of the tree about fifty feet from the ground, as large as any of the ordinary trees that were standing around them, ceased its hold upon the parent trunk and came with a stunning crash to the ground. Peleg was so startled that he fairly jumped, while Nat stood perfectly thunderstruck.

This was nothing more than the boys had been accustomed to all their lives. Such sounds were not new in the country in which they had been brought up, and when any settler heard a sound like that coming from the woods he said: Now we are going to have falling weather. An old deadening is the best place to watch for omens of this kind. The farmer, not having the time or force to clear his land, cuts away all the underbrush and uses his axe to circle the trees so that he can put in his crop. The trees stand there until they dry and rot, all the vitality being taken away from them, and finally drop all their limbs until the trunk stands bare. Nat, after he had taken time to think twice, knew in a moment what had caused the poplar to shed its limbs, and was aware that it was one of the incidents of his everyday life; but Peleg, who had been warned that something was going to happen if they found the trail of the papers, was frightened out of his wits. After it struck the ground he remained motionless.

What did I tell you? whispered Nat. Didnt I tell you that you would hear something drop?

Whew! stammered Peleg. I have seen enough of this place. I am going home as quick as I can go.

Hold on, Peleg, exclaimed Nat, who was overjoyed to hear him talk this way. We will hear something else pretty soon, and that will let us know that we are close to the papers.

You can stay and look for them until you are blind, said Peleg, who was taking long strides toward the other side of the brook. You will never see them papers. I believe you are cahoots with the Old Fellow himself.

As Peleg said this he pointed with his finger toward the ground. He did not care to mention who the old fellow was. When he was across the brook he broke into a run and dashed up the hill. He did not even stop to take with him his gun, ammunition or the provisions he had brought up from Manchester. He kept clear of the bushes you could not have hired Peleg to go through them alone and when he struck the open field he increased his pace and was out of sight in a moment. Nat waited until he was well under way and then followed him to the top of the bank. He was just in time to see Pelegs coat tails disappear over the bars; and then he dug out at his best gait for home.

There! said Nat taking off his hat and feeling for the extra money he had stowed away. I am well rid of him, thank goodness. Now I will go to work and make a camp, get something to eat, and to-morrow morning I will go down and get the spade and pick-ax; that is, if the ghosts leave anything of me. But I dont believe there are any ghosts. The storekeeper said that just to frighten him.

But before Nat began his lean-to he wanted to see the stone that covered his fortune. It seemed strange to him that all he had to do was to pry the stone out of its place, dig for a few minutes and then he would be worth more money than he ever saw.

There is one thing that I forgot, said he, after he had tested the weight of the stone by trying his strength upon it. But I will get that to-morrow. I must cut a lever with which to handle this weight.

For the first time in a long while Nat was happy. He would be so that night there would not anybody come near him after dark but the next morning he would come back to himself again sly and cunning, and afraid to make a move in any direction without carefully reconnoitering the ground. Jonas and Caleb had got him in the way of living so.

But I will soon be free from them, said Nat, as he left the stone walked across the brook and seated himself proceeded to find some of the cheese and crackers which Peleg had brought up. I am free from them now; but if they come after me and catch me, why then I have got my whole business to do over again. I hope Peleg will go safely home and spread the story of the ghosts that are living here, for I dont think Jonas will care to face them.

Nat thoroughly enjoyed his meal, for the walk of twenty miles along that rough road was enough to give him an appetite, and all the while he was looking about him and selecting the limbs with which he intended to build his lean-to. He did not expect to be there a great while, not longer than to-morrow at any rate, but he did not believe in sleeping out while there was timber enough at hand to build him a shelter. The lean-to was soon put up, and in a very short space of time all the luggage he had was conveyed under it. A fire would come handy as soon as it grew dark, and all the rest of the time he spent in collecting fuel for it; so that when the sun went down and it began to grow gloomy in the woods, he was as well sheltered as a boy in his circumstances could expect.

I am glad that Peleg is not here, said Nat, as he looked all around to make sure that he had not forgotten something, and began another assault on the crackers and cheese. I know that nothing will come here to bother me, but Peleg would all the while be listening for one of those ghosts to come down on him. Theres an owl now. His hooting sounds awful lonely in the woods.

While Nat was stretched out on his bed of boughs listening to the mournful notes of the owl, his thoughts were exceedingly busy with sad remembrances of the old man who had labored so hard to save his money from the rebels, little dreaming that the amount would one day fall into the hands of one who needed it as badly as Nat did.

I really wish I had some one to enjoy it with me, but I have not got any body, Nat kept saying to himself. The first thing I will do will be to get an education; then I can tell what I am going to do.

So saying Nat arose and replenished the fire, then lay down and fell into a quiet sleep. He did not see a ghost nor did he dream of one the whole night.

CHAPTER X.
Pelegs Ghost Story

Bless my lucky stars, Peleg Graves, you clear of Nat Wood at last. Ever since I first met him there at home, when he didnt have a single thing to take with him except the clothes he had on his back, I have been afraid of that fellow. He didnt have but one shirt to bless himself with, and when it got soiled, he would take it off and wash it. The idea of him washing his clothes! I guess he thought that the Old Fellow would wash them. Here Peleg cast frightened glances toward the bushes on each side of the road as if he was fearful that the other fellow would suddenly come out at him. He fancied he could almost see him with his flashing eyes, horns on his head and cloven feet all ready to take the rush, but as he went on he began to gather courage. And then his having a secret, too, and he wouldnt tell me what it meant. Here I am and there I am, whispered Peleg, who was so badly frightened that he could not remember the words Nat had used. Now what did those words mean? I tell you there is somebody helping Nat; you hear me?

While Peleg was going over his soliloquy in this way he was making good time down the road, and finally he became weary with his headlong pace and slackened his gait to a walk; a fast walk it was, too, so that in a very short while all Nat and his strange words were left behind.

It was twenty miles to the place where Peleg lived, and although faint with hunger and so weary that he could scarcely drag one foot after the other, he never stopped to ask one of the good-hearted settlers for a bite to eat, and never thought of sitting down to rest his tired limbs. He kept on, anxious to get his roof over his head and impatient to hear what his father would have to say about Nat and his doings, until just as the sun was rising he came within sight of the cabin door and saw Mr. Graves standing there and taking a look at the weather. The man was so surprised to see him that he was obliged to take two looks before he could make up his mind that it was Peleg and nobody else.

Is that you, Peleg? he exclaimed, as the boy threw down one of the bars and crawled through it Wheres the money?

Oh, pap! was all that Peleg could say in reply.

Mr. Graves began to look uneasy. Like all ignorant men he was very superstitious, and he straightway believed that Peleg had seen something that he could not understand.

Say, Peleg, he added in a lower tone, stepping off the porch and taking the boy by the arm. What did you see up there in the woods? You have not been to Manchester and back, have you?

Yes, I have, too; and if you want to go down there and search for that money, you can go; but I am going to stay here. I wish you would give me a bite to eat and a drink of water. I am just about dead.

Peleg had by this time reached the porch, and he threw himself down upon it as if he had lost all strength, and rested his head upon his hands. Mr. Graves began to believe that Peleg had seen something that was rather more than his nerves could stand, and went around the house after a drink of water, while his mother, who had been aroused by this time, came to the door. She saw Peleg sitting there with his head buried in his hands, and of course her mothers heart went out to him.

Oh, Peleg, what is the matter? she exclaimed.

Oh, mother, you just ought to hear the words that Nat uses to find out whether or not he is on the trail of those papers, said Peleg, lifting a very haggard face and looking at her.

At that moment Mr. Graves came around the corner of the house with a gourd full of drinking water. Peleg seized it as though he had not had any for a month, and never let the gourd go until he had drunk the whole of it.

That makes me feel some better, said he.

You passed several streams on the way, said Mr. Graves. Why didnt you stop and get a drink?

Oh, pap, I dassent. I can hear those words ringing in my ears now, and I wanted to get so far away that I couldnt hear them. Here I am and there I am! Oh, my soul!

Why what are you trying to get through yourself? inquired Mr. Graves; and if the truth must be told he drew a little closer to Peleg.

Well, sir, I am telling you the truth when I say that that there Nat has some dealings with that Fellow down there, said Peleg, pointing toward the ground. He goes around looking for those papers

Ah! Get out! exclaimed Graves.

It is a fact; and if you dont believe it, you can just go down there and watch him as I did. He says that everything, the trees and the rocks and the leaves and the bushes, are in cahoots with him because he took such good care of old man Nickerson when he was alive, buying him tobacco and such, and that he told him what words to use while looking for those papers. Why, the branches of the trees moved and pointed out the way to him.

Mr. Graves was completely amazed by this revelation, and seated himself on the porch beside Peleg; while Smanthy gasped for breath and found it impossible for her to say anything. She lifted her hands in awe toward the rafters of the porch for a moment, closed her eyes, and then her hands fell helplessly by her side. She shook her head but could not utter a sound.

It is a fact, I tell you; that isnt all I have seen, either, said Peleg. When we came to Manchester and Nat wanted to buy some grub and things pap, he has ten dollars; and he wouldnt offer me a cent of it.

Where did he get ten dollars? asked Mr. Graves, in surprise.

I dont know. I expect it must have been some he had left that the old man gave him. He bought some grub and a pick-ax and a spade, and left them there so that I could go and get them this morning; and that set the storekeeper to going. He warned me not to let the ghosts catch me

Oh, my soul! exclaimed Smanthy, raising her hands toward the rafters again. Have they got ghosts up there?

You just bet they have, answered Peleg, trembling all over. But Nat didnt seem afraid of them at all.

Mr. Graves leaned back against the post near which he was sitting, stretched his legs out straight before him and looked fixedly at the ground. He had never heard of ghosts being in the woods, and this made him wonder if he would dare go after the cows when they failed to come up.

I dont think you had better go back there any more, Peleg, said he, when he had taken time to think the matter over.

You may just bet I wont go back. I have not got use for a boy who will talk to them in language I cannot understand. And worse than that, he led the way to old man Nickersons farm by the back way, through bushes that grew thickern the hair on a dogs back, and he wanted me to come back the same way. Mighty clear of me!

I reckon we had best go and let Jonas know about this, said Mr. Graves, after thinking once more upon the matter.

Well, you can go and I will stay here and get something to eat, said Peleg. He will find Nat within a few rods of the old mans house. Dog-gone such luck! Why couldnt the old man have left his money out in plain sight so that a fellow could get it?

Did you see any of the ghosts? said his mother, in a low tone.

No, I didnt, and I kept a close watch for them, too. You see Nat says they dont come around until at night. I wonder if there is anything left of that boy up there?

I hope to goodness that they have cleaned him out entirely, said Mr. Graves, angrily. If we cant have any of that money I dont want him to have it, either. Now you go in and take a bite, and I will make up my mind what we are going to do.

Are you waiting for me to go up to Jonass house with you?

Yes, I reckon you had better. You have been up there and saw how the matter stands, and you can tell him better than I can.

I am mighty glad he wont ask me to go back to old man Nickersons woods with him, whispered Peleg, as he followed his mother into the house. I wouldnt stir a peg to please anybody.

What do ghosts look like, Peleg? asked Smanthy, as she brought out a plate of cold bread and meat and set them on the table before the boy. I have often heard of them but I never saw them.

Dont ask me. I looked everywhere for them, but they would not show up. Ill bet Nat can tell by this time how they look that is if he did not get scared at them like myself and run away.

By the time that Peleg had satisfied his appetite Mr. Graves had thought over the situation and determined upon his course. He would not go near Mr. Nickersons farm he was as close to it as he wanted to be; but he would go up and tell Jonas what Peleg had seen. Jonas was a good fellow, and perhaps he would do as much for him under the same circumstances. If Jonas and Caleb thought enough of the money that was hidden there to go up and face the ghosts, that was their lookout and not his.

You had your gun, Peleg, said Mr. Graves, when the boy came out the door and put on his hat Why didnt you depend upon that!

Course I had my gun; but it was not loaded. I declare, I never once thought of that old single barrel.

If one of them had seen that gun in your hands

Shaw! I aint thinking of that. I ran away so quick that I left it behind. Maybe Nat used it last night.

But you say he aint afraid of them, suggested his father. What should he want to use your gun for?

Of course he aint afraid of them in the day-time; but when it comes down dark night in the woods, and you hear the bushes rattling and something go g-g-r-r

Oh, Peleg, stop! ejaculated his mother, who was all in a tremble.

Stop your noise, Peleg, said Mr. Graves, who could not bear to hear him imitate the ghosts in this way. Maybe they dont go that way at all.

Well, if you want to find out, you had best go up there and stay all night, said Peleg, shaking his head in a wise manner. And I will tell you another thing that happened while I was up there. Nat told me that I must not be frightened, for when he got onto the trail of those papers again

Did he lose the trail of them? asked Mr. Graves.

I reckon so; for he looked up into a tree and said: Here I am and there I am, and the tree showed him which way to go.

Aw! Get out, exclaimed Mr. Graves. Could a tree speak to him or point with its branches to tell him when he was going wrong?

That tree did as sure as you live, said Peleg confidently.

Did you see it?

Yes sir, I did. That tree was standing like any other tree, with its branches pointing upward, and when he said those words of his, one of the limbs pointed out so, said Peleg, indicating the movement with his finger.

Mr. Graves looked rather hard at Peleg, as if he did not know whether to believe the statement or not, and the boy met his gaze without flinching. When Peleg told a lie he generally looked down at the ground.





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