A Struggle for a Fortuneñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Well, go on. What did you see next?”
“Well, sir, when we got a little further he said I would hear something pretty soon, and it would make me wish that I had never been born. I tell you I did hear it, and – Oh, my soul! How can I ever tell it!”
“What did it sound like, Peleg?” asked his mother.
“A dead tree was standing a short distance away and when Nat went on with his words: ‘Here I am and there I am,’ one of the branches on that tree let go all holds and came down to the ground with a crash and broke all to pieces. I certainly thought I was going with it, too.”
For the first time that day Mr. Graves uttered an exclamation of disgust, turned on his heel and went into the house for his rifle.
“You can hear those sounds right here on the place,” remarked his mother. “That’s nothing new.”
“The little fule!” exclaimed Mr. Graves, who just then came out again with his rifle. “You got so frightened with the ghosts that you don’t know the signs of falling weather when you hear them. It is going to rain very shortly.”
“Well, I just want you to go up there if you dare,” said Peleg, somewhat taken aback by this explanation of the phenomenon which had frightened him. “Here you are, making all sorts of fun at my ghost stories, and you have gone and got your rifle to protect you. Leave that at home if you are not afraid to go up to Jonas’s house without it.”
“No, I reckon I will just take it along. What you have said about the ghosts may be true; but I don’t believe in such things as the trees and bushes telling him where to go. Come on now, and we’ll go up and see Jonas.”
“And are you going to leave me here all alone?” inquired Mrs. Graves, who went into the house for a shawl to throw over her head. “I’m going, too.”
“Now, S’manthy,” began her husband.
“I know all about it; but I ain’t a going to stay here all by myself after such talk as we have had,” said the woman, determinedly. “I have some business with Jonas’s wife as much as you have with him.”
Mr. Graves said no more. He probably knew how an argument would come out with his wife. He cast apprehensive glances at the bushes as he walked along, and seemed to be much occupied with his own thoughts. The money was there, there could be no mistake about that, and he had intended to go up there that very day so as to be on hand in case Peleg needed assistance; but the boy’s returning home with such a story had put new ideas into his head. Taking into consideration the way he felt now he would not have gone a step toward Mr. Nickerson’s woods if he knew the foot of every tree in them had a gold mine buried beneath it which he could have for the digging. He fully credited the tales about the ghosts; the rest of it he did not put any faith in.
“That’s the end of my dreams,” he muttered, as he walked along. “I say as Peleg did, dog-gone such luck! If the old man had left his money out where we could find it, well and good; but, as it stands, I have got to be a poor man all my life.”
In due time they arrived at Jonas’s house where they found his wife engaged in getting breakfast while her husband, with Caleb to help him, was engaged, down to the barn.
Mrs. Graves stopped in the house, which she speedily turned upside down with her stories, while Mr. Graves kept on and found Jonas sitting on an inverted bucket, meditatively chewing a piece of straw, and Caleb walking around with his hands in his pockets. They had been discussing Nat’s absence, but they could not come to any determination about it. Nat was gone, it was money took him away and how were they going to work to cheat him out of it?
“Howdy,” said Jonas, who, upon looking up, discovered Mr. Graves approaching. “Have you started out bright and early this morning to go hunting?”
“Well – no,” replied Mr. Graves, taking his rifle from his shoulder. “I did not know but I might see a squirrel or two bobbing around. Seen anything of Nat lately?”
“No, I have not. Do you know what has become of him?”
“You’re right I do. He is up to old man Nickerson’s woods.”
“There now. We always allowed that he had gone up there. Has he got onto the trail of any money?”
“He has, but that’s all the good it will do him. Peleg has been up there with him.”
Jonas simply nodded his head as if to say that he knew as much long ago. He learned it when he went to Mr. Graves’ house to inquire about Nat.
“But it won’t do him any good, getting on the trail of that money won’t,” continued Mr. Graves. “There are ghosts up in those woods.”
“Ghosts!” exclaimed Jonas and Caleb in a breath. They looked hard at Mr. Graves and then they looked at Peleg. The boy simply nodded to show that his father was right.
“Did you see any of them?” asked Caleb, who was in a fair way of being frightened.
“Naw; I didn’t see any of them nor hear them, I didn’t stay long enough for that I took my foot in my hand and came home.”
“Peleg has & long story to tell, and I thought you would rather hear it from him than anybody else, so I brought him along.”
As this was the introduction to Peleg’s story those who were standing up found places to sit down, and waited impatiently for him to begin.
“Well, sir, I have slept all night in these woods alone and there has no ghost been near to warn me that I had better quit my search and go home,” said Nat, sitting up on his bed of boughs and rubbing his eyes. “I reckon the ghosts all exist in that storekeeper’s imagination. Now I must take a good look at that rock again, eat some crackers and cheese and go down after that spade and pick-ax. By this time tomorrow I shall be a rich man.”
Nat had often wondered how much there was of that money that was hidden away, and he was always obliged to confess that he did not know. The neighbors all insisted that old man Nickerson was “powerful rich,” and acting upon this supposition he thought that about $5,000 would amply repay him for all his trouble. That would get him a nice education, and that was all that Nat asked for. He could then take care of himself.
Nat sprang off his bed, performed the hasty operation of washing his hands and face in the brook, and not having any towel to wipe upon, went up the bank toward the stone, shaking the water off his hands as he went. The rock was all there; he was certain on that point. If he had that spade and pick-ax in his hands he would soon know how much he was worth. The only trouble with him now was, to dig it up, reach St. Louis with it in some way or other and put it in the bank. Once there he would like to see Jonas and Caleb get their hands upon it.
The next thing was breakfast, and that was very soon dispatched, and then he tried to make himself a little more respectable to the persons who met him on the way by brushing off his clothes and bringing some pins into play to hide his rents. Then he stood up and looked at himself.
“They will show anyway, I don’t care how I pin them,” said Nat, at length. “Well, what’s the odds? Everyone knows how I lived there under that man’s roof, and I can’t be expected to look any better. Maybe I will look as well as the best of them one of these days.”
Nat’s first care was to hide Peleg’s gun and ammunition for fear that some one might come along and appropriate them to his own use. The whole thing was not worth two dollars, but still that would be something for Peleg to lose. He would go frantic if he found that the gun had been stolen. This done he was ready to leave his camp and he took the near way through the bushes; and when they had closed up behind him he could not help thinking how frightened Peleg was when he came through there. He neither saw nor heard anything alarming, and in a short time he climbed the fence and was out in the road. As luck would have it a team was going by, and the man pulled up his horses and offered him a ride.
“Going fur?” said he. “Well jump in.”
“Thank you,” said Nat “It’s about six miles to Manchester, and I believe it is cheaper riding than walking.”
“What are you doing down there in old man Nickerson’s?” asked the man. “Ain’t you the boy that lives with old man Keeler! I hear that old man Nickerson is dead.”
“Yes sir. He just died a few days ago.”
“Well, how much did he leave old man Jonas’s wife! I hear he was powerful rich.”
“I don’t know how much he was worth, but I don’t believe he left anything.”
“Now that is mighty mean of him. He has some money somewhere, and the man what finds it is rich as Julius Caesar.”
“I thought he must be worth $5,000 dollars,” said Nat.
“Oh, my! Say $15,000 or $20,000, and you will just about hit it. You see some fellows living around here think that the rebels got it, but the old man was too sharp for them. Then they got mad and burned his house and left him out in the cold; and then Jonas took him in. Did he leave Jonas anything!”
“No, I am quite sure he did not. Are there any ghosts down here in the woods!”
“Naw. There are some fellows who have been up here a time or two, and when they came back they told wonderful stories of what they had seen back there in the timber. But there is nothing to it.”
Nat became silent after this and so did the man He began to be real uneasy now, for there was a difference in the sum the old man had left behind him. He drew a long breath every time he thought of the wide gulf there was between $5,000 and $15,000 or $20,000, so much so that the driver looked at him in surprise; but he had nothing to say for which Nat was very thankful. In due time they arrived at Manchester, and Nat, after thanking the man once more for his kindness, sprang from the wagon and went into the store.
“Well, sir, I declare, if one of them boys hasn’t come back,” said the storekeeper, hurrying forward to shake hands with Nat. “Did you see any of them ghosts and what did they say to you!”
“I did not see one,” said Nat, with a smile. “I guess last night was not their night to come out. Have you got my things handy?”
“Yes sir. They are right up here where I put them. But what has become of your pardner?”
“You scared him out.”
“Do you mean that he has run away? Well, I am sorry for that,” said the storekeeper, on receiving an affirmative nod from Nat.
“I am not sorry for it,” said Nat to himself. “It gave me just the chance I was waiting for – to dig without his knowing it.”
Without waiting for the man to ask him any more questions Nat picked up the things he had left behind, including the pick-ax and spade, and turned to go out when the storekeeper evidently wanted some other matters settled.
“You said yesterday that you were going up to them woods to look for timber,” said he. “Now what do you want to do with those things!” he went on, pointing to the spade and pick-ax.
“There are some other things we wanted to fix,” said Nat, without an instant’s hesitation. “We are going to put in some crops there, and we want to repair the old man’s fence which has become torn down during the war.”
“Oh!” said the man, staring rather hard at Nat. “You will need an ax, then.”
“That reminds me. I came pretty near forgetting it.”
Nat laid down his bundles again and the man turned to get the implement he had spoken of, and while he was getting it down he kept his eyes fastened on Nat’s face. But he said nothing more and saw him take his purchases and leave the store.
“Now maybe that story will do and maybe it won’t,” said the man, as he came out from behind the counter and watched Nat going along the street. “There is something else that you want to dig for. I wonder if it is the old man’s money?”
“They say that he had sights and gobs of it when he buried it to keep it out of the hands of the rebels,” said a man who was seated in the back part of the store, and who now came up to listen to what the storekeeper had to say. “But the rebels didn’t get none of it. He hid it where they couldn’t find it.”
“They say he is living up to Jonas Keeler’s,” said the first.
“Old man Nickerson is dead. He has been dead two or three days. It is a wonder you had not heard of it.”
“Well, sir, that boy is going to dig for the money,” said the storekeeper, doubling up his huge fist and bringing it down upon the counter. “Now what be we going to do about it!”
“I don’t know of any other way than for me and you to go up there and watch him while he digs for it,” said the customer, in a whisper. “When he gets it dug up, we’ll just take it.”
“And what will the boy do?” asked the storekeeper.
“Oh, we can easy fool him. Let us play ghosts.”
That was something new to the storekeeper. He drew nearer to his customer and the two whispered long and earnestly. At length they seemed to agree upon a plan, for the customer went out and the storekeeper went back to his place behind the counter.
“I let that fellow talk too much,” said Nat, as he walked hurriedly away with his bundles in his arms. “He knows that I want to dig in the ground, or else I wouldn’t have called for these things. I must get back to my camp and go to work as soon as possible, or else I shall have some one else on my back.”
Nat was now harassed by another fear and to save his life he could not shake it off. That storekeeper at Manchester knew there was no such thing as ghosts in the woods, he knew that Peleg had been frightened away by the bare mention of such objects as might be around in the event of their search proving successful, and how did he know but that the storekeeper and some one like him, might take it into their heads to come up and look into the matter. He was now more afraid of those men than he was of Jonas and Caleb.
“I tell you it all depends upon getting my work done quick,” said Nat, turning about and looking at the store. “That storekeeper will come up there for fifteen or twenty – By gracious! I wish I had that money dug up now.”
The longer Nat dwelt upon the matter the greater haste seemed necessary and the longer the distance was to the Nickerson woods. He broke into a dog trot before he was fairly out of sight of the city, and by the time he climbed the fence that threaded the bushes he was nearly exhausted. Everything there was just as he left it; but so out of breath was Nat that he threw himself on his bed of boughs and heartily wished he possessed the strength of a dozen men. At length he sprang up and went to work. He must do something or else see his fortune slip through his grasp. He cut the lever with which to move the rock, trimmed it off neatly and catching up his pick-ax and spade he jumped across the brook and made his way up the hill. Hastily clearing away the bushes that had grown up around the rock he thrust his lever under one side of it, got under the other end, and to his surprise the rock moved with scarcely an effort on his part.
“Hail Columbia happy land!” gasped Nat, as he eased up for a moment on the lever and surged upon it to obtain a new hold upon the rock. “The thing moves, and that proves that it has been pried out of its bed before. Come out here and let us see what’s under you.”
The rock was heavier than Nat thought it was, but by dint of sheer hard work he finally succeeded in getting it out of its bed and moved away so that he could use his spade. To have seen him go about his work one would have thought he had an all day’s job before him and that he was to ask for his pay when his work was done. Although his face was very white and his hands trembled, he took a spadeful of earth before he threw it out, and once, when he saw the perspiration gathering upon him, he stopped, took off his hat and wiped his forehead ere he set in again.
“I just know there is something here, but I will take it easy and by the time I strike the money – but perhaps it isn’t money at all,” murmured Nat, pausing in his exertions to see how much he had accomplished. “Whatever there is, it has got to come out.”
Before Nat got down as far as he wanted to go he came to the conclusion that Mr. Nickerson must have thought that he had plenty of time at his disposal, for he dug down at least two feet before he struck anything. But the earth was soft, in all these years it had not become packed at all, and that showed that there had been somebody there before him. At length his spade hit something hard – something which he could not remove. He dug down by the side of it and then found that it was a board which completely filled up the space. To get the dirt off of the rest of the board was comparatively easy, and then Nat threw out his spade, stepped to one side and placed his hands under it. The sight that met his gaze was enough to deprive him of the little strength he had left. The space below him was literally filled up with bags – small bags, to be sure, but one of them was so heavy that when Nat came to lift it from its place and put it out of the hole so that he could examine it, he found that handling it was quite as much as he wanted to do.
“Hail Columbia happy land!” said Nat again. “I am in luck for once in my life. There is more than $5,000 in that bag.”
Nat followed the bag out of the hole, carefully untied the string with which it was closed and he was astonished at what he saw. The bag was filled with gold pieces, twenties and tens and fives down to ones. That one bag alone must have contained almost the sum he had named.
“Now everything depends upon my quickness,” said Nat, seating himself beside the bag and looking thoughtfully at the others. “What shall I do with them now that I have got them? I must put them somewhere else.”
Nat went about this work as though he could see into the future and knew what was going to happen there in his camp in less than ten minutes. He sprang into the hole again and as fast as he could raise the bags they came out on the earth he had shoveled up. Then he came out and running into his camp seized Peleg’s valise and emptied the contents upon the ground. It was better than nothing, although it would not hold more than two bags. The other one he carried under his arm and then began looking around for some place to hide them. It did not matter much where he put them so long as they could effectually hide the spot from curious eyes. At last he stopped before a huge log which had a quantity of leaves piled against it. To scrape those leaves away with his hands was an easy matter, and his bags were hastily put in, and yet there was enough for three others. They were quickly stowed away in the new place, and with the spade Nat made everything look as natural as it did before.
The next thing was to fill up the hole and restore the rock to its bed. It seemed to him that this was a task beyond his powers but perseverance conquers all obstacles, and when it was done he threw some leaves over the earth that was scattered around, put the branches back in their place and then he was tired enough to sit down; but there was still one thing that remained to be done. The contents of Peleg’s valise had to be returned, and when this was done, without any reference being made to the order in which his underwear was placed, and his spade and pick-ax had been brought under the lean-to and the ax hidden away in the bushes, Nat was ready to sit down and draw a long breath of relief.
“Hail Columbia, happy land!” said he to himself. “It is better to be born lucky than rich. There must be as much as thirty or forty thousand dollars in those bags. It is mine, Mr. Nickerson told me that he had no kith or kin to leave it to, and I will die before I will give it up. I am quite willing that anybody should come in here and go all over the woods, and if he did not see me hide the money he will have his trouble for his pains.”
While this thought was passing through his mind he heard a sudden rattling in the bushes behind him, and before he could start to his feet to see who it was, the branches parted and Jonas Keeler’s forbidding face came through. The face, half hidden by thick, bushy whiskers, did not look much as it did when Nat last saw him. There was an eager expression upon it, and his hands trembled so that he could scarcely take his rifle down from his shoulder.
“Well, sir, we have found you at last,” said Jonas, with a grin.
“Yes sir, you have found me at last,” repeated Nat, sinking back upon his bed of boughs again.
Just at that moment the bushes parted again and Caleb came out. He seemed more eager than his father was. He looked all around to make sure that there was no one else present, and then walked into the camp as though he had a right to.
“Thank goodness here’s a gun,” said he, and the tenderness with which he picked up his single barrel and looked it carefully over, would have led one to believe that it was worth money. “Did you see anything to shoot with it?”
“No,” replied Nat. “The woods were perfectly quiet last night.”
“Now, Nat, let us come to business at once,” said Jonas setting his rifle down by the side of a tree and pushing back his sleeve. “Where is the money that you have come here to dig up?”
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