Harry Castlemon.

A Struggle for a Fortune





CHAPTER XII.
Two Brave Hunters

Ghosts, said Jonas Keeler, leaning his back against the side of the barn and crossing his legs. I didnt know that there was any around here, although we used to hear and see plenty of them down in Pike County where I lived when I was a boy.

Where did you go to find them, pap? asked Caleb, who seemed to be deeply interested in what his father had to say.

We didnt go anywhere to see them. They generally came to us, and they came, too, just when we didnt want to see them. We used to find them in grave-yards; and now and then they would come into our barns and houses. What did they do to you, Peleg? You need not be afraid to speak of them here, because there aint no ghosts about.

They didnt do anything to me, answered Peleg, cause why, I got afraid and dug out.

Peleg had been looking for a place to sit down, and when nothing else offered he sat down on the floor of the barn and drew his feet under him. His story was a long one and immensely thrilling. He said that he and Nat did not hear anything out of the ordinary until they came to Manchester, and then the storekeeper put them on their guard. He told about the queer things he had heard while going through the bushes, and then he came to the strange words Nat had used Here I am and there I am until Jonas began to look wild. But when he came to the tree on the hillside which dropped its boughs when Nat called upon him, Jonass face, which had thus far betrayed the deepest interest, suddenly gave away to a smile, and he finally threw his head back against the barn and broke out into a violent laugh.

Now I will tell you whats the fact; it is the truth and nothing else, stammered Peleg, who was lost in wonder. I saw it with my own eyes.

No doubt you did, said Jonas, wiping his eyes to get rid of the tears that held to them. But dont you know that that was the sign of falling weather? If you dont, you have lived in this country a good while for nothing.

Thats what I tell him, said Mr. Graves. He has got so interested in the ghosts that he is willing to believe he sees ghosts in everything.

Well, all I have to say is, let them that think differently go down there and stay all night, said Peleg. I wont do it for no mans money.

Did Nat feel afraid when you spoke of the ghosts? asked Jonas.

Naw. That boy aint afraid of anything. He even called after me when I started for home to come back again, but I didnt go.

Caleb, have you got them cows milked? asked Jonas, getting upon his feet. Then you had better stir your stumps and we will go in and get some breakfast. It is after grub time now, and I begin to feel hungry.

Well, Jonas, what are you going to do? inquired Mr. Graves, who somehow took this as a gentle hint that he had got through with their conversation. Are you going down there to see about that money?

Naw, said Jonas; whereupon Caleb, who had gathered up a milk-bucket, turned and looked at him with mouth and eyes wide open.

There aint no money there. When Nat gets tired of looking for it he will come back.

Mr. Graves acted as though he wanted to say something else, but Jonas picked up a fork and began tossing about the fodder and paid no further attention to him. He waited a minute or two, then motioned to Peleg, put his rifle on his shoulder and went out. Jonas continued tossing about the fodder until they were well on their way to the house, and then stood the fork up where it belonged and called to Caleb in a whisper:

Say; do you believe all that boy said about ghosts? said he.

Yes. Dont you? said Caleb in surprise.

No, I dont. There may be some down there I aint disputing that; but Nat never used words to help him look for that money. Say, I am going down there.

Oh, pap! was all Caleb could say in reply.

I am, and if there is money there, I will bet you he has found it.

But, pap, you said there wasnt any there.

Dont you see I said that just to keep old man Graves and his boy at home? Hurry up and milk them cows and I will hitch up the horse.

Are you going with the wagon?

Course. It is easier to ride than it is to walk, and the first thing we know

Must I go with you? said Caleb, almost ready to drop.

Of course you are. I cant go alone; and think of the money we will have when we come back!

Well, pap, you can go and Ill stay here. It aint safe to go. Peleg has been down there and he said he would not go again for no mans money. Ive got a heap of work to do

Now, Caleb, you just shut up about the work youve got to do, said Jonas angrily. You will have to go with me and that is all about it. If Nat is not afraid of the ghosts, why should you be?

Yes; but you know how good Nat was to the old man when he was alive. If I had been that way, I could have gone, too.

Jonas evidently did not hear this last remark of Calebs, for he seized the harness and went in to fix up the horse which did not look able to travel twenty miles to save his life. But then that was the way that Jonass stock all looked. In a few minutes he had the harness on and led him out of the barn to hitch him to the wagon. It was just at this time that Mr. Graves and his party were going outside the bars and his wife was coming down the walk to meet him. She was coming with long strides, too, as if she had something on her mind.

Say, Jonas, said she, as soon as she was near enough to make him hear.

Well, say it yourself, retorted Jonas. I know all about it. I am going down to old man Nickersons woods, me and Caleb are, and we are going to have that money. Have you anything to say against it?

Oh, Jonas, dont you know that there are ghosts down there? said Mrs. Keeler, almost ready to believe that the man had taken leave of his senses to propose such a thing.

Then thats what his wife stopped in the house for, said Jonas, and he shouted out the words so that Mr. Graves could hear them. What does she know about ghosts? Now I heard all Pelegs story, and I listened to it as though I believed it; but if Nat is down there and can stay there all night without the ghosts troubling him, why cant other people do it, too? There aint no ghosts there.

Do you really think so, Jonas?

I know it. You see by going with the horse well get there in the daytime, and everybody knows that ghosts cant hurt you then. I will make him get that money and then me and you will have good times.

But maybe Nat wont do it. He would be a fule to tell you where that money is hidden.

Jonas was by this time engaged in hitching one of the traces to the whiffletree of the wagon. He stopped in his work, leaned against his horse which did not seem able to bear any weight but his own, and put his hands into his pockets.

That boy is a plumb dunce if he is going down there to find that money and then give it up to you, who didnt do the first thing toward helping him, continued Mrs. Keeler.

Whats the reason Nat wont give up the money to me? demanded Jonas.

Because you wont have your switch handy.

I have my knife in my pocket, and I tell you that switches are as handy down there in the woods as they be up here, said Jonas, once more turning to his work. What did that old woman Graves have to say to you?

Oh, she told the awfulest stories of what Peleg had seen, said Mrs. Keeler, moving up to be a little closer to her husband. She told about the heads and horns coming out of the bushes

She made that all up out of her own head, interrupted Jonas, who became angry again. Peleg did not see anything, because if he had, Nat would have become frightened, too. Now is breakfast ready? I am just crazy to be on my way to them woods. When you see us coming back, you can just take them old caliker gowns of yours and bundle them into the fire. You wont have any more use for them.

Mrs. Keeler tried to look pleased at this, but somehow or other she could not help thinking of the work Jonas would have to do before she could take those caliker gowns and tumble them into the fire. But she did not say any more for she knew it would be useless. She led the way toward the house to get breakfast ready, and Jonas followed with the wagon. Caleb came along presently with the milk, and he was the most sober one in the lot. He knew better than to refuse to go with his father, for there was that switch down in the barn. It had not been brought into use since his father threatened to apply it to Nat for saying that he would not give up the shoes he had purchased, and Caleb did not want to see it brought out for his benefit.

Jonas was evidently not at ease during breakfast, for he talked incessantly about the money which he knew was there, and the way he was going to induce Nat to show it to him.

Just let me touch that switch to him once and see how quick he will run to that place where the money is hidden, said Jonas, with an approving wink at his son. He will go so fast that you cant see him for the dust. If he dont do it, I have another thing that will get next to him. Ill tie him up and leave him there in the woods without a bite to eat or a drop to drink, and see how long he will be in coming to his senses.

The breakfast being over there was nothing to detain them. Caleb got up and took down his fathers rifle which he closely examined. With that in his hands he was pretty sure that he could fight his way with any ghost that came in his path.

Put a double charge of powder in there and two bullets, said Jonas. Thats the way I come it over a deer, and I will bet you if one of them ghosts gets those balls in his head Well, he will be a dead ghost, thats all.

You will let me carry the rifle, wont you? said Caleb.

No, I reckon I had best carry it myself and you do the driving, said Jonas, stretching out his hand for the weapon. You can drive that old horse a heap faster than I can, and if I see one of those horns stuck out from the bushes

Now, Jonas, dont talk that way, whined Mrs. Keeler, casting uneasy glances about the room. There may be one of them here now.

Naw, there aint. There aint no ghosts in the world. If you are ready Caleb, jump in. You will see us somewhere about sun-down.

Jonas went ahead to lower the bars so that the wagon could drive through, and then, paying no further attention to his wife, he climbed to his seat, and Caleb cracked the whip and drove off.

Hit the old fellow and make him go faster, said Jonas. We must get there by sun up, and have plenty of time to do the work besides. If we dont, we have got to come home in the dark.

This was all the encouragement that Caleb needed to make him keep up a tremendous beating of the horse all the way to Manchester. The horse suffered and did his best, but he did not seem to carry them over the miles very rapidly; but at length, to Calebs immense relief, the village appeared in sight. Of course the travelers were hungry and the horse needed watering, and so they drew up before the store at which Nat had purchased his things. Of course, too, the storekeeper knew them; he knew everybody within a circle of twenty miles around, and greeted them very cordially.

Well, if there aint Jonas, said he, briskly. Are you going up to the woods to see how Nat is getting on? He was in here an hour or so ago, but I dont see what he got those things for. He told me that he was going to look at some timber, and he bought a pick-ax and spade. Now what is he going to do with them?

This was the same man who had waited on Nat when he was in the store, and he was determined to find out what those digging implements were to be used for. The customer whom he had consulted, was outside attending to some necessary business and getting a team ready to go up to Mr. Nickersons woods and find out, but he looked upon Jonass coming as a most fortunate thing, and he hoped that by some adroit questioning he could learn something; but he soon gave it up as a bad job.

Now the boy doesnt want a pick-ax and spade to find timber with, does he? continued the storekeeper. He must be going to dig in the ground with them, and I would like to know what he is after. He said he was going to repair some fences; but I did not believe it.

Give me ten cents worth of crackers and ten cents worth of cheese, said Jonas, who wanted to get a little time to think about this matter. I believe we are going to have falling weather before long.

It looks like it now, said the man, hurrying to fulfill Jonass order. We need rain badly. What did you say Nat wanted that spade and pick-ax for?

Oh yes; he is going to fix some fences, and of course he needs a spade to get the blocks in right, said Jonas, who had been doing some tremendous thinking while the storekeeper was getting out his crackers and cheese. I am going up to look at him and see that he does his work right Yes, the old man is dead, said he, in reply to a question. And if I can pay the tax rates on this place I shall have it.

Did he leave you anything? asked the storekeeper. I suppose that is what you are looking out for.

I dont know why I should look for that moren anything else, said Jonas, in a tone of voice that showed the storekeeper that he did not care to answer any more questions on this point. The money was his own, and he left it to whom he pleased.

Having secured his crackers and cheese and the horse having drunk all he could, Jonas and Caleb climbed into the wagon again and continued on their way. At this moment the customer drove up with a team.

It is no go, Eph, said the storekeeper. Thats Jonas in that wagon. He did not say anything about money, but I will tell you what I think: If the old man has left any money, he has got it hidden up there in the woods. Let us wait until the boy comes down here and then go for him.

It beats the world how everybody seems to think that the old man had left us some money, said Jonas, as plainly as a mouthful of cracker would permit. Everyone seems to think that the old man had money, and I believe he had, too. And it all rests with Nat. If hes found it I am going to know where it is. Hit him hard, Caleb, and make him go faster.

The six miles that lay between them and the village seemed to have lengthened out wonderfully, but the old horse finally covered the distance at last and drew up at the place where the boys had crossed the fence to enter the bushes. There had been somebody through there, that was plain; but Calebs eyes grew wild when he looked at the dark masses of brush that lay before him; and even Jonas was not quite so lively as he had been.

I tell you it is mighty dark in there, said the elder, getting his rifle into shape for instant shooting. Go ahead, Caleb.

Now I wont do it, said Caleb, seizing his fathers arm and trying to push him toward the fence. Give me the gun and Ill go.

But that gun was something that Jonas did not want to part with. He felt safe when he had that weapon, and that was more than could be said if Caleb had charge of it.

Well, stay right close behind me and then nobody can hurt you, said Jonas, speaking two words for himself and one for Caleb. Dont run away. The best way to fight these ghosts is to

But, pap, you say there isnt any, Caleb reminded him.

Now I dont believe there is; but it is well to be on the safe side. Come on, now.

It was hard work for Jonas to screw up his courage to cross the fence, but he finally did it at last. As soon as he was safe in the bushes Caleb scrambled after him.

CHAPTER XIII.
The Rabbits Foot

Jonas and Caleb found it a hard task to work their way through those thick bushes toward the back end of Mr. Nickersons dooryard. There had been a path in former times, but it had been used so very seldom of late that the briers and branches had grown over it until it was pretty nearly obstructed. Caleb listened for the queer sounds that Peleg had heard while going through there, but nothing attracted his attention and he began to believe that there was nothing unusual in there. Jonas worked his way ahead without saying anything, and finally pushed the last bush aside and sprang out in full view of Nats camp. He cast his eager eyes around to see if any of the money had been dug up, but he could see nothing of it. Nat looked just like a hunter who was enjoying a rest after a long day in the woods.

Well, sir, we have found you at last, were the first words Jonas uttered. Now where is the money that you have come to dig up?

What money? inquired Nat, slowly rising to his feet.

Aw! What money? shouted Jonas, going under the lean-to, catching up Pelegs valise and shaking it to be sure that there was no money in it. I mean that money you have come here to dig up the money that old man Nickerson hid here during the war; the money that you have been drawing on to buy him tobacco? Where is it?

You have the camp and you see everything that is to be seen, said Nat. Where the money is I dont know. Yes, I do know, he added to himself. But I am going to keep it to myself.

Whoo-pee! said Jonas again. Did you come down here for nothing? I know you didnt; and I must know where that money is and all about it, or there will be the worst whipped boy here in these woods that you ever heard tell of. Once more and for the last time, I ask you where it is.

You can just look around and find it for yourself, replied Nat, who, by gradually working his way around, had succeeded in getting between Jonas and the bushes. If Mr. Nickerson left any money I dont know where it is. He would not leave it up here in the woods for it to rot all away and do nobody any good.

No, I dont think he would do that. He thought too much of a dollar to waste it in that way; but he could leave it up here in the woods and tell you where to find it when he was through with it. Now, Nat, where is it? Tell me, honor bright, and I will give you half of it; I will, so sure as I stand here.

You must look around and find it, for I dont know where it is, replied Nat; and the expression on his face showed that he was in earnest in his decision to keep the hiding place of the money all to himself. If you find it you can have it all.

Ill bet you I do, and you will go without shoes and clothes this winter, said Jonas, slipping his hand into his pocket and looking around at the trees as if he were searching for a switch. I made you an offer and you wont take it, and now I will look for myself; but first you are going to have something to remember that offer by. What do you find there, Caleb?

There aint nothing in Pelegs valise because I have looked all through it, replied Caleb. But here is something I cant see into.

As he spoke he passed the spade over to his father, running his fingers through some dirt that still adhered to it.

That spade has been used since it came up here, and if it could speak it would tell you something about the money, continued Caleb. He has dug it up and hid it away in another place.

Caleb, you are right said Jonas, examining the spade. Now where is it? Caleb, you just keep an eye on him while I cut a switch. I will bet you that he will tell all about it in lessn five minutes.

I cant tell you about a thing that I dont know, said Nat.

No; but you only think you have forgotten. A switch has a big means of starting ones intellect, and when you see that swinging over your head, you will think faster than you do now.

Pap, I believe we are onto the track of the money at last, said Caleb, who seemed to have forgotten all about the ghosts. Lay it onto him good fashion, and well go back home by gracious! I wouldnt take ten dollars for my chance.

The words seemed to encourage Jonas, who presently pulled down a big bough and began to cut it loose. It was a large limb, larger than the one he would have taken to beat his horse with, and while he used his knife upon it, Caleb slipped around until he got on the outside of Nat, that is between him and the bushes, and stood regarding him with a smile of intense satisfaction.

Dont hit me with that thing, said Nat, suddenly straightening up until he seemed to grow larger and stronger than Caleb had ever seen him look before. If you do you will at ways regret it.

Oh, no, I wont hit you with it, said Jonas, with a sort of laugh that sounded more like the growl of an enraged animal. Ill just wear you out with it unless you tell me what has been going on here and all about it. You know where that money is, and I am going to find out before I let you go. You hear me?

There was something about Nat that did not look exactly right to Caleb. He thought that his father had undertaken a bigger job than he could accomplish by endeavoring to force the boy to tell where his money was hidden, and if he could work it some way so as to get upon Nats blind side and coax him to tell what he wanted to know, why the way would be so much the easier for them. He resolved to try it, but he did not have time to try it all.





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