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   Chapter 6 NAT ON LAKE ERIE

From Farm to Fortune; or, Nat Nason's Strange Experience By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 7776

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Nat was so completely astonished by the unexpected appearance of his uncle and guardian, that for the moment he did not know what to say or do.

"Thought you was goin' to run away, didn't you?" continued Abner Balberry, with a gleam of triumph in his small eyes.

"Let go of me," answered Nat, trying to pull away.

"I ain't a-goin' to, Nat Nason. You're a-goin' back with me, an' on the next train."

"I'm not going back, Uncle Abner."

"What!"

"I said I'm not going back, so there," repeated Nat, desperately. "You don't treat me half decently, and I'm going to strike out for myself."

"Jest to hear the boy! You are a-goin' back. Nice doin's, I must say! What did you mean by trying to burn down the barn?"

"Burn down the barn?"

"That's wot I said."

"I never burned down any barn. Is the barn burned down?"

"No; because I put out the fire."

"When was this?"

"You know well enough."

"I don't know a word about it, Uncle Abner."

"You set the barn afire."

"Never!"

"You did! An' you've got to go back."

"Uncle Abner, I never set fire to a thing," gasped Nat. "I left because you worked me to death, and because you wouldn't let me have my supper. After this, I'm going to earn my own living in my own way."

"You're goin' back," snarled the farmer.

For answer, Nat gave a sudden jerk and pulled himself from his uncle's grasp. Then he started to run from the depot at his best speed.

"Hi! stop!" yelled the farmer. "Stop thet boy. I'm his guardian, and he is runnin' away from me."

The cry was taken up on all sides, and soon a crowd of a dozen men and boys were in pursuit of Nat, who by this time had reached the street.

Nat had always been fleet of foot, and now a new fear lent strength to his flying feet. He was accused of setting fire to the barn! Perhaps his uncle would have him arrested and sent to prison.

"He shan't do it," he muttered. "I must get away, somehow."

Down one street after another went poor Nat, with the crowd behind him growing steadily larger. Some thought they were after a thief, and some a murderer, and soon two policemen joined in the chase.

Coming to an alley way, Nat darted through it to a side street, and then around a corner to a thoroughfare leading down to the docks. This threw the crowd off the trail for a moment, and gave him a brief breathing spell.

Reaching the docks fronting the lake, the boy came to a halt. Not far off was a steamboat, getting ready to cast off.

"Where does that boat go to?" he asked of a man standing near.

"That's the boat for Buffalo," was the answer.

"And when does she leave?"

"She is getting ready to leave now."

"Then that's the boat I want," came from Nat, and he rushed to the end of the dock, and up the gangplank with all speed. A moment later the gangplank was withdrawn, and the steamboat started on her trip down Lake Erie.

Trembling with excitement, Nat entered the cabin, and from the window looked back to the dock they had just left. It was not long before he beheld Abner Balberry and several others, on the dock, gazing up and down in perplexity. They did not know whether the boy was on the boat, or in hiding close by.

"What a narrow escape!" thought Nat, when the dock had faded from view. "In another minute Uncle Abner would have collared me, sure."

"Had to run pretty hard to catch the boat, didn't you?" remarked a man sitting beside him.

"Yes," answered Nat.

"Bound for Buffalo, I suppose."

"Yes."

"First visit to that city?"

"Yes."

"Well, it's a fine city to visit, I can tell you. Of course you'll run up to look at Niagara Falls?"

"I hadn't thought of that."

"It's not very far away, you know. The trolley cars run from Buffalo to the Falls and back."

"Then I'll certainly have to go up and look at the Falls," answered the boy.

He was too excited to make up

his mind just what to do next, and so walked away from the man. Finding a secluded corner of the deck, he sat down on a camp stool to think the situation over.

The fact that his uncle believed he had tried to burn down the barn filled him with alarm. Certainly, the building must have been set on fire, but who had done the base deed?

"Perhaps that man I took to be Uncle Abner!" he cried to himself. Up to the present time he had forgotten about seeing that individual in the semi-darkness while on the way to get the cow.

The weather was warm and pleasant, and had Nat been less disturbed in mind he would have enjoyed the trip on Lake Erie thoroughly. Even as it was, he gazed at the great lake in wonder.

"If this is only a lake, what must the ocean be!" he mused. "When I get to New York, I'll have to take a trip to Coney Island, or some other ocean beach."

The boat Nat was on carried more freight than passengers, and made half a dozen landings before Buffalo was reached. But the boy thought the craft one of the best on the lake, and wandered over her from end to end with great interest. At noon he purchased a light lunch, and at supper time a sandwich and a glass of milk.

"They charge pretty stiff prices on a boat," he thought, after paying over his money. "I've got to live cheaper after this, or I'll be a beggar before I settle down and find something to do."

It was dark when Buffalo was reached, and here Nat was more bewildered than he had been on arriving at Cleveland. He followed the crowd up from the dock to one of the main streets, and then stood on a corner, not knowing which way to turn, or what to do next.

"What a terrible lot of people and cars!" was his mental comment. "It's enough to make a fellow's head swim."

He felt that it would be useless to try to do anything that night, and so looked around for a cheap lodging house. Soon he found a place where beds could be had for twenty-five cents a night, and he entered.

"I'll take a bed," he said to the clerk at the desk.

"All right; twenty-five cents." And as the money was passed over, the clerk continued: "Leave your valuables at the desk."

"Valuables?" repeated Nat. "You mean my watch?"

"You may leave it if you wish, and your money too."

"No; I'll keep them on me," answered the boy.

He was conducted to an elevator, and soon found himself on the fifth story of the building. Here was a big room containing twenty cots, ten on each side.

"Here you are; No. 134," said the attendant, and left him.

On several of the cots some men were already sleeping. They were not pleasant-appearing individuals, and a few of them smelt strongly of liquor.

"This isn't so nice," thought Nat. "But it's cheap, and that's something."

Before retiring, he placed his bundle and his clothing under his pillow, and stowed away his watch and money on his person.

Nat's actions were closely watched by a man who occupied the next cot on the left. He was a seedy individual, with a face that was horribly pockmarked.

"Reckon he's got a dollar or two," thought this man, who was known among his associates by the name of Checkers.

Despite his surroundings, Nat slept soundly throughout the night, and continued to sleep long after the sun came up.

While it was still early, Bob Checkers arose, dressed himself, and slipped over to the sleeping boy's side. Making certain that nobody was watching him, the fellow began a rapid search of Nat's clothing, and afterwards of the lad's person.

Soon he came in contact with a small roll of bills, which Nat, in the belief that they would be quite secure, had placed in a pocket of his shirt. A thrill of delight shot through the fellow as his hand touched them.

"Dis is de best yet!" he murmured to himself, and placing the bills in his own pocket, he left the lodging house almost on a run.

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