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   Chapter 1 THE LONELY CABIN.

The Young Bank Messenger By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 7362

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Just on the edge of the prairie, in western Iowa, some thirty years since, stood a cabin covering quite a little ground, but only one story high. It was humble enough as a home, but not more so than the early homes of some who have become great.

Let us enter.

The furniture was scanty, being limited to articles of prime necessity. There was a stove, a table, three chairs, a row of shelves containing a few articles of crockery and tinware, and a bed in the far corner of the room, on which rested a man. He had a ragged gray beard and hair, and a face long and thin, with preternaturally black eyes.

It was evident that he was sick unto death. His parchment-colored skin was indented with wrinkles; from time to time he coughed so violently as to rack his slight frame, and his hand, thin and wrinkled, as it rested on the quilt that covered him, shook as with palsy.

It was hard to tell how old the man was. He looked over seventy, but there were indications that he had aged prematurely.

There was one other person in the room, one whose appearance contrasted strongly with that of the old man. It was a boy of sixteen, a boy with dark brown hair, ruddy cheeks, hazel eyes, an attractive yet firm and resolute face, and an appearance of manliness and self-reliance. He was well dressed, and, though the tenant of such an humble home, would have passed muster upon the streets of a city.

"How do you feel, Uncle Peter?" he asked, as he stood by the bedside.

"I shall never feel any better, Ernest," said the old man, in a hollow voice.

"Don't say that, uncle," rejoined Ernest in a tone of concern.

There seemed little to connect him, in his strong, attractive boyhood, with the frail old man, but they had lived together for five years, and habit was powerful.

"Yes, Ernest, I shall never rise from this bed."

"Isn't there anything I can get for you, uncle?"

"Is there is there anything left in the bottle?" asked Peter, wistfully.

Ernest walked to the shelf that held the dishes, and took from a corner a large black bottle. It seemed light and might be empty. He turned out the contents into a glass, but there was only a tablespoonful of whisky left.

"It is almost all gone, Uncle Peter; will you have this much?"

"Yes," answered the old man, tremulously.

Ernest lifted the invalid into a sitting posture, and then put the glass to his mouth.

He drained it, and gave a sigh of satisfaction.

"It is good," he said briefly.

"I wish there were more."

"It goes to the right spot. It puts strength into me."

"Shall I go to the village and buy more?"

"I--I don't know--"

"I can get back very soon."

"Very well--go then, like a good boy."

"I shall have to trouble you for some money, Uncle Peter."

"Go to the trunk. You will find some."

There was a small hair trunk, in another corner. Ernest knew that this was meant, and he knelt down before it and lifted the lid.

There was a small wooden box at the left-hand side. Opening this, Ernest discovered three five-dollar gold pieces. Usually his uncle had gone to the trunk for money, but the boy knew where it was kept.

"There are but three gold pieces, uncle," he announced, looking towards the bed.

"Take one of them, Ernest."

"I wonder if that is all the money he has left?" thought Ernest.

He rose from his kneeling position and went to the door.

"I won't be gone long, uncle," he said. He followed a path which led from the door in an easterly direction to the village. It was over a mile away, and consisted only of a few scattering houses, a blacksmith's shop, and a store.

It was to the store that Ernest bent his steps. I

t was a one-story structure, as were most of the buildings in the village. There was a sign over the door which read:


Groceries and Family Supplies.

Joe stood behind the counter; there were two other men in the store, one tall, gaunt, of the average Western type, with a broad-brimmed, soft felt hat on his head, and in the costume of a hunter; he looked rough, but honest and reliable, and that was more than could be said of the other. He may best be described as a tramp, a man who looked averse to labor of any kind, a man without a settled business or home, who picked up a living as he could, caring less for food than for drink, and whose mottled face indicated frequent potations of whisky.

Ernest looked at this man as he entered. He didn't remember to have met him before, nor was there anything to attract him in his appearance.

"How are you, Ernest?" said Joe Marks, cordially. "How's Uncle Peter?"

"He's pretty bad, Joe. He thinks he's going to die."

"Not so bad as that, surely."

"Yes, I guess he's right. He's very weak."

"Well, well, he's a good age. How old is he?"

"I don't know. He never told me."

"He's well on to seventy, I'm thinking. But what can I do for you?"

"You may fill this bottle, Joe; Uncle Peter is so weak he thinks it will put new life in him."

"So it will, Ernest; there's nothing like good whisky to make an old man strong, or a young man, for that matter."

It may be easy to see that Joe did not believe in total abstinence.

"I don't drink, myself!" said Ernest, replying to the last part of Joe's remark.

"There's nothing like whisky," remarked the tramp in a hoarse voice.

"You've drunk your share, I'm thinking," said Luke Robbins, the tall hunter.

"Not yet," returned the tramp. "I haven't had my share yet. There's lots of people that has drunk more'n me."

"Why haven't you drunk your share? You hadn't no objections, I reckon."

"I hadn't the money," said the tramp, sadly. "I've never had much money. I ain't lucky."

"If you had had more money, you'd maybe not be living now. You'd have drunk yourself to death."

"If I ever do commit suicide, that's the way I'd like to die," said the tramp.

Joe filled the bottle from a keg behind the counter and handed it to Ernest. The aroma of the whisky was diffused about the store, and the tramp sniffed it in eagerly. It stimulated his desire to indulge his craving for drink. As Ernest, with the bottle in his hand, prepared to leave, the tramp addressed him.

"Say, young feller, ain't you goin' to shout?"

"What do you mean?"

"Ain't you goin' to treat me and this gentleman?" indicating Luke Robbins.

"No," answered Ernest, shortly. "I don't buy it as drink, but as medicine."

"I need medicine," urged the tramp, with a smile.

"I don't," said the hunter. "Don't you bother about us, my boy. If we want whisky we can buy it ourselves."

"I can't," whined the tramp. "If I had as much money as you,"--for he had noticed that Ernest had changed a gold piece--"I'd be happy, but I'm out of luck."

Ernest paid no attention to his words, but left the store, and struck the path homeward.

"Who's that boy?" asked the tramp.

"It's Ernest Ray."

"Where'd he get that gold?"

"He lives with his uncle, a mile from the village."

"Is his uncle rich?"

"Folks think so. They call him a miser."

"Is he goin' to die?"

"That's what the boy says."

"And the boy'll get all his money?"

"It's likely."

"I'd like to be his guardian."

Joe and Luke Robbins laughed. "You'd make a pretty guardian," said Luke.

"I won't get it," said the tramp, mournfully. "I never had no luck."

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