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   Chapter 5 THE TRAMP TURNS UP AGAIN.

The Young Bank Messenger By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 7618

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


When Peter Brant was laid away under a tree not far from the cabin where he had ended his days, Ernest felt that he was at liberty to begin the new life that lay before him. Despite the natural sadness which he felt at parting with his old friend, he looked forward not without pleasant anticipations to the future and what it might have in store for him.

Oak Forks had few attractions for him. Time had often dragged wearily with him. He had a literary taste, but could not get hold of books. Peter Brant had about a dozen volumes, none of which he had read himself, but Ernest had read them over and over again. None of the neighbors owned any books. Occasionally a newspaper found its way into the settlement, and this, when it came into Ernest's hands, was devoured, advertisements and all.

How, then, was his time passed? Partly in hunting, partly in fishing, for there was a small river two miles away; but one could not fish or hunt all the time. He had often felt a vague yearning to go to Chicago, or New York, or anywhere where there would be a broader field and large opportunities, and he had broached the subject to Peter.

"I can't afford to go, Ernest," the old man would reply. "I must live on the little I have, for I am too old to work."

"But I am young. I can work," the boy would answer.

"A boy like you couldn't earn much. Wait till I am dead and then you can go where you like."

This would always close the discussion, for Ernest did not like to consider such a contingency. Peter represented his world, for he had no one to cling to except the man whom he supposed to be his uncle.

Now, however, the time had come when he could go forth and enter upon a career. Accordingly he declined Joe Marks' offer to take him into the store. He understood very well that it was only meant in kindness, and that he was not really needed.

"You don't need me, Joe," he said. "You are very kind, but there must be real work for me somewhere."

"Well, my lad, I won't stand in your way, but I've known you a long time, and I shall hate to lose sight of you."

"I'll come back some day, Joe--that is, if I am prosperous, and can."

"If you are not prosperous, if you fall sick, and need a home and a friend, come back, then. Don't forget your old friend Joe Marks."

"I won't, Joe," said Ernest heartily.

"You've got another friend here, Ernest," added Luke Robbins. "I'm a poor man, and my friendship isn't worth much, but you have it, all the same."

Ernest grasped the hands of both. He felt that each was a friend worth having.

"You may be sure that I won't forget either of you," he said.

"When do you expect to go, Ernest, and where?" asked Joe Marks.

"I shall get away to-morrow, I think, but where I shall go I can't tell yet."

"Do you need any money?"

"No; my uncle left me some."

Ernest had not yet secured the gold, but he knew exactly where it was, and now that all his business was ended, he felt that it was time to possess himself of it. Accordingly he took a spade from the house and bent his steps in the direction of the old oak tree.

He went alone, for he thought it best not to take anyone into his confidence. Indeed the only persons whom he would have thought of trusting were Joe Marks and Luke Robbins, and they were both employed, Joe in his store and Luke on a hunting expedition.

Arrived at the tree, Ernest measured off five feet in the direction mentioned by Peter and began to dig. It did not take him long to reach the box, for it was only a foot beneath the surface of the ground.

It proved to be a cigar-box, for Peter was fond of smoking, though he usually smoked a pipe, as being more economical. Ernest lifted the lid and saw a small roll enclosed in brown wrapping-paper, which, on being removed, reveal

ed twenty five-dollar gold pieces. He regarded them with satisfaction, for they afforded him the means of leaving Oak Forks and going out into the great world which he had such a curiosity to enter.

But Ernest was not the only one who regarded the gold pieces with satisfaction.

Hidden behind a tree only a few feet away was a person with whom we are already acquainted. It was Tom Burns, the tramp and vagabond.

He, too, was out in search of gold. He had come from Daneboro and was prowling round the neighborhood, searching for old Peter's hidden treasure. He had deliberated as to whether the cabin or the fields was the more likely place to have been selected. He had nothing in particular to guide him. He did not, however, venture to approach the house just yet, as it would probably be occupied by Ernest.

"I wish I knowed where the old man hid his boodle," soliloquized Tom. "I can't dig all over."

In fact digging was not in Tom's line. It was too much like work, and if there was anything to which Tom was bitterly opposed it was work of any kind.

"The boy must know. Likely the old man told him," he finally concluded. "I'll watch the boy."

He feared he might be too late. Had it been his own case, he would have searched for the gold immediately after the funeral. He naturally supposed that Ernest would do the same. He therefore lost no time in prowling around the cabin, with the especial object of watching Ernest's movements. He was especially favored, as he thought, when from a distance he saw Ernest leaving the cabin with the spade in his hand.

The tramp's heart was filled with joy.

"He is going to dig for the treasure," he said. "I'll keep him in sight."

Tom Burns had no difficulty in doing this, for Ernest bent his steps in his direction.

"I hope he won't discover me," thought Burns; "at any rate, not till I find out where he's going to dig."

All things seemed to favor the tramp. Ernest stopped when he came to the oak tree, and it was evident this was the spot of which he was in search.

"Why, that's where I was lying the other night!" thought Burns. "If I had only knowed! Why, the gold was right under me all the time. If I'd found it then, I should have gone off with it before this time. How ever, it isn't too late now."

He watched with subdued eagerness while Ernest was digging. He no longer doubted that this was the place where the gold was hidden. Ernest could have no other object in digging in this place.

"I wonder how much there is," thought Burns. "There ought to be as much as a thousand dollars. Perhaps there's two or three. But even if there is only a thousand, it will set me on my feet. I'll soon get out of this neighborhood. I'll go to Chicago or New York, and I'll live in clover. I'll make up for lost time. I've been a vagabond long enough. I'll buy some new clothes, and set up as a respectable man."

When Ernest found the roll of coins, and taking them out, put them in his pocket, he was not disappointed, for he knew what to expect, but Tom Burns was in dismay.

"Only a hundred dollars?" he soliloquized. "What's a hundred dollars? The old man ought to be ashamed of himself. Why, it isn't respectable!"

However, one thing was certain. A hundred dollars was better than nothing. It would take him to Chicago, and enable him to live in comfort for a while. Besides, he might multiply it many times at the gaming table, for Tom Burns had been a gambler in his day. He certainly did not propose to disdain the sum which fortune had placed in his way simply because it was so small. Oh, no, Tom Burns was not that sort of a man.

Ernest put the gold pieces in his pocket and turned to go back to the cabin, when a voice reached him.

"Look here, boy, I'll trouble you to hand over that money."

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