Brave and Bold/Chapter X
Paul Nichols looked forward with dismay to the prospect of having his nephew remain with him as a guest. Like all misers, he had a distrust of every one, and the present appearance of his nephew only confirmed the impressions he still retained of his earlier bad conduct He had all the will to turn him out of his house, but Ben was vastly his superior in size and strength, and he did not dare to attempt it.
"He wants to rob, perhaps to murder me," thought Paul, surveying his big nephew with a troubled gaze.
His apprehensions were such that he even meditated offering to pay the intruder's board for a week at the tavern, if he would leave him in peace by himself. But the reluctance to part with his money finally prevented such a proposal being made.
In the afternoon the old man stayed around home. He did not dare to leave it lest Ben should take a fancy to search the house, and come upon some of his secret hoards, for people were right in reporting that he hid his money.
At last evening came. With visible discomposure the old man showed Ben to a room.
"You can sleep there," he said, pointing to a cot bed in the corner of the room.
"All right, uncle. Good-night!"
"Good-night!" said Paul Nichols.
He went out and closed the door behind him. He not only closed it, but locked it, having secretly hidden the key in his pocket. He chuckled softly to himself as he went downstairs. His nephew was securely disposed of for the night, being fastened in his chamber. But if he expected Ben Haley quietly to submit to this incarceration he was entirely mistaken in that individual. The latter heard the key turn in the lock, and comprehended at once his uncle's stratagem. Instead of being angry, he was amused.
"So my simple-minded uncle thinks he has drawn my teeth, does he? I'll give him a scare."
He began to jump up and down on the chamber floor in his heavy boots, which, as the floor was uncarpeted, made a terrible noise, The old man in the room below, just congratulating himself on his cunning move, grew pale as he listened. He supposed his nephew to be in a furious passion, and apprehensions of personal violence disturbed him. Still he reflected that he would be unable to get out, and in the morning he could go for the constable. But he was interrupted by a different noise. Ben had drawn off his boots, and was firing them one after the other at the door.
The noise became so intorable, that Paul was compelled to ascend the stairs, trembling with fear.
"What's the matter?" he inquired at the door, in a quavering voice.
"Open the door," returned Ben.
His uncle reluctantly inserted the key in the lock and opening it presented a pale, scared face in the doorway. His nephew, with his coat stripped off, was sitting on the side of the bed.
"What's the matter?" asked Paul.
"Nothing, only you locked the door by mistake," said Ben, coolly.
"What made you make such a noise?" demanded Paul.
"To call you up. There was no bell in the room, so that was the only way I had of doing it. What made you lock me in?"
"I didn't think," stammered the old man.
"Just what I supposed. To guard against your making that mistake again, let me have the key."
"I'd rather keep it, if it's the same to you," said Paul, in alarm.
"But it isn't the same to me. You see, Uncle Paul, you are growing old and forgetful, and might lock me in again. That would not be pleasant, you know, especially if the house should catch fire in the night."
"What!" exclaimed Paul, terror-stricken, half suspecting his nephew contemplated turning incendiary.
"I don't think it will, mind, but it's best to be prepared, so give me the key."
The old man feebly protested, but ended in giving up the key to his nephew.
"There, that's all right. Now I'll turn in. Good-night."
"Good-night," responded Paul Nichols, and left the chamber, feeling more alarmed than ever. He was beginning to be more afraid and more distrustful of his nephew than ever. What if the latter should light on some of his various hiding places for money? Why, in that very chamber he had a hundred dollars in gold hidden behind the plastering. He groaned in spirit as he thought of it, and determined to tell his nephew the next morning that he must find another home, as he couldn't and wouldn't consent to his remaining longer.
But when the morning came he found the task a difficult one to enter upon. Finally, after breakfast, which consisted of eggs and toast, Ben Haley having ransacked the premises for eggs, which the old man intended for the market, Paul said, "Benjamin, you must not be offended, but I have lived alone for years, and I cannot invite you to stay longer."
"Where shall I go, uncle?" demanded Ben, taking out his pipe coolly, and lighting it.
"There's a tavern in the village."
"Is there? That won't do me any good."
"You'll be better off there than here. They set a very good table, and----"
"You don't," said Ben, finishing the sentence. "I know that, but then, uncle, I have two reasons for preferring to stay here. The first is, that I may enjoy the society of my only living relation; the second is, that I have not money enough to pay my board at the hotel."
He leaned back, and began to puff leisurely at his pipe, as if this settled the matter.
"If you have no money, why do you come to me?" demanded Paul, angrily. "Do you expect me to support you?"
"You wouldn't turn out your sister's son, would you, Uncle Paul?"
"You must earn your own living. I can't support you in idleness."
"You needn't; I'll work for you. Let me see, I'll do the cooking."
"I don't want you here," said the old man, desperately. "Why do you come to disturb me, after so many years?"
"I'll go away on one condition," said Ben Haley.
"Give me, or lend me--I don't care which--a hundred dollars."
"Do you think I'm made of money?" asked Paul, fear and anger struggling for the mastery.
"I think you can spare me a hundred dollars."
"Go away! You are a bad man. You were a wild, bad boy, and you are no better now."
"Now, Uncle Paul, I think you're rather too hard upon me. Just consider that I am your nephew. What will people say if you turn me out of doors?"
"I don't care what they say. I can't have you here."
"I'm sorry I can't oblige you by going, Uncle Paul, but I've got a headache this morning, and don't feel like stirring. Let me stay with you a day or two, and then I may go."
Vain were all the old man's expostulations. His nephew sat obstinately smoking, and refused to move.
"Come out to the barn with me while I milk," said Paul, at length, not daring to leave his nephew by himself.
"Thank you, but I'm well off as I am. I've got a headache, and I'd rather stay here."
Milking couldn't longer be deferred. But for the stranger's presence it would have been attended to two hours earlier. Groaning in spirit, and with many forebodings, Paul went out to the barn, and in due time returned with his foaming pails. There sat his nephew in the old place, apparently not having stirred. Possibly he didn't mean mischief after all, Paul reflected. At any rate, he must leave him again, while he released the cows from their stalls, and drove them to pasture. He tried to obtain his nephew's companionship, but in vain.
"I'm not interested in cows, uncle," he said. "I'll be here when you come back."
With a sigh his uncle left the house, only half reassured. That he had reason for his distrust was proved by Ben Haley's movements. He lighted a candle, and going down celler, first securing a pickax, struck into the earthen flooring, and began to work energetically.
"I am sure some of the old man's money is here," he said to himself. "I must work fast, or he'll catch me at it."
Half an hour later Paul Nichols re-entered the house. He looked for his nephew, but his seat was vacant. He thought he heard a dull thud in the cellar beneath. He hurried to the staircase, and tottered down. Ben had come upon a tin quart-measure partly filled with gold coins, and was stooping over, transferring them to his pocket.
With a hoarse cry like that of an animal deprived of its young, his uncle sprang upon him, and fastened his clawlike nails in the face of his burly nephew.