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The next day was Saturday. There was no school, but this did not lighten Joe's labors, as he was kept at work on the farm all day.
He was in the barn when Deacon Goodwin, a neighbor, drove up.
Oscar was standing in front of the house, whittling out a cane from a stick he had cut in the woods.
"Is Joe Mason at home?" the deacon inquired.
Oscar looked up in surprise. Why should the deacon want Joe Mason?
"I suppose he is," drawled Oscar.
"Don't you know?"
"Probably he is in the barn," said Oscar indifferently.
"Will you call him? I want to see him on business."
Oscar was still more surprised. He was curious about the business, but his pride revolted at the idea of being sent to summon Joe.
"You'll find him in the barn," said he.
"I don't want to leave my horse," said the deacon. "I will take it as a favor if you will call him."
Oscar hesitated. Finally he decided to go and then return to hear what business Joe and the deacon had together. He rather hoped that Joe had been trespassing on the deacon's grounds, and was to be reprimanded.
He opened the barn door and called out:
"Deacon Goodwin wants you out at the gate."
Joe was as much surprised as Oscar.
He followed Oscar to the front of the house and bade the deacon good morning.
"Oscar tells me you want to see me," he said.
"Yes, Joe. Do you remember your Aunt Susan?"
"My mother's aunt?"
"Yes; she's dead and buried."
"She was pretty old," said Joe.
"The old lady had a small pension," continued the deacon, "that just about kept her, but she managed to save a little out of it. When the funeral expenses were paid it was found that there were fifty-six dollars and seventy-five cents over."
"What's going to be done with it? he inquired.
"She's left it to you," was the unexpected reply, "You was the nearest relation she had, and it was her wish that whatever was left should go to you."
"I'm very much obliged to her. I didn't expect anything. I had almost forgotten I had a great-aunt."
"The money has been sent to me, Joe," continued the deacon. "I'm ready to pay it over to you when you want it, but I hope you won't spend it foolish."
"I don't think I shall, Deacon Goodwin."
"It wouldn't take long to spend it, Joe," said the deacon. "Do you want me to keep it for you?"
"I don't know," said Joe; "I haven't had time to think. I'll come round to-night and see you."
"Very well, Joseph. G'lang, Dobbin!" and the deacon started his old horse, who had completed his quarter century, along the road.
Oscar had listened, not without interest, to the conversation. Though he was the son of a rich man, he had not at command so large a sum as his father's hired boy had fallen heir to. On the whole, he respected Joe rather more than when he was altogether penniless.
"You're in luck, Joe," said he graciously.
"Yes," said Joe. "It's very unexpected."
"You might buy yourself a new suit of clothes."
"I don't intend to do that."
"Why not? You were wishing for one yesterday."
"Because it is your father's place to keep me in clothes. That's the bargain I made with him."
"Perhaps you are right," said Oscar.
"I'll tell you what you can do," he said, after a pause.
"You might buy a boat."
"I shouldn't have any time to use it."
"You might go out with it in the evening. I would look after it in the daytime."
No doubt this arrangement would be satisfactory to Oscar, who would reap all the advantage, but Joe did not see it in a favorable light.
"I don't think I should care to buy a boat," he said.
"What do you say to buying a revolver?"
"I think it would be better to put it on interest."
"You'd better get the good of it now. You might die and then what use would the money be?"
On the way to the deacon's Joe fell in with Seth Larkin.
"Well, my boy, where are you bound?" asked Seth.
"To collect my fortune," said Joe.
Seth asked for an explanation and received it.
"I'm glad for you and I wish it were more."
"So do I," said Joe.
"What for? Anything particular?"
"Yes; if it was enough, I would go to California."
"And you really want to go?"
"Yes. I suppose fifty dollars wouldn't be enough?"
"No; it wouldn't," said Seth; "but I'll tell you what you could do."
"Go to New York and keep yourself till you got a chance to work your passage round the Horn."
"So I might," said Joe, brightening up.
"It wouldn't be easy, but you wouldn't mind that."
"No; I wouldn't mind that."
"Well, if you decide to go, come round and see me to-morrow, and I'll give you the best advice I can."
The deacon opposed Joe's plan, but in vain. Our hero had made up his mind. Finally the old man counted out the money and Joe put it in an old wallet.
The nest thing was to give Major Norton warning.
"Major Norton," said Joe, "I should like to have you get another boy in my place."
"What, Joe?" exclaimed the major.
"I am going to leave town."
"Where are you going?" asked his employer.
"First to New York and afterwards to California."
"Well, I declare! Is it because you ain't satisfied with your clothes?"
"No, sir. I don't see much prospect for me if I stay here and I have heard a good deal about California."
"But you haven't got any money."
"I have almost sixty dollars."
"Oh, yes; Oscar told me. You'd better stay here."
"No, sir; I have made up my mind."
"You'll come back in a month without a cent."
"If I do, I'll go to work again for you."
Monday morning came. Clad in his Sunday suit of cheap and rough cloth, Joe stood on the platform at the depot. The cars came up, he jumped aboard, and his heart beat with exultation as he reflected that he had taken the first step toward the Land of Gold.
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