The clouds were darkening, and the shower was evidently not far off. It was a solitary place, and no houses were to be seen near by. But nearly a quarter of a mile back Harry caught sight of a small house, and jumping over the fence directed his steps toward it. Five minutes brought him to it. It was small, painted red, originally, but the color had mostly been washed away. It was not upon a public road, but there was a narrow lane leading to it from the highway. Probably it was occupied by a poor family, Harry thought. Still it would shelter him from the storm which had even now commenced.
He knocked at the door.
Immediately it was opened and a face peered out--the face of a man advanced in years. It was thin, wrinkled, and haggard. The thin white hair, uncombed, gave a wild appearance to the owner, who, in a thin, shrill voice, demanded, "Who are you?"
"My name is Harry Walton."
"What do you want?"
"Shelter from the storm. It is going to rain."
"Come in," said the old man, and opening the door wider, he admitted our hero.
Harry found himself in a room very bare of furniture, but there was a log fire in the fireplace, and this looked comfortable and pleasant. He laid down his bundle, and drawing up a chair sat down by it, his host meanwhile watching him closely.
"Does he live alone, I wonder?" thought Harry.
He saw no other person about, and no traces of a woman's presence. The floor looked as if it had not been swept for a month, and probably it had not.
The old man sat down opposite Harry, and stared at him, till our hero felt somewhat embarrassed and uncomfortable.
"Why don't he say something?" thought Harry.
"He is a very queer old man."
After a while his host spoke.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked.
"No," said Harry, looking at him.
"You've heard of me often," pursued the old man.
"I didn't know it," answered Harry, beginning to feel curious.
"In history," added the other.
Harry began to look at him in increased surprise.
"Will you tell me your name, if it is not too much trouble," he asked, politely.
"I gained the victory of New Orleans," said the old man.
"I thought General Jackson did that," said Harry.
"You're right," said the old man, complacently. "I am General Jackson."
"But General Jackson is dead."
"That's a mistake," said the old man, quietly. "That's what they say in all the books, but it isn't true."
This was amusing, but it was also startling. Harry knew now that the old man was crazy, or at least a monomaniac, and, though he seemed harmless enough, it was of course possible that he might be dangerous. He was almost sorry that he had sought shelter here. Better have encountered the storm in its full fury than place himself in the power of a maniac. The rain was now falling in thick drops, and he decided at any rate to remain a while longer. He knew that it would not be well to dispute the old man, and resolved to humor his delusion.
"You were President once, I believe?" he asked.
"Yes," said the old man; "and you won't tell anybody, will you?"
"I mean to be again," said the old man in a low voice, half in a whisper. "But you mustn't say anything about it. They'd try to kill me, if they knew it."
"Mr. Henry Clay, and the rest of them."
"Doesn't Henry Clay want you to be President again?"
"Of course not. He wants to be President himself. That's why I'm hiding. They don't any of them know where I am. You won't tell, will you?"
"You might meet Henry Clay, you know."
Harry smiled to himself. It didn't seem very likely that he would ever find himself in such distinguished company, for Henry Clay was at that time living, and a United States Senator.
"What made you come here, General Jackson?" he inquired.
The old man brightened, on being called by this name.
"Because it was quiet. They can't find me here."
"When do you expect to be President again?"
"Next year," said the old man. "I've got it all arranged. My friends are to blow up the capitol, and I shall ride into Washington on a white horse. Do you want an office?"
"I don't know but I should like one," said Harry, amused.
"I'll see what I can do for you," said the old man, seriously. "I can't put you in my Cabinet. That's all arranged. If you would like to be Minister to England or to France, you can go."
"I should like to go to France. Benjamin Franklin was Minister to France."
"Do you know him?"
"No; but I have read his life."
"I'll put your name down in my book. What is it?"
The old man went to the table, on which was a common account book. He took a pen, and, with a serious look, made this entry:
"I promise to make Harry Walton Minister to France, as soon as I take my place in the White House.
"GENERAL ANDREW JACKSON"
"It's all right now," he said.
"Thank you, general. You are very kind," said our hero.
"Were you ever a soldier?" asked his host.
"I never was."
"I thought you might have been in the battle of New Orleans. Our men fought splendidly, sir."
"I have no doubt of it."
"You'll read all about it in history. We fought behind cotton bales. It was glorious!"
"General," said Harry, "if you'll excuse me, I'll take out my supper from this bundle."
"No, no," said the old man; "you must take supper with me."
"I wonder whether he has anything fit to eat," thought Harry. "Thank you," he said aloud. "If you wish it."
The old man had arisen, and, taking a teakettle, suspended it over the fire. A monomaniac though he was on the subject of his identity with General Jackson, he knew how to make tea. Presently he took from the cupboard a baker's roll and some cold meat, and when the tea was ready, invited Harry to be seated at the table. Our hero did so willingly. He had lost his apprehensions, perceiving that his companion's lunacy was of a very harmless character.
"What if mother could see me now!" he thought.
Still the rain poured down. It showed no signs of slackening. He saw that it would be necessary to remain where he was through the night.
"General, can you accommodate me till morning?" he asked.
"Certainly," said the old man. "I shall be glad to have you stay here. Do you go to France to-morrow?"
"I have not received my appointment yet."
"True, true; but it won't be long. I will write your instructions to-night."
The supper was plain enough, but it was relished by our young traveler, whose long walk had stimulated a naturally good appetite.
"Eat heartily, my son," said the old man. "A long journey is before you."
After the meal was over, the old man began to write.
Harry surmised that it was his instructions. He paid little heed, but fixed his eyes upon the fire, listening to the rain that continued to beat against the window panes, and began to speculate about the future. Was he to be successful or not? He was not without solicitude, but he felt no small measure of hope. At nine o'clock he began to feel drowsy, and intimated as much to his host. The old man conducted him to an upper chamber, where there was a bed upon the floor.
"You can sleep there," he said.
"Where do you sleep?" asked Harry.
"Down below; but I shall not go to bed till late. I must get ready your instructions."
"Very well," said Harry. "Good night."
"I am glad he is not in the room with me," thought Harry. "I don't think there is any danger, but it isn't comfortable to be too near a crazy man."