Ben Haley looked around him, and his eyes lighted upon Robert Rushton standing beside the door with the gun in his hand.
He burst into a derisive laugh, and turning to his uncle, said: "So this is the help you were talking about. He's only a baby. I could twist him around my finger. Just lay down that gun, boy! It isn't meant for children like you."
Though he had a weapon in his hand, many boys in Robert's situation would have been unnerved. He was a mere boy, though strong of his age. Opposed to him was a tall, strong man, of desperate character, fully resolved to carry out his dishonest purpose, and not likely to shrink from violence, to which he was probably only too well accustomed. From the old man he was not likely to obtain assistance, for already Paul's courage had begun to dwindle, and he regarded his nephew with a scared look.
"Lay down that gun, boy!" repeated Ben Haley. "I know you. You're the boy that rowed me across the river. You can row pretty well, but you're not quite a match for me even at that."
"This gun makes me even with you," said Robert, returning his look unflinchingly.
"Does it? Then all I can say is, that when you lose it you'll be in a bad pickle. Lay it down instantly."
"Then lay down the gold you have in your pockets," said our hero, still pointing his gun at Haley.
"Good boy! Brave boy!" said the old man, approvingly.
"Look here, boy," said Haley, in quick, stern tones, "I've had enough of this nonsense. If you don't put down that gun in double quick time, you'll repent it. One word—yes or no!"
"No," said Robert, resolutely.
No sooner had he uttered the monosyllable than Haley sprang toward him with the design of wresting the gun from him. But Robert had his finger upon the trigger, and fired. The bullet entered the shoulder of the ruffian, but in the excitement of the moment he only knew that he was hit, but this incensed him. In spite of the wound he seized the musket and forcibly wrested it from our hero. He raised it in both hands and would probably in his blind fury have killed him on the spot, but for the sudden opening of the outer door, and entrance of a neighboring farmer, who felt sufficiently intimate to enter without knocking. This changed Haley's intention. Feeling that the odds were against him, he sprang through the window, gun in hand, and ran with rapid strides towards the river.
"What's the matter?" demanded the new arrival, surveying the scene before him in astonishment.
"He's gone off with my gold," exclaimed Paul Nichols, recovering from his stupefaction. "Run after him, catch him!"
"Who is it?"
"What, your nephew! I thought he was dead long ago."
"I wish he had been," said Paul, wringing his hands. "He's taken all my money—I shall die in the poorhouse."
"I can't understand how it all happened," said the neighbor, looking to Robert for an explanation. "Who fired the gun?"
"I did," said our hero.
"Did you hit him?"
"I think so. I saw blood on his shirt. I must have hit him in the shoulder."
"Don't stop to talk," said Paul, impatiently. "Go after him and get back the gold."
"We can't do much," said the neighbor, evidently not very anxious to come into conflict with such a bold ruffian. "He has the gun with him."
"What made you let him have it?" asked Paul.
"I couldn't help it," said Robert. "But he can't fire it. It is unloaded, and I don't think he has any ammunition with him."
"To be sure," said Paul, eagerly. "You see there's no danger. Go after him, both of you, He can't hurt ye."
Somewhat reassured the neighbor followed Robert, who at once started in pursuit of the escaped burglar. He was still in sight, though he had improved the time consumed in the foregoing colloquy, and was already near the river bank. On he sped, bent on making good his escape with the money he had dishonestly acquired. One doubt was in his mind. Should he find a boat? If not, the river would prove an insuperable obstacle, and he would be compelled to turn and change the direction of his flight. Looking over his shoulder he saw Robert and the farmer on his track, and he clutched his gun the more firmly.
"They'd better not touch me," he said to himself. "If I can't fire the gun I can brain either or both with it."
Thoughts of crossing the stream by swimming occurred to him. A sailor by profession, he was an expert swimmer, and the river was not wide enough to daunt him. But his pockets were filled with the gold he had stolen, and gold is well known to be the heaviest of all the metals. But nevertheless he could not leave it behind since it was for this he had incurred his present peril. In this uncertainty he reached the bank of the river, when to his surprise and joy his eye rested upon Robert's boat.
"The boy's boat!" he exclaimed, in exultation, "by all that's lucky! I will take the liberty of borrowing it without leave."
He sprang in, and seizing one of the oars, pushed out into the stream, first drawing up the anchor. When Robert and his companion reached the shore he was already floating at a safe distance.
"He's got my boat!" exclaimed our hero, in disappointment.
"So he has!" ejaculated the other.
"You're a little too late!" shouted Ben Haley, with a sneer. "Just carry back my compliments to the old fool yonder and tell him I left in too great a hurry to give him my note for the gold he kindly lent me. I'll attend to it when I get ready."
He had hitherto sculled the boat. Now he took the other oar and commenced rowing. But here the wound, of which he had at first been scarcely conscious, began to be felt, and the first vigorous stroke brought a sharp twinge, besides increasing the flow of blood. His natural ferocity was stimulated by his unpleasant discovery, and he shook his fist menacingly at Robert, from whom he had received the wound.
"There's a reckoning coming betwixt you and me, young one!" he cried, "and it'll be a heavy one. Ben Haley don't forget that sort of debt. The time'll come when he'll pay it back with interest. It mayn't come for years, but it'll come at last, you may be sure of that."
Finding that he could not row on account of his wound, he rose to his feet, and sculled the boat across as well as he could with one hand.
"I wish I had another boat," said Robert. "We could soon overtake him."
"Better let him go," said the neighbor. "He was always a bad one, that Ben Haley. I couldn't begin to tell you all the bad things he did when he was a boy. He was a regular dare-devil. You must look out for him, or he'll do you a mischief some time, to pay for that wound."
"He brought it on himself," said Robert "I gave him warning."
He went back to the farmhouse to tell Paul of his nephew's escape. He was brave and bold, but the malignant glance with which Ben Haley uttered his menace, gave him a vague sense of discomfort.
In spite of his wounded arm Ben Haley succeeded in propelling the boat to the opposite shore. The blood was steadily, though slowly, flowing from his wound, and had already stained his shirt red for a considerable space. In the excitement of first receiving it he had not felt the pain; now, however, the wound began to pain him, and, as might be expected, his feeling of animosity toward our hero was not diminished.
"That cursed boy!" he muttered, between his teeth. "I wish I had had time to give him one blow—he wouldn't have wanted another. I hope the wound isn't serious—if it is, I may have paid dear for the gold."
Still, the thought of the gold in his pockets afforded some satisfaction. He had been penniless; now he was the possessor of—as near as he could estimate, for he had not had time to count—five hundred dollars in gold. That was more than he had ever possessed before at one time, and would enable him to live at ease for a while.
On reaching the shore he was about to leave the boat to its fate, when he espied a boy standing at a little distance, with a hatchet in his hand. This gave him an idea.
"Come here, boy," he said.
The boy came forward, and examined the stranger with curiosity.
"Is that your hatchet?" he asked.
"No, sir. It belongs to my father."
"Would you mind selling it to me if I will give you money enough to buy a new one?"
"This is an old hatchet."
"It will suit me just as well, and I haven't time to buy another. Would your father sell it?"
"Yes, sir; I guess so."
"Very well. What will a new one cost you?"
The boy named the price.
"Here is the money, and twenty-five cents more to pay you for your trouble in going to the store."
Tae boy pocketed the money with satisfaction. He was a farmer's son, and seldom had any money in his possession. He already had twenty-five cents saved up toward the purchase of a junior ball, and the stranger's gratuity would just make up the sum necessary to secure it. He was in a hurry to make the purchase, and, accordingly, no sooner had he received the money than he started at once for the village store. His departure was satisfactory to Ben Haley, who now had nothing to prevent his carrying out his plans.
"I wanted to be revenged on the boy, and now I know how," he said. "I'll make some trouble for him with this hatchet."
He drew the boat up and fastened it. Then he deliberately proceeded to cut away at the bottom with his newly-acquired hatchet. He had a strong arm, and his blows were made more effective by triumphant malice. The boat he supposed to belong to Robert, and he was determined to spoil it.
He hacked away with such energy that soon there was a large hole in the bottom of the boat. Not content with inflicting this damage, he cut it in various other places, until it presented an appearance very different from the neat, stanch boat of which Will Paine had been so proud. At length Ben stopped, and contemplated the ruin he had wrought with malicious satisfaction.
"That's the first instalment in my revenge," he said. "I should like to see my young ferryman's face when he sees his boat again. It'll cost him more than he'll ever get from my miserly uncle to repair it. It serves him right for meddling with matters that don't concern him. And now I must be getting away, for my affectionate uncle will soon be raising a hue and cry after me if I'm not very much mistaken."
He would like to hare gone at once to obtain medical assistance for his wound, but to go to the village doctor would be dangerous. He must wait till he had got out of the town limits, and the farther away the better. He knew when the train would start, and made his way across the fields to the station, arriving just in time to catch it. First, however, he bound a handkerchief round his shoulder to arrest the flow of blood.
When he reached the station, and was purchasing his ticket, the station-master noticed the blood upon his shirt.
"Are you hurt, sir?" he asked.
"Yes, a little," said Ben Haley.
"How did it happen?" inquired the other, with Yankee inquisitiveness.
"I was out hunting," said Ben, carelessly, "with a friend who wasn't much used to firearms. In swinging his gun round, it accidentally went off, and I got shot through the shoulder."
"That's bad," said the station-master, in a tone of sympathy. "You'd better go round to the doctor's, and have it attended to."
"I would," said Ben, "but I am called away by business of the greatest importance. I can get along for a few hours, and then I'll have a doctor look at it. How soon will the train be here?"
"It's coming now. Don't you hear it?"
"That's the train I must take. You see I couldn't wait long enough for the doctor," added Ben, anxious to account satisfactorily for his inattention to the medical assistance of which he stood in need.
When he was fairly on board the cars, and the train was under way, he felt considerably relieved. He was speeding fast away from the man he had robbed, and who was interested in his capture, and in a few days he might be at sea, able to snap his fingers at his miserly uncle and the boy whom he determined some day to meet and settle scores with.
From one enemy of Robert the transition is brief and natural to another. At this very moment Halbert Davis was sauntering idly and discontentedly through the streets of the village. He was the son of a rich man, or of one whom most persons, his own family included, supposed to be rich; but this consciousness, though it made him proud, by no means made him happy. He had that morning at the breakfast table asked his father to give him a boat like Will Paine's, but Mr. Davis had answered by a decided refusal.
"You don't need any boat," he said, sharply.
"It wouldn't cost very much," pleaded Halbert.
"How much do you suppose?"
"Will Paine told me his father paid fifty dollars for his."
"Why don't you borrow it sometimes?"
"I can't borrow it. Will started a day or two since for boarding school."
"Better still. I will hire it for you while he is away."
"I thought of it myself," said Halbert, "but just before he went away Will lent it to the factory boy," sneering as he uttered the last two words.
"Do you mean Robert Rushton?"
"That's only a boy's arrangement. I will see Mr. Paine, and propose to pay him for the use of the boat, and I presume he will be willing to accede to my terms."
"When will you see him?" asked Halbert, hopefully.
"I will try to see him in the course of the day."
It turned out, however, that there was no need of calling on Mr. Paine, for five minutes later, having some business with Mr. Davis, he rang the bell, and was ushered into the breakfast-room.
"Excuse my calling early," he said, "but I wished to see you about——" and here he stated his business, in which my readers will feel no interest. When that was over, Mr. Davis introduced the subject of the boat, and made the offer referred to.
"I am sorry to refuse," said Mr. Paine, "but my son, before going away, passed his promise to Robert Rushton that he should have it during his absence."
"Do you hold yourself bound by such a promise?" inquired Mrs. Davis, with a disagreeable smile.
"Certainly," said the lawyer, gravely. "Robert is a valued friend of my son's, and I respect boyish friendship. I remember very well my own boyhood, and I had some strong friendships at that time."
"I don't see what your son can find to like in Robert Rushton," said Mrs. Davis, with something of Halbert's manner. "I think him a very disagreeable and impertinent boy."
Mr. Paine did not admire Mrs. Davis, and was not likely to be influenced by her prejudices. Without inquiry, therefore, into the cause of her unfavorable opinion, he said, "I have formed quite a different opinion of Robert. I am persuaded that you do him injustice."
"He attacked Halbert ferociously the other day," said Mrs. Davis, determined to impart the information whether asked or not. "He has an ungovernable temper."
Mr. Paine glanced shrewdly at Halbert, of whose arrogant and quarrelsome disposition he had heard from his own son, and replied, "I make it a point not to interfere in boys' quarrels. William speaks very highly of Robert, and it affords him great satisfaction, I know, to leave the boat in his charge."
Mrs. Davis saw that there was no use in pursuing the subject, and it dropped.
After the lawyer had gone Halbert made his petition anew, but without satisfactory results. The fact was, Mr. Davis had heard unfavorable reports from New York the day previous respecting a stock in which he had an interest, and it was not a favorable moment to prefer a request involving the outlay of money.
It was this refusal which made Halbert discontented and unhappy. The factory boy, as he sneeringly called him, could have a boat, while he, a gentleman's son, was forced to go without one. Of course, he would not stoop to ask the loan of the boat, however much he wanted it, from a boy he disliked so much as Robert. He wondered whether Robert were out this morning. So, unconsciously, his steps led him to the shore of the river, where he knew the boat was generally kept. He cast his eye toward it, when what was his surprise to find the object of his desire half full of water, with a large hole in the bottom and defaced in other respects.
TWO UNSATISFACTORY INTERVIEWS.
Halbert's first emotion was surprise, his second was gratification. His rival could no longer enjoy the boat which he had envied him. Not only that, but he would get into trouble with Mr. Paine on account of the damage which it had received. Being under his care, it was his duty to keep it in good condition.
"I wonder how it happened?" thought Halbert. "Won't the young beggar be in a precious scrape when it's found out? Most likely he won't let Mr. Paine know."
In this thought he judged Robert by himself. Straightway the plan suggested itself of going to the lawyer himself and informing him of Robert's delinquency. It would be a very agreeable way of taking revenge him. The plan so pleased him that he at once directed his steps toward Mr. Paine's office. On the way he overtook Hester Paine, the young lady on whose account he was chiefly incensed against Robert. Being as desirous as ever of standing in the young lady's good graces, he hurriedly advanced to her side, and lifting his hat with an air of ceremonious politeness, he said:
Hester Paine was not particularly well pleased with the meeting. She had been made acquainted by her brother with the quarrel between Halbert and Robert, and the mean revenge which the former had taken in procuring the dismissal of the latter from the factory. Having a partiality for Robert, this was not likely to recommend his enemy in her eyes.
"Good-morning, Mr. Davis," she said, with cool politeness.
"You are very ceremonious this morning, Miss Hester," said Halbert, who liked well enough to be called "Mr." by others, but not by Hester.
"Am I?" asked Hester, indifferently. "How so?"
"You called me Mr. Davis."
"That's your name, isn't it?"
"I am not called so by my intimate friends."
"No, I suppose not," said Hester, thus disclaiming the title.
Halbert bit his lips. He was not in love, not because he was too young, but because he was too selfish to be in love with anybody except himself. But he admired Hester, and the more she slighted him the more he was determined to force her to like him. He did, however, feel a little piqued at her behavior, and that influenced his next words.
"Perhaps you'd rather have the factory boy walking beside you," he said, with not very good judgment, if he wanted to recommend himself to her.
"There are a good many factory boys in town," she said. "I can't tell unless you tell me whom you mean."
"I mean Robert Rushton."
"Perhaps I might," said Hester.
"He's a low fellow," said Halbert, bitterly.
"No one thinks so but you," retorted Hester, indignantly.
"My father was obliged to dismiss him from the factory."
"I know all about that, and who was the means of having him sent away."
"I suppose you mean me."
"Yes, Halbert Davis, I mean you, and I consider it a very mean thing to do," said Hester, her cheeks flushed with the indignation she felt.
"He attacked me like the low ruffian that he is," pleaded Halbert, in extenuation. "If he hadn't insulted me, he wouldn't have got into trouble."
"You struck him first, you know you did. My brother told me all about it. You were angry because he walked home with me. I would rather go home alone any time than have your escort."
"You're very polite, Miss Hester," said Halbert, angrily. "I can tell you some news about your favorite."
"If it's anything bad, I won't believe it."
"You'll have to believe it."
"Well, what is it?" demanded Hester, who was not altogether unlike girls in general, and so felt curious to learn what it was that Halbert had to reveal.
"Your brother was foolish enough to leave his boat in Rushton's care."
"That is no news. Will was very glad to do Robert a favor."
"He'll be sorry enough now."
"Why will he?"
"Because the boat is completely ruined."
"I don't believe it," said Hester, hastily.
"It's true, though. I was down at the river just now, and saw it with my own eyes. There is a great hole in the bottom, and it is hacked with a hatchet, so that it wouldn't bring half price."
"Do you know who did it?" asked Hester, with the momentary thought that Halbert himself might have been tempted by his hatred into the commission of the outrage.
"No, I don't. It was only accidentally I saw it."
"Was Robert at the boat?"
"Have you asked him about it?"
"No, I have not seen him."
"Then I am sure some enemy has done it. I am sure it is no fault of his."
"If your brother had let me have the boat, it wouldn't have happened. I offered him a fair price for its use."
"He won't be sorry he refused, whatever has happened. But I must bid you good-morning, Mr. Davis," and the young lady, who was now at her own gate, opened it, and entered.
"She might have been polite enough to invite me in," said Halbert, with chagrin. "I don't see how she can be so taken up with that low fellow."
He waited till Hester had entered the house, and then bent his steps to Mr. Paine's office, which was a small one-story building in one corner of the yard.
The lawyer was sitting at a table covered with papers, from which he looked up as Halbert entered the office.
"Sit down, Halbert," he said. "Any message from your father?"
"No legal business of your own?" he inquired, with a smile.
"No, sir, no legal business."
"Well, if you have any business, you may state it at once, as I am quite busy."
"It is about the boat which your son lent to Robert Rushton."
"I shall not interfere with that arrangement," said the lawyer, misunderstanding his object. "I told your father that this morning," and he resumed his writing.
"I did not come to say anything about that. The boat wouldn't be of any use to me now."
"Why not?" asked the lawyer, detecting something significant in the boy's tone.
"Because," said Halbert, in a tone which he could not divest of the satisfaction he felt at his rival's misfortune, "the boat's completely ruined."
Mr. Paine laid down his pen in genuine surprise.
"Explain yourself," he said.
So Halbert told the story once more, taking good care to make the damage quite as great as it was.
"That is very strange," said the lawyer, thoughtfully. "I can't conceive how such damage could have happened to the boat."
"Robert Rushton don't know how to manage a boat."
"You are mistaken. He understands it very well. I am sure the injury you speak of could not have happened when he was in charge. You say there was not only a hole in the bottom, but it was otherwise defaced and injured?"
"Yes, sir, it looked as if it had been hacked by a hatchet."
"Then it is quite clear that Robert could have had nothing to do with it. It must have been done by some malicious person or persons."
Knowing something of Halbert, Mr. Paine looked hard at him, his suspicions taking the same direction as his daughter's. But, as we know, Halbert was entirely innocent, and bore the gaze without confusion.
"I don't see why Robert hasn't been and let me know of this," said Mr. Paine, musing.
"He was probably afraid to tell you," said Halbert, with a slight sneer.
"I know him better than that. You can testify," added the lawyer, significantly, "that he is not deficient in bravery."
"I thought I would come and tell you," said Halbert, coloring a little. "I thought you would like to know."
"You are very kind to take so much trouble," said Mr. Paine, but there was neither gratitude nor cordiality in his tone.
Halbert thought it was time to be going, and accordingly got up and took his leave. As he opened the office door to go out, he found himself face to face with Robert Rushton, who passed him with a slight nod, and with an air of trouble entered the presence of his friend's father.
Robert was forced, by Ben Baley's, inking possession of his boat to give up for the present his design of recrossing the river. He felt bound to go back and inform Paul of Ben's escape.
"He has carried off my gold," exclaimed Paul, in anguish. "Why didn't you catch him?"
"He had too much start of us," said Robert's companion. "But even if we had come up with him, I am afraid he would have proved more than a match for us. He is a desperate man. How much money did he take away with him?"
"More than five hundred dollars," wailed the old man. "I am completely ruined!"
"Not quite so bad as that, Mr. Nichols. You have your farm left."
But the old man was not to be comforted. He had become so wedded to his gold that to lose it was like losing his heart's blood. But was these no hope of recovery?
"Why don't you go after him?" he exclaimed, suddenly. "Raise the neighbors. It isn't too late yet."
"He's across the river before this," said Robert.
"Get a boat and go after him."
"I am willing," said our hero, promptly. "Where can we find a boat, Mr. Dunham?"
"There's one about a quarter of a mile down the stream—Stetson's boat."
"Let's go, then."
"Very well, Robert. I've no idea we can do anything, but we will try."
"Go, go. Don't waste a moment," implored the old man, in feverish impatience.
Robert and Mr. Dunham started, and were soon rowing across the river in Stetson's boat.
"Whereabout would he be likely to land?" asked the farmer.
"There's my boat now," said Robert, pointing it out. "He has left it where I usually keep it."
Quickly they rowed alongside. Then to his great sorrow Robert perceived the malicious injury which his enemy had wrought.
"Oh, Mr. Dunham, look at that!" he said, struck with grief. "The boat is spoiled!"
"Not so bad as that. It can be mended."
"What will Will Paine say? What will his father say?"
"Then it isn't your boat?"
"No. that is the worst of it. It was lent me by Will Paine, and I promised to take such good care of it."
"It isn't your fault, Robert?"
"No, I couldn't help it, but still it wouldn't have happened if it had not been in my charge."
"You can get it repaired, so that it will look almost as well as new."
If Robert had had plenty of money, this suggestion would have comforted him, but it will be remembered that he was almost penniless, dependent on the fish he caught for the means of supporting his mother and himself. Now this resource was cut off. The boat couldn't be used until it was repaired. He felt morally bound to get it repaired, though he was guiltless of the damage. But how could he even do this? One thing was clear—Mr. Paine must at once be informed of the injury suffered by the boat. Robert shrank from informing him, but he knew it to be his duty, and he was too brave to put it off.
But first he must try to find some clew to Ben Haley. He had now a personal interest in bringing to justice the man who had made him so much trouble. He had scarcely got on shore than the boy who had sold Ben Haley the hatchet, strolled up.
"Who was that man who came across in your boat?" he asked.
"Did you see him?" asked Robert, eagerly.
"To be sure I did," said Tom Green, with satisfaction. "I sold him my old hatchet for money enough to buy a new one, and he give me a quarter besides for my trouble."
"I wish you hadn't done it, Tom," said Robert, gravely. "See what he's done with it."
Tom Green opened his eyes wide with astonishment.
"What did he do that for?" he asked.
"To be revenged on me. I'll tell you what for another time. Now I want to find him. Can you tell me where he went?"
"No; I left him here, while I went to the store for a new hatchet."
The old hatchet was found under a clump of bushes. Robert took possession of it, feeling that he had a right to it, as part compensation for the mischief it had done.
"We'd better go to the railroad depot, Mr. Dunham," he said. "He'd be most likely to go there."
"You're right. We'll go."
They walked rapidly to the station, but too late, of course, for the train. The station-master was standing on the platform, superintending the removal of a trunk.
"Mr. Cross," said Robert, "I want to find out if a particular man left by the last train. I'll describe him,"
"Yes," said the station-master, "that's the man I was wondering about. He had a wound in the shoulder."
"He got that from me," said Robert.
"Sho! you don't say so," returned the station-master, in surprise. "He said he was out hunting with a friend, and his friend's gun went off accidentally."
"I don't believe he feels very friendly to me," said Robert, smiling. "He's stolen five or six hundred dollars in gold from old Paul Nichols."
"It'll about kill the old man, won't it?"
"He feels pretty bad about it. For what place did he buy a ticket?"
"For Cranston; but that ain't no guide. When he gets there, he'll buy a ticket for further on."
Had there been a telegraph station, Robert would have telegraphed on to have Ben Haley stopped, but there was none nearer than the next town. He determined to give information to a justice of the peace, and leave the matter in his hands. But Justice in a country town is slow, and it may as well be stated here, before anything was done Ben Haley was out of danger. But Robert was destined to fall in with him at a future day.
This business attended to, Robert bent his steps to Mr. Paine's office. This brings us to his meeting with Halbert Davis at the door. He was slightly surprised at the encounter, but was far from guessing the object of Halbert's call.
Mr. Paine looked up as he entered, and had no difficulty in guessing his errand.
"What can I do for you, Robert?" he asked, kindly.
"I bring bad news, Mr. Paine," said our hero, boldly plunging into the subject which had brought him to the office.
"It's about the boat, isn't it?" said the lawyer.
"What, do you know about it?" asked Robert, in surprise.
"Yes; a disinterested friend brought the news."
"The same. He takes a strong interest in your affairs," added the lawyer, dryly. "Now tell me how it happened."
Robert gave a full explanation, the lawyer occasionally asking a question.
"It seems, then," he said, "that you incurred this man's enmity by your defense of Mr. Nichols' money."
"It was incurred in a good cause. I can't blame you, nor will my son. I will get Mr. Plane, the carpenter, to look at the boat and see what he can do to repair it."
"Some time I will pay you the cost of the repairs, Mr. Paine. I would now if I had any money; but you know how I am situated."
"I shall not call upon you to do that," said the lawyer, kindly. "It was not your fault."
"But the damage would not have happened if Will had not lent the boat to me."
"That is true; but in undertaking the defense of Mr. Nichols you showed a pluck and courage which most boys would not have exhibited. I am interested, like all good citizens, in the prevention of theft, and in this instance I am willing to assume the cost."
"You are very kind, Mr. Paine. I was afraid you would blame me."
"No, my boy; I am not so unreasonable. It will save me some trouble if you will yourself see Mr. Plane and obtain from him an estimate of the probable expense of putting the boat in order."
Robert left the office, feeling quite relieved by the manner in which his communication had been received. A little way up the road he overtook Halbert Davis. In fact, Halbert was waiting for him, expressly to get an opportunity of enjoying his discomfiture at the ruin of the boat.
"Hallo, Rushton!" he said.
"Are you going out in your boat this afternoon?" asked Halbert, maliciously.
"You know why I can't."
"I wonder what Will Paine will say when he sees the good care you take of it."
"I don't believe he will blame me when he knows the circumstances."
"You ain't fit to have the charge of a boat. I suppose you ran it on a rock."
"Then you suppose wrong."
"You won't be able to go out fishing any more. How will you make a living?"
"Without your help," said Robert, coldly. "You will probably see me out again in a few days, if you take the trouble to look."
"How can you go?"
"Mr. Paine has asked me to see Mr. Plane about repairing the boat."
"Is he going to pay the expenses?"
"Then he's a fool."
"You'd better not tell him so, or he might give you a lesson in politeness."
"You're a low fellow," said Halbert, angrily.
"You are welcome to your opinion," returned Robert, indifferently.
ON THE RAILROAD TRACK.
Robert saw the carpenter, according to Mr. Paine's instructions, but found him so busy that he would not engage to give his attention to the boat under a week.
The delay was regretted by our hero, since it cut him off from the employment by which he hoped to provide for his mother. Again Mrs. Rushton was in low spirits.
"I am sorry you couldn't agree with Halbert Davis, Robert," she said, with a sigh. "Then you could have stayed in the factory, and got your wages regularly every week."
"I know that, mother, but I am not willing to have Halbert 'boss me round,' even for a place in the factory."
"Then, Robert, you quarreled with the man you took across the river."
"I think I did right, mother," said Robert. "Don't get out of spirits. I don't expect to succeed always. But I think I shall come out right in the end."
"I am sure I hope so."
Mrs. Rushton was one of those who look on the dark side. She was distrustful of the future, and apt to anticipate bad fortune. Robert was very different. He inherited from his father an unusual amount of courage and self-reliance, and if one avenue was closed to him, he at once set out to find another. It is of this class that successful men are made, and we have hopes that Robert will develop into a prosperous and successful man.
"I am sure I don't see what you can do," said Mrs. Rushton, "and we can't live on what I make by braiding straw."
"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Robert, "I'll go on Sligo Hill and pick blueberries; I was passing a day or two ago, and saw the bushes quite covered. Just give me a couple of tin pails, and I'll see what I can do."
The pails were provided, and Robert started on his expedition. The hill was not very high, nor was its soil very good. The lower part was used only to pasture a few cows. But this part was thickly covered with blueberry bushes, which this season were fuller than usual of large-sized berries. Robert soon settled to work, and picked steadily and rapidly. At the end of three hours he had filled both pails, containing, as near as he could estimate, eight quarts.
"That's a pretty good afternoon's work," he said to himself. "Now I suppose I must turn peddler, and dispose of them,"
He decided to ask ten cents a quart. Later in the season the price would be reduced, but at that time the berries ought to command that price.
The first house at which he called was Mr. Paine's. He was about to pass, when he saw Hester at the window. Pride suggested, "She may despise me for being a berry peddler," but Robert had no false shame. "At any rate, I won't be coward enough to try to hide it from her." Accordingly he walked up boldly to the door, and rang the bell.
Hester had seen him from the window, and she answered the bell herself.
"I am glad to see you, Robert," she said, frankly. "Won't you come in?"
"Thank you," said our hero, "but I called on business."
"You will find my father in his office," she said, looking a little disappointed.
"My business is not of a legal character," he said. "I've turned peddler, and would like to sell you some blueberries."
"Oh, what nice berries! Where did you pick them?"
"I am sure mother will buy some. Will you wait a minute while I go and ask her?"
"I will wait as long as you like."
Hester soon returned with authority to buy four quarts. I suspect that she was the means of influencing so large a purchase.
"They are ten cents a quart," said Robert, "but I don't think I ought to charge your father anything."
"Because I shall owe him, or rather Will, a good deal of money."
"I know what you mean—it's about the boat."
"Did your father tell you?"
"Yes, but I knew it before. Halbert Davis told me."
"He takes a great interest in my affairs."
"He's a mean boy. You mustn't mind what he says against you."
"I don't care what he thinks or says of me, unless he persuades others to think ill of me."
"I shall never think ill of you, Robert," said Hester, warmly.
"Thank you, Hester," said Robert, looking up into her glowing face with more gratification than he could express. "I hope I shall deserve your good opinion."
"I am sure you will, Robert, But won't you come in?"
"No, thank you. I must sell the rest of my berries."
Robert left the house with forty cents in his pocket, the first fruits of his afternoon's work. Besides, he had four quarts left, for which he expected to find a ready sale. He had not gone far when he met Halbert. The latter was dressed with his usual care, with carefully polished shoes, neatly fitting gloves, and swinging a light cane, the successor of that which had been broken in his conflict with Robert. Our hero, on the other hand, I am obliged to confess, was by no means fashionably attired. His shoes were dusty, and his bare hands were stained with berry juice. He wore a coarse straw hat with a broad brim to shield him from the hot sun. Those of my readers who judge by dress alone would certainly have preferred Halbert Davis, who looked as if he had just stepped out of a band-box. But those who compared the two faces, the one bright, frank and resolute, the other supercilious and insincere, could hardly fail to prefer Robert in spite of his coarse attire and unfashionable air.
Halbert scanned his rival with scornful eyes. He would have taken no notice of him, but concluded to speak in the hope of saying something disagreeable.
"You have found a new business, I see," he said, with a sneer.
"Yes," said Robert, quietly. "When one business gives out, I try another."
"You've made a good choice," said Halbert. "It's what you are adapted for."
"Thank you for the compliment, but I don't expect to stick to it all my life."
"How do you sell your berries?"
"Ten cents a quart."
"You'd better call on your friend, Miss Hester Paine, and see if she won't buy some."
"Thank you for the advice, but it comes too late. She bought four quarts of me."
"She did!" returned Halbert, surprised. "I didn't think you'd go there."
"She won't think much of a boy that has to pick berries for a living."
"I don't think that will change her opinion of me. Why should it?"
"It's a low business."
"I don't see it."
"Excuse my delaying you. I am afraid I may have interfered with your business. I say," he called out, as Robert was going on, "if you will call at our house, perhaps my mother may patronize you."
"Very well," said Robert, "if I don't sell elsewhere, I'll call there. It makes no difference to me who buys my berries,"
"He's the proudest beggar I ever met," thought Halbert, looking after him. "Hester Paine must be hard up for an escort if she walks with a boy who peddles berries for a living. If I were her father, I would put a stop to it."
The same evening there was a concert in the Town Hall. A free ticket was given to Robert in return for some slight service. Mr. Paine and his daughter were present, and Halbert Davis also. To the disgust of the latter, Robert actually had the presumption to walk home with Hester. Hester laughed and chatted gayly, and appeared to be quite unconscious that she was lowering herself by accepting the escort of a boy "who picked berries for a living."
The next day Robert again repaired to Sligo. He had realized eighty cents from his sales the previous day, and he felt that picking berries was much better than remaining idle. Halbert's sneers did not for a moment discompose him. He had pride, but it was an honorable pride, and not of a kind that would prevent his engaging in any respectable employment necessary for the support of his mother and himself.
Returning home with well-filled pails, he walked a part of the way on the railroad, as this shortened the distance. He had not walked far when he discovered on the track a huge rock, large enough to throw the train off the track. How it got there was a mystery. Just in front there was a steep descent on either side, the road crossing a valley, so that an accident would probably cause the entire train to be thrown down the embankment. Robert saw the danger at a glance, and it flashed upon him at the same moment that the train was nearly due. He sprang to the rock, and exerted his utmost strength to dislodge it. He could move it slightly, but it was too heavy to remove. He was still exerting his strength to the utmost when the whistle of the locomotive was heard. Robert was filled with horror, as he realized the peril of the approaching train, and his powerlessness to avert it.
THE YOUNG CAPITALIST.
The cars swept on at the rate of twenty miles an hour, the engineer wholly unconscious of the peril in front. Robert saw the fated train with its freight of human lives, and his heart grew sick within him as he thought of the terrible tragedy which was about to be enacted. Was there any possibility of his averting it? He threw himself against the rock and pushed with all the strength he could command. But, nerved as he was by desperation, he found the task greater than he could compass.
And still the train came thundering on. He must withdraw to a place of safety, or he would himself be involved in the destruction which threatened the train.
There was one thing more he could do, and he did it.
He took his station on the rock which was just in the path of the advancing train, and waved his handkerchief frantically. It was a position to test the courage of the bravest.
Robert was fully aware that he was exposing himself to a horrible death. Should he not be seen by the engineer it would be doubtful whether he could get out of the way in time to escape death—and that of the most frightful nature. But unless he did something a hundred lives perhaps might be lost. So he resolutely took his stand, waving, as we have said, his handkerchief and shouting, though the last was not likely to be of any avail.
At first he was not seen. When the engineer at last caught sight of him it was with a feeling of anger at what he regarded as the foolhardiness of the boy. He slackened his speed, thinking he would leave his place, but Robert still maintained his position, his nerves strung to their highest tension, not alone at his own danger, but at the peril which he began to fear he could not avert.
Reluctantly the engineer gave the signal to stop the train. He was only just in time. When it came to a stop there was an interval of only thirty-five feet between it and Robert Rushton, who, now that he had accomplished his object, withdrew to one side, a little paler than usual, but resolute and manly in his bearing.
"What is the meaning of this foolery?" the engineer demanded, angrily.
Robert pointed in silence to the huge rock which lay on the track.
"How came that rock there?" asked the engineer, in a startled tone, as he took in the extent of the peril from which they had been saved.
"I don't know," said Robert. "I tried to move it, but I couldn't."
"You are a brave boy," said the engineer. "You have in all probability saved the train from destruction. But you ran a narrow risk yourself."
"I know it," was the reply; "but it was the only thing I could do to catch your attention."
"I will speak to you about it again. The first to be done is to move the rock."
He left the engine and advanced toward the rock. By this time many of the passengers had got out, and were inquiring why the train was stopped at this point. The sight of the rock made a sensation. Though the peril was over, the thought that the train might have been precipitated down the embankment, and the majority of the passengers killed or seriously injured, impressed them not a little. They pressed forward, and several lending a hand, the rock was ousted from its its position, and rolled crashing over the bank.
Among the passengers was a stout, good-looking man, a New York merchant. He had a large family at home waiting his return from a Western journey. He shuddered as he thought how near he had been to never meeting them again on earth.
"It was providential, your seeing the rock," he said to the engineer. "We owe our lives to you."
"You do me more than justice," replied the engineer. "It was not I who saved the train, but that boy."
All eyes were turned upon Robert, who, unused to being the center of so many glances, blushed and seemed disposed to withdraw.
"How is that?" inquired the merchant.
"He saw the obstruction, and tried to remove it, but, not being able to do so, took his station on the rock, and, at the risk of his own life, drew my attention, and saved the train."
"It was a noble act, my boy; what is your name?"
"It is a name that we shall all have cause to remember. Gentlemen," continued the merchant, turning to the group around him, "you see before you the preserver of your lives. Shall his act go unrewarded?"
"No, no!" was the general exclamation.
"I don't want any reward," said Robert, modestly. "Any boy would have done as much."
"I don't know about that, my young friend. There are not many boys, or men, I think, that would have had the courage to act as you did. You may not ask or want any reward, but we should be forever disgraced if we failed to acknowledge our great indebtedness to you. I contribute one hundred dollars as my share of the testimonial to our young friend."
"I follow with fifty!" said his next neighbor, "and shall ask for the privilege of taking him by the hand."
Robert had won honors at school, but he had never before been in a position so trying to his modesty. The passengers, following the example of the last speaker, crowded around him, and took him by the hand, expressing their individual acknowledgments for the service he had rendered them. Our hero, whom we now designate thus appropriately, bore the ordeal with a self-possession which won the favor of all.
While this was going on, the collection was rapidly being made by the merchant who had proposed it. The amounts contributed varied widely, but no one refused to give. In ten minutes the fund had reached over six hundred dollars.
"Master Robert Rushton," said the merchant, "I have great pleasure in handing you this money, freely contributed by the passengers on this train, as a slight acknowledgment of the great service which you have rendered them at the risk of your own life. It does not often fall to the lot of a boy to perform a deed so heroic. We are all your debtors, and if the time ever conies that you need a friend, I for one shall be glad to show my sense of indebtedness."
"All aboard!" shouted the conductor.
The passengers hurried into the cars, leaving our hero standing by the track, with one hand full of bank notes and in the other the card of the New York merchant. It was only about fifteen minutes since Robert had first signaled the train, yet how in this brief time had his fortunes changed! From the cars now rapidly receding he looked to the roll of bills, and he could hardly realize that all this money was his own. He sat down and counted it over.
"Six hundred and thirty-five dollars!" he exclaimed. "I must have made a mistake."
But a second count turned out precisely the same.
"How happy mother will be!" he thought, joyfully. "I must go and tell her the good news."
He was so occupied with the thoughts of his wonderful good fortune that he nearly forgot to take the berries which he had picked.
"I shan't need to sell them now," he said. "We'll use a part of them ourselves, and what we can't use I will give away."
He carefully stored away the money in his coat pocket, and for the sake of security buttoned it tight. It was a new thing for him to be the custodian of so much treasure. As Halbert Davis usually spent the latter part of the afternoon in promenading the streets, sporting his kids and swinging his jaunty cane, it was not surprising that Robert encountered him again.
"So, you've been berrying again?" he said, stopping short.
"Yes," said Robert, briefly.
"You haven't got the boat repaired, I suppose."
"It's lucky for you this is berrying season."
"Because you'd probably have to go to the poorhouse," said Halbert, insolently.
"I don't know about that," said Robert, coolly. "I rather think I could buy you out, Halbert Davis, watch, gloves, cane and all."
"What do you mean?" demanded Halbert, haughtily. "You seem to forget that you are a beggar, or next to it."
Robert set down his pails, and, opening his coat, drew out a handful of bills.
"Does that look like going to the almshouse?" he said.
"They're not yours," returned Halbert, considerably astonished, for, though he did not know the denomination of the bills, it was evident that there was a considerable amount of money.
"It belongs to me, every dollar of it," returned Robert.
"I don't believe it. Where did you get it? Picking berries, I suppose," he added, with a sneer.
"It makes no difference to you where I got it," said our hero, returning the money to his pocket. "I shan't go to the almshouse till this I is all gone."
"He must have stolen it," muttered Halbert, looking after Robert with disappointment and chagrin. It was certainly very vexatious that, in spite of all his attempts to humble and ruin our hero, he seemed more prosperous than ever.
A VISIT TO THE LAWYER.
Mrs. Rushton was braiding straw when Robert entered with his berries.
"Couldn't you sell your berries, Robert?" she asked.
"I haven't tried yet, mother."
"The berrying season won't last much longer," said his mother, despondently.
"Don't borrow trouble, mother. I am sure we shall get along well."
"You feel more confidence than I do."
"I just met Halbert Davis in the street."
"Have you made up with him?"
"It is for him to make up with me."
"I am afraid you are too high-spirited, Robert. Did Halbert speak to you?"
"Oh, yes," said Robert, laughing. "He takes a great interest in my affairs. He predicts that we shall come to the poorhouse yet."
"He may be right."
"Now, mother, don't be so desponding. We've got enough money to pay our expenses for more than a year, even if we both stop work."
"What can you mean, Robert?" said his mother, looking up in surprise. "You must be crazy."
"Does that look like going to the poorhouse?" asked Robert, drawing out his money.
Mrs. Rushton uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"Whose money is that, Robert?"
"You haven't done anything wrong?"
"No, mother; I thought you knew me too well for that. I see you are anxious to hear how I obtained it, so I'll tell you all about it."
He sat down, and in brief words told his mother the story of the train and its peril, how he had rescued it, and, lastly, of the generous gift which he had so unexpectedly received. The mother's heart was touched, and she forgot all her forebodings.
"My son, I am proud of you," she said, her eyes moist. "You have done a noble deed, and you deserve the reward. But what a risk you ran!"
"I know it, mother, but we won't think of that, now that it is over. How much, money do you think I have here?"
"Two or three hundred dollars."
"Six hundred and thirty-five! So you see, mother, we needn't go to the poorhouse just yet. Now, how much better off should I have been if I had kept my place in the factory? It would have taken me more than two years to earn as much money as this. But that isn't all. I have been the means of saving a great many lives, for the train was sure to be thrown down the embankment. I shall remember that all my life."
"We have reason to be grateful to Heaven that you have been the means of doing so much good, Robert, while, at the same time, you have benefited yourself."
"That is true, mother."
"I shall be afraid to have so much money in the house. If it were known, we might be robbed."
"I will leave it with Mr. Paine until I get a chance to put it in a savings bank. He has a safe in his office. At the same time I will carry him some berries as a present. It won't be much, but I should like to do it on account of his kindness about the boat. I will offer now to bear the expense of its repair."
After washing his hands and adjusting his clothes a little, for Robert, though no fop like Halbert, was not regardless of appearances, especially as he thought Hester might see him, he set out for the lawyer's office.
"Excuse my bringing in my berries," said Robert, as he entered the office, "but I want to ask your acceptance of them."
Many persons, under the supposition that Robert was too poor to afford a gift, would have declined it, or offered to pay for it, thinking they were acting kindly and considerately. But Mr. Paine knew that Robert would be mortified by such an offer, and he answered:
"Thank you, Robert; I will accept your gift with thanks on one condition."
"What is it, Mr. Paine?" inquired our hero, a little puzzled.
"That you will take tea with us to-morrow evening, and help us do justice to them."
"Thank you," said Robert, not a little pleased at the invitation, "but I shouldn't like to leave my mother at home alone."
"Oh, we must have your mother, too. Hester will call this evening, and invite her."
"Then," said Robert, "I can answer for myself, and I think for her, that we should both be very happy to come."
The lawyer's social position made such an invitation particularly gratifying to Robert. Besides, he was led to value it more on account of the persistent efforts of Halbert to injure him in the general estimation. Then, too, it was pleasant to think that he was to sit down to the same table with Hester, as her father's guest, and to receive a call from her at his own house. Nothing that Mr. Paine could have done would have afforded him an equal amount of gratification,
"There is one other matter I wanted to speak to you about, Mr. Paine," he said. "Will you take care of some money for me until I get a chance to deposit it in the savings bank?"
"Certainly, Robert," was the reply, but the lawyer's manner showed some surprise. He knew the circumstances of the Rushtons, and he had not supposed they had any money on hand. "How much is it?"
"Six hundred and thirty-five dollars," answered Robert, producing it. "Will you count it, and see if it is all right?"
"Is this your money?" asked the lawyer, laying down his pen and gazing at Robert in astonishment.
"Yes, sir," said Robert, enjoying his surprise. "I will tell you how I got it"
So the story was told, with a modest reserve as to his own courage, but still showing, without his intending it, how nobly he had behaved.
"Give me your hand, Robert," said Mr. Paine, cordially. "You have shown yourself a hero. We shall be proud of your company to tea to-morrow evening."
Robert flushed with gratification at the high compliment conveyed in these words.
What did he care then for Halbert Davis and his petty malice! He had the approval of his own conscience, the good opinion of those whom he most respected and a provision against want sufficient to avert all present anxiety.
"There is one thing more, Mr. Paine," he added. "It's about the boat Will was kind enough to lend me."
"Have you seen the carpenter about repairing it?"
"Yes, sir, and he will attend to it as soon as he can spare the time. But that was not what I wanted to say. I think I ought to bear the expense of repairing it. I would have spoken about it at first, but then I had no money, and didn't know when I should have any. Will you be kind enough to take as much of my money as will be needed to pay Mr. Plane's bill when it comes in?"
"Certainly not, Robert. It was not your fault that the boat was injured."
"It wouldn't have happened if I had not borrowed it. It isn't right that the expense should fall on you."
"Don't trouble yourself about that, Robert. I am able and willing to pay it. It is very honorable in you to make the offer, and I like you the better for having made it. Won't you need any of this money for present expenses?"
"Perhaps I had better take the thirty-five dollars. Mother may be in want of something."
Robert received back the sum named, and returned home, much pleased with his interview.
About seven o'clock, sitting at the window of the little cottage, he saw Hester Paine opening the front gate. He sprang to his feet and opened the door.
"Good-evening, Robert," she said. "Is your mother at home?"
"Yes, Hester. Won't you come in?"
"Thank you, Robert. Father has been telling me what a hero you were, and it made me feel proud that you were a friend of mine."
Robert's face lighted with pleasure.
"You compliment me more than I deserve," he answered, modestly; "but it gives me great pleasure to know that you think well of me."
"I am sure that there is no boy in Millville that would have dared to do such a thing. Good-evening, Mrs. Rushton. Are you not proud of your son?"
"He is a good son to me," said Mrs. Rushton, with a glance of affection.
"It is such a splendid thing he did. He will be quite a hero. Indeed, he is one already. I've got a New York paper giving an account of the whole thing. I brought it over, thinking you might like to read it."
She displayed a copy of a great city daily, in which full justice was done to Robert's bravery. Our hero listened with modest pleasure while it was being read.
"I don't deserve all that," he said.
"You must let us judge of that," said Hester. "But I have come this evening, Mrs. Rushton, to ask you to take tea with us to-morrow evening, you and Robert. You will come, won't you?"
Mrs. Rushton was pleased with this mark of attention, and after a slight demur, accepted.
I do not intend to give an account of the next evening, and how Robert, in particular, enjoyed it. That can be imagined, as well as Halbert's chagrin when he heard of the attention his rival was receiving in a quarter where he himself so earnestly desired to stand well. I must pass on to a communication received by Mrs. Rushton, a communication of a very unexpected character, which had an important effect upon the fortunes of our hero.
THE MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.
It was not often that Mrs. Rushton received a letter. Neither she nor her husband had possessed many relatives, and such as either had were occupied with their own families, and little communication passed between them and Captain Rushton's family. Robert, therefore, seldom called at the post office. One day, however, as he stepped in by a neighbor's request to inquire for letters for the latter, the postmaster said, "There's a letter for your mother, Robert."
"Is there?" said our hero, surprised, "When did it come?"
"Yesterday. I was going to ask some one to carry it round to her, as you don't often call here."
He handed the letter to Robert, who surveyed it with curiosity. It was postmarked "Boston," and addressed in a bold business hand to "Mrs. Captain Rushton, Millville."
"Who can be writing to mother from Boston?" thought Robert.
The size of the letter also excited his curiosity. There were two stamps upon it, and it appeared bulky. Robert hurried home, and rushed into the kitchen where his mother was at work.
"Here's a letter for you, mother," he said.
"A letter for me!" repeated Mrs. Rushton.
"I don't know who would be likely to write me from there. Open it for me, Robert."
He tore open the envelope. It contained two inclosures—one a letter in the same handwriting as the address; the other a large sheet of foolscap rumpled up, and appearing once to have been rolled up, was written in pencil. Mrs. Rushton had no sooner looked at the latter than she exclaimed, in agitation: "Robert, it is your father's handwriting. Read it to me, I am too agitated to make it out."
Robert was equally excited. Was his father still alive, or was this letter a communication from the dead?
"First let me read the other," he said. "It will explain about this."
His mother sank back into a chair too weak with agitation to stand, while her son rapidly read the following letter:
"BOSTON, August 15, 1853.
MRS. RUSHTON, DEAR MADAM: The fate of our ship Norman, which left this port now more than two years since, under the command of your husband, has until now been veiled in uncertainty. We had given up all hopes of obtaining any light upon the circumstances of its loss, when by a singular chance information was brought us yesterday. The ship Argo, while in the South Pacific, picked up a bottle floating upon the surface of the water. On opening it, it was found to contain two communications, one addressed to us, the other to you, the latter to be forwarded to you by us. Ours contains the particulars of the loss of the Norman, and doubtless your own letter also contains the same particulars. There is a bare possibility that your husband is still alive, but as so long a period has passed since the letters were written it would not be well to place too much confidence in such a hope. But even if Captain Rushton is dead, it will be a sad satisfaction to you to receive from him this last communication, and learn the particulars of his loss. We lose no time in forwarding to you the letter referred to, and remain, with much sympathy, yours respectfully,
WINSLOW & CO."
Mrs. Rushton listened to this letter with eager and painful interest, her hands clasped, and her eyes fixed upon Robert.
"Now read your father's letter," she said, in a low tone.
Robert unfolded the sheet, and his eyes filled with tears as he gazed upon the well-known handwriting of the father whose loss he had so long lamented. This letter, too, we transcribe:
"November 7, 1851.
MY DEAR WIFE AND SON: Whether these lines will ever meet your eyes I know not. Whether I will be permitted again to look upon your dear faces, I also am ignorant. The good ship Norman, in which I sailed from Boston not quite three months ago, is burned to the water's edge, and I find myself, with five of the sailors, afloat on the vast sea at the mercy of the elements, and with a limited supply of food. The chances are against our ever seeing land. Hundreds of miles away from any known shores, our only hope of safety is in attracting the attention of some vessel. In the broad pathways of the ocean such a chance is doubtful. Fortunately I have a few sheets of paper and a pencil with me, and I write these lines, knowing well how improbable it is that you will ever read them. Yet it is a satisfaction to do what I can to let you know the position in which I stand.
But for the revengeful and malignant disposition of one man I should still be walking the deck of the Norman as its captain. But to my story: My first mate was a man named Haley—Benjamin Haley—whose name you will perhaps remember. He was born in our neighborhood, or, at all events, once lived there, being the nephew of old Paul Nichols. He was a wild young man, and bore a bad reputation. Finally he disappeared, and, as it seems, embraced the profession of a sailor. I was not prepossessed in his favor, and was not very well pleased to find him my second in command. However, he was regularly engaged, and it was of no use for me to say anything against him. I think, however, that he suspected the state of my feelings, as, while studiously polite, I did not make an effort to be cordial. At any rate, he must have taken a dislike to me early in the voyage, though whether at that time he meditated evil, I cannot say.
After a time I found that he was disposed to encroach upon my prerogatives as captain of the vessel, and issue commands which he knew to be in defiance of my wishes. You can imagine that I would not pass over such conduct unnoticed. I summoned him to an interview, and informed him in decided terms that I must be master in my own ship. He said little, but I saw from his expression that there could thereafter be no amicable relations between us.
I pass over the days that succeeded—days in which Haley went to the furthest verge of insolence that he felt would be safe. At length, carried away by impatience, I reprimanded him publicly. He grew pale with passion, turned on his heel, and strode away. That night I was roused from my sleep by the cry of 'Fire!' I sprang to my feet and took immediate measures to extinguish the flames. But the incendiary had taken care to do his work so well that it was already impossible.
I did not at first miss Haley, until, inquiring for him, I learned that he was missing, and one of the ship's boats. It was evident that he had deliberately fired the ship in order to revenge himself upon me. His hatred must have been extreme, or he would not have been willing to incur so great a risk. Though he escaped from the ship, his position in an open boat must be extremely perilous.
When all hope of saving the ship was abandoned, we manned the remaining boats hastily, putting in each such a stock of provisions as we could carry without overloading the boats. Twenty-four hours have now passed, and we are still tossing about on the ocean. A storm would be our destruction. At this solemn time, my dear wife, my thoughts turn to you and my dear son, whom I am likely never to see again. There is one thing most of all which I wish you to know, but can hardly hope that these few lines will reach you. Just before I left home, on my present voyage, I deposited five thousand dollars with Mr. Davis, the superintendent of the factory, in trust for you, in case I should not return. You will be surprised to learn that I have so much money. It has been the accumulation of years, and was intended as a provision for you and Robert. I have no reason to doubt the integrity of Mr. Davis, yet I wish I had acquainted you with the fact of this deposit, and placed his written acknowledgment in your hands. My reason for concealment was, that I might surprise you at the end of this voyage.
When this letter comes to hand (if it ever should come to hand), in case the superintendent has not accounted to you for the money placed in his hands, let Robert go to him and claim the money in my name. But I can hardly believe this to be necessary. Should I never return, I am persuaded that Mr. Davis will be true to the trust I have reposed in him, and come forward like an honest man to your relief.
And now, my dear wife and son, farewell! My hope is weak that I shall ever again see you, yet it is possible. May Heaven bless you, and permit us to meet again in another world, if not in this!
I shall inclose this letter, and one to my owners, in a bottle, which I have by me, and commit it to the sea, trusting that the merciful waves may waft it to the shore."
Here Captain Rushton signed his name.
The feelings with which Robert read and his mother listened to this letter, were varied. Love and pity for the husband and father, now doubtless long dead, were blended with surprise at the revelation of the deposit made in the hands of the superintendent of the mill.
"Mother," said Robert, "did you know anything of this money father speaks of?"
"No," said Mrs. Rushton, "he never told me. It is strange that Mr. Davis has never informed us of it. Two years have passed, and we have long given him up as lost."
"Mother," said Robert, "it is my opinion that he never intends to let us know."
"I cannot believe he would be so dishonorable."
"But why should he keep back the knowledge? He knows that we are poor and need the money."
"But he has the reputation of an honorable man."
"Many have had that reputation who do not deserve it," said Robert. "The temptation must have proved too strong for him."
"What shall we do?"
"I know what I am going to do," said Robert, resolutely. "I am going to his house, and shall claim restitution of the money which father intrusted to him. He has had it two years, and, with the interest, it will amount to nearer six than five thousand dollars. It will be a fortune, mother."
"Don't be hasty or impetuous, Robert," said his mother. "Speak to him respectfully."
"I shall be civil if he is," said Robert.
He took his cap, and putting it on, left the cottage and walked with a quick pace to the house of the superintendent.
A DISAGEEEABLE SURPRISE.
Mr. Davis was seated in his office, but it was his own personal affairs rather than the business of the factory that engaged his attention. He was just in receipt of a letter from his broker in New York, stating that there were but slender chances of a rise in the price of some securities in which he had invested heavily. He was advised to sell out at once, in order to guard against a probable further depreciation. This was far from satisfactory, since an immediate sale would involve a loss of nearly a thousand dollars. Mr. Davis felt despondent, and, in consequence, irritable. It was at this moment that one of the factory hands came in and told him that Robert Rushton wished to see him.
The superintendent would have refused an interview but for one consideration. He thought that our hero was about to beg to be taken back into his employ. This request he intended to refuse, and enjoyed in advance the humiliation of young Rushton.
"Good-morning, sir," said Robert, removing his hat on entering.
"I suppose you want to be taken back," said the superintendent, abruptly.
"No, sir," said Robert. "I have come on quite a different errand."
Mr. Davis was disappointed. He was cheated of his expected triumph. Moreover, looking into our young hero's face, he saw that he was entirely self-possessed, and had by no means the air of one about to ask a favor.
"Then state your business at once," he said, roughly. "My time is too valuable to be taken up by trifles."
"My business is important to both of us," said Robert. "We have just received a letter from my father."
The superintendent started and turned pale. This was the most unwelcome intelligence he could have received. He supposed, of course, that Captain Rushton was alive, and likely to reclaim the sum, which he was in no position to surrender,
"Your father!" he stammered. "Where is he? I thought he was dead."
"I am afraid he is," said Robert, soberly.
"Then how can you just have received a letter from him?" demanded Mr. Davis, recovering from his momentary dismay.
"The letter was inclosed in a bottle, which was picked up in the South Pacific, and brought to the owners of the vessel. My father's ship was burned to the water's edge, and at the time of writing the letter he was afloat on the ocean with five of his sailors in a small boat."
"How long ago was this? I mean when was the letter dated."
"Nearly two years ago—in the November after he sailed."
"Then, of course, he must have perished," said the superintendent, with a feeling of satisfaction. "However, I suppose your mother is glad to have heard from him. Is that all you have to tell me?"
"No, sir," said Robert, looking boldly in the face of his former employer. "My father added in his letter, that just before sailing he deposited with you the sum of five thousand dollars, to be given to my mother in case he never returned."
So the worst had come! The dead had revealed the secret which the superintendent hoped would never be known. He was threatened with ruin. He had no means of paying the deposit unless by sacrificing all his property, and it was doubtful whether even then he would be able wholly to make it up. If Robert possessed his acknowledgment he would have no defense to make. This he must ascertain before committing himself.
"Supposing this story to be true," he said, in a half-sneering tone, "you are, of course, prepared to show me my receipt for the money?"
"That my father carried away with him. He did not send it with the letter."
All the superintendent's confidence returned. He no longer felt afraid, since all evidence of the deposit was doubtless at the bottom of the sea with the ill-fated captain. He resolved to deny the trust altogether.
"Rushton," he said, "I have listened patiently to what you had to say, and in return I answer that in the whole course of my life I have never known of a more barefaced attempt at fraud. In this case you have selected the wrong customer."
"What!" exclaimed Robert, hardly crediting the testimony of his ears; "do you mean to deny that my father deposited five thousand dollars with you just before sailing on his last voyage?"
"I certainly do, and in the most unqualified terms. Had such been the case, do you think I would have kept the knowledge of it from your mother so long after your father's supposed death?"
"There might be reasons for that," said Robert, significantly.
"None of your impertinent insinuations, you young rascal," said Mr. Davis, hotly. "The best advice I can give you is, to say nothing to any one about this extraordinary claim. It will only injure you, and I shall be compelled to resort to legal measures to punish you for circulating stories calculated to injure my reputation."
If the superintendent expected to intimidate Robert by this menace he was entirely mistaken in the character of our young hero. He bore the angry words and threatening glances of his enemy without quailing, as resolute and determined as ever.
"Mr. Davis," he said, "if there is no truth in this story, do you think my father, with death before his eyes, would have written it to my mother?"
"I have no evidence, except your word, that any such letter has been received."
"I can show it to you, if you desire it, in my father's handwriting."
"We will suppose, then, for a moment, that such a letter has been received, and was written by your father. I can understand how, being about to die, and feeling that his family were without provision, he should have written such a letter with the intention of giving you a claim upon me, whom he no doubt selected supposing me to be a rich man. It was not justifiable, but something can be excused to a man finding himself in such a position."
Robert was filled with indignation as he listened to this aspersion upon his father's memory. He would not have cared half so much for any insult to himself.
"Mr. Davis," he said, boldly, "it is enough for you to cheat my mother out of the money which my father left her, but when you accuse my father of fraud you go too far. You know better than any one that everything which he wrote is true."
The superintendent flushed under the boy's honest scorn, and, unable to defend himself truthfully, he worked himself into a rage.
"What! do you dare insult me in my own office?" he exclaimed, half rising from his desk, and glaring at our hero. "Out of my sight at once, or I may be tempted to strike you!"
"Before I leave you, Mr. Davis," said Robert, undauntedly, "I wish you to tell me finally whether you deny the deposit referred to in my father's letter?"
"And I tell you, once for all," exclaimed the superintendent, angrily, "if you don't get out of my office I will kick you out."
"I will leave you now," said our hero, not intimidated; "but you have not heard the last of me. I will not rest until I see justice done to my mother."
So saying, he walked deliberately from the office, leaving Mr. Davis in a state of mind no means comfortable. True, the receipt had doubtless gone to the bottom of the sea with the ill-fated captain, and, as no one was cognizant of the transaction, probably no claim could be enforced against his denial. But if the letter should be shown, as Robert would doubtless be inclined to do, he was aware that, however the law might decide, popular opinion would be against him, and his reputation would be ruined. This was an unpleasant prospect, as the superintendent valued his character. Besides, the five thousand dollars were gone and not likely to be recovered. Had they still been in his possession, that would have been some compensation.
Robert left the superintendent's office in deep thought. He understood very well that it would be impossible to enforce his claim without more satisfactory testimony than his father's letter. If any one had been cognizant of the transaction between Mr. Davis and his father it would have helped matters, but no one, so far as he knew, was even aware that his father had possessed so large a sum as five thousand dollars. Had Captain Rushton inclosed the receipt, that would have been sufficient, but it had probably gone to the bottom with him. But, after all, was it certain that his father was dead? It was not certain, but our hero was forced to admit that the chances of his father's being alive were extremely slender.
Finding himself utterly at a loss, he resolved to call upon his firm friend, Squire Paine, the lawyer. Going to his office, he was fortunate enough to find him in, and unengaged.
"Good-morning, Robert," said the lawyer, pleasantly.
"Good-morning, sir. You find me a frequent visitor."
"Always welcome," was the pleasant reply. "You know I am your banker, and it is only natural for you to call upon me."
"Yes, sir," said Robert, smiling; "but it is on different business that I have come to consult you this morning."
"Go on. I will give you the best advice in my power."
The lawyer listened with surprise to the story Robert had to tell.
"This is certainly a strange tale," he said, after a pause.
"But a true one," said Robert, hastily.
"I do not question that. It affords another illustration of the old saying that truth is stranger than fiction. That a letter committed to the deep so many thousand miles away should have finally reached its destination is very remarkable, I may say Providential."
"Do you think there is any chance of my father being yet alive?"
"There is a bare chance, but I cannot encourage you to place much reliance upon it."
"If he had been picked up by any vessel I suppose he would have written."
"You would doubtless have seen him at home before this time in that case. Still there might be circumstances," added the lawyer, slowly, "that would prevent his communicating with friends at home. For instance, his boat might have drifted to some uninhabited island out of the course of ordinary navigation. I don't say it is at all probable, but there is such a probability."
"Is there any chance of making Mr. Davis return the money my father deposited with him?"
"There again there are difficulties. He may demand the return of his receipt, or he may continue to deny the trust altogether."
"Won't the letter prove anything?"
"It may produce a general conviction that such a deposit was made, since, admitting the letter to be genuine, no one, considering especially the character of your father, can readily believe that in the immediate presence of death he would make any such statement unless thoroughly reliable. But moral conviction and legal proof are quite different things. Unless that receipt is produced I don't see that anything can be done."
"Perhaps my father might have put that in a bottle also at a later date."
"He might have done so when he became satisfied that there was no chance of a rescue. But even supposing him to have done it, the chances are ten to one that it will never find its way to your mother. The reception of the first letter was almost a miracle."
"I have no doubt you are right, Mr. Paine," said Robert; "but it seems very hard that my poor father's hard earnings should go to such an unprincipled man, and my mother be left destitute."
"That is true, Robert, but I am obliged to say that your only hope is in awakening Mr. Davis to a sense of justice."
"There isn't much chance of that," said Robert, shaking his head.
"If you will leave the matter in my hands, I will call upon him to-night, and see what I can do."
"I shall feel very glad if you will do so, Squire Paine. I don't want to leave anything undone."
"Then I will do so. I don't imagine it will do any good, but we can but try."
Robert left the office, making up his mind to await the report of the lawyer's visit before moving further.
That evening, the lawyer called at the house of the superintendent. Mrs. Davis and Halbert were in the room. After a little unimportant conversation, he said:
"Mr. Davis, may I ask the favor of a few minutes' conversation with you in private?"
"Certainly," said the superintendent, quite in the dark as to the business which had called his guest to the house. He led the way into another room, and both took seats.
"I may as well say to begin with," commenced the lawyer, "that I call in behalf of the family of the late Captain Rushton."
The superintendent started nervously.
"That boy has lost no time," he muttered to himself.
"I suppose you understand what I have to say?"
"I presume I can guess," said the superintendent, coldly. "The boy came into my office this morning, and made a most extraordinary claim, which I treated with contempt. Finding him persistent I ordered him out of my office. I need not say that no sane man would for a moment put confidence in such an incredible story or claim."
"I can't quite agree with you there," said the lawyer, quietly. "There is nothing incredible about the story. It is remarkable, I grant, but such things have happened before, and will again."
"I suppose you refer to the picking up of the bottle at sea."
"Yes; I fail to see what there is incredible about it. If the handwriting can be identified as that of the late Captain Rushton, and Robert says both his mother and himself recognized it, the story becomes credible and will meet with general belief."
"I thought you were too sensible and practical a man," said the superintendent, sneering, "to be taken in by so palpable a humbug. Why, it reads like a romance."
"In spite of all that, it may be true enough," returned the lawyer, composedly.
"You may believe it, if you please. It seems to me quite unworthy of belief."
"Waiving that point, Robert, doubtless, acquainted you with the statement made in the letter that Captain Rushton, just before sailing on his last voyage, deposited with you five thousand dollars. What have you to say to that?"
"What have I to say?" returned the superintendent. "That Captain Rushton never possessed five thousand dollars in his life. I don't believe he possessed one quarter of the sum."
"What authority have you for saying that? Did he make you his confidant?" asked the lawyer, keenly.
"Yes," said the superintendent, promptly. "When last at home, he called at my house one day, and in the course of conversation remarked that sailors seldom saved any money. 'For instance,' said he, 'I have followed the sea for many years, and have many times resolved to accumulate a provision for my wife and child, but as yet I have scarcely done more than to begin.' He then told me that he had little more than a thousand dollars, but meant to increase that, if possible, during his coming voyage."
To this statement Squire Paine listened attentively, fully believing it to be an impromptu fabrication, as it really was.
"Did he say anything about what he had done with this thousand dollars or more?" he asked.
"A part he left for his wife to draw from time to time for expenses; the rest, I suppose, he took with him."
Mr. Paine sat silent for a moment. Things looked unpromising, he couldn't but acknowledge, for his young client. In the absence of legal proof, and with an adroit and unscrupulous antagonist, whose interests were so strongly enlisted in defeating justice, it was difficult to see what was to be done.
"I understand then, Mr. Davis," he said, finally, "that you deny the justice of this claim?"
"Certainly I do," said the superintendent. "It is a palpable fraud. This boy is a precocious young swindler, and will come to a bad end."
"I have a different opinion of him."
"You are deceived in him, then. I have no doubt he got up the letter himself."
"I don't agree with you. I have seen the letter; it is in Captain Rushton's handwriting. Moreover, I have seen the letter of the owners, which accompanied it."
The superintendent was in a tight place, and he knew it. But there was nothing to do but to persist in his denial.
"Then I can only say that Captain Rushton was a party to the fraud," he said.
"You must be aware, Mr. Davis, that when the public learns the facts in the case, the general belief will be the other way."
"I can't help that," said the other, doggedly. "Whatever the public chooses to think, I won't admit the justice of this outrageous claim."
"Then I have only to bid you good-evening," said the lawyer, coldly, affecting not to see the hand which the superintendent extended. The latter felt the slight, and foresaw that from others he must expect similar coldness, but there was no help for it. To restore the money would be ruin. He had entered into the path of dishonesty, and he was forced to keep on in it.
ROBERT'S NEW PROJECT.
Mr. Paine called at Mrs. Rushton's cottage, and communicated the particulars of his interview with the superintendent.
"It is evident," he said, "that Mr. Davis is swayed by his interests, and feeling legally secure, prefers to defraud you rather than to surrender the five thousand dollars."
"I wouldn't have believed it of Mr. Davis," said Mrs. Rushton; "he is considered such a respectable man."
"I have heard rumors that he is dabbling in speculations, and I suspect he may find it inconvenient to pay away so large a sum of money."
"He had no right to speculate with my mother's money," said Robert, indignantly.
"You are right there. He should have invested it securely."
"Mr. Paine," said Robert, after a pause, "I have an idea that father is still living, and that some day I shall find him."
The lawyer shook his head.
"There is not one chance in ten that he is living," he said. "It is only a fancy of yours."
"It may be, but I can't get it out of my head."
"I hope you will prove correct, but I need not tell you of the many arguments against such a theory."
"I know them all, but still I believe he is living. Mr. Paine," continued Robert, earnestly, "I feel so strongly on the subject that, with my mother's permission, I, mean to go out into the world in search of him."
"I must say, Robert," said Mr. Paine, "I did not expect such a visionary scheme from a boy of your good sense. You must see yourself how wild it is."
"I know it," said our hero; "but I want to take a year, at any rate, to see the world. If, at the end of that time, I discover no trace of my father, I will come home content."
"But what will become of your mother during that time?"
"I will leave four hundred dollars in your hands for her. The rest I will draw for my own uses."
"But you don't expect to travel round the world on two hundred dollars, surely?" said the lawyer.
"I shall work my way as far as I can," said Robert. "I can't afford to travel as a gentleman."
"Suppose you find yourself without money in a foreign land?"