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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.
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