Chapter XV. Halbert's Malice.




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."

"Halbert Davis?"

"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."

"Yes, sir."

"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.

"Good-morning, Halbert!"

"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?"

"Yes."

"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.



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