Chapter XXV. A Declaration of War.




If Robert was surprised, Ben Haley had even more reason for astonishment. He had supposed his young enemy, as he chose to consider him, quietly living at home in the small village of Millville. He was far from expecting to meet him on shipboard bound to India. There was one difference, however, between the surprise felt by the two. Robert was disagreeably surprised, but a flash of satisfaction lit up the face of the mate, as he realized that the boy who had wounded him was on the same ship, and consequently, as he supposed, in his power.

"How came you here?" he exclaimed, hastily advancing toward Robert.

Resenting the tone of authority in which these words were spoken, Robert answered, composedly:

"I walked on board."

"You'd better not be impudent, young one," said Ben, roughly.

"When you tell me what right you have to question me in that style," said Robert, coolly, "I will apologize."

"I am the mate of this vessel, as you will soon find out."

"So I supposed," said Robert.

"And you, I suppose, are the cabin-boy. Change your clothes at once, and report for duty."

Robert felt sincerely thankful at that moment that he was not the cabin-boy, for he foresaw that in that case he would be subjected to brutal treatment from the mate--treatment which his subordinate position would make him powerless to resent. Now, as a passenger, he felt independent, and though it was disagreeable to have the mate for an enemy, he did not feel afraid.

"You've made a mistake, Mr. Haley," said our hero. "I am not the cabin-boy."

"What are you, then?"

"I am a passenger."

"You are telling a lie. We don't take passengers," said Ben Haley, determined not to believe that the boy was out of his power.

"If you will consult the captain, you may learn your mistake," said Robert.

Ben Haley couldn't help crediting this statement, since it would have done Robert no good to misrepresent the facts of the case. He resolved, however, to ask the captain about it, and inquire how it happened that he had been received as a passenger, contrary to the usual custom.

"You will hear from me again," he said, in a tone of menace.

Robert turned away indifferently, so far as appearance went, but he couldn't help feeling a degree of apprehension as he thought of the long voyage he was to take in company with his enemy, who doubtless would have it in his power to annoy him, even if he abstained from positive injury.

"He is a bad man, and will injure me if he can," he reflected; "but I think I can take care of myself. If I can't I will appeal to the captain."

Meanwhile the mate went up to the captain.

"Captain Evans," said he, "is that boy a passenger?"

"Yes, Mr. Haley."

"It is something unusual to take passengers, is it not?"

"Yes; but this lad is a friend of the owner; and Mr. Morgan has given me directions to treat him with particular consideration."

Ben Haley was puzzled. How did it happen that Mr. Morgan, one of the merchant princes of New York, had become interested in an obscure country boy?

"I don't understand it," he said, perplexed.

"I suppose the boy is a relation of Mr. Morgan."

"Nothing of the kind. He is of poor family, from a small country town."

"Then you know him?"

"I know something of him and his family. He is one of the most impudent young rascals I ever met."

"Indeed!" returned the captain, surprised. "From what I have seen of him, I have come to quite a different conclusion. He has been very gentlemanly and polite to me."

"He can appear so, but you will find out, sooner or later. He has not the slightest regard for truth, and will tell the most unblushing falsehoods with the coolest and most matter-of-fact air."

"I shouldn't have supposed it," said Captain Evans, looking over at our hero, at the other extremity of the deck. "Appearances are deceitful, certainly."

"They are in this case."

This terminated the colloquy for the time. The mate had done what he could to prejudice the captain against the boy he hated. Not, however, with entire success.

Captain Evans had a mind of his own, and did not choose to adopt any man's judgment or prejudices blindly. He resolved to watch Robert a little more closely than he had done, in order to see whether his own observation confirmed the opinion expressed by the mate. Of the latter he did not know much, since this was the first voyage on which they had sailed together; but Captain Evans was obliged to confess that he did not wholly like his first officer. He appeared to be a capable seaman, and, doubtless, understood his duties, but there was a bold and reckless expression which impressed him unfavorably.

Ben Haley, on his part, had learned something, but not much. He had ascertained that Robert was a protege of the owner, and was recommended to the special care of the captain; but what could be his object in undertaking the present voyage, he did not understand. He was a little afraid that Robert would divulge the not very creditable part he had played at Millville; and that he might not be believed in that case, he had represented him to the captain as an habitual liar. After some consideration, he decided to change his tactics, and induce our hero to believe he was his friend, or, at least, not hostile to him. To this he was impelled by two motives. First, to secure his silence respecting the robbery; and, next, to so far get into his confidence as to draw out of him the object of his present expedition. Thus, he would lull his suspicions to sleep, and might thereafter gratify his malice the more securely.

He accordingly approached our hero, and tapped him on the shoulder.

Robert drew away slightly. Haley saw the movement, and hated the boy the more for it.

"Well, my lad," he said, "I find your story is correct."

"Those who know me don't generally doubt my word," said Robert, coldly.

"Well, I don't know you, or, at least, not intimately," said Haley, "and you must confess that I haven't the best reasons to like you."

"Did you suffer much inconvenience from your wound?" asked Robert.

"Not much. It proved to be slight. You were a bold boy to wing me. I could have crushed you easily."

"I suppose you could, but you know how I was situated. I couldn't run away, and desert your uncle."

"I don't know about that. You don't understand that little affair. I suppose you think I had no right to the gold I took."

"I certainly do think so."

"Then you are mistaken. My uncle got his money from my grandfather. A part should have gone to my mother, and, consequently, to me, but he didn't choose to act honestly. My object in calling upon him was to induce him to do me justice at last. But you know the old man has become a miser, and makes money his idol. The long and short of it was, that, as he wouldn't listen to reason, I determined to take the law into my own hands, and carry off what I thought ought to come to me."

Robert listened to this explanation without putting much faith in it. It was not at all according to the story given by Mr. Nichols, and he knew, moreover, that the man before him had passed a wild and dissolute youth.

"I suppose what I did was not strictly legal," continued Ben Haley, lightly; "but we sailors are not much versed in the quips of the law. To my thinking, law defeats justice about as often as it aids it."

"I don't know very much about law," said Robert, perceiving that some reply was expected.

"That's just my case," said Ben, "and the less I have to do with it the better it will suit me. I suppose my uncle made a great fuss about the money I carried off."

"Yes," said Robert. "It was quite a blow to him, and he has been nervous ever since for fear you would come back again."

Ben Haley shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

"He needn't be afraid. I don't want to trouble him, but I was bound he shouldn't keep from me what was rightly my due. I haven't got all I ought to have, but I am not a lover of money, and I shall let it go."

"I hope you won't go near him again, for he got a severe shock the last time."

"When you get back, if you get a chance to see him privately, you may tell him there is no danger of that."

"I shall be glad to do so," said Robert.

"I thought I would explain the matter to you," continued the mate, in an off-hand manner, "for I didn't want you to remain under a false impression. So you are going to see a little of the world?"

"Yes, sir."

"I suppose that is your only object?"

"No. I have another object in view."

The mate waited to learn what this object was, but Robert stopped, and did not seem inclined to go on.

"Well," said Haley, after a slight pause, "as we are to be together on a long voyage, we may as well be friends. Here's my hand."

To his surprise, Robert made no motion to take it.

"Mr. Haley," said he, "I don't like to refuse your hand, but when I tell you that I am the son of Captain Rushton, of the ship, Norman, you will understand why I cannot accept your hand."

Ben Haley started back in dismay. How could Robert have learned anything of his treachery to his father? Had the dead come back from the bottom of the sea to expose him? Was Captain Rushton still alive? He did not venture to ask, but he felt his hatred for Robert growing more intense.

"Boy," he said, in a tone of concentrated passion, "you have done a bold thing in rejecting my hand. I might have been your friend. Think of me henceforth as your relentless enemy."

He walked away, his face dark with the evil passions which Robert's slight had aroused in his breast.



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