The storm which commenced so suddenly was one of great violence. It required all the captain's seamanship, and the efforts of all the crew, to withstand it. However reluctant to do it, Captain Haley was forced to release Bates from his irons, and order him to duty. The latter worked energetically, and showed that he did not intend to shirk any part of his duties as seaman. But the result of the storm was that the vessel was driven out of her course, and her rigging suffered considerable injury. The wind blew all night. Toward morning it abated, and, as the morning light broke, the lookout described a small island distant about a league.
The captain looked at it through his glass, and then examined the chart.
"I can't make out what island that is," he said.
"It is not large enough," suggested the mate, "to find a place on the map."
"Perhaps it is as you say," said Captain Haley, thoughtfully. "I have a mind to go on shore and explore it. There may be some fresh fruits that will vary our diet."
This plan was carried out. A boat was got ready, and the captain got in, with four sailors to row.
Just as he was about to descend into the boat, he turned to Robert, who was looking curiously toward land, and said:
"Rushton, would you like to go with us?"
It was precisely what Robert wanted. He had a boy's love of adventure, and the thought of exploring an island, perhaps hitherto unknown, struck his fancy, and he eagerly accepted the invitation.
"Jump in, then," said Haley, striving to appear indifferent; but there was a gleam of exultation in his eye, which he took care to conceal from the unsuspecting boy.
Swiftly the boat sped through the waters, pulled by the strong arms of four stout sailors, and, reaching the island, was drawn into a little cove, which seemed made for it.
"Now for an exploring expedition," said the captain. "Boys," addressing the sailors, "remain near the boat. I will soon be back. Rushton," he said, turning to our hero, "go where you like, but be back in an hour."
"Yes, sir," answered Robert.
Had it been Captain Evans, instead of Captain Haley, he would have proposed to join him; but, knowing what he did of the latter, he preferred his own company.
The island was about five miles in circumference. Near the shore, it was bare of vegetation, but further inland there were numerous trees, some producing fruit. After some weeks of the monotonous life on shipboard, Robert enjoyed pressing the solid earth once more. Besides, this was the first foreign shore his foot had ever trodden. The thought that he was thousands of miles away from home, and that, possibly, the land upon which he now walked had never before been trodden by a civilized foot, filled him with a sense of excitement and exhilaration.
"What would mother say if she should see me now?" he thought. "What a wonderful chance it would be if my father had been wafted in his boat to this island, and I should come upon him unexpectedly!"
It was very improbable, but Robert thought enough of it to look about him carefully. But everywhere the land seemed to be virgin, without other inhabitants than the birds of strange plumage and note, which sang in the branches of the trees.
"I don't believe any one ever lived here," thought Robert.
It struck him that he should like to live upon the island a week, if he could be sure of being taken off at the end of that time. The cool breezes from the ocean swept over the little island, and made it delightfully cool at morning and evening, though hot in the middle of the day.
Robert sauntered along till he came to a little valley. He descended the slope, and sat down in the shade of a broad-leaved tree. The grass beneath him made a soft couch, and he felt that he should enjoy lying there the rest of the day. But his time was limited. The captain had told him to be back in an hour, and he felt that it was time for him to be stirring.
"I shall not have time to go any further," he reflected. "I must be getting back to the boat."
As this occurred to him, he rose to his feet, and, looking up, he started a little at seeing the captain himself descending the slope.
"Well, Robert," said Captain Haley, "how do you like the island?"
"Very much, indeed," said our hero. "It seems pleasant to be on land after being on shipboard so many weeks."
"Quite true. This is a beautiful place you have found."
"I was resting under this tree, listening to the birds, but I felt afraid I should not be back to the boat in time, and was just starting to return."
"I think we can overstay our time a little," said Haley. "They won't go back without me, I reckon," he added, with a laugh.
Robert was nothing loth to stay, and resumed his place on the grass. The captain threw himself on the grass beside him.
"I suppose you have read 'Robinson Crusoe?'" he said.
"Oh, yes; more than once."
"I wonder how it would seem to live on such an island as this?"
"I should like it very well," said Robert; "that is, if I could go off at any time. I was just thinking of it when you come up."
"Were you?" asked the captain, showing his teeth in an unpleasant smile, which, however, Robert did not see. "You think you would like it?"
"I am glad of that."
"Why?" asked Robert, turning round and looking his companion in the face.
"Because," said Haley, changing his tone, "I am going to give you a chance to try it."
Robert sprang to his feet in instant alarm, but too late. Haley had grasped him by the shoulder, and in his grasp the boy's strength was nothing.
"What are you going to do?" asked Robert, with fearful foreboding.
"Wait a minute and you will see!"
The captain had drawn a stout cord, brought for the purpose, from his pocket, and, dragging Robert to a tree, tied him securely to the trunk. The terrible fate destined for him was presented vividly to the imagination of our hero; and, brave as he was, it almost unmanned him. Finding his struggles useless, he resorted to expostulation.
"I am sure you cannot mean this, Captain Haley!" he said. "You won't leave me to perish miserably on this island?"
"Won't I?" returned the captain, with an evil light in his eyes. "Why won't I?"
"Surely, you will not be so inhuman?"
"Look here, boy," said the captain, "you needn't try to come any of your high-flown notions about humanity over me. I owe you a debt, and, by Heaven! I'm going to pay it! You didn't think much of humanity when you wounded me."
"I couldn't help it," said Robert. "I didn't want to hurt you. I only wanted to protect your uncle."
"That's all very well; but, when you interfered in a family quarrel, you meddled with what did not concern you. Besides, you have been inciting my crew to mutiny."
"I have not done so," said Robert.
"I overheard you the other night giving some of your precious advice to my cabin-boy. Besides, you had the impudence to interfere with me in a matter of discipline."
"Frank Price deserved no punishment."
"That is for me to decide. When you dared to be impudent to me on my own deck, I swore to be revenged, and the time has come sooner than I anticipated."
"Captain Haley," said Robert, "in all that I have done I have tried to do right. If I have done wrong, it was because I erred in judgment. If you will let me go, I will promise to say nothing of the attempt you make to keep me here."
"You are very kind," sneered the captain; "but I mean to take care of that myself. You may make all the complaints you like after I have left you here."
"There is One who will hear me," said Robert. "I shall not be wholly without friends."
"Who do you mean?"
"God!" said Robert, solemnly.
"Rubbish!" retorted Haley, contemptuously.
"I shall not despair while I have Him to appeal to."
"Just as you like," said the captain, shrugging his shoulders. "You are welcome to all the comfort you can find in your present situation."
By this time, Robert was bound to the trunk of the tree by a cord, which passed around his waist. In addition to this Haley tied his wrists together, fearing that otherwise he might be able to unfasten the knot. He now rose to his feet, and looked down upon the young captive, with an air of triumph.
"Have you any messages to send by me, Rushton?" he said, with a sneer.
"Are you quite determined to leave me here?" asked Robert, in anguish.
"What will the sailors say when I do not return?"
"Don't trouble yourself about them. I will take care of that. If you have got anything to say, say it quick, for I must be going."
"Captain Haley," said Robert, his courage rising, and looking the captain firmly in the face, "I may die here, and so gratify your enmity; but the time will come when you will repent what you are doing."
"I'll risk that," said Haley, coolly. "Good-by."
He walked up the slope, and disappeared from view, leaving Robert bound to the tree, a helpless prisoner.
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