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Robert Coverdale's Struggle.
by Horatio, Jr. Alger.
A FISHERMAN'S CABIN
"Robert, have you seen anything of your uncle?"
"I suppose he's over at the tavern as usual," said the woman despondently. "He drinks up about all he earns, and there's little enough left for us. I hope you won't follow in his steps, Robert."
"You may be sure I won't, Aunt Jane," said the boy, nodding emphatically. "I wouldn't drink a glass of rum for a hundred dollars."
"God keep you in that resolution, my dear boy! I don't want my sister's son to go to destruction as my husband is doing."
My story opens in a small fishing village on the coast of one of the New England States. Robert Coverdale, whom I have briefly introduced, is the young hero whose fortunes I propose to record.
He is a strong, well-made boy, with a frank, honest face, embrowned by exposure to the sun and wind, with bright and fearless eyes and a manly look. I am afraid his dress would not qualify him to appear to advantage in a drawing-room.
He wore a calico shirt and well-patched trousers of great antiquity and stockings and cowhide shoes sadly in need of repairs.
Some of my well-dressed boy readers, living in cities and large towns, may be disposed to turn up their noses at this ragged boy and wonder at my taste in choosing such a hero.
But Robert had manly traits, and, in spite of his poor clothes, possessed energy, talent, honesty and a resolute will, and a boy so endowed cannot be considered poor, though he does not own a dollar, which was precisely Robert's case.
Indeed, I may go further and say that never in the course of his life of fifteen years had he been able to boast the ownership of a hundred cents.
John Trafton, his uncle, was a fisherman. His small house, or cabin, was picturesquely situated on the summit of a cliff, at the foot of which rolled the ocean waves, and commanded a fine sea view.
That was perhaps its only recommendation, for it was not only small, but furnished in the plainest and scantiest style. The entire furniture of the house would not have brought twenty-five dollars at auction, yet for twenty-five years it had been the home of John and Jane Trafton and for twelve years of their nephew, Robert.
My readers will naturally ask if the fisherman had no children of his own. There was a son who, if living, would be twenty-three years old, but years before he had left home, and whether Ben Trafton was living or dead, who could tell? Nothing had been heard of him for five years.
Mrs. Trafton's affections had only Robert for their object, and to her sister's son she was warmly attached--nearly as much so as if he had been her own son.
Her husband's love of drink had gradually alienated her from him, and she leaned upon Robert, who was always ready to serve her with boyish devotion and to protect her, if need be, from the threats of her husband, made surly by drink.
Many days she would have gone to bed supperless but for Robert. He would push out to sea in his uncle's boat, catch a supply of fish, selling a part if he could or trade a portion for groceries. Indeed he did more for the support of the family than John Trafton did himself.
"It's about time for supper, Robert," said his aunt; "but I've only got a little boiled fish to offer you."
"Fish is good for the brains. Aunt Jane," said Robert, smiling.
"Well, I suppose it's no use waiting for your uncle. If he's at the tavern, he will stay there until he is full of liquor and then he will reel home. Come in and sit down to the table."
Robert entered the cabin and sat down at a side table. His aunt brought him a plate of boiled fish and a potato.
"I found just one potato in the cupboard, Robert," she said.
"Then eat it yourself, aunt. Don't give it to me."
"No, Robert; I've got a little toast for myself. There was a slice of bread too dry to eat as it was, so I toasted it and soaked it in hot water. That suits me better than the potato."
"Haven't you any tea, aunt--for yourself, I mean?" Robert added quickly.
"I don't care for it, but I know you do."
"I wish I had some. Tea always goes to the right spot," said Mrs.
Trafton; "but I couldn't find a single leaf."
"What a pity!" said Robert regretfully.
"Yes," sighed Mrs. Trafton; "we have to do without almost everything. It might be so different if Mr. Trafton wouldn't drink."
"Did he always drink?"
"He's drank, more or less, for ten years, but the habit seems to have grown upon him. Till five years ago two-thirds of his earnings came to me to spend for the house, but now I don't average a dollar a week."
"It's too bad, Aunt Jane!" said Robert energetically.
"So it is, but it does no good to say so. It won't mend matters."
"I wish I was a man."
"I am glad you are not, Robert."
"Why are you glad that I am a boy?" asked Robert in surprise.
"Because when you are a man you won't stay here. You will go out into the world to better yourself, and I shan't blame you. Then I shall be left alone with your uncle, and Heaven only knows how I shall get along.
I shall starve very likely."
Robert pushed back his chair from the table and looked straight at his aunt.
"Do you think. Aunt Jane," he demanded indignantly, "that I will desert you and leave you to shift for yourself?"
"I said, Robert, that I shouldn't blame you if you did. There isn't much to stay here for."
"I am sorry you have such a poor opinion of me, Aunt Jane," said the boy gravely. "I am not quite so selfish as all that. I certainly should like to go out into the world, but I won't go unless I can leave you comfortable."
"I should miss you, Robert, I can't tell how much, but I don't want to tie you down here when you can do better. There isn't much for me to live for--I'm an old woman already--but better times may be in store for you."
"You are not an old woman, Aunt Jane. You are not more than fifty."
"I am just fifty, Robert, but I feel sometimes as if I were seventy."
"Do you know, Aunt Jane, I sometimes think that brighter days are coming to both of us? Sometimes, when I sit out there on the cliff and look out to sea, I almost fancy I can see a ship coming in laden with good things for us."