Robert Coverdale's Struggle Part 18

Robert Coverdale's Struggle -

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"You don't think my boy is lost?"

"I hate to think so, Mrs. Trafton, but it may be."

From grief there was a quick transition to righteous indignation.

"If the poor boy is drowned, I charge John Trafton with his death!" said the grief-stricken woman with an energy startling for one of her usually calm temperament.

"What's this about John Trafton?" demanded a rough voice.

It was John Trafton himself, who, unobserved, had reached the door of the cabin.

Ben Bence and Herbert shrank from him with natural aversion.

"So you're talking against me behind my back, are you?" asked Trafton, looking from one to the other with a scowl.

His wife rose to her feet and turned upon him a glance such as he had never met before.

"What have you done with Robert, John Trafton?" she demanded sternly.

"Oh! that's it, is it?" he said, laughing shortly. "I've served him as he deserved."

"What have you done with him?" she continued in a slow, measured voice.

"You needn't come any tragedy over me, old woman!" he answered with annoyance. "I left him on Egg Island to punish him for disobeying me!"

"I charge you with his murder!" she continued, confronting him with a courage quite new to her.

"Murder!" he repeated, starting. "Come, now, that's a little too strong!

Leaving him on Egg Island isn't murdering him. You talk like a fool!"

"Trafton," said Ben Bence gravely, "there is reason to think that your nephew put off from the island on a raft, which he made himself, and that the raft went to pieces."

For the first time John Trafton's brown face lost its color.

"You don't mean to say Bob's drowned?" he ejaculated.

"There is reason to fear that he may be."

"I'll bet he's on the island now."

"We have just been there and he is not there."

At length Trafton began to see that the situation was a grave one, and he began to exculpate himself.

"If he was such a fool as to put to sea on a crazy raft it ain't my fault," he said. "I couldn't help it, could I?"

"If you hadn't left him there he would still be alive and well."

John Trafton pulled out his red cotton handkerchief from his pocket and began to wipe his forehead, on which the beads of perspiration were gathering.

"Of course I wouldn't have left him there if I'd known what he would do," he muttered.

"Did you mean to leave him there all night?" asked Bence.

"Yes, I meant it as a lesson to him," said the fisherman.

"A lesson to him? You are a fine man to give a lesson to him! You, who spend all your earnings for drink and leave me to starve! John Trafton, I charge you with the death of poor Robert!" exclaimed Mrs. Trafton with startling emphasis.

Perhaps nothing more contributed to overwhelm John Trafton than the wonderful change which had taken place in his usually gentle and submissive wife. He returned her accusing glance with a look of deprecation.

"Come now, Jane, be a little reasonable," he said. "You're very much mistaken. It was only in fun I left him. I thought it would be a good joke to leave him on the island all night. Say something for me, Ben--there's a good fellow."

But Ben Bence was not disposed to waste any sympathy on John Trafton. He was glad to see Trafton brought to judgment and felt like deepening his sense of guilt rather than lightening it.

"Your wife is right," he said gravely. "If poor Bob is dead, you are guilty of his death in the sight of God."

"But he isn't dead! It's all a false alarm. I'll get my boat and row over to the island myself. Very likely he had gone to sleep among the bushes and that prevented your seeing him."

There was a bare possibility of this, but Ben Bence had little faith in it.

"Go, if you like," he said. "If you find him, it will lift a great weight from your conscience."

John Trafton dashed to the shore, flung himself into his boat, and, with feverish haste, began to row toward the island. He bitterly repented now the act which had involved him in such grave responsibility.

He was perfectly sober, for his credit at the tavern was temporarily exhausted.

Of course those who remained behind in the cabin had no hope of Robert being found. They were forced to believe that the raft had gone to pieces and the poor boy, in his efforts to reach the shore, had been swept back into the ocean by the treacherous undertow and was now lying stiff and stark at the bottom of the sea.

"What shall I ever do without Robert?" said Mrs. Trafton, her defiant mood changing, at her husband's departure, to an outburst of grief. "He was all I had to live for."

"You have your husband," suggested Ben Bence doubtfully.

"My husband!" she repeated drearily. "You know how little company he is for me and how little he does to make me comfortable and happy. I will never forgive him for this day's work."

Ben Bence, who was a just man, ventured to represent that Trafton did not foresee the result of his action; but, in the sharpness of her bereavement, Mrs. Trafton would find no excuse for him.

Herbert, too, looked pale and distressed. He had a genuine attachment for Robert, whose good qualities he was able to recognize and appreciate, even if he was a fisherman's nephew.

He, too, thought sorrowfully of his poor friend, snatched from life and swept by the cruel and remorseless sea to an ocean grave. He, too, had his object of resentment.

But for George Randolph, he reflected, Robert would now be alive and well, and he resolved to visit George with his severest reproaches.

While all were plunged in a similar grief a strange thing happened.

The door of the cabin was closed by John Trafton as he went out.

Suddenly there was heard a scratching at the door, and a sound was heard as of a dog trying to excite attention.

"It must be my dog Dash," said Herbert. "I wonder how he found me out?"

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