Robert Coverdale's Struggle - LightNovelOnl.com
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"I am the nephew of John Trafton, who has a small house on the cliff."
"I know. He is a fisherman."
"Don't disturb yourself. Word shall be sent to your aunt that you are safe. I will give you a sleeping draught, and tomorrow morning we will speak further."
Somehow Robert did not dream of resisting the will of his host. The old man had an air of command to which it seemed natural to submit.
Moreover, he knew that to this mysterious stranger--the hermit of the cliff, as the fishermen called him--he was indebted for his life, and such a man must necessarily be his friend. Robert was, besides, in that condition of physical languor when, if he had felt disposed, he would have found it very difficult to make resistance to the will of another.
"First of all," said the old man, "you must take off your wet clothes. I will place them where they can dry, so that you may put them on in the morning."
With assistance Robert divested himself of his wet garments. As we know, he had little to take off. The stranger brought out a nightgown and then placed our hero in his own bed, wrapping him up in blankets.
"Now for the sleeping draught," he said.
From a bottle he poured out a few drops, which Robert swallowed. In less than three minutes he had closed his eyes and was in a profound slumber.
The old man regarded him with satisfaction as he lay breathing tranquilly upon the bed.
"He is young and strong. Nature has been kind to him and given him an excellent constitution. Sleep will repair the ill effects of exposure. I must remember my promise to the boy," he said.
Turning to the table, he drew from a drawer writing materials and wrote the brief message which, as we have already seen, was duly delivered, and then walked to the entrance of the cavern.
He placed a whistle to his lips, and in response to his summons a black dog came bounding to him from the recesses of the grotto and fawned upon him.
"Come with me, Carlo; I have work for you," he said.
The dog, as if he understood, followed his master out upon the beach.
They walked far enough to bring into clear distinctness the cabin on the cliff.
"Do you see that house. Carlo?" asked his master, directing the dog's attention with his outstretched finger.
Carlo answered by a short, quick bark, which apparently meant "yes."
"Carry this note there. Do you understand?"
The dog opened his mouth to receive the missive and trotted contentedly away.
The hermit turned and retraced his steps to the cavern. He stood beside the bed and saw, to his satisfaction, that Robert was still sleeping peacefully.
"It is strange," said he musingly, "that I should feel such an interest in this boy. I had forsworn all intercourse with my kind, save to provide myself with the necessaries of life. For two years I have lived here alone with my dog and I fancied that I felt no further interest in the affairs of my fellow men. Yet here is a poor boy thrown on my hands, and I feel positive pleasure in having him with me. Yet he is nothing to me. He belongs to a poor fisherman's family, and probably he is uneducated, and has no tastes in common with me. Yet he is an attractive boy. He has a well-shaped head and a bright eye. There must be a capacity for something better and higher. I will speak with him in the morning."
He opened a volume from his bookcase, to which reference has not as yet been made, and for two hours he seemed to be absorbed by it.
Closing it at length, he threw himself upon the couch on which Robert had at first been placed and finally fell asleep.
THE HOME OF THE HERMIT
When Robert awoke the next morning he found himself alone. His strange host was absent, on some errand perhaps.
After a brief glance of bewilderment, Robert remembered where he was, and with the recovery of his strength, which had been repaired by sleep, he felt a natural curiosity about his host and his strange home.
So far as he knew, he was the first inhabitant of the village who had been admitted to a sight of its mystery.
For two years the hermit of the cliff had made his home there, but he had shunned all intercourse with his neighbors and had coldly repelled all advances and checked all curiosity by his persistent taciturnity.
From time to time he went to the village for supplies, and when they were too bulky to admit of his carrying them, he had had them delivered on the beach in front of the entrance to his cave dwelling and at his leisure carried them in himself.
He always attracted attention, as with his tall, slender, majestic figure he moved through the village, or paced the beach, or impelled his frail boat. But speculation as to who he was or what had induced him to become a recluse had about ceased from the despair of obtaining any light upon these points.
No wonder then that Robert, admitted by chance to his dwelling, looked about him in curious wonder.
Cavern as it was, the room was fitted up with due regard to comfort and even luxury.
The bed on which our hero reposed was soft and inviting. The rough stone floor was not carpeted, but was spread with Turkish rugs. There was a bookcase, containing perhaps two hundred books; there was a table and writing desk, an easy-chair and a rocking-chair, and the necessarily dark interior was lighted by an astral lamp, diffusing a soft and pleasant light. On a shelf ticked a French clock and underneath it was a bureau provided with toilet necessaries.
No one in the village knew how these articles had been spirited into the cavern. No one of the villagers had assisted. Indeed, no one, except Robert, knew that the hermit was so well provided with comforts.
Our hero found his clothes on a chair at his bedside. They were drier and suitable for wearing.
"I may as well dress," thought Robert. "I won't go away till I've seen the hermit. I want to thank him again for taking such good care of me."
He did not have to wait long, however. He had scarcely completed his toilet when the hermit appeared.
"So, my young friend, you arc quite recovered from your bath?"
"That is well."
"I think, sir, I had better go home now, for my aunt will be anxious about me."
"I sent a message to your aunt last evening. She knew before she went to bed that you were safe."
"Thank you, sir!"
"I am not apt to be curious, but I wish, before you leave me, to ask you a few questions. Sit down, if you please."
Robert seated himself. He felt that the hermit had a right to ask some questions of one whom he had saved.
"How came you so far out at sea on a frail raft? If you had been shipwrecked, that would explain it, but as you have not been to sea, I cannot understand it."
"I found myself on Egg Island, without any means of getting off. So I made a raft from the timbers of the wreck and launched it. I thought it would last long enough for me to reach land."