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Robert Coverdale's Struggle Part 22

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"It was a hazardous enterprise. But how came you on the island? Surely you did not swim there?"

"No, sir. My uncle carried me there in his boat. He refused to take me off unless I would give up some money which I wanted to spend for my aunt."

"Was the money yours?"

"Yes, sir. It was given me by a gentleman living at the hotel."

"Your uncle--John Trafton--is not a temperate man?"



"No, sir. He spends all the money he earns on drink, and my aunt and I have to live as we can."

"What a fool is man!" said the hermit musingly. "He alone of created beings allows himself to be controlled by his appetites, while professing to stand at the head of the universe!"

Robert felt that he was not expected to answer this speech and remained respectfully silent till his host resumed his questioning.

"And you," said the old man abruptly, "what do you do?"

"Sometimes I go out with my uncle's boat and catch fish for use at home.

Sometimes I find jobs to do in the village which bring in a little money. I am always glad of that, for we can't buy groceries without money, and my uncle never gives us any. My aunt is very fond of tea, but once for three weeks she had to do without it."

"That was a pity. There are some who find great comfort in tea."

"It is so with Aunt Jane. She says it puts new life in her."

"Have you any money now?"

"Oh, I forgot to tell you of my good luck!" said Robert eagerly. "Just before I left the wreck I dug up this," and he displayed the purse with the gold pieces in it. "It would have been a pity if I had been drowned with all this in my pocket."

"My poor boy, your young life would have outweighed a thousandfold the value of these paltry coins. Still I do not depreciate them, for they may be exchanged for comforts. But will not your uncle seek to take them from you?"

"He will not know that I have this money. I shall not tell him."

"It will be better."

For a brief time the hermit gazed at Robert in thoughtful silence and then said:

"How old are you?"

"Fifteen, sir."

"Have you ever thought of life and its uses--I mean of the uses of your own life? Have you ever formed plans for the future?"

"No, sir. It did not seem of much use. I have had to consider how to get enough for my aunt and myself to live upon."

"So your uncle's burdens have been laid on your young shoulders? Have you no aspirations? Are you willing to follow in his steps and grow up a fisherman, like your neighbors?"

"No, sir. I should be very sorry if I thought I must always live here at Cook's Harbor and go out fishing. I should like to see something of the world, as I suppose you have."

"Yes, I have seen much of the world--too much for my happiness--or I would not have come to this quiet spot to end my days. But for a young and guileless boy, whose life is but beginning, the world has its charms. Do you care for books?"

"I have never looked into many, sir, but that is not my fault. I have half a dozen tattered books at home and I study in some of them every day. I have been nearly through the arithmetic and I know something of geography. Sometimes I get hold of a paper, but not often, for my uncle takes none and does not care for reading."

"Look among my books. See if there is any one you would like to read."

Robert had already cast wistful glances at the rows of books in the handsome bookcase.

He had never before seen so many books together, for Cook's Harbor was not noted for its literary men and book lovers. He gladly accepted the hermit's invitation.

His attention was quickly drawn to a set of the Waverley novels. He had often heard of them, and an extract which he had seen in his school reader from "Rob Roy" had given him a strong desire to read the story from which it was taken.

"I should like to borrow 'Rob Roy,'" he said.

"You may take it. When you have read it, you may, upon returning it, have another."

"Then I may call to see you, sir?"

"I shall be glad to have you do so. It is an invitation I never expected to give, but you have interested me, and I may be able to serve you at some time."

"Thank you, sir. If you should ever want any one to run errands for you, I hope you will call upon me. I should like to make some return for your great kindness."

"That is well thought of. You may come to me every Tuesday and Friday mornings, at nine o'clock, and carry my orders to the village. I do not care to go there, but have had no messenger I could trust. For this service I will pay you two dollars a week."

Robert was astonished at the mention of such liberal payment.

"But, sir, that is rather too much," he began.

"Let it be so," said the hermit. "I have money in plenty and it does not bring me happiness. In your hands it may do good."

"It will be a great help to me, sir."

"It is understood then. I will not detain you longer. Go home and gladden the heart of your aunt."

Robert left the cavern, more than ever puzzled by his brief acquaintance with the mysterious recluse.

CHAPTER XVI

THE FISHERMAN'S TEMPTATION

It is needless to say that Robert received a joyful welcome from his aunt. Her joy was increased when her nephew showed her the gold which he had found upon the island.

"You see, aunt," he said, "it wasn't such bad luck, after all, to be left on the island."

"God has so shaped events as to bring good out of evil," answered Mrs.

Trafton, who was a religious woman and went regularly to church, though her husband never accompanied her. "But I am afraid your uncle will try to get the money away from you."

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