Robert Coverdale's Struggle - LightNovelOnl.com
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The conversation now drifted into other channels. The stranger ordered another glass of whisky and went out.
"Where is that man staying?" asked Cummings.
"Not here," answered the landlord. "I don't like his looks and don't care where he stays as long as he don't ask for a room here."
"You don't mind selling him drink, landlord?"
"Not as long as he's got money to pay. That's a different matter."
A few minutes later John Trafton left the tavern.
He had drunk considerable, but not enough to make him incapable of action. The drink excited him and nerved him for the task he had in view, for upon this very evening he had decided to force an entrance into the hermit's mysterious residence, and he hoped to be well paid for his visit.
He had to pass his own cabin on the way. He glanced toward it and saw a light shining through the window, but he took care to keep far enough away so that he might not be seen.
Half a mile farther and he stood opposite the cavern. There was the ladder making access to the cave easy. He looked for the hermit's boat, which was usually kept fastened near the entrance to the cave, and to his joy he saw that it was missing.
"The old man must be out in his boat," he said to himself. "All the better for me! If I am quick, I may get through before he gets back."
With a confident step he ascended the ladder and entered what might be called the vestibule of the cave.
He halted there to light the candle he had brought with him. He was bending over, striking the match against his foot, when he was attacked from behind and almost stunned by a very heavy blow.
He recovered himself sufficiently to grasp his assailant, and in an instant the two were grappling in fierce conflict.
"I never thought the old man was so strong," passed through the fisherman's mind as he found himself compelled to use his utmost strength against his opponent.
A TRAGEDY ON THE BEACH
It is hardly necessary to say that the man with whom the fisherman was engaged in deadly conflict was not the hermit. It was the stranger who, in the tavern, had manifested so much curiosity on the subject of the rich residents of Cook's Harbor.
He was a desperado from New York, who, being too well known to the police of that city, had found it expedient to seek a new field, where he would not excite suspicion.
He had arrived at the cave only a few minutes before the fisherman and had already explored the inner room in search of the large sum of money which Trafton had given him to understand the hermit kept on hand.
He had no candle, but he found a lamp and lighted it.
He was in the midst of his search when he heard the entrance of the fisherman. He concluded, very naturally, that it was the hermit, and he prepared himself for an attack.
He instantly extinguished the lamp and stole out into the vestibule. It was his first thought to glide by the supposed hermit and escape, but this would cut him off from securing the booty of which he was in quest.
He resolved upon a bolder course. He grappled with the newcomer, confident of easily overcoming a feeble old man, but, to his disagreeable surprise, he encountered a vigorous resistance far beyond what he anticipated.
Neither of the two uttered a word, but silently the fierce conflict continued.
"I must be weak if I cannot handle an old man," thought the professional burglar, and he increased his efforts.
"If he masters me and finds out who I am, I am lost!" thought John Trafton; and he, too, put forth his utmost strength.
The fisherman had the disadvantage in one respect. He was wholly unarmed and his opponent had a knife.
When he found that Trafton--who was of muscular build--was likely to gain the advantage, with a muttered oath he drew his knife and plunged it into his opponent's breast.
They were struggling just on the verge of the precipice, and Trafton, when he felt the blow, tottered and fell, his antagonist with him.
"The old fool's dead, and I must fly," thought the burglar.
With hasty step he fled along the sands till he came to a point where he could easily scale the cliff. Reaching the top, he walked quickly away from Cook's Harbor.
Half an hour later the hermit beached his boat, fastened it and proceeded to his quarters. He was plunged in thought and observed nothing till he stumbled against the fisherman's body.
"Some drunken fellow probably," he said to himself.
He lit a match, and, bending over, was horror-stricken to see the fixed features and the blood upon the garments of the unfortunate fisherman.
"There has been murder here! Who can it be?" he exclaimed.
He lit another match and took a closer look.
"As I live, it is Trafton, Robert's uncle!" he cried. "What mystery is here? How did the unhappy man come to his death?"
He was not long left to wonder alone, for Robert, as was not unusual with him, had been taking an evening stroll on the beach, and, seeing his employer, came up to speak to him.
"Good evening, sir," he said, as yet innocent of the sad knowledge which was soon to be his. "Is anything the matter?"
"Robert," said the hermit solemnly, "prepare yourself for a terrible surprise. A man has been killed and that man is----"
"My uncle!" exclaimed our hero in dismay.
"Yes, it is he!"
"How did it happen, sir?" asked Robert, a frightful suspicion entering his mind.
"I know no better than you, my boy. I have just arrived from an evening trip on the water. I was about to enter my quarters when I stumbled over your uncle's body."
"What could have brought him here?"
"I cannot tell, nor can I conjecture who killed him."
"It can't be he," thought Robert, dismissing his fleeting suspicion.
"What shall I do, sir?" he asked, unprepared, with his boyish inexperience, to decide what to do under such terrible circumstances.
"Go and summon some of your neighbors to carry the poor man to his home.
Meanwhile break the news to your aunt as you best can," said the hermit in a tone of quiet decision.