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Robert Coverdale's Struggle Part 3

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John Trafton's curiosity was excited, for he had no idea of any errand that could bring Robert to the tavern. A suspicion crossed his mind, the very thought of which kindled his indignation. His wife might have sent to request Mr. Jones not to sell him any more liquor. He did not think she would dare to do it, but she might. At any rate he determined to find out.

He hastily left the porch and followed Robert. Presently the boy heard his uncle call him and he turned round.

"What's wanted, uncle?" he inquired.

"Where have you been, Robert?"

"I called to see Mrs. Jones."



"What did you want of Mrs. Jones?"

"It was an errand for Aunt Jane."

"Will you answer my question?" said Trafton angrily. "What business has your aunt got with Mrs. Jones?"

He still thought that his wife had sent a message to Mr. Jones through the wife of the latter.

"She had been doing a little sewing for Mrs. Jones and asked me to carry the work back."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" said John Trafton, relieved. "And how much did the work come to?"

"Twenty-five cents."

"You may give me the money, Robert," said the fisherman. "You might lose it, you know."

Could Robert be blamed for regarding his uncle with contempt? His intention evidently was to appropriate his wife's scanty earnings to his own use, spending them, of course, for drink. Certainly a man must be debased who will stoop to anything so mean, and Robert felt deeply ashamed of the man he was forced to call uncle.

"I can't give you the money, uncle," said Robert coldly.

"Can't, hey? What do you mean by that, I want to know?" demanded the fisherman suspiciously.

"My aunt wanted me to buy a little tea and a loaf of bread with the money."

"What if she did? Can't I buy them just as well as you? Hand over that money, Robert Coverdale, or it will be the worse for you."

"I have no money to hand you."

"Why haven't you? You haven't had a chance to spend it yet. You needn't lie about it or I will give you a flogging!"

"I never lie," said Robert proudly. "I told you I haven't got the money and I haven't."

"Then what have you done with it--lost it, eh?"

"I have done nothing with it. Mrs. Jones wouldn't pay me."

"And why wouldn't she pay you?"

"Because she said that you were owing her husband money for drink and she would credit it on your account."

As Robert said this he looked his uncle full in the eye and his uncle flushed a little with transient shame.

"So aunt must go without her tea and bread," continued Robert.

John Trafton had the grace to be ashamed and said:

"I'll fix this with Jones. You can go to the store and get the tea and tell Sands to charge it to me."

"He won't do it," said Robert. "He's refused more than once."

"If he won't that isn't my fault. I've done all I could."

Trafton turned back and resumed his seat on the porch, where he remained till about ten o'clock. It was his usual evening resort, for he did not think it necessary to go home until it was time to go to bed.

Though Robert had no money to spend, he kept on his way slowly toward the village store. He felt mortified and angry.

"Poor Aunt Jane!" he said to himself. "It's a shame that she should have to go without her tea. She hasn't much to cheer her up. Mrs. Jones is about the meanest woman I ever saw, and I hope Aunt Jane won't do any more work for her."

It occurred to Robert to follow his uncle's direction and ask for credit at the store. But he knew very well that there would be little prospect of paying the debt, and, though a boy, he had strict notions on the subject of debt and could not bring his mind, even for his aunt's sake, to buy what he could not pay for.

When we are sad and discouraged relief often comes in some unexpected form and from an unexpected quarter. So it happened now to our young hero.

Walking before him was an elderly gentleman who had on his head a Panama straw hat with a broad brim.

He was a Boston merchant who was spending a part of the season at Cook's Harbor. As his custom was, he was indulging in an evening walk after supper.

There was a brisk east wind blowing, which suddenly increased in force, and, being no respecter of persons, whisked off Mr. Lawrence Tudor's expensive Panama and whirled it away.

Mr. Tudor looked after his hat in dismay. He was an elderly gentleman, of ample proportions, who was accustomed to walk at a slow, dignified pace and who would have found it physically uncomfortable to run, even if he could be brought to think it comported with his personal dignity.

"Bless my soul, how annoying!" exclaimed the merchant.

He looked about him helplessly, as if to consider what course it would be best to pursue under the circumstances, and as he looked he was relieved to see a boy in energetic pursuit of the lost hat.

This boy was Robert, who grasped the situation at once, and, being fleet of foot, thought it very good fun to have a race with the wind.

He had a good chase, for the wind in this case proved to be no mean competitor, but at last he succeeded and put his hand on the hat, which he carried in triumph to its owner.

"Really, my boy, I am exceedingly indebted to you," said Mr. Tudor, made happy by the recovery of his hat.

"You are quite welcome, sir," said Robert politely.

"You had a good run after it," said Mr. Tudor.

"Yes, sir; the wind is very strong."

"I don't know what I should have done without you. I am afraid I couldn't have overtaken it myself."

"I am afraid not," said Robert, smiling at the thought of a man of the merchant's figure engaging in a race for a hat.

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