Brave and Bold/Chapter XXXIV
Affairs in Millville had gone on much as usual. Mrs. Rushton had not yet exhausted the supply of money left by Robert in the hands of his friend the lawyer. Her expenses were small, and were eked out by her earnings; for she continued to braid straw, and was able in this way to earn two dollars a week. Indeed, she made it a point to be as economical as possible, for she thought it likely Robert would spend all his money, and return penniless. She had received no letter from him since the one announcing his being about to sail for Calcutta, and this made her naturally anxious. But Mr. Paine assured her that letters were likely to be irregular, and there was no ground for alarm. So she waited with what patience she could till Robert should return, hoping that by some strange chance he might succeed in his quest, and bring his father back with him.
Meanwhile, fortune had improved with Mr. Davis, the superintendent of the factory. He had lost largely by speculation, but had blundered at last into the purchase of a stock in which some interested parties had effected a corner. It went up rapidly, and on the morning when we introduce him again to the reader he was in high good spirits, having just received intelligence from his broker that he had cleared seven thousand dollars by selling at the top of the market.
"Another cup of coffee, Mrs. Davis," he said, passing his cup across the table.
Seeing that his father appeared in good humor, Halbert ventured to prefer a request, which, however, he had little hope of having granted.
"Have you seen Will Paine's pony?" he said, paving the way for the request.
"Yes," said his father; "I saw him on it yesterday."
"It's a regular beauty--I wish I had one."
"How much did it cost?"
"Two hundred dollars."
"That is rather a high price."
"But it will increase in value every year. I wish you would buy me one, father."
"I think I will," said the superintendent, helping himself to a fresh slice of toast.
"Do you mean it?" asked Halbert, in the utmost astonishment.
"Certainly I do. I can afford you a pony as well as Mr. Paine can afford to buy William one."
"Thank you!" said Halbert, his selfish nature more nearly affected by gratitude than ever before. "You are very kind. When will you see about it?"
"I am busy. You may go yourself and ask Mr. Paine where he got William's pony, and if he knows of any other equally good."
"That I will," said Halbert, leaving the table in haste.
"Halbert, you have eaten scarcely anything," said his mother.
"I am not hungry," said the excited boy, seizing his hat, and dashing off in the direction of Mr. Paine's office.
"By the way, Mrs. Davis," said the husband, "I think you mentioned last week that the parlor needed a new carpet."
"So it does. The old one is looking very shabby."
"How much will a new one cost?"
"I can get a nice Brussels for a hundred dollars."
"Well, you may order one."
It was the wife's turn to be astonished, for on broaching the subject the week previous, her husband had given her a lecture on extravagance, and absolutely refused to consider her request. This was before the tidings of his good fortune. She was not slow to accept the present concession, and assumed an unusually affectionate manner, in the excess of her delight.
Meanwhile, Halbert, in opening the front door, came in collision with a boy taller and stouter than himself, brown and sunburned. But, changed as he was, he was not slow in recognizing his old enemy, Robert Rushton.
"What, are you back again?" he said, ungraciously.
"So it appears. Is your father at home?"
"Yes; but he is at breakfast. I don't think you can see him."
"I'll make the attempt, at any rate," said Robert.
"Where have you been all this time?" asked Halbert, more from curiosity than interest.
"I went to Calcutta."
"Common sailor, I suppose," said Halbert, contemptuously.
"No, I was a passenger."
"Where did you get your money to pay the passage?"
"I'm sorry that I can't stop to gratify your curiosity just at present, but I have important business with your father."
"You're getting mighty important," sneered Halbert.
"I wouldn't advise you to put on so many airs, just because you've been to Calcutta."
"I never thought of putting on any. I see you haven't changed much since I went away. You have the same agreeable, gentlemanly manners."
"Do you mean to say that I am not a gentleman?" blustered Halbert.
"Not at all. You may be one, but you don't show it."
"I have a great mind to put you out of the yard."
Robert glanced at Halbert's figure, slight compared with his own, and laughed.
"I think you would find it a difficult undertaking," he said.
Halbert privately came to the same conclusion, and decided to war only with words.
"I have got something better to do than to stand here listening to your impudence. I won't soil my fingers by touching you."
"That's a sensible conclusion. Good-morning."
Halbert did not deign to respond, but walked off, holding his nose very high in the air. Then, as he thought of the pony, he quickened his pace, and bent his steps to Mr. Paine's office.
"A young man to see you, Mr. Davis," said Bridget, entering the breakfast-room.
"Who is it?"
"I think it's young Robert Rushton, but he's much grown entirely."
"That boy home again!" exclaimed the superintendent, in displeased surprise. "Well, you may ask him into the next room."
"Good-morning, Mr. Davis," said Robert, as the superintendent entered.
"Good-morning. When did you get home?" was the cold reply.
"Where have you been?"
"On a fool's errand."
"I felt it my duty to search for my father."
"I could have told you beforehand you would not succeed. Did you go as a sailor?"
"Where did you raise money to pay your expenses?"
"I found friends who helped me."
"It is a poor policy for a boy to live on charity."
"I never intend to do it," said Robert, firmly. "But I would rather do it than live on money that did not belong to me."
"What do you mean by that, sir?" said the superintendent, suspiciously.
"It was a general remark," said Robert.
"May I ask what is your motive in calling upon me?" asked Mr. Davis. "I suppose you have some object."
"I have, and I think you can guess it."
"I am not good at guessing," said Davis, haughtily.
"Then I will not put you to that trouble. You remember, before I sailed for Calcutta, I called here and asked you to restore the sum of five thousand dollars deposited with you by my father?"
"I remember it, and at the time I stigmatized the claim as a fraudulent one. No such sum was ever deposited with me by your father."
"How can you say that, when my father expressly stated it in the letter, written by him, from the boat in which he was drifting about on the ocean?"
"I have no proof that the letter was genuine, and even if it were, I deny the claim. I am not responsible for money I never received."
"I understand you then refuse to pay the money?"
"You would have understood it long ago, if you had not been uncommonly thick-headed," sneered the superintendent. "Let this be the end of it. When you present my note of acknowledgment for the amount, I will pay it and not before."
"That is all I ask," said Robert.
"What?" demanded the superintendent.
"I mean that this assurance is all I want. The note shall be presented to you in the course of the day."
"What do you mean?" asked Davis, startled.
"I mean this, Mr. Davis: that I found my father in Calcutta. He came home with me, and, far from having perished at sea, is now alive and well. He has with him your note for five thousand dollars, and will present it in person."
"You are deceiving me!" exclaimed Davis, in consternation.
"You will soon learn whether I am deceiving you or not," said Robert. "I will now bid you good-morning. My father will call upon you in the course of the day."
He rose to go, leaving the superintendent thunderstruck at the intelligence of Captain Rushton's return. The five thousand dollars, with arrears of interest, would take the greater part of the money whose sudden acquisition had so elated him. While he was considering the situation, his wife entered.
"I think, Mr. Davis," she said, "I will go to New York to-day to buy carpeting, if you can spare the money."
"Neither now nor at any other time," he roared, savagely; "the old carpet must do."
"Why, then, did you tell me fifteen minutes since that I might buy one? What do you mean by such trifling, Mr. Davis?" said his wife, her eyes flashing.
"I mean what I say. I've changed my mind. I can't afford to buy a new carpet."
There was a stormy scene between man and wife, which may be passed over in silence. It ended with a fit of hysterics on the part of Mrs. Davis, while her husband put on his hat and walked gloomily over to the factory. Here he soon received a call from Halbert, who informed him, with great elation, that Mr. Paine knew of a desirable pony which could be had on the same terms as his son's.
"I've changed my mind," said his father. "A pony will cost too much money."
All Halbert's entreaties were unavailing, and he finally left his father's presence in a very unfilial frame of mind.