Brave and Bold/Chapter XXVII
The ship Argonaut, bound for Calcutta, was speeding along with a fair wind, when the man at the lookout called:
"Boat in sight!"
The sailor pointed, out a small boat a mile distant, nearly in the ship's track, rising and falling with the billows.
"Is there any one in it?"
"I see two men lying in the bottom. They are motionless. They may be dead."
The boat was soon overtaken. It was the boat from the ill-fated Norman, Captain Rushton and Bunsby were lying stretched out in the bottom, both motionless and apparently without life. Bunsby was really dead. But there was still some life left in the captain, which, under the care of the surgeon of the ship, was carefully husbanded until he was out of immediate danger. But his system, from the long privation of food, had received such a shock, that his mind, sympathizing with it, he fell into a kind of stupor, mental and physical, and though strength and vigor came slowly back, Captain Rushton was in mind a child. Oblivion of the past seemed to have come over him. He did not remember who he was, or that he had a wife and child.
"Poor man!" said the surgeon; "I greatly fear his mind has completely given way."
"It is a pity some of his friends were not here," said the captain of the ship that had rescued him. "The sight of a familiar face might restore him."
"It is possible, but I am not sure of even that."
"Is there any clew to his identity?"
"I have found none."
It will at once occur to the reader that the receipt would have supplied the necessary information, since it was dated Millville, and contained the captain's name. But this was concealed in an inner pocket in Captain Rushton's vest, and escaped the attention of the surgeon. So, nameless and unknown, he was carried to Calcutta, which he reached without any perceptible improvement in his mental condition.
Arrived at Calcutta, the question arose: "What shall we do with him?" It was a perplexing question, since if carried back to New York, it might be difficult to identify him there, or send him back to his friends. Besides, the care of a man in his condition would be a greater responsibility than most shipmasters would care to undertake. It was at this crisis that a large-hearted and princely American merchant, resident in Calcutta, who had learned the particulars of the captain's condition, came forward, saying: "Leave him here. I will find him a home in some suitable boarding-house, and defray such expenses as may be required. God has blessed me with abundant means. It is only right that I should employ a portion in His service. I hope, under good treatment, he may recover wholly, and be able to tell me who he is, and where is his home. When that is ascertained, if his health is sufficiently good, I will send him home at my own expense."
The offer was thankfully accepted, and the generous merchant was as good as his word. A home was found for Captain Rushton in the boarding-house of Mrs. Start, a widow, who, thrown upon her own exertions for support, had, by the help of the merchant already referred to, opened a boarding-house, which was now quite remunerative.
"He will require considerable care, Mrs. Start," said Mr. Perkins, the merchant, "but I am ready and willing to compensate you for all the trouble to which you are put. Will you take him?"
"Certainly I will," said the warm-hearted widow, "if only because you ask it. But for you, I should not be earning a comfortable living, with a little money laid up in the bank, besides."
"Thank you, Mrs. Start," said the merchant. "I know the poor man could be in no better hands. But you mustn't let any considerations of gratitude interfere with your charging a fair price for your trouble. I am able and willing to pay whatever is suitable."
"I don't believe we shall quarrel on that point," said the widow, smiling. "I will do all I can for your friend. What is his name?"
"That I don't know."
"We shall have to call him something."
"Call him Smith, then. That will answer till we find out his real name, as we may some day, when his mind comes back, as I hope it may."
From that time, therefore, Captain Rushton was known as Mr. Smith. He recovered in a considerable degree his bodily health, but mentally he remained in the same condition. Sometimes he fixed his eyes upon Mrs. Start, and seemed struggling to remember something of the past; but after a few moments his face would assume a baffled look, and he would give up the attempt as fruitless.
One day when Mrs. Start addressed him as Mr. Smith, he asked:
"Why do you call me by that name?"
"Is not that your name?" she asked.
"What, then, is it?"
He put his hand to his brow, and seemed to be thinking. At length he turned to the widow, and said, abruptly:
"Do you not know my name?"
"Nor do I," he answered, and left the room hastily.
She continued, therefore, to address him as Mr. Smith, and he gradually became accustomed to it, and answered to it.
Leaving Captain Rushton at Calcutta, with the assurance that, though separated from home and family, he will receive all the care that his condition requires, we will return to our hero, shut up on shipboard with his worst enemy. I say this advisedly, for though Halbert Davis disliked him, it was only the feeling of a boy, and was free from the intensity of Ben Haley's hatred.
No doubt, it was imprudent tor him to reject the mate's hand, but Robert felt that he could not grasp in friendship the hand which had deprived him of a father. He was bold enough to brave the consequences of this act, which he foresaw clearly.
Ben Haley, however, was in no hurry to take the vengeance which he was fully resolved sooner or later to wreak upon our young hero. He was content to bide his time. Had Robert been less watchful, indeed, he might have supposed that the mate's feelings toward him had changed. When they met, as in the narrow limits of the ship they must do every day, the forms of courtesy passed between them. Robert always saluted the mate, and Haley responded by a nod, or a cool good-morning, but did not indulge in any conversation.
Sometimes, however, turning suddenly, Robert would catch a malignant glance from the mate, but Haley's expression immediately changed, when thus surprised, and he assumed an air of indifference.
With Captain Evans, on the other hand, Robert was on excellent terms. The captain liked the bold, manly boy, and talked much with him of the different countries he had visited, and seemed glad to answer the questions which our hero asked.
"Robert," said the captain, one day, "how is it that you and Mr. Haley seem to have nothing to say to each other?"
"I don't think he likes me, Captain Evans," said Robert.
"Is there any reason for it, or is it merely a prejudice?"
"There is a reason for it, but I don't care to mention it. Not that it is anything I have reason to regret, or to be ashamed of," he added, hastily. "It is on Mr. Haley's account that I prefer to keep it secret."
"Is there no chance of your being on better terms?" asked the captain, good-naturedly, desirous of effecting a reconciliation.
Robert shook his head.
"I don't wish to be reconciled, captain," he said. "I will tell you this much, that Mr. Haley has done me and my family an injury which, perhaps, can never be repaired. I cannot forget it, and though I am willing to be civil to him, since we are thrown together, I do not want his friendship, even if he desired mine, as I am sure he does not."
Captain Evans was puzzled by this explanation, which threw very little light upon the subject, and made no further efforts to bring the two together.
Time passed, and whatever might be Ben Haley's feelings, he abstained from any attempt to injure him. Robert's suspicions were lulled to sleep, and he ceased to be as vigilant and watchful as he had been.
His frank, familiar manner made him a favorite on shipboard. He had a friendly word for all the sailors, which was appreciated, for it was known that he was the protégé of the owner. He was supposed by some to be a relation, or, at any rate, a near connection, and so was treated with unusual respect. All the sailors had a kind word for him, and many were the praises which he received in the forecastle.
Among those most devoted to him was a boy of fourteen, Frank Price, who had sailed in the capacity of cabin-boy. The poor boy was very seasick at first, and Captain Evans had been indulgent, and excused him from duty until he got better. He was not sturdy enough for the life upon which he had entered, and would gladly have found himself again in the comfortable home which a mistaken impulse had led him to exchange for the sea.
With this boy, Robert, who was of about the same age, struck up a friendship, which was returned twofold by Frank, whose heart, naturally warm, was easily won by kindness.