Brave and Bold/Chapter XXX
Captain Haley kept on his way to the shore. The four sailors were all within hail, and on the captain's approach got the boat in readiness to return.
"Where is the boy?" asked Haley. "Hasn't he got back?"
"That is strange. I told him to be back in an hour, and it is already past that time."
"Perhaps he hasn't a watch," suggested one of the sailors.
"I will wait ten minutes for him," said Haley, taking out his watch. "If he is not back in that time, I must go without him."
The sailors did not reply, but looked anxiously inland, hoping to catch sight of Robert returning. But, bound as he was, we can understand why they looked in vain.
"Shall I go and look for him?" asked one.
"No," said Haley, decidedly; "I cannot spare you."
The ten minutes were soon up.
"Into the boat with you," commanded the captain. "I shall wait no longer."
Slowly and reluctantly, the sailors took their places, for Robert was a favorite with them.
"Now, men, give way," said Haley. "If the boy is lost, it is his own fault."
They reached the vessel in due time. There was a murmur among the crew, when it was found that Robert had been left behind; but, knowing the captain's disposition, no one except Bates dared to expostulate.
"Captain Haley," said he, approaching and touching his hat, "will you give me leave to go on shore for the young gentleman that was left?"
"No," said the captain. "He had fair warning to be back in time, and chose to disregard it. My duty to the owners will not permit me to delay the ship on his account."
"He was a relation of the owner," suggested Bates.
"No, he was not; and, if he said so, he lied. Go about your duty, and take care I have no more fault to find with you, or you go back in irons!"
Bates ventured upon no further expostulation. He saw through the captain's subterfuge, and felt persuaded that it had been his deliberate intention from the first to abandon Robert to his fate. He began to think busily, and finally resolved to go to the island and search for him. For this purpose, a boat would be needful, since the distance, nearly a league, was too far to swim. Now, to appropriate one of the ship's boats when the captain was on deck would be impossible, but Haley, within five minutes, went below. Bates now proceeded to carry out his plan.
"What are you going to do?" demanded one of the sailors.
"I'm going after the boy."
"You'll be left along with him."
"I'll take the risk. He shan't say he didn't have one friend."
By the connivance of his fellow-sailors, Bates got safely off with the boat, and began to pull toward shore. He was already a mile distant from the vessel when Captain Haley came on deck.
"Who is that in the boat?" he demanded, abruptly.
"I don't know, sir."
He pointed the glass toward the boat, and, though he could not fairly distinguish the stout sailor who was pulling the boat through the water, he suspected that it was Bates.
"Where is Bates?" he asked.
No one had seen him.
"The fool has gone to destruction," said Captain Haley. "I shall not go after him. He is welcome to live on the island if he chooses."
His reason for not pursuing the fugitive may be readily understood. He feared that Robert would be found bound to the tree, and the story the boy would tell would go heavily against him. He hurried preparation for the vessel's departure, and in a short time it was speeding away from the island with two less on board.
I must now go back to Robert, whom we left bound to a tree.
After the captain left him, he struggled hard to unloose the cords which bound him. The love of life was strong within him, and the thought of dying under such circumstances was appalling. He struggled manfully, but, though he was strong for a boy, the cord was strong, also, and the captain knew how to tie a knot.
Robert ceased at last, tired with his efforts. A feeling of despair came over him, and the tears started, unbidden, to his eyes, as he thought how his mother would watch and wait for him in vain--how lonely she would feel, with husband and son both taken from her. Could it be that he was to die, when life had only just commenced, thousands of miles away from home, in utter solitude? Had he come so far for this? Then, again, he feared that his mother would suffer want and privation when the money which he had left behind was exhausted. In his pocket there were nearly two hundred dollars, not likely to be of any service to him. He wished that they were in her possession.
"If only he had left me free and unbound," thought Robert, "I might pick up a living on the island, and perhaps some day attract the attention of some vessel."
With this thought, and the hope it brought, he made renewed efforts to release himself, striving to untie the cord which fastened his wrists with his teeth. He made some progress, and felt encouraged, but it was hard work, and he was compelled to stop, from time to time, to rest. It was in one of these intervals that he heard his name called. Feeling sure that there was no one on the island but himself, he thought he was deceived. But the sound came nearer, and he distinctly heard "Robert!"
"Here I am!" he shouted, in return, his heart filled with sudden thanksgiving.
"Captain Haley only meant to frighten me," he thought. "He has sent some men back for me."
In his gratitude, he thanked Heaven fervently for so changing the heart of his enemy, and once more life looked bright.
"Robert!" he heard again.
"Here!" he shouted, with all the strength of his lungs.
This time the sound reached Bates, who, running up his boat on shore, and securing it, was exploring the island in search of our hero. Looking around him, he at length, from the edge of the valley, descried Robert.
"Is that you, lad?" he asked.
"Yes, Bates; come and untie me!"
Bates saw his situation with surprise and indignation.
"That's some of the captain's work!" he at once decided. "He must be a cursed scoundrel to leave that poor lad there to die!"
He quickened his steps, and was soon at the side of our hero.
"Who tied you to the tree, lad?" he asked.
"Did Captain Haley send you for me?" asked Robert first, for he had made up his mind in that case not to expose him.
"No; I stole one of the ship's boats, and came for you without leave."
"The captain didn't know of your coming?"
"No; I asked his leave, and he wouldn't give it."
"It was Captain Haley that tied me here," said Robert, his scruples removed.
"What did he do that for, lad?"
"It's a long story, Bates. It's because he hates me, and wishes me harm. Untie these cords, and I'll tell you all about it."
"That I'll do in a jiffy, my lad. I'm an old sailor and I can untie knots as well as tie them."
In five minutes Robert was free. He stretched his limbs, with a feeling of great relief, and then turned to Bates, whose hand he grasped.
"I owe my life to you, Bates!" he said.
"Maybe not, lad. We're in a tight place yet."
"Has the ship gone?"
"Most likely. The captain won't send back for either of us in a hurry."
"And you have made yourself a prisoner here for my sake?" asked Robert, moved by the noble conduct of the rough sailor.
"I couldn't abide to leave you alone. There's more chance for two than for one."
"Heaven bless you, Bates! I won't soon forget what you have done for me. Do you think there is any chance for us?"
"Of course there is, lad. We've got a boat, and we can live here till some vessel comes within sight."
"Let us go down to the shore, and see if we can see anything of the ship."
The two bent their steps to the shore, and looked out to sea. They could still see the ship, but it was already becoming a speck in the distant waters.
"They have left us," said Robert, turning to his companion.
"Ay, lad, the false-hearted villain has done his worst!"
"I didn't think any man would be so inhuman."
"You're young, lad, and you don't know what a sight of villainy there is in the world. We've got to live here a while, likely. Have you seen anything in the line of grub here-abouts?"
"There is fruit on some of the trees."
"That's something. Maybe we shall find some roots, besides. We'll draw the boat farther upon shore, and go on an exploring expedition."
The boat was drawn completely up, and placed, bottom upward, at a safe distance from the sea. Then Robert and his companion started to explore the island which had so unexpectedly become their home.