Chapter XVI. On the Railroad Track.
 

Robert saw the carpenter, according to Mr. Paine's instructions, but found him so busy that he would not engage to give his attention to the boat under a week.

The delay was regretted by our hero, since it cut him off from the employment by which he hoped to provide for his mother. Again Mrs. Rushton was in low spirits.

"I am sorry you couldn't agree with Halbert Davis, Robert," she said, with a sigh. "Then you could have stayed in the factory, and got your wages regularly every week."

"I know that, mother, but I am not willing to have Halbert 'boss me round,' even for a place in the factory."

"Then, Robert, you quarreled with the man you took across the river."

"I think I did right, mother," said Robert. "Don't get out of spirits. I don't expect to succeed always. But I think I shall come out right in the end."

"I am sure I hope so."

Mrs. Rushton was one of those who look on the dark side. She was distrustful of the future, and apt to anticipate bad fortune. Robert was very different. He inherited from his father an unusual amount of courage and self-reliance, and if one avenue was closed to him, he at once set out to find another. It is of this class that successful men are made, and we have hopes that Robert will develop into a prosperous and successful man.

"I am sure I don't see what you can do," said Mrs. Rushton, "and we can't live on what I make by braiding straw."

"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Robert, "I'll go on Sligo Hill and pick blueberries; I was passing a day or two ago, and saw the bushes quite covered. Just give me a couple of tin pails, and I'll see what I can do."

The pails were provided, and Robert started on his expedition. The hill was not very high, nor was its soil very good. The lower part was used only to pasture a few cows. But this part was thickly covered with blueberry bushes, which this season were fuller than usual of large-sized berries. Robert soon settled to work, and picked steadily and rapidly. At the end of three hours he had filled both pails, containing, as near as he could estimate, eight quarts.

"That's a pretty good afternoon's work," he said to himself. "Now I suppose I must turn peddler, and dispose of them,"

He decided to ask ten cents a quart. Later in the season the price would be reduced, but at that time the berries ought to command that price.

The first house at which he called was Mr. Paine's. He was about to pass, when he saw Hester at the window. Pride suggested, "She may despise me for being a berry peddler," but Robert had no false shame. "At any rate, I won't be coward enough to try to hide it from her." Accordingly he walked up boldly to the door, and rang the bell.

Hester had seen him from the window, and she answered the bell herself.

"I am glad to see you, Robert," she said, frankly. "Won't you come in?"

"Thank you," said our hero, "but I called on business."

"You will find my father in his office," she said, looking a little disappointed.

Robert smiled.

"My business is not of a legal character," he said. "I've turned peddler, and would like to sell you some blueberries."

"Oh, what nice berries! Where did you pick them?"

"On Sligo."

"I am sure mother will buy some. Will you wait a minute while I go and ask her?"

"I will wait as long as you like."

Hester soon returned with authority to buy four quarts. I suspect that she was the means of influencing so large a purchase.

"They are ten cents a quart," said Robert, "but I don't think I ought to charge your father anything."

"Why not?"

"Because I shall owe him, or rather Will, a good deal of money."

"I know what you mean--it's about the boat."

"Did your father tell you?"

"Yes, but I knew it before. Halbert Davis told me."

"He takes a great interest in my affairs."

"He's a mean boy. You mustn't mind what he says against you."

Robert laughed.

"I don't care what he thinks or says of me, unless he persuades others to think ill of me."

"I shall never think ill of you, Robert," said Hester, warmly.

"Thank you, Hester," said Robert, looking up into her glowing face with more gratification than he could express. "I hope I shall deserve your good opinion."

"I am sure you will, Robert, But won't you come in?"

"No, thank you. I must sell the rest of my berries."

Robert left the house with forty cents in his pocket, the first fruits of his afternoon's work. Besides, he had four quarts left, for which he expected to find a ready sale. He had not gone far when he met Halbert. The latter was dressed with his usual care, with carefully polished shoes, neatly fitting gloves, and swinging a light cane, the successor of that which had been broken in his conflict with Robert. Our hero, on the other hand, I am obliged to confess, was by no means fashionably attired. His shoes were dusty, and his bare hands were stained with berry juice. He wore a coarse straw hat with a broad brim to shield him from the hot sun. Those of my readers who judge by dress alone would certainly have preferred Halbert Davis, who looked as if he had just stepped out of a band-box. But those who compared the two faces, the one bright, frank and resolute, the other supercilious and insincere, could hardly fail to prefer Robert in spite of his coarse attire and unfashionable air.

Halbert scanned his rival with scornful eyes. He would have taken no notice of him, but concluded to speak in the hope of saying something disagreeable.

"You have found a new business, I see," he said, with a sneer.

"Yes," said Robert, quietly. "When one business gives out, I try another."

"You've made a good choice," said Halbert. "It's what you are adapted for."

"Thank you for the compliment, but I don't expect to stick to it all my life."

"How do you sell your berries?"

"Ten cents a quart."

"You'd better call on your friend, Miss Hester Paine, and see if she won't buy some."

"Thank you for the advice, but it comes too late. She bought four quarts of me."

"She did!" returned Halbert, surprised. "I didn't think you'd go there."

"Why not?"

"She won't think much of a boy that has to pick berries for a living."

"I don't think that will change her opinion of me. Why should it?"

"It's a low business."

"I don't see it."

"Excuse my delaying you. I am afraid I may have interfered with your business. I say," he called out, as Robert was going on, "if you will call at our house, perhaps my mother may patronize you."

"Very well," said Robert, "if I don't sell elsewhere, I'll call there. It makes no difference to me who buys my berries,"

"He's the proudest beggar I ever met," thought Halbert, looking after him. "Hester Paine must be hard up for an escort if she walks with a boy who peddles berries for a living. If I were her father, I would put a stop to it."

The same evening there was a concert in the Town Hall. A free ticket was given to Robert in return for some slight service. Mr. Paine and his daughter were present, and Halbert Davis also. To the disgust of the latter, Robert actually had the presumption to walk home with Hester. Hester laughed and chatted gayly, and appeared to be quite unconscious that she was lowering herself by accepting the escort of a boy "who picked berries for a living."

The next day Robert again repaired to Sligo. He had realized eighty cents from his sales the previous day, and he felt that picking berries was much better than remaining idle. Halbert's sneers did not for a moment discompose him. He had pride, but it was an honorable pride, and not of a kind that would prevent his engaging in any respectable employment necessary for the support of his mother and himself.

Returning home with well-filled pails, he walked a part of the way on the railroad, as this shortened the distance. He had not walked far when he discovered on the track a huge rock, large enough to throw the train off the track. How it got there was a mystery. Just in front there was a steep descent on either side, the road crossing a valley, so that an accident would probably cause the entire train to be thrown down the embankment. Robert saw the danger at a glance, and it flashed upon him at the same moment that the train was nearly due. He sprang to the rock, and exerted his utmost strength to dislodge it. He could move it slightly, but it was too heavy to remove. He was still exerting his strength to the utmost when the whistle of the locomotive was heard. Robert was filled with horror, as he realized the peril of the approaching train, and his powerlessness to avert it.