It was not often that Mrs. Rushton received a letter. Neither she nor
her husband had possessed many relatives, and such as either had were
occupied with their own families, and little communication passed
between them and Captain Rushton's family. Robert, therefore, seldom
called at the post office. One day, however, as he stepped in by a
neighbor's request to inquire for letters for the latter, the postmaster
said, "There's a letter for your mother, Robert."
"Is there?" said our hero, surprised, "When did it come?"
"Yesterday. I was going to ask some one to carry it round to her, as you
don't often call here."
He handed the letter to Robert, who surveyed it with curiosity. It was
postmarked "Boston," and addressed in a bold business hand to "Mrs.
Captain Rushton, Millville."
"Who can be writing to mother from Boston?" thought Robert.
The size of the letter also excited his curiosity. There were two stamps
upon it, and it appeared bulky. Robert hurried home, and rushed into the
kitchen where his mother was at work.
"I don't know who would be likely to write me from there. Open it for
He tore open the envelope. It contained two inclosures--one a letter in
the same handwriting as the address; the other a large sheet of foolscap
rumpled up, and appearing once to have been rolled up, was written in
pencil. Mrs. Rushton had no sooner looked at the latter than she
exclaimed, in agitation: "Robert, it is your father's handwriting. Read
it to me, I am too agitated to make it out."
Robert was equally excited. Was his father still alive, or was this
letter a communication from the dead?
"First let me read the other," he said. "It will explain about this."
His mother sank back into a chair too weak with agitation to stand,
while her son rapidly read the following letter:
"BOSTON, August 15, 1853.
MRS. RUSHTON, DEAR MADAM: The fate
of our ship Norman, which left this port now
more than two years since, under the command
of your husband, has until now been veiled
in uncertainty. We had given up all hopes
of obtaining any light upon the circumstances
of its loss, when by a singular chance information
was brought us yesterday. The ship
Argo, while in the South Pacific, picked up
a bottle floating upon the surface of the water.
On opening it, it was found to contain two
communications, one addressed to us, the other
to you, the latter to be forwarded to you by
us. Ours contains the particulars of the loss
of the Norman, and doubtless your own letter
also contains the same particulars. There
is a bare possibility that your husband is still
alive, but as so long a period has passed since
the letters were written it would not be well
to place too much confidence in such a hope.
But even if Captain Rushton is dead, it will be
a sad satisfaction to you to receive from him
this last communication, and learn the particulars
of his loss. We lose no time in forwarding
to you the letter referred to, and remain,
with much sympathy, yours respectfully,
WINSLOW & CO."
Mrs. Rushton listened to this letter with eager and painful interest,
her hands clasped, and her eyes fixed upon Robert.
"Now read your father's letter," she said, in a low tone.
Robert unfolded the sheet, and his eyes filled with tears as he gazed
upon the well-known handwriting of the father whose loss he had so long
lamented. This letter, too, we transcribe:
"November 7, 1851.
MY DEAR WIFE AND SON: Whether these
lines will ever meet your eyes I know not.
Whether I will be permitted again to look upon
your dear faces, I also am ignorant. The good
ship Norman, in which I sailed from Boston
not quite three months ago, is burned to the water's
edge, and I find myself, with five of the
sailors, afloat on the vast sea at the mercy of
the elements, and with a limited supply of food.
The chances are against our ever seeing land.
Hundreds of miles away from any known
shores, our only hope of safety is in attracting
the attention of some vessel. In the broad pathways
of the ocean such a chance is doubtful.
Fortunately I have a few sheets of paper
and a pencil with me, and I write these
lines, knowing well how improbable it is that
you will ever read them. Yet it is a satisfaction
to do what I can to let you know the
position in which I stand.
But for the revengeful and malignant disposition
of one man I should still be walking
the deck of the Norman as its captain.
But to my story: My first mate was a man
named Haley--Benjamin Haley--whose name
you will perhaps remember. He was born in
our neighborhood, or, at all events, once lived
there, being the nephew of old Paul Nichols.
He was a wild young man, and bore a bad reputation.
Finally he disappeared, and, as it
seems, embraced the profession of a sailor. I
was not prepossessed in his favor, and was not
very well pleased to find him my second in
command. However, he was regularly engaged,
and it was of no use for me to say anything
against him. I think, however, that he
suspected the state of my feelings, as, while
studiously polite, I did not make an effort
to be cordial. At any rate, he must have taken
a dislike to me early in the voyage, though
whether at that time he meditated evil, I cannot
After a time I found that he was disposed
to encroach upon my prerogatives as captain
of the vessel, and issue commands which he
knew to be in defiance of my wishes. You can
imagine that I would not pass over such conduct
unnoticed. I summoned him to an interview,
and informed him in decided terms
that I must be master in my own ship. He
said little, but I saw from his expression that
there could thereafter be no amicable relations
I pass over the days that succeeded--days
in which Haley went to the furthest verge of
insolence that he felt would be safe. At
length, carried away by impatience, I reprimanded
him publicly. He grew pale with
passion, turned on his heel, and strode away.
That night I was roused from my sleep by the
cry of 'Fire!' I sprang to my feet and took
immediate measures to extinguish the flames.
But the incendiary had taken care to do his
work so well that it was already impossible.
I did not at first miss Haley, until, inquiring
for him, I learned that he was missing, and
one of the ship's boats. It was evident that
he had deliberately fired the ship in order
to revenge himself upon me. His hatred
must have been extreme, or he would not have
been willing to incur so great a risk. Though
he escaped from the ship, his position in an
open boat must be extremely perilous.
When all hope of saving the ship was
abandoned, we manned the remaining boats
hastily, putting in each such a stock of provisions
as we could carry without overloading the
boats. Twenty-four hours have now passed,
and we are still tossing about on the ocean.
A storm would be our destruction. At this
solemn time, my dear wife, my thoughts turn
to you and my dear son, whom I am likely
never to see again. There is one thing most
of all which I wish you to know, but can hardly
hope that these few lines will reach you. Just
before I left home, on my present voyage, I
deposited five thousand dollars with Mr. Davis,
the superintendent of the factory, in trust for
you, in case I should not return. You will
be surprised to learn that I have so much
money. It has been the accumulation of years,
and was intended as a provision for you and
Robert. I have no reason to doubt the integrity
of Mr. Davis, yet I wish I had acquainted
you with the fact of this deposit, and placed
his written acknowledgment in your hands.
My reason for concealment was, that I might
surprise you at the end of this voyage.
When this letter comes to hand (if it ever
should come to hand), in case the superintendent
has not accounted to you for the money
placed in his hands, let Robert go to him and
claim the money in my name. But I can hardly
believe this to be necessary. Should I never
return, I am persuaded that Mr. Davis will
be true to the trust I have reposed in him,
and come forward like an honest man to your
And now, my dear wife and son, farewell!
My hope is weak that I shall ever again see
you, yet it is possible. May Heaven bless you,
and permit us to meet again in another world,
if not in this!
I shall inclose this letter, and one to my
owners, in a bottle, which I have by me, and
commit it to the sea, trusting that the merciful
waves may waft it to the shore."
The feelings with which Robert read and his mother listened to this
letter, were varied. Love and pity for the husband and father, now
doubtless long dead, were blended with surprise at the revelation of the
deposit made in the hands of the superintendent of the mill.
"Mother," said Robert, "did you know anything of this money father
"No," said Mrs. Rushton, "he never told me. It is strange that Mr. Davis
has never informed us of it. Two years have passed, and we have long
given him up as lost."
"Mother," said Robert, "it is my opinion that he never intends to let us
"I know what I am going to do," said Robert, resolutely. "I am going to
his house, and shall claim restitution of the money which father
intrusted to him. He has had it two years, and, with the interest, it
will amount to nearer six than five thousand dollars. It will be a
"Don't be hasty or impetuous, Robert," said his mother. "Speak to him