Chapter XXII. Robert's New Project.

Mr. Paine called at Mrs. Rushton's cottage, and communicated the particulars of his interview with the superintendent.

"It is evident," he said, "that Mr. Davis is swayed by his interests, and feeling legally secure, prefers to defraud you rather than to surrender the five thousand dollars."

"I wouldn't have believed it of Mr. Davis," said Mrs. Rushton; "he is considered such a respectable man."

"I have heard rumors that he is dabbling in speculations, and I suspect he may find it inconvenient to pay away so large a sum of money."

"He had no right to speculate with my mother's money," said Robert, indignantly.

"You are right there. He should have invested it securely."

"Mr. Paine," said Robert, after a pause, "I have an idea that father is still living, and that some day I shall find him."

The lawyer shook his head.

"There is not one chance in ten that he is living," he said. "It is only a fancy of yours."

"It may be, but I can't get it out of my head."

"I hope you will prove correct, but I need not tell you of the many arguments against such a theory."

"I know them all, but still I believe he is living. Mr. Paine," continued Robert, earnestly, "I feel so strongly on the subject that, with my mother's permission, I, mean to go out into the world in search of him."

"I must say, Robert," said Mr. Paine, "I did not expect such a visionary scheme from a boy of your good sense. You must see yourself how wild it is."

"I know it," said our hero; "but I want to take a year, at any rate, to see the world. If, at the end of that time, I discover no trace of my father, I will come home content."

"But what will become of your mother during that time?"

"I will leave four hundred dollars in your hands for her. The rest I will draw for my own uses."

"But you don't expect to travel round the world on two hundred dollars, surely?" said the lawyer.

"I shall work my way as far as I can," said Robert. "I can't afford to travel as a gentleman."

"Suppose you find yourself without money in a foreign land?"

"I am not afraid. I am willing to work, and I can make my way."

"Surely, Mrs. Rushton, you do not approve Robert's scheme?" said Mr. Paine.

But to his surprise he found that Mrs. Rushton was inclined to regard it favorably. She seemed to share Robert's belief that her husband was still living, and that Robert could find him. She was not a woman in the habit of reasoning, and had no conception of the difficulties in his way. The money left behind in the hands of Mr. Paine, supplemented by her own earnings, would be enough to maintain her for two years, and this thought made her easy, for she had a great dread of poverty and destitution.

When the lawyer found how Mrs. Rushton felt on the subject, he ceased his objections to the plan; for, though he had no confidence in our young hero's success in the object he had in view, he thought that a year's tour might benefit him by extending his knowledge of the world and increasing his self-reliance.

"How soon do you wish to start, Robert?" he asked.

"It will take me a week to get your clothes ready," said Mrs. Rushton.

"Then by a week from Monday I will start," said Robert.

"Have you formed any definite plans about the manner of going?"

"I will go to New York first, and call on the gentleman who got up the subscription for me. I will tell him my story, and ask his advice."

"The most sensible thing you could do. As to the money, I will have that ready for you. Of course, you will call on me before you go."

The superintendent had made up his mind that Robert would spread the report of the deposit, and nervously awaited the result. But to his relief he observed no change in the demeanor of his fellow-townsmen. He could only conclude that, for reasons of his own, the boy he had wronged had concluded to defer the exposure. Next he heard with a feeling of satisfaction that Robert had decided to go abroad in quest of his father. He had no doubt that Captain Rushton was dead, and regarded the plan as utterly quixotic and foolish, but still he felt glad that it had been undertaken.

"If the boy never comes back, I shan't mourn much," he said to himself. "His mother is a weak woman, who will never give me any trouble, but this young rascal has a strong and resolute will, and I shall feel more comfortable to have him out of the way."

When Robert got ready to leave he made a farewell call on the lawyer, and drew two hundred dollars of his money.

"I don't know but one hundred will do," he said. "Perhaps I ought to leave five hundred for my mother."

"You carry little enough, Robert. Don't have any anxiety about your mother. I will not see her suffer."

Robert grasped his hand in earnest gratitude.

"How can I thank you?" he said.

"You need not thank me. I had a warm regard for your father, and shall be glad to help your mother if there is any occasion. Not only this, but if in your wanderings you find yourself in a tight place, and in want of help, write to me, and I will help you."

"You are a true friend," said Robert, gratefully. "I wish my father had intrusted his money to you instead of to the superintendent."

"I wish he had as matters have turned out, I should have taken care that your interests did not suffer."

"Oh," exclaimed Robert, fervently, "if I could only find my father, and bring him home to confront this false friend, and convict him of his base fraud, I believe I would willingly give ten years of my life."

"That question can only be solved by time. I, too, should earnestly rejoice if such an event could be brought about. And now, Robert, good-by, and Heaven bless you. Don't forget that you can count always on my friendship and assistance."

On the way home Robert fell in with Halbert Davis. Halbert, of course, knew nothing of the claim made upon his father, but he had heard that Robert proposed to leave home. He was both sorry and glad on account of this--sorry because he had hoped to see our hero fall into poverty and destitution, and enjoy the spectacle of his humiliation. Now he was afraid Robert would succeed and deprive him of the enjoyment he had counted upon. On the other hand, Robert's departure would leave the field free so far as concerned Hester Paine, and he hoped to win the favor of that young lady in the absence of any competitor. Of this there was not the slightest chance, but Halbert was blinded by his own vanity to the obvious dislike which Hester entertained for him.

Now when he saw Robert approaching he couldn't forego the pleasure of a final taunt.

"So you're going to leave town, Rushton?'" he commenced.

"Yes, Davis," answered Robert, in the same tone. "Shall you miss me much?"

"I guess I shall live through it," said Halbert. "I suppose you are going because you can't make a living here!"

"Not exactly. However, I hope to do better elsewhere."

"If you're going to try for a place, you'd better not mention that you got turned out of the factory. You needn't apply to my father for a recommendation."

"I shan't need any recommendation from your father," said Robert. "He is about the last man that I would apply to."

"That's where you are right," said Halbert. "What sort of a place are you going to try for?"

He knew nothing of Robert's intention to seek his father, but supposed he meant to obtain a situation in Hew York.

"You seem particularly interested in my movements, Davis."

"Call me Mr. Davis, if you please," said Halbert, haughtily.

"When you call me Mr. Rushton, I will return the compliment."

"You are impertinent."

"Not more so than you are."

"You don't seem to realize the difference in our positions."

"No, I don't, except that I prefer my own."

Disgusted with Robert's evident determination to withhold the respect which he considered his due, Halbert tried him on another tack.

"Have you bidden farewell to Hester Paine?" he asked, with a sneer.

"Yes," said Robert.

"I suppose she was very much affected!" continued Halbert.

"She said she was very sorry to part with me."

"I admire her taste."

"You would admire it more if she had a higher appreciation of you."

"I shall be good friends with her, when you are no longer here to slander me to her."

"I am not quite so mean as that," said Robert. "If she chooses to like you, I shan't try to prevent it."

"I ought to be very much obliged to you, I am sure."

"You needn't trouble yourself to be grateful," returned Robert, coolly. "But I must bid you good-by, as I have considerable to do."

"Don't let me detain you," said Halbert, with an elaborate share of politeness.

"I wonder why Halbert hates me so much!" he thought. "I don't like him, but I don't wish him any harm."

He looked with satisfaction upon a little cornelian ring which he wore upon one of his fingers. It was of very trifling value, but it was a parting gift from Hester, and as such he valued it far above its cost.