BOB AT HOME

Before Gus had time to fairly digest what he had heard or to recover
himself sufficiently to elicit further information by inquiry, the old
man went on:

“Some folks makes a bungle of everything they do, and you just wait and
see if that old scamp don’t turn up again some day, and before he is
wanted, too. But I oughtn’t to abuse him before you, seeing that he is
your own dead mother’s brother.”

“Oh, you needn’t apologize for that,” said Gus, as soon as he could
speak. “I hate him as heartily as you do.”

“And hain’t I got good reason to hate him?” asked Barlow, elevating his
wooden leg above the counter. “Just look at that! Wasn’t he a nice cove
to go and wing me and set me to stumping around on this thing all the
rest of my days?”

Gus was well acquainted with the circumstances to which the man
referred, and knew that he richly deserved the punishment he had
received. In the years gone by Barlow had been a sailor, and had on one
occasion shipped on a vessel commanded by Captain Nellis. He was so very
turbulent that he was kept in irons almost half his time; and once, just
after he was released from a long confinement, he, without the slightest
provocation, attacked the mate of the vessel so fiercely, and with such
evident intention to do him some serious injury, that the captain, in
order to save his officer, disabled the ruffian with a ball from his
pistol which shattered the bone and rendered amputation necessary.
Barlow never forgave his captain for that; and, moreover, when he once
got started on the subject he never seemed to be able to stop talking
about it.

“I ask you wasn’t he a nice fellow to go and do that?” continued the old
man, growing more and more enraged the longer he dwelt upon it. “But for
him I might to-day ‘a ‘been the master of as fine a vessel as ever
sailed; but here I am, laid up in ordinary, trying to turn an honest
penny by keepin’ a sailors’ boarding-house.”

“And turning many a dishonest one by being a land-shark,” thought Gus.

“I hate the whole tribe—every one that bears the name of Nellis,” the
old man went on, fiercely. “If I had my way I’d sweep them all off the
earth.”

“So would I,” said Gus, heartily.

“Now, I’ll tell you what’s gospel,” continued Barlow, leaning over the
counter toward his visitor and sinking his voice almost to a whisper—”is
that son of his coming here this summer?”

Gus replied that he was.

“Well, if men are as scarce as they were last year he had better keep
himself close, or he’ll make out the tail-end of a crew as sure as I can
get my hands on him.”

Gus started back and gazed at the old man in great amazement. Was the
latter able to read the thoughts that were passing in his mind? It
certainly looked like it. He had heard that men, even landsmen who knew
nothing of the ways of the world, had been kidnapped and shipped off to
sea to fill up a crew that could not be completed by voluntary
enlistment, and it had occurred to him that that would be a good way to
rid himself of the presence of his cousin, if he could only find some
one to undertake the task. Knowing the deadly enmity that Barlow
cherished toward Captain Nellis, Gus had visited him on purpose to
ascertain whether or not he was ripe for such a scheme, and was
delighted to know that he had found a willing tool—so willing, indeed,
that he himself need have nothing to do with the matter. All he had to
do was to remain in the background, and Barlow would do all the work and
run all the risk.

This was a highly encouraging state of affairs, and Gus would have felt
perfectly at his ease had it not been for the hints Barlow had thrown
out in connection with Mr. Nellis’s disappearance. Gus turned the
conversation back to this subject as soon as he could, but all he
learned was that one morning, following a remarkably stormy night, Mr.
Nellis’s boat had been found on the reefs with a hole knocked in her,
and the supposition was that her owner had been out on one of his
fishing excursions and had been caught in the storm and drowned. At any
rate, he was never seen or heard of afterward. This was no news to Gus,
for he had heard it long ago. He wanted to know what Barlow had seen on
that stormy morning, but on this subject the old man refused to talk. It
was none of his business, he said, and with that the boy was obliged to
be contented.

Gus left the sailors’ boarding-house heartily wishing that he had never
gone near it. He had felt sure of his position before, but he did not
feel so now. His uncle had been treacherously dealt with, that was
plain, but instead of being safely out of the way was likely to make his
appearance at any moment. He could not be far away, either, for Barlow
had confidently assured him that he would be certain to turn up, and
that, too, before he was wanted. Then what would happen? Gus trembled
when he thought of it.

“Father had a hand in it,” said he, as he climbed into the buggy. “I can
now account for that wild look in his eye, and understand what he meant
when he said that after all he had done and dared for me I ought to
treat him with more respect. I declare it is the worst thing I ever
heard of. If I am to be a party to this business I ought to know just
what has happened, so that I can be prepared for any emergency.”

But this was something Gus never found out. He visited Barlow a dozen
times during the next two days, but could gain nothing further from him.
He had several interviews with his father, during which he hinted so
broadly at what he had heard that Mr. Layton exhibited the same signs of
alarm he had shown when his son first came home; but he volunteered no
information, and Gus dared not ask for it. These things made such an
impression on him that on the morning of the day Bob was expected home
from Elmwood Gus had all his luggage removed to the rooms in the south
wing that had been prepared for him, and saw that everything was
arranged in his cousin’s room just as he had found it. As matters now
stood Bob’s star was in the ascendant, and Gus did not think it would be
policy to begin an open warfare with him. But he did not for an instant
lose sight of what had for the last few months been the main object of
his life.

After Gus left the academy affairs went on in much the usual way. True,
there was less wrangling and quarrelling among the students, and such
fellows as Simpson and Scotty were obliged to keep themselves altogether
in the background. The “cut-oar matter,” as the boys called it, was
thoroughly investigated, and every one who was in any way mixed up with
it, and there proved to be at least a score of them, was sent to
coventry without ceremony. The culprits at first assumed an independent
attitude, and tried to show themselves as indifferent to the students as
the latter were to them; but this plan did not succeed very well, and in
their hearts they wished they had had nothing to do with Gus Layton and
his attempted fraud.

Examination week ended and the closing exercises over, the students
began to separate to their homes, all of them apparently light-hearted
and joyous, and speaking confidently of meeting again at the beginning
of the next school-year. Bob Nellis was melancholy and low-spirited. As
far as he knew, he had no home to go to. There was no kind father
waiting to receive him and tell him that he was satisfied with his
conduct at school and of the progress he had made there. He was going
among those who were almost strangers to him, and who he knew had no
interest in him. He took a sorrowful leave of the school and of his
mates, and with Sprague for a companion—he lived in the same village
that Bob did—set out for home. As long as he remained in sight of the
familiar buildings he kept looking back at them as if he never expected
to see them again. He did go back to them, however, and prepared for
college there; but he first passed through some adventures the like of
which he had never dreamed of.

“Now, Bob, I want you to tell me what is the matter with you,” said
Sprague, laying his hand affectionately on his companion’s shoulder.
“Ever since your uncle countermanded your order for that new shell you
haven’t acted at all like yourself. Do you think your uncle has gone
back on you?”

“I know it,” said Bob. “But, Sprague, you will excuse me for not saying
too much. When I get home I shall know just how the land lays. I may be
wrong, but that’s the way things look now.”

“Only just one question more and then I’ll drop the matter,” said
Sprague, earnestly. “I heard before I came here that your father used to
be worth a lot of money. Has your uncle got hold of it?”

Bob nodded.

“Well, I am sorry for you, and I know how to appreciate your feelings;
but I will tell you this, Bob: Whenever things get too hot for you, come
to my house.”

Bob thanked him from the bottom of his heart. It served to show him that
he had at least one friend left in Clifton.

Bob left the academy on Thursday evening, and awoke the next morning to
find the steamer in which he had taken passage tied up to the wharf in
Clifton. There was the usual crowd to meet her, early as it was, and
among the lookers-on Bob found many friends and acquaintances who were
all eager to shake him by the hand. Although he was glad to see them he
excused himself as soon as he could, and having given his luggage into
the charge of a drayman, hurried away. He wanted to see his home once
more, even if had no right there. There was one friend, at least, who
would be glad to see him, and Bob was disappointed as well as surprised
that he did not find him on the wharf, waiting for him. It was old Ben
Watson, his father’s gardener. But Bob knew where to find him, and he
intended to visit him before he presented himself to his uncle. Perhaps
Ben could tell him some things he wanted to know. With this
determination, Bob went through the iron gate which opened into the
grounds that had once belonged to his father; but instead of following
the broad carriage-way that led up to the door he turned into a by-path,
and presently found himself standing before a neat little cottage that
was hidden away among the trees. There was an air of desolation about it
that Bob had never noticed before. The door did not open at his knock,
and when he looked in at the window he was surprised to see that the
house was deserted—there was no furniture in it. Bob did not know what
to make of it.

With a sigh of regret he turned into the path again, and after a few
minutes’ walk reached the stables. Here another disappointment awaited
him. He found a man dressed as a hostler, and he was engaged in rubbing
down one of Bob’s own ponies; but the face he turned toward him was not
that of old Jack Couch, who had charge of the stables during his
father’s lifetime. It was the face of a negro, and one Bob had never
seen before.

If there had not been a person in the world with whom he was acquainted,
Bob could not have felt more desolate and friendless than he did at that
moment. When his father was alive there were four servants employed on
the place—two in the house, one in the stables, and one in the garden.
They were all men, and every one of them was a sailor who had grown gray
in his father’s service. Bob was a favorite with them all; and if any of
them held a higher place in his estimation than the others, it was Ben
Watson, the gardener. Many a relic and curiosity had the old fellow
brought to him from over the sea, and many an hour had he spent in his
cabin listening to his thrilling tales of the deep; and it was there,
beside Ben’s fire, that he had promised his father that, come what
might, he would never be a sailor. The boy had often thought of old Ben
since his father’s death, and impatiently counted the hours of meeting
him, but now he was gone.

“They’re all gone,” thought Bob, turning away from the stable without
returning the hostler’s civil greeting, “and I am left alone. They have
been cast adrift in their old age, in spite of father’s promise that
they should always be cared for; and if I may judge by uncle’s letters,
I must go, too. If I had never made that promise I would be at sea in
less than twenty-four hours; but it is as binding now as it was while
father was living.”

“Sah! Sah!” said a voice, arousing him from his reverie.

Bob looked up and saw a negro hurrying toward him.

“Sah!” repeated the negro, “ole Moster Layton done sent me to tell you
dat dese is private grounds, an’ he don’t ‘low no trespassin’ from
anybody.”

Bob was thunderstruck. Did his uncle intend to cast him off in that
style?

“I hates to say it to a gemman,” continued the negro, “but ole Moster
say dem’s his ‘perative orders.”

“Does—does he know I am Bob Nellis?” asked our hero, at a venture.

“Sah?” yelled the darky. “Is you Moster Bob? ‘Fore Moses, we’s expectin’
you. Your rooms am all done fix up nice. I fix ’em myself. Come dis way,
sah. Your uncle is in de library.”




Bob, whose equanimity was not altogether restored by this assurance and
the change his name had produced in the darky’s bearing toward him,
followed to the house, and was presently ushered into the library. His
uncle was there, busy with some papers, which he hastily bundled out of
sight as his nephew entered.

“Why, Bob!” he exclaimed, with more apparent cordiality than the boy had
expected to see him exhibit, “I didn’t know that was you when I sent Sam
to order you out. Sit down. You are welcome to my house.”

This was said with so much emphasis on the pronoun that Bob took his cue
from it and at once decided on his course.

“Uncle Luther,” said he, suddenly, “I should like to know just how
matters stand here. You said in one of your letters that you would
explain everything when you saw me.”

(Bob had noted, with some bitterness, that his uncle did not say, “When
you come home.”)

“Never mind that now,” said Mr. Layton, hastily. “We will have some
breakfast before we talk business. I can tell you everything you wish to
know in two minutes.”

“Then please tell me now,” persisted Bob. “I have ordered my luggage
brought to this house because I did not know where else to send it; but
if I have no right or interest here, of course I don’t want to stay.”

“H’m,” said Mr. Layton.

“I hope you’ll be plain with me, for I am prepared for the worst,”
continued Bob.

His uncle settled back in his chair and coughed ominously once or twice,
as if he were preparing to say something disagreeable.

“Well, Bob,” said Mr. Layton, speaking hurriedly, as if he wished to get
through with a very unpleasant duty, “I must tell you plainly that no
provision has been made for you. I supposed, of course, as every one
else did, that you were to be your father’s heir, and why you were not I
am sure I cannot tell; perhaps you can. I can tell you, however, that a
codicil to his will, in which the property was left to you, makes me the
sole heir. The will has been admitted to probate, and you can obtain a
copy of it for a dollar or two, which I will cheerfully furnish you, if
you are out of funds. As I suppose, you want to do something now for
yourself, I have taken the liberty to make arrangements for you which I
hope you will like. I trust that you have made the most of your
opportunities, for that school is a very expensive one, and none but
wealthy men can afford to send their sons there.”

Bob listened to this speech, and when it was concluded told himself that
if his uncle had not repeated it in private until he had learned it by
heart, he certainly spoke and acted as if he had. Of one thing he was
now satisfied, and that was, he was not to return to the academy. His
uncle could not afford it. Bob could not help recalling the fact that
his father had kept Gus there three years at his own expense, but he
said nothing about it.

“As your father followed the sea for a livelihood during the earlier
part of his life, I suppose you must have some love for the water, and I
suggest that you adopt his profession,” continued Mr. Layton. “You will
have opportunities to see different countries, and under my patronage
promotion will be certain if you prove yourself worthy of it.”

“I cannot do it,” said Bob. “I promised I would never be a sailor.”

“But at the time your father extorted that promise from you he probably
did not imagine that you would ever be thrown upon your own resources.
Besides, he is dead.”

“But the promise is binding, all the same,” said Bob.

“Then what do you intend to do?” asked his uncle, with some impatience.
“You have got to do something.”

“I have not made up my mind. I can turn my hand to almost anything, and
shall not starve.”

“Well, perhaps you will need a little time to look about you, and
meanwhile your rooms are quite at your service. Now that we have settled
the matter we’ll go to breakfast.”

But Bob did not feel in the humor for breakfast. He could not have eaten
a mouthful at Mr. Layton’s table if he had tried—his heart was too full.
He wanted to get away by himself, so he made his excuses to his uncle,
who did not seem at all unwilling to part with him, and hurried out of
the house.