Gilbert and the Highwayman Join Forces

When they were gone the moon served in some measure to light the room, and taking advantage of it, I examined the window and door, to see if there was not some way of escape. In vain, however; and discouraged I sat down on the empty bench, thinking how much better off I had been the night before, for then at least I was free. While thus overcome by my sad thoughts, the robber spoke up, and with such cheerfulness and strength of voice that I turned to him in astonishment.
“So the little spook of a lawyer has trapped you, too, has he? But why so sad about it?”
At this I only stared, but after a while, remembering poor Fox and Mr. Lincoln’s grand way, I answered:
“Yes, I’m trapped, and without reason.”
“That is always the way. Reason plays hide and seek with us, but might is always on hand and wide awake. Moth puts me in jail because I sought to harm him. He too ought to be here, though, for seeking to harm you; but he is free and you are in jail, and that is the way it goes. There is always some bit of injustice, I have noticed, in everything that is done,” the robber went on, but more as if talking to himself than to me.
“What have you done that he’s after you?” I asked, interested in him because of his cheerful way and kind speech.
“Me! I tried to rob him.”
“To rob him!” I exclaimed, wondering that any one should try to rob Moth.
“Yes, in the woods, as he was pursuing you. For you are the lad, I expect, that went by as I lay in wait.”
“Yes,” I answered, not knowing whether I was or no.
“After you had passed he came along, his horse all afoam, and I followed on. When he stopped at the place where you left the road, I called to him to throw up his hands, but instead he drew a pistol and fired at me point-blank.”
“The rascal!” I interrupted; for everything that Moth did appeared hateful to me.
“Yes, and I, not to be outdone, fired back, but over his head, thinking to frighten him; and truly enough, for he turned and fled. My horse was the better of the two, but he the lighter, so for a long time there was no advantage. At last, my animal having the best wind, I overhauled him, and releasing a pistol I raised it and fired, intending, as before, to frighten him into giving up his purse, for I do not think I could kill a man if I were starving.”
“Well?”
“Well, just as I fired, my horse, left to himself, stumbled, and falling on his face, threw me over his head into the road.”
“Then what happened?” I asked, sympathizing with him in his misfortune.
“The fall stunned me, and before I could so much as stir the little scamp had disarmed me, and when I looked up, bruised and hurt, he held a pistol within an inch of my nose.”
“That was too bad,” I answered, sorry that Moth should have been the victor.
“When I had recovered a little, he told me to get up, and keeping me under the muzzle of a pistol, marched me forward. After a while, coming across a farmer, they bound me with ropes and straps, and in that shape brought me here.”
“What will he do with you now?” I asked, forgetting my own sorrows in his.
“Take me to the county jail. They would have done it to-day, only the jailer and he were off in search of you. Oh, if I had my hands and legs free, I would show him a trick worth two of his!” the robber exclaimed, surveying his limbs with a sigh.
“What would you do?” I asked.
“Leave here,” he replied, “within an hour; and we would go together, and so double his rage.”
“To do this all you want is your hands and feet?” I asked, doubtingly.
“That is all, and I wouldn’t go through the door if it were open.”
I could set him free, and why not, I asked myself, the sweat starting out all over me at the thought. What wrong would there be in it, for it was as the robber said—Moth had a right to put him there, but no right to treat me the same way, and in breaking the law he was no better than the highwayman. Reasoning thus, I determined to do what the robber said, and so answered:
“I’ll cut the ropes, if that’s all you want.”
“I shall be much obliged if you will, but I’ll not ask you to do it,” he answered.
“Why not?”
“Oh, perhaps because I am foolish.”
“How will you get out if you are free, as you say?” I asked, not seeing any way.
“Oh, easy enough,” he answered. “I have been planning it all day as I lay here on my back. I would use the bench as a ram to displace the logs overhead, for they are short and not half fastened. Once in the loft, it would be easy to remove the shingles, and being on the roof, the ground is not ten feet away.”
“That seems easy,” I answered.
“It is; for the jail is a poor affair, and only intended for small offenders; and if prisoners have not escaped, it is because they were bound, as I am, or did not think it worth while to try.”
What he said was true; and now resolved in my mind, and elated at the prospect of getting even with Moth, I went to the cupboard, and finding a knife, as I had thought, took it and cut the cords that bound the robber’s arms and legs.
“There, you are free!” I cried, pleased at what I had done.
“Thank you, my lad; and now we will not lose any time, for we ought to be far away by sunrise,” he answered. But when he got to his feet he could scarce stand. “It is nothing,” he went on, noticing my surprise, “only I have to get the blood into my legs and arms again before I can do anything, for they are as stiff as ramrods.” This did not take long, and in a few seconds he was busy with his preparations for our escape. “See!” he exclaimed, straightening up, “I can touch the ceiling with my hands. Now help me with the bench, for two are better than one. There, that will do. Now send the end of it into that log overhead, as if it were Moth’s backbone. Good! we moved it a little. Now again. See! it is giving way.” This was true, and at the third stroke it flew out of place, leaving an opening a foot wide. “That is fine, and one more will be enough. Now! right into the small of his back again,” and with the words we gave the next log a stroke, lifting it clear from its place, as we had the first.
“That hole is big enough to drive a sleigh through,” he exclaimed; and placing the bench on the floor, stood on it, and taking hold of the edge of the opening, swung himself into the loft. “Now, my lad, give me your hand,” and doing as he said, I found myself in a moment seated beside him. “We are getting on finely, and the rest will be easy. There! stay where you are, my son, and in a minute I will give you a glimpse of the shining stars.” Saying which, he took one of the logs we had displaced, and with it drove a hole through the roof as big as a barrel. At this, and greatly to our surprise, the watchdog in the adjoining yard, aroused by the noise, set up a furious barking, running up to the jail door, where it kept up its angry outcry.
“Quick, my lad! We must go back. It is the jailer’s dog, and the old man will be sure to come to see what is the matter”; and without wasting time, the robber lowered himself through the opening to the floor below. “Now let yourself down, and I’ll catch you,” he called. Doing as he said, I took hold of the cross-beam and let my body swing through the opening, and he taking me in his arms, sat me down safely on the floor.
“Quick! into your bunk, and I’ll do the same as soon as I put this bench back.” And not a moment too soon, for scarce had he thrown himself on his pallet when the jailer opened the door, and pushing his lantern into the room, peered about.
“Hello there! how do you find yourselves? Comfortable-like?” he asked, when he had succeeded in making us out by the dim light.
“Yes, we are all right. Why, what is the matter? is it time to get up, or has Moth sent you to inquire after our health?” my companion answered, yawning, but with some sarcasm in his voice.
“Never mind about Moth. I heard the dog barking, and thought you might be wanting something, but if not, I’ll go back to bed,” he answered, as if excusing himself.
“No, we are not in need of anything, thank you. Good night, and pleasant dreams,” my companion called out.
“Good night,” the jailer answered; and closing and fastening the door, went away.
When he was gone we lay for some time without speaking, until at last the robber, springing up, called out:
“Hello! young man, are you asleep?”
33“No; how could I be?” I answered, starting to my feet.
“I thought you looked a little tired when you came in to-night, that is all. Well, now for another try,” and with that he placed the bench beneath the opening, and standing on it as before, climbed into the loft, lifting me after him.
“Now for the roof; and as the hole is big enough to push a washtub through, there is no occasion for making any more noise. Let me help you,” and with the words he lifted me through the opening, climbing up himself a moment later.
Descending to the eaves without loss of time, he took my hands and lowered me the length of his arm, when, letting go his hold, I dropped to the ground. Inquiring if I was all right, he did not wait, but following, alighted without harm. At this moment, when we thought ourselves free, the dog again set up a dreadful barking, running out into the moonlight within a few feet of where we lay prostrate in the weeds.
“We’re lost,” I whispered, seeing no way of returning to the room we had left; but placing his hand over my mouth the robber bade me keep my peace. A moment later the jailer came to the door of his hut, but after looking about for a while and yawning, called to the dog, and turning about, reëntered his house. For a long time we lay motionless, afraid to move, until everything being quiet again, we made our way on our hands and knees to the forest, some way off. Here, regaining our feet, we hurried on for a mile or more without speaking, until at last coming to an opening in the trees, we stopped in the bright moonlight and looked into each other’s faces.
“Fox,” I exclaimed, seeing him now clearly for the first time.
“Fox! how do you know that?” he asked, surprised, starting back.
“I know, for I was with Mr. Lincoln when you sought to rob the stage.”
“Good Lord! what are you saying?” he exclaimed, with a scared look.
“Yes, and I heard you promise him you’d change your ways,” I answered, angrily, thinking of Mr. Lincoln and the sorrow he would feel at Fox’s want of good faith a second time.
“Oh, I remember you well enough now; and, my God, I meant what I said, too!”
“Then why didn’t you carry out your promise?” I asked.
“It was my damned luck not to, that is all. For when you were gone from the tavern where I stayed, the old man I robbed of the watch had me arrested; but while on my way to jail I escaped, and as good fortune would have it this time, I ran across the very thief who got me into trouble at first. Recognizing him, and being ready, when he sought to rob me I overcame him, and so made him dismount, and taking his pistols and horse, rode off. That is how it happened that I did not await Mr. Lincoln’s return and that I am on the road again.”
“What have you been doing?” I asked, pleased at what he said.
“Not much in my line,” he answered, sadly, waving his hand; “mostly begging a night’s lodging or a meal here and there, till I ran across Moth.”
“You will never reform, I’m afraid,” I answered, sorrowing, he was so pleasant of face and voice.
“Perhaps not; but I will make no more promises, anyway. And now, just as I once owed my freedom to Mr. Lincoln, so I owe it to you. It is more than life to me, too, for if a man is once condemned, that settles him for all time.”
“I only helped myself in helping you, and so you owe me nothing,” I answered, true enough.
“Yes, I do. One never asks a neighbor why he does a good act. I could not have escaped except for you, and I owe you a debt I can never pay.”
“No, for I couldn’t have got off without you, and so we’re quits. It’s good to be free again, though,” I exclaimed, drawing in a long breath of the sweet air.
“Yes,” he answered, brightening up; “and on such a night, too! How beautiful everything is—the moon, the sleeping trees, the restful shadows, the soft stir of the leaves!” and he sighed as a better man might have done in his place NORFLOXACIN.
“I hope we’ll neither of us ever be in such a fix again,” I answered, my happiness at our escape dampened by compassion for my companion and his dangerous way of life.
“No need in your case, surely; but for me,” he went on, as if reading my thoughts, “who can tell? My sins will follow me on horseback, let me do what I may. There will be no dodging them, either. It is the first misstep that guides your footsteps ever afterward, my son; but the roads seem so much alike at the start that you can hardly tell one from the other. Both are bordered with flowers, and the sun shines as warm on one as the other; and yet the difference and the quick change if we go wrong! Then the trees lose their green and the flowers fade, and the sun goes out as if it were night. Look to your footsteps, my friend, for once you stray off the beaten path, the lash of justice will scourge you ever afterward. Such is the criminal, and such am I, and there is never but one ending. Who that starts wrong, though, ever gives the ending or its quick coming a thought? This is my sermon to you, my son, and it is real preaching, for that was the calling I meant to follow for man’s good and my own salvation when I started out in life. What a mess I have made of it, though, as others have done and will to the end. Not to repent, either, nor strive to, for on this road there is no turning back. The silliness of it all, and the futility! But do not regard what I say, lad. The lost ever thus grieve and go on preaching and reforming and falling anew. So there you are, and here am I; and which way do you go now?” he added, changing in a whimsical way, but as if pleased with his sermon. NEO-DANKONG
“I’m going to Appletop,” I answered, sorrowing over what he said, knowing he was making himself out bad when he was only unfortunate and foolish; “but I don’t know where I am nor which way to go.”
“I will put you on the road, and it is but a step,” he answered; and taking my hand we plunged into the forest again. Walking on without speaking for half an hour, we came at last to a road that stretched away, white and glistening, in the bright moonlight.
“Here is your way, my son, and a plain one, too. Go to the right for a mile or thereabouts, where a road leads to the left. Follow it and it will take you zigzagging through the country to Appletop. You can’t miss the way, and nothing will harm you; or if you should run across robbers, and maybe you will, say nothing, but go on, for they will not harm a lad like you.”
“Where are you going?” I asked, reluctant to leave him.
“Why, what does that matter?” he answered, putting me off; but thinking better of it, added: “I am going to find my horse, the one I took from my friend the robber. He does not know any one but me now, nor I any one but him, and I am not going to leave him here.”
“Where is he?” I asked.
“In the village we have just left; but the night is like day, and I shall have no trouble in finding him, and perhaps Moth’s, too, who knows!” he added, his eyes lighting up as a boy’s might when about to play a trick on a playmate.
“Oh, don’t touch Moth’s horse,” I answered, filled with fear, so clever were his ways. “I wish you’d go with me, and not try to get your horse, and maybe get caught again.
“Never fear!” he answered, lightly. “Good by, and don’t forget me, for I shall always be your friend, though not one you will care to own.”
“I’m sure I shall; but don’t take Moth’s horse.”
“Well, we will see. Good by.”
Clasping his outstretched hand, I was loath to let it go, for he did not seem to me to be bad at all. Surely, I thought, there ought to be some way to save such a man, it not being his nature to do wrong, but a habit likely to grow upon him. Thus do the sympathies of the young ever go out to the wrong-doer before the world has taught them to classify men and treat all alike who go astray, without regard to their nature or surroundings; and thus mine went out to Fox that night as we parted in the white road, with the solemn moon looking down on our leave-taking.