In the Tiger’s Mouth

When I awoke the sun was high in the heavens and the air filled with the songs of birds and the sweet fragrance of the woods. Lying still and resting, in no mood to move, I looked out on the world from a great fissure in the side of the tree where I had made my bed. Far off in the ambient air, and immovable, an eagle pinioned, as if pondering on the great tree’s overthrow. Near by and alert, a bluejay uttered its discordant cries, and on a projecting limb, almost within my hand, a squirrel sat upright, rubbing his nose and looking down in wonder on the fallen monarch. Thus outstretched, and with no thought of stirring, a noise reached me from the opening of the tree, and sitting up, I saw my bundle tossed this way and that by a cub no bigger than a three-months’ puppy. This at first in play, but by and by coming on the odor of the food, the youngster’s mood changed, and it tore at the package as if ravenous with hunger. Seeing this, I sprang out, and grasping the brute by the neck, threw it to one side. In no way hurt, it yet uttered a doleful cry, as these animals will. Not regarding its complainings in any way, I busied myself putting my bundle to rights, until presently, the cries continuing, they were answered by a fierce growl from the opening of the glade. Looking in the direction from whence it came, I saw a huge bear coming toward me, half uprisen, her teeth showing white and cruel against the deep color of her blood-red mouth. Transfixed, I fell to trembling, for of escape I could see no way, save that from which the brute came on, dense undergrowth barring the road and making flight impossible, even if I could have hoped to outstrip the fierce creature. While thus bewildered, not knowing what to do, the hollow of the tree where I had passed the night caught my eye, and with the sight hope revived in my heart. For there at least the brute might not dare to follow. Thinking thus, I sprang into the opening, but the enraged animal, after smelling about as if fearing a trap, being assured, followed resolutely on. Seeing this, I hurried forward, at first upright, and then stooping, and finally on my hands and knees. As the tree contracted and my progress was lessened, I could feel the breath of the savage animal stir my hair, while her angry growls filled my ears as if she were already upon me. Glancing back, I saw her some way off, but coming on slowly and as if in fear of being caught in the tree. At this I sought to crowd myself forward where she could not come, but presently the opening becoming contracted, so that I could make no further headway, I knew not what to do. Now, indeed, hope died within me, and no longer able to look back or scarce move my body, I lay still, listening to the deep breathing of the animal as it came steadily toward me. At last in an agony of fear I put forth all my strength anew, and to my great joy the walls of the tree, which had before been hard and unyielding, now crumbled and fell apart under the pressure of my outstretched hands. While thus striving to make some headway, light broke in on my prison, and looking forward, I was gladdened by the sight of an opening a few feet away, caused by the breaking of the tree in its fall.
Cheered by what I saw, I struggled forward with new courage, making a way, sometimes with my hands, but more often with my head and face. In this manner I at last reached the opening; but now, when safety seemed assured, my strength left me, and I lay as one dead, unable to move or cry aloud. Regaining some mastery over myself after a time, I dragged my body through the opening, my garments torn and my face and hands dripping with blood. This I did not much regard, and revived by the cool air and the thought that I was free, my strength came back, and from lying unable to stir I had now no fear at all. Stooping down, I looked into the opening, and fortunate it was, for the fierce brute, discovering my escape, was already backing from the tree. Frightened anew at this, I stuck my face into the opening, and cried out in rage, as if daring the creature to come on. At this she stopped, and after a moment, answering my challenge with an angry growl, started anew in my direction. Coming a little way, she stopped again, and despite my cries, turned back. At this, observing her cub, and scarce knowing what I did, I ran and caught it in my arms, and returning, thrust it into the narrow opening, wrenching its limbs to make it cry with pain. No sooner had I done this than the mother turned back, growling in fierce anger and tearing at the sides of the tree with her teeth and claws in vain effort to reach her offspring. Seeing this, I fell to beating the poor thing with all my strength, so as to make it cry the louder. When, however, some time had passed and the bear could make no further headway, and made as if she would turn back, I thrust the cub far into the opening, and giving it a cruel stroke, left it there.
Hastening to the spot where my bundle lay, I snatched it up, and turning, fled through the opening of the glade into the forest beyond. Overcome with fear, and not regarding the direction I took, I ran on, looking back with each step to see if I were followed. At last, worn out with fatigue and hunger, I could go no farther, and throwing myself on the ground, burst into a paroxysm of tears. Now indeed was I forlorn. Lost in the forest and beset by wild beasts, what danger might I not fear! Thus I lay, until at last, rested and reassured, I rose to my feet. Above my head as I looked up the spreading trees, serene and calm, bent over me with steadfast gaze, and as if in pity and tender sympathy. Listening, I heard in their soft murmurings, melodies I knew, sweet sounds that might be the voices of angels watching over the lost of earth or guarding their departing souls to the portals of Heaven above. Comforted, I went forward, and in a little while, coming to a meandering stream, took off my torn clothes, and casting them aside, cleansed myself in its limpid waters. Putting on new garments, I looked about for some place to eat my morning meal, and this I saw a little way off, beside a trickling spring, rimmed about with flowers and verdant mosses. On its edge, as I approached, a thrush refreshed himself in its cool depths, and waiting till he was gone, I took out my store of food, and sitting down beside the sparkling water, ate my fill. Then burying my face in its depths, I arose, and put the little food I had remaining in my pocket, and refreshed and hopeful, started on my way.
Now the trees took on a brighter look, and swaying and curtesying this way and that as I went forward, seemed as if pointing the direction I should go. Striving to follow some given course, noon passed, and so the afternoon, without sign of man or any clew to guide me. At last, as night approached, my strength failed me; and now the birds, as if in sympathy with my mood, no longer fluttered their gay plumage, but flew back and forth in the gathering twilight, swiftly and silently hastening to their hiding-place for the night. In the open before me, however, and as if to cheer my solitude, a thrasher flew forward, and at intervals, running on, looked back, saying as in words: “Come on; this is your road.” At last, its mission done or tiring with the effort, it flew away, and I saw it no more. Watching its flight, the treetops still reflected back the hue of the departing sun, and midway in their height some trace of yellow was yet to be seen, but near the ground were already black as night with the fast-gathering shadows. At this moment, when hope was dead within me, I came, and without thought, upon a beaten road, but whether that which I had left the night before or not I did not know nor care. Elated, my strength returned, and sitting down I took what food I had and ate it, thankful for so much, and without thought of the morrow. Strengthened, I started afresh, but in what direction I could not tell. Thus I went on till the moon arose, but without sight of man or house. Nor was there sound of any kind, save the sighing of the forest, all Nature sleeping as if in recompense for the debauch of the previous night. Going forward, cheerful of heart, I was not much surprised when a light flashed out before me, and then another and another. Pushing on, I came after a while upon a little village of huts scattered along the highway, some near the road and others farther off. Peering through the window of the first I came to, in hopeful expectancy of food and lodging, a comely woman, large, and fine of face, sat on a bench, her children gathered about her kneeling at their evening prayers. Of room, however, there was scarce enough to swing a cat, and this so crowded as not to afford place for another; and so, with a longing look at the little group, I went on to the house beyond. Here there were only three children, as I could plainly see, but as if the saving had been known in advance, the place was made to fit, and so there was no room for more. The next house, dark and forbidding, gave back no response to my knocking, and so I went on to the fourth, a little hut standing close beside the road. Here there was sickness, and though they bade me stay, I could not find it in my heart to thus obtrude myself upon their gentle hospitality. At the hut beyond they would have welcomed me, but a guest already filled the space, and so they could offer me no place where I could lie.
In this way I went on, now somewhat depressed, till I reached the extremity of the little village, and here I came upon a building, larger than the others, and standing back from the road, as if courting greater privacy. A dull light showed in its single window, but high up, so that I could not scan the interior as I had the others. Hearing voices, I knocked, confident of a welcome, so imposing was the structure. For a moment silence followed my summons, and then a voice bade me enter. Lifting the latch, I opened the door and went in; but entering, no one spoke nor said aught of welcome as I stood looking about me. Of the room, it was the size of the building, and without furniture of any kind, save a bench that ran beside the wall. On this I presently made out two men, for of light there was none save from a lantern that stood on the floor, clouded with dirt and smoke. This I thought strange; but more surprising still, a man, half-sitting, half-reclining, in the farther corner of the room, his legs securely fastened to a huge ring fixed in the floor. Startled, I turned about and would have fled, but one of the men, who had been seated, springing between me and the door, cried out:
22“Gilbert Holmes! by all the gods of Greece and Rome!”
Hearing him, I needed nothing more to tell me it was Moth; and alas! he barred the way—and of exit there was no other. Seeing this, I stood still, looking into his face, my own aflame with anger and shame.
“Thank you, my lad, for saving me further trouble,” he went on, with sarcastic glee. “I have had many setbacks lately, but things at last seem to be coming my way. A robber and a runaway in twenty-four hours will do pretty well for an amateur. One I capture, and the other comes to me of his own accord. Yes, I am certainly in luck”; and Moth chuckled, as if fortune was at last favoring him beyond all other men. “Come, my lad,” he continued, after a moment’s pause, seeing I did not speak; “do not stand there dumb, but tell me what good fortune brings you into my hands.”
“It’s not that I want to see you,” I answered, at a loss whether to answer him or no.
“Of course not, my dear. You have not shown any liking for my company, I am sorry to say, though I mean you no harm. But I hope it will be different hereafter,” he answered, leering at me.
“It will not, sir! You have no right to pursue me, and I will never go with you; I’ll die first.”
“Oh, yes, you will! And I will not let you get away again, either,” he answered, confidently.
“You can’t fasten me so I’ll not escape. I’d kill you if I couldn’t get away without,” I answered, my anger passing all bounds.
“You would, would you, you little devil! But what I want is for the best, and go back with me you shall,” he answered, determinedly, and as if that ended the matter.
“I say I’ll not—never! You think me a child, and I was, but you have made me something more. Don’t come near me! I’ll never let you take me alive!” I screamed, as he took a step in my direction, my anger growing to white heat.
“Tut, tut, child! Do not fly into such a passion. Listen to reason. I am not going to harm you,” he replied, soothingly.
“What is all this about, anyway?” the man who had been seated beside Moth here interposed, coming forward and holding the lantern aloft so as to see me the better. “Good God! lad, what is the matter with your face?” he went on. “You look as if you had been run over by a harrow.”
“It was scratched in the woods,” I replied, quieting down.
“Why, it is seamed and slashed like a piece of raw meat. No, no, the brush never did that, lad!” he went on, examining it more carefully.
“It’s nothing, sir, and will be all right in the morning,” I answered.
“Maybe, but for fear I’ll rub some salve on it to help it along,” he answered; and going to a small cupboard, brought back a cup of grease, which he smeared over my face. “There, that will do for to-night, and in the morning I will dress it again.”
“You are foolish to waste grease or sympathy on him, jailer,” Moth interposed. “That is the lad we have been looking for all day, and a precious sly one he is, too.”
“Well, he does not look it,” the jailer answered, “but frank about the eyes as my own boy, though his face is not much to speak of in its present shape.”
“I’m as honest, sir, as I can be, and this man has no business to say I’m not, nor claim any rights over me,” I answered, appealingly.
“Do not let him fool you, jailer. Those brown eyes of his have more deviltry in them than there is in that highwayman’s whole body,” Moth answered, looking across at the man in the corner, who had straightened up and now sat silently regarding us.
“I’m not bad,” I cried, laying hold of the jailer’s hand, “and I haven’t harmed any one, nor taken what didn’t belong to me.”
“I am sure of it,” he answered, kindly.
“I told you he would fool you, for in cunning and evasion he is Satan’s own imp,” Moth answered, anger showing in his voice.
“Don’t believe him,” I answered. “He has no right to pursue me as he does. He’s not my guardian.”
“Who is your guardian, and where is he?” the jailer asked, as if that would settle it.
“Uncle Job Throckmorton, and he lives in Appletop. He left me at Rock Island till he could come back, and yesterday this man planned to kidnap me, and that’s why I ran away,” I answered, determined to tell my story.
“I know Mr. Throckmorton, and he is an upright, honest gentleman, if there is one in the state,” the jailer replied.
“Then don’t let this man pursue me longer,” I answered, “for he has no right.”
“I have you already,” Moth answered, “and so there is no need to pursue you farther. You are under age and an estray, for Throckmorton’s not your guardian, and can be reclaimed by the owner wherever found. Is not that so, jailer?”
“Maybe; but I think you ought to have a warrant to take him,” he added, brightening up at the thought.
“Nonsense! It is not necessary. You are a justice, and it is your business to hold him pending investigation.”
“Why should I, if you have nothing to prove your right to him?”
“I have, and you know it,” Moth answered, confidently.
“I do not,” the jailer replied, doggedly.
“Well, I tell you so now, and that I shall hold you responsible as an officer of the law for his safety,” Moth answered, with savage determination.
“Well, I say I’ll not turn a hand to help you. The statutes of Illinois are very liberal about boys being at large, and I am not going to interfere with this one,” the jailer answered.
“You will not dare to refuse to perform the duties of your office,” Moth answered, desperately.
“It is not my duty to detain him,” the jailer answered.
“I’ll never go with him,” I spoke up, encouraged by the jailer’s manner and speech. “He has no more claim on me than that robber.”
“Yes, I have; and you will go with me, just as the robber did,” Moth replied. “I will make you go.”
“You can’t; and if you were not an old man I’d wallop the life out of you right here and now,” I cried, my anger getting the better of me again.
To this Moth made no response, but stood still, eying me for a while in silence; then turning to the jailer, he said:
“To-morrow I will bring an officer to take this lad, my client’s ward according to the judge’s ruling, and you dare not let him go meanwhile. He is a runaway, and I call on you to hold him.”
“If you want to leave him here, perhaps you can, provided you pay his board and lodging, but I will not assume any responsibility—not for a minute,” the jailer answered, cowed by Moth’s manner and confident air.
“Yes, you will, and you will secure him in the same way you have the highwayman,” Moth answered, pointing to the robber.
“I’ll see you damned first. He is not a criminal, but a child, and I will not tie him up, nor will you,” the jailer answered.
“You are not fit to fill the office you do; but I must be satisfied, I suppose. Anyway, he can’t escape,” Moth answered, gazing about him as if to judge of the strength of the room. KANGWEI NORLFOXACIN
“No,” the jailer replied, in a voice that plainly said he wished I could; “and now, sir, if you have no one else to lock up and no more orders to give, I will shut up shop and go home.”
Moth returning no answer to this, the jailer crossed to where the robber sat and pinioned his arms, after which he attached the rope to a ring in the wall, but not so closely that the prisoner could not lie down. Then taking his lantern, he motioned Moth to go ahead, following him to the door. There turning around, he pointed to a bunk in the corner, saying:
“You will not find it hard, my lad”; but as if this was not enough, he turned back, and taking my hand, bade me not to fear, adding that he would see that my uncle got word of what had happened on the succeeding day.