The Highwayman

When the day was half gone, and we were worn with fatigue and hunger, we reached the edge of the forest toward which we had been tending since early morning. Here in its shadows we came upon a lonely tavern, where we found dinner and a change of horses. Here, too, the mailbag was brought forth for the first time, and its contents scanned by our host of the “White Cow”—for such was the name of the hostelry—but unavailingly, for of letters or other matter concerning him there was not a scrap. Our dinner, which was quickly served, was simple in the extreme, but greatly to our liking, consisting of cornbread and hulled corn, with pork and hot coffee for relishes; and then, to top all, and in the way of dessert, wild strawberries, with cream from the White Cow’s own dairy.
When we were ready to depart the stage was brought to the door, and taking our places, we bade our host adieu, greatly refreshed in body and mind by our short stop. The way lay through the deep forest, and our progress, before slow, now became still more deliberate, for there was scarce more than a path, and across this the rank shrubbery stretched its luxuriant branches as if to further bar the way. Moreover, the road, softened by late rains, was in many places impassable, so that we often found it necessary to alight in order to lessen the load. Nor was this sufficient in many cases, but in such emergencies the great strength of Mr. Lincoln answered us in good stead, being enough in itself to lift the vehicle from the mire and place it on firm ground. In this way our stoppages were so frequent that we ceased to give them any attention; so that finally, when we came to an abrupt halt on emerging from a small stream, we thought nothing of it until a man, springing from behind the overhanging trees, called out:
“Halt! Throw up your hands!”
Not waiting a response, he came forward with resolute step, covering the occupants of the stage with the weapons he carried. Scarce had the summons been made, however, than Mr. Lincoln, with a quick movement, thrust a pistol forward and fired. Missing his mark, the shot did not stay the robber, for now, coming on with longer strides, he thrust his pistols into the stage, crying out:
“Throw up you hands, or, by heavens, I’ll blow your heads off!”
At this, seeing further resistance useless, Mr. Lincoln and Uncle Job did as they were told.
“There! that’s more polite. God Almighty, what an ugly shot, though!” the highwayman exclaimed, and in proof of it held up his arm, showing the sleeve of his coat half blown away. “Most men would fire back, my friend, but I am more considerate, you see, though it’s not nice to welcome a man who seeks agreeable company in so rude a fashion. There! you need not excuse yourselves,” he went on, in a whimsical, good-natured way; “but get down, and lest you pinch your fingers, keep your hands in the air meanwhile. There! like that; thanks!” Saying which he moved back so as to let us alight, but keeping his pistols all the while pointed in our direction. When I got down, which I did with all haste, he laughed aloud, as he did at Uncle Job; but when Mr. Lincoln bent forward to follow, the robber, scanning his face, gave a start of surprise, and lowering his weapons, cried out, as if astonished beyond measure at what he saw:
“Great God! Mr. Lincoln!”
Hearing his name thus called, Mr. Lincoln sat still, scrutinizing the robber, as if trying to recall his face.
“Good Lord!” the highwayman went on, after a moment’s pause, “who would have thought to run across you here! And to think I might have killed you, of all men. Do not get down, Mr. Lincoln, but let me, and in that way ask your forgiveness, and on my knees.” Saying which, and without more ado, the bandit dropped down in the road in the most ludicrous way possible, looking for all the world as if he wished he were dead, so forlorn was his aspect. To all this Mr. Lincoln made no response, but sat gazing upon the other with darkened brow in which anger and surprise were mingled. At last, raising his hand to still the other, he said, in his slow, measured way:
“What is the meaning of all this nonsense, man—if indeed you are not mad or acting a part?”
At this the robber, still kneeling, removed his hat, which before partly hid his face, and doing so, displayed a countenance singularly handsome and free from look of evil or dissipation of any kind. Seeing him thus more clearly, Mr. Lincoln exclaimed, in a voice full of astonishment and anger:
“Fox, the highwayman!” NORFLOXACIN USP
“Yes, Fox; the scoundrel you saved from the gallows, only to risk your own life to-day.”
“If not me, some one else,” Mr. Lincoln answered; “for if you would rob and, if need be, murder a stranger, you would not long respect a friend; but men like you have no friends.”
“No, nor deserve any, and I wish you had killed me; I would like to have died that way,” the robber answered, averting his face and rising to his feet.
“I only sought to cripple your arm, as your torn sleeve shows,” Mr. Lincoln answered, looking him over.
“That was like you, but I did not deserve it, nor was it a mercy to me.”
“No, but I do not wish your blood on my hands. You are not to die that way, but by the hangman, Fox,” Mr. Lincoln answered, soberly.
“No, no, not that!” the other cried. “I am not so bad as to deserve such a death, for I have never killed any one, and did not intend injury to you, though you will not believe it, and ought not to.”
“It is not likely; but tell me how long you have been following this kind of a life,” Mr. Lincoln asked, after a pause.
“I have not followed it at all, or only since yesterday.”
“You are not telling the truth; but how could you take to the road again after the promises you made me?” Mr. Lincoln inquired, with a mournful cadence in his voice.
“Oh! you think I have always been a highwayman, and lied to you?” Fox cried out at this in a pitiful way.
“Certainly; or how does it happen you are here?” Mr. Lincoln asked, his voice filled with distress at the imposition that had been practiced upon him.
“It was exactly as I told you at the time, neither more nor less, though every appearance is now dead against me, I know,” Fox answered, appealingly.
“I have forgotten the particulars, or remember them only vaguely. Tell them to me again, and quickly; and speak the truth as you hope to be saved,” Mr. Lincoln interrupted.
“I will, but I can’t speak more truly than I did before. I was in bad company, and that was all, as I told you at the time; but that was enough to undo me. A little while before you came across me in the hands of the farmers I had been sick and unfortunate. Traveling across the country, I fell ill of a fever at a farmhouse where I chanced to stop for the night; and here I remained for many weeks, while the man and his wife, themselves far from well, nursed me back to life. When strong enough to go on I had nothing save my horse with which to pay them for their kindness. This I left, though they would have prevented it if they could. Going forward on foot, and greatly enfeebled, I fell in after a while with a man leading an extra horse. Whether out of kindness because of my forlorn condition or for some other reason I know not, he asked me to make use of the spare animal. This I did, thanking him for his kindness; but when we had gone a little way on the road, and I was congratulating myself on my good fortune, I observed men following us, and as soon as they were within hearing they called to us to stop. Upon this I turned about, but my companion, going to one side, entered the forest which here grew near the road. Of this I thought nothing, but when the party, coming up, accused me of stealing the horse upon which I was mounted, I looked around for my companion to confirm my innocence, only to find he had disappeared. They laughed at my explanation, and would have hung me had you not come up, and by entreaty and promises to see that justice was done, prevailed upon them to put me in jail. For you know how it is in this disordered country; a man may rob another of his purse, and even take life, and still have the benefit of a doubt, but to have stolen a horse means death, with no trial save by men in the heat of passion.”
1“That is the story I remember you told me at the time; but what did you do afterward, and why have you turned highwayman if you were honest before?” Mr. Lincoln interrupted, his voice wavering between distrust and pity.
“When I was set free every one thought me guilty, nor would they believe otherwise, saying I got off because the jury was influenced by your belief that I was innocent, and that it was your plea that saved me, and nothing else. When finally no one would give me work and I was warned to leave the country, I turned to the road for a living, and poor it is, for save a worthless watch I have nothing for my pains.”
Here the poor robber, as if realizing anew his forlorn condition, fell to crying as if his heart was broken. At this we were all greatly moved, so distressing was the sight, and from disbelief were every one of us led to think he spoke the truth, and in all things had been much abused by the community. For a long time nothing was said, until at last, turning to the robber, Mr. Lincoln exclaimed:
“Well, Fox, I am led to believe you again, though your presence here confirms all the things said of you before. Surely with your talents you ought to be able to do something better than this.”
“Let me have a chance, Mr. Lincoln, for there never lived a man less inclined to lead such a life; but my good name is gone, and I dare not show my face among honest men. Of all the wrongdoing laid at my door this is the beginning and end,” he exclaimed, drawing from his pocket a silver watch scarce worth the carrying, and handing it to Mr. Lincoln. “A few hours ago, coming upon an old man, this was all he had, and so sorrowful was his tale that in pity I was led to give him the few pieces of silver I had in exchange. Nor would I have taken the watch, only that I could not see how I was to succeed as a highwayman if I let the first man I met escape me.”
“I am afraid you would make a poor robber, Fox,” Mr. Lincoln answered; “and if you are still inclined to live an honest life, I will help you to start anew. Our new country is full of such breakdowns, and happy the men who can and will retrieve them.”
Saying which, Mr. Lincoln, reaching out his hand, grasped that of Fox, and with such fervor and good will that should I live a thousand years I could not forget the action, nor how it thrilled me. At this tears welled up afresh in the forlorn eyes of the poor wretch, and reaching forward he would have embraced Mr. Lincoln’s knees but the latter, lifting him up, exclaimed:
“There, mount and follow us, or tie your horse behind and get into the stage if you would like that better. No one here will speak of what has happened,” he added, looking at each of us in turn to confirm his words. To this appeal we answered with our eyes, for we were all filled with the greatest pity.
“You are capable of great things, Fox,” Mr. Lincoln went on, “and hereafter you shall look to me till you get on your feet again, which will not be long,” he added, as if to encourage him. Upon this, Fox, without saying more, mounted his horse and fell in behind the stage, where he rode on in silence the rest of the afternoon.
No word was spoken after we took our seats, and so it came about that I found myself again peering into the face of the man before me, who had shown, by turns, such courage and trusting faith and womanly tenderness. It was less perplexing to me now, and in its sad expression I read, as a child might, the story of his life and its hardships; hardships patiently endured, and that would forever make its owner tender to all who were afflicted or in distress; a face shadowing forth a thousand miseries, and that in youth had looked out on a barren prospect from a body overworked and poorly nourished; a face that hid itself behind eyes weary with disappointment and vain striving; a face to invite confidence and hold it forevermore; a face full of expediency, and that would have been commanding and self-assertive had it not been softened by long waiting upon the pleasure of others; a face truly great, but having in its texture other and lesser strains such as all men’s have, the kingly line, not less than the peasant’s; a face in which greatness dominated all others, but sensitive withal, and scarce fitted to endure the buffetings of unthinking boors who, to be made useful, must be smoothed into good-natured complaisance. Yet such tasks its owner set about, and succeeding, suffered naught save martyrdom, of which mankind will forever reap the fruits. Of my scrutiny Mr. Lincoln took no further notice, but shrank back again within himself, as if he would hide from every one what he was or sought to be. Inscrutable man! How truly great, and yet how truly tender and honest of heart! Surely such combination ne’er found lodgement in man before, nor will again until suffering and ambition blend strains as widely divergent.
Thus the afternoon passed until the sun was setting, when we stopped at a wayside tavern for supper and a change of horses. Here Mr. Lincoln arranged for Fox to stay until his return, some days later. As for the latter, he could not be moved to take his eyes off his benefactor, but sat as if entranced, and when we drove away, watched us from the road until our lamps were lost in the depths of the surrounding forest.