The Prodigal

When I awoke from my stupor, I lay wrapped in blankets before a blazing fire, and on either side of me Fox and the landlord knelt, striving to infuse some warmth into my body and stiffened limbs. Next the fire their faces glistened as if aflame, but on the other side the shadows gave them a strange and sinister look, so that at first I did not know who they were. Soon recognizing them, I nevertheless lay still, having no desire to stir, until Fox, seeing me look about, shouted at the top of his voice:
“Hurrah, he’s coming round!”
At this I sighed and turned away my face in shame that I should forever show such weakness when others were brave and strong. Bringing some kind of liquor, he forced it down my throat, exclaiming:
“Cheer up, my lad; you will be all right in a minute. It’s only a chill, and chills are nothing to the young.”
“No, but I’m no good.”
“Yes, you are a poor one, I know; but keep on trying, and maybe you will amount to something after a while. You will never have any sense, though, any one can see with half an eye,” he added, working over my legs.
“Why do you say that?” I asked, sitting up.
“Because young birds like you don’t fly above the trees after dark—they keep under cover; and if you had any sense you wouldn’t wander about the country the way you do at night.”
“Yes,” I answered; “but birds will do anything when the hawks are about.”
“Yes; but there are no hawks after you.”
“No; but Uncle Job.”
“Uncle Job! Why, what has happened to him?”
“He’s in jail in Appletop.”
“Is that where you were going?”
“Why now, and on such a night?”
“I didn’t know before.”
“Oh, you innocent! What can you do to help him?”
“I don’t know.”
“That is what I thought. But come, you are tired and sore, and must go to bed. Sleep will make you as good as new.”
“No, I’m going on to-night; I’m not sleepy nor tired now.”
“You will do nothing of the kind, you vagrant! You would perish with the cold. Wait, and in the morning I’ll see that you are in Appletop by sunrise. But come, if you’re not sleepy, tell me about your Uncle Job’s trouble. It’s early, and I’m in no hurry to go to bed.”
This I at once proceeded to do, glad, indeed, to have the chance. When I was through, he stared at me, saying he could by no means understand it, if Uncle Job was innocent, as I thought. Thus we talked for a long time, and when I could no longer find excuse for speaking of Uncle Job’s troubles, Fox spoke of our former meeting, questioning me about my adventure in Murderer’s Hollow, and more particularly the conspiracy to kill Uncle Job, of which he now heard for the first time.
tumblr_ogro9murb41s3f5u5o1_1280“It was just like Burke,” he spoke up when I was through. “A more desperate villain never lived, and he would think no more of murdering a man than he would of killing a crow.”
This reference to Burke recalled the crime I had heard planned in Black Hawk’s cabin, and there being no longer any reason for keeping it to myself, I told Fox about it, omitting nothing, so great was my relief at being able to share the burden with another. When I had finished, he mused over it for a long time, making me repeat what I had said several times. Above all he was most interested in Burke’s companion, but of him I could tell nothing, not having seen his face. Afterward, when I again referred to the object of my journey, he said, cheerfully, and as if to encourage me, that Uncle Job appeared to have escaped one danger only to get into another, in which he hoped I might in some way be able to serve him again. To this I agreed, but in what manner I could not by any means see.
When the night was far gone we were shown to our beds, but before I had fairly closed my eyes Fox had hold of my shoulder, saying it was time we were off. This I could by no means believe, as it was still dark and I dead with sleep. Dressing myself without remark, we descended to the main room, where the landlord awaited us with a pot of coffee. Drinking this, Fox mounted his horse, and lifting me up behind him, we set out. The storm had by this time abated, but our progress was slow because of the snow which lay heaped across the road in many places. Fox’s horse being strong and resolute, however, we reached the outskirts of Appletop just as the day was breaking. Here Fox stopped, saying:
“I am sorry I can’t go on with you to the Dragon, Gilbert, but it wouldn’t be wise. Not because of anything I’ve done since I saw you, but on account of the Moth matter, which you know about.”
“Then you’ve quit your old ways?” I asked, slipping to the ground.
“Yes, if they were my ways; but I have never harmed anybody greatly, and this I want you to believe.”
“I know it, and you needn’t have told me; but is there any danger now?”
“Yes; Moth has posted me far and near and with a reward to sweeten it, so that to show myself would be to invite arrest.”
“What have you been doing all this time?” I asked, curious as to his mode of life.
“Most anything; but just now I am caring for a drove of hogs belonging to a buyer near the Eagle’s Nest. I’m a swineherd, you see. A prodigal like him of old, only there is no fatted calf for me, nor ever will be,” he concluded, half sadly, half in play.
“Your work’s not so bad,” I answered, remembering the great number of good men my father employed in this way. “Doesn’t the man pay you?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Then you can buy and eat your own calf; that’s better than looking to any one?” I answered, to put a better face on it.
“Oh, I live on veal; but it’s the overlooking of what’s past that I mean.”
“I know, but that will come in time, I’m sure,” I answered.
“I hope so. Anyway, I am going to keep on in the narrow path here till something turns up elsewhere that will not bring me under Moth’s eye.”
“I wish Moth were hanged, the scamp!” I cried; “he has caused enough trouble.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Fox answered. “He sees things as he sees them. But now about your Uncle Job’s affair, for abusing Moth is not going to get him out of jail.” NORFLOXACIN FCL
“No, but you will,” I answered, confidently.
“I don’t know. I will do what I can; but if you want me to be of help, go on to the Dragon and find out more about the affair. Everything, mind, not overlooking a word or look. For it is always some trifle nobody regards that affords the clew to every crime, the constables say.”
“I will,” I cried, starting off.
“Hold on there! When you have found out all you can I want you to come and tell me.”
“Yes; where—at the Eagle’s Nest?”
“No, that is too far for you to go; Hayward’s Ferry will be better.”
“When shall I come?” I asked.
“To-night, and as soon after dark as you can.”
“Where, Mr. Hayward’s house?”
“No; in the grove below the landing. Now be off. The sun’s coming up, and people are stirring about like flies on a piece of ice. Good by, and don’t fail to bring me all the news.”
“No, I’ll not,” I answered, starting on a run, greatly elated at having at last enlisted Fox in Uncle Job’s behalf.