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   Chapter 16 THE OUTLAW'S HOME,

The Young Bank Messenger By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 8026

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Where he was to be carried or what was to be his fate Ernest could not conjecture, nor did he speculate much. It was enough for him to know that he was in the power of one of the notorious outlaws.

There was considerable difference between his appearance and that of the man at his side. He was silent and depressed, while James Fox, for it was he, seemed in excellent spirits. He turned to the boy with the remark, "You don't say much."

"No, for it would be no good."

"Brace up, boy! There is no occasion to look as if you were going to a funeral."

"Give me back the bonds and I will look lively enough."

"Come now, don't be foolish. These bonds don't belong to you."

"They were given into my care."

"Very well! You took as good care of them as you could."

"I shall be held responsible for them."

"No, you won't. I shall send your employers a letter, letting them know that you did the best you could to keep them out of my hands. But perhaps they never heard of me," and he laughed.

"If your name is Fox, they have heard of you."

"There is no need to beat about the bush. My name is Fox--James Fox."

"What made you take up such a business, Mr. Fox?" asked Ernest, gravely.

"Well, I like that! You, a kid, undertake to lecture me."

"You were once a kid yourself."

The outlaw's face grew grave suddenly, and his tone became thoughtful.

"Yes, I was a kid once. At sixteen--is that your age?"

"Yes."

"Well, at sixteen I was as innocent as you. I had a good mother then. If she had lived, perhaps I would have turned out different. Why, it seems a great joke, doesn't it? I attended Sunday-school till I was fifteen."

"You haven't forgotten it, then?"

"No, nor the lessons I learned there. But it is of no use to recall those days. Are you afraid that you will come to harm?"

Ernest looked intently in the brigand's face.

"No," he said, after a pause. "I think you won't do me any more harm. But you can do me a great favor."

"What is that--return you the bonds?"

"I would ask that if I thought you would do it, but I don't expect it. I should like to have you release me and let me go home."

"I can't do that, for I want you to visit me. You may not think it, but I always like young people. It will be quite a pleasure to me to have you for a visitor."

"Thank you, but I am afraid that I shall become an unwilling guest."

"Besides, it will be a pleasure to my little boy to meet you. He does not often meet other boys."

"Have you a son?" asked Ernest in surprise.

The outlaw's face softened.

"Yes," he answered. "He is a sweet little boy, as I can say, even if he is my son. His name is Frank. Would you like to see his picture?"

"Yes," answered Ernest with interest.

James Fox drew from an inner pocket a small card photograph of a young boy with a very winning face. Ernest was attracted, for, unlike many boys of his age, he liked younger children. He looked at the picture long and earnestly.

"It is a sweet face," he said at last. "Isn't it?" asked the proud father.

"Is his mother living?"

"No."

"Was there no difficulty in getting it taken?"

"I suppose you mean on account of my profession. Well, there might be around here, but this was taken in Minneapolis--about a year ago. It was one of the few visits that Frank has made with me."

"Are you going to bring him up to your business?"

"Take care, boy," said the outlaw, frowning. "Don't be impertinent."

"I don't mean to be. Do you think the question an improper one?"

"Well, perhaps I have no right to think so. Somehow the business, though it seems all right for me, I couldn't think of for my boy. No, I shall soon place him at school where no one will know that he is related to the celebrated outlaw. I want him brought up to lead an honest life."

"I am glad you do. I respect you for that."

"My lad, you seem to be one of the right sort. As you will see my son, I want you to promise me that you won't say a word about t

he business I am engaged in."

"I will make that promise. Then the boy doesn't know?"

"No; he has no suspicion. He is too young to think much about that. Perhaps if he had associated with other boys much he would have found out."

While this conversation was going on they had entered a wood, and the road became wilder and rougher. Indeed, it was hardly a road, but rather a lane, narrow and grass-grown.

Ernest began to wonder in what sort of a home his companion lived. His evident affection for his son gave Ernest a different feeling towards him. It was plain that he had a softer side to his nature, bandit though he was.

Ernest had never read the story of Jekyll and Hyde, but he felt instinctively that the man beside him had a double nature. On the road he was an outlaw, with corresponding traits, a rough and unscrupulous man, but at home, and in the presence of his son, as Ernest judged, he was a warm-hearted and affectionate father.

In truth, the young bank messenger looked forward with interest to a meeting with the boy who was so dear to the heart of a man whom the world generally supposed to be a stranger to the softer emotions.

At length they reached a rocky hillside. Here the outlaw pulled up his horse and jumped from the buggy. Ernest looked at him in a questioning way.

"You can get out," he said. "We have arrived."

Ernest alighted and looked about him. He naturally expected to see a dwelling of some kind, but there was none in sight. If it was at a distance, why should they not have driven to it?

James Fox looked at him with a smile, enjoying his perplexity.

From his pocket he drew a handkerchief.

"Come here, my boy," he said.

Ernest did not quite understand what he proposed to do, but he felt better acquainted with the outlaw now, and he knew that there was no cause for apprehension. He accordingly approached without question.

James Fox bandaged his eyes so that he could see nothing. Then he took him by the hand and led him forward.

Ernest could not tell what was being done, but he found himself walking on a rocky path, hand in hand with his guide. How long he walked he could not tell. It might have been two hundred feet. Then his guide stopped, and of course he stopped, too.

Next the handkerchief was removed, and he found himself in what seemed a rocky cavern. At any rate it was a large room, of irregular shape, but the stone floor had been made smooth, and was covered by a soft carpet. It was furnished like a sitting-room in a private house. There were comfortable chairs, including a rocking-chair, and a capacious arm-chair. On one side of the room was an inviting-looking couch.

Of course there would have been perfect darkness but for artificial light. On a table was a large student's lamp, and in a niche in the wall was another. Besides this, there was a lantern hanging from the roof of the chamber, but this was not lighted.

Ernest looked about him with curiosity and surprise. It was something new to him, and recalled a story he had once read, in which a cave-dwelling was described.

"Well, what do you think of it?" asked the outlaw, smiling.

"It is wonderful," said Ernest.

"You did not know where I was bringing you?"

"No. It is a cave, is it not?"

"Well, it looks like it."

"There are other rooms, are there not?"

"Yes, but this is my private apartment; my parlor, you may call it. This is my sleeping-room."

He drew aside the hangings on the further side and revealed an inner chamber, of less size.

On a bed Ernest's attention was drawn to the figure of a sleeping boy evidently the original of the picture which the outlaw had shown him.

"That is your son?" asked Ernest.

"Yes, that is Frank."

The outlaw's stern countenance softened as he regarded the sleeping boy.

Suddenly the boy stirred; he opened his eyes, and when he recognized his father a glad smile lighted up his innocent face.

"Papa!" he said, and James Fox bent over and kissed him.

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