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   Chapter 17 IN THE ROBBER'S CAVE.

The Young Bank Messenger By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 8909

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


After kissing his father the young boy looked inquisitively at Ernest.

"Who is that boy, papa?" he asked.

"I have brought him here to stay with you. Shall you like to have his company?"

"Yes, papa. You know it is very lonely while you are away. What is his name?"

The outlaw looked at Ernest significantly. He took the hint and answered, "My name is Ernest Ray."

"How old are you, Ernest?" went on the boy.

"Sixteen."

"I am only ten."

"Are you ready to get up, Frank?" asked his father.

"Yes," answered the young boy briskly. "I got sleepy because I was alone. Where did papa find you, Ernest?"

"Oh, I met him outside, and he took me to ride."

James Fox looked approval of this answer.

"I am glad you came with him. You seem like a nice boy, Ernest."

"So do you, Frank."

By this time Frank had slid from the bed and put his hand in Ernest's.

"Come here," he said, "and I will show you my books."

Led by his small companion, Ernest went up to a bookcase which he had not before observed in the main room. About thirty books stood on the shelves.

"Where did you get your books?" he asked.

"Papa bought them for me in Minneapolis. Were you ever in Minneapolis?"

"No."

"It is a nice place. Sometimes I think I would like to live there instead of here."

"You are not getting tired of home, are you, Frank?" asked his father, half reproach fully.

"No, papa, but it is lonely here sometimes. Am I to live here always?"

"No, Frank. Some time I will send you to school. But you won't see me every day then."

"Then I don't want to go."

The outlaw stooped over and kissed the boy.

"Now, Frank, I have something to do, so you may amuse yourself with Ernest."

"Can you play dominos?" asked Frank.

"Yes; have you a set?"

"Yes."

The boy opened a drawer in a bureau and drew out a box of dominos. He poured them out on the table and they began to play the ordinary game. When they tired of that, Ernest taught him a new one.

After they grew tired of playing, Ernest read aloud to the boy from one of his favorite books.

They were sitting together in the arm-chair, when James Fox, who had left the room, returned. He smiled approvingly at the picture. He was pleased to think that he had found a companion whom his boy liked.

"What have you been doing, Frank?" he asked.

"He has been reading to me, papa. He reads nicely, and I liked it very much."

"I am sorry to interrupt you, but are not you young people hungry?"

"I think I could eat something," answered Ernest.

"Frank, you may bring him into the dining-room."

The drapery was lifted, and they passed into a room as large as the one they were in. On a table in the centre a substantial meal, consisting principally of roast beef, was set forth. An old colored woman--intensely black and slightly deformed--hovered near, evidently the cook.

"Juba," said the outlaw, "this is a new boarder. His name is Ernest,"

"Glad to see you, Massa Ernest," rejoined the old woman, nodding her turban. "Sit down here next to Massa Frank."

It seemed very strange to Ernest to reflect that he was the guest of one of the famous outlaws of whom he had heard so much. He was half inclined to doubt whether it was real. If he had been alone he would have pinched himself to see whether he was awake or dreaming. Here he was, in the bowels of the earth, on intimate terms with an outlaw and his family. How long was he to stay in the cavern? That was a question impossible to answer. Meanwhile he was hungry, and the dinner was well cooked.

In spite of his being a prisoner and the loss of the packet, Ernest was almost ashamed of himself for the appetite which he manifested. But it seemed to give pleasure to Juba, who regarded it as a compliment to her cookery.

"Where is Uncle John, papa?" asked Frank, suddenly.

Ernest remembered that one of the Fox brothers was named John, and he awaited the answer with interest.

James Fox seemed busily thinking, and Frank had to repeat the question.

"Your Uncle John?" repeated the outlaw. "He went away on business."

"What kind of business, papa?"

It was a natural question, but it startled James Fox. He saw that as his son became older it might not be easy to evade embarrassing questions.

"You seem curious, Frank," he answered after a pause. "You wouldn't understand if I were to tell you."

"Will you teach me your business some day, papa

?"

It was on the tip of the outlaw's tongue to say, "Heaven forbid!" but he only answered, "Wait till you are older, Frank. Then we will talk about it."

At length they rose from the table.

They went back to the main room, and Ernest read a little more to the young boy. But Frank's eyes grew heavy, and he finally dropped off to sleep.

"Shall I lay him on the bed, Mr. Fox?" asked Ernest.

"No, I will do so."

He took the boy tenderly in his arms.

"If I had known he would fall asleep I would have undressed him," he said.

After placing the boy on the bed he resumed his seat in the arm-chair and began to smoke. Finally, he looked over at Ernest.

"Do you like my little boy?" he asked abruptly.

"He is a dear little fellow," answered Ernest.

"So he is," said the father in a soft voice. "You have no prejudice against him because he is my son?"

"No," answered Ernest. "Whatever you are, he is not responsible."

"True, but all might not take that view of it. I don't know why I should speak so confidentially to you, lad, but if I ever regret my line of life it is when I look at him. I wouldn't like to have his future marred by his association with me. I wouldn't like people to turn from him because he was an outlaw's son."

"I hope you will forgive my boldness," said Ernest, "but don't you think you will ever change your mode of life?"

"It is too late; I am too well known. Yet who knows?" he said, after a pause. "Nothing is impossible."

At nine o'clock Juba entered the room.

"Has John returned?" asked the outlaw.

"No, massa."

A shade of anxiety overspread the outlaw's face.

"He should have been here before this," he said. Then, looking at Ernest, he said, "I am going out a while. Lie down on the bed with Frank, and if he wakes up undress him."

"Yes, sir."

An hour later Frank and Ernest were sleeping peacefully side by side.

When Ernest awoke the next morning Frank was still asleep on the bed beside him. In the large room adjoining, James Fox lay on the lounge. He had given his bed to Ernest. He had not himself undressed, but had thrown himself on the couch in his ordinary clothes.

Breakfast was ready by the time they were, and the three sat down together.

"Where is Uncle John, papa?" asked Frank.

"He has not returned, Frank," said James Fox, soberly.

"What made him stay away all night?"

"Probably it was business," answered the outlaw, but Ernest noticed that he looked disturbed.

In truth he had been out till two o'clock seeking for his brother, who he feared had got into trouble. We know that he was in the prison at Crampton, whither he had been conveyed by Luke Robbins and Ezekiel Mason. Of course it was in the mind of James Fox that his brother might have been arrested, since this was a risk which he daily incurred.

Just as breakfast was over there was a new arrival. It was a tall, stalwart fellow, whom James Fox addressed as Hugh.

"Do you bring any news, Hugh?" asked the outlaw eagerly.

"Yes," answered Hugh Humphries.

"Is it about John?"

Hugh glanced significantly at the two boys. Ernest he saw for the first time.

James Fox understood and followed Hugh out of the room.

"Well," he said inquiringly, when they were out of hearing.

"Mr. John is in trouble," answered Hugh, briefly.

"Go on," said James Fox. "Do you know where he is?"

"In Crampton jail."

"Go on. Give me the particulars."

"He was carried there by two persons."

"Who were they?"

"One I think was a farmer who lives in Claremont. The other seemed to be a Quaker."

"I don't remember any Quaker in this neighborhood. He must be a stranger hereabouts."

"I think I have seen him before."

"Where?"

"At the Emmonsville bank. I was passing there one day in disguise, and chancing to look in, I saw this man sitting on a bench near the paying teller's desk."

"Ah!" said James Fox, thoughtfully. "He may be a detective."

"That is what I thought."

"That is bad news, but the jail at Crampton is not very strong. I have been confined there myself and made my escape. However, John will need assistance from the outside."

"I see you have a new boy," said Hugh, curiously. "When did you pick him up?"

"Yesterday, a few miles from here. He is a bank messenger."

"From what bank?"

"The Emmonsville bank."

"Then he may know something of this Quaker detective."

"Well suggested. I will question him."

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