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Chapter 17

Redfield came rather later than he had promised, excusing himself for his delay. "I was afraid the frost had caught my tobacco, last night; but it seems to be all right, as far as I can see; I stayed till the sun was well up before I decided."

"It was a pretty sharp night, but I don't believe there was any frost," the Squire said. "At least Dylks didn't complain of it."

"Dylks?" Redfield returned.

"Yes. Didn't you know he was out again?"

"No, I didn't. If I had that fellow by the scruff of the neck!"

The Squire knew he meant the sleeping sentinel at the thicket where Dylks had been hidden, and not Dylks. But he said nothing, and again Redfield spoke.

"Look here, Squire Braile, I think you did a bad piece of business letting that fellow go."

"I know you do, Jim, but I expect you'll think different when you've seen him."

"Seen him? You mean you know where he is?"

"Yes."

"Well, all I've got to say is that if I can lay hands on that fellow he won't give me the slip again."

"Well, suppose we try," the Squire said, and he opened the door into the room where Dylks was cowering, and remarked with a sort of casualness, as if the fact would perhaps interest them both, "Here's one of the Lost, Dylks. I thought you might like to see him. Now, sit down, both of you and let's talk this thing over."

He took a place on the side of the bed and the enemies each faltered to their chairs in mutual amaze.

"Oh, sit down, sit down!" the Squire insisted. "You might as well take it comfortably. Nobody's going to kill either of you."

"I don't want to do anybody any harm," Dylks began.

"You'd better not!" Redfield said between his set teeth; his hands had knotted themselves into fists at his side.

"I'm all weak yet from the fever I had there, with nothing but water and berries," Dylks resumed in his self-pity. "I did think some of my friends might have come—"

"I took good care of that," Redfield said. "They did come, at first, with something to eat, but they knew blame well we'd have wrung their necks if we'd 'a' caught 'em. We meant to starve you out, that's what, and we did it, and if it hadn't been for that good-for-nothing whelp sleeping over his gun you wouldn't have got out alive."

"Well, that's all right now, Jim, and you'd better forgive and forget, both of you," the Squire interposed. "Dylks has reformed, he tells me; he's sorry for having been a god, and he's going to try to be a man, or as much of a man as he can. He's going to tell the Little Flock so, and then he's going to get out of Leatherwood right off—"

Dylks cleared his throat to ask tremulously, "Did I say that, Squire Braile?"

"Yes, you did, my friend, and what's more you're going to keep your word, painful as it may be to you. I'll let you manage it your own way, but some way you're going to do it; and in the meantime I'm going to put you under the protection of Jim Redfield, here—"

"My protection?" Redfield protested.

"Yes, I've sworn you in as special constable, or I will have as soon as I can make out the oath, and have you sign it. And Dylks will get out of the county as soon as he can—he tells me it won't be so easy as we would think; and when he does, it will be much more to the purpose than riding on a rail in a coat of tar and feathers. Why!" he broke off, with a stare at Dylks as if he saw his raggedness for the first time, "you'll want a coat of some kind to show yourself to the Little Flock in; the Herd of the Lost won't mind; they don't want to be so proud of you. I must look up something for you; or perhaps send to Brother Hingston; he's about your size. But that don't matter, now! What I want is your promise, Jim Redfield, and I know you'll do what you say, that you won't tell anybody that the Supreme Being is hiding in my loft, here, till I say so, and when I do, that you'll see no harm comes to him from mortals—from Hounds, and such like, or even the Herd of the Lost. Do you promise?"

Redfield hesitated. "If he'll leave the county, yes."

"And you, 'Jehovah, Jove or Lord'?"

"I will, as quick as I can, Squire Braile; I will, indeed."

The Squire rose from the edge of the bed. "Then this court stands adjourned," he said formally.

Redfield went out with him, leaving Dylks trembling behind. He said, "I ain't sure you ain't making a fool of me, Squire Braile."

"Well, I am," the Squire retorted. "And don't you make one of yourself, and then there won't be any."

Redfield still hesitated. "I'd just like to had another pull at that horse-tail of his," he said wistfully.

"Well, I knew old man Gillespie hadn't quite the strength. But I thought maybe Hughey Blake helped pull—"

"Hughey Blake," Redfield returned scornfully, "had nothing to do with it."

"Well, anyway, I hear it's converted Jane Gillespie, and she was worth it, though it was rather too much like scalping a live Indian."

"She's worth more than all the other girls in this settlement put together," Redfield said, without comment on the phase of the act which had interested the Squire, and went down the cabin steps into the lane.

Braile turned back and opened the door of the room where Dylks was lurking.

"Better come out, now," he said, not ungently, "and get into a safe place before folks begin to be about much. Or wait—I'll put the ladder up first." He brought the ladder from the kitchen where he exchanged a fleeting joke with his wife, still at her work of clearing the breakfast things away, and set it against the wall under the trapdoor of the loft. "Now, then!" he called and Dylks came anxiously out.

"Ain't you afraid—" he began.

"No, but you are, and that'll do for both of us. There's nobody round, and if you'll hurry, nobody'll see you. Push the lid to one side, and get in, and you'll be perfectly safe," he said as Dylks tremulously mounted the ladder. "I don't say you'll be very comfortable. There's a little window at one end, but it don't give much air, and this August sun is apt to get a little warm on the clapboards. And I don't suppose it smells very well in there; but the coon can't help that; it's the way nature scented him; she hadn't any sweet brier handy at the time. And be careful not to step on him. He's not very good-tempered, but I reckon he won't bite you if you don't bite him."

The kitchen door opened and Mrs. Braile put her head out. She saw the ladder and the two men. Then she came out into the porch. "Well, Matthew Braile, I might have knowed from the sound of your voice that you was up to some mischief. Was you goin' to send that poor man up into that hot loft? Well, I can tell you you're not." She went into the room they had left, and they heard her stirring vigorously about beyond its closed door, with a noise of rapid steps and hard and soft thumpings. She came out again and said, "Go in there, now, Mr. Dylks, and try to get some rest. I've made up the bed for you, and I'll see that nobody disturbs you. Matthew Braile, you send and tell Mr. Hingston,—or go, if you can't ketch anybody goin' past,—and tell him he's here, and bring some decent clothes; he ain't fit to be seen."

"Well, he don't want to be," the Squire said in the attempt to brave her onset. "But I reckon you're right, mother. I should probably have thought of it myself—in time. I'll send Sally or Abel, if they go past—and they nearly always do—or some of the hands from the tobacco patches. Or, as you say, I may go myself, towards evening. He won't want to be troubled before then."

William Dean Howells

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