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HOME > Classical Novels > The Worst Boy in Town > CHAPTER XV. RUNNING AWAY.
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Jack's first care was to get out of town; once out of sight of any house, however, he began to wonder seriously what course he should take. The terrible thirst with which he was consuming suggested that he should keep close to the river, the water of which, now that October had come, was quite cool. There was a scarcity of houses along the river bank, and Jack had entirely forgotten to bring any food with him; still, if he developed no more appetite than he had at present, he would want nothing to eat for days. Besides, the river bank was well wooded for miles, and though the trees had begun to shed their leaves, there was still foliage enough to secrete a boy from anyone who might be impertinently curious. Still better, the dry leaves would make a delightful couch, and Jack began to think that the sooner he tried them the more comfortable he would be, for his head persisted in aching, and his legs were very weak. So within two miles of town, he halted, scraped a great many leaves against a fallen tree, as he had heard was the habit of hunters and trappers, and stretched himself upon them. The air was balmy, the shade was most grateful, so Jack soon dropped into a slumber.

When he awoke, it was quite dark, and he found himself unaccountably chilly. Fortunately he had brought matches, so he managed to make a fire of leaves and dead sticks, and the blaze was very cheering. But, somehow, he could find no side of that fire at which he could stand without having the wind blow smoke into his eyes, and his brandy-swollen optics were not in a condition to endure smoke with equanimity, even for the sake of belonging to a runaway who was going to enable them to see all the wonders of distant lands. Finally, Jack scraped the fire toward his bed, and by lying on the latter he avoided the smoke and obtained his first tuition in positive woodcraft. Piling on additional wood, he soon had a very bright fire, in front of which he again dropped asleep, but the fire crawled from leaf to leaf until it reached his bed, and he awoke to find himself half smothered, and his clothing charred in several places. His tours for fuel began to extend farther than the light of his fire, so that he had to feel about very carefully for wood, and the rustle in which the dead boughs indulged as he dragged them from beneath the leaves suggested snakes, of which Jack stood in deadly terror. The obduracy of several small dead trees provoked him beyond the limits of his small store of patience, the smokiness of old and rotten boughs did not tend to peace of body and mind, so Jack began to swear and then to cry. Both of these exercises made him feel better in some way, however, and he at last succeeded in making a very large fire.


But he realized, for the first time in his life, that the blood of a man recovering from intoxication, acts as if it had been passed through a refrigerator. He revolved before that fire as if he had been upon a turnspit, but cold chills would creep down his back while his front was roasting. He wished that somebody had accompanied him, so that he would not be so dreadfully lonesome, and the remarks of a distant owl, who exclaimed "Hoo—hoo—hoo—hoo—are you?" in endless iteration, did not at all satisfy his longing for human society. There was at least one comfort to be anticipated,—the morning could not be far distant.

As Nature slowly cleared his head, Jack began to weave plans for the future. Whether to go east or west, he could not for a long time decide. The two countries were about equi-distant, and each had its advantages, but the tendency of story papers for boys preponderated strongly in favor of the latter; besides, the names of certain western localities were particularly enticing, so he decided to go west. He wished he had a revolver, but if he could beg or work his way west on the trains, as runaway boys always did in stories, he might have money enough left to buy a second-hand pistol. Besides, he could sell his personal effects—all but his fishing tackle and his Bible and nice little Mattie Barker's bouquet; as for the Bible, he must have a breast pocket made for that at once. If the morning would only come!

Suddenly he heard a familiar bell; ha!—a fire had broken out in Doveton, and he was not there to see it. Well, he deserved some punishment for his wrong-doings, and he felt that this would be a sufficient one, for a fire was a rarity at Doveton, and he was therefore losing a great deal. The peal ran on, but stopped at the ninth stroke. What? Could it be but nine o'clock? The night seemed to grow darker and colder all in an instant, as Jack realized that he must have fallen asleep about noon and was to be alone in the woods all night.

Then the wind awoke, and made the most dismal of noises in the trees overhead, and it blew harder and harder, and once in a while it disturbed a bird who protested shrilly and with a suddenness that sent Jack's heart into his mouth. The wind stirred the leaves, and Jack recalled, with violent agitation, the fact that a panther had been seen in those very woods a few years before. He had heard that such animals were attracted by bright lights, so the reflection of fire on dewy leaves a little way off took, to Jack's eyes, the shape of the glaring eyes of a wild animal. He hastily separated the sticks on his fire, and beat down the coals, looking behind him several times a minute as he did so, for fear the animal might spring suddenly upon him. Would a mother's Bible arrest the jaws of a panther, he wondered, and if so, to what part of his person would it be advisable to tie the Holy Book?

Then the velocity of the wind increased, and, soon a drop of water struck Jack in the face. It must have been dew, shaken from the trees overhead? But no; another drop came, and then another, and then several at a time, and then too many to count. It was raining! Jack began to cry in good earnest, but something must be done, so he began to strip bark from the dead tree against which he had lain. It came off in very small pieces at first, but by careful handling, Jack managed to get several strips long enough to reach from the ground to the log as he lay under them. But even then things did not work as they should. Between each two pieces there was an aperture, so in a few moments the rain had marked out at least four vertical sections of Jack's clothing and made itself felt on his skin. A slight drawing up of the knees displaced one piece of bark, and the cautious twisting necessitated by the replacing of this piece, disarranged two others.

And this was the sort of thing which he would probably have to endure all night! Jack cried and shivered, and shivered and cried, until his coat sleeve was wet with tears, and his remaining garments were soaked with the rain which the continual displacement of the bark admitted. He thought of other lone wanderers—Robinson Crusoe, Reuben Davidger, the Prodigal Son, but all of these had lucky things happen to them. Even the last-named personage had something to eat, such as it was, ............
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