Chapter 12: Dan's Christmas
Where was Dan? In prison. Alas for Mrs Jo! how her heart would have ached if
she had known that while old Plum shone with Christmas cheer her boy sat alone
in his cell, trying to read the little book she gave him, with eyes dimmed now and
then by the hot tears no physical suffering had ever wrung from him, and longing
with a homesick heart for all that he had lost.
Yes, Dan was in prison; but no cry for help from him as he faced the terrible strait
he was in with the dumb despair of an Indian at the stake; for his own bosom sin
had brought him there, and this was to be the bitter lesson that tamed the lawless
spirit and taught him self-control.
The story of his downfall is soon told; for it came, as so often happens, just when
he felt unusually full of high hopes, good resolutions, and dreams of a better life.
On his journey he met a pleasant young fellow, and naturally felt an interest in
him, as Blair was on his way to join his elder brothers on a ranch in Kansas.
Card-playing was going on in the smoking-car, and the lad--for he was barely
twenty--tired with the long journey, beguiled the way with such partners as
appeared, being full of spirits, and a little intoxicated with the freedom of the
West. Dan, true to his promise, would not join, but watched with intense interest
the games that went on, and soon made up his mind that two of the men were
sharpers anxious to fleece the boy, who had imprudently displayed a well-filled
pocket-book. Dan always had a soft spot in his heart for any younger, weaker
creature whom he met, and something about the lad reminded him of Teddy; so
he kept an eye on Blair, and warned him against his new friends.
Vainly, of course; for when all stopped overnight in one of the great cities, Dan
missed the boy from the hotel whither he had taken him for safe-keeping; and
learning who had come for him, went to find him, calling himself a fool for his
pains, yet unable to leave the confiding boy to the dangers that surrounded him.
He found him gambling in a low place with the men, who were bound to have his
money; and by the look of relief on Blair's anxious face when he saw him Dan
knew without words that things were going badly with him, and he saw the peril
'I can't come yet--I've lost; it's not my money; I must get it back, or I dare not face
my brothers,' whispered the poor lad, when Dan begged him to get away without
further loss. Shame and fear made him desperate; and he played on, sure that
he could recover the money confided to his care. Seeing Dan's resolute face,
keen eye, and travelled air, the sharpers were wary, played fair, and let the boy
win a little; but they had no mind to give up their prey, and finding that Dan stood
sentinel at the boy's back, an ominous glance was exchanged between them,
'We must get this fellow out of the way.'
Dan saw it, and was on his guard; for he and Blair were strangers, evil deeds are
easily done in such places, and no tales told. But he would not desert the boy,
and still kept watch of every card till he plainly detected false play, and boldly
said so. High words passed, Dan's indignation overcame his prudence; and when