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Persimmon Jim: The Possum

Chapter 14
by Joseph Wharton Lippincott, 1924

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Persimmon Jim: The Possum  Intro    |    Preface    |    Ch. 1    |    Ch. 2    |    Ch. 3    |    Ch. 4    |    Ch. 5    |    Ch. 6    |    Ch. 7    |
                                              Ch. 8    |   
Ch. 9    |    Ch. 10    |    Ch. 11    |    Ch. 12    |    Ch. 13    |    Ch. 14    |    Ch. 15  |

Chapter 14: Shadows In The Night

ED JOHNSON, his back well propped with cushions, was sitting in front of the stove in the living-room of his little house, when a knock on the door aroused him, and Farmer Sam Collins came in.

"How are you this evening, Ed?" the farmer greeted him.

"Just a bit better, thank you. The doctor says no more bed; one week was enough! But I'm still crippled. Never be the same again! All the rheumatism seems to have settled in my legs."

Sam Collins, having removed hat and coat, took a seat opposite his chief assistant of the farm.

"Yes, I talked to the doctor, too," he said after a pause. "He tells me you've got to go away for treatment. That must have been a terrible night you had, getting that big 'possum. I wonder you didn't also catch pneumonia or grippe or something else. Where is the old critter now? "

Ed shifted his position with some difficulty and pulled aside the covering of a long box standing against the wall. The front was of wire and behind this, looking full at them, crouched Persimmon Jim.

"Great Cesar's ghost!" gasped the farmer. "He's enormous!" He stooped down to examine the animal more closely.  "He's an old one, Ed. Look at those tusks.  Wonder how many of my hens and Ben Slown's too are on his conscience. He doesn't seem to mind looking me in the eye though. That fur's worth a whole lot. When are you going to finish him off? "

Ed did not answer.

"Do you know," resumed the farmer, "a 'possum like this one, with a record such as his, oughtn't to be just done away with.  Some zoo or circus would be glad to get him. Have you thought of that, Ed?

"There was no reply, but he did not seem to notice it. He was still looking at Jim crouching there as motionless as if made of stone.

"Ed, what do you suppose he's thinking about? " he said at length in a low voice.

Ed nodded.

"Yes, that's what I wonder and have been wondering all these days. All night he just crouches there and looks. At first he tried to get out; chewed that wire until it's all bruised as you see. Tore the boards until I had to have tin put into protect the edges. Sometimes he almost sounded like a man with an axe splitting kindlin', But he found it was no use, yes, he gave that up.  I believe," Ed continued after a pause, "that he looks right through these walls, or thinks he does, and is seeing the woods in the moonlight and the Creek whirling by.  When I sit here or lie around all day with this rheumatism I see things outside, just like that. Yes, I think I know how he feels."

For several minutes both men sat silent, watching the 'possum crouching there, so quiet and yet every inch a creature of the wild --powerful, untamable.

"Ed," said Sam Collins finally, "you've done a lot for me. And I'd like to see you get well and stay well. So," he hesitated a moment, "the doctor and I have fixed things up together that you get that little trip he spoke of and go to a better climate.  Then, when you get all right, come back again, Ed. What do you say? I have a friend there who will look after you and --" but he saw he need say no more.  It was Ed's big chance to get back his health.

"We'll arrange to start next week, shall we? " he called back as he opened the door.  "All right. Good-night and the best of luck! "

Left alone, Ed leaned back in his easy chair, but still watched Jim as if he could not take his eyes off him. He was going over in his mind all the happenings of that night when he captured the old 'possum and when the wet and the cold got into his own bones and brought him down to this plight. He thought of that lonesome, tireless hunt of Jim, for a mate he could not find.

Too comfortable to take the painful trip up-stairs, Ed continued to sit there beside the warm stove until the oil in the lamp gave out and he began to doze in the darkened room. Twice, disturbed by a grating noise, he partly aroused himself but went to sleep again; the third time the bright moonlight on the floor caught his attention.  Had it moved or was he still dreaming?

While he watched intently, a shadow appeared and passed directly across the white patch on the rug, a shadow curiously suggestive of the outline of some huge beast.  No sooner had it crossed than it, or another like it, came back again. Backwards and forwards on the moonlit area it travelled in utter stillness, with Ed sitting there too bewildered to move.

At length the man pulled himself together sufficiently to noiselessly shift his chair around so that he could look at the window behind him; but, as if by magic, at his first motion the shadow had stopped and then suddenly disappeared. At this Ed had a chilly feeling creep along his spine and up through the roots of his hair; he looked this way and that in expectation of the creature's appearance close to him, and with sudden inspiration, groped for the match-box and lit up the room with three matches at once.

Not a thing could he see wrong, not a sound could he hear. Still full of the chilly sensation, he lit two candles on the mantelpiece and with one of them examined the 'possum's box. There crouched Jim behind the wire, looking at him, or through him, with that far-away gaze. After that Ed went up-stairs, not quite as slowly as one might expect from a man suffering so from the rheumatism.

In the morning he made a thorough examination of the room and found nothing unusual. Jim slept quietly in his bed of hay. There was not a sign of the weird creature either inside or outside the window.  Whereupon Ed resolved to spend the following night watching in safety from the top of the stairs.

He retired early, leaving a lamp burning low and everything else as before. The later rising of the moon seemed to cause delay in the appearance of the apparition, so Ed dozed again although very cramped in his position on the stairway.

A strange feeling aroused him. Wide awake now with hair fairly standing on end he realized that a soft, bulky object was slowly and carefully squeezing past him. This was too much for Ed; he forgot the stair, and made a dive which ended suddenly on the floor of the living-room. Entirely unhurt, however, he turned the lamp high and whirled around, only to find nothing on the stair.

Ed, although scared through and through, now undertook to pussy-foot upstairs. Pulling himself up cautiously in the absolute stillness of the little house he peered into the moonlit room at the top and found the shadow coming towards him along the floor. At this he nearly made a back dive, but somehow held on to the railing until the black thing came to the end of the strip of moonlight and moved in the other direction.

He now with utmost caution stuck his head around the edge of the doorway until he could see the whole room and the window; then his face relaxed, for on the window-sill in the full glare of the moon, Jim was travelling backwards and forwards trying to get out. Ed felt so much relieved that he let out one of his old-time yells.

"Ya-hoo!" he called, and limping forward, quickly had the big 'possum by the taiL Poor Jim! As a youngster he had escaped through a window. Now he had failed.

Ed carried him back to the box and for some time tried in vain to find out how he had escaped. At length, however, he saw that the wire at the bottom was loosened by three nails being completely gnawed out of the wood. Somehow on the night previous the 'possum had squeezed himself through this aperture and then back again. The sawdust he had eaten in part, the remainder being hidden in the cracks of the box's bottom. How many nights he had been wandering about testing the windows, Ed never knew. Now, returned to his prison, the old warrior limped slowly to his corner in a hopeless kind of way. Ed too limped, back to his chair, there to think over many things until almost morning.

The next day was Sunday, and Monday was fixed as the time when Ed would move.

...continue to Chapter 15: The Hunt