Hobblin’ Bob and Wiley Jeb formed quite a bond over the winter. In addition to being in a near-constant state of reverie from the seemingly endless stores of wine, cheese, meat, etc. that Bob had buried in his cellar, the two managed to finish a game of Monopoly and read the entirety of Moby Dick while acting out the parts. Bob, it turns out, was a consultant to Melville, so his performances were especially captivating. They both spent some time whittling, as one does, but for the most part they just lounged in the wood-fired hot tub they built behind Bob’s cabin immediately after Jeb had regained his strength. It was an incredible tub, built out of cedar from the surrounding forest and coupled with an old pot belly stove Bob had been holding on to for, as he said, “Just such an occasion.”
"The two would spend their hours immersed, often talking about philosophy and/or their lives but more commonly in silence, eyes closed (or open), lost in their own thoughts and comforted by the warm embrace of their tub.”
During the coldest part of the winter, when the wind blew shards of ice over the top of their tub, prickling the hair on the top of his head and scouring the side of his face, Jeb believed that he had found what he was looking for—this was heaven. But as the weather started to warm and the white canvas was colored with the vibrant foliage and hale grasses of spring, Jeb once again grew restless. The tub had come from the dominion of man, and therefore implicit in its construction were the imperfections of man. No matter how comfortable, no matter how perfect, this idea lingered in Jeb’s mind. He would need to continue his search, he was now certain that the pool he was looking for must be natural, unspoiled by the hands of man, and that he couldn’t—he wouldn’t—settle . He discussed this with Bob, and Bob agreed that once the snow had finally receded in the high meadow above the trees he would take him around to the holes he knew about.
Spring lingered. Late season storms brought an unusual amount of snow to the area, leaving the high meadow covered and covered again. Jeb was distraught; no amount of a wine or cheese could assuage his desire; the tub they had constructed was no longer a haven but a cage. He began to hike to the meadow daily, taking readings of the snow depth and spending hours breathing heavily on the snow hoping that his warm breath would encourage it to melt. April passed and still there was deep snow on the ground. Jeb’s anxiety worried Bob. “Hey pard, you’re going to need to settle yourself down. Sometime’s winters out here are like this, snows all spring, we might not hardly get a summer at all this year.” Jeb stared at him slack jawed. He was so close: in his sleep he could hear the gurgling of his pool, in his dreams the cool, clear water washed away the heated desire that plagued his waking hours. It was only in sleep that he was calm, but this was not enough for Jeb, nor is it for any man. “What are you telling me Bob? That we might not even find my pool this summer? Is that it? I couldn’t bear that Bob, I just couldn’t bear it.”
Bob had seen men act like this before: men with whale fever, gold fever, swine fever, dog fever (just to name a few). Bob knew as well as anyone that the world was overrun by fevers: he had escaped into the wilderness to distance himself from all this sickness. He knew that there was nothing in this world that could calm a man once worked into such a state, and he had to allow that Jeb might be lost.
Days passed, then weeks, and while the sky cleared and the snow stopped falling, the summer heat refused to attend. The high meadow refused to reveal itself, deaf to Jeb’s pleading. In his desperation he announced to Bob, “I can’t take it anymore, I have to head out, I cannot staunch this thirst any longer. Bob, I’d be happy for your help but I must got.” There was nothing that Bob could do, his friend had made up his mind.11Bob considered going out his loyalty to Jeb, but only for a moment. Hobblin’ Bob had hobbled through too many trials during his life as it was. But Bob recognized that if he were to break his vow to wait until the meadow was free from snow to show Jeb the mountains, he’d be setting a dangerous precedent. “Jeb, I cannot go with you. If you choose to wait until the snows are gone, I can show you enough swimming holes to float your mind for years to come. But only if you wait.”
"I can’t wait any longer Bob. I'm starting to feel like a burnt out piece of timber, black, brittle, and with my life behind me. If I don’t get to searching now, I fear what I’ll become.”
With that, Wiley Jeb collected his things and walked to the door. “Bob,” he said, turning around to face the man who saved him. “You may have been my only friend, and I thank you for that.” As he climbed towards the high mountains, cracking through the thin brittle snow, the tub, the cabin, and Bob himself began to vanish. Reaching the crest of the hill at the edge of the valley Jeb did allow himself to look back, but he could no longer see his friend or his winter’s refuge. It was only when he turned back towards his destiny and a hot splash of summer air fell upon his face did he understand where Hobblin’ Bob had gone.