Chapter X. Unexpected Quarters.
 

The appearance of the man whom Mrs. Hardwick addressed so familiarly was more picturesque than pleasing. He had a large, broad face, which, not having been shaved for a week, looked like a wilderness of stubble. His nose indicated habitual indulgence in alcoholic beverages. His eyes, likewise, were bloodshot, and his skin looked coarse and blotched; his coat was thrown aside, displaying a shirt which bore evidence of having been useful in its day and generation. The same remark may apply to his nether integuments, which were ventilated at each knee, indicating a most praiseworthy regard to the laws of health. He was sitting in a chair pitched back against the wall, with his feet resting on another, and a short Dutch pipe in his mouth, from which volumes of smoke were pouring.

Ida thought she had never seen before so disgusting a man. She continued to gaze at him, half in astonishment, half in terror, till the object of her attention exclaimed,--

"Well, little girl, what you're looking at? Hain't you never seen a gentleman before?"

Ida clung the closer to her companion, who, she was surprised to find, did not resent the man's impertinence.

"Well, Dick, how've you got along since I've been gone?" asked Mrs. Hardwick, to Ida's unbounded astonishment.

"Oh, so so."

"Have you felt lonely any?"

"I've had good company."

"Who's been here?"

Dick pointed significantly to a jug, which stood beside his chair.

"So you've brought the gal. How did you get hold of her?"

There was something in these questions which terrified Ida. It seemed to indicate a degree of complicity between these two, which boded no good to her.

"I'll tell you the particulars by and by," said the nurse, looking significantly at the child's expressive face.

At the same time she began to take off her bonnet.

"You ain't going to stop, are you?" whispered Ida.

"Ain't going to stop!" repeated the man called Dick. "Why shouldn't she? Ain't she at home?"

"At home!" echoed Ida, apprehensively, opening wide her eyes in astonishment.

"Yes, ask her."

Ida looked, inquiringly, at Mrs. Hardwick.

"You might as well take off your things," said the latter, grimly. "We ain't going any farther to-day."

"And where's the lady you said you were going to see?" asked the child, bewildered.

"The one that was interested in you?"

"Yes."

"Well, I'm the one."

"You!"

"Yes."

"I don't want to stay here," said Ida, becoming frightened.

"Well, what are you going to do about it?" asked the woman, mockingly.

"Will you take me back early to-morrow?"

"No, I don't intend to take you back at all," said the nurse, coolly.

Ida seemed stupefied with astonishment and terror at first. Then, actuated by a sudden impulse, she ran to the door, and had got it open when the nurse sprang forward, and seizing her by the arm, dragged her rudely back.

"Where are you going in such a hurry?" she demanded, roughly.

"Back to father and mother," said Ida, bursting into tears. "Oh, why did you carry me away?"

"I'll tell you why," answered Dick, jocularly. "You see, Ida, we ain't got any little girl to love us, and so we got you."

"But I don't love you, and I never shall," said Ida, indignantly.

"Now don't you go to saying that," said Dick. "You'll break my heart, you will, and then Peg will be a widow."

To give effect to this pathetic speech, Dick drew out a tattered red handkerchief, and made a great demonstration of wiping his eyes.

The whole scene was so ludicrous that Ida, despite her fears and disgust, could not help laughing hysterically. She recovered herself instantly, and said, imploringly, "Oh, do let me go, and father will pay you; I'm sure he will."

"You really think he would?" said Dick.

"Oh, yes; and you'll tell her to carry me back, won't you?"

"No, he won't tell me any such thing," said Peg, gruffly; "and if he did, I wouldn't do it; so you might as well give up all thoughts of that first as last. You're going to stay here; so take off that bonnet of yours, and say no more about it."

Ida made no motion towards obeying this mandate.

"Then I'll do it for you," said Peg.

She roughly untied the bonnet, Ida struggling vainly in opposition, and taking this with the shawl, carried them to a closet, in which she placed them, and then, locking the door, deliberately put the key in her pocket.

"There," said she, "I guess you're safe for the present."

"Ain't you ever going to carry me back?" asked Ida, wishing to know the worst.

"Some years hence," said the woman, coolly. "We want you here for the present. Besides, you're not sure that they want to see you back again."

"Not glad to see me?"

"No; how do you know but your father and mother sent you off on purpose? They've been troubled with you long enough, and now they've bound you apprentice to me till you're eighteen."

"It's a lie," said Ida, firmly. "They didn't send me off, and you're a wicked woman to keep me here."

"Hoity-toity!" said the woman, pausing and looking menacingly at the child. "Have you anything more to say before I whip you?"

"Yes," said Ida, goaded to desperation; "I shall complain of you to the police, and they will put you in jail, and send me home. That is what I will do."

The nurse seized Ida by the arm, and striding with her to the closet already spoken of, unlocked it, and rudely pushing her in, locked the door after her.

"She's a spunky 'un," remarked Dick, taking the pipe from his mouth.

"Yes," said the woman, "she makes more fuss than I thought she would."

"How did you manage to come it over her family?" asked Dick.

His wife, gave substantially, the same account with which the reader is already familiar.

"Pretty well done, old woman!" exclaimed Dick, approvingly. "I always said you was a deep 'un. I always say if Peg can't find out a way to do a thing it can't be done, no how."

"How about the counterfeit coin?" asked his wife, abruptly.

"They're to supply us with all we can get off, and we are to have one half of all we succeed in passing."

"That is good," said the woman, thoughtfully. "When this girl Ida gets a little tamed down, we'll give her some business to do."

"Won't she betray us if she gets caught?"

"We'll manage that, or at least I will. I'll work on her fears so that she won't any more dare to say a word about us than to cut her own head off."

Ida sank down on the floor of the closet into which she had been thrust. Utter darkness was around her, and a darkness as black seemed to hang over all her prospects of future happiness. She had been snatched in a moment from parents, or those whom she regarded as such, and from a comfortable and happy though humble home, to this dismal place. In place of the kindness and indulgence to which she had been accustomed, she was now treated with harshness and cruelty. What wonder that her heart desponded, and her tears of childish sorrow flowed freely?