Chapter XII. How Ida Fared.
 

We left Ida confined in a dark closet, with Peg standing guard over her.

After an hour she was released.

"Well," said Peg, grimly, "how do you feel now?"

"I want to go home," sobbed the child.

"You are at home," said the woman. This is going to be your home now."

"Shall I never see father and mother and Jack, again?"

"Why," answered Peg, "that depends on how you behave yourself."

"Oh, if you will only let me go," said Ida, gathering hope from this remark, "I'll do anything you say."

"Do you mean this, or do you only say it for the sake of getting away?"

"Oh, I mean just what I say. Dear, good Mrs. Hardwick, just tell me what I am to do, and I will obey you cheerfully."

"Very well," said Peg, "only you needn't try to get anything out of me by calling me dear, good Mrs. Hardwick. In the first place, you don't care a cent about me. In the second place, I am not good; and finally, my name isn't Mrs. Hardwick, except in New York."

"What is it, then?" asked Ida.

"It's just Peg, no more and no less. You may call me Aunt Peg."

"I would rather call you Mrs. Hardwick."

"Then you'll have a good many years to call me so. You'd better do as I tell you if you want any favors. Now what do you say?"

"Yes, Aunt Peg," said Ida, with a strong effort to conceal her repugnance.

"That's well. Now the first thing to do, is to stay here for the present."

"Yes--aunt."

"The second is, you're not to tell anybody that you came from New York. That is very important. You understand that, do you?"

The child replied in the affirmative.

"The next is, that you're to pay for your board, by doing whatever I tell you."

"If it isn't wicked."

"Do you suppose I would ask you to do anything wicked?"

"You said you wasn't good," mildly suggested Ida.

"I'm good enough to take care of you. Well, what do you say to that? Answer me."

"Yes."

"There's another thing. You ain't to try to run away."

Ida hung down her head.

"Ha!" said Peg. "So you've been thinking of it, have you?"

"Yes," said Ida, boldly, after a moment's hesitation; "I did think I should if I got a good chance."

"Humph!" said the woman; "I see we must understand one another. Unless you promise this, back you go into the dark closet, and I shall keep you there all the time."

Ida shuddered at this fearful threat, terrible to a child of nine.

"Do you promise?"

"Yes," said the child, faintly.

"For fear you might be tempted to break your promise, I have something to show you."

She went to the cupboard, and took down a large pistol.

"There," she said, "do you see that?"

"Yes, Aunt Peg."

"What is it?"

"It is a pistol, I believe."

"Do you know what it is for?"

"To shoot people with," said Ida, fixing her eyes on the weapon, as if impelled by a species of fascination.

"Yes," said the woman; "I see you understand. Well, now, do you know what I would do if you should tell anybody where you came from, or attempt to run away? Can you guess now?"

"Would you shoot me?" asked the child, struck with terror.

"Yes, I would," said Peg, with fierce emphasis. "That's just what I'd do. And what's more," she added, "even if you got away, and got back to your family in New York. I would follow you and shoot you dead in the street."

"You wouldn't be so wicked!" exclaimed Ida, appalled.

"Wouldn't I, though?" repeated Peg, significantly. "If you don't believe I would, just try it. Do you think you would like to try it?"

"No," said the child, with a shudder.

"Well, that's the most sensible thing you've said yet. Now, that you have got to be a little more reasonable, I'll tell you what I am going to do with you."

Ida looked up eagerly into her face.

"I am going to keep you with me a year. I want the services of a little girl for that time. If you serve me faithfully, I will then send you back to your friends in New York."

"Will you?" said Ida, hopefully.

"Yes. But you must mind and do what I tell you."

"O yes," said the child, joyfully.

This was so much better than she had been led to fear, that the prospect of returning home, even after a year, gave her fresh courage.

"What shall I do?" she asked, anxious to conciliate Peg.

"You may take the broom,--you will find it just behind the door,--and sweep the room."

"Yes, Aunt Peg."

"And after that you may wash the dishes. Or, rather, you may wash the dishes first."

"Yes, Aunt Peg."

"And after that I will find something for you to do."

The next morning Ida was asked if she would like to go out into the street.

This was a welcome proposition, as the sun was shining brightly, and there was little to please a child's fancy in Peg's shabby apartment.

"I am going to let you do a little shopping," said Peg. "There are various things that we want. Go and get your bonnet."

"It's in the closet," said Ida.

"O yes, where I put it. That was before I could trust you."

She went to the closet, and came back bringing the bonnet and shawl. As soon as they were ready, they emerged into the street. Ida was glad to be in the open air once more.

"This is a little better than being shut up in the closet, isn't it?" said Peg.

Ida owned that it was.

"You see you'll have a very good time of it, if you do as I bid you. I don't want to do you any harm. I want you to be happy."

So they walked along together, until Peg, suddenly pausing, laid her hand on Ida's arm, and pointing to a shop near by, said to her, "Do you see that shop?"

"Yes," said Ida.

"Well, that is a baker's shop. And now I'll tell you what to do. I want you to go in, and ask for a couple of rolls. They come at three cents apiece. Here's some money to pay for them. It is a silver dollar, as you see. You will give this to them, and they will give you back ninety-four cents in change. Do you understand'?"

"Yes," said Ida; "I think I do."

"And if they ask if you haven't anything smaller, you will say no."

"Yes, Aunt Peg."

"I will stay just outside. I want you to go in alone, so that you will get used to doing without me."

Ida entered the shop. The baker, a pleasant-looking man, stood behind the counter.

"Well, my dear, what is it?" he asked.

"I should like a couple of rolls."

"For your mother, I suppose," said the baker, sociably.

"No," said Ida; "for the woman I board with."

"Ha! a silver dollar, and a new one, too," said the baker, receiving the coin tendered in payment. "I shall have to save that for my little girl."

Ida left the shop with the two rolls and the silver change.

"Did he say anything about the money?" asked Peg, a little anxiously.

"He said he should save it for his little girl."

"Good," said the woman, approvingly; "you've done well."

Ida could not help wondering what the baker's disposal of the dollar had to do with her doing well, but she was soon thinking of other things.