Chapter XIX. Caught in a Trap.
 

Jack and his guide paused in front of a three-story brick building of respectable appearance.

"Docs Ida's mother live here?" interrogated Jack.

"Yes," said Peg, coolly. "Follow me up the steps."

The woman led the way, and Jack followed.

The former rang the bell. An untidy servant girl made her appearance.

"We will go up-stairs, Bridget," said Peg.

Without betraying any astonishment, the servant conducted them to an upper room, and opened the door.

"If you will go in and take a seat," said Peg, "I will send Ida to you immediately."

She closed the door after him, and very softly slipped the bolt which had been placed on the outside. She then hastened downstairs, and finding the proprietor of the house, who was a little old man with a shrewd, twinkling eye, and a long aquiline nose, she said to this man, who was a leading spirit among the coiners into whose employ she and her husband had entered, "I want you to keep this lad in confinement, until I give you notice that it will be safe to let him go."

"What has he done?" asked the old man.

"He is acquainted with a secret dangerous to both of us," answered Peg, with intentional prevarication; for she knew that, if it were supposed that she only had an interest in Jack's detention, they would not take the trouble to keep him.

"Ha!" exclaimed the old man; "is that so? Then, I warrant me, he can't get out unless he has sharp claws."

"Fairly trapped, my young bird," thought Peg, as she hastened away; "I rather think that will put a stop to your troublesome interference for the present. You haven't lived quite long enough to be a match for old Peg. You'll find that out by and by. Ha, ha! won't your worthy uncle, the baker, be puzzled to know why you don't come home to-night?"

Meanwhile Jack, wholly unsuspicious that any trick had been played upon him, seated himself in a rocking-chair, waiting impatiently for the coming of Ida, whom he was resolved to carry back with him to New York if his persuasions could effect it.

Impelled by a natural curiosity he examined, attentively, the room in which he was seated. It was furnished moderately well; that is, as well as the sitting-room of a family in moderate circumstances. The floor was covered with a plain carpet. There was a sofa, a mirror, and several chairs covered with hair-cloth were standing stiffly at the windows. There were one or two engravings, of no great artistic excellence, hanging against the walls. On the centre-table were two or three books. Such was the room into which Jack had been introduced.

Jack waited patiently for twenty minutes. Then he began to grow impatient.

"Perhaps Ida is out," thought our hero; "but, if she is, Mrs. Hardwick ought to come and let me know."

Another fifteen minutes passed, and still Ida came not.

"This is rather singular," thought Jack. "She can't have told Ida that I am here, or I am sure she would rush up at once to see her brother Jack."

At length, tired of waiting, and under the impression that he had been forgotten, Jack walked to the door, and placing his hand upon the latch, attempted to open it.

There was a greater resistance than he had anticipated.

Supposing that it must stick, he used increased exertion, but the door perversely refused to open.

"Good heavens!" thought Jack, the real state of the case flashing upon him, "is it possible that I am locked in?"

To determine this he employed all his strength, but the door still resisted. He could no longer doubt.

He rushed to the windows. There were two in number, and looked out upon a court in the rear of the house. No part of the street was visible from them; therefore there was no hope of drawing the attention of passers-by to his situation.

Confounded by this discovery, Jack sank into his chair in no very enviable state of mind.

"Well," thought he, "this is a pretty situation for me to be in! I wonder what father would say if he knew that I was locked up like a prisoner. And then to think I let that treacherous woman, Mrs. Hardwick, lead me so quietly into a snare. Aunt Rachel was about right when she said I wasn't fit to come alone. I hope she'll never find out this adventure of mine; I never should hear the last of it."

Jack's mortification was extreme. His self-love was severely wounded by the thought that a woman had got the better of him, and he resolved, if he ever got out, that he would make Mrs. Hardwick suffer, he didn't quite know how, for the manner in which she had treated him.

Time passed. Every hour seemed to poor Jack to contain at least double the number of minutes which are usually reckoned to that division of time. Moreover, not having eaten for several hours, he was getting hungry.

A horrible suspicion flashed across his mind. "The wretches can't mean to starve me, can they?" he asked himself, while, despite his constitutional courage, he could not help shuddering at the idea.

He was unexpectedly answered by the sliding of a little door in the wall, and the appearance of the old man whose interview with Peg has been referred to.

"Are you getting hungry, my dear sir?" he inquired, with a disagreeable smile upon his features.

"Why am I confined here?" demanded Jack, in a tone of irritation.

"Why are you confined?" repeated his interlocutor. "Really, one would think you did not find your quarters comfortable."

"I am so far from finding them comfortable that I insist upon leaving them immediately," returned Jack.

"Then all you have got to do is to walk through that door.

"It is locked; I can't open it."

"Can't open it!" repeated the old man, with another disagreeable leer; "perhaps, then, it will be well for you to wait till you are strong enough."

Irritated by this reply, Jack threw himself spitefully against the door, but to no purpose.

"The old man laughed in a cracked, wheezing way.

"Good fellow!" said he, encouragingly. "try it again! Won't you try it again? Better luck next time."

Jack throw himself sullenly into a chair.

"Where is the woman that brought me here?" he asked.

"Peg? Oh, she couldn't stay. She had important business to transact, my young friend, and so she has gone; but don't feel anxious. She commended you to our particular attention, and you will be just as well treated as if she were here."

This assurance was not very well calculated to comfort Jack.

"How long are you going to keep me cooped up here?" he asked, desperately, wishing to learn the worst at once.

"Really, my young friend, I couldn't say. We are very hospitable, very. We always like to have our friends with us as long as possible."

Jack groaned internally at the prospect before him.

"One question more," he said, "will you tell me if my sister Ida is in this house?"

"Your sister Ida!" repeated the old man, surprised in his turn.

"Yes," said Jack; believing, his astonishment feigned. "You needn't pretend that you don't know anything about her. I know that she is in your hands."

"Then if you know so much," said the other, shrugging his shoulders, "there is no need of asking."

Jack was about to press the question, but the old man, anticipating him, pointed to a plate of food which he pushed in upon a shelf, just in front of the sliding door, and said: "Here's some supper for you. When you get ready to go to bed you can lie down on the sofa. Sorry we didn't know of your coming, or we would have got our best bed-chamber ready for you. Good-night, and pleasant dreams!"

Smiling disagreeably he slid to the door, bolted it, and disappeared, leaving Jack more depressed, if possible, than before.