Timothy Crump's Ward: A Story of American Life by Horatio Alger
Chapter XX. Jack in Confinement.
The anxiety of Mr. Abel Crump's family, when Jack failed to return at night, can be imagined. They feared that he had fallen among unscrupulous persons, of whom there is no lack in every large city, and that some ill had come to him. The baker instituted immediate inquiries, but was unsuccessful in obtaining any trace of his nephew. He resolved to delay as long as possible communicating the sad intelligence to his brother Timothy, who he knew would be quite (sic) overwhelwed by this double blow.
In the mean time, let us see how Jack enjoyed himself. We will look in upon him after he has been confined four days. To a youth as active as himself, nothing could be more wearisome. It did not add to his cheerfulness to reflect that Ida was in the power of the one who had brought upon him his imprisonment, while he was absolutely unable to help her. He did not lack for food. This was brought him three times a day. His meals, in fact, were all he had to look forward to, to break the monotony of his confinement. The books upon the table were not of a kind likely to interest him, though he had tried to find entertainment in them.
Four days he had lived, or rather vegetated in this way. His spirit chafed against the confinement.
"I believe," thought he, "I would sooner die than be imprisoned for a long term. Yet," and here he sighed, "who knows what may be the length of my present confinement? They will be sure to find some excuse for retaining me."
While he was indulging in these uncomfortable reflections, suddenly the little door in the wall, previously referred to, slid open, and revealed the old man who had first supplied him with food. To explain the motive of his present visit, it will be remembered that he was under a misapprehension in regard to the cause of Jack's confinement. He naturally supposed that our hero was acquainted with the unlawful practises of the gang of coiners with which he was connected.
The old man, whose name was Foley, had been favorably impressed by the bold bearing of Jack, and the idea had occurred to him that he might be able to win him as an accomplice. He judged, that if once induced to join them, he would prove eminently useful. Another motive which led him to favor this project was, that it would be very embarrassing to be compelled to keep Jack in perpetual custody, as well as involve a considerable expense.
Jack was somewhat surprised at the old man's visit.
"How long are you going to keep me cooped up here?" he inquired, impatiently.
"Don't you find your quarters comfortable?" asked Foley.
"As comfortable as any prison, I suppose."
"My young friend, don't talk of imprisonment. You make me shudder. You must banish all thoughts of such a disagreeable subject."
"I wish I could," groaned poor Jack.
"Consider yourself as my guest, whom I delight to entertain."
"But, I don't like the entertainment."
"The more the pity."
"How long is this going to last? Even a prisoner knows the term of his imprisonment."
"My young friend," said Foley, "I do not desire to control your inclinations. I am ready to let you go whenever you say the word."
"You are?" returned Jack, incredulously. "Then suppose I ask you to let me go immediately."
"Certainly, I will; but upon one condition."
"What is it?"
"It so happens, my young friend, that you are acquainted with a secret which might prove troublesome to me."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Jack, mystified.
"Yes; you see I have found it out. Such things do not escape me."
"I don't know what you mean," returned Jack, perplexed.
"No doubt, no doubt,", said Foley, cunningly. "Of course, if I should tell you that I was in the coining business, it would be altogether new to you."
"On my honor," said Jack, "this is the first I knew of it. I never saw or heard of you before I came into this house."
"Could Peg be mistaken?" thought Foley. "But no, no; he is only trying to deceive me. I am too old a bird to be caught with such chaff."
"Of course, I won't dispute your word, my young friend," he said, softly; "but there is one tiling certain; if you didn't know it before you know it now."
"And you are afraid that I shall denounce you to the police."
"Well, there is a possibility of that. That class of people have a little prejudice against us, though we are only doing what everybody wants to do, making money."
The old man chuckled and rubbed his hands at this joke, which he evidently considered a remarkably good one.
Jack reflected a moment.
"Will you let me go if I will promise to keep your secret?" he asked.
"How could I be sure you would do it?"
"I would pledge my word."
"Your word!" Foley snapped his fingers in derision. "That is not sufficient."
"What will be?"
"You must become one of us."
"One of you!"
Jack started in surprise at a proposition so unexpected.
"Yes. You must make yourself liable to the same penalties, so that it will be for your own interest to keep silent. Otherwise we cannot trust you."
"And suppose I decline these terms," said Jack.
"Then I shall be under the painful necessity of retaining you as my guest."
Foley smiled disagreeably.
Jack walked the room in perturbation. He felt that imprisonment would be better than liberty, on such terms. At the same time he did not refuse unequivocally, as possibly stricter watch than ever night be kept over him.
He thought it best to temporize.
"Well, what do you say?" asked the old man.
"I should like to take time to reflect upon your proposal," said Jack. "It is of so important a character that I do not like to decide at once."
"How long do you require?"
"Two days," returned Jack. "If I should come to a decision sooner, I will let you know."
"Agreed. Meanwhile can I do anything to promote your comfort? I want you to enjoy yourself as well as you can under the circumstances."
"If you have any interesting books, I wish you would send them up. It is rather dull staying here with nothing to do."
"You shall have something to do as soon as you please, my young friend. As to books, we are not very bountifully supplied with that article. We ain't any of us college graduates, but I will see what I can do for you in that way. I'll be back directly."
Foley disappeared, but soon after returned, laden with one or two old magazines, and a worn copy of the "Adventures of Baron Trenck."
It may be that the reader has never encountered a copy of this singular book. Baron Trenck was several times imprisoned for political offences, and this book contains an account of the manner in which he succeeded, in some cases after years of labor, in breaking from his dungeon. His feats in this way are truly wonderful, and, if not true, at least they have so very much similitude that they find no difficulty in winning the reader's credence.
Such was the book which Foley placed in Jack's hands. He must have been in ignorance of the character of the book, since it was evident to what thoughts it would lead the mind of the prisoner.
Jack read the book with intense interest. It was just such a one as he would have read with avidity under any circumstances. It gratified his taste for adventure, and he entered heart and soul into the Baron's plans, and felt a corresponding gratification when he succeeded. When he completed the perusal of the fascinating volume, he thought, "Why cannot I imitate Baron Trenck? He was far worse off than I am. If he could succeed in overcoming so many obstacles, it is a pity if I cannot find some means of escape."
He looked about the room in the hope that some plan might be suggested.