Chapter XXI. The Prisoner Escapes.
 

To give an idea of the difficulties of Jack's situation, let it be repeated that there was but one door to the room, and this was bolted on the outside. The room was in the second story. The only two windows looked out upon a court. These windows were securely fastened. Still a way might have been devised to break through them, if this would at all have improved his condition. Of this, however, there seemed but little chance. Even if he had succeeded in getting safely into the court, there would have been difficulty and danger in getting into the street.

All these considerations passed through Jack's mind, and occasioned him no little perplexity. He began to think that the redoubtable Baron Trenck himself might have been puzzled, if placed under similar circumstances.

At length this suggestion occurred to him: Why might he not cut a hole through the door, just above or below the bolt, sufficiently large for him to thrust his hand through, and slip it back? Should he succeed in this, he would steal down stairs, and as, in all probability, the key would be in the outside door, he could open it, and then he would be free.

With hope springing up anew in his heart, he hastened to the door and examined it. It was of common strength. He might, perhaps, have been able to kick it open, but of course this was not to be thought of, as the noise would at once attract the attention of those interested in frustrating his plans.

Fortunately, Jack was provided with a large, sharp jack-knife. He did not propose, however, to commence operations at present. In the daytime he would be too subject to a surprise. With evening, he resolved to commence his work. He might be unsuccessful, and subjected, in consequence, to a more rigorous confinement; but of this he must run the risk. "Nothing venture, nothing have."

Jack awaited the coming of evening with impatience. The afternoon had never seemed so long.

It came at last--a fine moonlight night. This was fortunate, for his accommodating host, from motives of economy possibly, was not in the habit of providing him with a candle.

Jack thought it prudent to wait till he heard the city clocks pealing the hour of twelve. By this time, as far as he could see from his windows, there were no lights burning, and all who occupied the building were probably asleep.

He selected that part of the door which he judged to be directly under the bolt, and began to cut away with his knife. The wood was soft, and easy of excavation. In the course of half an hour Jack had cut a hole sufficiently large to pass his hand through, but found that, in order to reach the bolt, he must enlarge it a little. This took him fifteen minutes longer.

His efforts were crowned with success. As the city clock struck one Jack softly drew back the bolt, and, with a wild throb of joy, felt that freedom was half regained. But his (sic) embarassments were not quite at an end. Opening the door, he found himself in the entry, but in the darkness. On entering the house he had not noticed the location of the stairs, and was afraid that some noise or stumbling might reveal to Foley the attempted escape of his prisoner. He took off his boots, and crept down-stairs in his stocking feet. Unfortunately he had not kept the proper bearing in his mind, and the result was, that he opened the door of a room on one side of the front door. It was used as a bedroom. At the sound of the door opening, the occupant of the bed, Mr. Foley himself, called out, drowsily, "Who's there?"

Jack, aware of his mistake, precipitately retired, and concealed himself under the front stairs, a refuge which his good fortune led him to, for he could see absolutely nothing.

The sleeper, just awakened, was naturally a little confused in his ideas. He had not seen Jack. He had merely heard the noise, and thought he saw the door moving. But of this he was not certain. To make sure, however, he got out of bed, and opening wide the door of his room, called out, "Is anybody there?"

Jack had excellent reasons for not wishing to volunteer an answer to this question. One advantage of the opened door (for there was a small oil lamp burning in the room) was to reveal to him the nature of the mistake he had made, and to show him the front door in which, by rare good fortune, he could discover the key in the lock.

Meanwhile the old man, to make sure that all was right, went up-stairs, far enough to see that the door of the apartment in which Jack had been confined was closed. Had he gone up to the landing he would have seen the aperture in the door, and discovered the hole, but he was sleepy, and anxious to get back to bed, which rendered him less watchful.

"All seems right," he muttered to himself, and re-entered the bed-chamber, from which Jack could soon hear the deep, regular breathing which indicated sound slumber. Not till then did he creep cautiously from his place of concealment, and advancing stealthily to the front door, turn the key, and step out into the faintly-lighted street. A delightful sensation thrilled our hero, as he felt the pure air fanning his cheek.

"Nobody can tell," thought he, "what a blessed thing freedom is till he has been cooped up, as I have been, for the last week. Won't the old man be a little surprised to find, in the morning, that the bird has flown? I've a great mind to serve him a little trick."

So saying, Jack drew the key from its place inside, and locking the door after him, went off with the key in his. pocket. First, however, he took care to scratch a little mark on the outside of the door, as he could not see the number, to serve as a means of identification.

This done Jack made his way as well as he could guess to the house of his uncle, the baker. Not having noticed the way by which Peg had led him to the house, he wandered at first from the straight course. At length, however, he came to Chestnut Street. He now knew where he was, and, fifteen minutes later, he was standing before his uncle's door.

Meanwhile, Abel Crump had been suffering great anxiety on account of Jack's protracted absence. Several days had now elapsed, and still he was missing. He had been unable to find the slightest trace of him.

"I am afraid of the worst," he said to his wife, on the afternoon of the day on which Jack made his escape. "I think Jack was probably rash and imprudent, and I fear, poor boy, they may have proved the death of him."

"Don't you think there is any hope? He may be confined."

"It is possible; but, at all events, I don't think it right to keep it from Timothy any longer. I've put off writing as long as I could, hoping Jack would come back, but I don't feel as if I ought to hold it back any longer. I shall write in the morning, and tell Timothy to come right on. It'll be a dreadful blow to him."

"Yes, better wait till morning, Abel. Who knows but we may hear from Jack before that time?"

The baker shook his head.

"If we'd been going to hear, we'd have heard before this time," he said.

He did not sleep very soundly that night. Anxiety for Jack, and the thought of his brother's affliction, kept him awake.

About half-past two, he heard a noise at the front door, followed by a knocking. Throwing open the window, he exclaimed, "Who's there?"

"A friend," was the answer.

"What friend?" asked the baker, suspiciously. Friends are not very apt to come at this time of night."

"Don't you know me, Uncle Abel?" asked a cheery voice.

"Why, it's Jack, I verily believe," said Abel Crump, joyfully, as he hurried down stairs to admit his late visitor.

"Where in the name of wonder have you been, Jack?" he asked, surveying his nephew by the light of the candle.

"I've been shut up, uncle,--boarded and lodged for nothing,--by some people who liked my company better than I liked theirs. But to-night I made out to escape, and hero I am. I'll tell you all about it in the morning. Just now I'm confoundedly hungry, and if there's anything in the pantry, I'll ask permission to go in there a few minutes."

"I guess you'll find something, Jack. Take the candle with you. Thank God, you're back alive. We've been very anxious about you."