Chapter XXII. Mr. John Somerville.
 

Peg had been thinking.

This was the substance of her reflections. Ida, whom she had kidnapped for certain purposes of her own, was likely to prove an (sic) incumbrance rather than a source of profit. The child, her suspicions awakened in regard to the character of the money she had been employed to pass off, was no longer available for that purpose. So firmly resolved was she not to do what was wrong, that threats and persuasions were alike unavailing. Added to this was the danger of her encountering some one sent in search of her by the Crumps.

Under these circumstances, Peg bethought herself of the ultimate object which she had proposed to herself in kidnapping Ida--that of extorting money from a man who is now to be introduced to the reader.

John Somerville occupied a suite of apartments in a handsome lodging-house on Walnut Street. A man wanting yet several years of forty, he looked a greater age. Late hours and dissipation, though kept within respectable limits, had left their traces on his face. At twenty-one he inherited a considerable fortune, which, combined with some professional practice (for he was a lawyer, and not without ability), was quite sufficient to support him handsomely, and leave a considerable surplus every year. But, latterly, he had contracted a passion for gaming, and however shrewd he might be naturally, he could hardly be expected to prove a match for the wily habitues of the gaming-table, who had marked him as their prey.

The evening before he is introduced to the reader's notice he had, passed till a late hour at a fashionable gambling-house, where he had lost heavily. His reflections, on awakening, were not of the pleasantest. For the first time, within fifteen years, he realized the folly and imprudence of the course he had pursued. The evening previous he had lost a thousand dollars, for which he had given his I O U. Where to raise this money, he did not know. He bathed his aching head, and cursed his ill luck, in no measured terms. After making his toilet, he rang the bell, and ordered breakfast.

For this he had but scanty appetite. Scarcely had he finished, and directed the removal of the dishes, than the servant entered to announce a visitor.

"Is it a gentleman?" he inquired, hastily, fearing it might be a creditor. He occasionally had such visitors.

"No, sir."

"A lady?"

"No, sir."

"A child? But what could a child want of me?"

"If it's neither a gentleman, lady, nor child," said Somerville, somewhat surprised, "will you have the goodness to inform me who it is?"

"It's a woman, sir," said the servant, grinning.

"Why didn't you say so when I asked you?" said his employer, irritably.

"Because you asked if it was a lady, and this isn't--at least she don't look like one."

"You can send her up, whoever she is," said Mr. Somerville.

A moment afterwards Peg entered the apartment.

John Somerville looked at her without much interest, supposing that she might be a seamstress, or laundress, or some applicant for charity. So many years had passed since he had met with this woman, that she had passed out of his remembrance.

"Do you wish to see me about anything?" he asked, indifferently. "If so, you must be quick, for I am just going out."

"You don't seem to recognize me, Mr. Somerville," said Peg, fixing her keen black eyes upon his face.

"I can't say I do," he replied, carelessly. "Perhaps you used to wash for me once."

"I am not in the habit of acting as laundress," said the woman, proudly. It is worth noticing that she was not above passing spurious coin, and doing other things which are stamped as disreputable by the laws of the land, but her pride revolted at the imputation that she was a washer-woman.

"In that case," said Somerville, carelessly, "you will have to tell me who you are, for it is out of my power to conjecture."

"Perhaps the name of Ida will assist your recollection," said Peg, composedly.

"Ida!" repeated John Somerville, changing color, and gazing now with attention at the woman's features.

"Yes."

"I have known several persons of that name," he said, evasively. "Of course, I can't tell which of them you refer to."

"The Ida I mean was and is a child," said Peg. "But, Mr. Somerville, there's no use in beating about the bush, when I can come straight to the point. It is now about eight years since my husband and myself were employed in carrying off a child--a female child of about a year old--named Ida. We placed it, according to your directions, on the door-step of a poor family in New York, and they have since cared for it as their own. I suppose you have not forgotten that."

John Somerville deliberated. Should he deny it or not? He decided to put a bold face on the matter.

"I remember it," said he, "and now recall your features. How have you fared since the time I employed you? Have you found your business profitable?"

"Far from it," answered Peg. "We are not yet able to retire on a competence."

"One of your youthful appearance," said Solmerville, banteringly, "ought not to think of retiring under ten years."

Peg smiled. She knew how to appreciate this speech.

"I don't care for compliments," said she, "even when they are sincere. As for my youthful appearance, I am old enough to have reached the age of discretion, and not so old as to have fallen into my second childhood."

"Compliments aside, then, will you proceed to whatever business has brought you here?"

"I want a thousand dollars."

"A thousand dollars!" repeated John Somerville. "Very likely, I should like that amount myself. You have not come here to tell me that?"

"I have come here to ask that amount of you."

"Suppose I should say that your husband is the proper person for you to apply to in such a case."

"I think I am more likely to get it out of you," answered Peg, coolly. "My husband couldn't supply me with a thousand cents, even if he were willing, which is not likely."

"Much as I am flattered by your application," said Somerville, "since it would seem to place me next in your estimation to your husband, I cannot help suggesting that it is not usual to bestow such a sum on a stranger, or even a friend, without an equivalent rendered."

"I am ready to give you an equivalent."

"Of what value?"

"I am willing to be silent."

"And how can your silence benefit me?"

John Somerville asked this question with an assumption of indifference, but his fingers twitched nervously.

"That you will be best able to estimate," said Peg.

"Explain yourself."

"I can do that in a few words. You employed me to kidnap a child. I believe the law has something to say about that. At any rate, the child's mother may have."

"What do you know about the child's mother?" demanded Somerville, hastily.

"All about her!" returned Peg, emphatically.

"How am I to know that? It is easy to claim the knowledge."

"Shall I tell you all? In the first place she married your cousin, after rejecting you. You never forgave her for this. When a year after marriage her husband died, you renewed your proposals. They were rejected, and you were forbidden to renew the subject on pain of forfeiting her friendship forever. You left her presence, determined to be revenged. With this object you sought Dick and myself, and employed us to kidnap the child. There is the whole story, briefly told."

John Somerville listened, with compressed lips and pale face.

"Woman, how came this within your knowledge?" he demanded, coarsely.

"That is of no consequence," said Peg. "It was for my interest to find out, and I did so."

"Well?"

"I know one thing more--the residence of the child's mother. I hesitated this morning whether to come here, or carry Ida to her mother, trusting to her to repay from gratitude what I demand from you, because it is your interest to comply with my request."

"You speak of carrying the child to her mother. She is in New York."

"You are mistaken," said Peg, coolly. "She is in Philadelphia."

"With you?"

"With me."

"How long has this been?"

"Nearly a fortnight."

John Somerville paced the room with hurried steps. Peg watched him carelessly. She felt that she had succeeded. He paused after awhile, and stood before her.

"You demand a thousand dollars," he said.

"I do."

"I have not that amount with me. I have recently lost a heavy sum, no matter how. But I can probably get it to-day. Call to-morrow at this time,--no, in the afternoon, and I will see what I can do for you."

"Very well," said Peg.

Left to himself, John Somerville spent some time in reflection. Difficulties encompassed him--difficulties from which he found it hard to find a way of escape. He knew how impossible it would be to meet this woman's demand. Something must be done. Gradually his countenance lightened. He had decided what that something should be.