Chapter 26




A HARD-HEARTED JAILER.

Florence soon recovered a degree of self-possession, and began to consider the situation. The room in which she so unexpectedly found herself a prisoner was about fifteen feet square. There were two front windows, from which she took a survey of the neighborhood, which she had but slightly observed from the windows of the carriage. She could see no other house, and naturally concluded that this had been selected on account of its lonely location.

The distance from the window-sill to the ground was not over twelve feet, and Florence began to consider whether she could not manage to escape in this way.

She tried to open one of the windows, but could not stir it. Closer examination showed her that it had been nailed down. She went to the second window, and found that secured in a similar way.

"They evidently anticipated that I would try to escape," she thought to herself.

Next her thoughts recurred to the woman who appeared to be the mistress of the house. Not that she had any intention of appealing to her kindness of heart, for the hard-featured Mrs. Bradshaw was not a woman likely to be influenced by any such considerations. Florence had enjoyed but a transient view of the lady's features, but she already had a tolerably correct idea of her character.

"She is probably mercenary," thought Florence, "and is in Orton Campbell's pay. I must outbid him."

This thought inspired hope, especially when from the window she saw her persecutor ride away on horseback. This would gave her a fair field and a chance to try the effect of money upon her jailer without risk of interruption. She would have felt less sanguine of success if she had heard the conversation which had just taken place between Mrs. Bradshaw and her captor:

"Mind, Mrs. Bradshaw, you must not let the young lady leave her room on any consideration."

"All right, sir."

"I take it for granted, Mrs. Bradshaw, you are not easily taken in?"

"I should say not, sir," said the woman, emphatically.

"The young lady will try to impose upon you while I am away."

"Then she'd better save her trouble," said Mrs. Bradshaw, tossing her head.

"She's very artful," said Orton. "Most crazy people are."

"You don't mean to say she's crazy?" said Mrs. Bradshaw in surprise. "She don't look like it."

"You are quite right. She doesn't look like it, but she wrong here," continued Campbell, tapping his forehead. "Why, she fancies herself immensely rich, Mrs. Bradshaw, when, as a matter of fact, she's a penniless cousin of mine, who would have gone to the poorhouse but for my father's charity."

"You don't say so!" exclaimed Mrs. Bradshaw, interested.

"Sometimes she thinks she's worth millions of dollars. I wish she were, for in that case my father would be relieved of the burden of supporting her."

"To be sure, sir!"

"Some time since she managed to elude our vigilance and escaped from our home in Albany. Knowing how feeble-minded she was, we felt very anxious about her, but for some time were unable to get a trace of her. Finally, we learned that she had been seen in California, and I came out at great personal inconvenience to bring her back."

"Very kind of you, sir, I am sure: but how could she travel so far without money?"

"That is easily explained. She opened my father's desk and took out some hundreds of dollars," answered Orton Campbell, with unblushing falsehood. "Of course, we don't consider her responsible, as she is of unsound mind. Otherwise, we should look upon her as very ungrateful."

"She seems to be very good-looking," observed Mrs. Bradshaw.

"So she is, and if her mind were healthy I can imagine that she would be admired. As it is, her beauty counts for nothing."

"To be sure!"

"I hope to calm her down, and induce her without a violent disturbance to embark on the next steamer for New York with me. She won't listen to me now, but I shall call to-morrow forenoon and see how she appears. Meanwhile, she will probably try to bribe you to release her. She may promise you thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars, for it's all the same to her, poor thing! But of course you're too sensible a woman to be taken in by the promises of a crazy girl?"

"I should say so!" returned Mrs. Bradshaw, who was thoroughly deceived by the artful story of her employer, who, by the way, had promised her one hundred dollars for her co-operation in his scheme.

"She will probably tell you that she came to California in search of her lover, who is at the mines. Of course there is no such person, but she thinks there is."

"I understand," said the woman, confidently.

"I thought you would. Well, Mrs. Bradshaw, I will see you to-morrow. I am sure you are to be relied upon."

About six o'clock Mrs. Bradshaw carried up some supper to her prisoner.

"I hope you've got an appetite, miss," she said.

"Stay a moment," said Florence, eagerly. "I want to speak to you."

"Now it's coming," thought Mrs. Bradshaw, with some curiosity. She was rather taken aback by the first words of her prisoner:

"How much money has Mr. Orton Campbell promised to pay you for assisting him in his plot?"

"Well, I declare!" said Mrs. Bradshaw, bridling, for though she had been bribed she did not like to confess it.

"He is to pay me rent for this room," she said, after a pause.

"Then I am your lodger, am I?" asked Florence.

"I suppose so," answered the woman, rather embarrassed by this unexpected question.

"Very well, then. I don't think I care to occupy the room. I will pay you a week's rent out of my own purse, and leave you after supper."

"I think not," said Mrs. Bradshaw, decidedly.

"Then I am to consider myself your prisoner?"

"You may call it so if you like."

"It is just as well to call things by their right names. Of course Mr. Campbell has hired you to detain me here. Tell me how much he is to pay you, and I will pay you more to release me."

"Then you are rich, I suppose?" said the woman.

"Yes, I am rich."

Mrs. Bradshaw laughed. "You are worth several millions, I suppose?" she said, mockingly.

"Certainly not. Who told you so?"

"Mr. Campbell warned me that you would pretend you were rich."

"It is no pretence; I am rich, though at present his father has the greater part of my fortune under his charge."

"Oh, of course!" said the woman, laughing again. "I understand all about it."

"What has Orton Campbell told you?" asked Florence, suspiciously.

"He said you would pretend to be rich, and try to bribe me, though you were only a poor relation of his who would have gone to the poorhouse unless his father had supported you out of charity."

"He has deceived you, Mrs. Bradshaw. His father wanted me to marry this man in order to keep my fortune in his own family. That is why I ran away from his house."

"What made you come to California?" asked the woman.

"Because the man whom I really loved was at work somewhere in the mines."

"Ho! ho!" laughed Mrs. Bradshaw, loudly.

"Why do you laugh?"

"Because you are as crazy as a loon. Mr. Campbell told me just what you would say. He told me all about your stealing money from his father's desk, and running off to California after a lover in the mines. It's turned out exactly as he said."

"Did he dare to slander me in that way?" demanded Florence, so indignantly that her jailer drew back in some alarm.

"No violence, miss, if you please," she said. "You'd better be quiet, or you'll have to be tied."

"Good Heavens!" exclaimed Florence, "I would not have believed Orton Campbell so false and artful!"

"He's acting for your good, miss. So you'd better not make a fuss;" and the landlady left the room, not failing to lock the door securely behind her.




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