Chapter 18




THE KIDNAPPED CHILD.

The woman who entered was of middle size, dressed in a cheap print, dirty and faded, which corresponded very well with her general aspect. She looked weary and worn, and moved languidly as if she had little interest in life. She looked startled at the sight of Jasper, and pressed her hand to her heart.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"A stranger," answered our hero.

"How came you here?"

"I suppose I ought to apologize for being here, but I knocked twice and got no answer. That made me think the house was deserted. I entered, and hearing a low cry, came to this room."

The woman sank into a chair near the door.

"Is this your child?" asked Jasper, in his turn.

The woman answered hesitatingly, after a pause:

"No."

"I knew he could not be. How did he come here?'

"My husband brought him here," answered the woman, with some hesitation.

"Is he any relation to you?"

"N-no."

"Is he boarding here?"

"Yes."

The woman's hesitation increased Jasper's suspicion. He said:

"I found the boy tied to the bedpost. Did you tie him?"

"Yes."

"Why did you do that?"

"I thought he might slip off while I was out I went out for some water. That is the reason I did not answer your knock."

"Madam," said Jasper, coming to the point, "you may answer me or not; but if you do, tell the truth. Was not this child stolen?"

The woman looked nervous and frightened, and moved restlessly in her chair.

"Don't blame me," she said. "It wasn't my fault."

"Whose was it, then?"

"It was my husband's."

"Then the child was stolen?"

"Yes."

"I suppose your husband kidnapped the child in order to get money from the parents for his return?"

"Yes," the woman admitted.

"How can you assist him in such wicked practices?"

"What can I do?" said the woman, helplessly. "I have spoken to him, but it does no good. He won't heed anything that I say."

Jasper began to pity the poor woman. It looked as if she were an unwilling helper in her husband's crimes.

"Do you know where your husband got this boy from?" he asked.

"No; he didn't tell me."

"Is this the first child he has kidnapped?"

"I ought not to speak against my husband," said the woman, uneasily, appearing to think that she had already told too much.

"Yes, you ought. Otherwise you will be as bad as he."

"He will beat me."

"Does he ever do that?" asked Jasper, compassionately.

"He is very rough sometimes," said the wife, shrinking.

"I am sorry for you," said Jasper, gently. "Where is your husband now?"

"He went out this morning. Perhaps he is hunting. He never tells me where he is going."

"When do you expect him back?"

"I can't tell. He may be here in five minutes; he may not be here before night."

"In that case," thought Jasper, "I had better be off as soon as possible. I should be no match for this brute in human form. Judging from what I have heard of him, he would kill me without scruple if he thought I were interfering with his plans."

"How long has this child been here?" he asked.

"Three or four days."

"I am going to take him away," proceeded Jasper, fixing his eyes earnestly upon the woman, to see how she took the proposal.

"No, no!" she exclaimed, quickly. "My husband won't allow it."

"He won't know it."

"It won't do," she continued, rapidly. "He would kill you if he overtook you."

This was a serious consideration, truly. Jasper had no weapons, and a boy of his age would have been a poor match for a strong man, as the kidnapper probably was.

"After all, I had better not interfere," he thought. "It can do no good, and will only expose me to great danger."

But just at this instant the little boy's soft hand slid into his, and he could not resist the touching appeal for his protection.

"I shall take the risk," he said. "I can't leave the boy here. I will try to find his parents and restore him to them."

He had scarcely said this when the woman, who had casually glanced out of the window, started up in alarm, exclaiming:

"There is my husband coming! Oh, what shall we do?"



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