Chapter 23




WHERE JASPER FOUND DICK.

To find the address given by the kidnapper was not difficult. It was only necessary to look over a plan of the city, which Jasper did in Mr. Fitch's counting-room.

"Come back when your business is over," said the merchant.

"I will," said Jasper.

He set out with one hundred and fifty dollars in his pocket for 132 S—— Street.

We will precede him.

It was a shabby house of two stories, with a wide front. It looked dilapidated and neglected, but except that it was in an unsavory neighborhood there was nothing to draw attention to it, or lead to the impression that it was the haunt of lawbreakers and desperate characters.

In a back room sat three men, one of whom we recognize as the kidnapper, Dick, alias Mark Mortimer. Of the other two, one was under twenty-five, with a reckless, dare-devil look, as of one who would stop at little in his criminal schemes. He had more than once been engaged in burglary, but as yet had escaped detection.

The third was a stout, square-built man, of middle age, with a heavy, brutal face, such as might belong to a prize-fighter. He, too, was a burglar, an accomplished counterfeiter, a gambler, who supplemented luck by various swindling devices, in which he was an adept. This man was known as Slippery Bill, while his young companion was Jack, with a choice of last names.

The three men were playing a game of euchre, with a pack of greasy cards. The time was half-past eleven in the forenoon.

"It's most time for the boy to come," said Dick, looking toward the clock.

"How do you know but he'll give you the slip?" suggested Jack.

"If he did I'd break his neck!" exclaimed Dick, hastily. "But he won't. Leastways he won't if he can help it."

"It strikes me, Dick," said Bill, "that you ought never to have asked him to come here."

"Why not?"

"Who's to tell but he may bring company?" continued the stout man.

"What kind of company?"

"The police."

"He won't," said Dick.

"How do you know?"

"I'll trust him. He's a good 'un."

"How long have you known him, that you speak with so much confidence?" inquired the younger man.

"Since yesterday morning," answered Dick, cornered.

The two men burst into a boisterous laugh.

"Why, Dick, you're as innocent as a baby. You haven't knowed this chap more'n twenty-four hours, and you'll stake your life on him."

"Laugh as much as you like," said Dick, stubbornly. "I ought to speak up for my own nephew."

"Your nephew!" exclaimed his two companions, in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"What I say. He's my sister's son."

"A minute ago you said you never saw him till yesterday," said the stout man, suspiciously.

"No more I did. My sister lives at the East."

"Has she sent him to you to be brought up in the way he should go?" asked Jack, with a sneer.

"No; the boy's run away. He came across me by chance."

"That's better," said Bill, partially reassured. "He won't be likely to betray you—not now—but he may inform against this place."

"I'll answer for him."

"Are you going to let him go as soon as he brings the money, or will he stay with you?"

"Oh, he'll go. I can't take care of a lad like him. I've other fish to fry."

"Suppose we keep him and train him up to our business?"

"He ain't the right sort for that."

"Shows the white feather, eh?"

"No; he's as brave as any boy I ever saw."

"What's the matter, then?"

"He's too honest and virtuous."

"What! your nephew, Dick?" and the two men laughed loudly. "That's too thin. Don't ask us to swallow that."

"It's true."

"Why did he run away from home, then?"

"My sister's got a very rough temper—that's why."

"We can believe that," said Jack, "better than the other."

"Look here, Jack," said Dick, who was getting irritated, "you may find that I've got the same kind of temper if you keep on badgering me about the boy. I say he's to be trusted."

"He can be trusted under our eye. Have you any objection to our detaining him?"

"There's no need."

"I say there is. You've let him into the knowledge of this place. He'll blow on us some day."

"Do as you like," said Dick; "I don't care. I wash my hands of the responsibility."

"That's all we want," said Bill. "We need a young one to help us in our plans. If this nephew of yours is as brave as you say, he'll do. What time was he to come here?"

"Twelve."

"Then it's a minute past the time. I don't think he'll come."

"The clock may be wrong." said Dick, but he glanced uneasily at the clock, which now indicated a little past the hour.

His suspense was not a long one.

An old man, thin and shriveled, with a crafty eye, and a thin, squeaking voice, here put his head in at the door.

"Is Mr. Mark Mortimer here?" he asked.

"That's me!" exclaimed Dick, jumping up eagerly.

"There's a boy wants to see you, Mr. Mark Mortimer," said the old man, repeating the name as if he enjoyed it.

"It's my nephew," said Dick.

"Is his name Mortimer, too?" asked the proprietor of the establishment, for such the old man was.

"Never mind," said Dick, impatiently. "Bring the boy in."

Almost directly Jasper was ushered into the room—fearlessly, but looking about him with some curiosity.

The two men, who had not before seen him, surveyed him with equal curiosity.

"He does you credit," said the stout man.

"He's what I was at his age," said Dick. "Now, boy, have you got the money?"

"Yes," said Jasper.

"One hundred and fifty dollars?"

"Yes."

Dick's eyes glistened.

"Give it here. You're a trump. Did old Fitch make any difficulties?"

"No; he was glad to get the boy back."

"Did he ask you about me?"

"Yes."

"How much did you tell him?" demanded the kidnapper, hastily.

"Nothing. I told him that I had made a promise not to tell."

Dick looked triumphantly at his two companions.

"Didn't I tell you?" he said.

"You have the boy's word for it," said Jack, with a quiet sneer. "How did you find your way here, boy?"

"I looked at a map of the city," answered Jasper.

"Where?"

"In the office of Mr. Fitch."

"Where did you pass last night?"

"At the house of Mr. Fitch."

"Where are you going when you leave here?"

"I have promised to go to Mr. Fitch's counting-room."

"You seem to be very intimate with this gentleman," said Jack.

"There's nothing strange in that," said Jasper, quietly. "It was I who carried his boy home."

"The boy is right," said Dick, who, having obtained his money, felt graciously disposed toward our hero, through whose agency he had obtained it.

"What does he want of you?" asked Jack, continuing the cross-examination.

"I hope he is going to help me to a place," answered Jasper.

"No need of going to him," said the stout man. "We'll give you employment."

"You!" repeated Jasper, with an attentive glance, which took in the man's disreputable appearance.

"Yes, if you deserve it. What do you say?"

"I feel obliged for your offer," said Jasper, "but having promised Mr. Fitch to return, I would prefer to do so."

"Boys," interrupted Dick, at this point, "I'm sorry to leave this festive crowd, but I've got other business to attend to, and must be going."

"I'll go with you," said Jasper, who was anxious to leave the place.

"No, you don't, just yet," said Jack, rising, and striding between Jasper and the door. "We'll have a drink all around first."

"Thank you," said Jasper, "I don't drink."

"You must drink now. It's the law of this establishment."

"All right, Jasper," said Dick. "I'll treat. You can drink what you like, though."

Jasper felt that it would be politic to comply, and chose lemonade.

"I'll order the drinks," said Jack, and he left the room for that purpose.



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