Chapter 26




IN CONFINEMENT.

Soon the old man reappeared and opened the sliding-door. He carried a small waiter containing a cup of tea, a plate of cold meat, and a slice of white bread without butter.

"We don't want you to starve," he said. "Here's something to stay your stomach. You're hungry, ain't you?"

Jasper admitted that he was.

"I thought so. When I was your age I was always eating. Never could get enough."

Jasper wondered, if this were the case, why the old man had not grown larger, but he did not say this. He took the waiter from Nathan and set it on his lap, there being no table.

"I hope you don't mean to keep me long as a boarder," he said. "You won't find it profitable, boarding me for nothing."

"That isn't for me to say," said Nathan. "Jack and Bill will see to that."

"Did they tell you to confine me?"

"Yes; I told you that already."

"Will you ask them to come up and speak to me? I want to know why I am here."

"They ain't at home now. I'll tell them when they come in."

"Thank you. Do you think that will be to-night?"

"Not likely. They'll come in so late you'll be abed and asleep."

"Don't let them go out to-morrow morning without seeing me."

"I'll tell them."

The old man waited till Jasper had finished eating, and then took the waiter back through the window.

"Won't you let me have a light?" asked Jasper. "I don't want to stay here in the dark."

"You'll set the house on fire," said the old man, hesitating.

"And get burned up myself? I should be fool to run such a risk as that."

This consideration suggested itself to the old man's judgment, and he promised to bring up a lamp before long.

This he really did. Jasper found it a great relief. He was now broad awake, the effect of the drug having passed off.

There was nothing to do, indeed, but his thoughts were busy, and he tried hard to devise some method of escape, in case he should not be released.

The next morning breakfast was brought to him about eight o'clock. It was not till ten that the sliding-door was opened and the face of Jack appeared at the opening.

"Well, boy, how do you like your quarters?" he asked, with a disagreeable smile.

"Not at all," answered Jasper. "Why do you keep me here?"

"We had reasons for putting you here."

"What were they?"

"First and foremost, you knew too much."

"Were you afraid I should betray you?" asked Jasper.

"You might."

"I promise not to, if you will let me go."

"That's all very well, but when you get out you might break your promise."

"Then it would be for the first time," said Jasper, proudly. "I never break my promises."

"You talk well, boy, but it's easy to talk."

"It's all I can do. There is no way of proving what I say."

"That's so; and that's the reason I'm going to keep you."

"At that rate, you will have to keep me all my life."

"No; there's another way."

"What is it?" asked Jasper, eagerly.

"Join us, and when you're in the same box you won't go to blabbing."

"What do you mean by joining you?" asked Jasper, though he was afraid he understood only too well.

"You ought to be smart enough to know that."

"I don't know what your business is," said our hero.

"You don't!" said Jack, ironically. "Perhaps you think we're commission merchants, or bankers, or something of that kind, Bill and me?"

"I don't think you are either of them," said Jasper, laughing.

"Why not?"

"You don't look like a commission merchant or a banker."

"What do I look like, eh, boy?"

"You may be angry if I answer that question."

"No, I won't. Go ahead!"

"You look as if you didn't get your living in any way so honest as that."

"Well, suppose you are right?"

"Then I am sorry. I wish you would reform and lead a different life."

"No preaching! I didn't bargain for that."

"Then all I have to say is, you are in no danger from me. I shall not betray you."

"Perhaps you are to be trusted, but I can't run the risk. You must join us."

"You may be wicked yourself. You have no right to make me so," said Jasper, firmly.

"That's all nonsense. The world owes me a living, and you, too."

"Not without work. I'm going to work for my living."

"I mean you shall. You shall work for me."

"That kind of work will do the world no good. I want to do something useful."

"So you shall. You shall help us bleed some of these bloated aristocrats. They've got more money than is good for them—more than they have any business to keep."

"I don't agree with you," said Jasper.

"You'd better. It is for your interest," said Jack, frowning.

"It can't be for my interest to become a law-breaker."

"Then you can stay here till you rot!" retorted the burglar, roughly. "You won't come out of this chamber till you have agreed to become one of us."

There was something in this threat which startled Jasper, bold and brave as he was.

"Such an outrage won't be permitted," he said.

"Won't it?" sneered Jack. "We'll see about that. I'll take the risk. You don't know me yet," he added, with an oath.

"Is it wholly because you are afraid I will betray you that you treat me in this way?" asked Jasper.

"No."

"What other reason have you?"

"I'll tell you. You're the sort of boy we want. You ain't any whining, milk-and-water sort of boy. You're brave and spirited. You would be worth a good deal to us."

Burglar though Jack was, Jasper was not insensible to the compliment. Any boy likes to be considered spirited, even if he does not deserve it, and he felt flattered by this tribute, which he felt that he deserved, at least, in part.

"I am glad you have a good opinion of my courage," he said, "but I think I can find a better use for it than in the career you open to me. If I accepted your proposal from fear of imprisonment it would show that I was not such a boy as you describe."

"You are an obstinate fool!" said Jack, with a frown.

"I am obstinate in this," said Jasper, composedly. "You want to spoil my life by making me a criminal."

"Do you mean to call me a criminal!" exclaimed Jack, angrily.

"I call you nothing—I only take you at your word."

"You'll talk differently from this a week from now!" said Jack, prepariug to shut the sliding-door.

"Do you mean to keep me in this dark hole a week?" asked Jasper, unable to repress a shudder.

"Ha! that disturbs you, does it?" asked the other, smiling sardonically.

"Yes, it does. You don't think I fancy it, do you?"

"Well, you know the way to end your imprisonment."

"Is there only one way?"

"There's only one way. Tell the old man, Nathan, when you've made up your mind to accept my offer."

Without waiting for a reply Jack pushed the sliding-door in its place, and once more Jasper found himself in the dark.



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