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The appearance of the man whom Mrs. Hardwick addressed so familiarly was more picturesque than pleasing, He had a large, broad face, which, not having been shaved for a week, looked like a wilderness of stubble. His nose indicated habitual indulgence in alcoholic beverages. His eyes were bloodshot, and his skin looked coarse and blotched; his coat was thrown aside, displaying a shirt which bore evidence of having been useful in its day and generation. The same remark may apply to his nether integuments, which were ventilated at each knee, indicating a most praiseworthy regard to the laws of health.
Ida thought she had never seen so disgusting a man. She continued to gaze at him, half in astonishment, half in terror, till the object of her attention exclaimed:
"Well, little gal, what you're lookin' at? Hain't you never seen a gentleman before?"
Ida clung the closer to her companion, who, she was surprised to find, did not resent the man's familiarity.
"Well, Dick, how've you got along since I've been gone?" asked the nurse, to Ida's astonishment.
"Have you felt lonely any?"
"I've had good company."
"Who's been here?"
Dick pointed significantly to a jug.
"That's the best company I know of," he said, "but it's 'most empty. So you've brought along the gal," he continued. "How did you get hold of her?"
There was something in these questions which terrified Ida. It seemed to indicate a degree of complicity between these two which boded no good to her.
"I'll tell you the particulars by and by."
At the same time she began to take off her bonnet.
"You ain't going to stop, are you?" asked Ida, startled.
"Ain't goin' to stop?" repeated the man called Dick. "Why shouldn't she stop, I'd like to know? Ain't she at home?"
"At home!" echoed Ida, apprehensively, opening wide her eyes in astonishment.
"Yes; ask her."
Ida looked inquiringly at Mrs. Hardwick.
"You might as well take off your things," said the latter, grimly. "We ain't going any further to-day."
"And where's the lady you said you were going to see?"
"The one that was interested in you?"
"Well, I'm the one," she answered, with a broad smile and a glance at Dick.
"I don't want to stay here," said Ida, now frightened.
"Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"Will you take me back early to-morrow?" entreated Ida.
"No, I don't intend to take you back at all."
Ida seemed at first stupefied with astonishment and terror. Then, actuated by a sudden, desperate impulse, she ran to the door, and had got it partly open, when the nurse sprang forward, and seizing her by the arm, pulled her violently back.
"Where are you going in such a hurry?" she demanded.
"Back to father and mother," answered Ida, bursting into tears. "Oh, why did you bring me here?"
"I'll tell you why," answered Dick, jocularly. "You see, Ida, we ain't got any little girl to love us, and so we got you."
"But I don't love you, and I never shall," said Ida, indignantly.
"Now don't you go to saying that," said Dick. "You'll break my heart, you naughty girl, and then Peg will be a widow."
To give due effect to this pathetic speech, Dick drew out a tattered red handkerchief, and made a great demonstration of wiping his eyes.
The whole scene was so ludicrous that Ida, despite her fears and disgust, could not help laughing hysterically. She recovered herself instantly, and said imploringly: "Oh, do let me go, and father will pay you."
"You really think he would?" said Dick, in a tantalizing tone.
"Oh, yes; and you'll tell her to take me back, won't you?"
"No, he won't tell me any such thing," said Peg, gruffly; "so you may as well give up all thoughts of that first as last. You're going to stay here; so take off that bonnet of yours, and say no more about it."
Ida made no motion toward obeying this mandate.
"Then I'll do it for you," said Peg.
She roughly untied the bonnet--Ida struggling vainly in opposition--and taking this, with the shawl, carried them to a closet, in which she placed them, and then, locking the door, deliberately put the key in her pocket.
"There," said she, grimly, "I guess you're safe for the present."
"Ain't you ever going to carry me back?"
"Some years hence I may possibly," answered the woman, coolly. "We want you here for the present. Besides, you're not sure that they want you back."
"Not want me back again?"
"That's what I said. How do you know but your father and mother sent you off on purpose? They've been troubled with you long enough, and now they've bound you apprentice to me till you're eighteen."
"It's a lie!" said Ida, firmly. "They didn't send me off, and you're a wicked woman to tell me so."
"Hoity-toity!" said the woman. "Is that the way you dare to speak to me? Have you anything more to say before I whip you?"
"Yes," answered Ida, goaded to desperation. "I shall complain of you to the police, just as soon as I get a chance, and they will put you in jail and send me home. That is what I will do."
Mrs. Hardwick was incensed, and somewhat startled at these defiant words. It was clear that Ida was not going to be a meek, submissive child, whom they might ill-treat without apprehension. She was decidedly dangerous, and her insubordination must be nipped in the bud. She seized Ida roughly by the arm, and striding with her to the closet already spoken of, unlocked it, and, rudely pushing her in, locked the door after her.
"Stay there till you know how to behave," she said.
"How did you manage to come it over her family?" inquired Dick.
His wife gave substantially the account with which the reader is already familiar.
"Pretty well done, old woman!" exclaimed Dick, approvingly. "I always said you was a deep un. I always says, if Peg can't find out how a thing is to be done, then it can't be done, nohow."
"How about the counterfeit coin?" she asked.
"We're to be supplied with all we can put off, and we are to have half for our trouble."
"That is good. When the girl, Ida, gets a little tamed down, we'll give her something to do."
"Is it safe? Won't she betray us?"
"We'll manage that, or at least I will. I'll work on her fears, so she won't any more dare to say a word about us than to cut her own head off."
"All right, Peg. I can trust you to do what's right."
Ida sank down on the floor of the closet into which she had been thrust. Utter darkness was around her, and a darkness as black seemed to hang over all her prospects of future happiness. She had been snatched in a moment from parents, or those whom she regarded as such, and from a comfortable and happy, though humble home, to this dismal place. In place of the kindness and indulgence to which she had been accustomed, she was now treated with harshness and cruelty.
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