MoboReader > Literature > Frank and Fearless; or, The Fortunes of Jasper Kent

   Chapter 19 A BRUTE IN HUMAN SHAPE.

Frank and Fearless; or, The Fortunes of Jasper Kent By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 9532

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Jasper could not help feeling that he was in rather a critical position. A man whose business it was to kidnap young children in order to extort money from their friends was not likely to be very scrupulous, and the fear of having his secret divulged might lead him to extreme measures.

"Is your husband likely to come up here?" he asked.

"I don't know; he may," answered the woman, anxiously.

"Can't you hide me?" suggested Jasper.

"Yes, yes," she said, recovering something of her presence of mind. "There, get into that closet. I'll come and let you out when he is gone."

She opened the door of a closet in one corner of the room. It was quite dark inside, and except a stool, it was entirely empty.

"Sit down there," said the woman. "I must go down now."

She buttoned the door, and our hero found himself a close prisoner in the dark. It certainly gave him a peculiar sensation. Only a week before he had been at his Eastern home. Now he was more than a thousand miles away, penniless, and a prisoner. But though he was peculiarly situated, he was not discouraged. In fact, with a brave boy's love of adventure, he felt a certain exhilaration and wondered what was coming next. His courage and enterprise rose with the occasion, and he began to consider what course he should take after he got out.

While he is sitting in the closet in dark captivity, we will go below and make acquaintance with the man whose arrival had produced so great a sensation.

Before going down, the woman said to the child:

"Don't tell anybody about the boy in the closet."

"No, I won't," said the child, obediently.

The woman hurried down stairs, but her husband was already waiting for her.

He was a black-browed ruffian, with a rough beard of a week's growth. He threw himself sullenly into a chair and growled:

"Where were you? You're always out of the way when I come home."

"I just went up stairs a minute, Dick," she answered.

"To see the brat, I suppose."

"Yes."

"I've a great mind to knock him on the head."

"Oh, Dick, you wouldn't injure the little innocent," she said, earnestly.

"Wouldn't I? I would if I was paid enough, but there's nothing to be made by killing him."

"Thank heaven!" uttered the woman, fervently.

"You haven't got the heart of a chicken!" said the man, contemptuously. "Give me something to eat. I'm hungry."

The woman began to bustle around in obedience to his command.

"I haven't got much in the house, Dick," she said, apologetically.

"What have you got?" he growled.

"Some eggs and a little bacon. Shall I make you some tea?"

"No; bring out the whisky."

"There's none left, Dick."

The man uttered an oath expressive of disappointment.

"Well, give me some slops, then," he said. "I must have something to drink."

"Didn't you shoot anything?" she ventured to ask.

"I haven't been hunting."

"I thought you took out your gun."

"What if I did? I don't always hunt when I take my gun. I expected to hear from the friends of that brat this morning, but I didn't. They must hurry up with their money if they don't want me to strangle him."

"Perhaps they didn't get your letter, Dick."

"Yes, they did. I took care of that. I s'pose they're hatching up some plot to have me arrested. If they do, it'll be a bad day for the brat."

He looked fierce and brutal enough to execute the dark threat at which he indirectly hinted. There was a cruel look in his eye which showed that he would have had small scruples about injuring an innocent child, if provoked by the desire for revenge.

While his wife was cooking the eggs he filled his pipe and began to smoke. She made all the haste she could, knowing that her husband was far from patient. Soon the frugal repast was ready. She set it on the table, and said:

"It's all ready, Dick. Better eat it while it's hot."

"I'll eat it when I choose," he growled, in his usual spirit of contradiction.

However, he was hungry, and laying aside his pipe, did as she requested. Soon he had dispatched all the food set before him.

"There isn't enough to keep a kitten from starving," he said.

"I'm sorry, Dick."

"Much you are sorry," he growled. "A pretty wife you are."

"I wish there were more. If you'll give me some money I'll go out and buy something."

"Money!" he snarled. "You're always wanting money. Do you think I am made of money?"

"No, Dick; but you know I have none. I wish I knew of any way to earn it."

"You do?"

"Yes, Dick."

"Then I suppose you'd be leaving me," he said, suspiciously.

"No, I wouldn't. You know I wouldn't, Dick."

"So you say," he answered, brutally, "How's the brat? Has it been crying?"

"No; it is a very good child."

"I'll go up a

nd take a look at it."

He arose from his seat, and advanced toward the door.

His wife followed him.

"Where are you going?" he asked, turning upon her.

"I'm going up, too," she answered, meekly.

"What for? Can't you trust me with the brat?"

"Yes, Dick, but it isn't much used to you. You might frighten it, and make it cry."

"That's all right," he answered, smiling grimly. "I like to hear children cry."

"How can you enjoy the sufferings of a child?"

"Halloo! What's that?" he said, looking sharply at her. "You dare to find fault with me, do you?"

"I didn't mean that, Dick," she said, submissively.

"It's lucky you didn't," he said, warningly. "I don't allow none of that, wife or no wife."

"May I go up?"

"If you want to."

So the two went up stairs together.

The wife was nervous lest the child in some way might excite the suspicions of her husband and betray the presence of Jasper. She felt, therefore, very ill at ease.

The child was sitting up in bed.

"Halloo, young 'un, how yer gettin' along?" asked the man, roughly.

The child did not answer, but looked frightened.

"Why don't you answer?" demanded the man, frowning.

The child looked toward the woman, and seemed on the point of crying.

"Can't you say something to the gentleman?" said the woman, soothingly.

Thus adjured, the little boy said:

"Won't you take me to my mamma?"

"Oh, yes, I'll take you as soon as your mamma sends me some money," said the man named Dick, "and she'd better do it pretty soon, too," he muttered.

He threw himself into a chair, and ceased to notice the child.

"Do you know, old woman," he said in a different tone, "I've heard news that'll rather take you by suprise?"

"I hope it is good news," said his wife, anxiously.

"Well, that's as may be," he answered. "It ought to be good news for us, but there's no saying. You know my sister?"

"Mrs. Thorne?"

"Yes. Well, she's had a stroke of luck."

"How was that?"

"Well, you see she went as governess into a family. The man was rich and an invalid-a widower, too. What does she do but get him to marry her?"

"She has been fortunate."

"That isn't all of it. She hadn't been married but two or three months when her husband died, leaving her a third of his property and guardian to his son, who inherits the rest. So she's a rich woman. I say she ought to do something for her brother Dick. Don't you say so?"

"I think she would be willing," said the wife.

"She ought to be, but she's selfish. She always was. If only I had the money I'd go East, and see what I could get out of her."

"You'd take me with you, Dick?"

"No, I wouldn't. It'll be all I can do to raise money enough to pay my own expenses, let alone yours. If I get anything I'll come back, and you'll get your share. That's why I want the parents of that brat to fork over the cash pretty quick."

"How did you learn the news about your sister, Dick?"

"An old pal of mine has just come from that way and told me all about it."

Every word of this dialogue was beard by Jasper in his place of concealment. He was astonished beyond measure to learn that this ruffian was the brother of his step-mother.

"No wonder I don't like her," he thought, "if they have any traits in common. What a fate, for my kind and gentle father to marry the sister of such a man!"

"I'm glad of it," said his wife.

"Well, so am I, if she'll do the right thing by me; but if she don't, then I'm sorry."

"What shall I do when you're away, Dick?"

"Get along as well as you can. Folks'll give you victuals, if you get hard up."

"I don't like to beg."

"Wish me good luck, then, and money enough to take care of you. What are you starin' at, young 'un?"

This he said to the child, whose eyes, as if by a species of fascination, were fixed upon him.

"Take me home to mamma!" pleaded the child, beginning to cry.

"Shut up!" said the ruffian, harshly, striding to the bed and pinching the boy's arm till he cried with the pain.

"Oh, don't, Dick," pleaded the woman, who was fond of children, though she had never been a mother.

"I'll give the brat something to cry for," said her husband, and he pinched him again.

"Oh, Dick, how can you torture the poor child?" said his wife, braver in the little boy's defence than in her own.

"What business has it to cry, then? I'd like to choke it. If you don't hush I'll serve you the same way."

Jasper had listened to this brutality as long as he could, but his indignation became too hot to be repressed. Thoughtless of consequences, he burst open the closet door and strode into the presence of the astonished ruffian, his fists involuntarily clenched, and his eyes kindling with indignation.

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