“It depends on what it is,” said the old man, cautiously.
“Has Mrs. Hardwick been here to ask about me?”
“Certainly. She takes a great deal of interest in you.”
“Was there a little girl with her?”
“I believe so. I really don’t remember.”
“If she calls again, either with or without Ida, will you ask her to come up here? I want to see her.”
“Yes, I’ll tell her. Now, my young friend, I must really leave you. Business before pleasure, you know.”
Jack looked about the room for something to read. He found among other books a small volume, purporting to contain “The Adventures of Baron Trenck.”
It may be that the reader has never encountered a copy of this singular book. Baron Trenck was several times imprisoned for political offenses, and this book contains an account of the manner in which he succeeded, after years of labor, in escaping from his dungeon.
Jack read the book with intense interest and wondered, looking about the room, if he could not find some similar plan of escape.
THE SECRET STAIRCASE
The prospect certainly was not a bright one. The door was fast locked. Escape from the windows seemed impracticable. This apparently exhausted the avenues of escape that were open to the dissatisfied prisoner. But accidentally Jack made an important discovery.
There was a full-length portrait in the room. Jack chanced to rest his hand against it, when he must unconsciously have touched some secret spring, for a secret door opened, dividing the picture in two parts, and, to our hero’s unbounded astonishment, he saw before him a small spiral staircase leading down into the darkness.
“This is a queer old house!” thought Jack. “I wonder where those stairs go to. I’ve a great mind to explore.”
There was not much chance of detection, he reflected, as it would be three hours before his next meal would be brought him. He left the door open, therefore, and began slowly and cautiously to go down the staircase. It seemed a long one, longer than was necessary to connect two floors. Boldly Jack kept on till he reached the bottom.
“Where am I?” thought our hero. “I must be down as low as the cellar.”
While this thought passed through his mind, voices suddenly struck upon his ear. He had accustomed himself now to the darkness, and ascertained that there was a crevice through which he could look in the direction from which the sounds proceeded. Applying his eye, he could distinguish a small cellar apartment, in the middle of which was a printing press, and work was evidently going on. He could distinguish three persons. Two were in their shirt sleeves, bending over an engraver’s bench. Beside them, and apparently superintending their work, was the old man whom Jack knew as Dr. Robinson.