“You’re smart; I can tell by the looks of you.”
“Do you really think so?” returned Jack, appearing flattered.
“Yes; you’ll make one of our best hands.”
“I suppose Mrs. Hardwick is in your employ?”
“Perhaps she is, and perhaps she isn’t,” said Foley, noncommittally. “That is something you don’t need to know.”
“Oh, I don’t care to know,” said Jack, carelessly. “I only asked. I was afraid you would set me to work down in the cellar.”
“You don’t know enough about the business. We need skilled workmen. You couldn’t do us any good there.”
“I shouldn’t like it, anyway. It must be unpleasant to be down there.”
“We pay the workmen you saw good pay.”
“Yes, I suppose so. When do you want me to begin?”
“I can’t tell you just yet. I’ll think about it.”
“I hope it’ll be soon, for I’m tired of staying here. By the way, that’s a capital idea about the secret staircase. Who’d ever think the portrait concealed it?” said Jack.
As he spoke he advanced to the portrait in an easy, natural manner, and touched the spring.
Of course it flew open. The old man also drew near.
“That was my idea,” he said, in a complacent tone. “Of course we have to keep everything as secret as possible, and I flatter myself—”
His remark came to a sudden pause. He had incautiously got between Jack and the open door. Now our hero, who was close upon eighteen, and strongly built, was considerably more than a match in physical strength for Foley. He suddenly seized the old man, thrust him through the aperture, then closed the secret door, and sprang for the door of the room.
The key was in the lock where Foley, whose confidence made him careless, had left it. Turning it, he hurried downstairs, meeting no one on the way. To open the front door and dash through it was the work of an instant. As he descended the stairs he could hear the muffled shout of the old man whom he had made prisoner, but this only caused him to accelerate his speed.
Jack now directed his course as well as he could toward his uncle’s shop. One thing, however, he did not forget, and that was to note carefully the position of the shop in which he had been confined.
“I shall want to make another visit there,” he reflected.
Meantime, as may well be supposed, Abel Harding had suffered great anxiety on account of Jack’s protracted absence. Several days had elapsed and still he was missing.
“I am afraid something has happened to Jack,” he remarked to his wife on the afternoon of Jack’s escape. “I think Jack was probably rash and imprudent, and I fear, poor boy, he may have come to harm.”
“He may be confined by the parties who have taken his sister.”
“It is possible that it is no worse. At all events, I don’t think it right to keep it from Timothy any longer. I’ve put off writing as long as I could, hoping Jack would come back, but I don’t feel as if it would be right to hold it back any longer. I shall write this evening.”