“Who’s there?” asked a faint voice from the bed.
“Your son,” answered the boy.
“Jack,” exclaimed the widow, starting up and drawing back the curtain. “Is it indeed you, or am I dreaming?”
“You’re not dreaming, mother,” he answered. “I’m come to say good bye to you, and to assure you of my safety before I leave this place.”
“Where are you going?” asked his mother.
“I hardly know,” returned Jack; “but it’s not safe for me to remain much longer here.”
“True,” replied the widow, upon whom all the terrible recollections of the day before crowded, “I know it isn’t. I won’t keep you long. But tell me how have you escaped from the confinement in which you were placed—come and sit by me—here—upon the bed—give me your hand—and tell me all about it.”
Her son complied, and sat down upon the patch-work coverlet beside her.
“Jack,” said Mrs. Sheppard, clasping him with a hand that burnt with fever, “I have been ill—dreadfully ill—I believe delirious—I thought I should have died last night—I won’t tell you what agony you have caused me—I won’t reproach you. Only promise me to amend—to quit your vile companions—and I will forgive you—will bless you. Oh! my dear, dear son, be warned in time. You are in the hands of a wicked, a terrible man, who will not stop till he has completed your destruction. Listen to your mother’s prayers, and do not let her die broken-hearted.”
“It is too late,” returned Jack, sullenly; “I can’t be honest if I would.”
“Oh! do not say so,” replied his wretched parent. “It is never too late. I know you are in Jonathan Wild’s power, for I saw him near you in the church; and if ever the enemy of mankind was permitted to take human form, I beheld him then. Beware of him, my son! Beware of him! You know not what villany he is capable of. Be honest, and you will be happy. You are yet a child; and though you have strayed from the right path, a stronger hand than your own has led you thence. Return, I implore of you, to your master,—to Mr. Wood. Acknowledge your faults. He is all kindness, and will overlook them for your poor father’s sake—for mine. Return to him, I say—”
“I can’t,” replied Jack, doggedly.
“Can’t!” repeated his mother. “Why not?”
“I’ll tell you,” cried a deep voice from the back of the bed. And immediately afterwards the curtain was drawn aside, and disclosed the Satanic countenance of Jonathan Wild, who had crept into the house unperceived, “I’ll tell you, why he can’t go back to his master,” cried the thief-taker, with a malignant grin. “He has robbed him.”
“Robbed him!” screamed the widow. “Jack!”
Her son averted his gaze.
“Ay, robbed him,” reiterated Jonathan. “The night before last, Mr. Wood’s house was broken into and plundered. Your son was seen by the carpenter’s wife in company with the robbers. Here,” he added, throwing a handbill on the bed, “are the particulars of the burglary, with the reward for Jack’s apprehension.”