“But why should you? I am only a poor boy.”
“You are the friend of Jefferson Pettigrew. He is a rich man. If he wants you back he must pay a round sum.”
It was all out now! These men were emulating a class of outlaws to be found in large numbers in Italy and Sicily, and were trading upon human sympathy and levying a tax upon human friendship.
Rodney realized his position. The alternative was not a pleasant one. Either he must remain in the power of these men, or cost his friend Mr. Pettigrew a large sum as ransom. There was little hope of changing the determination of his captors, but he resolved to try what he could do.
“Mr. Pettigrew is under no obligations to pay money out for me,” he said. “I am not related to him, and have not yet known him six months.”
“That makes no difference. You are his friend, and he likes you.”
“That is the very reason why I should not wish him to lose money on my account.”
“Oh, very well! It will be bad for you is he doesn’t come to your help.”
“Why? What do you propose to do to me?” asked Rodney boldly.
“Better not ask!” was the significant reply.
“But I want to know. I want to realize my position.”
“The least that will happen to you is imprisonment in this cave for a term of years.”
“I don’t think I should like it but you would get tired of standing guard over me.”
“We might, and in that case there is the other thing.”
“What other thing?”
“If we get tired of keeping you here, we shall make short work with you.”
“Would you murder me?” asked Rodney, horror struck, as he might well be, for death seems terrible to a boy just on the threshold of life.
“We might be obliged to do so.”
Rodney looked in the faces of his captors, and he saw nothing to encourage him. They looked like desperate men, who would stick at nothing to carry out their designs.
“I don’t see why you should get hold of me,” he said. “If you had captured Mr. Pettigrew himself you would stand a better chance of making it pay.”
“There is no chance of capturing Pettigrew. If there were we would prefer him to you. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
“How much ransom do you propose to ask?”
This Rodney said, thinking that if it were a thousand dollars he might be able to make it good to his friend Jefferson. But he was destined to be disappointed.
“Five thousand dollars,” answered the chief speaker.
“Five thousand dollars!” ejaculated Rodney in dismay. “Five thousand dollars for a boy like me!”
“That is the sum we want.”
“If it were one thousand I think you might get it.”
“One thousand!” repeated the other scornfully. “That wouldn’t half pay us.”