A DISAGREEABLE ROOM-MATE.
I had not seen Mrs. Boomsby for several years; and though I had no reason to expect anything but abuse from her, my curiosity induced me to see her. If anything, she was more of a tyrant than her brutal husband, and I had no occasion to thank her for anything she had done for me. She was the more plucky of the pair, and it had surprised me, years before, to learn that she "ruled the roost." At that time the captain was actually afraid of her.
"You have got pretty well up in the world, Captain Boomsby," I said when we had gone up two flights of stairs and were about to ascend a third.
"Well, you see, I let all these lower rooms; and the folks is jest as well off up three pair of stairs as up one," he replied, almost out of breath, for the stairs told more heavily on him than on me. "Besides, I like to have the old woman as far as I can from the business; she don't interfere so much then."
The old reprobate chuckled then as though he had said something smart; but I would have given a quarter to have had his wife overhear the remark, for the fun of the scene that would have ensued.
"Parker Boomsby! where on earth air you goin'?" shouted a shrill, but very familiar voice on the floor below us.
"All right," replied the captain, evidently much disturbed by the call. "I thought she was up here; but she always turns up just where you don't want her. But come up, Sandy; I want to show you a room I've fixed up."
"No, I thank you; as Mrs. Boomsby is not up here, I think I will go down," I replied, beginning to retrace my steps.
"What are you doin' with strangers up gerret, Parker Boomsby?" demanded the lady on the floor below.
"I've got sunthin' up here that belongs to you, Sandy; I want to give it to you," pleaded the captain. "I fetched you up here to give it to you afore I took you in to see the old woman."
I concluded that he had some reason for taking me to the attic of the house, and I was curious to know what it was. It is true he had led me to believe that his wife was in this part of the house; but that might have been one of his huge jokes. I followed him up the last flight of stairs. I was then on the fourth floor of the house. There were two large and two small chambers in this attic, none of which appeared to be furnished.
"It is in this room," said Captain Boomsby, leading me into the rear hall chamber. "It's a little grain dark in here."
I saw that the window that looked out on the river-side of the house had been boarded up. He led the way into the room, and I followed him.
"I've got a picter of you when you wasn't more'n four year old. It was taken when you was in the poor-house, by a feller that come along taking picters, to show what he could do. It hangs on the wall over here," continued the captain, passing between me and the door. "You can look at it all the rest of the day, if you like."
Suddenly he dodged out of the door, and I heard the bolt spring as he locked the door behind him. I had not expected that he would resort to any trick to get possession of me; and I had been as unsuspicious as though I were on board of the Sylvania. In fact, I was amazed at the hardihood of the man in attempting to make a prisoner of me in this manner. For some reason or other, I was not at all alarmed at my situation. I did not consider the door absolutely invulnerable; and I was confident that I had strength enough to remove the boards that had been nailed up before the window.
When I had been in the room a few minutes, there was light enough which came through the cracks in the boards before the window to enable me to see where I was. There was not an article of furniture of any kind in the apartment. The boards appeared to be securely fastened, not with nails, as I had supposed, but with screws. The boards were of hard pine, and about as strong as oak. My prison was stronger than it seemed at first.
I came to the conclusion before I had been in the room ten minutes, that this apartment had been prepared for my reception. Captain Boomsby knew that the Sylvania was to return to Jacksonville, as others did. It was plain that he had not yet given up the idea of possessing the steamer. He claimed to be my guardian, and to have the legal right to possess whatever belonged to me. Carrington had told him my father was dead, and he believed he could carry his point. I had certainly been bound out to him until I was of age; but he had surrendered all his claims to me in writing to my father, though this document had been destroyed in the fire.
The fact that I had a father, rendered his claim upon me of no value. I was satisfied that no lawyer would undertake the case he proposed to make out against me. I learned that he had tried in Charleston to employ a legal gentleman to assist him in his work of getting possession of the steamer; but no one could furnish any warrant of law for the proceeding. I was not disposed to bother my head with the legal aspect of the case, for my ancient enemy certainly had no legal right to kidnap me, and make me a prisoner in his own house. I was a prisoner; and when I came to a realizing sense of the fact, I was ready for business.
"What on airth are you doin' up here, Parker Boomsby?" snarled the wife of that worthy; and as I stood at the door of my prison, I could hear her pant from the violence of her exertions in ascending the stairs, for, like her liege lord, she had greatly increased her avoirdupois since I lived with the family at Glossenbury. Possibly she drank too much whiskey, like the companion of her joys and sorrows, though I had no information on this point. I only knew that she used to take a little when she was too hot or too cold, when she was wet or when she was dry.
"Hush, Nancy! Don't cut up now!" pleaded the master of the house, as perhaps he supposed he was.
"Don't talk to me, Parker Boomsby! What are you a-doin' up here? What sort of a con-spy-racy be you gittin' up at this blessed moment? Don't talk to me about cuttin' up! It is you that is allus cuttin' up, and never tellin' your peaceful, sufferin' wife what you are doin'," replied Mrs. Boomsby; and I was confident she had been drinking to some extent, from her maudlin tones.
"Hush, Nancy! I've got Sandy Duddleton, with all his fine sodjer's clothes on, in that room," said the captain, in a tone of triumph. "I shall make him give up that steam-yachet; and I shall run her as a reg'lar line up to Green Cove Springs, stoppin' at our orange farm both ways," replied Captain Boomsby, using his best efforts to appease the anger of his spouse.
"Hev you got him in there?" demanded the lady, evidently entirely mollified by the announcement of her husband. "I want to see him. I hain't sot eyes on him sence I see him in Michigan."
"It won't do to open the door: he'll git away if I do. Wait till he gits tamed down a little, and then you shall see him. Good gracious! I forgot all about the bar! Jest as like as not some nigger will come in and help hisself to the best liquor behind the counter. Run down, Nancy, and tell Nicholas to tend to the bar," said the captain.
"Run down yourself, you old fool!" replied the amiable lady. "Do you think I come clear up here for nothin'? I want to see Sandy Duddleton in his sodjer's clothes."
"It won't do to open that door: he will git out if you do. But I must go down and look out for the bar. I shouldn't wonder if I had lost ten cents by this time," replied Captain Boomsby; and I heard his heavy step on the stairs as he went down.
A moment later I heard a hand applied to the handle of the door, and I had no doubt it was Mrs. Boomsby trying to open it in order to obtain a view of "Sandy Duddleton," which was the name by which I was known when an inmate of the poor-house. But the door was locked, and the key was in the pocket of the proprietor of the saloon. The lady seemed to be angry because she could not get into the room where I was; and I must add that I was also sorry she could not, for if she could get in, I could get out.
She tried the door several times, but she could not get in. She said nothing to me; and as I expected no assistance from her, I said nothing. Presently I heard her step on the stairs, hardly less heavy than that of her husband. I concluded that it must be five o'clock by this time; and looking at my watch, I found it was half an hour later. I wanted to get out before dark; and so far, I had not matured any plan to accomplish this purpose. I went to the window, and examined the boards which had been screwed up before it.
I had a large jack-knife in my pocket, which I had carried for several years. It had a kind of scimitar-shaped blade I had used when at work on rigging. But I had little hope of being able to remove the screws from the hard pine, which was as hard to work as oak. I struck a match I had in my pocket, and by the light of it made a careful examination of the screw-heads in the boards. I saw that holes had been bored in the wood to admit the screws: indeed, it would have been impossible to get them through without boring. Of course this would make it easier to remove the screws.
But what was the use of taking down the boards in front of the window? I could not jump down from the attic floor of the building. Yet I could go to the next window, come into the house again, and then go down-stairs, the same as anybody would. I noticed that the lowest board was not more than two inches wide: it had been cut to fit what remained uncovered of the window. I applied my knife to the screws in this narrow strip. Though they were hard to move, I succeeded in getting them out. But the labor of taking down the rest of the boards, or enough of them to enable me to pass out, was so great that I was discouraged in the attempt to accomplish it. The end of the knife-blade did not fit the slit of the screw.
The removal of the narrow board admitted light enough to enable me to see all about the room. Next to the door which opened into the hall was another, which I concluded led into a closet. There was no picture of me when I was a small child; and I wondered if Captain Boomsby had invented that fable on the spot. I was not willing to believe it. It would have required too great an exercise of imaginative power for him; and it was not unlikely that he had spent weeks in evolving the brilliant fiction.
I did not expect to be left alone and unguarded for any great length of time. My persecutor knew that I had some enterprise about me, and that I would not tamely submit to my imprisonment. Perhaps he noticed that I wore light shoes, and should not be likely to kick the door down with them, as I might if I had on thick cowhide boots. I picked up the narrow strip of board I had removed from the window; it was very heavy for its size. If I had got a purchase on the door of the room, I could have pried it down; but there was no chance to get hold of it.
Possibly there was something in the closet that would aid me. I opened the door. As I did so, an ugly-looking snake darted out into the room. He coiled himself up in one corner of the room and showed fight, while I fled to the opposite corner.