THE FELLOW IN THE LOCK-UP.
"You abominable wretch!" exclaimed Mrs. Boomsby, placing her arms akimbo, and looking at me with the utmost ferocity, so that between her and the snake I found there was little choice. "What are you a-doin' in my house?"
"Getting out of it, Mrs. Boomsby," I replied, with the good-nature I had been nursing up-stairs for several minutes.
I wondered whether she knew anything about the snake. The bare thought was enough to assure me that she did not. She would no more have permitted the captain, or any other person, to bring the most harmless reptile into the house, than she would have opened her sleeping apartment for the reception of the sea-serpent, in which both she and her husband believed as in the ocean itself.
"What are you a-doin' here? Can't you let us be here no more'n you could in Michigan? Must you pursue us wherever we go?" demanded the lady, putting the matter in an entirely new light to me, for I believed I had always been able and willing to keep away from the Boomsbys.
"I was invited up-stairs to see you," I began.
"Don't tell me that! Do you think I live in the garret?"
"I thought we were going rather high up; but I supposed Captain Boomsby knew where to find you," I replied, smiling as sweetly as though there were no snakes in the Land of Flowers. "But it seems that your husband lured me up there to make a prisoner of me. He locked me into the little room in the rear attic, which he had fitted up for me by screwing boards over the window."
"Don't tell me such a ry-dicerlous story! I don't believe a word on't. Nobody ever could believe a word you say, Sandy Duddleton!"
"You know very well that I was up there; for I heard your husband tell you so. You talked with him about it, and insisted upon seeing me. But I don't wish to dispute about this matter with you, for I don't think you understand all his plans," I replied, moving towards the head of the stairs, while she planted herself before me so as to prevent my going down.
"Don't talk to me, Sandy Duddleton!"
"I won't talk to you if you will get out of my way, and let me out of the house," I replied, trying to get by her.
"What be you go'n' to do with that stick?" she asked, as she placed herself in front of me.
But I saw that she had a reasonable respect for the stick, and she was milder than I had seen her twenty times before. I looked about me to see if there was any other flight of stairs which would take me to the street, or to the back yard, which opened into a lane by the shore of the river. From the lower hall a door opened into the saloon; and this was the way by which I had come up. I stood in the hall with my back to a door, which I concluded must lead to the rear of the house. Without turning around, I opened this door.
"What be you a-doin'?" demanded Mrs. Boomsby, when she saw that she was flanked; for a glance behind me revealed the back stairs. "Parker Boomsby, come right up here, this minute!" she called down the front stairs.
"I won't trouble the captain," I interposed. "I have a word to say to you before I go, Mrs. Boomsby. I don't think you knew there was a snake about three feet long in the room where your husband made me a prisoner."
"A snake!" gasped the lady of the house, starting back with alarm. "I don't believe a word on't!"
But she did believe it, whatever she said.
"Yes, a snake; and I have no doubt he is a poisonous one, put there to bite me, and make an end of me, so that the captain could get possession of the steam-yacht!" I continued, rather vigorously, for I was afraid I should be interrupted by the coming of the captain.
"A snake in this house! a pizen one, too!" groaned Mrs. Boomsby.
"He was put in the closet; and when I opened the door he came out and made a spring at me. I left him in that room."
"Didn't you kill him, Sandy Duddleton? You used to kill snakes."
"I didn't kill this one, though I struck at him. I broke through the door, and, for aught I know, the snake is following me down-stairs," I replied deliberately. "I think you will see him coming down on the stair-rail."
She did not wait to hear any more, but, with a tremendous scream, rushed by me, bolted into the front room, and closed and locked the door behind her. I certainly did not wish the reptile to bite her or her children; but I did not think there was much danger of the villain getting out of the room through the opening I had made in the door.
The scream of the stout lady did not appear to move her husband, who was probably used to this sort of thing. I had put her on her guard in case the snake did work his way out of the room and down the stairs. I had done my duty, and I walked leisurely down to the hall. The door leading into the saloon was still wide open. The uses of this door were many and various. I had been not a little surprised in some of the Southern cities to notice that the drinking-saloons were all closed on Sunday. In some of them not even a cigar could be bought at the hotel on that day.
Doubtless the law was as strict in Jacksonville as elsewhere; but I had noticed that every saloon had a side door for Sunday use. The front door of the house was closed on other days; on Sunday it was left open, as an intimation that the saloon could be reached in that way. I thought of this Sunday rum-selling as I noticed the arrangement of the doors. Of course the police understood it.
I approached the door opening into the saloon, for I heard the voice of my former tyrant. I wanted to assure him that I was happy still, and that he had better look out for the snake before he bit any of his family.
"He never could get out of there in this world!" exclaimed Captain Boomsby, as I was about to enter the saloon.
"Do you think so, Captain Boomsby?" I coolly asked, as I walked into the room.
To my astonishment, the person to whom the Captain's remark appeared to be addressed was Mr. Kirby Cornwood, whom I had left on board of the Sylvania, asleep under the awning. The Floridian was evidently as much astonished to see me as I was to see him.
"We were speaking of a fellow who was arrested last night," said Cornwood, with one of his blandest smiles. "I think he will get out of the lock-up in less than three days; but the keeper of this place remarked that he would never get out in this world. Only a slight difference of opinion."
"I tell you the fellow will never get out; he isn't smart enough in the first place, and the lock-up is stronger than you think for, Mr.--I don't know's I know your name, though I cal'late I have seen you somewhere afore," added Captain Boomsby.
"I reckon you have seen me here before," replied Cornwood, taking his card from his pocket and presenting it to the captain.
"I can't read it without my glasses," said the saloon-keeper, holding the card off at arm's length.
"My name is Kirby Cornwood," added the Floridian.
"Well, Mr. Corngood, do you----"
"My name is Cornwood," interposed the guide.
"I beg your parding, Mr. Cornwool."
"Cornwood," repeated the owner of that name, rather indignantly.
"All right, Mr. Cornwood. Do you want to bet sunthin' that man won't git out within three days?" continued Captain Boomsby.
"I don't care to bet on it; in fact I never bet," replied Mr. Cornwood, glancing at me, as though he expected me to approve this position, which I certainly did, though I said nothing.
"I will bet five dollars agin three the feller gits out in less than three days, Mr. Woodcorn," persisted Captain Boomsby.
I could not see what the captain was driving at, unless it was to vex the Floridian by miscalling his name. I had known him to do the same thing before. If my old tyrant had manifested some surprise at first at seeing me, he seemed to have got over it very quickly. I was very glad indeed to be satisfied that Cornwood had no knowledge of my imprisonment in the attic, as I supposed he had when I entered the saloon. I had employed him, and was then paying him five dollars a day for doing nothing. I did not wish to believe that he was a friend of my ancient enemy.
"Captain Boomsby, I had to break a hole through the door of the room in which you locked me, in order to get out," I said, as soon as I had an opportunity to get in a word.
"Then you must pay for it, for the landlord will charge it to me," said he, promptly.
"I think not; and if it were not for the time it would take, I would complain of you at the police office. I don't know what kind of a snake it was you put into the closet for my benefit; but I think you will find him running about your house by this time," I replied. "I gave Mrs. Boomsby warning of the danger, and she has locked herself into her room."
"What snake, Sandy Duddleton? What you talking about?" demanded the captain. But I could see that he was not a little disturbed by the information.
"You put a poisonous snake into the closet of that room where you locked me in. You expected me to open the door of the closet, and let him out. I did open the closet-door and let him out; but I did not give him a chance to bite me," I continued, rehearsing the facts for the benefit of Cornwood rather than my tyrant.
"What on airth are you talking about, Sandy? I don't know nothin' about no snake," protested Captain Boomsby.
"I think you know all about the snake, and that you put him there for my benefit. I have nothing further to say about the matter, except that the creature is still in your house, and that he will bite one of your children as readily as he would me. I advise you to attend to the matter, and have him killed," I continued, moving toward the door.
"Stop a minute, Sandy," called my persecutor. "What sort of a snake was it?"
"I don't know; I never saw one like it before."
"I guess I know sunthin' about it, arter all," said Captain Boomsby, with a troubled look. "I had a lodger in the house, and he had an attic room. He had a lot of young alligators, rattlesnakes, lizards, and other critters; and I let him put 'em in that room. He screwed the boards over the winder so they couldn't git out. I cal'late this was one of his snakes."
I had no doubt this story was all an invention, but I had no means of showing to the contrary. He begged me to go up-stairs, and help him kill the "varmint;" but I declined to do this, for I was not willing again to make myself the victim of his treachery. The captain called his son Nicholas from the front shop, which was a cigar store, and told him to look out for the bar.
Before he could go up-stairs two black policemen entered the saloon, armed with sticks. Mrs. Boomsby had told them what the matter was, and they had come in to kill the reptile. I left the premises, followed by Cornwood.