Cast Upon the Breakers/Chapter XXXIII
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."
"Then suppose you call it two thousand?"
"It won't do."
"Then I suppose I must make up my mind to remain a prisoner."
"Five thousand dollars wouldn't be much to a rich man like Pettigrew. We have inquired, and found out that he is worth at least a hundred thousand dollars. Five thousand is only a twentieth part of this sum."
"You can do as you please, but you had better ask a reasonable amount if you expect to get it."
"We don't want advice. We shall manage things in our own way."
Convinced that further discussion would be unavailing, Rodney relapsed into silence, but now his captors proceeded to unfold their plans.
One of them procured a bottle of ink, some paper and a pen, and set them on the table.
"Come up here, boy, and write to Mr. Pettigrew," he said in a tone of authority.
"What shall I write?"
"Tell him that you are a prisoner, and that you will not be released unless he pays five thousand dollars."
"I don't want to write that. It will be the same as asking him to pay it for me."
"That is what we mean him to understand."
"I won't write it."
Rodney knew his danger, but he looked resolutely into the eyes of the men who held his life in their hands. His voice did not waver, for he was a manly and courageous boy.
"The boy's got grit!" said one of the men to the other.
"Yes, but it won't save him. Boy, are you going to write what I told you?"
"Are you not afraid that we will kill you?"
"You have power to do it."
"Don't you want to live?"
"Yes. Life is sweet to a boy of sixteen."
"Then why don't you write?"
"Because I think it would be taking a mean advantage of Mr. Pettigrew."
"You are a fool. Roderick, what shall we do with him?"
"Tell him simply to write that he is in our hands."
"Well thought of. Boy, will you do that?"
Rodney gave his consent for he was anxious that Mr. Pettigrew should know what had prevented him from coming home when he was expected.
"Very well, write! You will know what to say."
Rodney drew the paper to him, and wrote as follows:
DEAR MR. PETTIGREW,
On my way home I was stopped by two men who have confined me in a cave, and won't let me go unless a sum of money is paid for my ransom. I don't know what to do. You will know better than I.
His chief captor took the note and read it aloud.
"That will do," he said. "Now he will believe us when we say that you are in our hands."
He signed to Rodney to rise from the table and took his place. Drawing a pile of paper to him, he penned the following note:
Rodney Ropes is in our hands. He wants his liberty and we want money. Send us five thousand dollars, or arrange a meeting at which it can be delivered to us, and he shall go free. Otherwise his death be on your hands.
Rodney noticed that this missive was written in a handsome business hand.
"You write a handsome hand," he said.
"I ought to," was the reply. "I was once bookkeeper in a large business house."
"And what--" here Rodney hesitated.
"What made me an outlaw you mean to ask?"
"My nature, I suppose. I wasn't cut out for sober, humdrum life."
"Don't you think you would have been happier?"
"No preaching, kid! I had enough of that when I used to go to church in my old home in Missouri. Here, Caesar!"
"You know Oreville?"
"Go over there and take this letter with you. Ask for Jefferson Pettigrew, and mind you don't tell him where we live. Only if he asks about me and my pal say we are desperate men, have each killed a round dozen of fellows that stood in our way and will stick at nothing."
"All right, massa," said Caesar with an appreciative grin. "How shall I go, massa?"
"You can take the kid's horse. Ride to within a mile of Oreville, then tether the horse where he won't easily be found, and walk over to the mines. Do you understand?"
"He won't probably give you any money, but he may give you a letter. Bring it safely to me."
Caesar nodded and vanished.
For an hour the two men smoked their pipes and chatted. Then they rose, and the elder said: "We are going out, kid, for a couple of hours. Are you afraid to stay alone?"
"Why should I be?"
"That's the way to talk. I won't caution you not to escape, for it would take a smarter lad then you to do it. If you are tired you can lie down on the bed and rest."
"I am sorry we haven't got the morning paper for you to look over," said his captor with a smile. "The carrier didn't leave it this morning."
"I can get along without it. I don't feel much like reading."
"You needn't feel worried. You'll be out of this tomorrow if Jefferson Pettigrew is as much your friend as you think he is."
"The only thing that troubles me is the big price you charge at your hotel."
"Good! The kid has a good wit of his own. After all, we wouldn't mind keeping you with us. It might pay you better than working for Pettigrew."
"I hope you'll excuse my saying it, but I don't like the business."
"You may change your mind. At your age we wouldn't either of us like the sort of life we are leading. Come, John."
The two men went out but did not allow Rodney to accompany them to the place of exit.
Left to himself, Rodney could think soberly of his plight. He could not foresee whether his captivity would be brief or prolonged.
After a time the spirit of curiosity seized him. He felt tempted to explore the cavern in which he was confined. He took a lamp, and followed in a direction opposite to that taken by his captors.
The cave he found was divided into several irregularly shaped chambers. He walked slowly, holding up the lamp to examine the walls of the cavern. In one passage he stopped short, for something attracted his attention--something the sight of which made his heart beat quicker and filled him with excitement.