By this time Mr. Parsons' peculiar proceedings were beginning to arouse 바카라사이트 my suspicions. I could not fail to notice that he had twice told me to make trifling purchases, and that, although he had received some pennies in exchange for the first florin, he yet brought out a half-crown for the wax lights. My dawning suspicions grew stronger on the way home on a penny omnibus, when he offered the conductor another two-shilling piece.

The conductor was an amiable, talkative man, and Mr. Parsons had already begun a conversation with him.

'Haven't you got anything smaller?' he asked, 'because I have been doing nothing but giving change half the day.'

'Sorry I haven't,' said Mr. Parsons.

'Well, I shall have to give you a shilling's worth of coppers,' answered the conductor.

'All right—all right, it can't be helped,' said Mr. Parsons, and, of course, I knew that he had already several pennies in his pockets.

'There was the change out of the wax lights and the ginger-beer,' I suggested.

'So there was,' he cried, with a sharp glance over his shoulder, as if to make certain that the conductor had left the roof.

When the omnibus stopped at our turning, I rose quickly, always on the look-out for a chance to escape, but I felt a grip on my knee.

'Age before honour, Jacky,' said Mr. Parsons, who took the precaution to alight first and to help me down the last step.

'Once upon a time,' he remarked, as we walked towards the house, 'I knew a lad about your age who was just a leetle too clever, and perhaps you would like to hear what happened to him.'

'What?' I inquired with a shudder.

'That little lad, Jacky, was licked with a strap. The little lad, Jacky, was kept in one room without any food till he learnt how to behave and keep his thoughts to himself. See, Jacky?'

'Yes,' I answered, 'I see,' and I felt helpless.

We had not been in the house more than half an hour, when he went to a cupboard on one side of the front room and took out a coiled strap.

'That's what I was telling you about, my lad,' he said with a smile. 'Don't be afraid; take it in your hand and feel it. A good bit of leather—there's nothing like leather, you know. Just hold it in your right hand; now open your left. Try it, Jacky, try it,' he cried, with a strange glitter in his eyes, and I dared not think of disobedience, but raised the strap and brought it down lightly on my palm.

'Now, good obedient boys find me very kind to them,' he continued; 'very kind indeed, Jacky. And if there's anything you'd like to amuse yourself, why, you have only to say the word.'

Apart from worse evils, I found the hours drag terribly slowly, especially as I had nothing whatever to divert my thoughts. Moreover, I felt extremely anxious to fall in with his humour.

'I suppose there isn't a book I could have?' I suggested.

'Why not, my lad?' he answered. 'I didn't want particular to go out again to-day, but anything to encourage a good young chap. There is a nice shop in Edgware Road—hundreds of books for fourpence-halfpenny each. Come along, Jacky!'

I had not counted on being taken so quickly at my word, but Mr. Parsons at once put on his hat, and, giving me mine, led me out into the street, and so to the large bookshop, where I saw piles of cheap novels. Not daring to refuse to buy one even if I wished, I selected, after some hesitation, a copy of the Three Musketeers, which I paid for with another two-shilling piece. At least, it enabled me to forget some of my troubles for two hours that evening. I had never read the book before, and sitting in a corner of the ill-lighted room, I soon became lost in the exciting story.

When it was bed-time, Mr. Parsons himself accompanied me to my room, where the bed was exactly as I had left it that morning.

'Be careful of your collar, Jacky,' he said when we reached the top story. 'I set great value on a nice clean collar. Mind you don't crumple it.'

When I had entered the room I was not surprised to hear him put a key in the lock and turn it. Although it was not pleasant to feel that I was a prisoner, I had little fear of personal injury unless I openly rebelled. Perhaps this is what I ought actually to have done; if so, I can only say that I did not possess sufficient courage.

I understood now, beyond a doubt, that the people with whom I had become connected were neither more nor less than makers of false coin. While Mr. Loveridge, and the third man whom I had seen that day, conducted the manufacture in the basement, Mr. Parsons spent his time in getting rid of the result of[Pg 159] their labours. I imagined that he had begun to meet with difficulties, and that he thought a decently dressed boy of honest appearance would prove an excellent tool for his purpose.

It was plain that having once permitted me to learn his occupation, Mr. Parsons could not, for the sake of his own safety, afford to let me go, lest I should give information to the police. At any cost he would keep me under observation, and as far as I could see I should find it extremely difficult to escape. Yet, on the other hand, I felt certain that as long as I obeyed, I should be free from actual ill-usage. That he could be cruel on occasion I had no doubt, and he had certainly managed to overawe my little stock of courage. But when I had said my prayers that night, I felt stronger and braver; before I fell asleep I determined to do my utmost to keep my spirits up; I would meet cunning with cunning, and above everything give him no cause for suspicion.

But the next day a slight difficulty arose. In the morning I lay on my bed reading the adventures of D'Artagnan and the rest, until Mr. Parsons was pleased to unlock my door and let me out of the bedroom, when I made no complaint of his conduct in turning the key. Having had breakfast, although every meal in that house was repulsive, and I felt as if the food would choke me, and almost wished it might, we set out as usual, and before we had gone far, Mr. Parsons stopped at a tobacconist's shop, and, giving me a half-crown, told me to buy a threepenny packet of cigarettes.

It was a shop of a better class than any he had sent me into before, and, placing the coin on the counter, I asked for what I had been ordered to buy. But the man behind the counter seized upon the half-crown at once.

'That looks to me like a bad one,' he cried, gazing into my face, and I suppose that my heightened colour, or some expression of guilty knowledge, told him that I knew that as well as he did. Placing the rim of the coin in a metal niche on the edge of the counter, he easily broke the false half-crown into two pieces, which he flung into my face. One of them hit my left cheek a little painfully.

'Now be off and never show your face here again,' he shouted, 'or I will have you locked up.'

Without a word, although my blood was boiling, and I had never been spoken to in this way before, I hung my head and walked out of the shop.

As soon as I reached the street, Mr. Parsons seized my arm as usual.

'Change!' he said.

'I have not got it,' I answered.

'How's that?' he sharply snapped out.

'The man said the half-crown was bad, and broke it in halves,' I exclaimed, and gripping me more tightly Mr. Parsons quickened his pace and turned aside down the first street on our right.

I felt that he was eyeing me significantly as we went, and my thoughts were busy in an attempt to determine the wisest line of action. Perhaps my circumstances were making me artful, and it is true that I felt convinced that my escape could only be accomplished by strategy.

It may appear that nothing would have been more simple than to free myself, especially as I spent some hours in the public streets every day. Now that I look back on those days from a position of safety, I even wonder whether a little more resolution, a little more courage, might have earlier put an end to my difficult position. Surely it must have been possible to have wrenched my arm from Parsons' grasp, and he would not have dared to raise the hue and cry after me, or do anything to attract attention to himself. Or I might have appealed to any policeman for protection, or to a passer-by, and so have shaken off my tormentor.

Perhaps some such attempt might have succeeded, but unfortunately a potent factor in my case was the terror with which in some way Mr. Parsons still succeeded in inspiring me. I have found myself since those days in positions of some peril, but never have I known such fear as of that old, smug-looking man. This dread had an almost paralysing effect, nor could I fail to forget the terrible penalty I should certainly have to pay if my bid for liberty were not to succeed. So that Mr. Parsons held me in a grip tighter than that of his hand on my arm; for after all I was scarcely more than fifteen years of age at the time, and it was no disgrace to be afraid.

As we hastened away from the neighbourhood of the tobacconist's shop, my fear was that Parsons might suspect that I was dissembling. He could scarcely believe I was sufficiently stupid not to have had my eyes opened by this time, and if I appeared to treat the affair as a matter of course his watchfulness might be redoubled.

His deliberate purpose was, indeed, to pollute my mind, to show me that my easiest course was to fall in with his wishes, and now as we hastened along the streets, I determined to try to lead him to believe that his efforts were already beginning to prove successful.

'I believe that other money was bad, too,' I said.

'Oh, you do, do you, Jacky?' he answered.

'Yes,' I cried, 'and you make it downstairs at your house.'

'Jacky, my lad, you haven't forgotten the story I told you about the boy who was too clever?'

'Still,' I replied, 'one needn't be a fool although one needn't be what you call too clever.'

'True for you, my lad,' said Mr. Parsons.

'Only,' I continued, playing my part with as much skill as I possessed, and more than I could have believed myself capable of a few days ago, 'I don't want to get locked up.'

'No, no,' he answered, 'I don't want you to get locked up either, Jacky. I should miss you, you know, very much. But you act sensibly, and you will be all right. What's more, I will show you how to make your fortune before we have done.'

'I should like to make a fortune,' I said, with perfect truth. But, still, as we walked home by a round-about way, without attempting any further business that morning, I could not quite make up my mind whether I had succeeded in hoodwinking my companion or not.

(Continued on page 162.)
[Pg 160]

"'Be off, or I will have you locked up!'" "'Be off, or I will have you locked up!'"
[Pg 161]

"I took to my heels at once." "I took to my heels at once."
[Pg 162]

(Continued from page 159.)
At least Mr. Parsons could not fail to be aware that I now understood something of the truth about his occupation, while I had certainly done my utmost to make him believe that I regarded it without any deep dislike.

Had I succeeded or not? On the answer to that question my prospects of escape to a great degree depended. When we reached the house, his manner undergoing no change, I went to bed more hopefully than usual. During the morning we had walked round a large block of buildings forming one shop, with three doors in Oxford Street and two in another street behind. Now, if I could induce Mr. Parsons to let me enter by one of the front doors, it would be easy enough to pass through and make an escape from the rear, for he had never yet accompanied me into a shop.

During the next few days, however, we did not go near Oxford Street; the first day was wet, so that Mr. Parsons stayed at home, and when the weather changed, we took a train to Uxbridge, where I succeeded in exchanging five half-crowns—not without many self-reproaches.

The next day being Sunday, none of us left the house, and I think this was the most miserable time of all that I spent beneath Mr. Parsons' roof. I missed the Sunday service, and felt very lonely and helpless. At last, pretending to be overcome by drowsiness, I asked permission to go to bed at seven o'clock.

Whether or not it was due to the brightness of the morning, I awoke with a sense of unaccustomed exhilaration, and something seemed to assure me that I should find my longed-for opportunity to escape before night.

As to what was to happen if I escaped, I had very little idea. Once let me get away from my present surroundings, and nothing else seemed to matter; things could not easily become worse. But, as a matter of fact, I had thought once or twice that I would run the risk of trying to discover Rogers, Captain Knowlton's servant, who had certainly not accompanied him on board the Seagull. I knew that Captain Knowlton had given up his rooms before he left England, but still I might succeed in finding some one who could tell me where Rogers lived, and I felt certain the man would help me if possible. Hitherto I had determined to avoid the Albany, thinking that Mr. Turton would take care to anticipate me, and perhaps make arrangements for my capture, for, in spite of all I had passed through, I shrank as much as ever from the idea of returning to Castlemore, and Augustus and the other fellows at Ascot House. Still, I had in my pocket only the bad half-crown which Mr. Parsons had given me in the train, and it seemed wiser to take the risk of being intercepted, and to make my way to Captain Knowlton's old quarters. But at present I stood no chance of making my way anywhere alone, and the first thing I had to do was to get clear of Mr. Parsons and the Loveridges.

'A lovely morning, Jacky,' Mr. Parsons remarked on Monday, as he took my arm and led me away from the house. 'Makes me feel quite young again.'

'Which way are we going?' I asked.

'Ah, now, which way?'

'I like Oxford Street best,' I answered.

'Do you, my lad?' he cried, amiably. 'Then suppose we try Oxford Street?'

There were a great many people in the street, and it was about eleven o'clock in the morning when I found we were drawing near the shop which I had planned to enter by one door and to leave by another.

'Couldn't we buy something there?' I asked.

'Where, my lad?'