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Adrift in New York: Tom and Florence Braving the World, a novel by Horatio Alger

Chapter 17. A Mysterious Adventure

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_ Chapter XVII. A Mysterious Adventure

Several weeks passed without changing in any way the position or employment of Dodger or Florence.

They had settled down to their respective forms of labor, and were able not only to pay their modest expenses, but to save up something for a rainy day.

Florence had but one source of regret.

She enjoyed her work, and did not now lament the luxurious home which she had lost.

But she did feel sore at heart that her uncle made no sign of regret for their separation.

From him she received no message of forgiveness or reconciliation.

"He has forgotten me!" she said to herself, bitterly. "He has cast me utterly out of his heart. I do not care for his money, but I do not like to think that my kind uncle--for he was always kind till the last trouble--has steeled his heart against me forever."

But she learned through a chance meeting with Jane, that this was not so.

"Mr. Linden is getting very nervous and low-spirited," said the girl, "and sits hour after hour in the library looking into the fire, a-fotchin' deep sighs every few minutes. Once I saw him with your photograph--the one you had taken last spring--in his hands, and he looked sad-like when he laid it down."

"My dear uncle! Then he does think of me sometimes?"

"It's my belief he'd send for you if Curtis would let him."

"Surely Curtis cannot exercise any restraint upon him?"

"He has frequent talks with the old gentleman. I don't know what he says, but it's sure to be something wicked. I expect he does all he can to set him against you. Oh, he's a cunning villain, he is, even if he is your cousin, Miss Florence."

"And do you think my uncle is unhappy, Jane?" said Florence, thoughtfully.

"That I do, miss."

"He never was very bright or cheerful, you know."

"But he never was like this. And I do think he's gettin' more and more feeble."

"Do you think I ought to call upon him, and risk his sending me away?"

"It might be worth tryin', Miss Florence."

The result of this conversation was that Florence did make up her mind the very next afternoon to seek her old home. She had just reached the front steps, and was about to ascend, when the door opened and Curtis appeared.

He started at sight of his cousin.

"Florence!" he said. "Tell me why you came here?"

"I am anxious about my uncle," she said. "Tell me, Curtis, how he is."

"You know he's never in vigorous health," said Curtis, evasively.

"But is he as well as usual?"

"He is about the same as ever. One thing would do more for him than anything else."

"What's that?"

"Your agreement to marry me," and he fixed his eyes upon her face eagerly.

Florence shook her head.

"I should be glad to help my uncle," she said, "but I cannot agree to marry you."

"Why not?" he demanded, roughly.

"Because I do not love you, and never shall," she responded, firmly.

"In other words, you refuse to do the only thing that will restore our uncle to health and happiness?"

"It is too much to ask." Then, fixing her eyes upon him keenly: "Why should uncle insist upon this marriage? Is it not because you have influenced him in the matter?"

"No," answered Curtis, falsely. "He has some secret reason, which he will not disclose to me, for desiring it."

Florence had learned to distrust the words of her wily cousin.

"May I not see him?" she asked. "Perhaps he will tell me."

"No; I cannot permit it."

"You cannot permit it? Are you, then, our uncle's guardian?"

"No, and yes. I do not seek to control him, but I wish to save him from serious agitation. Should he see you, and find that you are still rebellious, the shock might kill him."

"I have reason to doubt your words," said Florence, coldly. "I think you are resolved to keep us apart."

"Listen, and I will tell you a secret; Uncle John has heart disease, so the doctor assures me. Any unwonted agitation might kill him instantly. I am sure you would not like to expose him to such a risk."

He spoke with apparent sincerity, but Florence did not feel certain that his words were truthful.

"Very well," she said. "Then I will give up seeing him."

"It is best, unless you are ready to accede to his wishes--and mine."

She did not answer, but walked away slowly.

"It would never do to have them meet!" muttered Curtis. "The old gentleman would ask her to come back on any terms, and then all my scheming would be upset. That was a happy invention of mine, about heart disease," he continued, with a low laugh. "Though she only half believed it, she will not dare to run the risk of giving him a shock."

It was about this time that the quiet tenor of Dodger's life was interrupted by a startling event.

He still continued to visit the piers, and one afternoon about six o'clock, he stood on the pier awaiting the arrival of the day boat from Albany, with a small supply of evening papers under his arm.

He had sold all but half a dozen when the boat touched the pier. He stood watching the various passengers as they left the boat and turned their steps in different directions, when some one touched him on the shoulder.

Looking up, he saw standing at his side a man of slender figure, with gray hair and whiskers.

"Boy," he said, "I am a stranger in the city. Can I ask your assistance?"

"Yes, sir; certainly," answered Dodger, briskly.

"Do you know where the nearest station of the elevated road is?"

"Yes, sir?"

"I want to go uptown, but I know very little about the city. Will you accompany me as guide? I will pay you well."

"All right, sir," answered Dodger.

It was just the job he was seeking.

"We will have to walk a few blocks, unless you want to take a carriage."

"It isn't necessary. I am strong, in spite of my gray hair."

And indeed he appeared to be.

Dodger noticed that he walked with the elastic step of a young man, while his face certainly showed no trace of wrinkles.

"I live in the West," said the stranger, as they walked along. "I have not been here for ten years."

"Then you have never ridden on the elevated road?" said Dodger.

"N-no," answered the stranger, with curious hesitation.

Yet when they reached the station he went up the staircase and purchased his ticket with the air of a man who was thoroughly accustomed to doing it.

"I suppose you don't want me any longer," said Dodger, preparing to resign the valise he was carrying, and which, by the way, was remarkably light considering the size.

"Yes, I shall need you," said the other hurriedly. "There may be some distance to walk after we get uptown."

"All right, sir."

Dodger was glad that further service was required, for this would of course increase the compensation which he would feel entitled to ask.

They entered one of the cars, and sat down side by side.

The old gentleman drew a paper from his pocket, and began to read, while Dodger, left to his own devices, sat quiet and looked about him.

He was rather surprised that the old gentleman, who, according to his own representation, was riding upon the elevated road for the first time, seemed to feel no curiosity on the subject, but conducted himself in all respects like an experienced traveler.

"He's a queer customer!" thought Dodger. "However, it's all one to me, as long as he pays me well for the job."

They got out at One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street, and struck down toward the river, Dodger carrying the valise.

"I wonder where we're going?" he asked himself.

At length they reached a wooden house of three stories, standing by itself, and here the stranger stopped.

He rang the bell, and the door was opened by a hump-backed negro, who looked curiously at Dodger.

"Is the room ready, Julius?" asked the old man.

"Yes, sir."

"Boy, take the valise upstairs, and I will follow you."

Up two flights of stairs walked Dodger, followed by the old man and the negro.

The latter opened the door of a back room, and Dodger, obedient to directions, took the valise inside and deposited it on a chair.

He had hardly done so when the door closed behind him, and he heard the slipping of a bolt.

"What does all this mean?" Dodger asked himself in amazement. _

Read next: Chapter 18. In A Trap

Read previous: Chapter 16. Dodger Becomes Ambitious

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