Chapter XVII. Jack Obtains Information.
 

Jack set out with that lightness of heart and keen sense of enjoyment that seem natural to a young man of eighteen on his first journey. Partly by cars, partly by boat, he traveled, till in a few hours he was discharged, with hundreds of others, at the depot in Philadelphia.

Among the admonitions given to Jack on leaving home, one was prominently in his mind, to beware of imposition, and to be as economical as possible.

Accordingly he rejected all invitations to ride, and strode along, with his carpet-bag in hand, though, sooth to say, he had very little idea whether he was steering in the right direction for his uncle's shop. By dint of diligent and persevering inquiry he found it at length, and, walking in, announced himself to the worthy baker as his nephew Jack.

"What, are you Jack?" exclaimed Mr. Abel Crump, pausing in his labor; "well, I never should have known you, that's a fact. Bless me, how you've grown! Why, you're most as big as your father, ain't you?"

"Only half an inch shorter," returned Jack, complacently.

"And you're--let me see, how old are you?"

"Eighteen, that is, almost; I shall be in two months."

"Well, I'm glad to see you, Jack, though I hadn't the least idea of your raining down so unexpectedly. How's your father and mother and Rachel, and your adopted sister?"

"Father and mother are pretty well," answered Jack, "and so is Aunt Rachel," he added, smiling; "though she ain't so cheerful as she might be."

"Poor Rachel!" said Abel, smiling also, "all things look upside down to her. I don't suppose she's wholly to blame for it. Folks differ constitutionally. Some are always looking on the bright side of things, and others can never see but one side, and that's the dark one."

"You've hit it, uncle," said Jack, laughing. "Aunt Rachel always looks as if she was attending a funeral."

"So she is, my boy," said Abel Crump, gravely, "and a sad funeral it is."

"I don't understand you, uncle."

"The funeral of her affections,--that's what I mean. Perhaps you mayn't know that Rachel was, in early life, engaged to be married to a young man whom she ardently loved. She was a different woman then from what she is now. But her lover deserted her just before the wedding was to have come off, and she's never got over the disappointment. But that isn't what I was going to talk about. You haven't told me about your adopted sister."

"That's what I've come to Philadelphia about," said Jack, soberly. "Ida has been carried off, and I've been sent in search of her."

"Been carried off!" exclaimed his uncle, in amazement. "I didn't know such things ever happened in this country. What do you mean?"

In answer to this question Jack told the story of Mrs. Hardwick's arrival with a letter from Ida's mother, conveying the request that the child might, under the guidance of the messenger, be allowed to pay her a visit. To this, and the subsequent details, Abel Crump listened with earnest attention.

"So you have reason to think the child is in (sic) Phildelphia?" he said, musingly.

"Yes," said Jack, "Ida was seen in the cars, coming here, by a boy who knew her in New York."

"Ida!" repeated his Uncle Abel, looking up, suddenly.

"Yes. You know that's my sister's name, don't you?"

"Yes, I dare say I have known it; but I have heard so little of your family lately, that I had forgotten it. It is rather a singular circumstance."

"What is singular!"

"I will tell you," said his uncle. It may not amount to anything, however. A few days since, a little girl came into my shop to buy a small amount of bread. I was at once favorably impressed with her appearance. She was neatly dressed, and had a very sweet face."

"What was her name?" inquired Jack.

"That I will tell you by and by. Having made the purchase, she handed me in payment a silver dollar. 'I'll keep that for my little girl,' thought I at once. Accordingly, when I went home at night, I just took the dollar out the till, and gave it to her. Of course she was delighted with it, and, like a child, wanted to spend it at once. So her mother agreed to go out with her the next day. Well, they selected some nicknack or other, but when they came to pay for it the dollar proved to be spurious."

"Spurious!"

"Yes, bad. Got up, no doubt, by a gang of coiners. When they told me of this I thought to myself, 'Can it be that this little girl knew what she was about when she offered me that money?' I couldn't think it possible, but decided to wait till she came again."

"Did she come again?"

"Yes, only day before yesterday. This time she wanted some gingerbread, so she said. As I thought likely, she offered me another dollar just like the other. Before letting her know that I had discovered the imposition I asked her one or two questions, with the idea of finding out as much as possible about her. When I told her the coin was a bad one, she seemed very much surprised. It might have been all acting, but I didn't think so then. I even felt pity for her and let her go on condition that she would bring me back a good dollar in place of the bad one the next day. I suppose I was a fool for doing so, but she looked so pretty and innocent that I couldn't make up my mind to speak or harshly to her. But I'm afraid that I was deceived, and that she is an artful character, after all."

"Then she didn't come back with the good money?" said Jack.

"No, I haven't seen her since; and, what's more, I don't think it very likely she will venture into my shop at present."

"What name did she give you?" asked Jack.

"Haven't I told you? It was the name that made me think of telling you. It was Ida Hardwick."

"Ida Hardwick!" exclaimed Jack, bounding from his chair, somewhat to his uncle's alarm.

"Yes, Ida Hardwick. But that hasn't anything to do with your Ida, has it?"

"Hasn't it, though?" said Jack. "Why, Mrs. Hardwick was the woman that carried her away."

"Mrs. Hardwick--her mother!"

"No, not her mother. She was, or at least she said she was, the woman that took care of Ida before she was brought to us."

"Then you think that Ida Hardwick may be your missing sister?"

"That's what I don't know," said Jack. "If you would only describe her, Uncle Abel, I could tell better."

"Well," said Mr. Abel Crump, thoughtfully, "I should say this little girl might be eight or nine years old."

"Yes," said Jack, nodding; "what color were her eyes?"

"Blue."

"So are Ida's."

"A small mouth, with a very sweet expression."

"Yes."

"And I believe her dress was a light one, with a blue ribbon about her waist. She also had a brown scarf about her neck, if I remember rightly."

"That is exactly the way Ida was dressed when she went away. I am sure it must be she."

"Perhaps," suggested his uncle, "this woman, though calling herself Ida's nurse, was really her mother."

"No, it can't be," said Jack, vehemently. "What, that ugly, disagreeable woman, Ida's mother! I won't believe it. I should just as soon expect to see strawberries growing on a thorn-bush. There isn't the least resemblance between them."

"You know I have not seen Mrs. Hardwick, so I cannot judge on that point."

"No great loss," said Jack. "You wouldn't care much about seeing her again. She is a tall, gaunt, disagreeable looking woman; while Ida is fair, and sweet looking. I didn't fancy this Mrs. Hardwick when I first set eyes on her. Aunt Rachel was right, for once."

"What did she think?"

"She took a dislike to her, and declared that it was only a plot to get possession of Ida; but then, that was what we expected of Aunt Rachel."

"Still, it seems difficult to imagine any satisfactory motive on the part of this woman, supposing she is not Ida's mother."

"Mother, or not," returned Jack, "she's got possession of Ida; and, from all that you say, she is not the best person to bring her up. I am determined to rescue Ida from this she-dragon. Will you help me, uncle?"

"You may count upon me, Jack, for all I can do."

"Then," said Jack, with energy, "we shall succeed. I feel sure of it. 'Where there's a will there's a way,' you know."