Chapter XVIII. Finesse.
 

The next thing to be done by Jack was, of course, in some way to obtain a clew to the whereabouts of Peg, or Mrs. Hardwick, to use the name by which he knew her. No mode of proceeding likely to secure this result occurred to him, beyond the very obvious one of keeping in the street as much as possible, in the hope that chance might bring him face to face with the object of his pursuit.

Fortunately her face was accurately daguerreotyped in his memory, so that he felt certain of recognizing her, under whatever circumstances they might meet.

In pursuance of this, the only plan which suggested itself, Jack became a daily promenader in Chestnut and other streets. Many wondered what could be the object of the young man who so persistently frequented the thoroughfares. It was observed that, while he paid no attention to young ladies, he scrutinized the faces of all middle-aged or elderly women whom he met, a circumstance likely to attract remark, in the case of a well-made youth like Jack.

Several days passed, and, although he only returned to his uncle's house at the hour of meals, he had the same report to bring on each occasion.

"I am afraid," said the baker, "it will be as hard as finding a needle in a hay-stack, to hope to meet the one you seek, among so many faces."

"There's nothing like trying," answered Jack, courageously. "I'm not going to give up yet awhile."

He sat down and wrote the following note, home:--

"DEAR PARENTS:

"I arrived in Philadelphia safe, and am stopping at Uncle Abel's. He received me very kindly. I have got track of Ida, though I have not found her yet. I have learned as much as this, that this Mrs. Hardwick--who is a double distilled she-rascal--probably has Ida in her clutches, and has sent her on two occasions to my uncle's. I am spending most of my time in the streets, keeping a good lookout for her. If I do meet her, see if I don't get Ida away from her. But it may take some time. Don't get discouraged, therefore, but wait patiently. Whenever anything new turns up you will receive a line from your dutiful son

"JACK."

In reply to this letter, or rather note, Jack received an intimation that he was not to cease his efforts as long as a chance remained to find Ida.

The very day after the reception of this letter, as Jack was sauntering along the street, he suddenly perceived in front of him a form which at once reminded him of Mrs. Hardwick. Full of hope that this might be so, he bounded forward, and rapidly passed the suspected person, turned suddenly round, and confronted Ida's nurse.

The recognition was mutual. Peg was taken aback by this unexpected encounter.

"Her first impulse was to make off, but the young man's resolute expression warned her that this would prove in vain.

"Mrs. Hardwick!" said Jack.

"You are right," said she, nodding, "and you, if I am not mistaken, are John Crump, the son of my worthy friends in New York."

"Well," ejaculated Jack, internally, "if that doesn't beat all for coolness."

"My name is Jack," he said, aloud.

"Indeed! I thought it might be a nickname."

"You can't guess what I came here for," said Jack, with an attempt at sarcasm, which utterly failed of its effect.

"To see your sister Ida, I presume," said Peg, coolly.

"Yes," said Jack, amazed at the woman's composure.

"I thought some of you would be coming on," said Peg, whose prolific genius had already mapped out her course.

"You did?"

"Yes, it was only natural. But what did your father and mother say to the letter I wrote them?"

"The letter you wrote them!"

"The letter in which I wrote that Ida's mother had been so pleased with the appearance and manners of her child, that she could not resolve to part with her, and had determined to keep her for the present."

"You don't mean to say," said Jack, "that any such letter as that has been written?"

"What, has it not been received?" inquired Peg, in the greatest apparent astonishment.

"Nothing like it," answered Jack. "When was it written?"

"The second day after Ida's arrival," replied Peg, unhesitatingly.

"If that is the case," returned Jack, not knowing what to think, "it must have miscarried."

"That is a pity. How anxious you all must have felt!" remarked Peg, sympathizingly.

"It seemed as if half the family were gone. But how long does Ida's mother mean to keep her?"

"A month or six weeks," was the reply.

"But," said Jack, his suspicions returning, "I have been told that Ida has twice called at a baker's shop in this city, and, when asked what her name was, answered Ida Hardwick.' You don't mean to say that you pretend to be her mother?"

"Yes, I do," returned Peg, calmly.

"It's a lie," said Jack, vehemently. "She isn't your daughter."

"Young man," said Peg, with wonderful self-command, "you are exciting yourself to no purpose. You asked me if I pretended to be her mother. I do pretend; but I admit, frankly, that it is all pretence."

"I don't understand what you mean," said Jack, mystified.

"Then I will take the trouble to explain it to you. As I informed your father and mother, when in New York, there are circumstances which stand in the way of Ida's real mother recognizing her as her own child. Still, as she desires her company, in order to avert all suspicion, and prevent embarrassing questions being asked, while she remains in Philadelphia she is to pass as my daughter."

This explanation was tolerably plausible, and Jack was unable to gainsay it, though it was disagreeable to him to think of even a nominal connection between Ida and the woman before him.

"Can I see Ida?" asked Jack, at length.

To his great joy, Peg replied, "I don't think there can be any objection. I am going to the house now. Will you come now, or appoint some other time?"

"I will go now by all means," said Jack, eagerly. "Nothing should stand in the way of seeing Ida."

A grim smile passed over the nurse's face.

"Follow me, then," she said. "I have no doubt Ida will be delighted to see you."

"Dear Ida!" said Jack. "Is she well, Mrs. Hardwick?"

"Perfectly well," answered Peg. "She has never been in better health than since she has been in Philadelphia."

"I suppose," said Jack, with a pang, "that she is so taken up with her new friends that she has nearly forgotten her old friends in New York."

"If she did," said Peg, sustaining her part with admirable self-possession, "she would not deserve to have friends at all. She is quite happy here, but she will be very glad to return to New York to those who have been so kind to her."

"Really," thought Jack; "I don't know what to make of this Mrs. Hardwick. She talks fair enough, if her looks are against her. Perhaps I have misjudged her, after all."