It may be readily supposed that Phil's New York friends listened with the greatest attention to his account of what he had learned in his visit to Planktown.
"Your step-mother is certainly an unscrupulous woman," said Mr. Carter. "Doubtless she has left your old town in order to escape accountability to you for your stolen inheritance. What puzzles me however, is her leaving behind such tell-tale evidence. It is a remarkable oversight. Do you think she is aware of the existence of the will?"
"I think she must be, though I hope not," answered Phil. "I should like to think that she had not conspired to keep back my share of father's estate."
"At any rate, the first thing to do is evidently to find her out, and confront her with the evidence of her crime--that is, supposing her to be really culpable."
"Then you approve of my going to Chicago?" said Phil.
"Most emphatically. Nay, more--I will go with you."
"Will you indeed, sir?" said Phil joyfully. "You are very kind. I shrank from going alone, being a boy ignorant of business."
"A pretty shrewd boy, however," said Mr. Carter, smiling. "I don't claim much credit, however, as I have some interests in Chicago to which I can attend with advantage personally. I am interested in a Western railroad, the main office of which is in that city."
"When shall we go, sir?"
"To-morrow," answered Mr. Carter promptly. "The sooner the better. You may go down town and procure the necessary tickets, and engage sleeping-berths."
Here followed the necessary directions, which need not be repeated.
It is enough to say that twenty-four hours later Phil and his employer were passengers on a lightning express train bound for Chicago.
They arrived in due season, without any adventure worth naming, and took rooms at the Palmer House.
Now, it so happened that in the same hotel at the very same moment were three persons in whom Phil was vitally interested. These were Mrs. Brent, Jonas, otherwise called Philip Granville, and Mr. Granville himself.
Let me explain their presence in Chicago, when, as we know, Mr. Granville's house was situated at some distance away.
Jonas had preferred a petition to go to Chicago for a week, in order to attend some of the amusements there to be enjoyed, alleging that it was awfully dull in the country.
Mr. Granville was inclined to be very indulgent, to make up for the long years in which he had been compelled practically to desert his son. The petition therefore received favor.
"It is only natural that you should wish to see something of the city, my son," he said. "I will grant your request. We will go to Chicago, and remain a week at the Palmer House. Mrs. Brent, will you accompany us?"
"With pleasure, Mr. Granville," answered that lady. "It is not dull here for me, still I shall no doubt enjoy a little excitement. At any rate, I shall be best pleased to be where you and your son are."
"Then so let it be. We will go to-morrow."
One secret wish and scheme of Mrs. Brent has not been referred to. She felt that her present position was a precarious one. She might at any time be found out, and then farewell to wealth and luxury! But if she could induce Mr. Granville to marry her, she would then be secure, even if found out, and Jonas would be the son of Mr. Granville, though detected as a usurper. She, therefore, made herself as agreeable as possible to Mr. Granville, anticipated his every wish, and assumed the character, which she did not possess, of a gracious and feminine woman of unruffled good humor and sweetness of disposition.
"I say, ma," Jonas observed on one occasion, "you've improved ever so much since you came here. You're a good deal better natured than you were."
Mrs. Brent smiled, but she did not care to take her son into her confidence.
"Here I have no cares to trouble me," she said. "I live here in a way that suits me."
But when they were about starting for Chicago, Mrs. Brent felt herself becoming unaccountably depressed.
"Jonas," she said, "I am sorry we are going to Chicago."
"Why, ma? We'll have a splendid time."
"I feel as if some misfortune were impending over us," said his mother, and she shivered apprehensively.
But it was too late to recede. Besides, Jonas wished to go, and she had no good reason to allege for breaking the arrangement.
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