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After the excitement of the chase was at an end, Nick Smithers had a chance to think matters over, and he concluded to get out of Springfield without delay.
He was much upset because of Nat's unexpected appearance, and the fact that his satchel and belongings were still at the hotel did not tend to add to his good humor.
"I can't go for those things, or send for them," he reasoned. "Confound that boy! Who would ever have dreamed that he would make such trouble for me? I took him for a regular country greeny. But he's as sharp as a razor!"
For a long time matters had been going illy with Nicholas Smithers, alias Hamilton Dart, alias half a dozen other names. He had tried to work one of his swindling schemes in Springfield, but nobody had taken his bait, and his ready funds were consequently running low. When he had money he lived extravagantly, so that his ill-gotten gains never lasted him any great length of time.
"Something must be done, and that pretty soon," he reasoned. "Wonder where I had best go next?"
Before going to Springfield he had had in mind to try Albany, and now he resolved to go to the latter-named city by the first train. This train was the very one upon which Nat was riding, but the swindler did not immediately discover this.
Some miles out of Springfield the train stopped at a small station. The only person in waiting was a young lady handsomely dressed, who did not appear to have any baggage. She got in, and as chance would have it, took a seat close to the swindler.
Nick Smithers had always interested himself in those around him, and he looked the young lady over carefully. She was certainly beautiful, and she appeared to be rich.
"Traveling all alone, eh?" mused the swindler. "And no doubt she has money. Wonder if I could get anything out of her?"
He watched his chance, and when she happened to drop her handkerchief, he promptly picked it up.
"Charming day," said he, with a smile.
"It is indeed beautiful," said the young lady, turning her dark, brilliant eyes full upon the rascal.
"Do you enjoy riding in the cars?" he went on, with another smile.
"I? Well—I—I—What will you say to me when I tell you that now, for the first time, I find myself in the cars?"
"For the first time?" repeated Nick Smithers, in astonishment.
"It is even so," said the young lady. "I do not wonder that you are surprised. I—I presume there are few cases like mine." And she heaved a long sigh.
"Here is certainly a mystery!" thought the confidence man. "Can she have lived all her life in the backwoods, or what? I must investigate this."
"You are surprised?" she said, softly.
"I must confess that I am, madam. Perhaps you have a dislike to cars?"
"No, not in the least."
"Then——" And Nick Smithers paused questioningly.
"I—I—perhaps I had better tell my story," faltered the young lady. "I need a confidant, and I need advice. Can I trust you, sir?"
"You assuredly can," said the swindler, instantly. "If I can be of any service whatever to you, command me."
The young lady glanced around shyly, to see that no other passengers were near.
"I presume I shall have to tell my whole story," went on the young lady. "It is rather long."
"Never mind—we have plenty of time," answered Nick Smithers.
"My father died when I, his only child, was very young. My mother was already dead. My father left a large fortune, estimated at that time, at about a hundred thousand dollars."
"That's some money," thought the swindler. "I hope she has some of it with her."
"Of course, it was necessary to leave me in charge of someone. For this trust my father's brother was selected. He was poor, never having met with the worldly success that crowned my father's efforts. The allowance he received for caring for me and my inheritance was liberal. Shortly after my father died my uncle moved to the town where I boarded the train, living in a house which was a part of my father's estate."
"I understand," said the swindler, nodding. "Go on."
"According to the terms of my father's will my uncle was to have sole charge of my property until I was twenty-five, unless I should before that time get—get married." The young lady blushed. "It was a stupid provision, in one way, for it made my uncle take me to that out-of-the-way place, and practically keep me buried alive, for fear I would get married before I was twenty-five."
"He wanted to hang on to a good thing," said Nick Smithers, with a laugh. "But please proceed."
"At first I did not understand my uncle's motive, but as I grew older my eyes were opened, and at last I resolved to—to—well, to get out of his power."
"And so you ran away, is that it?"
"Yes. This morning I succeeded in eluding my uncle's vigil, and here I am. I came away in such a hurry that I brought with me no extra baggage. No doubt you were surprised to see me enter without so much as an extra wrap."
"I thought you might be going only a short distance."
"I scarcely know where I am going."
"Then you have formed no plans?"
"None whatever. I have not had time, and I know so little of the world. All I care for now is, not to fall into the hands of my uncle until—until——"
"You are twenty-five or married," finished the swindler.
"May I presume to ask you your present age?"
"Yesterday I was twenty-one."
"Then, legally, you ought to be your own mistress."
"So I thought. That is one thing which gave me the courage to run away."
There was a short spell of silence, during which Nick Smithers did some rapid thinking. He felt that here was a chance to make a round sum of money. If this young lady was rich, it would be a stroke of luck to get her in his power.
So far the swindler had never married. He had once proposed to a fine girl, but she had read him thoroughly, and rejected him. It might not be a bad scheme to propose to the girl before him. He could see that she was very romantic, and he was willing to do almost anything for money.
"I feel honored that you have taken me into your confidence," said he. "Permit me to introduce myself, Lancelot Powers, from Boston. I am traveling for my health."
"I am pleased to know you, Mr. Powers. My name is Clara Rosemead, and my father was Colonel Rosemead, of the International Cable Company."
"I shall consider it my duty to do all I can for you," went on Nick Smithers. "You—you—well, to tell the strict truth, you interest me mightily. In fact, Miss Rosemead, I can't help but love you."
"I trust that you are not offended?" said the swindler, hastily.
"Oh, no, Mr. Powers. But—I didn't quite expect this. But I—I well, I like you, too." And again the girl bent her dark brilliant eyes on him.
"If you'd marry me you'd make me the happiest man in America!" went on Nick Smithers. "It would be so romantic!" he whispered. "Think of how we met on the cars, and fell in love at sight!"
"It would be romantic!" she clasped her hands together. "I'll do it!"
"Good! It will be a fine thing to outwit this uncle of yours."
"Yes! yes! We must outwit him by all means. If he should learn of what I am doing——"
"He can learn the truth—after we are married, Clara." And then Nick Smithers gave the girl's hand a tight squeeze. Had they been in a more secluded place he would have kissed her.
"I—I—am happy!" she said, softly.
"What do you say to getting married when we reach Albany?" went on the swindler. "Then we can return to your home and demand that your uncle make a settlement."
"I shall do as you think best, Lancelot. I know I can trust you," she answered.
"This is the safest snap yet!" thought Nick Smithers. "Once I get hold of her money I can hold her right under my thumb. She has been kept in such seclusion that she knows absolutely nothing of the world at large. And such a beauty, too! Nick, for once you have certainly struck it rich!"
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