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The first 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.
Following out this plan, Jack became a daily promenader in Chestnut, Walnut and other leading thoroughfares. Jack became himself an object of attention, on account of what appeared to be his singular behavior. It was observed that he had no glances to spare for young ladies, but persistently stared at the faces of all middle-aged women--a circumstance naturally calculated to attract remark in the case of a well-made lad like Jack.
"I am afraid," said the baker, "it will be as hard as looking for a needle in a haystack, to find the one you seek among so many faces."
"There's nothing like trying," said Jack, courageously. "I'm not going to give up yet a while. I'd know Ida or Mrs. Hardwick anywhere."
"You ought to write home, Jack. They will be getting anxious about you."
"I'm going to write this morning--I put it off, because I hoped to have some news to write."
He sat down and wrote the following note:
"DEAR PARENTS: I arrived in Philadelphia right side up with care, 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 had been in the city eight days when, as he was sauntering along the street, he suddenly perceived in front of him, a shawl which struck him as wonderfully like the one worn by Mrs. Hardwick. Not only that, but the form of the wearer corresponded to his recollections of the nurse. He bounded forward, and rapidly passing the suspected person, turned suddenly and confronted the woman of whom he had been in search.
The recognition was mutual. Peg was taken aback by this unexpected encounter.
Her first impulse was to make off, but Jack's resolute expression warned her that he was not to be trifled with.
"Mrs. Hardwick?" exclaimed Jack.
"You are right," said she, rapidly recovering her composure, "and you, if I am not mistaken, are John Harding, the son of my worthy friends in New York."
"Well," ejaculated Jack, internally, "she's a cool un, and no mistake."
"My name is Jack," he said, aloud.
"Did you leave all well at home?" asked Peg.
"You can't guess what I came here for?" said Jack.
"To see your sister Ida, I presume."
"Yes," answered Jack, amazed at the woman's composure.
"I thought some of you would be coming on," continued Peg, who had already mapped out her course.
"Yes; it was only natural. What did your father and mother say to the letter I wrote them?"
"The letter you wrote them?" exclaimed Jack.
"Certainly. You got it, didn't you?"
"I don't know what letter you mean."
"A letter, in which I wrote that Ida's mother had been so pleased with the appearance and manners of the child, that she could not determine to part with her."
"You don't mean to say that any such letter as that has been written?" said Jack, incredulously.
"What? Has it not been received?" inquired Peg.
"Nothing like it. When was it written?"
"The second day after our arrival," said Peg.
"If that is the case," said Jack, not knowing what to think, "it must have miscarried; we never received it."
"That is a pity. How anxious you all must have felt!"
"It seems as if half the family were gone. But how long does Ida's mother mean to keep her?"
"Perhaps six months."
"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," replied Peg, calmly. "I didn't mean to tell you, but as you've found out, I won't deny it."
"It's a lie," said Jack. "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 pretense."
"I don't understand what you mean," said Jack.
"Then I will explain to you, though you have treated me so impolitely that I might well refuse. As I informed your father and mother 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 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.
"Can I see Ida?" he asked.
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 with me now, or appoint some other time."
"Now, by all means," said Jack, eagerly. "Nothing shall stand in the way of my seeing Ida."
A grim smile passed over Peg's face.
"Follow me, then," she said. "I have no doubt Ida will be delighted to see you."
"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 had," answered Peg, "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, though looks are against her. Perhaps I have misjudged her."
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