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Chapter 28

A TERRIBLE MISTAKE


How Larry wished the patient would awaken so he could question him! But the invalid showed no signs of it, and was in a deep slumber.

"That will do him more good than medicine," said the nurse. "He will probably sleep for several hours."

"Several hours," repeated Larry in dismay.

"Yes, they often do."

"Then there is no use in me waiting," he said. "I'll come back again. When I do I may bring his daughter with me."

"I hope you do," the nurse replied. "I have felt so sorry for the poor man. He seemed to have no friends ever since he has been here. Who is he?"

"I don't want to say for sure, until I get his daughter to identify him," Larry said, for he did not want the story to get out before the Leader had a chance to print it.

He decided he would go to the Potter house and see if Grace had returned yet in response to the telegram sent by the detective. He felt sure she would start immediately on receipt of the message.

In this he was correct, for when he got to the millionaire's home Grace herself answered his ring.

"Oh, Larry! Tell me quick!" she exclaimed. "Where is he? Is he badly hurt? What is the matter? Do you think it is really he?"

"I hope so," Larry said. "Where is your mother?"

"She stayed in Lakewood. I didn't tell her anything about it, for fear it would prove a disappointment. The telegram from the detective came to me and I made up my mind to come home alone and clear matters up before I told mother. She needs a rest, as she is very nervous.

"But now I am here, you must take me to the hospital at once. The telegram said he was in a hospital. How did it happen? Is he badly hurt?"

"I think he is almost well."

"But how did they discover him? Who did it? How did it come about?"

"It will take some time to answer all the questions," replied Larry with a smile. "I'll tell you all I can on the way to the hospital. My mysterious friend, Mah Retto, it seems, has turned out to be your father."

"Then he was the one I saw in front of the house that night, and I thought it was father," said Grace. "His smooth-shaven face deceived me, but I was sure I could not mistake his figure."

"There have been a good many surprises in this case," Larry admitted. "I've often been fooled myself."

"Let's hurry to the hospital," suggested Grace. "I'd rather go with you than with that detective. He is to be here at eleven o'clock, and it's only ten now. Let's hurry away."

Larry agreed, and they left the house. Grace explained that she had caught the first express out of Lakewood that morning and had been home only half an hour when Larry called.

They were so busy talking over all the details of the queer case that they arrived at the hospital much quicker than they anticipated.

"Here we are," said Larry, as he led the way up the broad stone steps of the institution.

"I'm almost afraid to go in," remarked Grace, her voice showing a nervous dread. "It seems so strange. I'm quite frightened, Larry."

"Don't think of anything but that you're going to see your father," the reporter replied, reassuringly. "He'll be so glad to see you. I believe he would have been home long before this if it had not been for the accident."

Larry entered the office of the institution. No sooner had he stepped inside than he was made aware that something unusual had occurred. Nurses and doctors, with anxious looks, were hastening here and there. Orderlies and messengers were hurrying to and fro, and there was a continuous ringing of signal and telephone bells.

"Must have been an accident and a lot of patients bought in," said Larry, for he had seen such activity in hospitals before when a number of injured persons required treatment at once.

"Oh, how terrible!" exclaimed Grace. "Do you suppose many are killed?"

"I hope not. But it looks as if something very unusual had happened."

Just then Larry saw the nurse who had been at the bedside of the patient whom he and Grace had come to see.

"I've brought his daughter," he said to the uniformed attendant. "May we go up now?"

The nurse seemed confused.

"I don't know—I'll see!" she remarked. "Here is the superintendent. Perhaps you had better speak to him," and she whispered something to the official.

"There's something wrong about Mr. Potter!" was Larry's first thought. "I wonder if he could have suddenly died?"

Even Grace, unaccustomed as she was to hospital scenes, was aware that all was not as it should be.

"Oh, Larry!" she exclaimed. "What is the matter? Have they taken him away?"

"I don't know," the reporter answered in a low tone. "I'll soon find out."

The superintendent approached them.

"You wanted to see that patient who was brought in from the steamship pier?" he inquired. "We've never been able to obtain his name."

"I can tell you what it is," answered Larry. "We have every reason to believe he is Hamden Potter, the missing millionaire, and this young lady's father. May we see him?"

"Hamden Potter!" exclaimed the superintendent.

"That's who he is," declared Larry. "He went by the name Mah Retto while he was away. May we go up now?"

"I am sorry," said the superintendent slowly, "but that patient escaped from the ward about half an hour ago, and we have not been able to trace him!"

"Escaped!" cried Larry.

"My father gone again!" gasped Grace.

"Too bad, but that's what has happened," the superintendent repeated. "The nurse left him sleeping quietly, and went downstairs to get some medicine. When she came back he was gone."

"But how could he go out without any clothing?" asked Larry.

"He got some clothing," the head of the institution replied. "In the bed next to him was a patient who was to be discharged as cured to-day. That man's clothes were brought to him and laid out on a chair beside the bed. While he was in the bathroom Mr. Potter, as you call him, got possession of the clothes, put them on, and walked out. Several patients saw him go, but said nothing, as they thought it was all right. When the nurse got back she missed your friend and gave the alarm."

"Can't you tell in what direction he went?" asked Larry.

"So far we have been unsuccessful. We have made inquiries outside, but so many persons are passing in the street that it has been impossible to trace him."

"Was he able to walk very far?" the reporter asked.

"He was strong; much stronger than the usual run of patients who are recovering from such a wound as he had. He must have been more fully recovered than we thought. He had written a letter, the nurse tells me, and this is also gone. Probably he was temporarily out of his mind, and went out to mail the missive. It is a strange occurrence."

"My poor father!" exclaimed Grace. "I thought I had found him, and now he is missing again."

Larry did not know what to do. It was a curious state of affairs. He had been so sure of uniting Mr. Potter and Grace, but now all his plans had come to nothing. Then, too, there was the paper to be considered. Mr. Emberg would expect him to send in the story of the mysterious disappearance of the hospital patient. Yet Larry did not like to leave Grace while he went to telephone. He was in a curious predicament.

"We will send out a general alarm if we do not find him soon," the superintendent went on. "Occasionally delirious patients wander from the wards while the nurses are temporarily absent, but they are always found hiding in some part of the hospital. We have not yet completed the search. Only once in a great while do they get outside the institution. Yet Mr. Potter may have."

"Then we may never find him again," spoke Grace.

"Don't worry," Larry advised, as cheerfully as he could. "He'll come back."

"I'll never see him again!" and Grace was on the verge of tears. "Oh, this is terrible!"

Just then there was heard a confusion of sounds in the corridor outside of the superintendent's office. The latter went to the door, and through the opened portal Grace and Larry heard some one exclaim:

"He's come back!"

"Maybe that's him!" cried the reporter.

The superintendent returned to his office.

"I have a pleasant surprise for you," he exclaimed. "The patient has come back. He says he went out to a telephone."

"Is he—is he all right?" asked Grace.

"Better than ever. The little trip seemed to do him good. Here he is."

He threw open the door he had closed. There, standing in the corridor, was the man Larry had known as Mah Retto—the man he believed was Mr. Potter. The patient was smiling at the reporter.

"There is your father, Grace," said Larry.

The girl gave one look at the man confronting her. She seemed to sway forward, and became deathly pale——

"That is not my father!" she cried, as she fell in a faint.

Victor Appleton

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