Josie laughed. "This isn't wholly imagination, you goose, for it's based on a knowledge of human nature, as I've hinted. Also it's a scientific matching of the pieces in the puzzle. Why, Mary Louise, in this deduction we have all the necessary elements of the usual crime. A woman—always look for a woman in a mystery, my dear—money, the cause of four-fifths of all crimes, and a guilty man who is afraid of being forced to disgorge his ill-gotten gains. Then we will add an innocent girl who suffers through the machinations of others. Some of my conclusions may not be exactly correct, but in the main the story is absolutely logical."
"That's what you said last night, Josie, when you thought the governess, Gorham, had abducted Alora."
"True, but I have later information which doesn't entirely upset the theory but changes the actors in the drama. I don't say that further investigations may not alter this present plot in some of its details, but the main facts are too lucid and undeniable to get far away from. I'm now going to interview the house physician and get Mrs. Orme's address."
When she had gone, Mary Louise went to Gran'pa Jim with the tale of Josie's latest discoveries and Colonel Hathaway was so impressed by the theory that he decided to telegraph Peter Conant to catch the noon train and come straight to Chicago.
"The complications suggested by Josie will require a lawyer's advice," he said, "and Mr. Conant knows law and can advise us how to handle the case when we have discovered where Alora is confined."
Meanwhile Josie went to the doctor's office and after waiting some time, was finally admitted to his private room.
"I came to ask for the address of a trained nurse—a Mrs. Orme—whom you recommended to Mrs. Tolliver," she began, her innocent eyes regarding the physician gravely.
Dr. Pease frowned.
"I cannot recommend her again," said he. "Although she's a good nurse, she is unreliable, and left my patient without notice when she was badly needed."
"I merely want to find her," declared Josie. "I'm a stranger in town and I've a letter of introduction to Mrs. Orme."
"I don't know her address. I got the woman through Dr. Anstruther."
"Oh. May I telephone Dr. Anstruther, then?"
"I've no objection. There's a telephone in the outer office. But you're not likely to catch him much before noon. Dr. Anstruther is a very busy man."
Josie went to her own room to telephone. She telephoned Dr. Anstruther's office at intervals all the morning, but did not succeed in getting him until nearly two o'clock. Then he answered that he did not know Mrs. Orme's address, having always secured her services through the Sisters' Hospital.
Josie tried the Sisters' Hospital and learned that Mrs. Orme lived in an apartment at 524 Morgan Avenue. She took a taxicab and drove there, determining to obtain an interview with the woman by posing as a nurse who desired assistance in securing employment. But disappointment confronted her. Mrs. Orme had moved from the apartment ten days ago and her present address was unknown.
"She has taken considerable pains to cover her traces," said Josie to Mary Louise, when she returned from her futile trip.
"I hope you're not discouraged, dear," returned Mary Louise anxiously. "The local detectives have done nothing at all, so you are our only hope, Josie."
The embryo detective smiled sweetly.
"I'm not here on a pleasure trip," she said, "although I enjoy travel and good hotel fodder as well as anyone. This is business, but so far I'm just feeling my way and getting a start. You can't open a mystery as you do a book, Mary Louise; it has to be pried open. The very fact that this Mrs. Orme has so carefully concealed her hiding-place is assurance that she's the guilty party who abducted Alora. Being positive of that, it only remains to find her—not an impossibility, by any means—and then we shall have no difficulty in liberating her prisoner."
"But to find her; can you do that, Josie?"
"Certainly, with a little help from the police, which they will gladly furnish. They know I'm Daddy's daughter, for I have already introduced myself to them, and while they may be slow to take the initiative they are always quite willing to aid in an affair of this sort. Now, it stands to reason, Mary Louise, that the nurse didn't use the streets to promenade with. Alora. That would have been dangerous to her plans. There are so few people abroad in Chicago at six o'clock in the morning that those who met the two would have noted and remembered them. For the same reason Mrs. Orme did not take a street car, or the elevated. Therefore, she took a cab, and the cabman who drove them will know Mrs. Orme's address."
"But who was the cabman?" asked Mary Louise.
"That," said Josie, "is to be my next discovery."
CHAPTER XIX DECOYED
The excitement of being once more in a big city rendered Alora Jones wakeful on that eventful Tuesday morning following her arrival in Chicago. At daybreak she rose and peered trough the window into a gray and unimpressive side street; then, disinclined to return to bed, she slowly began dressing.
Presently a sharp knock sounded upon her door. Somewhat surprised, she opened it far enough to see a middle-aged woman attired in nurse's uniform standing in the dim hallway.
"Miss Jones? Miss Alora Jones?" questioned the woman in a soft voice.
"Yes; what is it?"
"I've a message for you. May I come in?"
Alora, fearful that Mary Louise or the Colonel might have been taken suddenly ill, threw wide the door and allowed the woman to enter. As the nurse closed the door behind her Alora switched on the electric light and then, facing her visitor, for the first time recognized her and gave a little cry of surprise.
"Yes; I am Janet Orme, your mother's nurse."
"But I thought you abandoned nursing after you made my father give you all that money," an accent of scorn in her tone.
"I did, for a time," was the quiet answer. "'All that money' was not a great sum; it was not as much as your father owed me, so I soon took up my old profession again."
The woman's voice and attitude were meek and deprecating, yet Alora's face expressed distrust. She remembered Janet's jaunty insolence at her father's studio and how she had dressed, extravagantly and attended theatre parties and fashionable restaurants, scattering recklessly the money she had exacted from Jason Jones. Janet, with an upward sweep of her half veiled eyes, read the girl's face clearly, but she continued in the same subdued tones:
"However, it is not of myself I came here to speak, but on behalf of your mother's old friend, Doctor Anstruther."
"Oh; did he send you here?"
"Yes. I am his nurse, just now. He has always used me on his important cases, and now I am attending the most important case of all—his own."
"Is Dr. Anstruther ill, then?" asked Alora.
"He is dying. His health broke weeks ago, as you may have heard, and gradually he has grown worse. This morning he is sinking rapidly; we have no hope that he will last through the day."
"Oh, I'm sorry for that!" exclaimed Alora, who remembered the kindly old doctor with real affection. He had been not only her mother's physician but her valued friend.
"He learned, quite by accident, of your arrival here last evening," Janet went on, "and so he begged me to see you and implore you to come to his bedside. I advised him not to disturb you until morning, but the poor man is very restless and so I came here at this unusual hour. It seems he is anxious to tell you some secret which your dead mother confided to his keeping and, realizing his hours are numbered, he urges you to lose no time in going to him. That is the message entrusted to me."
There was no emotion in her utterance; the story was told calmly, as by one fulfilling a mission but indifferent as to its success. Alora did not hesitate.
"How far is it?" she quickly asked.
"A fifteen minute ride."
The girl glanced at her watch. It was not quite six o'clock. Mary Louise and the Colonel would not appear for breakfast for a good two hours yet and after breakfast they were all to go to the yacht. The hour was opportune, affording her time to visit poor Doctor Anstruther and return before her friends were up. Had Alora paused to give Janet's story more consideration she might have seen the inconsistencies in the nurse's statements, but her only thoughts were to learn her mother's secret and to show her sincere consideration for her kindly old friend.
Hastily completing her attire she added her hat and jacket and then said:
"I am ready, Janet."
"I hope we shall find him still alive," remarked the nurse, a cleverly assumed anxiety in her tone, as she took the key from inside the door and fitted it to the outer side of the lock.
Alora passed out, scarcely aware that Janet had pretended to lock the door. Halfway down the hall the woman handed her the key.
"Come this way, please," she said; "it is nearer to the carriage which is waiting for us."
At the rear of the building they descended the stairs and passed through an anteroom fitted with lockers for the use of the employees of the hotel. No one happened to be in the anteroom at that moment and they gained the alley without encountering a single person. Janet quickly led the girl through the alley and soon they came to a closed automobile which evidently awaited them. Janet opened the door for Alora and followed the girl inside the car, which started at once and sped along the quiet streets.
"You will find Doctor Anstruther very feeble," said the nurse, "for he has suffered greatly. But I am sure it will give him pleasure to see you again. I hope he will recognize you. I scarcely recognized you, myself, you have changed so much since last we saw you at the Voltaire. Your resemblance to your mother is quite marked, however."
And so, during the ride, she kept up a flow of desultory conversation, intended to distract Alora's attention from the section of the city through which they were passing. She spoke of Dr. Anstruther, mostly, and answered such questions as Alora put to her in a calm, unemotional manner well calculated to allay suspicion. The woman kept her eyes veiled by her lashes, as of yore, but her face seemed to have aged and grown harder in its lines. There was no hint now of her former gay life in New York; she had resumed the humble tones and manners peculiar to her profession, such as Alora remembered were characteristic of her at the time she nursed her mother.
"This is the place," said Janet, as the cab came to a stop. "Let us move softly, as noise disturbs my patient."
Alora had paid no attention to the direction they had driven but on leaving the car she found herself facing a three-storied brick flat building of not very prepossessing appearance. Then were several vacant lots on either side of this building, giving it a lonely appearance, and in the lower windows were pasted placards: "To Let."
"Oh; does Doctor Anstruther live here?" asked Alora, somewhat astonished.
Without seeming to have heard the question Janet mounted the steps and opened the front door with a latch-key. Alora followed her inside and up two dingy flights to the third floor. Once she started to protest, for the deadly silence of the place impressed her with a vague foreboding that something was amiss, but Janet silenced her with a warning finger on her lips and on reaching the upper landing herself avoided making a noise as she cautiously unlocked the door. She stood listening a moment and then entered and nodded to the girl to follow.
They were in a short, dark passage which separated the landing from the rooms of the flat. Janet closed the outer door, startling her companion with the sharp "click" it made, and quickly opened another door which led into a shabby living room at the front of the building. Standing just within this room, Alora glanced around with the first real sensation of suspicion she had yet experienced. Janet raised her lids for a sweeping view of the girl's face and then with a light laugh began to remove her own cloak and cap, which she hung in a closet.
"Come, child, make yourself at home," she said in a mocking, triumphant voice, as she seated herself in a chair facing the bewildered girl. "I may as well inform you that this is to be your home for some time to come—until Jason Jones decides to rescue you. You won't object, I hope? Don't get nervous and you'll find your quarters very comfortable, if retired."
Alora, understanding now, first shuddered, then grew tense and cast a hurried glance at the hall door behind her.
"Have you lied to me, Janet?" she demanded.
"And this is a trap? Doctor Anstruther is not sick? He did not send for me? He is not here?"
"You have guessed correctly, Alora."
The girl wheeled and in a quick run reached the door to the landing. It was fast locked.
"Help!" she cried, and stopped to listen; "help! help!"
"Come in and take off your things," called Janet, undisturbed by the outcry. "This building hasn't a soul in it but ourselves, and you may yell for help until you are hoarse without being heard. But don't be frightened. I'm not going to hurt you. In fact, I'd like to make your confinement as cheerful as possible. Can't you understand the truth— that I am simply holding your person in order to force Jason Jones to pay the money he owes me?"
CHAPTER XX JANET'S TRIUMPH
Alora stood by the door, irresolute, wondering what to do. It occurred to her that she was not much afraid of Janet Orme. She had been trapped in order to bleed her father of money; it was all her father's fault— his fault and Janet's.
"Suppose you help me get our breakfast," suggested the nurse, coolly. "It will take your mind off your trouble and keep you from brooding. I admit I'm hungry, and I'm sure you'll feel better for a cup of coffee."
She passed into another room, as she spoke, and Alora, realizing the hall door could not be forced by her puny strength, advanced into the living room. There were three other doorways opening from this apartment. She could hear Janet rattling dishes and pans, so the way she had gone led into the kitchen. The other two doors she found gave entrance to small bedrooms, neither having egress other than through the living room. The furniture in all the rooms was cheap and tawdry but fairly comfortable.
Alora sat down and tried to collect her thoughts. Janet got the breakfast unaided and then came to summon her. Alora quietly walked into the kitchen and sat down at a little table spread for two. There was a dish of crisp bacon, some toast and coffee. Alora silently ate and drank, determined to maintain her strength. Having finished her meal she sat back and asked:
"Do you mind explaining what all this means?"
"No, indeed; I'm glad to explain," replied the woman, raising her eyelids an instant to flash a glance of approval at her prisoner. "I have already said that I was obliged to annoy you in order to reach your father. The dear father is an elusive person, you know, and is determined to avoid paying the money he owes me. I haven't been able to locate him, lately, but I have located you, and you are mighty precious to him because if he loses you he loses the income from your fortune. Therefore it is my intention to hold you here until Jason Jones either pays my demands or allows the probate court to deprive him of his guardianship. The proposition is really very simple, as you see."
"Still," said Alora, "I do not quite understand. How did you know of my value to my father?"
"I witnessed your mother's will," was the reply.
Alora remembered that this was true.
"But why does my father still owe you money? You were paid for nursing my mother. And, if your demands are merely blackmail, why does not my father defy you?"
"I'll tell you," answered. Janet. "It is a bit of ancient history, but it may interest you. Your mother renounced your father when you were scarcely a year old. I met Jason Jones soon afterward, and believing,—as your own deluded mother did—that he would become a great artist, I gambled with him on his career. In other words, I supported Jason Jones with all my earnings as a nurse for a period of six years and in return he signed an agreement which states that one-half of all the money he received in the future, from whatever source, must be paid to me in return for my investment. Doubtless we both thought, at the time, that any money he got would come from the sale of his pictures; neither could have dreamed that your mother would call him to her on her death-bed and present sent him with your income until you came of age—seven years' control of a fortune, with no other obligation than to look after a child and keep her with him. But the agreement between us covered even that astonishing event. Imagine, if you can, Jason Jones' amazement when he entered your mother's sick chamber to find me—his partner—acting as her nurse. He was also annoyed, for he realized I knew the terms of the will and would demand my share of his income. Can you blame me? He hadn't made good as an artist and this was my only chance to get back some of the hard earned savings I had advanced him. But Jason Jones isn't square, Alora; he's mean and shifty, as perhaps you have discovered. He gave me some money at first, when I followed him to New York, as you know; but after that the coward ran away. That provoked me and made me determined to run him down. I traced him to Europe and followed him there, but he evaded me for a full year, until my money was gone and I was forced to return to America. For nearly three years longer I worked as a nurse and hoarded my earnings. Then, through your father's banker in New York I managed to learn his address. The banker didn't tell me, but I did a little spy work and in the bank's mail I found a letter in Jason Jones' handwriting postmarked 'Positano, Italy.' That was all the clew I needed and I went to Italy and soon located my man. I faced him in his own villa—I believe you were away at the time—and when he found he was caught he cringed and begged for mercy and promised to give me all that belonged to me. He said he had a lot of gold in his possession and he would pay me partly in gold and partly in drafts on his New York banker. Then he left the room to get the gold and returned with a husky Italian servant who seized and bound me and threw me into a stone house used to store grapes, where I was kept a prisoner for nearly ten days and treated like a dog.
"Finally the Italian released me, asserting that Jason Jones was on his way to America. I followed as soon as I could get passage in a ship, but your clever father had left New York before I arrived there and I could not discover where he had hidden himself. Once more he had beaten me."
Her voice was hard and angry. Alora was tempted to believe the story, for many of its details she knew were true. She remembered, for one thing, that queer letter from Silvio which she had discovered tucked inside one of her father's books. It stated that, according to orders, the Italian had "released the prisoner." So the prisoner had been Janet, and Alora could well understand her determination to secure revenge.
"It seems to me," she said, "that you should have taken your contract with my father to a lawyer, and brought suit to recover the money due you. Surely that would have been the easiest way to collect it."
Janet's face grew red; her lashes dropped still further over the eyes; but she answered after an instant's pause:
"I do not wish the world to know what a fool I was to support an imitation artist for six long years. A lawsuit means publicity, and I have a little pride left, I assure you. Besides," collecting her thoughts as she spoke, "I cannot see the wisdom of dividing my share with a lawyer when I can bring your father to terms myself. I know I have executed a bold stroke in seizing you and making you my prisoner, but it's a stroke that's bound to win. It was conceived last night, on the spur of the moment. Lately I have been nursing in Chicago, where I am better known than in New York and can get better wages. Since my return from Italy I've been saving to renew the search for Jason Jones. While nursing a Mrs. Tolliver at the Hotel Blackington, fortune suddenly smiled on me. I chanced to examine the hotel register last night and found you were registered with Colonel Hathaway's party. Your room number was marked opposite your name, so I had you properly located. During the night, while on duty in Mrs. Tolliver's room, I had ample time to figure out a plan of action. I knew you were fond of old Doctor Anstruther and so used his name for a lure. I had already rented this flat; not with the idea of using it for a prison, but because it was cheap and so isolated that I could sleep during the daytime without being disturbed. I believe that's all that I need explain to you. Our little adventure of this morning you will now be able to understand perfectly. Also you will understand the fact that you must remain a prisoner until my purpose is accomplished. I'm sorry for you, but it can't be helped. Won't you have another cup of coffee, Alora?"
Alora had no answer ready. Janet's story did not satisfy her; she felt that somewhere there was a flaw in it; but she decided to bide her time.
CHAPTER XXI THE PRICE OF LIBERTY
Alora, being in the main a sensible girl, strove to make the best of her unpleasant predicament. She longed to notify Mary Louise that she was safe and well and in answer to her pleadings Janet agreed she might write a letter to that effect, with no hint that she was imprisoned or where she could be found, and the nurse would mail it for her. So Alora wrote the letter and showed it to Janet, who could find no fault with its wording and promised to mail it when she went out to market, which she did every morning, carefully locking her prisoner in. It is perhaps needless to state that the letter never reached Mary Louise because the nurse destroyed it instead of keeping her agreement to mail it. Letters can be traced, and Janet did not wish to be traced just then.
The days dragged by with little excitement. Alora sought many means of escape but found none practical. Once, while Janet was unlocking the hall door to go to market, the girl made a sudden dash to get by her and so secure her freedom; but the woman caught her arm and swung her back so powerfully that Alora fell against the opposite wall, bruised and half stunned. She was no match for Janet in strength.
"I'm sorry," said Janet complacently, "but you brought it on yourself. I'm not brutal, but I won't be balked. Please remember, my girl, that to me this is a very important enterprise and I've no intention of allowing you to defeat my plans."
Usually the woman was not unpleasant in her treatment of Alora, but conversed with her frankly and cheerfully, as if striving to relieve her loneliness.
"Have you written to my father about me?" the girl asked one day.
"Not yet," was the reply. "I don't even know where Jason Jones may be found, for you haven't given me his address. But there's no hurry. You have been missing only a week, so far. Jason Jones has doubtless been notified of your disappearance and is beginning to worry. Of course he will imagine I am responsible for this misfortune and his alarm will grow with the days that pass. Finally, when his state of mind becomes desperate, you will give me his address and he will hear from me. I shall have no trouble, at that crisis, in bringing my dishonest partner to terms."
"I can't see the object of waiting so long," protested Alora. "How long do you intend to keep me here?"
"I think you should remain missing about fifty days, during which time they will search for you in vain. Your father's search for you will include a search for me, and I've figured on that and defy him to find me. The Sisters' Hospital, the only address known to the physicians who employ me, believe I've gone to some small Indiana town on a case, but I neglected to give them the name of the town. So there's a blind lead that will keep my pursuers busy without their getting anywhere. It's easy to hide in a big city. Here you are very safe, Alora, mid discovery is impossible."
Janet had abandoned her nurse's costume from the first day of the girl's imprisonment. When she went out, which was only to a near-by market and grocery, she wore an unobtrusive dress.
Every day seemed more dreary to Alora than the last. She soon became very restless under her enforced confinement and her nerves, as well as her general health, began to give way. She had been accustomed to out-of-door exercise, and these rooms were close and "stuffy" because Janet would not allow the windows open.
For twelve days and nights poor Alora constantly planned an escape, only to abandon every idea she conceived as foolish and impractical. She looked forward to fifty days of this life with horror and believed she would go mad if forced to endure her confinement so long.
CHAPTER XXII A COMPROMISE
"If I had any money of my own," Alora said to Janet Orme on the morning of the twelfth day of imprisonment, "I would gladly pay it to free."
Janet flashed a quick glance at her. "Do you mean that?" she asked with ill-suppressed eagerness.
"I do, indeed," declared the girl, moaning dismally; "but I never have a cent to call my own."
Janet sat still, for some time, thinking.
"I, too, wish you were free," she admitted, resuming the conversation, "for my position as jailer obliges me to share your confinement, and it's wearing on me, as it is on you. But you have unconsciously given me a thought—an idea that seems likely to lead to a compromise between us. I'm going to consider it seriously, and if it still looks good to me I'll make you a proposition."
Saying this, she retired to her bedroom and closed the door after her, leaving Alora in a fit of nervous trembling through half-formed hopes that she might gain her release.
It was nearly an hour before Janet returned. When she came from her room she stood before the girl for a time and seemed to study her face. Alora was anxious and did not endeavor to conceal the fact. In her hand the woman held a paper, which she presently laid upon the center-table.
"I have decided to make you a proposition," she said, turning to seat herself near the table. "If it interests you, all right; if it doesn't, you may of course reject it. My offer is this: If you will tell me where to find your father and will promise not to mention me to him or to warn him of my intentions, and if you will sign this paper which I have prepared, I will allow you to return to your friends to-day. You are not especially fond of Jason Jones, I believe?"
"Not especially, although he is my father," returned Alora, eyeing the woman expectantly.
"Then you can have no objection to my forcing him to disgorge my share of his income, which you would not get in any event. I don't know how much of an allowance he makes you, but——"
"I don't get any allowance," said Alora, "In fact, he gives me nothing."
"Then my demands on your father will not affect your interests. Are you willing to give me his address, and promise not to warn him?"
"Under the circumstances, yes."
"Very well. I accept your plighted word—your word of honor. Now sign this paper and you may go."
She took the paper from the table and handed it to Alora, who read as follows:
"For value received, in services faithfully rendered and which I hereby freely and without coercion acknowledge, I hereby promise and agree to pay to Janet Orme Jones on the day that I attain my majority the sum of Fifty Thousand Dollars, which sum is to be paid from my estate without recourse, equivocation or attempt to repudiate the said obligation, inasmuch as I willingly admit the said sum to be justly due the said Janet Orme Jones. "(Signed:)................."
Alora read the paper twice, with, growing indignation. Then she glanced up at her jailer and muttered questioningly: "Jones? Janet Orme Jones?"
"A family name, my dear. The Joneses are so thick and so unimportant that generally I do not use the name, but this is a legal document. I hope you won't try to claim relationship," she added with a light laugh.
"I'm not going to promise you so enormous a sum as fifty thousand dollars, even to secure my liberty," said Alora. "It's out of all reason—it's—it's—outrageous!"
"Very well," returned Janet, coolly; "that's your own affair. This is merely a compromise proposition, suggested by yourself, as I told you. Let us say no more about it."
Alora was greatly disheartened. After allowing her hopes to run so high the disappointment was now doubly keen. Her defiance melted away with the thought of all the weary days of imprisonment she must endure until Janet was ready to act.
"I—I might agree to give you five thousand dollars," she ventured.
"Nonsense. I'm not gunning for small game, Alora. Did you but realize it, I am quite considerate in exacting only fifty thousand. Your estate is worth two millions. Your income is something like eighty thousand a year, and this payment would leave you thirty thousand to use the first year after you come into your fortune. I don't believe you could spend thirty thousand in a year, when you are eighteen years of age."
Alora turned away and going to the front window, looked through its stained and unwashed panes into the gloomy street below. The sight emphasized her isolation from the world. Her imprisonment was becoming unbearable. After all, she reflected, in reckless mood, what did so small a share of her prospective fortune weigh against her present comfort—and health—and happiness?
Janet was stealthily watching her.
"Should you decide to sign the paper," said the nurse, "you must make up your mind not to raise a row when pay-day comes. The money will come out of your income, and instead of investing it in more bonds, you will have invested it in your liberty. You won't be inconvenienced in the slightest degree. On the other hand, this money will mean everything to me—a modest competence for my old age and relief from the drudgery of working. I've had a hard life, my girl, for nursing is mere slavery to the whims of sick people. Consider, also, that for six years Jason Jones squandered all my savings in trying to paint pictures that were not worth the canvas he ruined. If I had that money now I wouldn't need to descend to this disgraceful mode of recouping my bank account; but, under the circumstances, don't you think I am justly entitled to some of the Jones money?"
"You're going to get a lot from my father."
"True; but that is for his indebtedness, while this amount is for your freedom. A scrape of the pen and you secure liberty, fresh air and the privilege of rejoining your friends, who are probably getting anxious about you. If you are the sensible girl I take you to be, you won't hesitate."
Alora knew the woman was pleading her own case, but the arguments appealed to her. She was weak and nervous and her longing for liberty outweighed her natural judgment.
"I suppose I'm a fool, but——"
Slowly she approached the table where the written promissory note still lay. Janet had placed a pen and inkstand beside it.
CHAPTER XXIII MARY LOUISE HAS AN INTUITION
"I wish, Josie," said Mary Louise dolefully, "you'd let me help in this search for Alora."
"I'd be glad to, dear, if I could think of a single thing you can do," replied her friend. "Just now I'm on the most tedious task imaginable— visiting the army of cab-drivers—horse and taxi—here in Chicago and trying to find the one who carried a woman and a girl away from the Blackington at six o'clock that eventful Tuesday morning."
"Have you met with any success, at all?" asked Mary Louise.
"That question proves you're not fitted for detective work," Josie laughingly asserted. "A moment's reflection would assure you that when I found my man my search would be ended. Ergo, no success has yet attended my efforts. I've interviewed a couple of hundreds, however, and that leaves only a few hundreds left to question."
"But the whole thing drags terribly!" complained Mary Louise. "Days are passing, and who knows what may be happening to poor Alora while you are hanging around the cab-stands?"
Josie's face grew grave. In sober tones she said:
"I'm just as anxious as you are, Mary Louise. But this case is really puzzling, because Chicago is such a big city that criminals may securely hide themselves here for months—even for years—without being discovered. Mrs. Orme was clever enough to leave few traces behind her; as far as clews are concerned she might have evaporated into thin air, taking Alora with her—except for this matter of the cabman. That's why I am pinning my faith to this search, knowing all the time, nevertheless, that Mrs. Orme may have provided for even that contingency and rendered the discovery of the cabman impossible. To do that, however, she would have to use a private equipage, involving a confederate, and I believe she preferred to take chances with a hired cab."
"What are the police doing?" inquired Mary Louise nervously.
"Nothing. They were soon discouraged and lost interest in the matter when I took hold of the case. But I don't intend to get discouraged. I hate to be 'stumped,' as you know, and it seems to me, after careful consideration, that success may follow the discovery of the cab-driver. I've not been neglecting other trails, I assure you. I've obtained a pretty fair record of the history of nurse Orme. She has the habit of drudging in sick rooms until she accumulates enough capital to lead a gay life for a month or so, after which she resumes nursing in order to replenish her purse. She's a good nurse and a wild spendthrift, but aside from the peculiarity mentioned there's nothing in her career of especial interest. The woman is pretty well known both in New York and Chicago, for she squanders in the first city and saves in the other, but of her early history there is no information available. In her wildest moods she has never done anything to warrant her arrest, yet the police have kept a suspicious eye on her for years."
"Poor Alora!" wailed Mary Louise, miserably; "I wish I could do something for her."
"You did a lot for her when you put me on her trail," declared Josie, with conviction. "I've a hunch I shall win. I've wired Daddy O'Gorman all about the case, but he says he can't advise me. In other words, he's watching to see whether I make good or cave in, and I just dare not fail. So keep your courage, Mary Louise, and muster all the confidence you are able to repose in me. I may not know all the tricks of the sleuths, but I know some of them. And now I'm off to interview more cabmen."
Mary Louise sighed as her friend left her. She was indeed very unhappy and restless during those days of tedious waiting. Peter Conant had come to Chicago on the Colonel's demand, but Mary Louise couldn't see how he was able to help them one bit.
"Of course," the lawyer had said in his terse, choppy manner, "whoever abducted the girl is, criminally liable. We can put the party in jail."
"When we get her," suggested Mary Louise impatiently. "The party is Mrs. Orme; we have established that fact without a doubt; and, if we could get her, we'd also get Alora."
"Just so," Peter replied; "and, between the O'Gorman girl and the police, we ought to capture the woman soon. I have a degree of confidence in Josie O'Gorman and somewhat more confidence in the police."
"Do you think we should notify Jason Jones?" inquired Colonel Hathaway.
"I have considered that, sir, in all its phases, and knowing the man's peculiar characteristics I believe such a course is not as yet desirable. Jones is so enthralled by his latest craze over aviation that he would be no fit adviser and could render no practical assistance in the search for his daughter. On the other hand, his association would be annoying, for he would merely accuse you of neglect in permitting Alora to be stolen while in your care. I have seen a copy of his wife's will and know that the girl's loss may cost him his guardianship and the perquisites that pertain to it. In that case he will probably sue you for the loss of the money, claiming Alora's abduction was due to your carelessness."
"He could not win such an absurd suit, however," declared the Colonel.
"Still, he might be awarded damages," asserted the lawyer. "Juries are uncertain; the law is somewhat elastic; judges are peculiar."
"Don't worry, Gran'pa Jim," said Mary Louise soothingly, as she sat on the arm of his chair and rubbed the wrinkles from his forehead; "there must be such a thing as justice, even in law."
"Law is justice," stated Mr. Conant, resenting the insinuation, "but justice is sometimes recognized by humans in one form, and sometimes in another. I do not say that Jason Jones could collect damages on such complaint, but he assuredly would have a case."
Mr. Conant had desired to return home after the first conference with his client, but he admitted that his wife was recovering from her indisposition and a kindly neighbor was assisting Irene in the care of her, so he yielded to his client's urgent request to remain. Colonel Hathaway was more alarmed by Alora's disappearance than he allowed Mary Louise to guess, and he wanted Mr. Conant to spur the police to renewed effort. In addition to this the Colonel and his lawyer usually spent the best part of each day pursuing investigations on their own account, with the result that Mary Louise was left to mope alone in the hotel rooms.
The young girl was fond of Alora and secretly terrified over her mysterious disappearance. She tried to embroider, as she sat alone and waited for something to happen, but her nerveless fingers would not hold the needle. She bought some novels but could not keep her mind on the stories. Hour by hour she gazed from the window into the crowded street below, searching each form and face for some resemblance to Alora. She had all the newspapers sent to her room, that she might scan the advertisements and "personals" for a clew, and this led her to following the news of the Great War, in which she found a partial distraction from her worries. And one morning, after her grandfather and the lawyer had left her, she was glancing over the columns of the Tribune when an item caught her eye that drew from her a cry of astonishment. The item read as follows:
"The Grand Prize at the exhibition of American paintings being held in the Art Institute was yesterday awarded by the jury to the remarkable landscape entitled 'Poppies and Pepper Trees' by the California artist, Jason Jones. This picture has not only won praise from eminent critics but has delighted the thousands of visitors who have flocked to the exhibition, so the award is a popular one. The Associated Artists are tendering a banquet to-night to Jason Jones at the Congress Hotel, where he is staying. The future of this clever artist promises well and will be followed with interest by all admirers of his skillful technique and marvelous coloring."
Mary Louise read this twice, trying to understand what it meant. Then she read it a third time.
"How strangely we have all been deceived in Alora's father!" she murmured. "I remember that Gran'pa Jim once claimed that any man so eccentric might well possess talent, but even Mr. Jones' own daughter did not believe he was a true artist. And Alora never guessed he was still continuing to paint—alone and in secret—or that he had regained his former powers and was creating a masterpiece. We have all been sadly wrong in our judgment of Jason Jones. Only his dead wife knew he was capable of great things."
She dropped the paper, still somewhat bewildered by the remarkable discovery.
"And he is here in Chicago, too!" she mused, continuing her train of thought, "and we all thought he was stupidly learning to fly in Dorfield. Oh, now I understand why he allowed Alora to go with us. He wanted to exhibit his picture—the picture whose very existence he had so carefully guarded—and knew that with all of us out of the way, afloat upon the Great Lakes, he could come here without our knowledge and enter the picture in the exhibition. It may be he doubted its success—he is diffident in some ways—and thought if it failed none of us at home would be the wiser; but I'm sure that now he has won he will brag and bluster and be very conceited and disagreeable over his triumph. That is the man's nature—to be cowed by failure and bombastic over success. It's singular, come to think it over, how one who has the soul to create a wonderful painting can be so crude and uncultured, so morose and—and—cruel."
Suddenly she decided to go and look at the picture. The trip would help to relieve her loneliness and she was eager to see what Jason Jones had really accomplished. The Institute was not far from her hotel; she could walk the distance in a few minutes; so she put on her hat and set out for the exhibition.
On her way, disbelief assailed her. "I don't see how the man did it!" she mentally declared. "I wonder if that item is just a huge joke, because the picture was so bad that the reporter tried to be ironical."
But when she entered the exhibition and found a small crowd gathered around one picture—it was still early in the day—she dismissed at once that doubtful supposition.
"That is the Jason Jones picture," said an attendant, answering her question and nodding toward the admiring group; "that's the prizewinner—over there."
Mary Louise edged her way through the crowd until the great picture was in full view; and then she drew a long breath, awestruck, delighted, filled with a sense of all-pervading wonder.
"It's a tremendous thing!" whispered a man beside her to his companion. "There's nothing in the exhibit to compare with it. And how it breathes the very spirit of California!"
"California?" thought Mary Louise. Of course; those yellow poppies and lacy pepper trees with their deep red berries were typical of no other place. And the newspaper had called Jason Jones a California artist. When had he been in California, she wondered. Alora had never mentioned visiting the Pacific Coast.
Yet, sometime, surely, her father must have lived there. Was it while Alora was a small child, and after her mother had cast him off? He could have made sketches then, and preserved them for future use.
As she stood there marveling at the superb genius required to produce such a masterpiece of art, a strange notion crept stealthily into her mind. Promptly she drove it out; but it presently returned; it would not be denied; finally, it mastered her.
"Anyhow," she reflected, setting her teeth together, "I'll beard the wolf in his den. If my intuition has played me false, at worst the man can only sneer at me and I've always weathered his scornful moods. But if I am right——"
The suggestion was too immense to consider calmly. With quick, nervous steps she hastened to the Congress Hotel and sent up her card to Jason Jones. On it she had written in pencil: "I shall wait for you in the parlor. Please come to me."
CHAPTER XXIV AN INTERRUPTION
"Before you sign this promissory note," remarked Janet Orme, as Alora reluctantly seated herself at the table, "you must perform the other part of your agreement and give me the present address of your father, Jason Jones."
"He lives in Dorfield," said Alora.
"Write his street number—here, on this separate sheet."
The girl complied.
"Is it a private house, or is it a studio?"
"A cottage. Father doesn't paint any more."
"That is very sensible of him," declared the nurse; "yet I wonder how he can resist painting. He has always had a passion for the thing and in the old days was never happy without a brush in his hand. He had an idea he could do something worth while, but that was mere delusion, for he never turned out anything decent or that would sell in the market. Therefore the money he spent for paints, brushes and canvas—money I worked hard to earn—was absolutely wasted. Does your father keep any servants?"
"One maid, an Irish girl born in the town."
"Still economical, I see. Well, that's all the information I require. You have given your word of honor not to notify him that I have discovered his whereabouts. Is it not so?"
"Yes," said Alora.
"Now sign the note."
Alora, pen in hand, hesitated while she slowly read the paper again. She hated to give fifty thousand dollars to this scheming woman, even though the loss of such a sum would not seriously impair her fortune. But what could she do?
"Sign it, girl!" exclaimed Janet, impatiently.
Alora searched the note for a loophole that would enable her afterward to repudiate it. She knew nothing of legal phrases, yet the wording seemed cleverly constructed to defeat any attempt to resist payment.
"Sign!" cried the woman. With pen hovering over the place where she had been told to write her name, Alora still hesitated and seeing this the nurse's face grew dark with anger. A sudden "click" sounded from the hall door, but neither heard it.
"Sign!" she repeated, half rising with a threatening gesture.
"No, don't sign, please," said a clear voice, and a short, stumpy girl with red hair and freckled face calmly entered the room and stood smilingly before them.
Janet uttered an exclamation of surprise and annoyance and sank back in her chair, glaring at the intruder. Alora stared in speechless amazement at the smiling girl, whom she had never seen before.
"How did you get in here?" demanded Janet angrily.
"Why, I just unlocked the door and walked in," was the reply, delivered in a cheery and somewhat triumphant voice.
"This is a private apartment."
"Indeed! I thought it was a prison," said the girl. "I imagined you, Mrs. Orme, to be a jailer, and this young person—who is Miss Alora Jones, I believe—I supposed to be your prisoner. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I guess I'm right."
The nurse paled. The look she flashed from her half-veiled eyes was a dangerous look. She knew, in the instant, that the stranger had come to liberate Alora, but the next instant she reflected that all was not lost, for she had already decided to release her prisoner without compulsion. It was important to her plans, however, that she obtain the promissory note; so, instantly controlling herself, she lightly touched Alora's arm and said in her usual soft voice:
"Sign your name, my dear, and then we will talk with this person."
Alora did not move to obey, for she had caught a signal from the red-headed girl.
"I object to your signing that paper," protested the stranger, seating herself in a vacant chair. "I haven't the faintest idea what it is you're about to sign, but if I were you I wouldn't do it."
"It is the price of my liberty," explained Alora.
"Well, this is a free country and liberty doesn't cost anything. I've a carriage waiting outside, and I will drive you back to the Colonel and Mary Louise free of charge. You won't even have to whack up on the cab hire."
The nurse slowly rose and faced the girl.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
"No one of importance," was the answer. "I'm just Josie O'Gorman, the daughter of John O'Gorman, of Washington, who is a lieutenant in the government's secret service."
"Then you're a detective!"
"The aforesaid John O'Gorman declares I'm not. He says I must learn a lot before I become a real detective, so at present I'm just practicing. Mary Louise is my friend, you know," she continued, now addressing Alora, "and you are a friend of Mary Louise; so, when you mysteriously disappeared, she telegraphed me and I came on to hunt you up. That wasn't an easy job for an amateur detective, I assure you, and it cost me a lot of time and some worry, but glory be! I've now got you located and Mrs. Orme's jig is up."
The nurse moved softly to the door that led into the passage and locked it, putting the key into her pocket.
"Now," said she, with another flash of those curious eyes, "I have two prisoners."
"I could almost have sworn you'd try that trick," she remarked. "It was on the cards and you couldn't resist it. Permit me to say, Mrs. Orme, that you're a rather clever woman, and I admire cleverness even when it's misdirected. But my Daddy has taught me, in his painstaking way, not to be caught napping. A good soldier provides for a retreat as well as an advance. I've been on your trail for a long time and only this morning succeeded in winning the confidence of the cabman who drove you here. Wasn't sure, of course, that you were still here, until I saw Alora's face at the window a while ago. Then I knew I'd caught you. The cab is a closed one and holds four inside, so I invited three policeman to accompany me. One is at the back of this house, one at the front door and the third is just outside here on the landing. Probably he can hear us talking. He's a big man, that third policeman, and if I raise my voice to cry out he could easily batter down the door you have locked and come to my rescue. Now will you be good, Mrs. Orme?"
The nurse realized her defeat. She deliberately took the note from the table and tore it up.
"You have really foiled me, my girl," she said philosophically, "although if you knew all you would not blame me for what I have done."
"You've decided not to dig any money out of Alora, then?"
"It wouldn't matter to her, but I have abandoned the idea. However, I shall insist on making Jason Jones pay me liberally for my disappointment. Now take the girl and go. Get your things on, Alora."
Josie regarded her thoughtfully.
"I had intended to arrest you, Mrs. Orme," she remarked; "but, honestly, I can't see what good it would do, while it would cause Mary Louise and the dear Colonel a heap of trouble in prosecuting you. So, unless Miss Jones objects——"
"All I want it to get away from here, to be out of her clutches," asserted Alora.
"Then let us go. The woman deserves punishment, but doubtless she'll get her just deserts in other ways. Get your things on, my dear; the cab and the policemen are waiting."
Janet Orme unlocked the door to the passage. Then she stood motionless, with drooping eyelids, while the two girls passed out. Alora, greatly unnerved and still fearful, clung to the arm of her rescuer.
When they had gained the street and were about to enter the closed automobile she asked: "Where are the three policemen?"
"Invisible," returned Josie, very cheerfully. "I had to invent that story, my dear, and the Recording Angel is said to forgive detectives for lying."
She followed Alora into the car and closed the door.
"Drive to the Blackington, please," she called to the driver.
And, as they whirled away, she leaned from the window and waved a parting signal to Mrs. Orme, who stood in the upper window, her face contorted and scowling with chagrin at the discovery that she had been outwitted by a mere girl.
CHAPTER XXV JASON JONES
The Colonel and Peter Conant had just entered the drawing room of the suite at the hotel and found Mary Louise absent. This was unusual and unaccountable and they were wondering what could have become of the girl when the door suddenly burst open and Josie's clear voice cried triumphantly:
"I've got her! I've captured the missing heiress at last!"
Both men, astonished, rose to their feet as Alora entered and with a burst of tears threw her arms around the old Colonel's neck. For a few moments the tableau was dramatic, all being speechless with joy at the reunion. Colonel Hathaway patted Alora's head and comforted the sobbing girl as tenderly as if she had been his own grandchild—or Mary Louise.
Josie perched herself lightly on the center-table and swinging her legs complacently back and forth explained her discovery in a stream of chatter, for she was justly elated by her success.
"And to think," she concluded, "that I never missed a clew! That it was really the nurse, Mrs. Orme—Mrs. Jones' old nurse—who stole Alora, according to our suspicions, and that her object was just what I thought, to get money from that miser Jason Jones! Daddy will be pleased with this triumph; I'm pleased; Mary Louise will be pleased, and—By the way, where is Mary Louise?"
"I don't know," confessed the Colonel, who had just placed Alora, now more self-possessed, in a chair. "I was beginning to worry about her when you came in. She seldom leaves these rooms, except for a few moments, and even then she tells me, or leaves word, where she is going. I spoke to the clerk, when I returned, and he said she had left the hotel early this morning, and it's now four o'clock."
Josie's smile faded and her face became grave.
"Now, who," she said, "could have an object in stealing Mary Louise? Complications threaten us in this matter and the first thing we must do is——"
"Oh, Alora!" exclaimed Mary Louise, who had softly opened the door and caught sight of her friend. Next moment the two girls were locked in an embrace and Josie, a shade of disappointment struggling with her sunny smile, remarked coolly:
"Very well; that beats the champion female detective out of another job. But I might have known Mary Louise wouldn't get herself stolen; no such adventure ever happens to her."
Mary Louise turned to the speaker with an earnest look on her sweet face.
"An adventure has happened to me, Josie, and—and—I hardly know how to break the news."
She held Alora at arms' length and looked gravely into her friend's face. Alora noted the serious expression and said quickly:
"What is it? Bad news for me?"
"I—I think not," replied Mary Louise, hesitatingly; "but it's—it's wonderful news, and I hardly know how to break it to you."
"The best way," remarked Josie, much interested, "is to let it out in a gush. 'Wonderful' stuff never causes anyone to faint."
"Alora," said Mary Louise solemnly, "your father is here."
"He is just outside, in the corridor."
"Why doesn't he come in?" asked the Colonel.
"He needn't have worried about me," said Alora, in sullen tone, "but I suppose it was the danger of losing his money that——"
"No," interrupted Mary Louise; "you mistake me. Jason Jones, the great artist—a splendid, cultured man and——"
A sharp rap at the door made her pause. Answering the Colonel's summons a bellboy entered.
"For Mr. Conant, sir," he said, offering a telegram.
The lawyer tore open the envelope as the boy went out and after a glance at it exclaimed in shocked surprise: "Great heavens!"
Then he passed the message to Colonel Hathaway, who in turn read it and passed it to Josie O'Gorman. Blank silence followed, while Mary Louise and Alora eyed the others expectantly.
"Who did you say is outside in the corridor?" demanded Josie in a puzzled tone.
"Alora's father," replied Mary Louise.
"Jason Jones," repeated Mary Louise gravely.
"Well, then, listen to this telegram. It was sent to Mr. Peter Conant from Dorfield and says: 'Jason Jones killed by falling from an aeroplane at ten o'clock this morning. Notify his daughter.'"
Alora drew a quick breath and clasped her hands over her heart. Uncongenial as the two had been, Jason Jones was her father—her only remaining parent—and the suddenness of his death shocked and horrified the girl. Indeed, all present were horrified, yet Mary Louise seemed to bear the news more composedly than the others—as if it were a minor incident in a great drama. She slipped an arm around her girl friend's waist and said soothingly:
"Never mind, dear. It is dreadful, I know. What an awful way to die! And yet—and yet, Alora—it may be all for the best."
Josie slid down from the table. Her active brain was the first to catch a glimmering of what Mary Louise meant.
"Shall I call that man in?" she asked excitedly, "the man whom you say is Alora's father?"
"No," answered Mary Louise. "Let me go for him, please. I—I must tell him this strange news myself. Try to quiet yourself, Alora, and—and be prepared. I'm going to introduce to you—Jason Jones."
She uttered the last sentence slowly and with an earnestness that bewildered all her hearers—except, perhaps, Josie O'Gorman. And then she left the room.
The little group scarcely moved or spoke.
It seemed an age to them, yet it was only a few moments, when Mary Louise came back, leading by the hand a tall, handsome gentleman who bore in every feature, in every movement, the mark of good birth, culture, and refinement, and in a voice that trembled with, nervous excitement the girl announced:
"This is Jason Jones—a California artist—the man who married Antoinette Seaver. He is Alora's father. And the other—the other——"
"Why, the other was a fraud, of course," exclaimed Josie.
CHAPTER XXVI WHAT MARY LOUISE ACCOMPLISHED
I am quite sure it is unnecessary to relate in detail the scene that followed Mary Louise's introduction or the excited inquiries and explanations which naturally ensued. To those present the scene was intensely dramatic and never to be forgotten, but such a meeting between father and daughter is considered too sacred to be described here.
Mary Louise's intuition had not played her false. She had found at the Congress Hotel another Jason Jones, far different from the one she had known, and a few questions elicited the fact that he was indeed the father of Alora. So, as briefly as she could, she told him how another man had usurped his place and seized all of Alora's income, at the same time willfully depriving the girl of such comforts and accomplishments as one in her position should enjoy.
"And to think," she added indignantly, "that he is not Jason Jones at all!"
"I believe you are mistaken there," replied the artist thoughtfully. "Jason is a family name, derived from one of our most eminent ancestors, and in my generation it is also borne, I have learned, by one of my second cousins, a Jason Jones who is also a painter and aspires to fame as an artist. I have never met the man, but his indifferently executed canvases, offered for sale under our common name, formerly caused me considerable annoyance and perhaps interfered with my career. But of late I have not heard of this Jason Jones, for soon after my separation from my wife I went to Southern California and located in a little bungalow hidden in a wild canyon of the Santa Monica mountains. There I have secluded myself for years, determined to do some really good work before I returned East to prove my ability. Some time after Antoinette died I saw a notice to that effect in a newspaper, but there were no comments and I did not know that she had made me guardian of our child. That was like Antoinette," he continued, in gentler tones; "she was invariably generous and considerate of my shortcomings, even after we realized we were not fitted to live together. Her renunciation of me seemed harsh, at first, for I could not understand her ambitions, but in fact she drove me to success. I have won the Grand Prize, after all these years of patient labor, and from now on my future is assured."
"Have you never longed for your child?" asked Mary Louise reproachfully.
"I have, indeed. In imagination I have followed Alora's growth and development year by year, and one of my most cherished anticipations when coming here was to seek out my daughter and make myself known to her. I knew she had been well provided for in worldly goods and I hoped to find her happy and content. If my picture received favorable comment at the exhibition I intended to seek Alora. I did not expect to win the Grand Prize."
* * * * * * * *
It was this newly discovered Jason Jones and his daughter—who already loved him and shyly clung to this responsive and congenial parent—who went to Dorfield with the Colonel and Mary Louise and Peter Conant and Josie O'Gorman to attend the obsequies of the other less fortunate Jason Jones. Mrs. Orme was there, too; Mrs. Janet Orme Jones; for she admitted she was the dead man's wife and told them, in a chastened but still defiant mood, how the substitution of her husband for the other artist had come about.
"Many years ago, when I was nursing in a New York hospital," she said, "a man was brought in with both arms broken, having been accidentally knocked down by a street-car. I was appointed to nurse him and learned from him that he was Jason Jones, a poor artist who was, however, just about to win recognition. He showed me a newspaper clipping that highly praised a painting then being exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was signed Jason Jones. I know now that it wasn't his picture at all, but the work of his cousin, but at the time the clipping deceived me.
"I was ambitious to become something more than a nurse. I thought that to be the wife of a famous artist would bring me wealth and a position in society, so I married Jason Jones—without love—and he married me— also without love—in order to get my wages. He won where I lost, for during several years I foolishly supported him with my savings, always expecting him to become famous. At first he attributed his failures to his broken arms, although they had healed perfectly, and I ignorantly accepted the excuse. It was only after years of waiting for the man to prove his ability that I finally woke to the truth—that he had no talent—and I then left him to his own devices. In Chicago I sought to forget my unfortunate past and found regular employment there in my profession.
"It was while nursing Mrs. Jones that I overheard her give to Doctor Anstruther the supposed address of her husband, which had been furnished her by a casual acquaintance, and tell him to wire Jason Jones to come to her at once. I well knew a mistake had been made and that she had given the doctor my own husband's address—the address of an entirely different Jason Jones. My first impulse was to undeceive her, but that would involve humiliating explanations, so I hesitated and finally decided to remain silent. When the doctor had gone to telegraph and the die was cast, I reflected that my husband, whom I knew to be sunk in poverty, would ignore the request to come to Chicago to be reconciled to his dying wife. My Jason wouldn't care whether I lived or died and wouldn't have spent a cent to be reconciled with me. For of course he would think it was I who asked for him, since he would know nothing of Antoinette Seaver Jones or that she was the wife of his distant relative, the other Jason Jones.
"He did, indeed, answer Doctor Anstruther by saying he would not come unless his expenses were advanced, so the good doctor launched the future deception by sending him ample funds. I knew of this action and wondered what I ought to do. There would be a terrible mix-up when my husband appeared, and I realized how disappointed the sick woman would be. Knowing her condition to be dangerous, I feared the shock would kill her, which it really did, for still I kept silent. I told myself that I had not aided in the deception in any way, that it was a trick of fate, and I could not be blamed. I thought that when Doctor Anstruther met my husband there would be explanations and the truth would come out, but somehow that did not happen. Jason Jones walked into Antoinette Seaver Jones' room expecting to find me dying, and saw a strange woman in the bed and his wife—in good health—standing before him. He let out an oath in his surprise and my patient, who had raised up in bed to stare at him, uttered a low moan and fell back on her pillow, dead. I saw the tragedy and involuntarily screamed, and Jason Jones saw she was dead and cried out in fear. I had just time to recover my wits and whisper to him to keep his mouth shut and I would make him rich when Doctor Anstruther hurried into the room.
"The whole thing was unpremeditated up to that time, but now I assisted fate, for I had witnessed Mrs. Jones' will and knew well its contents. No one seemed to know there were two artists named Jason Jones and everyone accepted my husband as Alora's father and the one entitled to her guardianship and to profit by the terms of the will.
"An hour after Mrs. Jones died I secured a secret interview with my husband, who until then had been thoroughly bewildered, and explained to him that the mistake in identity would, if he took prompt advantage of it, give him the control of an enormous income for seven years— until the child reached the age of eighteen. He was fearful, at first, that the other Jason Jones would appear and prosecute him for swindling, but as the husband of Antoinette Seaver had not been heard from in years, even by his own wife, I induced him to accept the risk. It was I who virtually put that income into my husband's hands, and in return he agreed to supply me with whatever money I demanded, up to a half of his receipts. But he proved that there is not always honor among thieves, for after he had been made legal executor of the estate and his fears had somewhat subsided he endeavored to keep all the money for himself and begrudged me the one or two instalments I forced him to give me. Strangely enough, this formerly poverty-stricken artist now developed a love of accumulation—a miserly love for the money itself, and hated to spend any of it even on himself or on the girl to whom he owed his good fortune. The coward actually ran away and hid himself in Europe, and I, having spent all the money he had given me, with the idea I had an inexhaustible fund to draw upon, was forced to turn nurse again.
"After three years I had saved enough to follow him to Europe, where I located him at a lonely villa in Italy. Its very loneliness was my undoing, for he made a husky servant lock me up in an outhouse and there I was held a prisoner until Jason had again escaped to America. He thought he could hide better in the United States and that I wouldn't have the money to follow him there, but I had fortunately saved enough for my return passage. By the time I got home, however, he had completely disappeared and all my efforts failed to locate him. So I returned to Chicago and again resumed my profession.
"You will say I might have denounced him as an impostor and made the police hunt him up, but that would have ruined my chances of ever getting another penny of the money and might have involved me personally. Jason knew that, and it made him bold to defy me. I silently bided my time, believing that fate would one day put the man in my power.
"You know how I happened to find Alora in Chicago and how I lured her to my home and kept her there a prisoner."
It was found that the dead man had made large investments in his own name, and as he had left no will Janet declared that this property now belonged to her, as his widow. Lawyer Conant, however, assured her that as the money had never been legally her husband's, but was secured by him under false pretenses, all the investments and securities purchased with it must be transferred to the real Jason Jones, to whom they now belonged. The court would attend to that matter.
"And it serves you right, madam," added Peter Conant, "for concocting the plot to swindle Alora's father out of the money his dead wife intended him to have. You are not properly punished, for you should be sent to jail, but your disappointment will prove a slight punishment, at least."
"So far as I knew," answered Janet, defending her crime, "Alora's father was either dead or hidden in some corner of the world where he could never be found. To my knowledge there was no such person existent, so the substitution of my husband for him did him no injury and merely kept the income out of the clutches of paid executors. Had the right man appeared, at any time during these four years, to claim his child and the money, he might easily have secured them by proving his identity. So the fault was his as much as mine."
Jason Jones had personally listened to the woman's confession, which filled him with wonder. While severely condemning her unscrupulous methods he refused to prosecute her, although Mr. Conant urged him to do so, and even carried his generosity to the extent of presenting her with one of her dead husband's small investments, obtaining from her in return the promise to lead an honest and respectable life.
It had been the artist's intention to return to his California bungalow, but after the probate court had acknowledged him and transferred to him the guardianship of his daughter, he decided to devote the coming years to Alora and endeavor to recompense her with fatherly devotion for the privations and unhappiness she had formerly endured.
Alora did not wish to be separated from Mary Louise, so her father purchased the handsome residence of Senator Huling, which was situated directly opposite to that of Colonel Hathaway in Dorfield, and succeeded in making it a real home for his daughter.
Josie O'Gorman went back to Washington well pleased with her success, although she said with a little grimace of feigned regret:
"I did pretty well, for an amateur, for I tackled a tough case and won out; but, after all, it was Mary Louise who solved the mystery and restored Alora to her honest-for-true father."