Mr. Thraves gave an involuntary chuckle. He glanced at his wife, who was walking across the lawn, presenting a rather indignant and consciously virtuous back to naughty Peter. Down in his pocket went his hand and before Peter and Polly knew what had happened they found themselves each with a silver dollar clasped in a grubby fist.
CHAPTER IX JOSIE GETS HER BEARINGS
Josie's luck in finding the partially destroyed letters left by the careless Cousin Dink, alias Margery Dubois, alias Hester Broughton, sometimes D. Dingus, made it possible for her to pass up the doubtful privilege of sleeping in the clean sheets provided for her by Betty. That afternoon she went back to her employer, received all necessary instructions concerning the campaign she was to wage in Atlanta in the line of household novelties and jeweled specialties and, after paying Mrs. Pete for the room she had decided not to occupy, she took the night train for the South.
Before she left Dorfield Josie had time to run in on the Higgledy-Piggledies for a few moments, long enough to say "howdy" to her partners and to leave directions for having her mail forwarded. She found Mary Louise having a chat with Elizabeth Wright.
"You are the very one I wanted to see, dear," she cried. "I want to ask you to keep an eye on little Polly and Peter. Make friends with them even more than you have and if they let drop anything else about their past please wire it to me. Now I'm going to pack up some of my own especial duds. I may have to redisguise myself as my real self before I get through with this adventure. In that case I must have my own clothes with which to do it."
"Before you go, you comet you, please tell us what has happened so far," begged Mary Louise.
Josie smiled, her ever-cheery smile.
"Nothing much except I landed my job and will get all my expenses. I mean to do good work for my boss. If I get pushed for time I'll get an assistant and pay her well to do his work—all that I can't accomplish myself. I am supposed to hire canvassers when I get to Atlanta and open up a kind of office for the time being. The letter I wrote myself puffing Miss Sally Blossom as a person little short of perfect got the boss going. Now I'll have to make good. I am almost sorry I boosted myself up so in his estimation. It's an awful strain sometimes to make good."
"But you can do it I feel sure, you funny old Josie," cried Mary Louise. "Now be sure to write us what you do and what you find out. If I didn't think Danny would miss me too much I'd go with you just for the experience."
"Heavens! You with your countenance so ingenuous that you'd give the whole thing away the first dash out of the box. You are too honest to engage in such a frame-up as this, Mary Louise."
"I'm no more honest than you are."
"Well, perhaps our fundamentals are about the same, but I have to pretend to be a lot of things I am not, to work out my principles and I am sure you couldn't pretend to be anything but just dear, sweet Mary Louise Dexter if your life, or even your dear Danny's life, depended on it. Could you paint your face and be a vulgar minx as I am being just now?"
"I bet you could," put in Elizabeth. "You have never yet failed to do what it was up to you to do and I believe you could even do that."
Mary Louise laughed. "I could but try if my doing it would help anybody. Good luck to you, Josie dear!"
And the next moment Josie was gone on her great adventure.
Atlanta had on its smiling, spring face when Josie arrived. The air was soft and balmy and everything smelt of violets. They were growing everywhere, on the poor streets as well as the more pretentious ones. A house was lowly indeed that did not boast a bit of yard with borders of violets by fence and walk. Old colored women sat on the corners with huge bunches of violets for sale. Pretty girls walked on the streets with corsage bouquets of the fragrant flowers.
"Poor little Polly and Peter! No wonder they are homesick for Atlanta," was Josie's first thought.
She found lodgings in a quaint little old hotel called the Elberta Inn. Everything in Atlanta seemed to Josie to have something to do with peaches—Peachtree Street, West Peachtree Street, Peachtree Terrace, Peachtree Gardens. Then hotels and inns bore the name where they could and others named themselves after famous brands of peaches, such as Elberta.
"What's in a name?" sighed Josie when, at her very first dinner in her new quarters, dried apple pies were shamelessly served.
The landlady of the Elberta Inn was as thin as the landlady at 126 East Centre was fat. Her name was Miss Oleander Denton. She was quick to let each prospective guest know that she had seen better days.
"My grandfather would turn over in his grave if he knew that one of his female descendants was at work and all," she whispered to Josie. "We owned thousands of acres and hundreds of slaves and all."
Sometimes Miss Oleander was known to reverse this statement, having her grandfather own hundreds of acres and thousands of slaves. Whatever it was, poor Oleander was certainly hard at work now. Perhaps her proud grandfather was saved from turning over in his grave by the fact that his male descendants were not inclined to work. Old Mr. Denton—Major he was called by the boarders—had never been known to do a day's work in his life and Miss Oleander had a brother, Braxton, who was occupied only during the races.
"I should think your grandfather would be proud that you are so capable," suggested Josie.
"Oh, not at all," sighed Miss Oleander. "Efficient women were not considered ladylike in my grandfather's time—that is not efficient enough to make a living. They could be good housekeepers and all." Miss Denton always ended every sentence with "and all." It could mean anything and nothing.
Josie felt she had found exactly the right place. She was sure that Miss Oleander could tell her about the Wallers and Chester Hunt, and what she didn't know Major Denton would. Josie had modified her appearance somewhat, lengthened her skirts, discarded the strings of beads, left off the paint and powder except for a becoming dash and put away her lip-stick until she might have use for it. She still clung to the bobbed henna wig with its permanent wave. That in itself completely changed the appearance of the usually demure Josie.
"First I must get my bearings," she mused, as she settled herself in the shabby hall bedroom, that had the one advantage of overlooking the great and only Peachtree Street.
On a shelf in her room she found an old telephone book. Stephen Waller's name and address were given. The house proved to be only three doors from the Elberta Inn, which had been a private residence in former years. By the telephone in the hall near Josie's door hung a new, down-to-date book. She looked for Stephen Waller's name in it. It was not there. She then looked for Chester Hunt's name. It was given and the address was the same as Stephen Waller's had been.
"So he is living in the old home!" A picture of the children arose in Josie's mind, their forlorn condition, ragged, worn clothes and hungry eyes. Then she thought of the room at Mrs. Pete's where they had lived before they had gone to the Children's Home and her mouth tightened. "I'll show him a thing or two before I get through," she muttered.
Before dinner that evening she went out for a walk. She turned to the left from Elberta Inn and sauntered along as though she had no object in life, and from the vacant expression on her face one might think she had no more intelligence than object. Josie had the faculty of appearing dull and stupid. A fishy look would come in her clever eyes and she could assume the expression of a moron. She was apt to take on this facial disguise whenever she was deeply interested in a case.
There was the Waller house on the corner, a handsome structure of pure colonial architecture. The grounds around it were spacious for a city, with box bushes whose size were indicative of their great age. The walls of the house were almost covered with thick English ivy, but the weathered pink of the old brick asserted itself in spots. The yard, front and sides, had flower beds bordered with violets and the formal walks were also indicated by rows of the fragrant flower. Magnolia trees with glossy leaves and great white waxen blossoms shaded the house and over the brick wall, that extended down the side street, leaned fig trees.
Peachtree Street runs along the top of a ridge and the side streets slope from it. This means that the houses must be built with basements in the rear. Usually the kitchen and servants' quarters are in this basement. Josie's walk led her down the side street. In the wall near the end of the lot was a green door, no doubt the servants' and tradesmen's entrance. Facing on the alley was a large garage, the door of which was open. There was little sign of life about the place. Josie noticed some belated clothes hanging on a line in the back yard. By tiptoeing she could see over the wall. The wash was that of a man, rather sporty striped shirts and socks of many colors.
"Mighty late to be having the wash still hanging out," said Josie to herself. "Having trouble with servants, I wager. Hope so, anyhow."
As she started to cross the alley the honk of a horn warned her of the approach of an automobile. She stepped back and a big touring car turned into the alley. Josie looked up. A very handsome man of about forty was alone in the car, which he drove with great skill. He directed his car into the garage with noiseless shifting of gears.
Josie eyed him dully, which meant that not one detail of his countenance or clothing escaped her. She even noted the make of the car. The man glanced casually at Josie but she was nothing more than a pedestrian crossing the alley to him, and a stupid-looking pedestrian at that, who did not cross the alley even when she had a chance. Josie stood for a moment after the car had passed the crossing.
"Could that be Chester Hunt?" she mused. "If so, he is not my idea of a villian in appearance. He is too pleasant looking and his countenance is entirely too open and engaging. Too good looking, in fact! I was looking for a black-browed villain with selfishness and deviltry written all over his face. If that is he then woe be to poor Dink and Mrs. Waller! When evil has so much the appearance of good it is difficult to combat."
She crossed the alley and continued her walk, not returning to the Elberta Inn by way of the Waller house. She did not want the inmates of that house, whoever they might be, by any chance to become familiar with her face and form, disguised or natural.
It was too late in the evening to see about an office and the business of making good as a saleswoman for household necessities and jeweled novelties, but it was not too late to get a pretty good idea of the city and a general notion of the kind of persons who made Atlanta their home. Josie walked for an hour, noting and remembering the names of the streets, the lines of trolleys, the principal hotels and clubs and many other things that an ordinary tourist would have passed by or forgotten in a moment. She stopped at a drug store and bought a map of the city. Then when she got home she traced on the map the streets she had traversed or followed in her walk.
"Now I am beginning to get my bearings," she declared as she freshened up a bit for dinner. "I mustn't let myself slump into too great respectability," she grinned at herself in the mirror.
CHAPTER X AT MISS DENTON'S DINNER TABLE
Seven o'clock dinner at Elberta Inn was a function in spite of the dried apple pies. Miss Oleander Denton always insisted upon making of it a real dinner party. It seemed as though, for the hour, she attempted to forget that her guests were paying ones. To her black silk gown she gave a festive air by turning it in at the neck, thereby exposing her too prominent clavicles, but the effect was softened by a beautiful old lace collar and a large cameo breastpin of rare workmanship, depicting a lady in hoop skirts by a grave, over which leant a weeping willow tree. Major Denton wore a rusty dress suit and a carnation in his buttonhole. The boarders dressed or not as they chose, but as a rule they played up to Miss Oleander's role of hostess and appeared at dinner in festive raiment.
The table was set with care and taste, but Josie found the food no better than the one meal she had eaten at Mrs. Pete's in Dorfield. Mrs. Pete's cabbage and the accompanying corned beef had been excellent, although the table had been covered with a red cloth, the crockery of the thickest, unbreakable variety and a large toothpick holder the only ornament. Miss Denton always had flowers on the table and her china was what remained in the family after the administration of the hundred slaves. It did not match but it was all good, some thin porcelain with a gold band, some Canton whose blue made Josie homesick for the Higgledy-Piggledy Shop and the little breakfast set, a gift from Mary Louise.
The great difference between 126 East Centre and the Elberta Inn lay in the type of boarders. A wider gulf existed between the clientele of the two places than that between a red table cloth and a fine damask one, or Canton china and Mrs. Pete's heavy stone crockery, or a vase of roses and a toothpick holder.
Most of the boarders were permanent ones and while it was a rule of the house to resent transients, they were secretly welcome because of the added zest they gave to the humdrum of everyday life. The permanent guests of Elberta Inn knew only too well all about each other and it was a relief to have outsiders to pick on in spite of the ignominy of having to sit down to meals with persons whose antecedents might be doubtful. Elberta Inn was of the old South. The inroad of Western and Northern capital had not touched the Maison Denton. To be sure the transients who occasionally bore down upon them were often northerners or westerners but they did not represent much capital or they would have put up at a first-class hotel. This the boarders who called Elberta Inn home year in and year out well understood and so it was all transients were more or less looked down upon. They were not rich or they would not be there and they were hardly well born, since they were not born in the South. Of course they sympathized with Miss Oleander in wanting to rent her rooms and the fact that a much higher board was charged transients than permanents made transients somewhat desirable if too long intervals did not elapse between their goings and comings.
All of the foregoing Josie gathered at her first dinner. She was introduced with great eclat by her hostess. The party was seated as she came into the dining room and down one side of the table and up the other Miss Oleander called the names, each time repeating Josie as "Miss Blossom, Colonel Brent; Miss Blossom, Miss Kite-Smith; Miss Blossom, Mrs. Bucknow; Miss Blossom, Major Dugan; Miss Blossom, Mrs. Claiborne; Miss Blossom, Judge Tuttle; Miss Blossom, my father, Major Denton," and so forth and so on down a line of twenty.
Josie felt she had never been among so many titles in all her life. She recalled some lines from an opera of Gilbert and Sullivan's:
"With admirals the ocean teemed And bishops in their shovel hats Were cheap as any tabby cats, In point of fact too many."
"The women have no titles but their names sound so aristocratic," she thought. "Why, oh, why did I choose such a silly name as Blossom? There were plenty of nice plain names that would have done me just as well and I wouldn't feel such a fool when I am introduced. I thought Miss Oleander would never get through calling out Blossom."
She was relieved to find that her henna wig was not so very much out of place. Miss Hite-Smith was blondined in the back, with a transformation in the front that did not quite match and all of the aristocratic dames had resorted to cosmetics of one kind or another. Powder predominated but an occasional dash of rouge gave color to the party.
Dinner was in courses, served by two colored maids whose social strata must have been about that of Betty's at Mrs. Pete's. To be sure they had on white caps and aprons, garnishings of which Betty boasted not, but their motions were reminiscent of the cornfield, as though they might still be walking over ploughed ground.
Josie could not help thinking that perhaps the grandfather, he of the hundreds of slaves and thousands of acres, would have turned over in his grave again if he could have seen the type of repast served on his beautiful old china. There was course after course but each was merely a sample, from soup to coffee. Josie remembered the heaping plate of cabbage and corned beef with the hunk of corn bread at Mrs. Pete's with regretful sentiment.
"Blossom, Blossom! Did I hear aright, young lady?" asked Judge Tuttle. "Is your name Blossom?"
"Yes, sir," said Josie, respectfully, but wishing in her heart the old gentleman would not insist on that absurd name, "Sally Blossom!"
"Ah, and from what part of the country do you come?"
"Washington," answered Josie, thankful that at one time she had lived there—was living there in fact when her father, Detective O'Gorman, died. "I have been in Dorfield lately, though, on business."
"My grandmother's maiden name was Blossom," continued the judge, "and strange to say, it was also Sally, or Sarah by the time she got to be my grandmother. But she was a Virginian, a Virginian of tide-water fame. What Blossom are you?"
"Just Blossom, sir; a blooming Blossom! My father was English," she said in desperation. "At least I think he was. He died before he was born—I mean I was born."
"Ah, very sad!" ventured the Judge and Miss Hite-Smith thought so too. Josie, for her part, thought he was much better dead—that fictitious Blossom. This questioning was more than she had bargained for. People usually let her do the questioning. She rather fancied it was the bobbed wig and the artificial complexion that made persons like the judge notice her.
"That is a beautiful old house on the corner near here," she ventured.
"You mean the Haskins?" spoke up Miss Denton. "Yes, it is very handsome, no doubt, but too ornate and pie-crusty for my—taste." Then a discussion ensued concerning architecture, old and new.
"I mean the house going East from this place," put in Josie, not at all interested in the Haskins house. "The old home with the ivy and the box-bushes in the yard."
"Oh, the Waller house!" said Major Denton. "That is perhaps the finest specimen of the old South left in the city. It was saved from the Yankee invasion by a piece of luck."
He then plunged into war reminiscences that lasted through three courses, his table companions listening with bored politeness.
"Do the same people still live there?" asked Josie, after Major Denton had fired the last shot for states' rights.
"Well, they do and they don't," began the Major.
"I can't see why you say they do," broke in Judge Tuttle. "Chester Hunt hasn't an ounce of Waller blood in his veins."
"Indeed he has," declared Mrs. Claiborne. "Chester Hunt's mother's great-grandmother was a niece of old Edmund Waller's, the English founder of the Waller family. That is a well-known fact."
"Ah, yes, a niece but—ah, well—the presence of ladies would deter my pressing my point," said Judge Tuttle, who then whispered sibilantly to a pink-cheeked old man across the table.
"As I was saying," continued Major Denton, "they do and they don't. The present occupant of the Waller mansion is a stepbrother of Stephen Waller's. He, poor fellow, was killed during the war, the world war, I mean, not the war between the states."
"Yes," breathed Josie, "and the stepbrother inherited his property?"
"Oh, no, there is a widow and two children. A very sad story, very sad! The widow has been crazed by grief and I hear is hopelessly insane. The two children have been placed in care of an excellent woman and are now living near their mother, so if she should ever ask for them they can be reached quickly. She has shown no sign as yet of wanting to see them. A sad case!"
"Yes, and I wouldn't trust those sanitariums," spoke Miss Oleander. "They are often very tricky."
"Neither would I," said a young woman across the table from Josie. Her name was Miss Chisholm and she had the distinction of being in business. The ladies at Miss Denton's were not the type to be in business.
"But Chester Hunt has been to the place again and again and says his step-sister-in-law is receiving every attention and is being watched with the greatest care. She is raving, so he says, and he is very sad over it. Chester Hunt is a fine young fellow in spite of the unkind things some persons say about his great-great-grandmother," declared Mrs. Claiborne, vindictively.
"I don't like him," asserted Miss Chisholm.
"Indeed!" and Mrs. Claiborne eyed Miss Chisholm through her lorgnette. "He is very popular with young ladies." There was a slight accent on the ladies.
"Popular enough with girls who see him in society but you ask stenographers how they like him," flushed Miss Chisholm.
"I am hardly likely to converse with stenographers on the subject of Mr. Hunt," was the insolent answer.
Josie determined to cultivate Miss Chisholm and to give Mrs. Claiborne a wide berth.
"Where has the poor lady been put?" Josie asked Miss Oleander,
"Somewhere in New York, I think!"
"Not at all! The place is an excellent one near Washington," said Mrs. Claiborne.
"Hunt told me himself it was in Indiana," said Judge Tuttle. "I had some business to settle for him. You see he is the executor and administrator of Stephen Waller's estate. Naturally he was appointed guardian of the children by the court.
"I understand they are a very unruly pair," went on Mrs. Claiborne. "It seems it was their selfishness and naughtiness that gave their poor mother her final breakdown. I hate to think it of Stephen Waller's children, but I hear it on all sides. Chester Hunt can hardly control himself when the subject comes up. He has done everything for them but they have behaved so very badly. Mother spoiled them, I reckon."
"Why, that's too bad," put in kind Miss Oleander. "I used to see them playing in their yard and I was much attracted by them. I don't see how such sweet-looking children could be so very naughty."
"Nonsense!" cried Miss Chisholm. "My cousin taught little Polly Waller and she says she was the most tractable child she has ever had in her class. The boy was too young for school, but I happened to hear his kindergarten teacher discussing the family with my cousin and she said Peter was a love of a boy and clever beyond anything. He is a born leader, so she said."
"They are sneaky," asserted Mrs. Claiborne. "I have heard of many sneaky underhand things they have done. Poor Chester Hunt, I don't envy him the job of guardian."
"Neither do I," said Josie to herself.
"He has had a great deal of trouble with servants lately," said Miss Hite-Smith. "I hear he is not trying to keep up the whole house but it takes several servants to maintain any kind of cleanliness in such a huge house. He is advertising for white maids, so I hear. It seems the colored ones think the place is haunted."
"He is advertising for white maids!" Josie repeated to herself.
CHAPTER XI JOSIE ENGAGES AN ASSISTANT
Josie regretted her job. Life was becoming complicated, what with trying to organize a force of canvassers for household necessities and jewel novelties when every moment of her waking hours must be spent trying to find out the true inwardness of the affair concerning Peter and Polly and their demented mother. Her boss was trusting her, so she must make good. And had she not, as Josie O'Gorman, highly recommended Miss Sally Blossom? It was doubly up to her to deliver the goods. So she thought as she sat in her little hall bedroom and went over in her mind all she had learned that day.
There was a tap on her door. It was Miss Chisholm coming to call.
"I thought you might be lonesome," she said. "The guests of this house are not very friendly to 'outsiders,' as they designate everybody who hasn't been living at Miss Denton's since the flood. I liked the way you shut up Judge Tuttle about your family name. The folks here talk all the time about who's who. Sometimes I try to switch them over to what's what but I can't keep them long from their beloved genealogical dope."
"I didn't mean to shut him up," laughed Josie. "I was rattled to beat the band."
Josie looked keenly at her visitor. Honesty was written all over her countenance—wide-open grey eyes, delicately tip-tilted nose and large, frank mouth that laughed easily, and at the end of a laugh shut decisively.
"I liked the way you spoke out concerning Chester Hunt and stood up for the poor kiddies, too," said Josie earnestly.
"It got me in bad with old Lady Claiborne, but I am dead tired of these people here blindly accepting that man just because he is so all-fired handsome. I believe he is crooked, but he is mighty popular with the general run of people. The stenographers all hate him and there are a few business men who don't trust him but he seems to be able to hoodwink the society set. He has beautiful manners and is gentle and graceful until he forgets himself and then look out! I feel in my bones he is double dealing and I can't think what the Wallers' friends are thinking of to let him take their affairs in hand as he does without ever investigating a thing."
"But he is executor of Mr. Waller's estate, is he not?"
"Oh, yes, he is all that and I reckon nobody has a right to say a word. Now, he is guardian of the children. The idea of that old hag's saying those children are so naughty they ran their mother crazy! It makes me sick. They are precious kids."
"They certainly are," agreed Josie. Miss Chisholm looked at her in astonishment.
"Do you know them?"
"Yes," said Josie, "I know them very well. Miss Chisholm, I'm going to do a rather cheeky thing. I'm going to force my confidence on you and make you party to a secret—that is, I am going to do it if you have no objection. It won't implicate you in any way and won't involve any work unless you choose to let it. I want your advice and I want your outlook. I need hardly say that this is of a most confidential nature. May I impose on you?"
"Yes, you may, but before you do, please tell me why you think I am worthy," asked Miss Chisholm, her eyes shining with excitement.
"The way you shut your mouth and open your eyes," laughed Josie. "The way you stood up for the kids and were not afraid to speak your mind concerning a man who has in some way got the majority for him. Of course I can't say I am never mistaken about people but I am pretty safe to hit it right once in a while and I have a hunch I have hit it right with you. I am rather meek just now concerning my powers of reading character by countenance, because I am sure if I had not had a preconceived idea of what Chester Hunt is I should have trusted him because of his handsome face. He is one of the best-looking villains I ever saw."
"Oh, you know him too, then?"
"No, I have only seen him. I haven't been in Atlanta long enough to know him yet, but I saw him drive up in his car and enter the garage at the Waller house."
"You knew all about who lived there all the time you were asking, then," smiled Miss Chisholm.
"Not all about it but a little and I wanted to get the outlook of Miss Denton's boarders."
"Heavens above! I believe you are a detective," cried Miss Chisholm. Josie chuckled delightedly.
"Exactly! A detective but a very humble one. My father was a great detective, one of the best the United States has had. O'Gorman was his name."
"Of course I have heard of him. And you are his daughter and not Sally Blossom. No wonder you had to cut Judge Tuttle off short. Oh me, oh my, but I'm having a good time!"
"So am I, but I've bitten off more than I can chew. When I am at home I go talk things over with the chief of police or one of my partners and I seem mighty far off just now with a big thing on hand and no one to go to. I'm not cry-babying, but just want to gas along on the subject for a while. I have a kind of idea you can help me a lot."
"Well, cut loose," commanded Miss Chisholm. "By the way, my name is Alice—Alice Chisholm."
"All right, Alice Chisholm. Mine is Josie O'Gorman, but I'd better be Sally Blossom for a while yet."
Then Josie told her new friend all about the Children's Home Society of Dorfield and her friend Mary Louise Dexter's donation to the Home and how the little Polly and Peter had come to the office with the person known as Cousin Dink. She told of finding the letters in the grate at Mrs. Pete's, of all the children had let drop concerning their home life and their sad wanderings with Cousin Dink.
"And now I am on the war path to see if there isn't something to be done for those poor kiddies. If they stay at the Home they will have to be adopted sooner or later—maybe separated and that would be a tragedy indeed."
She showed the letters from Chester Hunt to the cousin.
"Whew! Wouldn't some of these society girls throw fits if they knew about this Dink person?" laughed Alice. "But what is it you want me to do? I am crazy about helping but how can I?"
Then Josie told of the job she had as a canvasser and her feeling that the detective work was going to take all her time. "I thought I'd find out things as a canvasser and never dreamed of how easy it was to get boarders to talking and find out that way. Now I hear that Chester Hunt is advertising for white servants and of course my stunt would be to apply at once for the place of housemaid or even cook."
"How funny! Would you really do that?"
"Sure I I've done it before, and under my father's orders, but that is another story. But I must make good with my boss on this canvassing. He has trusted me and it is up to me to deliver the goods."
"Why don't you get an assistant?"
"That is what I mean to do, but where?"
"I'm open to inducements," declared Alice seriously. "You see I am a free-lance in business. My job is doing publicity work for any and every concern that feels like paying me. I have nothing on hand just now, but am expecting a deal to come my way to-morrow. I don't have to take it if they are in a hurry, but can turn it down and take up your canvassing business. I have an office of my own—nothing but a tiny hole in the wall but it will serve as headquarters. I can get in touch with plenty of women to canvass for you in a little or no time. The office next to mine is that of the Vocational Bureau for Women. They fly higher than this kind of job usually but I reckon there are enough unemployed females on their books who would jump at the chance to earn a few dollars."
"Good! I am a fortunate person. My supplies will be along to-morrow. I shall have them sent to your office and you can get busy as fast as you can."
The girls then had a serious business talk. The question of remuneration was satisfactorily settled.
"I wonder, now, if you could write me a reference for his nibs, Chester Hunt. I want to apply for the job of housemaid this very night. It isn't too late, do you think?"
"I'll do it immediately," laughed Alice. "What must I say?"
"That I am honest and willing and capable. I am all those things, I can assure you. Perhaps you won't think so when you see me get back to normalcy. I must change my make-up if I want a job as house servant. I think I'll be a Swede. Josie Larson will be a good name. I must say I feel better if I'm Josie. I'm always afraid I'll forget to answer as Sally."
Alice Chisholm's eyes danced merrily as she watched Josie O'Gorman make herself ready to apply for a housemaid's position. First the henna wig was pulled off and Josie brushed out her neat sandy braids that had been tightly coiled around her head. She parted her hair in the middle and then pulled it tightly back in a hard knot, carefully disclosing her ears, something no person of any breeding was supposed to do at that time. The knot was placed at exactly the wrong angle, giving a strangely comic look to her profile. The georgette dinner dress was discarded for the tweed suit but the suit was so put on that all semblance of natty cut was lost. The skirt was on slightly askew and pulled up in front and down in the back. The belt to the Norfolk jacket was drawn too tight and the effect was blousy from the rear and what Alice called "a poor white folk's tuck" in the fore. Josie's sailor hat she placed on the back of her head, carefully pulling it down so that one ear was pushed down by the crown. The despised rouge was wiped from her cheeks and artistically applied to her nose—not much, but just a suspicion.
"Splendid! Splendid!" cried Alice. "I don't believe you will need a reference. You would have to be honest to look like that."
The reference was written, however, and signed A. Chisholm. With it tightly clasped in a hand upon which Josie had drawn a large white cotton glove, a finishing touch to her costume, the would-be housemaid silently crept from the Elberta Inn and, with an extra dull look in her eyes, rang the front door bell at the Waller house.
CHAPTER XII CHESTER HUNT'S NEW MAID
"Nobody home!" was Josie's disappointed verdict after she had waited a few minutes and there was no response to her ring. She rang again, this time with sharp decision. She heard the opening of a door upstairs and then the lower hall was flooded with light and a sound of quick, light footsteps on the stairs and the front door was jerked open somewhat impatiently. Josie looked stolidly into the handsome countenance of Chester Hunt.
"Well, what is it?" he asked brusquely, taking in with some amusement the awkward little figure before him.
"I bane come to work for you."
"Oh! In answer to my ad?"
"What can you do?"
"Anything with my hands but I bane not much good on head work."
"Can you clean a house and serve a meal?"
"Perhaps you can cook too!"
"I can cuke some."
"What nationality are you?"
"I bane Luther."
"Naw! I bane Swede," and Josie permitted an expression of disgust to flit over her otherwise blank countenance.
"Well, when can you go to work?"
"How much you bane pay?"
"Of course! How stupid of me! What do you ask?"
"I ask twelve dollar a week for cuking and ten dollar a week for claneuping but I bane get less than I ask. If I do cuking and claneuping both together I ask fifteen dollar a week but I bane come to you and see how you suit me for twelve. I bane a bum at telegraphing."
"You mean telephoning?"
"Yah, telephoning, but I bane willing to learn. Have you bane keeping other help?"
"I try to but they have all left me lately. Would you work with colored people?"
"You bane meaning blacks? I do not love them but if you try me you find I do twice three time as much work as blacks."
"And your name?"
"Miss Josie Larson!"
"All right, Miss Josie Larson, suppose you come in the morning and go to work."
"I bane come tomorrow night and cuke the dinner. I got other business on hand for morning."
"Well, I'm sorry, but I fancy I can get along without you for twelve hours longer. Now, mind you, come in time. I have dinner at seven."
"I bane coming at five. Do you to market go yourself?"
"I'll have provisions in the house ready for you. After tomorrow you will have to do the housekeeping as well as cooking. If I have a friend in to dinner could you serve two of us?"
"Sure! I bane smart enough to serve eight if you have knives and forks to go round."
Josie made a stiff bow and backed awkwardly down the steps. When the door was closed she turned quickly and literally ran back to the Elberta Inn. She got safely to her room without being seen by any of the aristocratic boarders.
Alice Chisholm was waiting for her.
"Well, how about it?"
"Got my job as chief cook and bottle washer with the handsome Chester Hunt and will cook dinner for him tomorrow evening. In the meantime I have some work ahead of me. What I would have done without you, Alice, I do not see. I should have been forced to double-cross my boss, and I'd have hated it. My father always preached being faithful in small things."
The next day was a busy one for Josie as well as Alice Chisholm. Josie must lay in a supply of maid's uniforms, aprons and caps. She must write letters to Mary Louise and her partners of the Higgledy-Piggledy, also a business epistle to her boss of the household necessities and jeweled novelties. A cook book must be purchased of the latest and most approved recipes, Josie having mastered only a few of the simpler dishes, but she had always declared that the keynote to cookery was gumption and with a good recipe and plenty of that ingredient she could master even anything as intricate as angel's food.
"I can make biscuit and coffee and waffles and scrambled eggs and tea and cinnamon toast, too. I know so many ways to please an archvillain," she said to Alice.
"And I know how to make batter bread and jelly roll. I am certainly coming to see you some time and show you my stunts," said Alice.
"Fine but you will have to be a Swede. I didn't ask my new employer about company but I guess he won't object, just so I give him something fit to eat and clean up his house."
Alice Chisholm took over the business of getting canvassers and planning the work with such efficiency that Josie was delighted. "I never could have done it so well. I know the boss will thank his stars that I had to go cook for Chester Hunt and was forced to employ a so-called assistant."
"I am quite crazy about it," said Alice. "I always loved organizing and bossing and it so happens I am always the one to be organized and directed. Now, my talents have full scope. I am going to canvass some myself and I tell you I am going to show some of these women how to work."
At five o'clock, sharp, Josie was installed in the kitchen of the old Waller house.
"You will find the raw materials in the refrigerator. I am to have a gentleman to dine with me. Dinner at seven." Chester Hunt's tone was one of command and his manner not an agreeable one. Josie could well understand that the girls in the business world did not find him so agreeable as the society girls.
"All right, sir! I bane on time. Must I cuke everything I find in the refrigerator?"
"Heavens, no! Just get up a good dinner. If you don't know how you better say so and get out before you start."
"I bane asking, but if you don't want me to ask I bane smart enough to yump in."
"All right then 'yump in,'" he said, laughing in spite of being in a decidedly bad temper.
Josie "yumped in" with a will. By the process of selection from what she found in the pantry and refrigerator she concocted a good dinner and had it on the table at seven o'clock. This was something of a feat, because every cooking utensil had to be scoured before she could use it and even the china and silver was not fit to put on the table without a thorough washing.
"My, I wish I had Elizabeth Wright's mother here!" Josie said to herself. "Wouldn't she have the time of her life getting this place cleaned up?"
The drop-leaf mahogany table in the beautiful old dining room looked very inviting when Josie informed the master:
"Dinner bane served up, sir!"
A low bowl of violets and early hyacinths that the new maid had found blooming in the back yard were reflected in the polished surface of the mahogany. The table must perforce be bare as all the tablecloths in the house were soiled. She had found some lacy mats which she had washed and ironed hurriedly. The silver and glass were polished to the nth degree. The master looked his approval and actually smiled at the clever maid but Josie's eyes were dull and fishy and on her face nothing was expressed but dense stupidity. She proceeded to serve the dinner with meticulous care, thankful for the training she had had at the Higgledy-Piggledy tea room. Not one false move did she make in her service, but not once did she allow a gleam of intelligence to flicker across her countenance.
"Where did you make your find?" asked the guest, who turned out to be Braxton Denton, Miss Oleander's horse-racing brother, a middle-aged man with a flashy cravat and a crooked mouth.
"She found me. She seems to be a good enough servant considering she is so marvelously stupid."
Josie overheard the conversation as she removed the soup plates. In the pantry she permitted herself the luxury of a grin and after she slid the broiled pompano from the grill to the fish plates she let off more steam by a pirouette that a premiere danseuse might have envied.
Silently and efficiently she served the whole meal, managing to efface herself so utterly that the two men talked as freely as though they had been alone in the dining room.
"Gloomy old house!" said Braxton Denton. "I wonder you hang on here."
"It has been my home ever since I was a boy and I am more comfortable here than I would be at a hotel. I am very fond of this place. The property would run down terribly, too, if I let it stand vacant. It is only gloomy because I can't get anyone to keep it in order. The servants have all left and I don't seem to be able to get any more—not until this girl came last night. How long she will stick I can't tell."
"Until I find out what I want to know," muttered Josie to the empty fish plates as she bore them off.
"How is your sister-in-law getting?"
"No better," with a heavy sadness in his tone. "I am afraid the case is a hopeless one. I get daily reports from the sanitarium and they are most discouraging."
"And the children?"
"Oh, they are in excellent hands, both of them well. They never ask for their mother, however, nor does she ask for them. It is a strange case—one almost of antagonism. They have shown the strangest lack of feeling in regard to their mother and she seems really to hate them. I can hardly blame her because while they are only little children their callousness is positively diabolical."
Josie permitted herself the slight revenge of sprinkling a little extra pepper on her master's English mutton chop.
"Very imprudent of me, but I hope he will sneeze his handsome nose off," she said, giving the pepper box another shake.
She had her wish. His handsome nose didn't exactly come off but it was not for lack of sneezing.
"Kerchoo! Kerchoo!" he gasped for breath, choking and sneezing at the same time.
"Heavens, girl!" he finally sputtered. "How much pepper do you usually put on chops?"
"Mine is fine," ventured his guest.
"Excuse, please," and Josie gave a stiff curtsy. "My foot slipped and I bane put more pepper than I meant."
His feelings were soothed by a caramel pie. After dinner he came to the pantry door and called the new maid to him.
"You have done very well, all but over seasoning the chops."
"The chop!" corrected Josie.
"I think you will be able to do the work. I want breakfast at eight. You must look after my mail carefully. Most of my mail comes to my residence. I shall expect you to do the marketing and not bother me with details of housekeeping. Do you need any assistance with the cleaning? I fancy everything is pretty dirty."
"Filthy!" ejaculated Josie, "but I bane strong."
"All right! You understand about looking after my mail carefully, do you not?"
"Yah! I yoost put it on the desk. I bane take care."
How much care she did not think it advisable to tell him, but his mail was one of the things to which Josie was determined to give much attention.
CHAPTER XIII A NEW BROOM SWEEPS CLEAN
Being an innately honest person it went sorely against the grain with Josie to pry into anybody's private mail, even though he be an arch-villain who was doing his best to keep two poor little children out of their heritage.
"He is so handsome I don't see how he can be really wicked," she mused as she endeavored to get order out of the chaos that reigned in the kitchen. Josie had determined to clean up in the kitchen and pantry first and then proceed to the other corners of the house. The succession of incompetent servants that had been employed by the present master of the old Waller house had left layers of dirt and grease, each according to to her lights. Josie was bent upon getting to the bottom of dirt as well as the mystery of what Chester Hunt was up to.
"The better I do my work the more he will trust me. I do so hate to steam open his mail," she wailed as there came a sharp ring and a thud of falling letters through the slot in the front door.
If Chester Hunt could have peeped in on the new servant and had seen her deftly sorting his mail, putting aside the advertisements and invitations, carefully pocketing an official-looking envelope postmarked from somewhere in Indiana and another sloppily written envelope from Chicago, perhaps he would have changed his mind about her lack of brains. The scouring of the kitchen must wait for a few moments while the new maid-of-all-work held these two letters over the steaming kettle just long enough to loosen the flaps, which she rolled back neatly and carefully.
The official-looking letter was from a sanitarium in Indiana. This Josie devoured greedily. It was merely a report from the physician in charge concerning one of his patients. That patient was Mrs. Waller.
The letter stated that the lady was quite normal except for the fact that she refused to believe her husband was dead. She spent much time writing to her children and trying to devise means of getting the letters mailed to them. She was evidently a far from meek patient and was giving the attendants a good deal of trouble. The owner of the sanitarium was willing to keep the lady longer if Chester Hunt, the person in authority, decided she must stay. The rate would be increased, however, as it was much more trouble to look after a normal person than one more or less demented.
The letter was a cold, businesslike one. There was something in it, read between the lines, that made Josie shudder. She no longer had any qualms about having steamed open Chester Hunt's mail. She made a quick copy of the letter in the cryptic characters taught her by her father, carefully noting the address and date. She then sealed the letter neatly and turned to the communication from Chicago.
As she had divined, it was from the faithless Dink. It was full of reproaches to her darling Ches for not writing oftener and of demands for funds. "These tiresome children are so extravagant," she wrote. "And now Polly has been ill with a throat that looked as though it might be diphtheria and I have had to have a doctor in. We have been in Chicago for the last week and I think I may just stay here. We have board in an excellent place, but of course it is expensive. Don't be such a tight wad, Ches. You know I am looking after these brats entirely on your account. If it wasn't for you I'd lose them fast enough. What do you expect me to do next? Whatever you want me to do, give me time to do it in." She ended with assurances of truest affection.
"So," mused Josie, "lying to each other, too! Chester Hunt thinks the kids are with Dink. He doesn't know how cheaply she has boarded them either. Not even honor among thieves! The plot thickens! Wheels within wheels! As father used to say:
"'Oh, what a tangled web we weave When once we practice to deceive.'"
One thing that always amused Josie's friends was that she constantly quoted old saws and attributed them to her beloved father. According to Josie, Detective O'Gorman was the originator of half of "Poor Richard's Almanac" and the "Wisdom of Solomon" and many terse sayings of Shakespeare.
After Josie had copied the contents of the two important communications she sealed them neatly and placed them with the rest of the mail on the master's desk, carefully mixing the letters so that the two which had been tampered with did not lie together. After that she redoubled her efforts towards cleaning the kitchen. Into every crack and corner went Josie's broom and scrubbing brush. She rescued the clothes from the line in the back yard, and then ironed them and, folding them in a highly professional manner, placed them on the foot of Chester Hunt's bed,
"It is bad enough to have to spy on a man but at least I intend to earn my twelve a week or whatever it was I told him I asked."
Her cleaning mania then led her to the dining room, where such another upheaval occurred as seldom takes place in a mistressless home.
"Poor man! He has certainly lived in extreme discomfort." She found herself pitying Chester Hunt, but just then in the raid she was making on the shelves of the Sheraton sideboard she found two porridge bowls, one decorated with chickens and one with rabbits, which brought Polly and Peter back so vividly that her incipient pity was turned to rage. After that she wielded her brush and broom with pitiless fury. She rubbed the mahogany with the expression of one who might have been rubbing salt into the wounds of a bitter enemy.
"Thank goodness he doesn't expect to come home to luncheon today," she said to herself. "Those porridge bowls get my goat to that extent that my foot might slip again and I'd drop something worse than pepper on his food."
Josie had reckoned without her host, as the saying goes. Chester Hunt did come home to luncheon. She had just put the finishing touch on the sideboard, having rubbed the massive old silver and scrubbed the beautiful Wedgwood pitchers so that the former shone with some of its pristine glory and the latter's little fat cupids and heavy garlands of roses stood out from their lavender background as they had not done for a year or more. She had taken down the dusty lace curtains and washed the dingy windows. The room was no longer dark and gloomy. The sun did not have to find its way through grime but came joyfully through the shiny windows and glinted on silver and polished mahogany.
"Now that's something like!" Josie exclaimed, stepping back to view her handiwork.
"So it is."
Josie prided herself on being steeled against surprise of any sort but this voice breaking in on her monologue was almost too much for her. Her heart lost a beat, but her habit of self-control was uppermost and she was able to turn on Chester Hunt her imperturbable countenance unlit by intelligence, her eyes dull and unseeing.
"You bane having dirty blacks for help," she ventured. "Is it lunch you bane come for?"
"I'm ill, Miss Josie Larson," he said with a whimsical look on his face, that Josie now noticed was drawn and white. "It's that devilish lumbago that has got me. I hope I did not startle you."
"Yah! I bane hearin ghosts all morning," Josie declared stoutly. "When I was scroobing the sideboard shelves and picked up two little porridge bowls, one with rabbits and one with chickens, I thought I heard the chickens crowing and the rabbits didn't make a sound but I thought I saw their mouths wiggling."
"Oh!" said the man, his expression changing, "strange ghosts to be fearing!"
"I don't bane afraid. I don't bane afraid of anything."
"Well, that's good! Any mail? I'll have to get to bed and I'll ask you to bring me tip a tray of food. Something quite simple, tea and toast or anything you can think of. This lumbago hits me every now and then."
"Where do you have lumbago?" asked Josie. "Is it in your face or your stomach?"
"Back, f——! Back!"
Josie realized her master had almost called her a fool and felt the compliment highly. "The bigger fool he thinks I am the better I am attending to my business," she thought.
"I bane sorry. Don't you want me to iron your back, sir? In my country we iron backs. I can iron very well, sir. You will see your laundry on your bed. I have ironed it so well I feel sure you could trust your back to me. I did not put your wash away, fearing you might think I bane meddlin."
"Oh, that's all right, my girl. I fancy what meddling you do will make no difference to me. Just don't get my papers mixed up."
"Sure, I bane careful with all such things. Your letters are on your desk."
"Well, bring them up to me when you bring my tea and toast. They will keep until then. I must get to bed." He walked with his back bent. Evidently every movement was painful.
"I'll feel sorry for him again if I don't look out," muttered Josie. "I think I'll keep these porridge bowls where I can look at them to keep myself from weakening. Polly, you stay there," she said, putting the rabbits behind a big silver pitcher. "And Peter, you can hide behind this fruit bowl. Don't crow too loud, little chickens, but just loud enough to keep me from being too sorry for that handsome wretch upstairs, with his noble brow and the lumbago in his back."
Josie arranged a tray for the sick man deftly and neatly. To the toast and tea she added a fluffy omelette and, with the letters carefully tucked in by the teapot, she tripped up to the master's room. He had piled the beautifully ironed shirts on a chair and was in bed, groaning from the extra exertion of undressing.
"Try to eat, sir," she said gently. "I bane cuked you something nice."
He did eat and felt refreshed. Josie noticed he looked over his mail and evidently took especial interest in the two letters that had also claimed her attention. He put them aside and told her she could remove the others, he would look at them later on. Slipping back into the room for the tray, Josie caught the master with his mask off, as it were. He held in his hand the two opened letters. On his countenance was an expression of mingled cunning and cold calculation.
"I'll trouble you to hand me my fountain pen," he said to the girl. "There is a portfolio of stationery on the table over there. In about an hour you may come up and get some letters I want you to mail for me. Do you know where the postoffice is?"
"Yah, I bane there for my mail which come to a window."
"Well, take my letters all the way to the post-office. You understand."
"Yah, I ain't bane no fool."
"Oh, excuse me," he said cynically. "Anyhow, you bane a very good cook and from my shirts I judge you are a very fine laundress, so when you get my letters safely deposited in the postoffice I will ask you to come up and try your hand on my back."
"All right, sir, I bane willing."
Josie permitted herself another grin and a gay pirouette in the lower hall.
"I only wish I knew some Swedish talk besides 'bane'," she said to herself. "I am not at all sure scroobing isn't Irish and cuke for cook might be any old language. The poor man has got an awful backache, Josie O'Gorman, and you ought to feel sorry for him."
CHAPTER XIV JOSIE JUMPS HER JOB
In less than an hour Josie was summoned to her master's bedside. "The letters are written, and a hard job it was, too, with this infernal lumbago getting me if I so much as lift a finger. Get them in the postoffice as soon as you can, my good girl. Don't stop for a thing."
"I bane have to stop to dress myself," said Josie. "Girls in service don't like to go by the street in uniform."
"Well, if you must you must, but don't stop to doll up," he commanded, "and be quick about it."
"Sure!" Josie smiled to think how quick she would be.
Again the tea kettle must play its part. First she opened the letter addressed to Miss D. Dingus. There was a check for a good sum enclosed. The letter was evidently written by a man with lumbago. The tone was impatient and critical, although he seemed to remember his manners before he finished and dropped a few endearing terms such as "darling Dink," "My own girl," "I am thinking of you constantly," etc. He begged her to be patient and put up with the annoyance of the children for a while longer, when everything would come all right. "You will be rewarded a thousand fold," was his promise.
"I don't believe a word of it," was Josie's decision, as she put the letter back in its envelope after taking a careful copy of it in her own especial brand of shorthand. "Dink is too common for such a fine gentleman as Chester Hunt. He could never introduce her to the elite of the Southland."
The other letter was addressed to the doctor at the sanitarium. In it he begged the physician to keep Mrs. Waller for a while longer. "I will make it worth your while. Don't let any of her letters get by. I will come to see her as soon as I recover from an attack of lumbago that has laid me low. I don't mind confiding in you that I am hoping to make Mrs. Waller my wife. We would have been married before if it had not been for this nervous condition that has made it necessary for her to be placed in confinement for the time being."
"Wretch! Miserable wretch!" stormed Josie.
"She, perhaps," the letter continued, "will not remember that she had consented to marry me after a reasonable time should have elapsed since the death of her husband. Part of her dementia was that she had never cared for me, when the truth of the matter was nothing but her wifely loyalty kept her from running away with me, even before Stephen Waller went overseas."
"Just a pack of lies! And so he is going to see her just as soon as the lumbago lets him up out of bed. Well, Josie O'Gorman, it looks as though you would have to change jobs again."
From the postoffice Josie went to a ticket office. After consulting a time table she bought a ticket, engaged a berth for that night, ran in to see Alice Chisholm and tell her that she must leave town immediately, giving her directions where to forward mail and repeat telegrams.
"Ask Miss Denton to keep my room for me indefinitely. I'll pay whatever it is. I may need it soon. Just tell her urgent business keeps me from the city.
"Tell me, Alice—you seem to know the ins and outs of Atlanta people— was there ever an affair between Mrs. Waller and Chester Hunt?"
"He was supposed to have courted her before she married Stephen Waller, but it was a well-known fact that she did not like him. It was astonishing to some of their acquaintances that Stephen Waller should have made his stepbrother his executor because of Mrs. Waller's evident dislike of him. Mr. Waller was devoted to him, however, and perhaps his wife never let him know how she felt about Chester Hunt."
Josie went back to her place of service. Armed with a hot iron she reported to the master.
"I bane come to press your back, sir."
"Can I trust you not to burn me?" the suffering man queried.
Josie wondered whether he could or not. "I'd like to make such a big blister on him he could not put on a shirt for weeks to come," she thought, but she put on an especially stupid expression and said dully, "I never have burnt anything yet, sir."
Gently she pressed the aching back with an iron just hot enough.
"Gee, that's fine! Do you know, Miss Josie Larson, there are some things better than beauty and better than brains at times?"
"Yah! Being a good laundress," declared Josie, "but that bane take more sense than you think, sir."
"Well, perhaps. Anyhow, you are a good girl. I'd like to do something nice for you—give you something for being so kind to me. What would you like,"
"I'd like to have the bowls with the rabbits and the chickuns on them."
"Take them! Take them, girl! Take them and welcome," he laughed, "ghosts and all!"
When Josie packed her suitcase she carefully put in the two bowls. From a drawer in the library table she purloined a photograph that she had discovered there when she had dusted the room in the morning, trying to make it a bit more presentable before the master came down to breakfast. It was a picture of a handsome, soldierly looking man in an officer's uniform, with two children snuggling up to him. The children were Polly and Peter—some years younger but the little Wallers without doubt. The officer must be their father.
"Stealing is not my forte," Josie said to herself, "but I fancy this photograph will never be missed by the present occupant of this house. I may need this in my business."
Josie arranged an attractive supper tray for the sick man.
"You'd better eat a plenty," she warned him. "It bane a long time before your breakfast." Then she took herself to task for cracking the quiet joke on him. It surely would be a long time—much longer than he had any idea of.
Chester Hunt slept in a fool's paradise that night. Soothed by the ironing of his aching back and comforted by the tray of nourishing and appetizing food, he had dropped into a doze early in the evening from which he had only awakened to congratulate himself on the treasure of a Swedish maid he had at last found.
"She is almost a half-wit," he had said to himself, "but she can cook and clean and seems to have the kindest heart in the world. She wouldn't be bad looking if only she did not look so all-fired foolish." Even Josie's atrocious make-up couldn't blot out entirely her good looks.
At that very moment the so-called half-wit was boarding a train for the village in Indiana where a certain sanitarium was situated. Faithful in small things, according to her father's teaching, Josie had left her employer's abode in much better order than she had found it, in spite of having worked for the man only about thirty hours. The kitchen and dining room were spotless, silver and glass polished and china presses in order. She left a note on the hall table, which the infuriated Chester Hunt was to find after a morning spent in frantic pushing of the bell in his bedroom and vain bellowings over the bannisters for Josie Larson. It was only after supreme effort that he could get out of bed, but once he got on his feet it was not so difficult to walk.
"Josie! Josie!" he yelled. "Where are you? What do you think I am to do with no breakfast? This is a fine way to treat a sick man." His voice echoed down the hall. Hearing a noise on the street that he thought proceeded from the kitchen he called again, "Hurry up, you fool. I have been calling you for hours!"
There was no answer to this command. He leaned over the bannisters and spied the note on the hall table. Painfully and slowly, his dressing gown wrapped around him and his slippers flapping dolefully on the steps, he made his way to the lower hall. Josie had enjoyed greatly writing that note. It was difficult to do and for that reason great fun.
Note to self: This is done in letter style. For some reason, it is only justified, instead of smaller margins. Slightly smaller font, too.
Respected Mr. Hunt:
I bane sad to leave you without more formal leave-taking, but you were snoring so happy when I went up stairs I bane had no heart to awoken you. I bear you no grudge for almost letting me know I bane a fool and am not leaving your service because of that, although it is not happy to know I can not hide what a fool I bane no matter how hard I work. I take the two bowls with rabbits and chickuns, the same you gave to me. I go from your service because in part the son of my aunt's father is dead. Because of my so sudden leaving I do not charge you for the work I have given you. It bane a pleasure to work for you. I more profit got from it than you I gave.
Yours devoted, Miss JOSIE LARSON.
"The son of her aunt's father," repeated Chester Hunt. "What relation would that be? What a fool the girl is anyhow! Why didn't she say her uncle? It might even have been her father," he laughed grimly. "Well, fool or no fool, Miss Josie Larson, you are the best servant I have had."
CHAPTER XV JOSIE VISITS INDIANA
When Josie arrived at her destination she went to the one small hotel the village boasted and, engaging the only room in the house with a private bath, she made herself comfortable for the time being. She needed sleep before she could engage in the adventure she was planning. A hotel or boarding house is a good place in which to pick up information and Josie wanted to pick up a little information before she proceeded.
The proprietor of the hotel was a sieve for gossip and in less than twelve hours Josie had not only had a good night's rest but she had learned several things she considered of importance. The host was a man of generous proportions and a loud emphatic utterance, with which he gave voice to a perpetual grievance he had concerning the high cost of food and the low price of board.
"Nothing in it! Nothing in it! I have been keeping this here hotel for thirty years and if it wasn't for the war I'd be in the poor house this minute. The war did whoop things up for me a bit. A camp within six miles meant I kept my house full to running over with wives and mothers and what-not."
"Did it leave off, this prosperity, when the war was over," asked Josie.
"Well, the hospital still hands me a bit of business."
"You mean the sanitarium?"
The hotel man snorted in disgust.
"Not on your life! That old skinflint, Dr. Harper, who is running the sanitarium, has a place he calls his Guest House, and when folks come to see their nutty relations he sees to it that they stop there. There is never a nickel that gets by that old gouger. I mean Uncle Sam's hospital that is yonder just over the hill. It's a place for nuts, too, the men that got done up during the war. Poor fellows! They make me feel right bad, but I am glad they have built the hospital near me, s'long as they have to have one."
"That is sad—as sad as anything in the world," sighed Josie. "Do the inmates of that hospital have to be confined?"
"Not all of them. Some of them have merely lost memory. There was a fellow in here yesterday. He is a real gentleman, but somehow in the shuffle of war he got dropped on the floor. He can't remember his name and nobody can trace his connections in the army. He was a prisoner in Germany for a long time—was ill there and had typhoid fever on top of shell shock and his captors didn't take the trouble to keep his identification tag and here the poor fellow is walking around in a kind of daze. He seems to be healthy and sane but just can't remember who he is or where he came from. He has a kind of job at the hospital because he is so trustworthy. They send him to the station to meet people who are arriving and they tell me he reads to the patients a lot. There's nothing like eddication. It will stick to you when everything else is gone. He has the saddest face you ever saw. That man gives me the willies."
"How about the sanitarium run by this Dr. Harper?" asked Josie. "Does it have a good reputation?".
"About as good as Judas Iscariot!" exclaimed the hotel keeper with violence. "I'd just as soon put any of my nutty kin in the penitentiary and sooner. I betcher that Harper is going to get in trouble some of these days. There's a lot going on there that won't bear the light. Old skinflint! Never a customer has he sent me. He can't keep any help, either, just because he is such a one to squeeze a dollar until the eagle shrieks. He's always advertising for nurses and servants. I saw an ad only yesterday in a Chicago paper."
"Is that so? Are the nurses trained nurses?"
"Trained nothing! He doesn't give them as much wages as I give old Black Annie who scrubs the halls and porches at my hotel. He just picks up any woman or man who is willing to work for him and puts them in to nurse. He calls himself running a training school for nurses. Don't talk to me about that old Harper!"
As Josie was not talking to him but encouraging him to talk to her she could but smile and continue her questions. She had registered as J. O'Gorman, Dorfield, and had engaged her room for a week.
"I may have to be away from town on business through the county, but I want to retain my room and get you to look after any mail or telegrams that may come for me," said Josie. She had telegraphed the Higgledy-Piggledies her whereabouts as soon as she was established, and written a long special delivery letter to Mary Louise, telling her as much as was pertinent about her adventures in Atlanta.
"It is a comfort to be registered as my own self and to be wearing my own clothes and hair," she confided to Mary Louise, "but the morrow, I hope, will find me assuming another character."
The morrow did. She applied to the sanitarium for a job as nurse and was taken on, without the formality of asking what experience she had had or even for the credentials which she had been at great pains to get up for herself.
The grounds around the sanitarium were well laid out and quite imposing, with large trees and well-grouped shrubs. The buildings were handsome but gloomy-looking. Dr. Harper was a benevolent-looking old man, with a long white beard and a voice, as Josie afterwards described it, like hot fudge. He always addressed everyone with some endearment such as, "My dear child," "My son," "My dear girl," or "Little one." Josie could hardly believe he was the same one who had written the letter to Chester Hunt, a copy of which she had in her note hook.
"What a lot a long white heard can hide," was her thought after her interview with the seemingly benevolent old gentleman.
Her job was secured. She was to look after those patients who were not so very ill but were to be watched and whose every attempt to leave the grounds must be frustrated.
"You are small, my child," Dr. Harper had said. "Are you strong enough in case of—er—emergency to take a hand in controlling a patient?"
"I think so."
"Well, we can but try," purred the doctor. "Be gentle with them, my dear child. Gentleness does more than violence. Many of them are not difficult at all. Just be patient."
"Yes, sir." Josie then received instructions from a head nurse, who was in reality a kind of matron. She was a hard-faced woman with a voice as unrelenting as Dr. Harper's was soft. "I'd trust her sooner than I would him," thought Josie.
"There is one patient here whose mind is cured, if there ever was anything the matter with it," the nurse said. "She is trying to get out, but her folks don't want her to yet. I guess they know their business, but I'm not one to leave all to the folks unless I know them mighty well."
"Which one is she?" asked Josie, her heart jumping with excitement.
"That delicate-looking lady over yonder, walking under the trees. She walks all the time, back and forth, no matter how cold it is. We can hardly keep her in the house. Her husband was killed during the war. She is a nice lady and tries to buck up for her children's sake, she says. Old Harper has it in for her because she uses her wits, but old Harper is a terrible old person to boss."
Josie noticed that nobody had any respect for the head of the institution. He was always spoken of as "Old Harper," or "The Old One," and one attendant who was a reader of Shakespeare always called him "Grey Beard Loon." The morale of the place was low in consequence of the lack of respect the employees felt for the head. Only the lowest and most brutal types of nurses and servants were willing to remain for any length of time at the sanitarium. The head nurse, from whom Josie had received her instructions, was an exception. She had a hard face and a harder voice hut somewhere, deep down in her heart, there was a soft spot and never was she cruel or unreasonable. Josie grew to feel that she stayed on at the place to keep Dr. Harper from doing more harm than he was doing. He evidently respected her and relied on her, in spite of the fact that she made no attempt to hide her dislike and contempt for him.
The delicate looking lady, who spent her time pacing up and down the gravel paths under the great trees, was none other than Mrs. Waller. Josie would have recognized her anywhere, not only from the photograph that little Polly had managed to keep with her through all of her wanderings but from the strong likeness Peter bore to her—the same great trusting eyes and sensitive mouth and the same set to the head, which was carried well up through any and all misfortunes.
It was an easy matter to approach this woman who had been in a manner put in her care. One look in her eyes assured Josie that she was perfectly sane. The mouth was sensitive but firm and Josie was sure that a person with that mouth could control her emotions unless under great stress, as she had perhaps been when the nervous breakdown had come upon her after the long anxiety concerning the soldier husband.
"Mrs. Waller," Josie said gently, "I have been sent to look after you."
"I am in need of nothing," was the dignified answer. Mrs. Waller continued to walk. Evidently she had no desire to engage in conversation with an attendant at the sanitarium. They were all alike, either coarse and brutal or stupid beyond belief.
Josie joined her, walking by her side.
"Mrs. Waller, I have news for you but you must be careful and not show any emotion while I talk with you." Josie's voice was quiet and firm. "I am your friend and am here at this sanitarium to see you. I have been engaged as a nurse by Dr. Harper, but am really here to give you news of—"
"My husband!" gasped the poor lady, trying to be as calm as Josie.
"No, dear lady, of your children."
"They are well?"
"Yes, well and loving you all the time and talking about you constantly. They are in good hands now."
"Ah—my Polly and Peter!"
Then Josie told the poor woman all that she knew of the two children. Her eyes flashed at the mention of the so-called Cousin Dink, but on the whole she controlled herself remarkably well during the recital—so well that Josie felt it was safe to go into detail concerning her visit to Atlanta, even to the ironing of Chester Hunt's back.
"Why, why didn't you burn him?" she laughed, "but thank you for the pepper you put on his chop." That laugh reassured Josie as to the sanity of Mrs. Waller.
"They have told me that my children have forgotten me and never asked for me. Chester Hunt has done his best to make me think that they are depraved beyond belief, always pretending to love me and condole with me because of their lack of feeling. My poor babies! Never have I doubted them—never for an instant!"
Josie then told her of the letter Chester Hunt had written Dr. Harper and of his intention to marry her willy nilly.
"Marry me! But I am married! Ah, I see you think I am demented because I say that, but my husband is alive. I know it as well as I know that I am here in this awful prison-like place and that you have come from outside to help me. I know it as I know that you are an honest, kind girl with more sense in your little finger than Chester Hunt and that wretched Dink have in their whole make-up. I know he is alive because if he had died I'd have felt it. We were so close, so in sympathy, that nothing could happen to one without the other divining it. There was and is a bond between us that is in a way supernatural. I know and feel at all times that he is unhappy, miserable and in trouble, but he is not dead.
"If he were dead this load would be lifted from my heart. I'd be glad again knowing that he was at peace and his troubles were over. If I could get out of this place I could find him. I know I could. Sometimes I think he is quite near me—not near like a spirit but in flesh. Once I ran through the grounds calling to him. I could not help it. Something urged me on, and then it was they put me in close confinement, declaring I was raving crazy.
"We often used to talk of that sympathy that existed between us. It was like second sight, only it seemed natural and normal. I was so dependent on him and he on me. Neither of us had any relations. This stepbrother of his was the only tie he had and of course that is not a blood tie. Chester Hunt was the only shadow that ever came between us. I always hated the man but Stephen loved him and I tried to conceal my feelings in regard to him. I wish I had been more open and honest about it now, because then my dear husband would not have put me so in the power of this wicked person by making him executor of his will."
"Well, now you know your children are safe and well and no matter what Mr. Hunt tries to make you believe concerning them, you will know he is lying," said Josie. "He is going to try to work on your feelings about them to make you marry him. Why have you not tried to get help through your friends, Mrs. Waller?"
"I have written and written but never an answer from a soul and now I realize the letters were always seized by this man Harper. When no answers came I felt I had been deserted by God and man and was to be left forever in this place—never to see my children or husband again. Now you have come, my dear, everything will be all right. To think I don't even know your name! I never can thank you enough."
"I don't need any thanks if I can just unravel the mystery—not that it is a real mystery—just a tangle. I was willing to do anything for Polly and Peter from the minute I saw them and now I am willing to do just that much more for their mother. Besides I shall be rather glad to get even with Chester Hunt for calling me so many kinds of fool."
CHAPTER XVI JOSIE GETS A RIDE
Josie made herself so useful to Mrs. Stark, the head nurse, that in a few days time she was high in that person's favor. Poor Mrs. Waller was so cheered by the news brought to her that she became much more tractable and less trouble to Dr. Harper and he, too, was grateful to Josie for this change that had been wrought in one of the patients.
"The girl has a cheerful way with her that makes all the poor souls less miserable," Mrs. Stark told the doctor. "She is trustworthy too. I do hope we can keep her. She is not at all above doing maid's work. In fact, she asked to be allowed to take care of some of the rooms when she found we were short of servants. She is quick and orderly."
Of course Josie saw to it that Mrs. Waller's room was one to be cleaned by her. It gave her opportunity to talk to the poor lady in private and many times must she tell everything she could recall concerning Polly and Peter. Josie produced the photograph of Stephen Waller and the children and it proved a great comfort to the wife and mother. She had not been allowed to bring from home a single thing to remind her of her loved ones.
Josie had an afternoon off. She was anxious to inquire for mail at the hotel. Also to get some things from the suitcase she had left in her room. She had heard from Mary Louise, who reported all well at Dorfield and the Children's Home Society as flourishing. Polly and Peter were more and more beloved by all. There was a growing demand to adopt them but dear old Dr. Weston had refused to give them up, hoping for better things for them. The Higgledy-Piggledy Shop was flourishing in spite of the absence of a valued partner.
The sanitarium was situated about half a mile from the village. It was a pleasant walk in good weather, but on Josie's afternoon off it had set in for a cold spring drizzle, disagreeable enough to dampen the ardor of anybody but Josie O'Gorman, who scorned the excuse of dreary weather for the doleful dumps. Well protected with rubbers and raincoat, the girl paddled along the muddy road, busily going over in her mind a plan of action. She realized she must get from Mrs. Waller letters to her friends in Atlanta and they must be fully informed of the injustice that was being done her and take legal action for her release from this durance vile to which she had been subjected. Those friends, of course, had been told by Chester Hunt that she was crazy. They had taken his honesty for granted and had been hoodwinked by his seeming distress over the condition of his brother's wife. The question was, how soon must she leave the sanitarium and how proceed?
Josie's instinct was to go to Dorfield and there get help from Mr. Peter Conant and Chief Charlie Lonsdale. On the other hand, she did not want to leave the sanitarium until after Chester Hunt's promised visit to that institution. She found several letters awaiting her at the hotel. The host welcomed her cordially. Of course it was not a very regular thing to have an unattached, mysterious young woman engage the best room in the house, the one known as the bridal chamber, and then not occupy it but go cavorting over the county on some kind of unknown business, blowing in to the hotel occasionally for mail and inquiring eagerly for telegrams, but business was business and it was profitable to rent the best room with bath and then not have it occupied—no wear and tear on it at all, no change of linen or cry for soap and towels.
Josie realized it was an extravagance but she had a feeling she might need that room soon and need it badly and this was no time to be small about money. She took from the suitcase the two porridge bowls, determined to pretend to Mrs. Stark that she had bought them as a present for Mrs. Waller, feeling that they might be a comfort to the mother.
As she tramped back to the sanitarium, rather enjoying paddling through the puddles and feeling the cold rain on her face, she heard the sound of a motor. She stepped aside to let the army truck pass, but it slowed up and stopped beside her. There was nobody but the chauffeur in the car. He leaned from his seat and spoke to her in a gentle voice, with an accent unmistakably southern with a soft slurring of the final g and an almost imperceptible r—too subtle to be pronounced a dialect but still decided enough to place the man below the Mason and Dixon line.
"I believe I am going your way and I shall be very glad to take you to your destination," he said, saluting her. "It is a bad day to be walking."
Josie was sorry to have her walk cut short but the man's courtesy was not to be gainsaid. She climbed up on the seat by him, thanking him frankly. She had seen him before, where, she could not remember.
"Are you in the army?" she asked.
"I suppose so," he answered whimsically.
"They tell me I am, but I can't remember ever getting in it. I can't remember anything, in fact. I remember how to read and how to speak French and some German and whenever I get hold of a book I have read before the plot comes back to me if it happens to be a novel, but my past life is a blank. If I could get some inkling of it I believe it would come back like the plot of the novels. I am as well as can be physically and the alienists say I am as sane as anyone, but I might have been born yesterday, for all I know of my life before I became conscious in a vile German prison camp.
"But I wonder why I tell you all this! It seems hardly fair to pick up a young lady on the road and take advantage of her helplessness to pour in her ear my own troubles."
"Oh, please, tell me! I am very much interested. Do you never have any remembrance of your former existence? Do not odors or sounds or sights bring some vague impression of yesterday?"
"Why—yes! Violets seem to mean more to me than other flowers. Why, I don't know—but I have a feeling that someone I must have loved and who loved me is in trouble. I can't get rid of the feeling. But if it is so—if anyone does love me why doesn't he or she find me? I'm here—not really lost. If I only could get some clue—a name—an address— something, anything on which to build."
He turned and looked at Josie. She met his gaze with a long wondering look.
"Stop the car, please, for a moment," she asked. He obeyed immediately.
"Mr. Waller," she said gently, "Don't you remember these little porridge bowls?"
She tore the wrappings from the bowls, disclosing the rabbits and the chickens. The man took them in his hands reverently. His lips pressed together to form the letter P.
"Yes," said Josie, "Polly and Peter! You lived in Atlanta on Peachtree Street. Your wife is Mary and your name is Stephen. You enlisted in the United States Army at the first call to arms. Your wife is well and so are your children."
"Mary! Mary!" he cried, and clasping the porridge bowls to his heart he wept—great sobs shaking his frame.
When he could control himself he begged Josie to tell him more. "Everything is coming back to me in leaps and bounds. It is just like the plots of the novels that I have read before. Now we must go and report to the Colonel. The funny thing is I remember now that I am a captain. At least I was. Perhaps I am dead in the eyes of the army. I reckon I was reported missing in action."
"Your wife believes you are alive." Then Josie must tell the poor man of all the trials his wife had undergone and of the perfidy of Chester Hunt. She did it in as few words as possible. He was deeply moved at the story of her sufferings.
"To think of her being so close to me all the time! Once I thought I heard someone calling me. I couldn't catch the name but there was a tone of voice that rang in my ears for days and days. It was while I was driving the truck, and bless me if it wasn't going along that road that leads near that sanitarium. I must report to the Colonel first and then I can go get my wife."
"Dr Harper may make some trouble, as his rule is not to let a patient out until the person who is responsible for her being there comes to remove her."
"We'll see about that," and his jaws snapped together much to Josie's admiration. She had great respect for a firm jaw.
"I am leaving my job now, as there is no use in my staying longer in the employ of the oily Dr. Harper. Perhaps I can help you. It is a pity for dear Mrs. Waller to spend another moment in this place where she has been so miserable. It would take some time for Mr. Hunt to reach here from Atlanta. When he comes he may make trouble about identifying you. He is so determined that you are dead, but I shall let your wife go into details concerning what that man hopes to gain by your death."
The Colonel was accessible and as delighted at the restoration of Stephen Waller's memory as Josie herself. Indefinite leave was given him and the Colonel advanced enough money from his own private funds to enable him to travel comfortably with his wife.
CHAPTER XVII HUSBAND AND WIFE
"I have come for my wife. I am Stephen Waller."
Those words were simple enough but Dr. Harper seemed to find them most confusing. He wagged his venerable beard like an angry goat and said nothing at first, but like a goat he looked as though he might be gathering his forces for a mighty butting.
"I don't know what you mean. I know nothing of your wife."
"Nothing of a Mrs. Waller who has been in your sanitarium for a year or more?"
"See here! I am not going to stand any foolishness. Do you mean to say you have not a patient named Mrs. Waller?"
"I do not! I have such a patient but she is a widow and I am sure she knows nothing of you. How am I to know who you are?" asked Harper.
"You can get out of here faster than you got in. I have plenty of men here who can put you out and none too gently. Mrs. Waller was put in my care by a Mr. Chester and he, and he alone, has the authority to remove her from my sanitarium."
Josie had slipped up to Mrs. Waller's room when she left Captain Waller at the door and there, as gently and with as much composure as she could command, she told her of her husband.
"I knew it, I knew it all the time. I must go to him." Lightly she ran down the stairs and into the office, past the wagging beard of the angry Harper and into the arms of the shabby soldier.
Even the incredulous Dr. Harper could but be convinced that they really were husband and wife.
"Well, she can't leave until her board is paid," he blustered. "It is months in arrears and I have no idea of losing it."
Dr. Harper had not noticed that Josie had come in the office behind Mrs. Waller. Josie had a way of being able to efface herself almost entirely—she stood so still and was so silent.
At Dr. Harper's words she made herself seen and heard, however. From her pocket she produced a small note book filled with cryptic characters and from it she read solemnly like a recording angel. First was the letter to Chester Hunt from Dr. Harper. Date and all she gave with businesslike precision. Then she read Chester Hunt's answer to that letter, with a copy of the check which was enclosed with it.
"You can't deny then," Josie said severely, "that Mrs. Waller's board has been paid and paid in advance and also that you have been conniving with this Chester Hunt in unlawfully detaining this lady in your institution after she has been entirely cured of any nervous malady she may have had."
Dr. Harper was speechless for a moment. He had tried to interrupt her but with a warning finger Josie had held him spellbound. At last he sputtered:
"You—you—why you are nothing more than a servant in my establishment. Get out of my office!"
"I have been a servant in your establishment to further my own ends. Now I am through with my job. I'll ask you, sir, to pay me off, as I am leaving. I have served you well in the capacity of servant and the laborer is worthy of his hire."
"Who are you, anyhow?" he exploded wrathfully.
"I am Josie O'Gorman. Perhaps you remember my father, Detective O'Gorman. He had certain dealings with you and had not he been cut off at the height of his career, his reckoning with you would have come, much to your undoing. As it is, he only scared you a bit. I am merely carrying on his work. I have scared you a bit more. Now I fancy you will let Captain Waller take his wife away unmolested. No doubt Mr. Chester Hunt will soon be here to settle with you. You owe me $17.35. I prefer cash."
The angry old man counted out the money, his hand shaking and his beard wagging. He was loath to have them go without giving them his heartfelt curses, but he was speechless.
"Now I feel justified in having retained the room and bath at the hotel," Josie said to herself. "Captain and Mrs. Waller can be comfortable in it and no doubt my host can put me up in a smaller way."
The last train that might connect with the line going to Dorfield had gone and there was nothing to do but wait until morning.
"The children are safe and not unhappy," smiled Mrs. Waller, "so we must content ourselves for a few hours in realizing that."
"I am going to telegraph my friend Mrs. Danny Dexter—Mary Louise—and tell her to prepare the children for the great happiness in store for them. Or would you rather surprise them?"
"It is hardly fair to keep them in ignorance of their dear father's being alive just for the pleasure we might get in surprising them," said the mother.
"That is so like you, Mary. I can't see how I ever could for one instant have forgotten all your goodness," and Stephen Waller held his wife closer, in spite of Josie's presence.
They had a merry little dinner that evening in the hotel, having the dining room to themselves. The host was all smiles and good cheer. He felt in a measure responsible for reuniting this interesting couple. Had he not received with hospitality this young detective person who was, to say the least, mysterious? Had he not told her first of the poor soldier who had mislaid his memory? Had he not made her wise as to the general unworthiness of Dr. Harper and his skinflint methods of never throwing business to the hands of the local hotel keeper? Had he not cheerfully reserved the best room in the house for days and days for this strange little person?
And so Captain and Mrs. Waller and Josie were perfectly willing to include him in the general festivities. Josie felt that the reunited pair should have a tete a tete dinner but they would not hear of her leaving them.
"Stephen must hear all you have to tell of the children," said Mrs. Waller. "To think of the little things telling you of their porridge and of those bowls being instrumental in restoring their father to us. It sounds like the most romantic novel."
"Not at all," insisted Josie. "There has been too much coincidence in this reality for it to go down as fiction. All the teachers of story writing would tell you that. They might allow one bit of coincidence but not so much as has occurred in this realistic plot. It wouldn't even go down as a detective tale. I have had too much lost motion in my plans for even that. I needn't have taken the job of canvasser in the first place. That was plain foolishness and if I hadn't have run against that peach of a girl, Alice Chisholm, I'd have been a total loss to my boss, the man introducing household necessities and jeweled novelties. I am wasting money even now in retailing that room at Mrs. Denton's. A good detective wastes neither time nor money."
"Well, thank goodness we are real people and not characters in a novel," laughed Captain Waller. "We are together and a dear girl brought us together by her intelligence and diligence. If she is not the type out of which a good detective tale can be manufactured then so much the worse for the detective tales. Give me a live girl every time and never mind the plot.
"The only thing I can't reconcile to reality is Chester Hunt. Why, he has been like my own brother—at least I have felt that way about him, ever since my mother married his father when I was nothing but a little shaver. My stepfather only lived two years and then my mother had the raising of Chester. He was five years older than I was and I always looked up to him. He is so handsome and so clever."