“Mrs. Hardwick?” exclaimed Jack.
“You are right,” said she, rapidly recovering her composure, “and you, if I am not mistaken, are John Harding, the son of my worthy friends in New York.”
“Well,” ejaculated Jack, internally, “she’s a cool un, and no mistake.”
“My name is Jack,” he said, aloud.
“Did you leave all well at home?” asked Peg.
“You can’t guess what I came here for?” said Jack.
“To see your sister Ida, I presume.”
“Yes,” answered Jack, amazed at the woman’s composure.
“I thought some of you would be coming on,” continued Peg, who had already mapped out her course.
“Yes; it was only natural. What did your father and mother say to the letter I wrote them?”
“The letter you wrote them?” exclaimed Jack.
“Certainly. You got it, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know what letter you mean.”
“A letter, in which I wrote that Ida’s mother had been so pleased with the appearance and manners of the child, that she could not determine to part with her.”
“You don’t mean to say that any such letter as that has been written?” said Jack, incredulously.
“What? Has it not been received?” inquired Peg.
“Nothing like it. When was it written?”
“The second day after our arrival,” said Peg.
“If that is the case,” said Jack, not knowing what to think, “it must have miscarried; we never received it.”
“That is a pity. How anxious you all must have felt!”
“It seems as if half the family were gone. But how long does Ida’s mother mean to keep her?”
“Perhaps six months.”
“But,” said Jack, his suspicions returning, “I have been told that Ida has twice called at a baker’s shop in this city, and when asked what her name was, answered, Ida Hardwick. You don’t mean to say that you pretend to be her mother.”
“Yes, I do,” replied Peg, calmly. “I didn’t mean to tell you, but as you’ve found out, I won’t deny it.”
“It’s a lie,” said Jack. “She isn’t your daughter.”
“Young man,” said Peg, with wonderful self-command, “you are exciting yourself to no purpose. You asked me if I pretended to be her mother. I do pretend, but I admit frankly that it is all pretense.”
“I don’t understand what you mean,” said Jack.
“Then I will explain to you, though you have treated me so impolitely that I might well refuse. As I informed your father and mother in New York, there are circumstances which stand in the way of Ida’s real mother recognizing her as her own child. Still, as she desires her company, in order to avert suspicion and prevent embarrassing questions being asked while she remains in Philadelphia, she is to pass as my daughter.”
This explanation was tolerably plausible, and Jack was unable to gainsay it.
“Can I see Ida?” he asked.