As the Captain shifted the papers on his desk the telephone bell rang, and in answer to a somewhat lengthy communication he replied that two children corresponding to the given description were at present at the station and would be sent home at once, —also a bull dog.
About an hour later Josephine and Bateese, accompanied by a tall man in civilian dress, made their way to the house of the widow. They were met by her at the door, and behind her were four young lady lodgers, all in a state of wild excitement but a little disappointed at the ordinary appearance of the adult of the party. They had expected to see a sergeant at least, and Mrs. Trent had given it as her
opinion that the chief of police himself would be likely to arrive to explain matters, as that was the custom in “important cases.” But when the children had been hugged, held off for inspection, hugged again, told that they had not “changed,” but, as one young lady darkly hinted, looked as if they had “seen things,” and had been thoroughly bewildered by treatment the like of which neither had ever received before, and when Bateese had been separated from his beloved Cairlo—who was again consigned to the lower regions—and triumphantly led upstairs, from where, strange to say, no welcoming voice had hailed the wanderers, then did the plain-clothes man come in for his share of flattering attention and prove to be a most pleasant spoken gentleman of a cheerful habit of mind. He tactfully won the heart of the widow by requesting sotto voce that she introduce him— “Mr. Burns, at your service” —to her “sisters.” With explanations and blushes this was accomplished, and it was quite a friendly party which discussed the event of the day in the little front parlour.
Mrs. Trent told, with great gusto, how she had waited and watched and longed for Josephine, whom she “loved as her own,” how the pair in the first floor front had come home and told of putting the children in the hansom and how her anxiety had grown almost unbearable as time passed and they failed to arrive. How the said first floor fronts had gone forth to make enquiries and returned to say the lost ones were at the police station, and all was well. Then Josephine’s sister had to tell how she felt when the dire news was broken to her and how she feared it might be too late before her pa could reach the city and help her find little Josie and how awful it would be to tell him his little girl was lost (as pa was “doing time” this was pathetic imagining on the part of his daughter).
The young lady who served in the quick lunch parlour stated that she had telephoned her employer she just couldn’t go back that night because her nerves were that upset if she tried to carry “two hot fried hen’s fruits” she would have “made ’em an omelette before she got ’em to the table.”
The belle of Bradley’s, who sold gent’s gloves at that emporium, fanned herself languidly with a much trimmed handkerchief and said it had turned her quite faint. No one knew the snares of New York better than she—it was a terrible place for a poor, unprotected girl. She was a statuesque beauty with dark hair, parted in the middle of a very white forehead, and when she lowered her eyelids and sighed the effect was very fine. It may have been the too obvious interest displayed by Mr. Burns in these charms which caused the little stenographer to remark that as Miss Perkins had not come in until it was known that the children were found she did not see why she should have wanted to faint at that late hour.
Mr. Burns listened gallantly and sympathized with each in turn before he proceeded to describe the arrival of the pair at the station and to retail the cabman’s story of Josephine with great vivacity. The prodigal was sound asleep on her sister’s shoulder by this time, so was not disturbed by the incredulous exclamations which followed:
“Josephine did that!”
“She ain’t so slow!” (this last from the lady of the lunch counter in a tone of lively admiration).
Josephine’s sister cricked her neck as far to one side as possible and gazed slantwise at the innocent countenance of the sleeping one as if she had never really seen it before. After a prolonged examination, she shook her head.
“I don’t believe she ever said them things. I'll bet the man was drunk an’ put up that song an’ dance to keep from bein’ run in.”
The gentleman of the party good-naturedly agreed that this was most likely the case. Cab drivers, he said, were a queer lot. “We had one feller,” he added, “was a regular frenzied financy. Got thinkin’ so hard about makin’ money an’ watchin’ the wheels go roun’ at the same time, at last he come to believe the wheels on his cab was extra size silver dollars, an’ he never unhitched nights for fear they might be stole. No one was onto his brain twist till one day a passenger gives him a V an’ asks for change. Cabby didn’t have enough in his pockets, an’ he stands there for a while thinkin’ hard an’ shakin’ his head kind of mournful an’, at last, blamed if he didn’t start takin’ the wheels off his cab, and the old guy he’d been drivin’ standin’ there swearin’ at him an’ yellin’ he’d been robbed. A friend of mine on the force seen it all an’ he run in Mr. Cabby. ‘I was just gettin’ the gent’s bloomin’ change off fer him,’ says cabby, an’ blubbers all the way to the station. They puts him in the foolish house. Judge said he had wheels in his head.”
“And had he?” asked Mrs. Trent, with polite interest.
The young ladies went into ecstasies of mirth.
“Say, ain’t she the limit?” exclaimed the handmaid of the lunch counter. At which the landlady smiled roguishly, feeling she had said something highly humourous, though not in the least knowing what it was.
And all this time no sound came from the first floor front. The stenographer, who had safely delivered Bateese, reported that the gentleman had thanked her very nicely but, drawing the small boy inside, had closed the door at once, “quite polite he was, you know, but sort of cold, I thought.”
Mr. Burns was visibly interested.
“The father of the fat little boy?” he asked. “His parents must have been pretty anxious about him, I guess.”
Mrs. Trent hesitated, then said in a low, impressive tone. “You would think so, wouldn’t you?” She raised her scant eyebrows and pursed her lips.
Mr. Burns hitched his chair nearer and leaned forward.
“Do you mean to say as they wasn’t frettin’ any too much?” he asked.
“Well, of course it ain’t for me to judge, but they’re kind of flighty, you might say. He did go an’ telephone, but—well, we all has our own way of showin’ our feelin’s, an’ I must say theirs ain’t mine.”
“Quite a young couple, did you say?”
The widow blushed painfully and unexpectedly.
“Tain’t for me to talk about my lodgers to outsiders,” she said in a loud dignified tone, glancing at the open door.
The belle of Bradley’s closed the portal, favouring her landlady with a smile which met with no response.
“A very young couple, I think you said, ma’am,” insinuated Mr. Burns.
“Well, yes,” said the widow, sinking her voice and looking mysterious, “Too young by half.”
There was a tense silence. The young ladies looked demure and pricked up their ears.
“The little boy would be about six or seven, I should say?” remarked Mr. Burns.
“She says five an’ he says seven,” answered the landlady grimly.
“I don’t deny it puzzles me,” said the landlady, shaking her head. “Two young things from a town in Ontario, so they say, and a little boy from ‘Kebec’ so he says. The parents speakin’ no French and the child speakin’ no English, not decent ord’nary English, it’s—well I don’t deny it puzzles me.”
Mr. Burns’ eyes sparkled as he laid a respectful hand upon Mrs. Trent’s arm. “Really now, you tell things so well, I’m real interested. Well, well! Parents English an’ kid French, an’ parents look almost like a bridal couple, you said?”
The widow looked uneasy. “I’ve a good mind to tell you something, but,” she glanced at the young ladies, who promptly looked out of the window; she fidgeted. “Do you happen to be a family man, Mr. Burns?” she whispered.
“Two,” lied Mr. B. glibly.
“And do you happen to have a paper and pencil?” still whispering.
The articles were produced with great promptitude and presently Mr. Burns read—
“I found a piece out of a paper in their room, all about their wedding, and they were married just two weeks ago!”
Mr. Burns gave a long whistle and then shook his surprised informant vigorously by the hand. “You’re the clearest headed woman I’ve met for a long time, ma’am.”
Mrs. Trent was proud but mystified. The young ladies were gaping. “And now, ma'am,” said the gentleman in quick businesslike tones, “I must see these lodgers of yours at once. Fact is I’ve a little paper here to give ’em.”
“But I believe they’ve gone to bed,” objected their landlady; “see them some other time.”
She was vaguely conscious of trouble in the air.
“If I could speak to you alone a moment,” said Mr. Burns, raising his voice, at which the young ladies filed haughtily from the room, the half-awakened Josephine being dragged in the rear. “Now, ma’am, the truth is I’m a detective an’ I’ve got a warrant to arrest this precious young couple for kidnapping. This news of yours about the weddin’ notice clears up any doubt, an’ I’ll just serve the paper to-night, please.”
Mrs. Trent was crying. “I’m sure I never meant to hurt ’em, poor young things. To think of havin’ people arrested out of my own lodgin’s. Why, it ain’t respectable, Mr. Burns!”
“Oh, the arrestin’ll be respectable enough. I’ll do it quite quiet an’ handsome. Now will you just go, please, an’ tell ‘em the honour of their comp’ny is requested, or will I break the glad tidin’s myself?”
“I c-can’t have anything to do with it,” sobbed the widow.
“Can’t, eh? Well, it’s me to the bridal chamber.”
A moment later he was knocking loudly at the door of the first floor front, while the landlady, with handkerchief half way to her eyes, stood clutching the lower banister of the stairs for support and four pompadoured heads jostled each other in the doorway of a back bedroom.