"But who was he?" Jess asked.
"The fellow Purt quarreled with for taking the car."
"Give it up," said Chet, shaking his head.
"And what became of the other man?" Laura queried.
"There were two in the car when it hit the man from Alaska," Jess declared.
"Gee!" ejaculated Bobby. "There's the nine-ten express west"
"Who - - What do you mean, young one?" demanded Chet.
"'Young one' yourself!" snapped Clara Hargrew, immediately on her dignity.
"There are no medals on you for age, Chet Belding."
"Or whiskers, either," laughed Laura, slyly eyeing her brother, for she was
aware that he had a safety razor hidden away in his bureau drawer.
"Come, come!" said Jess, "What about this nine-ten express Bobby spoke of?"
"Why," said the younger girl, "I noticed Mr. Belding's clock - the big
chronometer in the show window - as we came out of the store that Saturday
evening. It was just nine o'clock when we stood there and saw Mr. Nemo of
Nowhere run down by the car. Anybody driving that car could have made the
railroad station just about in time for the ten minutes' past nine
express - the Cannon Ball, don't they call it?"
"That is the train," admitted Laura. "But why - - "
"Just wait a minute. Give me time," advised Bobby. "That car that did the
damage was headed for the station."
"True," murmured Jess. "At least, it was going in that direction."
"And when Purt's car came back to the Grimes' house after those two fellows
Dan Smith saw run away with it, there was only one person in the car. The
second individual had been dropped."
"At the station!" exclaimed Chet, catching the idea. "That is why they
stole Purt's car."
"I declare," Laura said. "Your idea sounds very reasonable, Bobby."
"Bobby is right there with the brainworks," said Chet, with admiration.
"Oh," said Bobby, "I'm not altogether 'non compos mend-us,' as the fellow
Chet was very serious, after all. "I tell you what," he blurted out, "if
Purt won't help himself with the police, maybe we can get him out of the
muss in spite of all."
"Why does he want to act the donkey?" demanded Jess.
"Are you sure he is?" asked Laura thoughtfully.
"I tell you," said the excited Chet, "we can find out who had to leave
Hester Grimes' party to catch that express. It ought to be a good lead.
What do you think, Laura?"
"I am wondering," said Mother Wit, "if we have always been fair to
Prettyman Sweet? Of course, he is silly in some ways, and dresses
ridiculously, and is not much of a sport. But if he is keeping still about
this matter so as not to make trouble for Hester, or any of her folks,
there is something fine in his action, don't you think?"
"Well - yes," admitted Jess. "It would seem so."
"I never thought of poor Purt as a chivalrous knight," said Bobby.
"Maybe Laura is right," remarked Chet, rather grudgingly.
"He is much more of a gentleman, perhaps, than we have given him credit for
being," Laura concluded. "I hope it is proved so in the end."
THE LAST REHEARSAL
That afternoon, when the girls gathered for rehearsal, Hester, nor anybody
else, appeared to play "the dark lady of the roses." Mr. Mann made no
comment upon this fact, but he looked very serious, indeed.
The play was acted from the first entrance to the final curtain. The other
characters had to speak of, and even to, the important and missing
character, and it was plain to all as the play progressed that the absence
of "the dark lady" was going to be a fatal hindrance to the success of the
Even Lily Pendleton, Hester's last lingering friend, showed a good deal of
spleen at Hester's action.
"I never will forgive Hessie," Lily said, almost in tears. And the other
girls had to urge her over and over again to be sure and come herself on
Thursday for the last dress rehearsal.
"If the piece is wrecked, let us be castaways together," begged Jess.
"Don't anybody else fail. Promise, girls!"
They promised sadly. Mr. Mann had hurried away as soon as the last words
"Too disgusted to even speak to us," Nellie said sadly. "I am real sorry
for him, girls. He has tried so hard."
"He deserves a leather medal," said Bobby emphatically.
"And what do we deserve?" demanded one of the twins.
"I know what Hester Grimes deserves," said Bobby darkly.
It was not likely, however, that Hester Grimes would get her deserts. They
were all agreed on that point, if on no other.
That Wednesday afternoon when the girls separated it was with drooping
spirits - all but Laura Belding, at least. Perhaps it was because she always
had so many irons in the fire that trouble seemed to roll off her young
shoulders like rainwater off a duck's feathers.
At least, when she started for the street car that took her to the hospital
before she went home, she was cheerful of countenance and smiling. She
carried that same cheerfulness into the hospital itself and to Billy Long's
The active Billy was, as he himself expressed it, "fed up" on the hospital
by now. He was grateful for what they had done for him there and the way in
which they treated him in every way, but confinement was beginning to wear
on his spirits.
"Gee, Laura Belding!" ejaculated the young patient, seizing her hand with
both his own when she appeared, "a sight of you is just a stop-station this
side of eternity. Have they changed the hours? Aren't they twice as long as
they used to be?"
"No, indeed, my poor boy," Laura said. "There are only sixty minutes in
each. I wish I could shorten the time for you."
"Take it from me," growled Short and Long, having hard work to keep back
the tears, "this being in bed is the bunk. Don't let anybody tell you
But Laura caught his attention the next moment with Purt Sweet's trouble.
What Chet had found out from Dan Smith, Hester Grimes' neighbor, interested
the quick mind of Billy Long immensely.
"Gee! I knew it must be something like that. Sure! Purt is shielding
somebody for Hester. That's it!"
"Have you no idea who it can be? The man who drove the car, I mean, or the
one who possibly took the nine-ten express out of town that night? Hester
has no brothers - - "
"Say!" exclaimed Billy, "there is somebody who will know. If Purt was there
at the party, so was Lil Pendleton."
"Lily!" exclaimed Laura. "I never thought of her."
"And if she is likely to be sore on Hester now, as you say you all are,"
Billy continued, "she won't be for shielding Hester or any of her friends
or relatives. Let me tell you that!"
"I believe she must have been at the party. Hester invites her to
everything of the kind she has; although she seldom invites any of the
other girls of Central High."
"Go to it!" urged the patient "Ask Lil Pendleton. I'd like to have Purt
cleared of this. I told that man from Alaska so. But, gee, Laura! I wish we
could find some way of giving him the right steer."
"You mean you would like to help him find his name and identity?"
"Yep. He says sometimes he feels that he is just going to remember - then it
all dissipates in his mind like a cloud. He's bad off, he is!"
"I am going to see him now. I have an idea, Billy."
"You're always full of ideas, Laura," the boy said admiringly. "I've been
raking my poor nut back and forth and crossways, without getting a glimmer
of an idea how to help him. He says if we can show him how to find his
memory, he'll do all he can for Purt," Billy added wistfully.
"You are very anxious to help Prettyman Sweet, aren't you, Billy?"
suggested the girl of Central High as she rose to go.
"You bet I am."
"Why? You boys never thought much of him before, you know."
Billy flushed, but he stuck to his guns. "I tell you," he said, "we never
gave Purt a fair deal, I guess. He's all right. He isn't like Chet, or
Lance, or Reddy Butts, or the rest of the fellows, but there's good parts
"You think he has proved himself a better fellow than you thought before?"
"You bet!" said Billy vigorously. "He's been mighty nice to me; and I
always was playing jokes on him, and - Aw! when a fellow lies like I do in
bed and has so much time to think, he gets on to himself," added the boy
gruffly. "Sending dead fish to other fellows isn't such a smart joke after
"I am going to see your friend, the Alaskan miner, now," the girl said,
squeezing the boy's hand understandingly.
"If you find out some way of jogging his memory, I'd like to be in on it,"
"You shall," promised Laura, as she tripped away.
By this time Laura was so well known at the hospital that nobody stopped
her from going to the unknown man's private room where he was now
established with his particular nurse. He hailed the girl's appearance
almost as gladly as Billy Long had done.
"Your bright young faces make you high-school girls - and the boys, of
course - as welcome as can be," he said. "I'd like to do something when I
get out of this hospital in return for all your kindness to me. But if I
can't get a grip on what and who I am - - "
"I have thought of a way by which we may help you to that," interjected
Laura. "You know, you must have been doing something all these years since
you won your fortune in Alaska."
"Surely! But what became of my wealth? That is a hard question."
"Perhaps we can help you find out what you have been doing. Then you will
gradually remember it all. Have you those bank-notes they say you carried
in your pocket when you were brought in?"
"Why, they are in the hospital safe. I haven't had to use much of my money
yet," he said, puzzled.
"I want to look at that money - all of it," said Laura. "It is too late
to-night, but to-morrow afternoon I will come with my brother, and I wish
you would have those bank-notes here. I have an idea."
"I'll do just as you say, Miss Laura," said the man. "But I don't
understand - - "
"You will," she told him, laughing, as she hurried away.
There was, therefore, much puzzlement of mind in several quarters that
night - and Laura Belding was partly at fault. She retained all her usual
placidity, and even on the morrow, when she went to school and found the
other girls so very despondent about the play, she refused to join in their
prophecies of ill.
This was the day of the last rehearsal. Mr. Mann had told them that he
wished the actors to rest between this dress rehearsal and the first public
performance of "The Rose Garden" on the following evening.
"I just know it will be a dreadful fizzle," wailed Jess, before Mr. Mann
called the rise of the curtain.
Everything was in readiness, however, for a perfect rehearsal. The curtain
was properly manipulated and the scene shifters, the light man, and all the
other helpers were at their stations, as well as the orchestra in the pit.
The girls had been excused from studies at one o'clock - of course, greatly
to Miss Carrington's disapproval. Since her "run-in" with the Lockwood
twins, as Bobby inelegantly called it, the teacher had been less exacting,
although quite as stern-looking as ever.
Dora and Dorothy, being cheerful souls, had recovered from their excitement
over the incident in history class, and were so much interested in their
parts in the play now that they forgot all about Gee Gee's ill treatment.
Indeed, when the curtain was rung up every girl in the piece was in a state
of excitement. Although they felt that the failure of the part of "the dark
lady of the roses" would utterly ruin some of the best lines and most
telling points in the play, they were all ready to act their own parts with
vigor and a real appreciation of what those parts meant.
Bobby, as the sailor lad, came on with a rolling gait that would have done
credit to any "garby" in the Navy. Jess, as the swashbuckling hero,
swaggered about the stage in a delightful burlesque of such a character, as
the author intended the part to be played.
Then the lights were lowered for the evening glow and "Adrian" turned to
point out the "dark lady" - that mysterious figure supposed to haunt the
rose garden and for weal or woe influence the hero's house and his affairs.
Jess recited her lines roundly, pointing the while to the garden along the
shadowy paths of which the dark lady of the roses was supposed to wander.
With incredible amazement - a shock that was more real than Jess could
possibly have expressed in any feigned surprise - she beheld the dark lady
as the book read, moving quietly across the garden, gracefully swaying as
she lightly trod the fictitious sod, stooping to pluck and then kissing the
rose, and finally disappearing into the wings with a flash of brilliant
eyes and the revelation of a charming countenance for the audience.
It was lucky that this signaled the curtain's fall on the first act, or
Jess Morse would have spoiled her own good work by the expression of her
MR. NEMO, OF NOWHERE
"Who is it?"
"Can it be Margit Salgo?"
"How very, very wonderful!"
These were some of the ejaculations of the girls behind the scenes.
At just the right moment the figure of the dark lady had glided from the
dressing-rooms to the wings and gone on at the cue. Her acting gave just
the needed touch to the pretty scene. Her appearance had been most
charming. And, above all, the surprise had been "such a relief!"
"I'm so glad Hester got mad with us and refused to act," sighed Bessie
Yeager. "Whoever this girl is, she is fine."
"Is it a professional Mr. Mann has engaged?" somebody wanted to know.
"Laura Belding! Laura Belding!" cried Dora. "What do you know about it?"
"I warrant Laura knows all about it," said Jess, recovered from her
amazement. "It is just like Mother Wit to have saved us. And I believe I
recognize that very charming Lady Mystery - do I not?"
"Isn't she splendid?" cried Laura, enthusiastically, "I knew she could do
it. And Mr. Mann has been giving her an hour's training every day for a
"Goodness!" drawled Lily Pendleton, "how did you know Hester would cut up
"Doesn't she always do something to queer us if she can?" snapped Bobby.
"Laura, you are a wonder!"
"It is Janet Steele," declared Jess. "Of course! I should have thought of
her myself. She is all right - just the one we needed."
And it took some courage on Jess' part for her to say this, for she knew
that Chet Belding had expressed very warm admiration indeed of Janet
The rehearsal went off splendidly after that. Everybody was encouraged. The
rotund little Mr. Mann beamed - "more than ever like a cherub," Bobby
declared. They came to the final curtain with tremendous applause from the
back benches where some of the faculty sat in the dark.
"And I do believe," said Nellie Agnew, in almost a scared voice, "that Gee
Gee applauded! Can it be possible, girls? Do you suppose that for once she
gives us credit for knowing a little something?"
"If she applauded, her hands slipped by mistake!" grumbled Bobby. "You know
very well that nothing would change Gee Gee's opinion. Not even an
It was late when the rehearsal was over, and Laura knew that Chet would be
waiting outside with their car. She hurried Jess and Bobby, and even Janet,
into their outer wraps as quickly as possible.
"For you might as well go along with us, Janet," Laura said to the new girl
"We're going to the hospital first, but we'll drop you at your home coming
Just what they were to do at the hospital nobody knew save Laura and Chet,
and they refused to explain. When they arrived at the institution they went
directly to the private room now occupied by Mr. Nemo of Nowhere.
Billy Long, up in a chair for the first time, was present to greet the
girls of Central High. And the man from Alaska seemed particularly glad to
"Here is the money, Miss Laura," he said, producing a packet of crisp
bank-notes. "I'd give it all to know just who I am. I seem to be right on
the verge of discovering it to-day; yet something balks me."
"Oh, look at all that money!" crowed Billy, as Laura accepted the bills,
while Chet, with the help of the interested nurse, arranged the bed-table
and gave the man a pad and a fountain pen.
The head surgeon, who had taken a great interest in the case and with whom
Laura had already conferred, tiptoed into the room and stood to look on.
"You bankers," said Laura, laughing, and speaking to the patient, "are
always so much better off than ordinary folks. You pass out any old kind of
money to your customers; but you never see a banker with anything but new
bank-notes in his pocket."
The man listened to her sharply. A sudden quickened interest appeared in
his countenance. The others heard Mother Wit's speech with growing
"See," said the girl of Central High, extracting one of the bank-notes from
the packet "Here is another bill on the Drovers' Levee Bank, of Osage,
Ohio. Did you notice that? Doesn't it sound familiar to you?"
She repeated the name of the bank and its locality slowly. "You have more
bills of that same bank. But none like the one you gave Chet when you
bought that lavalliere for 'the nice little girl' you told him you expected
to give it to."
The man stared at her. He seemed enthralled by what she said. Laura
proceeded in her quiet way:
"Just write this name, please: 'Bedford Knox.' Thanks. Now write it again.
He is cashier of your bank in Osage, Ohio."
Jess barely stifled a cry with her handkerchief. But everybody else was
silent, watching the man laboriously writing the name as requested by
It was a disappointment. No doubt of that The man did not write the name as
though he were familiar with it at all. But Laura was still smiling when he
looked up at her, almost childishly, for further directions.
"Now try this other, please," said the girl firmly. "Two men always sign
bank-notes to make them legal tender. The cashier and the president The
president of the Drovers' Levee Bank, of Osage, Ohio, is - - "
She hesitated. The man poised his pen over the paper expectantly. Said
"Write 'Peyton J. Weld.'"
At her words Janet Steele uttered a startled exclamation. The man did not
notice this. He wrote the name as Laura requested. Chet, looking over his
shoulder and with one of the Osage bank-notes in his hand for comparison,
watched the signature dashed off in almost perfect imitation of that upon
"You guessed it, Mother Wit!" the big boy cried. "Write it again, Mr. Weld.
That is your name as sure as you live!"
The surgeon stepped quickly to the bedside and his sharp eyes darted from
the bank-note in the boy's hand to the signature his patient had written.
The man looked wonderingly about the room, his puzzled gaze drifting from
one to another of his visitors until it finally fastened upon the pale
countenance of Janet Steele.
Catching his eye, the girl stepped forward impulsively, her hands clasped.
"Uncle Jack!" she breathed.
"You - you look quite like your mother used to, my dear," the man in bed
said in rather a strange voice.
The surgeon eased him back upon the pillows, and at a nod the nurse sent
the visitors out of the room. In the corridor they all stood amazed,
staring at Janet.
IT IS ALL ROUNDED UP
"Of course," Lily Pendleton confessed, "I was at Hester's party,"
"And Purt Sweet was there?" queried Laura earnestly.
"Mr. Sweet certainly was present, too," said the other girl. "You girls
need not be so jealous if we are the only two from Central High that got
"You can have my share and welcome," said Bobby.
"And mine, too," confessed Jess.
"These interrogations are not inspired by jealousy," laughed Mother Wit.
It was on Friday as the girls gathered for recitations that this
conversation occurred. Lily Pendleton was inclined to object to having her
intimacy with Hester Grimes inquired into.
"Do you remember what night that party was held, Lily?" asked Laura.
"Why, no. On a Saturday night, I believe."
"Quite so. And on a particular Saturday night," said Laura.
"You said it!" murmured Bobby.
"I don't know what you mean!" cried Lily Pendleton.
"But you will before I get through with you," said Laura. "Now, listen! You
know about that man who had his leg broken on Market Street?"
"The one the police say Purt ran down with his car?"
"Of course I do," Lily cried. "And Purt is as innocent as you are!"
"Granted," said Laura. "Therefore you will help us explain the mystery, and
so relieve Purt Sweet of suspicion. For he refuses to say anything himself
to the police."
"Why - why - - What do I know about it?" demanded Lily.
"Do you know that the party was held the very Saturday night the man was
"No! Was it?"
"It was. And Purt had his car up there at the Grimes' house."
"Did he? I didn't know. He went away early, I believe."
"And earlier still a couple of boys, or men, borrowed Purt's car without
his knowing it - until afterward," Laura declared earnestly. "One of those
fellows had to catch a train."
"Why, that was Hester's cousin, Jeff Rounds! He lives at Norridge. Don't
"Who was the other fellow?" asked Laura sharply.
"Why - I - - Oh! it must have been Tom Langley. He lives next door to
Hester. Do you know," said Lily, preening a little, "I think Tom is kind of
sweet on Hessie."
"Good night!" moaned Bobby. "What is the matter with him? Is he blind?"
"He must have had very bad eyesight or he would not have run down that poor
Mr. Weld on Market Street!" exclaimed Jess tartly.
"What do you mean?" gasped Lily. "Tom Langley has gone away for the winter
anyway. He went suddenly - - "
"Right after that party, I bet a cooky," cried Bobby.
"Well - ye-es," admitted Lily.
"Scared!" exclaimed Jess.
"The coward!" cried Laura.
"And left poor Purt to face the music," Bobby observed. "Well, old Purt is
better than we ever gave him credit for. Now we'll make him square himself
with the police."
It was Mr. Nemo of Nowhere, now Mr. Peyton J. Weld, who had the most to do
with settling the police end of Purt Sweet's trouble. It was some weeks
before he could do this, for the shock of his mental recovery racked the
man greatly. For some days the surgeon would not let the young folk see
their friend whose mind had been so twisted.
"I don't know but we did more harm than good, Laura," Chet Belding said
anxiously, when they discussed Mr. Weld's condition.
"I don't believe so," his sister said. "At any rate, we revealed him as
Janet's Uncle Jack, and the discovery has done Mrs. Steele a world of good
That the man who, for a time, had forgotten who he was and had forgotten a
number of years of his life, finally recovered completely, can safely be
stated. His very first outing from the hospital was in Purt Sweet's car,
and the boy drove him first of all to the office of the Chief of Police.
Purt had refused utterly to make trouble for either Hester Grimes' cousin
Jeff or for Tom Langley. Mr. Weld assured the Chief of Police that,
although it was Purt's car that had struck him down on the icy street, Purt
had not been in the car at the time.
Nor did the boy of Central High have anything to do with the accident. His
car had been borrowed without permission by "parties unknown," as far as
Mr. Weld was concerned, and to this day the police of Centerport are rather
hazy as to just who it was that stole Purt Sweet's car and committed the
"And I feel sort of hazy myself," Jess Morse said, when they were all
talking it over at one time. "Mostly hazy about this Man from Nowhere. How
did he so suddenly become Janet Steele's Uncle Jack?"
"And his name 'Peyton'?" added Nellie Agnew.
"Why, his middle name was John - they always called him by it at home,"
explained Laura Belding. "And, of course, Janet and her mother knew nothing
about the name written on those Osage bank bills. I didn't suspect the
"But I began to be quite sure that he must have had something to do with
the bank for which those bills were issued. And it seemed probable that, as
he had so much money with him when he landed in Centerport, that he must be
somebody in Osage of wealth and prominence. I wrote secretly to the
postmaster at Osage and learned that the president of the Drovers' Levee
Bank had gone East on a vacation - presumably to hunt up some relatives that
he had not seen for some time."
"Sly Mother Wit!" cried Jess.
"Not such a wonderful thing to do," laughed Laura.
"Not half so wonderful," put in the irrepressible Bobby Hargrew, "as it