The Camp Fire Girls Go Motoring
Along the Road that Leads the Way
By HILDEGARD G. FREY
"The Camp Fire Girls in the Maine Woods," "The Camp Fire Girls at School," "The Camp Fire Girls at Onoway House."
THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS GO MOTORING
It is at Nyoda's bidding that I am writing the story of our automobile trip last September. She declared it was really too good to keep to ourselves, and as I was official reporter of the Winnebagos anyway, it was no more nor less than my solemn duty. Sahwah says that the only thing which was lacking about our adventures was that we didn't have a ride in a patrol wagon, but then Sahwah always did incline to the spectacular. And the whole train of events hinged on a commonplace circumstance which is in itself hardly worth recording; namely, that tan khaki was all the rage for outing suits last summer. But then, many an empire has fallen for a still slighter cause.
The night after we came home from Onoway House and shortly before we started on that never-to-be-forgotten trip, I was sitting at the window watching the evening stars come out one after another. That line of Longfellow's came into my mind:
"Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels."
That quotation set me to thinking about Evangeline and the tragedy of her never finding her lover. Could it be possible, I thought, that two people could come so near to finding each other and yet be just too late? Not in these days of long distance telephones, I said to myself. As I looked out dreamily into the mild September twilight, I idly watched two little girls chasing each other around the voting booth that stood on the corner. They kept dodging around the four sides, playing cat and mouse, and trying to catch each other by means of every trick they could think of. One would go a little way and then stop and listen for the footsteps of the other; then she would double back and go the other way, and thus they kept it up, never coming face to face. I stopped dreaming and gave them my entire attention; I was beginning to feel a thrill of suspense as to which one would finally outwit the other and overtake her. The darkness deepened; more stars came out; the moon rose; still the exciting game did not come to a finish. Finally, a woman came out on the porch of the house on the corner and called, "Emma! Mary! Come in now." They never caught each other.
When I was elected reporter on the trip to keep a record of the interesting things we saw, so we wouldn't forget them when we came to write the Count, Nyoda said jokingly, "You'd better take an extra note- book along, Migwan, for we might possibly have some adventures on the road."
I answered, "We've had all the adventures this last summer that can possibly fall to the lot of one set of human beings, and I suppose all the rest of our lives will seem dull and uninteresting by comparison."
I presume Fate heard that remark of mine just as she did that other one last summer when I observed to Hinpoha that we were going to have such a quiet time at Onoway House, and sat up and chuckled on the knees of the gods. In the light of future events it seems to me that it couldn't have done less than kick its heels against that Knee and have hysterics.
As I was in the Glow-worm all the time, of course, I was an eye witness to the things which happened to our party only; but the other girls have told their tale so many times that it seems as if I had actually experienced their adventures myself, and so will write everything down as if I had seen it, without stopping to say Gladys said this or Hinpoha told me that. It makes a better story so, Nyoda says.
After Gladys's father had told us we might take the two automobiles and go on a trip by ourselves, he gave us a road map and told us to go anywhere we liked within a radius of five hundred miles and he would pay all the bills, provided, we planned and carried out the whole trip by ourselves, and did not keep telegraphing home for advice unless we got into serious trouble. All such little troubles as breakdowns, hotels and traffic rules we were to manage by ourselves. He has a theory that Gladys should learn to be self-reliant and means to give her every opportunity to develop resourcefulness. He thinks she has improved wonderfully since joining the Winnebagos and considered this motor trip a good way of testing how much she can do for herself. Gladys scoffed at the idea of wiring home for help when Nyoda was along, for Nyoda has toured a great deal and once drove her uncle's car home from Los Angeles when he broke his arm. Gladys's father knew full well that Nyoda was perfectly capable of engineering the trip or he never would have proposed it in the first place, but he never can resist the temptation to tease Gladys, and kept on inquiring anxiously if she knew which side of the road to stop on and where to go to buy gas. Gladys, who had driven her own car for three years! Finally, he offered to bet that we would be wiring home for advice before the end of the trip and Gladys took him up on it. The outcome was that if we returned safe and sound without calling for help Mr. Evans would build us a permanent Lodge in which to hold our Winnebago meetings. Gladys danced a whole figure dance for joy, for in her mind the Lodge was as good as built.
How we did pore over that road map, trying to make up our minds where to go! Nyoda wanted to go to Cincinnati and Gladys wanted to go to Chicago, and the arguments each one put up for her cause were side- splitting. Finally, they decided to settle it by a set of tennis. They played all afternoon and couldn't get a set. We finally intervened and dragged them from the court in the name of humanity, for the sun was scorching and we were afraid they would be doing the Sun Dance as Ophelia did if we didn't rescue them. The score was then 44-44 in games. So now that neither side had the advantage of the other we did as we did the time we named the raft at Onoway House—joined forces. We decided to go both to Cincinnati and Chicago.
As we finally made it out, the route was like this: Cleveland to Chicago by way of Toledo and Ft. Wayne; Chicago to Indianapolis; Indianapolis to Louisville. Here Hinpoha got a look at the map and wanted to know if we couldn't take in Vincennes, because she had been crazy to see the place since reading Alice of Old Vincennes. So to humor her we included Vincennes on the road to Louisville, although it was quite a bit out of the way. Then from Louisville we planned to go up to Cincinnati and see the Rookwood Pottery that Nyoda is so crazy about and come back home through Dayton, Springfield and Columbus. We were all very well pleased with ourselves when we had the route mapped out at last, and none of us were sorry that Nyoda and Gladys couldn't agree on Cincinnati or Chicago and had to compromise and take in both.
Then, when it was decided where we were going, came the no less important question of what we were to wear on the road. We decided on our khaki-colored hiking-suits as the shade that would show the dust the least, and our soft tan regulation Camp Fire hats, with green motor veils. Besides being eminently sensible the combination was wonderfully pretty, as even critical Hinpoha, who, at first wanted us to wear smart white and blue suits, had to admit. It seemed to me the most fitting thing in the world for a group of Camp Fire Girls to sally forth dressed in wood brown and green, the colors of nature which in my mind should be the chosen colors of the whole organization.
We had a discussion about goggles and Gladys and Hinpoha declared flatly that they wouldn't disfigure their faces with them, but Nyoda made us all get them whether we wanted to wear them all the time or not. Nyoda is an advocate of Preparedness. It was this spirit that prompted her to make me take an extra note-book along, not the premonition that there was going to be something to put into it. Nyoda doesn't believe in premonitions since she didn't have any the time she and Gladys got into the blue automobile with the cane streamer that awful day in May.
Then there came the weighty matter of the names of the two cars. I will skip the discussion and merely announce the result. The big, brown car which Gladys was to drive was christened the Striped Beetle, on account of the black and gold stripes, and the black car was called the Glow- worm, because that's what it reminds you of when it comes down the road at night with the lamps lighted and the body invisible in the darkness. Nyoda was to be at the helm, or rather at the wheel, of the Glow-worm.
In order that no feelings might be involved in any way over which car we other girls traveled in, Nyoda, Solomon-like, proposed that she and Gladys play "John Kempo" for us. (That isn't spelled right, but no matter.) Gladys won Hinpoha, Chapa and Medmangi, and Nyoda won Sahwah, Nakwisi and myself. Thus the die was cast and my fortunes linked with those of the Glow-worm.
I don't remember ever being so supremely happy as I was the night before we were to start. All my troubles seemed over for good. The summer venture had been a success and the doors of college stood wide open to receive me when the time came. The awful weight of poverty which had sat on my shoulders last year, and had made my school days more of a nightmare than anything else was lifted, and here was I, "Migwan, the Penpusher", actually about to start out on an automobile trip such as I had often heard described by more fortunate friends, but had never hoped to experience myself. We were all over at Hinpoha's house that night, because Aunt Phoebe had just come back with the Doctor and they wanted to see us.
"And you be careful of your bones, Missis Sahwah!" said the Doctor, playfully shaking his finger at her.
"Are you going if it rains?" asked Aunt Phoebe.
The possibility of rain had never occurred to us, as the only picture we had seen in our mind's eye had been country roads gleaming in the sunshine, but Gladys said scornfully that she would like to be shown the group of Camp Fire Girls who would let themselves be put off by rain.
"Let's build a Rain Jinx," said Sahwah, who always has the most whimsical inspirations.
"A what?" asked Gladys.
"A Rain Jinx," said Sahwah, warming to the idea. "A 'doings' to scare away the Rain Bird and the Thunder Bird."
As the foundation for her Rain Jinx she took Hinpoha's Latin book, which she declared was the driest thing in existence. On top of that she piled other books which were nearly as dry until she had a sort of altar. Then she proceeded to sacrifice all the rubbers, rain-coats and umbrellas she could find, as a propitiatory offering to the Rain Bird. Thoroughly in the mood for such nonsense, now she proceeded to chant weird chants around the altar to protect us from all sorts of things on the road; to soften the hearts of traffic policemen; to keep the tires from bursting, and the machinery from cutting up capers. It was the most ridiculous performance I have ever seen and Aunt Phoebe and the Doctor laughed themselves almost sick over it. I laughed so myself that I could not take notes on what she was saying and so can't let you laugh at it for yourselves. As a reporter I'm afraid I'm not an unqualified success.
In the midst of that "Vestal Virgin" business—Sahwah was flourishing a chamois vest to give us the idea of vestal—Nyoda walked in. There was only one low lamp burning in order to carry out Sahwah's idea of what a Rain Jinx ceremony should be like, and Nyoda couldn't clearly make out the objects in the room.
"Look out for the Rain Jinx!" called Sahwah, warningly. "If you touch it it will bring us bad luck instead of good."
But it was too late. Nyoda had stumbled over the pile of things on the floor, and in falling sent the elements of the Rain Jinx flying in all directions. Hinpoha flew to light the light and Sahwah picked Nyoda up out of the mess and set her in a chair, while the rest of us collected the scattered articles and tidied up the room, and Sahwah painted in lurid colors to Nyoda the dire consequences of her crime, and made her give her famous "Wimmen Sufferage" speech as an act of atonement.
The Rain Bird must have forgiven her on the strength of that speech, for there never was such a perfect blue and gold day as the morning we started out. I have already told you how we were divided up in the cars. Gladys in the Striped Beetle went first, carrying with her Hinpoha, Chapa and Medmangi, and Nyoda drove the Glow-worm right behind her with Sahwah, Nakwisi and myself. Hinpoha insisted upon bringing Mr. Bob, her black cocker spaniel, along as a mascot. Of course, everybody wanted to sit beside the driver and we had to compromise by planning to change seats every hour to give us all a chance. We all carried our cameras in our hands to be ready to snap anything worth while as it came along, and beside that Nakwisi had her spy-glass along as usual and I had my reporter's note-book. In honor of my being reporter they let me sit beside Nyoda at the start.
Nakwisi couldn't wait until we got under way and bounced up and down on the seat with impatience. "What's the matter with you?" said Sahwah, "You're a regular starting-crank!"
"That will do, Sahwah," said Nyoda, with mock severity. "I want it distinctly understood that anybody who indulges in puns on this trip is going to get out and walk."
With that threat she settled herself behind the wheel and turned on the gasoline, or whatever it is you do to start a car. Thus we started off, like modern day Innocents Abroad, with the Winnebago banner across the back of each car, and our green veils fluttering in the breeze. Mr. Evans waved the paper on which the bet was recorded significantly, and shouted "Remember!" in a sepulchral tone, and it was plain to be seen he was sure he would win the bet. He even tempted Fate so far as to throw an old rubber after us as we departed, instead of an old shoe, to bring us luck according to the Rain Jinx. It landed in the tonneau of our car and Sahwah pounced upon it as a favorable omen and kept it for a mascot.
With a great cheering and waving of handkerchiefs we were off. The Striped Beetle was just ahead of us in all the glory of its new coat of paint and its bright banner, and I couldn't help thrilling with pride to think that I, for once, belonged to such a gay company, I, who all my life had to be content with shabby things. I suppose we must have cut quite a figure with our tan suits all alike and our green veils, for people stopped to look at us as we passed through the streets. It was not long before we were outside the city limits and running along the western road toward Toledo.
I always did think September was the prettiest month in which to go through the country in the lake region on account of the grapes. The vineyards stretched for miles along the road and the air was sweet with the perfume of the purple fruit. There were wide corn-fields, too, that made me think of the poem:
"Up from the meadows rich with corn, Clear in the cool September morn—"
Oh, there never was such a beautiful country as America, nor such a happy girl as I! In one place someone had planted a long strip of brilliant red geraniums through the middle of a green field and the effect was too gorgeous for description. (I'm glad I noted all those things and put them down on the first part of the trip, for afterwards I scarcely thought of looking at the scenery.)
The girls in the car ahead kept shouting back at us and trying to make up a song about the Striped Beetle, and, of course, we had resurrected the one-time popular "Glow-worm" song and made the hills and dales resound with the air of the chorus:
"Shine, little Glow-worm, glimmer, Shine, little Glow-worm, glimmer, Lead us lest too far we wander, Love's sweet voice is calling yonder; Shine, little Glow-worm, glimmer, Shine, little Glow-worm, glimmer, Light the path, below, above, And lead us on to love!"
Then there would come a chorus of derision from the Striped Beetles, who politely inquired which one of us expected to be led to her Prince Charming by that mechanical Glow-worm; and flung back our chorus in a parody:
"Shine, little Glow-worm, glimmer, Till the Law makes you put on the dimmer!"
Then we christened the horn of the Striped Beetle "Love", because that was the only "sweet voice" we heard calling yonder. I don't believe I ever had such a good time as I did on the road to Toledo. We got there about noon and went to a large restaurant for dinner. Even there people looked up from their tables as we eight girls came in, dressed in our wood brown and green costumes, and we heard several low-voiced remarks, "They're probably Camp Fire Girls."
We had a great deal of fun at dinner where we all sat at one big table. Sahwah and Hinpoha sat at the two ends and got into a dispute as to which end was the head of the table. "Stop quarreling about it, you ridiculous children," said Nyoda. "'Wherever Magregor sits—' you know the rest."
While she was speaking I saw a tourist at another table, dressed in a long dust coat and wearing monstrous goggles that covered the entire upper half of his face and made him look like a frog, lean forward as if to catch every word. Nyoda is perfectly stunning in her motor suit and I couldn't blame the man for admiring her, but we did want Nyoda to ourselves on this trip, and the thought of having men mixed up in it put a damper on my spirits. I suppose Nyoda will leave us for a man sometime, but the thought always makes me ill. I came out of my little reverie to find that Gladys had appropriated my glass of water and Sahwah and Hinpoha were still disputing about being the head of the table. Finally, we jokingly advised Sahwah to ask the waiter, and she promptly took us up and did it, and found that Hinpoha was the head.
"I'm going to have the head at the next place we eat," Sahwah declared, owning her defeat with as good grace as she could. And Fate winked solemnly and began to slide off the knees of the gods.
From Toledo to Ft. Wayne, our next stop, there were two routes, the northern one through Bryan and the southern one through Napoleon and Defiance. As there didn't seem to be much difference between them we played "John Kempo" and the northern route won, two out of three. As we were threading our way through the streets of the town, an old woman tried to cross the street just in front of the Glow-worm. Nyoda sounded the horn warningly but the noise seemed to confuse her. She got across the middle of the street in safety and Nyoda quickened up a bit, when the woman lost her head and started back for the side she had come from. She darted right in front of the Glow-worm, and although Nyoda turned aside sharply, the one fender just grazed her and she fell down in the street. Of course, a crowd collected and we had to stop and get out and help her to the sidewalk where we made sure she was not hurt. Nyoda finally took her in tow and piloted her across the street to the place where she wanted to go.
When the excitement was over and the crowd had dispersed we returned to the car and Nyoda started up once more. Then for the first time we noticed that the Striped Beetle was nowhere in sight. Apparently Gladys had not noticed our stopping in the confusion of the busy street and had gone on ahead without us.
Gladys, as the leader, had the road map with her with the route marked out which we were to follow. We hastened to the end of the street, expecting to catch sight of the Striped Beetle just around the corner, but it was nowhere to be seen. We stopped at a store and asked if they had seen it come by and they said, yes, it had just passed and had turned to the left up —th Street. We followed swiftly, thinking to come upon the girls each moment, but there was no sign of them.
"They surely have discovered by this time that we are not behind them and must be waiting for us," said Nyoda. "I can't understand it."
"Gladys is probably trying to see if we can trail her through the city to the motor road," said Sahwah. "You know how much we talked about being self-reliant? We'll probably find her where the road branches out from the city, waiting with a stop watch to see how long it took us to find her."
"We'll get there," said Nyoda grimly, her sporting blood up.
Everywhere along the road people told us about the brown car that had gone just ahead of us and pointed out the direction it had taken. Every time we turned a corner we expected to hear the laughter of the girls who were leading us such a merry chase, but we didn't. Soon we were out of the city and on the country road once more, and we were quite a bit puzzled not to find them waiting for us. We certainly thought the joke was to have ended here. But a man walking along the road had seen the car go by half an hour before.
"Half an hour!" we echoed. "Gladys must have been speeding to have gotten so far ahead of us." Of course, the Striped Beetle is a six- cylinder car and more powerful than the Glow-worm, which is a four, and then they hadn't stopped at every corner to ask the way, so it wasn't so strange after all that Gladys was so far ahead.
"We'll make some speed on this road," said Nyoda resolutely, "and if we don't catch Lady Gladys before she gets to Ft. Wayne, I'll know the reason why. This is the road to Bryan, isn't it?" she asked, with her hand on the starting-lever.
"No," said the man. "This here road goes through Napoleon and Defiance. It gets to Ft. Wayne all right, but it doesn't go through Bryan."
Nyoda stopped in surprise. "The southern route?" she said, wonderingly. "Why, we decided on the northern. Whatever could have made Gladys change her mind without letting us know? Are you sure it was a brown car with four girls dressed just like us?"
The man was positive. It was the suits and the veils all alike that had caught his eye in the first place. He didn't generally remember much about the cars that went past. There were too many of them. But these girls looked so fine in their tan suits that he just had to look twice at them. They were laughing fit to kill and all waved their handkerchiefs at him as they passed.
We looked at each other in astonishment. It was undoubtedly the Striped Beetle that was going along the southern route and we couldn't understand it.
"Do you suppose," I said, "that Gladys could have misunderstood when you were playing 'John Kempo' and thought it was the southern route that won?"
"She must have," said Nyoda. "It's not impossible. We were all laughing and talking so much nonsense at the time that it was hard to think straight. But it doesn't make any difference," she added, "this route is as good as the northern, and we are right behind them and I mean to catch up before we get to Ft. Wayne." I knew what Nyoda was thinking about. The man had said the girls in the car were laughing fit to kill, and that looked very much as if there were some joke on foot. We knew very well they were running away from us and were going to lead us a chase to Ft. Wayne.
As we started off in pursuit I looked around from the tonneau, where I was then sitting, and saw a red roadster not far behind us. There was one man in it and he was the Frog I had seen goggling at Nyoda in the dining-room at Toledo.
We were not so terribly surprised when we did not find the Striped Beetle at Napoleon where we stopped for gasoline. We knew now that they would not let us catch them before we got to Ft. Wayne. We inquired at the service station and found that the brown car had stopped for gasoline nearly an hour before. Clearly they were not losing any time on the road. Neither were we gaining on them at that rate. Nyoda looked thoughtful as she started out once more. I knew she was meditating a lecture for Gladys when she caught up with her, about running away from us. Nyoda was responsible for the welfare of seven girls and how could she fulfil her trust if she had only three under her eye? And I knew as well as I knew anything that Gladys would forfeit her right to be leader by that little prank and for the rest of the trip would follow meekly along behind us. Nyoda would never in the world stand for her going off like that. But by the puzzled frown on her face I knew that she didn't understand it any more than I did. Gladys was the last one in the world to do such a thing. There must be some reason.
From my seat I could see that the Frog, who had also stopped for gasoline when we did, was not far behind us. The car he was in looked like a racing car, with a very long hood in front, and he could easily have gotten ahead of us. I wondered for a long time why he did not do so, and then suddenly I had a premonition. He was following us, or rather Nyoda. Something had told me when I first saw him that we should see him again. I made a horrible face at him behind my veil and wished something would happen to his car.
As we were passing through the village of S—— a chicken started up right under our front wheels, uttering a startled and startling squawk. Nyoda swerved to one side and ran squarely into a tree. There was a bump and a grating sound somewhere beneath us and then the nice cheerful humming of the motor stopped. Nyoda got out of the car to see what had been damaged.
"As far as I can see, only the lamp bracket is bent," she said, but when she tried to start the car again it wouldn't start.
"Maybe the driving spider has caught the flywheel," said Sahwah, trying to be funny.
Just then the red roadster did pass us, going slowly, and the Frog kept his eyes riveted on Nyoda all the while. She never looked at him. She had unbuttoned the roof over the engine and was poking her fingers down into the dragon's mouth, but undoubtedly the trouble wasn't there. There was a repair shop not far away—all of the towns along the touring routes which have an eye to business have some sort of one—and Nyoda repaired thither and fetched a man who tinkered knowingly with the regions underneath the Glow-worm and then reported in a dust choked voice that one of the gears was "on the blink". Just what part of a car's vital organs a gear is I don't know, but I judged it was an important one because Nyoda looked serious.
"What will we do?" she said, tragically.
"Can fix you up in the shop," said the man, wiping his forehead with a blue and white handkerchief. "We have a dismantled car of the same make there and can take a gear out of that."
So the Glow-worm was trundled up the street into the shop, and we were told that the damage would be fixed by the next morning. The next morning! We looked at each other in consternation.
"But we must get to Ft. Wayne to-night," said Nyoda, in a tone of finality.
"Sorry, ladies," said the foreman of the repair shop, "but it can't be done." Then we realized that we would have to stay in S—— all night. Here was a pretty mess. And Gladys and Hinpoha and the other two waiting for us in Ft. Wayne.
"We'll have to let them know," said Nyoda. "They'll worry when they see we're not coming."
"Let them worry," said Sahwah, darkly. "It serves them right for what they did to us."
But, of course, we had to let them know. So Nyoda wired the little hotel where we had planned to stay—and what a good time we were going to have!—and told the girls to stay there for the night and to please wait for us in the morning and not leave us again. Of course, the message was much more condensed than that, but Nyoda got it all in.
Then there was nothing else for us to do but make the best of a bad bargain and hunt up the one hotel in S—— and prepare to spend the night. But when we got there it was crowded. There was a big wedding in town that night, we were informed, and the out-of-town guests had filled the hotel. They were already two in a room and there was no hope of doubling up. Seeing our dismay at this news, the clerk bethought himself of a woman in the village who had a very large house and often let rooms to tourists when the hotel was full. She had once been very wealthy, but had lost everything but the house and now made her living by keeping boarders.
We thanked him and hurried off to the address to which he had directed us. We were very hot and tired and dusty and amazingly hungry. It was already six o'clock in the evening, and with the difference in time between our city and this we had been on the road a long day. We were glad after all that the hotel had not been able to accommodate us when we saw this house. The hotel was on the main street and the rooms must have been small and stuffy; anything but comfortable on this hot night. But this house stood far back from the street in an immense shady yard, one of those enormous brick houses that well-to-do people were fond of building about thirty-five years ago, with large rooms and high ceilings and enough space inside them to quarter a regiment. We blessed the good fortune which had led our feet to this hospitable looking door, which, in times gone by, must have opened to admit throngs of distinguished people.
There was no door-bell, but a big bronze knocker, and in answer to it a young girl, presumably the "hired girl", let us into the hall. She took our coming as a matter of course, so we judged they were prepared for tourists that day, knowing that the hotel was full on account of the wedding. Without a word she led us up-stairs and we breathed a sigh of relief when we thought of a bath and supper. The house must have been the home of fashionable people in its time, for the furnishings, though old, were still luxurious. The carpet on the stairs was still thick and soft to our feet, and the curtains I could see on the windows were of a fine quality. At the head of the stairs there was an oil painting of a woman in the dress of a by-gone day. The servant opened the door of a room at the front end of the long up-stairs hall and we passed in.
We had known instinctively as soon as we entered the place that the lady of the house was a woman of refinement and culture, notwithstanding the reduced circumstances which made it necessary for her to rent out rooms in this big mansion of a house in order to make her living. "I should think she'd rent it or sell it," said practical Sahwah.
"She probably can't bear to part with these things, which remind her of her former life," I said, sentimentally.
We were all anxious to see the woman who had been the mistress of so much splendor in days gone by and could not give up the house. The bedroom we were shown to was luxurious compared to what I had been used to at home. The bed was a mahogany four-poster covered with a spread of lace, and the rug on the floor was a faded oriental. Opening out of the bedroom was a bath with a shower and we made a dash to get under the cooling flood. I have never seen such towels as were stacked up on that little white table in the bathroom. They were all heavily embroidered with initials and the fringe on them was every bit of six inches long.
"The fringe for me!" exclaimed Sahwah, when she saw them. She seized a whole pile of them at once, using only the fringe for drying, and putting on affected aristocratic airs that made us shriek with laughter. We had been dressing all over the two rooms and the floor was strewn with towels and articles of clothing. Suddenly the door of the bedroom opened and a woman stood in the room. She was a gray-haired woman of about fifty, very handsome and proud-looking, and dressed in a gown of plum-colored satin. She said nothing; just looked at us. I glanced around at the others. There was Sahwah, her kimono wrapped loosely around her, patting her feet dry with the fringe of a dozen towels; Nyoda stood in front of the dressing-table with a towel wrapped around her, combing her hair: I was sitting on the floor putting my shoes on, while through the bathroom door came the sounds of the shower turned on full force, with an occasional shriek from Nakwisi when she got it too cold. Suddenly I felt unaccountably foolish. Nyoda and Sahwah looked up and saw the woman the next instant. She stood looking at us, her eyes nearly popping out of her head, her face purple, leaning against the foot of the bed for support. Nobody said a word. As Sahwah expressed it afterward, "Silence reigned, and we stood there in the rain."
"How did—how did you get in?" the woman gasped faintly, after a silence of a full minute. We knew something was wrong. We could feel it in the marrow of our bones.
Nyoda, holding her towel closely around her, answered in as dignified a manner as possible. "We were directed to your house from the hotel as a place where we could spend the night, and your maid admitted us and brought us in here. Is there anything the matter?"
The woman stood staring as if fascinated at the towels which were lying all over the floor. At that moment Nakwisi opened the door of the bath and emerged in her dressing-gown, the open door behind her revealing splashes of water all over the room and more towels on the floor. The woman put her hand to her throat as if she were choking. She tried to speak but evidently could not.
"Isn't this Mrs. Butler's house?" asked Nyoda, with growing misgiving. "Don't you take in tourists when the hotel is filled?"
The woman swallowed convulsively and found her voice. "No," she said, emphatically, "this is not Mrs. Butler's house, and I don't take in tourists when the hotel is filled. This is the McAlpine residence and my husband is State Senator McAlpine. My daughter is getting married to-night and we have a houseful of wedding guests. We had two special trains, one from Chicago and one from New York, bringing guests. If my maid let you in she thought you were some of them." Then she looked around the room and seemed on the verge of apoplexy once more. "But how did you get in here?" she cried, wildly. "This is the bridal chamber!"
I suddenly felt weak in the back-bone, and thought my head was going to drop into my lap. The towel fell from Nyoda's shoulders and she stood there like a statue with her long hair around her. Sahwah stopped still with her foot on the stool and the handful of towels in her hand. For one moment we remained as if turned to stone and then Sahwah buried her face in the towels with a muffled shriek. If embarrassment ever killed people I know not one of us would have survived. Nyoda apologised profusely for our intrusion, which, after all, was not our fault, as we soon found. The hotel man had told us number 65 South Vine Street when it was number 65 North Vine Street he had meant.
We got dressed faster than we ever had before in our lives and packed up our scattered belongings, leaving the rooms nearly as tidy as they were when we came in. Mrs. McAlpine had withdrawn into the next room, and through the closed door we could hear the sound of excited talking and knew that she was telling the story to someone. When she had finished we heard a man's voice raised in a regular bellow. Evidently it had struck him as funny.
"No!" we heard him chortle. "You don't mean it! Got put into the bridal chamber, ha, ha! When you wouldn't let me put a foot into it! Took a bath and used up all the wedding towels that you wouldn't even let me touch! Oh, ha! ha! ha!" The very house seemed to shake with the violence of his mirth. Senator McAlpine, for we judged it was he, must have had a sense of humor. "Where are they?" we heard him shout. "Let me see them!"
But at the thought of facing that battery of laughter we fled in haste. Feeling unutterably small and ridiculous, we crept down-stairs and out of the front door, past numbers of people who were arriving. Once out on the sidewalk we leaned against the ornamental iron fence and laughed until we cried. The more we thought about it the funnier it seemed. What a tale we would have to tell the other girls when we met them in the morning!
As we had had our bath there only remained supper, and we certainly did justice to it when we finally arrived at Mrs. Butler's house on North Vine Street. It was after eight o'clock and we were ravenous. The rooms we had in that house, while they were nothing compared to what we almost had, were still very comfortable, and we were in such high spirits that any place at all would have looked good to us. Our long day in the open air had made us sleepy and it was not long before we were all touring in the Car of Dreams.
While we were eating breakfast in Mrs. Butler's big, airy dining-room we heard a boy arrive at the kitchen door and ask for the "automobile ladies." He had been sent out from the telegraph office and the hotel clerk had told him where we were. He handed Nyoda a message. As she read it a surprised and puzzled look came into her face.
"What is it, Nyoda?" we all cried.
She handed us the bit of yellow paper. It was what is called a service message from the telegraph company, and read: "Message sent Gladys Evans Potter Hotel Ft. Wayne undelivered. No such party registered."
We stared in open-mouthed astonishment. Gladys and the others not in Ft. Wayne? If they weren't there, where were they? We were expecting to join them this very morning. Nyoda came to a sensible conclusion first, as she always does, "Where are they?" she repeated. "Why, stranded in some place along the road, just as we are, of course. We're not the only ones that can have accidents. I thought Gladys would get into some trouble or other at the rate she was driving that car. I hope none of them got hurt, but it serves them right if they did have a hold-up of some kind. And I hope the trouble, whatever it is, keeps them tied up until we overtake them. We must ask at every village whether the Striped Beetle is there. Wouldn't we laugh to see them standing around some garage waiting impatiently for the damage to be mended?"
It was nine o'clock before the Glow-worm was in running order again and we were ready to take the road once more. Since being towed into the repair shop the night before we had seen nothing of the Frog, and I concluded that he had gone on his way and would cross our path no more. But we had not gone many miles on the road when I saw the now familiar roadster traveling leisurely along behind us. I mentioned the fact casually to Nyoda as I was sitting beside her, and while she made no comment whatever, I noticed that she began gradually to increase the pace of the car. As yet neither of us had hinted at our unspoken antagonism to this persistent follower—for Nyoda was antagonistic to him, because I noticed that she bit her lip in an annoyed way when she saw him again. After all, he might not be following us. He certainly had every right in the world to be traveling in the general direction of Chicago over the public highway at the same time we were making our trip.
And yet—why did he stay all night in S—— when there was nothing the matter with his car, and when accommodations were so very scarce. We hadn't the least idea where he had stayed, but he must have been in S—— all night or he couldn't have followed us out in the morning. Even that fact, which might have been a coincidence, did not convince me so much that he was following us as my own intuition did. And I have learned by experience to respect those intuitions. Out of a whole dining-room full that man had been the only one who had attracted my attention, and I felt antagonistic toward him instantly. I had the same feeling when I saw him behind us on the road to Napoleon. And the worst part of it was that he had done absolutely nothing to make me feel that way toward him. He hadn't been impertinent, in fact, he had never said a single word to any of us! All he had done was to stare searchingly at Nyoda through that goggle mask of his. There was nothing the matter with his looks, goodness knows. All we could see under the big goggles were part of a nose and a brown mustache and they looked harmless enough. Then why did Nyoda and I both have the same feeling toward him?
We inquired carefully all the way, but nowhere did we come upon any trace of the Striped Beetle. At several places they had seen the brown car go by the day before and at one place it had stopped for gasoline, but no one knew of any repairs that had been made on it. The thing began to loom up like a puzzle. If the Striped Beetle had not been delayed by accident why had not Gladys arrived in Ft. Wayne the night before as per schedule.
"Possibly they did arrive all right, and didn't go to a hotel because you weren't with them," suggested Sahwah. "Gladys may have friends there and they may have stayed with them." That fact was so very probable that we ceased to worry about the girls, trusting that the whole thing would be made clear when we got to Ft. Wayne.
We were in Indiana now, running through beautiful farm country, with occasional tiny villages. Sahwah made up a game, estimating the number of windmills we would see in a certain time and then counting them as we passed to see how near she came to being right. As we were keeping a sharp lookout on each side of the road so as not to miss any, we saw a girl running across a field toward the road just ahead of us. She was waving her arms and we looked to see whom or what she was waving at, but there was nothing in sight.
"I actually believe she's waving at us!" said Sahwah. There was no mistake about it. The girl stood still in the road waiting for us to come up and motioned us to stop. We did so. She stood and looked at us for a minute as if she were afraid to speak. I looked back to see if the Frog was gaining on us. The red roadster had disappeared. The girl who stood before us looked about eighteen or twenty. She wore a plain suit of dark blue cloth with a long skirt down to the ground and a white sailor hat with a veil draped around it that covered her face. In her hand she held a small traveling bag. She looked beseechingly from one to the other of us and then her eyes came back to Nyoda.
"Could you—would you—will you take me to Decatur?" she faltered. "I'll pay you whatever you think it's worth," she added hastily. Now Decatur was out of our course altogether, some miles to the south. We were hurrying to Ft. Wayne to find out what had become of Gladys and why our telegram had come back unanswered. But this girl was plainly in trouble. Through the veil we could see that her face looked haggard and her eyes were big and staring. She looked frightened to death. No girl in trouble ever came to Nyoda in vain.
"Do you want to go to Decatur very badly?" she asked, gently.
"I must go," said the girl, earnestly. "I have to catch a train there, the train for Louisville." She checked herself when she had said that and looked around as if afraid she had been overheard.
"But why go to Decatur?" asked Nyoda. "You can get the Louisville train in Ft. Wayne. We are going directly to Ft. Wayne and are nearer there now than Decatur. We will be very glad to take you along."
But at the mention of Ft. Wayne the girl shrank back. "No, no, not there," she said in evident terror. "They—they would be watching for me there."
Nyoda looked at the girl keenly. She must have seen what we did not. "My dear," she said, in a big sister tone, "are you running away from home?"
The girl started and looked haunted. "Yes, I am running away," she said in a tone of desperation, "but I'm not running away from home. I'm running back home. Home to my mother." She looked over her shoulder at a house set far back from the road.
"Tell me about it," said Nyoda, with that smile of hers that never fails to win a confidence. The girl looked into Nyoda's eyes and did not look away again. It's the way everybody does.
"I'm Margery Anderson," she said. "You know now who I am and why I'm running away."
Yes, we all knew. The papers all over had been full of the fight Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, who were separated, had been making to get possession of their daughter Margery. The law had given her to her mother, but she had been kidnapped twice by her father and the last that had been published about her was that she was in the keeping of an uncle, who was hiding her from her mother. But the papers had said that Margery was only thirteen years old. This girl looked older.
"My uncle wants to take me to Japan, where I'll never see my mother again," she said. "I want my mother!" she finished with a very childish sob.
Nyoda got out of the car and put her arm around her. "You shall go to your mother, my dear," she said. "We'll take you to Decatur."
In walking to the car Margery fell all over the long skirt she was wearing, and then we realized that she was dressed up in someone else's clothes to make herself look older. She was only thirteen after all. Nyoda had been able to observe this right away when she had looked at her closely. She was as straight and as slender as a boy and the jacket modeled for an older woman hung on her as on a pole.
"Do you know the road to Decatur?" asked Nyoda. Margery said that she did, and told Nyoda how to turn. Our arrival in Ft. Wayne would be delayed an hour or so by going to Decatur, but none of us minded. We were all keenly interested in this much talked of young girl and were anxious to see her get to her mother before her uncle could stop her. Who would not have done the same thing in our place?
"What time does the Louisville train leave Decatur?" asked Nyoda, looking at her watch.
"Eleven-thirty," said Margery.
Nyoda put the watch back hastily and increased the speed of the car. She did not say what time it was and none of us asked her, thinking that the time might be short and Margery would be worried for fear we would not make it. We knew Nyoda would make it if she possibly could do so. Margery looked at her inquiringly, and Nyoda answered with a bright reassuring smile. Once Nyoda and I caught each other looking behind at the same moment and we each smiled faintly. The red roadster was nowhere in sight. By making this detour to Decatur while it was delayed on the road we had undoubtedly thrown it off the track.
We could not have been many miles from Decatur when a shot startled us. We all looked around expecting to see Margery's uncle after us, but it was only the bursting of a tire. Only the bursting of a tire! But to this day I hold that that tire did not burst of its own accord. Fate deliberately jabbed a pin into it. We carried an extra and with the help of a farmer who was passing we jacked up the Glow-worm in a hurry and put on its new gum shoe, Margery walked up and down the road nervously during the process. I suppose the minutes seemed like hours to her.
I beguiled the time by scribbling verses in my note-book to celebrate the occasion:
"Tires, brand new tires, I know not what they mean, Freshly inflated from the Free Air pump, Giving no warning of their base designs, Scatter in air with a terrific bang, And all upon a sudden are no more.
"Sweeter it is than dreams of paradise To ride with friends beside one in one's car, O'er sunlit roads; past fields of waving grain. Bitter it is as drops of greenest gall, To blow a tire, and sit there in the sun."
At this juncture the exchange of tires was completed and we were off once more. I saw Nyoda look at her watch.
"What time is it?" asked Margery.
"My watch has stopped," answered Nyoda. There was a clock on the corner of two streets in the next village we passed through and the hands pointed to eleven. This would give us plenty of time. We were not far from Decatur. We all breathed a sigh of relief, for we had been afraid that the bursting of the tire had caused us to miss the train. Nyoda calculated closely and announced that we would have time to stop and buy gasoline. She was not sure whether we had enough to make Decatur or not, and it would be a shame to go dry outside the very walls of Rome, she said. It took the young boy in charge of the place where they sold the gasoline some minutes to fill our tank, as he was only looking after the place while the proprietor was out and he was awkward. It was ten minutes after eleven when we got under way again. Nyoda set her watch by the clock.
When we got into Decatur we had an unpleasant surprise. All the clocks we came to said ten minutes to twelve. The other clock we had seen had been half an hour slow. We hurried to the station in the hope that the train was late, but there was no such luck. It had been on time for once. Margery sank down on the seat in the waiting-room and looked at us with wide frightened eyes. Clearly she was appealing to Nyoda to tell her what to do.
"When is the next train to Louisville?" Nyoda inquired at the ticket window.
"None until to-morrow noon," was the reply.
Margery looked so dismayed that Nyoda said hastily, "Why won't you go to Ft. Wayne and get the train there? The fast trains that don't stop here stop there and you can get one later in the day."
But Margery looked more frightened than ever. "I can't go to Ft. Wayne," she said. "My uncle would expect me to go there and would have the station watched. That's why I wanted to go to Decatur. They would never think of looking there for me. What shall I do. I know I'll never get to mother!"
She looked so young and babyish and helpless that Nyoda made up her mind on the spot that she was not the kind of girl who could be left on her own resources.
"Tell me," she said, "does your mother expect you to-morrow?"
Margery shook her head. "She doesn't even know that I'm coming."
"Then," said Nyoda decidedly, "I'm not going to leave you to find your way there alone. We will be going through Louisville in a few days and you're going to stay right with us until we get there. Your uncle will probably be having trains watched and would never think of you in an automobile. It is the best solution of the problem. We'll get you a dress and veil like the other girls and everyone will think you are one of our party. In that case you don't need to be afraid to go to Ft. Wayne, where we must stop, as we will not go near a railway station."
Margery agreed to this plan with such an air of relief that it was plain to be seen what an ordeal it had been for her to try to travel alone.
With this delay of having to go to Decatur it was past noon before we got to Ft. Wayne. Once there we were at a loss how to proceed to find the Striped Beetle and the girls. I believe everyone of us confidently expected to find them waiting for us at some point where the road entered the city, and it threw us off our bearings to find they were not there. Even Nyoda was plainly puzzled what to do. We found the little Potter Hotel where we were to have stayed and asked to see the register. It was possible that the girls had been there after all in spite of the telegram not having been delivered. Telegrams have failed to connect before. But they had not been there. If they had stayed with friends we did not know where they were now. It was a riddle. Not getting any light on the subject we decided to eat our dinner before we looked farther.
We checked our cameras and the man at the checking counter looked at us closely when we came up. There was no one else there and he seemed inclined to be talkative.
"There was a party just like you here yesterday," he said.
"What do you mean by 'just like us?'" we asked.
"Same clothes," he answered. "Four girls in tan suits and green veils and one in a blue suit and white veil."
We all looked at each other. The four girls were evidently ours, but who was the one in blue?
"What time were they here?" we asked.
"About five o'clock yesterday afternoon," he answered. "They checked some things here and then went into the dining-room."
Five o'clock was the time we should all have reached Ft. Wayne if things had gone right.
"Have you any idea where they have gone now?" we asked, eagerly.
"They were on their way to Chicago, going through Ligonier," answered the man. "I heard them talking about it. They seemed to be in a great hurry and were only in the dining-room about fifteen minutes. The one in blue kept telling them to make haste."
"The plot thickens," said Sahwah. "Gladys is mixed up in some adventure of her own, apparently. She's not running away from us for the fun of the thing, you can rest assured. I never thought so from the first. She's probably taking some distressed damsel to Chicago in a grand rush and counts on us to trust her until we catch up with her and hear the explanation."
"Yes," agreed Nyoda, "she must have had some urgent reason for acting so, that's a foregone conclusion."
"It's a four gone one all right," said Sahwah, but Nyoda's mind was too busy with wondering about Gladys to notice the pun.
"I think the best thing to do is to follow them as fast as we can," said Sahwah.
"I think so too," said Nyoda.
Puzzled as we were about Gladys's strange behavior, we were yet relieved of all anxiety about the Striped Beetle and its passengers. The girls were on their way to Chicago by way of Ligonier, the way we had planned in the beginning, and had undoubtedly not fallen by the wayside. We did wait long enough in Ft. Wayne to buy Margery a suit and veil just like ours and were surprised and gratified to find that we could get a suit exactly like ours down to the last button.
"Who do you suppose the girl in blue is with Gladys?" we asked each other, as we took the road again. But, of course, no one could answer this.
I was sitting in the front seat beside Nyoda. We had not gone very far on the way when I saw her knit her brows in a frown and heard her mutter to herself, "I thought we had lost you!" At the same time she increased the speed of the car. Naturally, I looked ahead in the direction in which she was looking, but there was nothing in sight. Then I looked behind. About a hundred yards behind us was the red roadster with the Frog calmly sitting at the wheel. How did Nyoda know he was there? She had not turned around since we had left Ft. Wayne.
"Have you an eye in the back of your head?" I asked, curiously.
"No, but I have one in the back of my collar," she answered, trying to hide her annoyance in a joke. "I just had a feeling he was there," she added.
This time I actually had a chill when I saw him. There was something terrifying in that figure always following us, never coming any nearer, never saying anything, but yet, never losing sight of us. Those mask- like goggles and the cap he wore pulled low over his face made him look like one of the creatures you see in a bad dream.
We had spent so much time in Ft. Wayne looking for a suit for Margery that it was four o'clock before we finally got under way. The morning had been fine, but the afternoon was misty and chilly. It must have rained not long before, for the road was muddy. We did not make such very good time, for the car began to act badly, and it was soon evident that something was wrong. We began to run slowly. Involuntarily, I glanced around to see how much the roadster was gaining on us. It had slowed down too and was going at exactly our pace. By this time the other girls could not help noticing that it was following us. Margery crouched in the seat and clung to Sahwah's arm. She was sure it was her uncle after her, and then I had to explain that the Frog had been following us all the way from Toledo, before we had taken her in.
We had expected to make Ligonier in a very short time and reach South Bend before night, but as things turned out we never got there at all. Somewhere between Ligonier and Goshen, at a little town called Wellsville, the poor Glow-worm must have been taken with awful pains in its insides, for it began to pant and gasp like a creature in misery, and utter little squeals of distress. There was nothing left to do but hunt up the one garage in town, which fortunately had a repair shop in connection with it, and get someone to look at the engine. I don't pretend to know anything about the machinery of the car, so I haven't the slightest idea what was the matter, but the man talked knowingly about magnetos and carburetors and said he could have the trouble fixed by eight o'clock in the evening. We were vexed that it should take so long, because we had expected to make South Bend early in the evening, but there was no help for it, so we repaired to the hotel next door—"hotel" by courtesy, for it was nothing more than a wayside inn—for supper.
It was raining a fine drizzle, and, as we did not care to walk around in it, after supper we sat in the stuffy parlor and tried to pass away the hours until the Glow-worm would be cured of its sickness and we could resume our journey. The carpet on the floor was a mixture of hideous red and pink roses on a green background. I can see that carpet yet. It was a Brussels, and Sahwah kept referring to it as one of the Belgian Atrocities. There was a larger room opening out of the parlor in which we sat, a sort of general reception and smoking-room combined. There was an old square piano out there and some young man was banging ragtime on it, while half a dozen others leaned over it and roared out songs in several different keys at once. All around the room sat men, smoking until the air was blue, and talking in loud voices, or shouting snatches of the songs. They seemed a rather noisy lot and from the scraps of conversation we heard we judged that they had come from somewhere to attend the September horse races which were being held in the neighborhood. At any rate, the hotel was swarming with them and we were glad that we were to get out of there by eight o'clock and did not have to stay all night. Once one of them walked into the parlor where we sat and said "Good evenin', ladies," in an impertinent sort of way, but we all froze him up with a glance and he went out without saying anything more to us. We saw him cross the other room toward a door at the farther side, and, as he crossed the floor we saw someone else get up from a chair in the corner of the room and go out after him. The second man was right under a light and we recognized the Frog, still with his goggles and cap on. Soon there came a loud uproar from the invisible room and unmistakable sounds of scuffling. We waited to hear no more. If there was going to be a quarrel in that hotel we did not wish to see any of it. We ran out in the rain and went into the garage where the man was working on the Glow-worm. The quarrel we had fled from didn't amount to anything after all, I suppose, for in a few minutes we heard the men back at their singing.
It was now nearly eight o'clock and we looked anxiously from time to time at the Glow-worm to see if it was nearly finished, but some of the parts were scattered out on the floor and the man was wrenching away at what was left in the car and did not seem to be in any hurry to put the others back. At eight o'clock it was not done and Nyoda asked him how soon it would be.
"Not before nine or nine-thirty, Miss," replied the man.
The rain had stopped and we walked up and down the main street for the next two hours, stopping in at the garage every time we passed, in the vain hope that the work was finished and we could go on. But it was not to be so. It was half past ten before it was finally ready and that was too late to start. We realized that we would have to stay in that inn all night, much as we were disinclined to do so. The racket was still in full blast when we returned and were shown to rooms. We had to go up on the third floor because the other rooms were all taken by the racketers. The ceiling sloped down on our heads and the windows were small and the furniture was exceedingly cheap, but it was a place to stay and that was the main thing.
"There's only one quilt on my bed," said Nakwisi rather disdainfully, "and I don't believe that has more than an eighth of an inch of batting in it."
"I think an eighth of an inch is a pretty good batting average for a hotel quilt," giggled Sahwah, whose spirits nothing can dampen.
We made up our minds to get up at six o'clock and get a good early start the next morning. As things turned out we got a much earlier start than we had anticipated. Margery didn't like the room at all and cried while she was undressing, and Nyoda had to pet her and make a fuss over her before she would lie down in the bed. I couldn't help wondering just what Nyoda would have done to one of us if we had cried about that hotel room. But then Margery isn't a Winnebago, and that makes a lot of difference.
We went to sleep with the banging of the piano and the sound of the songs floating up from downstairs, and each of us puzzling about the appearance of the Frog and wondering why he hadn't approached us in the parlor if he were really trying to make our acquaintance. Possibly he meant to, later, only we upset his plan by going out when we did, I reflected. It really had been rather an eventful day, I thought, even if we hadn't made much progress with our trip. Think of spending a whole day in going a distance that should have consumed at the most only a few hours! We really must get an early start to-morrow and make Chicago in good time, or be laughed at for running a lame duck race, I thought as I dropped off to sleep.
I woke up with the strangest feeling I have ever had in my life. I remember dreaming that we had left the door open, and all the tobacco smoke from below had floated up into the room and was choking me. When I first awoke I thought that the racketers were still at it below, for from somewhere there came a horrible din. There was the sound of many voices shouting unintelligible things, when suddenly above the roar one voice shrieked out "Fire!" Then I knew. The room was filled with smoke, dense and choking.
"Wake up!" I shouted, shaking Sahwah, who was sleeping with me. I dragged her out of bed and we two ran into the other room where Nyoda and Nakwisi and Margery were sleeping. The smoke was still thicker there and I believe they must have been nearly suffocated. We had hard work rousing them. Above the shouts of the people in the street below we could hear an ominous crackling that increased every minute. At first I was so frightened I could hardly move. It was the first time I had ever been in a burning building. The time the tepee burned we were out of it in one jump, before we had realized what had happened. I shudder yet, when I hear crackling wood.
Nyoda's voice roused me to action. She had regained her wits and was cool-headed as usual. Margery clung to her and screamed and she shook her and told her to be quiet.
"Carry out your clothes if you can find them, girls," she said calmly, "but don't wait to put anything on."
We groped through the smoke and found our clothes on the chair beside the bed, and gathering them up went out into the hall. The hotel was old-fashioned, with a long, narrow wooden hallway running the entire length of the up-stairs, crossed in places by other halls. Somewhere along that hall was the stairway; we had a dim remembrance of the direction from which we had come up the night before. We had to grope our way along by keeping our hands on the wall, for the smoke was so thick that it was impossible to see a step before us. We reached the stairs at last. After one look we jumped back in alarm. The whole stairway was one mass of leaping flames. I have never seen such a dreadful sight. We groped our way back toward our rooms, which were at the front of the building, intending to lean out of the windows and shout for help from below. But we lost our way in the smoke and could not find the way back. There we were, caught like rats in a trap, with the flames beginning to come through the floor in places, and the smoke rolling around us in blinding, suffocating clouds. There was no escape, then. We were to perish in this hotel blaze. Would we ever be identified? How soon would they know at home? All these things flashed through my mind as we stood there in the midst of that awful nightmare.
Suddenly something appeared out of the smoke close beside us, something white and ghostlike. Then a voice spoke. "Follow me, girls," it said, and we knew that the ghost was a man with a towel tied over his face. "All of you get in line behind your mother," said the voice thickly, "and each one hold onto the one in front of you. Don't let go, or you'll be lost and I can't watch you."
We didn't even smile at his thinking Nyoda was our mother. With the military precision we have learned from long practice of doing things together, we formed in a goose line behind Nyoda, each one gripping tightly the hand of the one ahead of her, and thus we began to move forward. After what seemed a hundred years, but could not have been more than five minutes, we felt a gust of fresh air blowing on us, and knew that we were standing beside an open window.
"This window looks out on the roof of the second story at the back of the building," said the voice, "and it's an easy drop to the roof."
We had to take his word for it, for the smoke obscured everything so that we did not know whether we were going to drop three feet or thirty. The air coming in the window blew the smoke away from our faces for a moment and we got a breath, or otherwise I am afraid we would have strangled on the verge of being rescued. Without a moment's hesitation the hands that belonged to the towel and the voice seized Nyoda and swung her out of the window as if she had been a feather, and in a moment her "All right" told that she had landed safely on the roof. One by one he took us in the same manner. We were still in a dangerous position, for there was fire under us, although the worst blaze was at the front of the building, and as far as we could see there were no ladders anywhere around waiting to take us down.
"Confound these one-horse country towns, anyway", we heard the voice mutter, "that can't support a decent Fire Department.
"Here," he shouted to the gaping crowd below who were watching the few that were trying to fight the flames with garden hoses, "bring blankets, hurry!"
It was rather a thrilling moment when we stood on that burning building waiting for the blankets to come into which we were to jump. Now that I look back at it I think we must have been a funny sight, for while we stood there we threw on our jackets over our night-dresses and held the rest of our belongings in our hands. With all the rest of her impedimenta Nyoda had rescued her camera, Nakwisi her spy-glass and I my note-book, and they gave us an odd, jaunty tourist appearance which must have been amusing. Well, the people came running with blankets and held them for us to jump and we jumped, although we had to throw Margery down. She stood there trembling, afraid to jump and there was no time to argue the necessity of prompt action. We gathered up our possessions from the people to whom we had tossed them and hastened into a near-by house where we got ourselves dressed.
Our rescuer had jumped right after us, and by the time we had picked ourselves up and got our breath back enough to thank him he had vanished from the scene. He must have been the proprietor, we judged, for he knew the inside of the hotel so well. Possibly he went back to rescue some more of his patrons.
After we were dressed we returned to the scene of the fire, which had drawn people from all the country around, in the usual half-dressed state in which people go to midnight fires. Of course, there was no hope of saving the building, for the few thin streams of water that were playing on it went up in steam as soon as they touched the blaze. The walls fell in with terrifying crashes and the roof caved in like a pasteboard box. It had been nothing but a dry shell of a building and burned like tinder.
"It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good," said Sahwah, giggling nervously, "that piano is a hopeless ruin and the people around here won't have to listen to it any more. And even if they do rebuild the hotel they can never get another piano like it, for there aren't two such tin pans in existence."
After the rain had stopped that night a fog had settled down and the glare of the flames through the mist made a weird lurid scene that I shall never forget. All this time the wind had been from the east, which drove the flames toward an open square where they could set nothing else afire, but suddenly it veered to the west, and showers of burning brands began to fall on the roof of the garage where the Glow- worm was standing. The scanty water force was then turned to save this building and we had several anxious moments until the wind shifted again.
"How foolish I was not to have taken the car out immediately," said Nyoda. Other people were hurrying to the spot to rescue their cars and we also went over. The interior of the place had not been damaged by the small blazes which had been kindled on the roof, though I tremble to think what might have happened if the gasoline stored inside had exploded. Thankful that fortune had favored us so far in this night of accident, we took our way among the other cars in the place to where the Glow-worm had stood. Then we rubbed our eyes and looked at each other. For where the Glow-worm had been when we left the place the night before there was an empty space. A hasty search through the place, which was not very large, revealed that the car was gone. Frantically we rushed after the proprietor, who was standing in the doorway watching the grand spectacle next door. He knew nothing about the matter. The car had been there when he closed up that night, but as soon as the fire broke out people had been coming for their cars and the place had been open. He was much excited over it and declared that such a thing had never happened before as long as he had been in business, but then, he added, neither had the hotel ever burned down before.
To say that we were dismayed was putting it mildly. To have your own car stolen is bad enough, but when it is a car belonging to someone else who has kindly loaned it to you to take a pleasure trip in, it is ten times worse. Nyoda had promised to bring the car back in safety and she was almost beside herself at the thought of its being stolen. None of us ever felt like facing Mr. Evans again. We reproached ourselves a thousand times that we had not gone for the Glow-worm immediately upon getting out of the burning building, without waiting to dress or stand around and watch the walls fall. We searched vainly through the line of motors moving up and down the street for the familiar black body and yellow lamps of the Glow-worm.
Discouraged and heartsick over this new calamity, we retired to the park-like square on the other side of the hotel to talk things over and lay out our course of action. Through the trees in the square we could see something moving along the road, and, by a sudden glare from the fire we made out the Glow-worm, proceeding slowly and silently in the opposite direction, and the man at the wheel was the Frog! We all darted after him, shouting "Stop thief!" at the top of our voices. The Frog turned around in the seat, saw us streaming across the square, and evidently decided that the chase was too hot, for he jammed on the brakes and jumped from the car, leaving the motor still running. He ran into a clump of shrubbery and disappeared from sight.
We were too glad to get the car back to hunt for the thief and bring him to justice. In our relief from the dismay of the moment before we were ready to hug the old Glow-worm.
"Girls," said Nyoda, "what do you say to starting out for South Bend this very minute? I don't believe any of us could sleep any more to- night even if we had a place to do it, which is extremely doubtful. It's positive folly to leave this car standing around here any longer. That garage man is too much interested in the fire to take care of his business. We have no belongings to go back after, for everything we left in the hotel is lost."
We were thankful then that we had carried so little hand luggage, for beyond a few toilet articles which could easily be replaced at the next town we had lost nothing. The trunk with our extra clothes was carried on the car. We agreed to Nyoda's proposal eagerly. Sleep for the rest of the night was out of the question and we might as well be driving as not. It would be a good way to get an appetite for breakfast, we all agreed.
"Jump in, girls," said Nyoda, taking her place behind the wheel. "You sit up here with me, Margery."
Then we had the second shock of the evening. Margery was nowhere to be seen! We were all sure that she had been there just a moment ago, clinging to Sahwah's arm and squealing, although we could not remember whether she had been with us when we ran across the park after the Glow-worm or not.
"She has gotten separated from us in the crowd," said Nyoda. "You girls run and find her while I stay here and watch the car."
We hunted everywhere, high and low, asking everybody we met, but there was no trace of her. Finally, we ran into the garage man and thought it only fair to tell him that we had found the car. He was much overjoyed at the fact and listened sympathetically when we told him we had lost Margery.
"Did she have on a tan suit like yours?" he asked.
"Yes," we answered eagerly, "have you seen her?"
"I saw a girl in a tan suit driving away just a minute ago with a man in a red roadster," he answered.
"What did the man look like?" we asked.
"I can't tell you much about his looks," replied the garage man. "He wore great big green goggles that covered up half of his face. Looked just like a frog."
We looked at each other in dismay. The Frog had run off with Margery! We ran in haste to tell the news to Nyoda.
"It's queer," she said. "He must be one of her relations after all, though I surely thought he had begun to follow us from Toledo. But it might have been only a coincidence that he was behind us then, for after all he never said anything to us."
"But why did he take our car first, if it was Margery he was after all the while?" I asked.
"So we couldn't follow him," said Sahwah, with startling clear- sightedness.
Nyoda, who doesn't believe in premonitions, had one then. "I don't believe he's a relative of hers at all," she said, flatly. "I have a feeling in my bones that he isn't. I also have a feeling that something has happened to Margery which it is our business to investigate."
In less time than it takes to tell about it we had inquired the direction taken by the driver of the red roadster and had started in pursuit. The fog was closing in on us thicker than ever and the Glow- worm's eyes shone dimly through the white curtain. We could not go ahead at full speed because we had to proceed slowly and carefully. The fact that the road was exceptionally good along here was the only thing that kept us from accident, I suppose. If we had struck some of the holes that we did a distance back—
We were divided between joy over the fact that the Frog couldn't go any faster than we were going in that fog and so couldn't use his powerful car to his advantage, and the fear that he would slip off into some side road without our noticing it and so escape us. The fog naturally muffled all sounds, but we recognized at last the steady throbbing of a motor ahead of us on the road and knew that we were on the trail of the fugitives. We didn't know whether the Frog knew we were after him or not, but it seemed to us that the throbs began to grow fainter after a time as if the car were getting farther away. Finally, they stopped altogether and we began to realize that after all we had not much chance to catch up with that powerful car.
"They're leaving us behind," said Sahwah, in a disappointed tone
The next instant we crashed full into a car that was standing still in the road and which loomed out of the fog with the suddenness of an apparition. Nyoda had jammed on the emergency brake a half minute before we struck or there would have been a worse smash. As it was the Glow-worm was shaken from end to end and I can imagine what the stalled car felt like.
We experienced all the thrills of the heroines in the moving picture plays when we ran into that car and expected to see the grotesque face of the Frog in the light of our lamps, with the terrified Margery near- by. The next minute showed us our mistake. The man who was standing beside his car in the road, when we had torpedoed it from the rear was not the Frog. It was a man we had never seen before. He was all alone. The automobile was not the red roadster, but a limousine.
We all sprang out to see what damage had been done the Glow-worm. We were relieved to find it not so terrible after all. Nyoda had given the steering-wheel a sharp twist the instant she saw she was going to strike something, and the car glanced to one side, so that it was the right front wheel and fender that actually struck. The limousine was in worse shape. Our wheel had jammed into its rear wheel and torn it off, while the side of the Glow-worm had scraped across the hack of the bigger car, splintering the wood in places. Every window in the limousine had been broken by the shock.
The driver of the battered car stood and looked gloomily at the havoc we had wrought.
"Can't you look where you're going?" he burst out angrily.
"You didn't have your tail lamp lit," replied Nyoda calmly, "and we couldn't see you in the fog. I tried to turn out but it was too late."
"It's true," said the man, pacifically. "It's my fault, or rather the fault of the car. I couldn't make the lights burn. That's why I was standing here. I was afraid to go ahead in the fog."
Then I suppose he was afraid that we could bring suit against him for the damage done to the Glow-worm because he was standing in the road without any lights, for he left the limousine and came and looked carefully at what had happened to us. He was much relieved when he saw it was no worse. The front wheel wobbled tipsily and the fender was torn off, but these it appeared were not mortal wounds. His eye went back from our car to his.
"It's a good thing no one was riding in the back," he said thoughtfully, looking at the shattered windows. At that very moment a wail rose from somewhere, coming apparently from the inside of the limousine. Startled, he leaped over and pulled the door open. He turned a pocket flash into the car and we could all see that there was somebody lying on the floor half under the seat. It was a girl in a tan suit. When the light was flashed into her face she looked up and saw us. Then she sat up. It was Margery.
"Margery!" exclaimed Nyoda. "What are you doing here?"
Margery got out of the tipping car and ran to Nyoda and hung on her arm. She was trembling so she could hardly stand. She looked from one to the other of us with big frightened eyes. The owner of the limousine regarded her in wide-eyed astonishment.
"How did you get into that car?" asked Nyoda, gently.
"I hid in it," said Margery. "In the garage. And he," she pointed to the man, "drove away and I was afraid to come out."
"What made you hide in the car?" asked Nyoda.
Margery gave a quick glance around. "I saw my uncle," she said in a half whisper. "He was looking at the fire. He didn't see me. I ran away and hid in the garage and when people began coming for their cars I was afraid they would find me and I got into this one. Pretty soon my uncle came into the garage. I was down on the floor of the limousine and he didn't see me. Just then the driver got up in front and began to take the car out, but I didn't dare open the door and come out. He drove away with me and I didn't know what to do, so I stayed in. Then the car stopped on the road and I was going to get out and run away when the other car came up behind and ran into us. I was afraid it was my uncle and didn't even come out when the car nearly fell over. But I was frightened and cried and you heard me and opened the door."
"Tell me," said Nyoda, "was your uncle the man with the goggles?"
"No," answered Margery, "he wasn't. My uncle is a little, thin man with gray hair."
"It's a mercy you weren't hurt," said Nyoda, thinking with a shudder of the blow we had dealt the limousine. "You did get cut," she cried, turning the flashlight full on her face. The blood was running down her cheek from a cut in her forehead and her arm was also bleeding. We tied her up with strips of handkerchiefs and set her on the back seat of the Glow-worm.
The owner of the limousine decided to leave it there and come for it in the morning, and, as our engine was not hurt we thought best to drive on. The man offered to pay for having our wheel fixed and the fender put on again and seemed dreadfully afraid we were going to sue him. He gave us his name and address and told us to send the bill to him. He lived in the neighborhood and could find his way home on foot.
After he had disappeared in the fog and the Glow-worm was once more proceeding on her journey, we suddenly realized that we did not know where we were nor in which direction we were going. We were not on the road to Chicago, we knew, because the road we had followed out of Wellsville in pursuit of the Frog had gone off at right angles to that road. At the time we had thought only of finding out what had become of Margery and had followed him blindly. The fog was getting thicker instead of thinner and it was impossible to see anything like a sign post. A sharp east wind was blowing that chilled us to the bone. It was rather a dismal situation we found ourselves in. Of all kinds of bad weather I hate fog the worst. It makes me feel as if I had lost my last friend. Nyoda hadn't any idea where she was going, but she kept the car moving slowly, hoping that we would come to a town pretty soon. We sounded the horn constantly to warn any other vehicles on the road and Nakwisi offered to sit in front and keep a lookout with her telescope.
"Telescope!" said Sahwah, scornfully. "What you want is a collide-o- scope!" Whereupon we all pinched her for making a pun and went on shivering.
Just when we got off the road I don't know, but gradually we became aware that it was not hard earth we were riding over but something that swished under the wheels like long grass.
"We're in a field!" cried Sahwah.
Nyoda turned the car around and we went a few yards, expecting to get back into the road every minute. Then suddenly the car began to go down hill very rapidly, and at the bottom there was a grand splash, and we found ourselves up to the wheel hubs in water. We had run into a stream of some kind. The bottom was soft mud and to keep from sinking we had to go on across. Luckily it was shallow and not very wide and the water did not come inside the car. Margery screamed all the way across and we had a rather breathless few minutes, until we came out on the farther bank. Once on dry land again Nyoda stopped the car and flatly refused to drive another inch. We were off the road, we had no idea where we were, and there was too much danger of running into things in the fog. None of us dared to think what might have happened if that river had been deep.