THE MOTOR GIRLS
by Margaret Penrose
CORA AND HER CAR
"Now you've got it, what are you going to do with it?" asked Jack Kimball, with a most significant smile at his sister Cora.
"Do with it?" repeated the girl, looking at her questioner in surprise; then she added, with a fine attempt at sarcasm: "Why, I'm going to have Jim break it up for kindling wood. It will make such a lovely blaze on the library hearth. I have always loved blazing autos."
"Now, sis," objected the tall, handsome boy, as he swung his arm about the almost equally tall, and even handsomer girl, "don't get mad."
"Oh, I'm not in the least angry."
"Um! Maybe not. Put I honestly thought—well, maybe you would like some of the boys to give you a lesson or two in driving the new car. There's Wally, you know. Ahem! I thought perhaps Wally—"
"Walter can run a machine—I'm perfectly willing to grant you that, Jack. But this is my machine, and I intend to run it."
The girl stepped over to a window and looked out. There, on the driveway, stood a new automobile. Four-cylindered, sliding-gear transmission, three speeds forward and reverse, long-wheel base, new ignition system, and all sorts of other things mentioned in the catalogue. Besides, it was a beautiful maroon color, and the leather cushions matched. Cora looked at it with admiration in her eyes.
An hour, before, Jack Kimball and his chum Walter Pennington, had brought the car from the garage to the house, following Mrs. Kimball's implicit instructions that the new machine should not be driven an unnecessary block between the sales-rooms and the Kimball home.
"The car must come to Cora on the eve of her birthday," Jack's mother had stipulated to him, "and I want it to come to her brand new, with the tires nice and white. Hers must be the first ride in it."
So it was, after "digesting her surprise," as she expressed it, and spending the intervening hour in admiring the beautiful machine, climbing in and out of it, testing the levers, turning the steering wheel, and seeing Jack start the engine, that Cora was able to leave it and enter the house.
"It's—it's just perfect;" she said, with a longing look back at the car.
"Yes, and isn't it a shame mother won't let you go out in it to-night?" spoke Jack as he joined his sister at the window. "If they had only unpacked it a little earlier—it's too bad not to have a run in it while it's fresh. But," he concluded with a sigh, "I suppose I'll have to push it back in the shed."
"Yes," assented Cora, also sighing. "But mother must be humored, and if she insists that I shall not take a trial spin after dark, I'll simply have to wait until daylight. Jack, you're a dear! I know perfectly well that you influenced mother to give me this," and Cora brushed her flushed a cheek against Jack's bronzed face.
"Well, I know a little sister when I see one," replied the lad; "and though she may want to drive a motor-car, she's all right, for all that," and Jack rather awkwardly slipped his arm around his sister's waist again, for she did seem a "little sister" to him, even if she was considered quite a young lady by others.
"Girls coming up to-night?" asked Jack after a pause, during which they both had been silently admiring the car and its graceful lines.
"I don't know," replied Cora. "They haven't heard about my new auto, or they'd be sure to come."
"Let's run over and tell them," proposed Jack.
Cora thought for a moment. She had plans for the evening, but they did not include Jack.
She said finally: "I have to write a few letters—acknowledging some birthday gifts. Don't wait for me if you intend to go over to Walter's. You might call at the Robinsons', however, to fetch me; say at half-past nine."
"Oh, then I'm not to see Bess or Belle—or—well, there are plenty of other girls just as keen on ice cream sodas as those mentioned," and he pretended to leave the room, as if his feelings had been hurt.
"Now; you know, Jack, I always want you with me, but—"
"But just to-night you don't. All right, little sister. After me running that machine up from the garage for you, and not even scraping the tires; after me—even kissing you! Fie! fie! little girl. Some day you may want another machine—or a kiss—"
"Children, children," called Mrs. Kimball, "are you coming to dinner? And are you going to put that machine in the shed before dark, Jack?"
"Both—both, mum! We were just discussing a discussion about the—the machine, girls and ice cream sodas."
"What nonsense!" exclaimed his mother with a laugh. "Come to dinner, do. But, Jack, run the machine in first, please."
The car was put under a shed attached to the barn, Cora looking enviously at Jack as he manipulated the levers and wheels, she sitting on the seat beside him, on the short run up the driveway. She would not venture to operate it herself in such cramped quarters.
"There!" exclaimed Cora as Jack locked the shed door. "I hope nobody steals it to-night. Did you take out the plug, Jack?"
"Here you are," and he handed her the brass affair that formed the connection for the ignition system, and without which the car could not be run. "Put it under your pillow, sis," he added. "Maybe you'll have a gasolene dream."
They went into the house, where dinner was waiting for them. The meal was a simple one, although the means of the little family were ample for a most elaborate affair. But Mrs. Kimball preferred the elegance of simplicity.
Mrs. Grace Kimball was a wealthy widow, a member of one of the oldest and best known families in Chelton, which was a New England town, not far from the New York boundary. Her husband had been Joseph Kimball, a man of simple tastes and sterling principles. When he had to leave her, with the two children, he said as he was passing away:
"Grace, I know you will bring them up rightly—plainly and honestly."
Plain in character, upright and fair, the two children had grown, but, in personality, nothing could make either Jack or Cora Kimball "plain." They were just simply splendid.
"Then I can't take out the machine to-night, mother dear?" asked Cora after dinner.
"Not to-night, daughter. I know you can run a car, but this is a new one, and I would feel better to have you give it a test run in daylight. You must get the man at the garage to show you all about it. Do you like it very much, Cora?"
"Like it! Oh, mother, I perfectly love it! I can scarcely believe it is all mine—that Jack has no mortgage on it and that it's my very own."
"I don't know about that," put in Jack. "A fine car like that is rather a dangerous thing for a handsome young lady of seventeen summers, and some incidental winters, to go sporting about in. Some one else may get a mortgage on it, and want to foreclose."
"Now, I don't tease you, Jack," objected his, sister, "and a girl has just as much right to tease a boy as a boy has to tease a girl."
"Goodness me! You don't call that teasing, do you? The girls have all the rights now. But help yourself! I'm not particular. Did you say I was to call at the Robinsons' at nine?"
"Oh, exactly. Well, I'll try to be there. You might make it a point not to be waiting on the drive for me. A fellow wants to get a look at a girl like Bess once in a while—just for practice, you know."
"Oh, Cora! What's the matter?"
"All right. Then I'm going off and read a horrible tale about pirates, and walking the plank, and all that. I'll be on hand at the time and place mentioned. Hoping this will find you well, remain, yours very truly, Jack." And he hurried out of the room amid the laughter of his mother and sister.
"What a boy!" exclaimed Mrs. Kimball.
It was a pleasant, summer evening, and when Cora hurried down the avenue toward the Robinson home, she actually seemed to have wings. For she was not running, and her pace could hardly be called walking.
Her tall, straight figure was clad in a simple linen gown. She had need to disregard frills now, for she was a motor girl.
"Oh, come on, and don't ask a single question!" she exclaimed as the Robinson twins—Bess and Belle—hastened to meet her in response to her ring. "Come on! We must go over to the garage, quick! I've got a new machine, and I've got to learn all about it."
She had to pause for breath, and Belle managed to say
"Cora! A new machine! All for yourself! Oh, you dear! Who gave it to you?"
"Why Jack found it," Cora laughed. "It was running along the street, you know, and he lassoed it. It was going like mad, but he whirled the lash of his riding-whip about it and—and—"
"Now, Cora, dear!" and Belle dropped her voice to one of aggrieved tones. "You know what I meant."
"Of course I do, girly; but hurry—do! I want the man at the garage to teach me all about my new machine. I call it the Whirlwind.' You know it's different from Jack's small runabout, and there are several new points to be posted on. I want to be all ready, so that when we go out to-morrow morning we can surprise the boys."
"Oh, how perfectly lovely!" exclaimed Bess.
Delighted and excited, the three girls hurried over the railroad hill, on a short cut to the garage.
"Do you think he'll show you?" asked Bess. "He might want you to hire a chauffeur."
"Well, we'll see," responded Cora. "If we can manage to find a nice, agreeable, elderly gentleman—the story-book kind of machinist, you know. I fancy he will be sufficiently interested— ahem! well, you know—" and she finished with a little laugh; in which her chums joined.
They had reached the small door of the office of the garage. A notice on the glass directed them to "Push."
Cora put both hands to the portal, and it swung back. She almost stumbled into the room.
"We would like to see some one who will teach us how to run an auto," she began. "I know something of one, but I have a new kind."
The three girls drew back.
"A nice, agreeable, elderly gentleman!" whispered Belle to Cora.
Cora could not repress a smile.
Instead of the "story-book machinist," a handsome young lad stood before them, smiling at their discomfiture.
"What is it?" he asked in a pleasant voice, and Cora noticed how white and even his teeth were.
"We—er—I—that is, we—I want to learn some points about my new car," she stammered. "It's a—"
"I understand," replied the handsome chap. "I will be very glad to show you. Just step this way, please," and, with a little bow, he motioned to them to follow him into the semi-dark machine shop back of the office.
THE DASH OF THE WHIRLWIND
When Jack Kimball called at the Robinson home that same evening, at precisely nine-thirty, he found three very much agitated young ladies. Bess, or, to be more exact, Elizabeth Robinson, the brown-haired, "plump" girl—she who was known as the "big" Robinson girl—was positively out of breath, while her twin sister, Isabel, usually called Belle, too slim to puff and too thin to "fluster," was fanning herself with a very dainty lace handkerchief.
Cora paced up and down the piazza, in the true athletic way of cooling off.
"Why the wherefore?" asked Jack, surprised at the excitement so plainly shown, in spite of the girls' attempts to hide it.
"Oh, just a race," replied Cora indifferently.
"Out in the dark?" 'persisted Jack.
"Only across the hill," went on Cora, while Bess giggled threateningly.
"Seems to me you took a queer time to race," remarked the lad with a sly wink at Isabel. "Who won out?"
"Oh, Cora, of course," answered Isabel. "She won—in and out."
"Oh, I don't know," spoke Jack's sister. "You didn't do half badly, Belle."
"Oh, I was laughing so I couldn't run."
"Cora said you were coming for her," put in Bess with a smile.
Jack seemed disappointed that the subject was mentioned.
"Yes," he said. "She was very particular to specify the time. It's nine-thirty now, but I'm in no hurry," and he looked about for a chair.
"But I am," insisted Cora.
"Well, then," added Jack a bit stiffly, "if you're ready, suppose we run along. Or, have you had enough running for this evening?"
"Plenty. But I really must go, girls. Be sure and be ready in the morning for—well, you know what," and she finished with a laugh. "We want the Chelton folks—"
"To sit up and take notice, I suppose," put in Jack quickly. "Pardon the slang, ladies, but sometimes slang seems to fit where nothing else will."
The twins managed to whisper a word or two into Cora's ear as she said good-night and left with her brother.
They had had such a splendid time at the garage. It was the run back home, over the railroad embankment, that had caused all their flurry and excitement. And, though they had not left the auto salesrooms until five minutes before the time Cora had appointed for her brother to meet her, they had actually managed to reach home before Jack called, so that he could have no suspicion of their visit to the garage.
Paul Hastings, the young man whom they had encountered on their visit to the automobile place, had proved a most interesting youth—he appeared to know many things besides the good and bad points of the average car.
Mr. and Mrs. Perry Robinson, parents of the Robinson twins, happened to be out that evening, so that, even to them, the visit to the garage was a profound secret, and there was no need of making any explanations.
That night, in her sleep, Elizabeth was heard to mutter "The clutch! Throw in the clutch!"
And Isabel actually answered, also in dream language:
"Jam down the brake!"
But Cora, across the fields, in her own cool, out-of-doors sleeping apartment, built on a broad porch, did not dream. She just slumbered.
It was a delightful morning in early June, and the air seemed sprinkled with scented dew, when Cora Kimball drove up to the Robinson home in her new automobile.
"Come on! Come on!" she called as she stopped at the curb and, tooted the horn. "Hurry! I want to overtake Walter. He and Jack have just gone out!"
"Oh, of course, you want to overtake Walter," answered Isabel, with the emphasis on "Walter."
"Well, never mind about that, but do come," urged Cora. "What do you think of my car?" she asked as the girls hastened to her. "Isn't it a beauty?"
She handled the machine with considerable skill, for she had had some practice on Jack's car.
"Think of it!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "Why, it's simply beyond thoughts; it's—overwhelming!"
"A perfect dream," agreed Belle. "Aren't you the lucky girl, though!"
"Guess I am," admitted Cora. "See, I can start it without cranking"; and to prove it, when the engine was quiet, she threw forward the spark lever, shifted the gasolene one a trifle, and the motor began to throb and hum rapidly.
"Good!" cried Isabel.
"Paul told me about it," went on Cora. "The Paul, you know. He said when a charge of gas is in one of the cylinders all you have to do is to send a spark to the cylinder, and—"
"It didn't take you long to learn," complimented Bess, while Isabel said:
"Yes, he is," admitted Cora with a laugh. "The youth of the garage."
"Well, I don't remember a thing he said," confessed Elizabeth; "but Paul—who could forget Paul? Didn't he have nice teeth?"
"And so polite," added Belle.
"Wasn't he just splendid?" concluded Cora. "And such a number of things that he told me. But come on, get in," and she slowed down the motor somewhat, while, removing a pair of buckskin gloves from her long, tapering hands, she produced a small, dainty handkerchief and rubbed a spot of black grease from her aristocratic nose.
"Got that when I was oiling the rear wheels," she explained.
The twins entered the tonneau, neither of them caring to risk riding on the front seat just yet.
Cora speeded the motor up a bit, glanced behind to see that the tonneau door was securely fastened, and then pulled the speed lever and threw in the clutch. The car started forward as smoothly as if Paul himself were at the wheel.
Elizabeth's hand flew to her hat, which tilted backward in the wind. They had not yet secured their motor "togs," and regulation hats were so difficult to manage.
"Oh, isn't this glorious!" cried Isabel.
"Every one is looking at us," announced Elizabeth.
"Now I wonder which road Jack and Walter took?" said Cora as she swung the car around a curve in good style. "I heard Jack say he was going for some fishing-tackle."
"Perhaps they went to Arden," ventured Isabel.
"Maybe. Well, we'll take a nice little spin down the turnpike," decided Cora as she threw in the high gear, the cogs grinding on each other rather alarmingly.
"Gracious! What's that?" asked Elizabeth.
"Only the gears," replied Cora calmly. "I hope I didn't strip them, but I might have done that changing a little better. I wasn't quite quick enough."
The car was going rather fast now.
"Don't put on quite so much speed," begged Isabel. "I'm so—"
"Now please don't say you're nervous," interrupted Cora.
"But I am."
"Well, you needn't be. I know how to run the car."
"Of course, since Paul showed her," put in Elizabeth.
The speed was a trifle too fast for an inexperienced hand at the wheel, but Cora grasped the wooden circlet firmly, and with a keen look ahead prepared for the descent of a rather steep hill.
Coming up the grade were a number of autos, containing Chelton folks, who had been to the depot with early city commuters. Chelton was a great place for commuters and autos.
"Please don't put on any more speed, Cora," again begged Isabel, leaning over toward the front seat. "This is such a steep hill."
"All right, I won't," and Cora placed her foot more firmly on the brake pedal, while she was ready to grasp the emergency lever quickly, in case anything happened.
"Oh, there's Ida!" suddenly cried Elizabeth as a small runabout loomed up in front of them.
"And Sid Wilcox. I wonder what she finds interesting in that—that lazy chap?"
"A companion—that's all," replied her sister. "I think Ida is about as unenergetic a girl as I ever knew."
"Funny thing," said Cora, speaking loudly enough to be heard above the noise of the motor, "how she manages to keep going. She rides as often in Sid's car as if—well, as if she was his own sister."
"Oftener than most sisters," added Belle significantly.
"They have just left her friend, who was on from New City, at the depot," said Bess. "It's quite handy to have a chum with a motor-car—even if it does happen to be a chap like Sid."
"Well, I guess Ida's harmless, even if she is jealous," said Cora. "I do believe that's all that ails Ida—just plain jealousy."
"Maybe," assented Isabel.
They rode along for some time, coasting down the steeper parts of the hill, and running easily where there was a level stretch. They were now approaching the worst part of the descent. From this point there was quite a steep slant to the level highway, which the railroad crossed at grade, and approached on a curve.
There was a long-drawn, shrill whistle.
"What's that?" exclaimed Elizabeth.
"The train!" cried Isabel. "Oh, the train! Cora, the train is coming!"
"I hear it," spoke Cora calmly, but she pressed her foot down harder on the brake pedal, and tried to use the compression of the cylinders as a retarding force, as Paul had showed her.
"Can't you slow up?" pleaded Elizabeth. There was a note of alarm in her voice.
"I'm—I'm trying to!" almost shouted Cora, as she exerted more strength on the brake lever. "I've done all I know, now, but but we don't seem to be stopping!"
She spoke the last words in a curiously quiet voice.
"Put on the brakes!" called Bess.
"They are on!" said Cora fiercely.
"Oh, Cora!" screamed Isabel. "I see the train! There at the foot of the hill! We'll run into it! I'm going to jump! We can't stop!"
"Sit still!" commanded Cora energetically.
Elizabeth covered her face with her hands. She shrank back into her seat. Her sister leaned up against her. Below could be heard the puffing of the train. Then the engineer, seeing the auto rushing down to destruction, blew shrieking whistles, as if that could help.
Cora was frantically pulling on the brake lever. Her face was now white with fear, but even in the midst of this terror she felt a curious calmness. It was just as if she were looking at some picture of the scene. She thought she was miles and miles away. Her foot was pressed down so hard on the brake pedal that it felt as if her shoe would burst off.
But the car slid along, nearer and nearer the track, along which the train was thundering—rushing to meet the auto-to annihilate it.
"Stop! Stop!" screamed Isabel. "Stop!" She rose in her seat.
"Sit down!" commanded Cora.
"But stop!" pleaded Isabel. "We'll all be killed! Stop! Oh, Cora, stop!"
"I'm trying to!" was the grim reply. "But—I can't the brake—the brake is jammed!"
The last words came out jerkily, for Cora was pulling on the brake handle with all her force.
Nearer and nearer sounded the approaching train. The auto was sliding down the hill with ever-increasing speed, but Cora never let go her hold of the steering wheel.
Once more she tried to pull the brake lever. It would not come back another notch. The engineer of the train was blowing more frantic signals. He leaned from his cab window and motioned the auto back. He even seemed to be shouting to them.
Cora braced both feet against the brake pedal.
She took a firmer grasp of the wheel. The seams of her new gloves were starting from the strain. There was a desperate look on her face.
"Oh, we'll be killed! We'll be killed!" screamed Isabel. "We can't get across in time!"
She leaned over, and fell into her sister's arms, while Cora, with a keen glance to either side, stiffened in her seat. There was a bare chance of safety.
A SUDDEN ACQUAINTANCE
Despite the tense moment of anxiety, the almost certainty that the auto would crash into the train, Cora's quick eye had seen something that she hoped would enable her to avert the accident.
She knew that she could not stop the machine in time, by any means at her command. There was but one other thing to do. That was to steer to one side.
To the left there was a solid stone wall. To dash into that would mean almost as horrible an accident as if she collided with the train. To the right there was a field, but it was fenced in, and between it and the road was a little miry, brook.
In some places the brook widened almost into a pond. The bottom was treacherous, and to steer into it meant to sink down deeply into the mud. To run into the fence might mean that one of the rails would become entangled in the mechanism of the motor, tearing it all to pieces. Or one of the long pieces of wood might even impale the occupants of the car.
Cora's eyes swept down the length of the barrier with a flash.
There was just what she wanted! A gap in the fence!
She could go through that in safety. But suppose the machine was brought to too sudden a stop in the mud? They would all be thrown out and perhaps injured. But it was the only thing to do.
With a firm grasp of the wheel Cora sent the auto from the road.
Elizabeth screamed as she felt the swaying of the car. She had to hold her sister from being tossed but, for Isabel was incapable of taking care of herself.
Straight for the field rushed the car, the engineer of the train now tooting his whistle as if in gladness at the narrow escape.
The auto fairly dived into the brook, and gradually slackened speed. Right toward a clump of willow trees it surged, throwing a spray of water in advance. Then it became stationary in the middle of a spot where the brook widened into a pond.
Cora was dimly conscious of a figure on the opposite bank of the stream. A figure of a young man, with a fishing-pole in his hands. She saw a spray of water, cast up by the auto, drench him. She even heard him cry out, but at that moment she gave him not a thought.
Everything centered on her narrow escape, the condition of her two chums, and, last, but not least, whether her new auto had been damaged.
Cora leaned over the side and looked at the water flowing past the mud guards.
"Safe!" she exclaimed. "I—I thought we were doomed, girls. Didn't you?"
"Doomed?" echoed Elizabeth. "I never want to go through that experience again."
"Me either," added Cora fervently. "Has Belle fainted?"
"I'm afraid so."
Cora leaned over, scooped some water up in her hand, and dashed it into the white face of the girl. Isabel opened her eyes.
"Are we—are we—" she gasped.
"We're all right, you little goose," said Cora with a laugh, though her voice trembled and her hands shook. "I guess it wasn't nearly as dangerous as it looked."
"It was bad enough," spoke Elizabeth.
"Anyhow, the auto stopped," went on Cora. "Don't you see where we are? In the middle of Campbell's Pond. And we won't have to swim out, either. It's not very deep. But, Bess, you look like a sheet, and Belle, you seem like—"
"A pillow-case, with the pillow out," added Isabel with a wan smile. "I never was so glad to get a ducking in all my life."
"And I guess we're not the only ones who got a ducking," said Cora as she shook some drops from her hair.
"Why?" inquired Bess.
"Look!" and Cora pointed across the pond. A very much drenched figure was standing up. The man with the fishing-pole was wiping the water from his face. He looked at the girls in the auto.
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "I should think we did give him a ducking!"
"I'm awfully sorry, but—but we couldn't help it," said Cora, standing up and looking at the young man.
He approached closer, began wading out into the pond toward the auto. The water was not very deep, hardly up to his knees. Cora found herself wondering how he had managed to fish in it.
He was very good-looking, each of the girls was thinking to herself.
"Can't I help you?" he asked, smiling broadly, in spite of the mud and water splashed all over him. There was actually a little globule of mud on the end of his nose. He seemed as much amused over his own predicament as he was over that of the motor girls. "Do you need any help?" he went on.
"I'm sure I—er—that is, I hardly know," stammered Cora. She was not altogether certain about the state of the auto. "I'm afraid we've been very—very impolite—to splash water, and—er—mud all over you," she added.
"Not at all—not at all," he assured her. "I never saw a better—a better turn, so to speak. You are very plucky, if I may be permitted to say so. I—er—I almost said my prayers when I saw you racing down toward the train. Then I saw you turn in here. But what happened that you couldn't stop before?"
"The brake," replied Cora. "It refused to work. This is a new car—our first trip, in fact."
"Oh, I see," replied the young man. "Well, I know a little about cars. Perhaps I can run her out for you. Just let me try."
Cora shifted over to the other side, leaving the wheel free. The young fisherman cranked up, from a very insecure and muddy footing in the middle of the pond. There came a welcome "Chug! chug! chug!"
The auto was all right, after all.
The young man climbed in. The spot of mud was still on his nose, and Cora felt an insane desire to laugh. But she nobly restrained it. He took the wheel and threw in the low speed gear. There was a grinding sound, the Whirlwind seemed to shiver and shake, and then it began to move. A few seconds later, after running slowly through the pond, it ran up the soft bank, and, under the skilful touch of the stranger, came to a stop in a grassy meadow.
"There!" exclaimed the young man. "I guess you're all right now. But let me look at that brake. Perhaps I can fix it."
Then it occurred to Cora that she might attempt to introduce her friends and herself. The twins had not yet spoken a word to the fisherman.
The same thought "wave" must have surged into the stranger's brain, for he said:
"My name is Foster—Edward Foster," and he raised his wet cap. "I was just trying to kill time by fishing, but it was a cruelty to time. I don't believe a fish ever saw this pond."
"Mr. Foster, my name is—er—Kimball—Cora, Kimball," said the owner of the auto, imitating the young man's masculine style of introduction, "and these are my friends, the Misses Robinson."
The young man bowed twice, once for each of the twins. Mr. Foster had a most attractive manner—that was instantly decided by the three girls.
"I know your brother," he remarked to Cora. "Jack Kimball, of Exmouth College."
"Oh, yes, of course. I've heard Jack speak of you, I'm sure."
"Yes, he was on our team—"
"Oh, you are the great football player," interrupted Elizabeth. She made no secret of her admiration for "great football players."
"Not exactly great," answered Mr. Foster, "but I have played some. My interest in sports has rather kept me away from society. That accounts for me not being better acquainted in Chelton, or perhaps—"
"Hello there!" came a hail from the road.
"Jack and Walter!" exclaimed Cora, as at that moment another machine came along and drew up alongside the fence which separated the highway from the meadow. "Now, won't they laugh at us!"
"Well, I declare!" exclaimed the mud-bespattered young fellow. "If that isn't Jack! And Walter Pennington is with him!"
"What's up?" called Jack, leaping from the car and running across the meadow, after a quick climb over the fence.
"A great deal is up," said Cora.
"Well—Ed Foster! Where in the world did you come from?" Jack added as he saw the young man about to alight from Cora's car.
"From the ditch," was Ed's laughing answer, as he looked down at his splattered garments. "I just got but in time to—"
"Never mind—shake!" interrupted Jack, extending his hand. "When I was a youngster, and our big Newfoundland dog came out With the stick from the pond—"
"Now! now!" cautioned Ed. "I may be big, and I may have just crawled from the pond, but I deny the stick."
"I'm sure we would have been here forever if Mr. Foster hadn't—" began Cora.
"Been here first," interrupted Jack. "That's all very well, sis. But I told you so! A brand-new, spick-and-span car like this! And to run it into a muddy ditch!"
"Indeed!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "We were almost killed! Cora just saved our lives!"
"Mercy me!" cried Walter, who had left the car and joined Jack. "Now, Cora," he added mockingly, "when you start out to save lives, why don't you give a fellow the tip? There's nothing I do so love as to see lives saved—especially nice young ladies," and he made a low bow.
"Oh, you may laugh," said Cora somewhat indignantly, "but I don't want anything like it to happen again. The brake would not work, and—"
"The train was just in front of us, and we were running right in it," put in Isabel, her voice far from steady, and her face still very white.
At this point Ed insisted upon telling the whole story, and he described the plight of the motor girls so graphically that both Jack and Walter were compelled to admit that Cora did indeed know how to drive a car in an emergency, and that she had acted most wisely.
"Good for you, sis!" exclaimed Jack, when the story Was finished. "I could not have done better myself."
"Such praise is praise indeed," spoke Ed with a laugh.
He went around back to look at the brake, and found what had caused the trouble. A loose nut had fallen between the brake band and the wheel hub, and prevented the band from tightening. The trouble was soon remedied, and the brake put in working order.
"There—you are all ready for the road now," remarked Ed.
"Thank you—very much," said Cora quietly, but there was a world of meaning in her tones.
Ed looked into her eyes rather longer than perhaps was necessary.
"Come on; get in with us, Ed," invited Jack. "Haven't seen you in an age. Let's hear about the Detroit team."
"Oh, I'm—I'm too dirty to get in the car, I'm afraid," objected Ed, with a glance at the mud spots that were now turning to light-gray polka-dots on his clothes, in the strong sunlight.
"Nonsense!" cried Jack heartily. "Come along. Walter will drive for Cora, in case she is nervous. It needs a strong wrist in this soft ground."
"Oh, yes! Do please steer for us," begged the still trembling Isabel. "I'd feel so much safer—"
"Well, I like that!" cried Corm with a light laugh. "Is that the way you treat me, after having saved your life?"
"But it was you-who—who almost ran us into the train, Cora," answered Isabel, giving her friend a little pinch on her now rosy cheek. "So you see it was your duty to save us."
"Well, I did it," replied Cora, glad that she had come out of the affair with such flying colors.
Walter took Ed's place at the steering wheel of the Whirlwind, and the fisherman seated himself beside Jack. Then Walter ran Cora's car out of the mire of the meadow and into the road, the three girls remaining in the machine.
"I suppose if the young ladies hadn't run you down we wouldn't have seen you the entire summer," said Jack to Ed as he ran the smaller machine along behind the touring car.
"Oh, indeed you would," answered Ed. "I really intended looking you up in a day or two. You see, I have been very busy. What are you laughing at? Because I said I was busy? Well, I guess I have the busiest kind of business on hand. Say, let me whisper," and he leaned over confidentially, though there was no need for it, as the other auto was some distance ahead. "I'm going into finance."
"Yes. Stocks—bonds—and so on, you know. Bank stocks. Think of that, Jack, my boy!"
"Good for you! Three cheers for the bank stock!" exclaimed Jack in a half whisper. "In the new bank, I suppose?"
"The correct supposition," answered Ed. "I have been invited to subscribe for some of the new issue of stock, and I've decided to. I'm going over to get it in a day or two. I'm to pay partly in cash, and turn over to them some of my bonds and other negotiable securities that I inherited from father, who was a banker, you know. I think I am making a good investment."
"Not a bit of doubt about it," said Jack. "I wish I had the chance."
"I hear that Sid Wilcox wanted to get some of the stock, Jack," went on Ed. "He comes of age soon, and he will have some cash to invest. But, somehow, there's a prejudice against Sid. He has not been asked to take stock, though the directors rectors know he has money."
"Well, I guess the trouble is he can't be depended on. He'd be peddling the stock all over the State, or putting it up for doubtful transactions, and I guess the directors wouldn't like that. He's a reckless sort. I shouldn't mind his fits of crankiness, if he would only leave girls out. But when he goes in for some kind of mischief harmless in itself, he invariably brings some girl into it, and she has to suffer in the scrape with him. It's not right of Sid. But—speaking of angels—there he is now."
Jack's runabout, called the Get There, had been climbing the hill back of the Whirlwind, and both machines were now on a level stretch of road and approaching Fisher's store—an "emporium," as the sign called it, and a place where one could get anything from a watch to a shoestring, if old Jared Fisher only knew that it was wanted before he went to town.
It so happened, however, by some strange intervention of providence, that he never did know in time. But, at any rate, you could always get soda water—the kind that comes in the "push-in-the-cork bottles," and that was something.
As the two autos drew up, the occupants beheld, standing on the steps of the store, Sidney Wilcox and Ida Giles. Jack halted his car behind the Whirlwind.
"Hello there!" called out Ed. "Seems to me I'm bound to meet all my friends to-day. How are you, Sid?"
Ed leaped from Jack's car and up the steps to greet Sid.
"Oh, I'm so-so," was the rather drawling answer. "But what's the matter with you? Been clamming?"
"Not exactly," replied Ed, glancing down at the mud spots; "but I caught something, just the same."
"So I see," responded Sid, chuckling at his wit. "Pity to take it all, though. You should have left some for the turtles. They like mud."
Jack, who followed Ed, said something in conventional greeting to Ida. But the girl with Sid never turned her head to look in the direction of the Whirlwind. Cora remarked on this in a low voice to Isabel and Elizabeth.
"I hear that you are going in for—er—Wall Street," said Sid to Ed in rather a sarcastic voice.
"Oh, no. Nothing like that. No chance for a lamb like me in Wall Street. It's too much of a losing game."
"Oh, I don't know," drawled Sid. "A fellow might make good, and then do—well, better."
Ed glanced at Jack. How did Sid know about Ed's plan to take stock in the new bank? That was a question that each youth flashed to the other.
There was something unpleasant in the manner of Sidney Wilcox. All in the party seemed to feel it. And as far as the girls were concerned, they noticed much of the same manner in Ida, though Jack and Ed were not quite so critical. As for Walter, he did not seem to be giving Ida a thought. But it is doubtful if she was so indifferent toward him. Still, she would not look in his direction while Cora and her two chums were with him.
Corn walked slowly up the broad store steps; Bess and Belle following.
"I'm simply choked," said Cora with a laugh. "I never had such a thirsty run."
Ida seemed very much interested in the distant landscape.
"The roads are awfully dry," she murmured.
"And so am I," added Elizabeth as she followed her sister and Cora into the store. Walter and Jack trailed in after them, while Ed stayed for a moment outside with Ida and Sid. The latter did not introduce Ed to Ida. It was a habit Sid had, of never presenting his young men chums to his "girl," unless he could not avoid it. Ida, perhaps, knew this, and she strolled to the other end of the porch.
"How'd you make out in your exams?" asked Ed of Sid, for the latter attended college with Jack. That is, he was in his study class, though not in the same grade socially.
"Oh, pretty fair. I cut most of 'em. I finish next year, and I don't intend to get gray hairs over any exams now."
"You cut 'em?" repeated Ed.
"Sure," and Sid started toward his car, Ida following. "So long."
"Well, you're not going away mad, are you?" asked Ed with a laugh, wondering the while over the identity of the striking-looking girl whom Sid so obviously refrained from introducing to him.
"Oh, not's so's you could notice it," was Sid's answer as he began to tuck the dust robe over Ida's lap.
Then Sid cranked up his car, which he had named the Streak, though it didn't always live up to the name, and soon he and the girl were out of sight around a turn in the road.
"Humph!" exclaimed Ed as he entered the store. "I wonder where he heard about my plan to take—bank stock? I wish he didn't know of it. And I also wonder who that pretty girl was?" For Ida was pretty, in spite of her reddish hair and her rather jealous disposition, which was reflected in her face.
Ed shook his head. He was puzzled over something.
TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS
"Say, Jack," remarked Ed a few days later, when the two were sprawled beside a brook, with rod and reel, "I believe I'll have to get better acquainted with the young folks out here. Honestly, I feel wobbly when I get to talking to them. I've been out of touch with them so long that I'm afraid I'll ask after some dead and gone aunt or uncle, or for some brother that has been in trouble and isn't spoken of any more in polite society. For instance, who is Ida—Ida Giles? You know—the girl who was with Sid? He introduced me to her last night."
"Oh, Ida—why—she's—just Ida. That's all. But that's a good idea of yours. I was thinking myself that you ought to begin studying up the blue-book of Chelton society. Now, as to Ida, the red-haired girl—"
"Not really red," corrected Ed slowly, "but that bright, carroty shade—so deliciously like lobster a la—"
"Oh, pardon me," and Jack assumed an affected manner. "Of course, Ida's hair is not really red—not merely—carroty is the very word needed. Well, she is the daughter of the Reverend Mrs. Giles. Don't you remember the woman who always scolded us for everything? Wouldn't let us even so much as take a turnip. And she wore such pious-looking spectacles that we dubbed her Reverend Mrs. Giles. Well, she still is Ida's mother."
"Then I don't blame Ida a bit. I'd be Ida myself if I was brought up as she's been, though I suppose her mother means all right. It's curious what queer manners some people have. But I dare say we all have our own faults."
"And, with all of them, I hope the girls love us still—even Ida," added Jack quickly.
"Now, those others—the beautiful Robinson twins," pursued Ed.
"Oh, yes. Well, Bess and Belle are certainly the real thing in girls—right up to the minute. Besides, they have an immensely rich papa. You've heard of him—Perry Robinson, the railroad king?"
"Oh, yes. And their mother, if one may be permitted to ask?"
"Certainly, fair sir—Their mother is a wonderfully handsome woman, in a statuesque sort of way. Very dignified, and all that. Now, the twins are worth while."
"Exactly so," answered Ed. "Now I think—"
He stopped suddenly, and quickly jerked up his rod, but not quite speedily enough, for he had the pleasure of seeing a fish slip wrigglingly off the hook.
"Biggest one to-day," he murmured as he adjusted some fresh bait. "Now, as to the Robinson twins. The only fault I have to find with them, from my limited acquaintance, is that they are not evenly divided. Bess is—er—well, not to be too delicate about it—too fat—"
"No, no, I beg of you!" exclaimed Jack. "Don't use that word. Say too much adiposed."
"Sounds like indisposed," murmured Ed; "but let it go at that. Bess is too much adiposed, and Belle—"
"She is too un-adiposed, if you like it better. Not to put to fine a point upon it, as Mr. Snagsby used to say—she's too thin."
"Not faults in either of them beyond repair," commented Jack. "Cora is very keen about them. Thinks they're the best ever. She is very much interested in them."
"How about Jack?" teased Ed. "He might have a perfectly pardonable interest in being Interested in the twins—solely on his sister's account, however—solely an the part of his sister."
"Um!" murmured Jack. "That's neither here nor there. To carry it a little further, and still discussing the twins, there is Ed Foster, who is always at college when he is not fishing. He has money to burn, and so he's going to set fire to some of it by entrusting it to the New City Bank.
"Not quite money to burn," said Ed as he carefully threw out the baited hook again. "I've about twenty thousand dollars that came from father's estate, and it is stipulated that it must be most carefully secured. I think the new bank a good investment. But as for that being a drawing-card in my favor, why look to yourself. Here's Jack Kimball," went on Ed, "the best musician at Exmouth. The girls' pet, and, altogether, a very nice boy. I believe that's all—no, hold on. I never said a word about your weakness for chicken potpie, although you did appropriate my dish the last day at college."
"I was hungry," pleaded Jack. "But I thank you for your considerate description. Do you think that you now have the Chelton folks to rights?"
"We haven't touched on Walter Pennington. He seems to be the whole thing with the girls," and Ed did not try to disguise his tone of sarcasm.
"Oh, yes—Walter," said Jack. "Oh, Walter's all right. He seems to have more time to spend fussing around the girls than the rest of us have."
"Is that it?" asked Ed. "I thought it was the other way about. That the girls had more time for Walter than for the rest of us."
"I don't pretend to understand you," remarked Jack, pulling up quickly and looking in disgust at his empty hook. "But if you want anything—why, go in and win, as Priscilla said to John Alden. You can beat Walter—you're handsomer."
"Drop that!" cried Ed, looking for a clod of earth to throw at Jack. Then he ran his fingers through his thick, black hair. He was handsome, but he did not like it "cast up to him."
"Oh, I don't know," he murmured after a pause. "Walter has a way with him. Girls 'perfectly love' that uncertain shade of hair. It's capable of being made over to suit—"
"Knocking!" cried Jack. "You're knocking! I'll tell Walter. You called him a—"
"A first-rate chap, and I mean it!" insisted Ed warmly. "That's just what I think of Walter Pennington."
"Well, you know what I've always thought of him," and Jack was equally enthusiastic. "Walter is the kind of a fellow that will keep without canning."
"Meaning some others won't—such as Sid, for example?"
"Well, he's very 'close' sometimes, so to speak. At least very hard to understand. But let's talk about something else. When do you go over to the bank, to stand and deliver your good cash, bonds and securities for their stock?"
"This very afternoon, may it please the court. And, by the same token, I should be getting home now. Hope we won't meet anyone, or they might ask, as Sid did, if I'd been clamming. I can't seem to keep out of the mud."
They gathered up their fishing paraphernalia and walked out to the highway.
"Are you and your money going over in the machine?" asked Jack.
"Certainly. Why not? Henry Porter is going to loan me his runabout."
"Oh, I suppose it's all right, but it's a lot of money to carry with you alone—twenty thousand dollars."
"And to hear you talk I might suspect that you had designs on it. I guess I'll get over to New City with it safe and sound. I hardly think I need a bodyguard."
"Humph! Maybe not. I guess you'll be all right."
"Your sister seems much interested in motoring," remarked Ed as they trudged along.
"Oh, yes, sis is just wild about it. She learned to run my car, and then began teasing for one of her own. We a were waiting for her seventeenth birthday to give it to her—mother and I—"
"Oh, I suppose you paid for part of it," remarked Ed with a laugh.
"No; but I ran it up from the garage for her. It's a fine, up- to-date car, and now that sis has it she's as happy as a kitten lapping up sweet cream."
"And she's as plucky as—um—what shall I say? I never saw any one manage a car better than she did the day the brake wouldn't work and they nearly ran into the train. I declare, when I saw her dive through that gap in the fence and steer toward me through the pond, I felt like yelling. I was almost frozen stiff. Couldn't do a thing but look on."
"And sis thawed you out with a mud bath," said Jack. "Oh, Cora's all right, even if I am her brother."
"She certainly is a star, if I may be pardoned the expression. Well, here's where I'm going to leave you. I've got to stop at the post-office. People have gotten into the habit lately, and a mean habit it is, of mailing me bills about the first of the month. One would think they might let a fellow have a vacation from that sort of thing once in a while."
"Oh, I get mine, too. And this month they're rather heavier than usual, as it's Cora's birthday."
"There's Sid," suddenly remarked Ed, pointing down the road to where Sidney Wilcox was coming around a turn, walking slowly.
"Yes, and I guess he gets his bills, too."
"Likely," admitted Ed. "He seems to have one now, and it doesn't appear to please him," for Sid was intently studying a sheet of paper as he walked along. He turned back and looked up the road.
"Who's he looking for?"' asked Jack.
"Give it up. No, I don't, either. There she is. It's Ida Giles."
Sidney waited for the girl to come up to him. Then he put the sheet of paper in his pocket, and the two walked along together until they came abreast of Ed and Jack. Sid nodded, which salutation was returned by the two fishermen. Ida made a slight motion with her head, which might or might not have been taken for a bow. Then the two passed on.
"My, but they're rushing it pretty fast!" commented Jack.
"Oh, Sid owns a nice little car—built for two," spoke Ed. "That makes it worth while for her."
"Yes, Ida does get in a lot of runs."
Jack turned to look at the girl. She was rather becomingly dressed in a dark-blue gingham sailor suit. Her red hair seemed fairly to blaze in the summer sunlight. Her companion slouched along in that indifferent way common to many youths of neutral temperaments—nothing much decided about them save their dislike for hard facts.
Ed and Jack had now reached the beginning of the sidewalk leading into town. They noticed a torn envelope lying on the flags. It was, as they could see, addressed to Sidney Wilcox, and in one corner was the imprint of an auto firm, which made the style of car that Sid drove. The fishermen smiled at each other, but made no remark. Perhaps the envelope had contained a bill.
"I may take a spin out on the road this afternoon," said Jack at parting. "Cora and the twins are going out, and we have promised to trail along after them."
"We?" questioned Ed.
"Yes. Walter and I, of course."
"Oh, of course—Walter."
"Jealous!" called Jack. "But cheer up. Perhaps we shall meet' you, and you'll have a chance."
"Oh, I'll be too busy with the cash, I'm afraid. But, at any rate, give my regards to your sister."
"Surest thing you know. How about the twins?"
"All right. Say, Ed, come over to dinner some night. I want mother to meet you."
"All right, I will."
Ed turned away. He seemed unusually thoughtful. Was it Jack's remark about carrying so much money, unprotected, along the highway that caused it? It was a large sum—twenty thousand dollars. But he was strong enough to take care of himself. Besides, he would have his revolver with him. He decided on this, though at first it had not occurred to him.
Then he laughed aloud at his worriment and his prospective precautions. Who ever heard of any one being robbed on the road from Chelton to New City?
AN IMPROMPTU RACE
It was Cora who spoke. She and her chums, the Robinson twins, and a fourth girl, were about to start out for the afternoon run Jack had mentioned. The fourth girl was Mary Downs, a little millinery model and helper, to whom Cora had promised a ride in the new car. It was Mary's initial spin, and, as Cora cranked up, the young girl, with the queer, deep-set eyes, and the long, oval face so dear to the hearts of model-hunters, fairly quivered with anticipation.
"Are you all right, Mary?" asked Cora with a reassuring smile.
"Oh, yes," replied the girl with a happy little laugh. "This is—just glorious!"
"Wait just a minute," begged Bess. "I want to tie my hat on more securely. I do hope we get our auto bonnets soon."
"Madam said they would be finished to-day," remarked Mary. "They are very pretty, I think." Madam Julia was Mary's employer.
"Chug! chug!" sounded from the motor as it speeded up, momentarily, drowning all conversation. Then, as Cora climbed in and adjusted the throttle and shifted the spark lever, she let in the clutch, and the car rolled gently away.
"Where were the boys to meet us?" asked Belle.
"At the turnpike junction," replied Cora as she deftly threw in the high speed gear, and that without the terrific grinding of the cogs that betrays the inexperienced hand. The Whirlwind leaped forward, and the girls clutched their hats. "Jack promised he wouldn't be a minute late," went on Cora as she turned out to avoid a rut.
"Jack usually is on time," murmured Isabel. She almost lisped, yet the more you heard it the more you thought it was but a pretty little catch in her voice—in the accent—after the manner of babies, who seem to defer all they have to say to their listener. Every one loved Isabel.
"Oh, you think so, do you?" asked her sister. "Jack never makes any mistakes apparent to Belle," she added with an arch glance at Cora, with whom she was riding on the front seat.
"Never mind," murmured Belle.
Mary listened to the talk with evident pleasure. She was not accustomed to this sort of perfectly frank jokes.
"There they are!" suddenly cried Cora as the Get There swerved into sight around the corner.
Jack, who was at the wheel of his car, with Walter beside him, swung in close to his sister's machine.
"All right?" asked Jack, looking critically at Cora as she slowed up the big car, and noting her firm grip of the steering wheel.
"Fine and dandy!" exclaimed the girl, with the expression that makes that sort of slang a parody rather than a convenience.
"And if there aren't Sid and Ida!" exclaimed Belle. "Seems to me we run into them wherever we go."
"As long as it's only metaphorically and not mechanically speaking, it's all right," observed Walter.
The yellow Streak glided smoothly along.
"Quite a parade," remarked Jack.
"Let's make it a race," suggested Cora, her dark eyes flashing in anticipation.
Jack glanced at Walter. The relations between him and Sid were rather strained. As for Ida—well, Ida was credited with "running after Walter," and the sentiment of lads toward such girls is too well known to need describing.
"Oh, yes! Do let us race!" chimed in Bess. "It would be such fun!"
"All right," agreed Jack. "That is, if Sid is, willing."
"Will you race, Sidney?" called Cora, before the occupants of the yellow car had had time to greet the others.
"Yes, certainly," he assented. "I would like nothing better."
"Then we'll have to handicap the girls," suggested Walter. "They have by far the fastest machine."
"But it's brand new," objected Cora, "and isn't tuned up yet, as the two runabouts are. Besides, look who we are—girls."
"Very charming ones, I'm sure," said Sid quickly, but, somehow, his voice did not ring true.
"Handicap," spoke Walter. "I suppose it's right, but you see —er—we fellows could—" He was floundering about for a way of saying that the girls should not be penalized by giving the drivers of the two runabouts a start. For, in spite of their small size and less power the runabouts were speedy cars. It seemed as if Walter did not want to take the obviously fair advantage due him.
"Oh, no," declared Cora. "We'll let you handicap us all you wish. We are willing to test the Whirlwind on its merits."
"I should think so," sneered Ida, and then she turned disdainfully away, as if the landscape held more of interest for her than did the details of a race.
"Who is that forward girl?" asked quiet Mary of Bess.
"Ida Giles," was the whispered reply.
"She looked at me as if I did not belong in a motor car," went on the little milliner, with that quick perception acquired by business experience.
"Well, she doesn't belong in the one she's in," retorted Bess kindly. "I guess you imagine she meant something like that. Ida is not really mean. She is merely thoughtless."
"That's the very meanest kind of meanness," insisted Mary, "for, when folks do a thing through thoughtlessness they do not know enough to be careful next time."
Bess smiled to assure Mary that the milliner's model was on an equal footing with the girls in the Whirlwind, at all events.
"Line up!" called Jack. "Get ready for the race. We'll not insist on a handicap for you, Cora."
Sid sent his car directly to the middle of the road, the very best place.
"Better let the touring car go there," suggested Walter in as even a tone as he could command. "It will need lots of room, and the road's not very wide."
"That's right," added Jack. "A runabout can go on either side, then."
"I don't know," began Sid. "Cora ought to beat, and yet with two fellows driving against her—"
"Oh, if it's a matter of girls," almost sneered Ida, "I'll drive the Streak."
"Good idea!" hurriedly spoke Jack. "That will 'make the match even. Suppose we take a girl to drive our car, Walter?"
Walter glanced rather ruefully at his companion.
"Why—er—yes," he drawled. "Suppose we take—"
"Bess," finished Jack, quickly. "She knows considerable about a car, and she's driven this one."
Somehow, the idea of having Bess as a rival to Ida suggested fun to Jack.
"Now we have it," went on Cora's brother, as Bess alighted from the Whirlwind and entered the Get There. "Are we all ready?"
"Where's Walter going?" asked Cora, for he had given up his seat to Jack, who moved to make room for Bess. Mary, Cora and Belle were in the touring car.
"I guess I'd better get into the big machine,", decided Walter. "Three such pretty girls in it all alone are an unequal division of beauty and talent—the last for myself, of course."
He moved toward the Whirlwind. Ida frowned. She had rather hoped to have matters so arranged that Walter would be with her. Cora saw the frown and laughed merrily as Walter slipped into the seat beside her.
"I suppose you think you are going to do the mascoting for this car," she said.
"At your service, mademoiselle," replied Walter, trying to bow, a politeness rather difficult of accomplishment in a small seat. "Do anything you like, but don't run me into the ditch. My watch is deadly afraid of ditches."
Then Cora introduced Mary, the little model blushing refreshingly.
Walter made a mental note of Mary's eyes, and the soft tints, like the bloom of a peach, in her cheeks. The two other girls were not slow to observe his interest. It was odd, thought Cora, how boys go in for the romantic sort—and models!
"All ready?" called Jack again.
Ida shook her head. She looked critically at the clutch lever, from her seat at the wheel, which Sid had relinquished to her. The lever was not properly adjusted, and she called her companion's attention to it.
Sid shifted it, and then Walter called from his seat beside Cora.
"All ready here!"
"It's about time," murmured Jack, jokingly.
The cars, which had been cranked, were "chug-chugging" away, and vibrating with the speed of the unleashed motors. Three clutch pedals were released, and the three cars moved forward. There was a grinding of gears, as Ida threw in a higher speed. Her hand and ear were not quite true, but to the surprise of the others her car darted ahead. It was speedier than had been thought.
It was a beautifully clear road, and the machines were now fairly flying along it. Bess clung desperately to the wooden rim of the steering wheel of Jack's car.
"Keep her straight," he cautioned. "Don't work so hard at it. An auto is like a horse—a light, firm touch is what it needs."
"Um!" murmured Bess. She was afraid to open her mouth lest she should lose her breath in the wind.
"Look out for that wagon!" Walter suddenly called to Cora.
A clumsy vehicle was some distance in advance, and seemed to be standing still, so slow was the movement. Ida was nearer to it than the others, and as she passed it she swung safely to one side, giving several disconcerting blasts on the horn as she did so. She was proving herself a good driver.
Somehow Bess had managed to distance the big car and had swung to second place. Cora thought she had her machine going at full speed, but either it had not "warmed up" yet, or she was not properly feeding the gasolene, and had not correctly adjusted the sparking device.
Just as Cora was about to pass the wagon, which feat Bess had now safely negotiated, the old man driving it seemed to awaken from a nap. He appeared to remember something he had forgotten and pulled his horses to one side—the wrong side—toward Cora's car, which was rushing right at him! The Whirlwind was almost upon the wagon!
"Mercy!" screamed. Mary. "We'll be smashed!"
"Steady!" called Cora, though her face went white.
Walter reached over, as if to take the wheel from the girl. She stopped him by a shake of her head, and then braced herself for what was coming. She screamed at the top of her fresh, clear voice:
"Stop! stop! Don't turn! stop!"
The farmer heard just in time. He fairly pulled the horses back on their haunches, and the wagon came to a stop. There was barely room for the auto to get past, but Cora managed it.
"Oh!" sighed Mary in thankfulness. "Wasn't that awful?"
"A narrow escape," assented Isabel. "But not as bad as the other one was. You should have seen that! We're safe now."
The Whirlwind careened along the road, from the shelving gutter back into the middle of the highway.
"Why didn't you let me take the wheel?" asked Walter, looking at Cora in a strange sort of way.
"I couldn't seem to let go," she said with a nervous little laugh. "I knew, of course, that you could run it more safely than I could, but somehow I couldn't seem to let go. My fingers appeared to be glued to the wheel."
"I certainly could not have done better," admitted Walter. "But I thought I might help you. Look at Ida, though! She is going like grim death."
"If she doesn't encounter another farmer she may be all right," said Cora. "But I wonder why I don't go faster. Oh, no wonder. I'm on second speed. I forgot to throw in the high gear. Here it goes. Now watch me pass them."
She advanced the lever, and the car shot forward. It was going at a greatly increased speed, and easily passed Bess and Jack.
"Here's where we leave you," called Cora.
"It's about time," replied Jack. "I thought something was wrong with you.
"Third gear," answered Cora. "Forgot I had it." Her voice floated back on the wind.
With a merry shout she turned on more gasolene and advanced the spark. She was almost up to Ida.
The race was to end at a bridge, which was only a few rods ahead.
"Careful," cautioned Walter to the fair driver beside him. She was making some rather reckless curves.
"I'm all right," declared Cora.
"I'm sure we'll win," exclaimed Mary.
The Whirlwind was now close to Sid's car. He heard it coming and looked around. Then he caught the steering wheel from Ida, leaning over to reach it.
"Foul!" shouted Walter. "That's not allowed!"
"Never mind!" panted Cora. "I'm not afraid to let him steer. I can beat him!"
Jack stood up in his machine. He was angry, and showed it in his face.
"Stop, sis," he called to Cora. "The race is yours. Don't pass him."
"She can't!" retorted Sid.
"Oh, I'm afraid!" gasped Bess, beside Jack. "He's steering right in front of her to cut her off. He won't turn out."
Then, as if realizing that the race would be counted lost to them for Sid's violation of the rules, Ida tried to displace the hands of her, companion from the wheel.
"Let me steer"' she exclaimed. "I want to! Let me, Sid!"
"No!" he answered angrily. "I'm going to run it now."
The car was swaying from side to side because of the erratic motion imparted to it, due to the struggle between Sid and Ida to gain possession of the wooden circlet.
"Let me take it! I want to beat her!" spoke Ida in a tense whisper, and Sid, with a queer look at her, nodded.
He released his grip of the wheel, and again Ida took it in a firm grasp. But the change was not skillfully enough made, and the next moment the Streak cut diagonally across the road, right in front of the Whirlwind.
"Oh!" screamed Cora, in spite of herself, and Bess and Mary added their frightened cries. Cora swung the wheel as far to the right as it would go. There was a grinding sound as she threw on the emergency brake, and the powerful clutch of it held the rear wheels in so firm a grip that the big rubber tires fairly slid along the road.
"Sid," cried Ida, "they'll collide with us! Do something! Do it quick!"
He stood up and tried to take Ida's hands from the wheel again, but she seemed to have lost her head. The big car was still careening toward them, though the brakes were slowing it up. Then Ida, with a flash of instinct, did the only thing possible. Instead of putting on brakes and trying to stop, she pressed the accelerator pedal, and the little car shot forward at a momentarily increased speed. Between them Ida and Sid managed to steer it into a ditch, and brought up with a crash against a fence, splintering the rails. Ida, with more force than she thought she possessed, jammed on the brakes, and the Streak, with a groan and a jar, came to a stop.
Then there came a jolt, a ripping sound, and Cora's big, four- cylindered machine banged into the Streak, for, in spite of all Cora and Walter could do, the Whirlwind could not be stopped in time.
But, fortunately, the damage to the large car was not great, for as she saw that a collision was inevitable, Cora had quickly shifted the wheel, and but a glancing blow had been struck. A mud guard was torn from the Whirlwind. Only Cora's plucky driving, and her emergency stop, had prevented a worse accident.
"Well," remarked Sid in a strange voice, "we're alive, at any rate."
"Yes," added Bess sharply, "and no thanks to somebody, either."
"If you mean me—" began Sid, the color flaming into his face.
"Look at your radiator!" suddenly exclaimed Walter. "It's sprung a leak!"
A stream of water, trickling down from the front of the Streak testified to this. A piece of the broken fence rail had jammed into the radiator, puncturing several coils and bending others out of place.
"No more go in her," observed Sid ruefully. "We'll have to be towed back home."
"Is your car damaged much, Cora?" asked Walter, for the girl had leaped out and was critically examining the auto.
"Only the mud guard," she replied as she reached up to the steering wheel, touched the levers and shut off the engine.
GETTING A TOW
For a few minutes every one seemed to be talking at once, and there was considerable confusion. Sid and Ida came in for a number of rather angry glances, for the mishap seemed to be due entirely to their thoughtless conduct, and that their runabout had been the most damaged did not appear to lessen their offense.
Walter took the wheel of the Whirlwind, which Cora gladly relinquished to him, and soon had the car out of the ditch and upon the highway. The Streak, of course, could not move under its own power for more than a short distance, as the water had all leaked out of the radiator, and, there being none to cool the cylinders, to operate it was to invite disaster. Jack and Bess had alighted from the Get There. Jack was very angry.
"Nice way to race!" he exclaimed. "I've got a good mind to—do something to you, Sid Wilcox!"
"Oh, you have, eh?" sneered Sid. "Well, I don't know but what I might like to take it out of you for your sister cutting so close across my course. I guess I'm the one to get mad,"
"You sneak! She did nothing of the sort!" cried Jack.
"Oh, Jack! Please don't!" begged his sister. "If it was my fault, I'm ready to apologize."
"Your fault!" exclaimed Walter. "It wasn't your fault at all. It was—er—well, Sid and Ida were to blame."
"That's the way it looked to me," declared Cora.
Ida stared at Jack's sister for a moment, and then, with an open sneer on her face, turned deliberately away.
"Oh, I'm so glad we escaped, anyhow!" ejaculated Mary Downes. Her voice attracted Sid's attention. He had not noticed the little work girl before. At first he appeared to scowl, and then he smiled most pleasantly. The action was not lost upon Belle, though Cora, puzzling over Ida's manner, had not seen it.
"Come on, get in, girls," called Walter from his seat in the touring car. "No use standing there in the sun."
"You've got to tow me," ordered Sid in a peremptory manner.
"Got to?" repeated Walter, with a curious inflection.
"Hush!" whispered Cora. "Let's do it, Walter. Jack is so angry at him that I'm afraid something will happen."
"Very well. Just as you say," replied Walter gallantly.
Jack turned away in disgust. He was evidently trying hard to keep his temper under control.
"That he and Ida should deliberately endanger the lives of several people, to say nothing of their own risk, seems past belief," Jack murmured to Walter. "I've a good mind to teach him a much-deserved lesson. We ought to leave him to walk home."
"Oh, I do dislike rows!" exclaimed Cora, and she whispered in Jack's ear: "Don't bother with him, Bud. He isn't worth it."
"You're right about that," was the response, and the lad looked affectionately at his sister. She had gotten over the momentary fright, and there was now a pretty flush on her face. "I'll overlook it this time, sis," went on Jack. "Perhaps he'll get his lesson later—without me having to give it to him."
"Aren't some of you going to tow me?" asked Sid rather disconsolately. "I can't run my car the way it is."
"Don't ask any favors of them," Cora heard Ida whisper to Sid. "We'll walk."
"I will not," he answered sharply. "I'm not going to leave my car here. Will you give me a tow, Cora?" he asked. "Seeing that you made me smash—"
"She did not!" cried Jack. "And if you say so you're—"
"Jack!" exclaimed his sister.
"Well, he knows it was his own fault," concluded Jack, not wishing to accuse Ida.
Sid looked a bit worried.
"We'll tow you," said Cora simply.
"Thank you," responded Sid.
"Got a rope?" asked Walter.
"Here's one," answered the owner of the Streak, producing a strong rope from the rear of his runabout.
"Looks as if you were in the habit of getting towed," remarked Walter.
"Yes. I've had bad luck with this car."
Sid and Walter were soon busy arranging the two cars, so that the big auto would tow the disabled one.
"I want the boys to separate," whispered Cora to Bess. "I'm so Afraid Jack and Sid will quarrel."
"Not if they keep as far apart as they are now," was the answer, for Jack had gotten back into his own car, and was looking on. Ida, too, seemed to keep herself at a distance from the other girls.
"Well, I guess that will hold," remarked Walter as he put the last knot in the rope.
"Here comes Ed Foster!" suddenly exclaimed Jack as the puffing of an auto was heard and a machine came in sight. "Now I guess we're all here. Hello, Ed!"
"Hello, yourself," replied Ed. "Well, what's up now? Somebody turned turtle?"
"No, but somebody's turned—" began Jack, on the point of saying something uncomplimentary about Sid, but Cora interrupted him.
"We had a race, and this is how I—that is, we—won it," she said with a laugh.
Ed stepped out of his car and walked to where Sid's silent machine stood.
"Radiator, eh?" he questioned. "A bad break."
"That's what. Cora collided with me—but it was partly my fault," added Sid quickly for jack's benefit.
"And look at my nice, new mud guard," spoke Cora. "See how it hangs down, like a dog's broken leg. Isn't it a shame? I guess we'll have to tear it off, so we can run."
"Let me look at it," suggested Ed. "Maybe I can spring it back into place."
"I never thought of that,"—remarked Walter.
Ed was searching in his tool-box, and presently drew out some strong string.
"I never go without a bit of cord, a knife and some pins for just such emergencies as these," he said with a laugh. "I never know when I may be shipwrecked on a desert island."
Ed skillfully sprung the guard back, and as one of the rivets was torn out, he lashed the protector into place. It was only a temporary repair, but it would protect the occupants of the car from a shower of dust or mud.
"There," said Ed finally. "I guess that will answer. The road ahead is pretty muddy. Too much moisture from a sprinkling-cart, I guess. I caught some of it."
Cora turned to see if everything was in readiness for a start, and was surprised to find Mary in close conversation with Ida. Both girls and Sid were in a group an the other side of the Whirlwind. And another thing Cora noticed was that the faces of both Ida and Mary were unusually flushed.
"That's rather odd—that Mary and Ida should get so chummy," murmured Cora. "Sid must have introduced them to each other:"
A moment later Ida looked over, and seeing Cora watching her, she quickly turned away and walked over to where Ed was locking up his toolbox. She placed her hand on the seat of his small auto and began talking to him.
"I hear you are going into business," Cora heard Ida say.
"Well, not exactly business," replied Ed. "I'm going to have some interest in the bank at New City."
"Oh, yes. I heard about it."
"Say, Ed, have you all that—" began Jack, and then he stopped quickly. He had been on the point of asking Ed if he had with him the twenty thousand dollars in cash and negotiable securities, but he quickly reflected that such a question was not a proper one to ask on a public road.
"Got what?" inquired Ed with a laugh, but at the same time Cora saw him frown slightly at her brother.
"I meant to say, have you any of those fish with you that we caught last time?" asked Jack, laughing rather uneasily.
"Yes, I have them," replied Ed, which was his way of replying to Jack's implied question.
"Going over to New City?" asked Sid, coming around from an inspection of the broken radiator.
"Yes; I've some business over there, and as it's getting late I'll have to hurry. I'll bid you all good-by. Hope you get safely home."
Ed jumped into his car, which he had quickly cranked up, and called a general farewell.
"So long," answered Jack.
"Come on," called Walter, as Ed's car puffed out of sight. "We'll have a load to pull now, Cora."
"Perhaps I had better get in with Jack and Bess," remarked Belle. "We can manage it—if we squeeze some."
Then she blushed, and everybody laughed.
"The more the merrier," replied Jack. "I think it will be a good idea, though. We'll get home quicker than Cora and her tow will."
Belle climbed into the Get There. This left Cora alone with Walter in the big car. Ida and Sid stood on the ground, apparently waiting for an invitation to get in somewhere.
"I'll have to steer my car," said Sid. "You had better get in Cora's machine, Ida, for it's no fun riding in a towed auto."
"Yes, do come in here," said Cora quickly, but Ida hung back and looked miserably unhappy.
"Come on," and Walter added his invitation. "I'm going to be the 'shuffler,' and I may as well have something worth while to 'shuffle' while I'm at it."
Ida smiled at this. It was evident that she could not resist after this appeal—especially as it came from Walter, who found much favor in her eyes.
Ida climbed into the big car nimbly enough, and sat on the thick cushions in the roomy tonneau beside Mary.
"I guess she'd rather be in front," remarked Bess in a whisper to Belle, but she took care that Jack should not hear.
Walter started Cora's car off, and Sid's followed, with himself at the wheel, looking very glum. Jack brought up in the rear with the pretty twins.
The Whirlwind easily towed the weight of the disabled runabout, and the autoists were soon approaching town.
"Let me out at the post-office, please," begged Mary of Cora, as they rolled through the village streets. "I had better not let madam see me out riding."
"Why, she gave you permission, didn't she?" asked Cora in surprise.
"But I would rather get out here," insisted Mary, not answering the question directly.
"If you'll cast me loose, I'll run my machine in this shop," suddenly called Sid, as they passed a rather tumble-down shack on a side street.
"But you're not going to let old Smith tinker with it, are you?" asked Walter.
"Oh, I don't know what I'll do with it!" snapped Sid. "May as well leave it here as anywhere else."
Smith's place was a second-rate blacksmith shop, while at Chelton Center, a little farther on, there was a fine garage—Newton's—the one at which Cora and the twins had met the handsome machinist.
"Why don't you take it to Newton's?" asked Cora. "We'll go there with you. I—er—, I know the machinist there."
"I prefer to leave it here," said Sid shortly. "Stop, please, and I'll loosen the rope."
"Oh!" exclaimed Cora shortly. She could not understand Sid. Walter stopped her car, and before it had come to a full halt Sid was detaching the tow rope. Mary took this chance to alight from the Whirlwind, as they were not far from the post-office, and Ida followed her. Sid cranked up for the short run into the blacksmith shop. Ida and Mary were walking down the street together.
"Go ahead!" Sid called to Walter.
"Oh, you're welcome," replied Walter sarcastically. "Not the least trouble, thank you. Glad at any time—"
Sid shot at him an angry glance over his shoulder.
"I'd like to know who had a better right to haul me out of the ditch?" he said sneeringly.
Jack, with the twins, had run on. As Walter started Cora's machine off again, they saw a man coming out of the smithy. He helped Sid push the car in, and then stood talking with him in a friendly sort of fashion. The man's clothing was unkempt, and his general appearance anything but prepossessing.
"Who's that?" asked Cora.
"Him, you mean?" inquired Walter. "Oh, that's Lem Gildy. Or just plain Lem, if you like that better."
"What does he do?"
"Nothing. Easily said. Yet I've heard it remarked that he'd do anything for money."
"Curious that Sid should be on such friendly terms with such a character."
"Rather," remarked Walter, and he turned to see Sid pointing at the big car, while Lem Gildy was nodding his head as if assenting to something.
TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS LOST
Edward Foster, as he ran his machine along the country road toward New City, where he was to transact his business at the bank, was thinking of many things. And not all of them were connected with the large sum of money and the bonds which he was to exchange for stock. A certain bright-eyed girl figured largely in his reveries.
"Guess I'd better put on a little more speed," he said to himself. "It's going to take some time to get this all straightened out, and I don't like to have such a large sum with me on the road."
He speeded up his car, and was soon on the outskirts of the city, where he had to go slower, threading his way in and out among many vehicles.
He reached the bank shortly before noon, was greeted by the president and the secretary, who were expecting him, and was shown into a private office.
"Well, we have the stock all ready for you," said the president genially. It was not every day that his bank disposed of such a large block. "I trust you will find it a good investment."
"I believe I will," replied Ed as he reached his hand in his inner pocket to take out the wallet that contained the money and bonds. "I looked into—"
He stopped suddenly. A blank look came over his face. Hurriedly he felt in another pocket. Then he began a rapid search through his clothes.
"What's the matter?" asked the secretary. "Did you mislay your valuables?"
"Yes—no—I don't see—" murmured Ed. All the while he was making a frantic search. His face paled. The bank officials looked anxiously on.
"Can't you find it?" inquired the president.
"I've either lost my wallet,—or it's been stolen!" burst out Ed desperately.
"How could it have been stolen?" asked the secretary.
"I don't know," was the answer. "I don't see how it could have been, as, from the time it was in my pocket until now, I did not leave my auto—"
He stopped quickly. The memory of the scene alongside the road, where the machines had collided, came back to him with vivid distinctness. He had alighted there, and—
He pursued his reflections no further, but hurriedly got up from the chair.
"I must go back at once," he said. "I will make a search. I think I know where the loss may have taken place."
"Or the theft," suggested the president.
"No," said Ed slowly, "I don't believe it was a theft."
"Shall we send for a detective? Will you take one of our porters or a watchman with you?" asked the secretary.
"No; I think I'll make a search myself, first, thank you. And please don't tell the police—yet. I may have dropped it. I'll let you know as soon—as soon as I go to a certain place and look. There is time enough to notify the authorities afterward. I'll telephone you if I don't find it, and then I'll tell the police in Chelton. But I must hurry."
"Yes; you had better lose no time," advised the president.
"The thief—if there, was one—could easily dispose of those securities. As for the money—?"
"He would have no trouble in spending that," finished Ed. "Yes, I'll go back at once."
He hurried out to his auto, and was soon speeding back over the road on which he had come. He reached the spot where the auto collision had occurred, and where he had helped fix Cora's machine. Jumping from the car he looked carefully over the ground, but could find no trace of the missing wallet, containing the equivalent of twenty thousand dollars.
"I must hurry to tell the police," he murmured as he urged his machine forward at top speed. A little later Cora and Walter, who had returned to Chelton, saw Ed standing on the steps of the police station.
"Why!" Cora exclaimed to Walter in some surprise, "I thought Ed was in New City, attending to that bank business."
"He ought to be," commented Walter. Then, noting Ed's white face, he added: "Something's happened!"
A moment later Jack, who had left the Robinson twins at their home, drove up in his runabout, and stopped it beside his sister's larger car. He, too, saw Ed Foster's white face.
"What's the matter, Ed?" he called quickly. "Are you hurt?"
"No," was the answer, and the voice was strained.
"But something has happened," insisted Cora as she alighted from her car and started up the steps of the police station.
"Yes," he said, and his voice trembled, "something has happened."
"What?" asked Jack.
"I've lost twenty thousand dollars—or—else it has been stolen!"
"Twenty thousand dollars!" cried Jack. "The money you were taking to the bank?"
"Where?" was Jack's next question.
"That's what I don't know. If I did I'd go get it."
"But if it was stolen—" began Cora.
"The thief is far enough away from here now," finished Ed, trying to smile. "However, I think I lost it near where the collision took place. I just came from there to report the matter to the police."
"But how could you lose it?" asked Cora, taking off her heavy driving gloves and fanning her face with them.
"I don't know, unless when I leaned over to fix the mud guard of your auto the wallet may have slipped from my pocket. But I've looked every inch about that spot," and then Ed related how he had come to miss the money and securities.
"Oh, we must go back and help you look!" exclaimed Cora quickly. "Of course we will, won't we, Jack—Walter?"
"Sure," replied her brother, and Walter gravely nodded. He was trying to recall every incident of the happenings after the collision.
"We'll go right away," went on Cora. "Crank up, Walter. Few persons go over that road in the afternoon, and maybe we can find it."
"Oh, I assure you that it's useless," declared Ed. "I am only waiting here to report the matter to Chief Jenkins, and then I'm going to telephone the officials at the bank in New City, as I promised I would."
"Can't you stop payment?" asked Jack.
"Not on the money, and not very easily on the negotiable securities. That's the unfortunate part of it. If it had been a check I could."
"Queer, I almost had a premonition that something might happen to that twenty thousand," said Jack slowly. "Though I suppose if I say that it makes it look bad for me," he added with a smile.
"Oh, no," Ed answered, seriously enough. "Of course not."
"Come on; let's hurry back," suggested Cora. She re-entered the car, which shook from the running of the ungeared motor that Walter had started for her.
"Really, Cora," began Ed, "it is useless for you to take the trouble to go back and hunt for it, though I'm sure it's very kind—"
"It's no trouble at all."
"But have you been home to dinner?" asked Ed.
"No. Walter and I stopped at a little wayside restaurant and had lunch. Come on, we'll hurry back to the place where the collision took place. I'm sure we'll find the wallet. I'm very lucky that way."
"Let me wish you the best of luck," said Ed with an attempt at gallantry. "I'd go with you, only I must give the chief all the particulars, in case it's stolen, you know. Then I must telephone to the bank."
"That's all right," put in Jack. "Go ahead. We'll make a hunt for that small fortune. Can I do anything for you here?"
"No, thanks. I think not. You are going to have a useless errand, though, I fear, but I appreciate what you are doing for me."
"Come on—hurry!" cried Cora, all impatient to be off, and then, when Walter climbed in beside her and Jack sent his car off, following the big machine of his sister, Ed disappeared behind the door of the police station.
A VAIN SEARCH
"Here's where the collision occurred!" exclaimed Cora a little later, when her car and Jack's, having been sent at a fast speed down the road, came to a halt, and she directed her brother's attention to the spot.
"No, this isn't it," objected Walter. "It's farther on. It's right near an old stump, don't you remember?"
"Oh, yes," answered Cora as she sent her car ahead again. "This is where we nearly ran into the wagon. I'm so excited I can't think straight."
"Well, be sure you steer straight!" cried Jack from the rear. "I don't want to run into you. Better let Walter take the wheel."
"Indeed, I'll do nothing of the sort!" cried Cora, laughing. "With all due respect to you, Walter, of course," she added with a bright look up into the face of her companion. "But don't you think I can manage my machine pretty well?"
"More than pretty and more than well," was her escort's reply. "Jack is a base defamer of your ability."
"Oh, you had to say that, Walt!" cried Jack, the irrepressible. "Push on. We want to get that money before some one walks off with it."
They were soon at the spot, where many tracks in the road showed that there the collision had taken place. Here was where Ed had alighted to fix Cora's car. His small machine had on a set of peculiar tires, and the impressions and indentations of the rubber shoes, which were new, were plainly, visible in the road.
Stopping their machines alongside the highway, the three young people began a careful search of the dusty stretch. They went over every inch of the ground, particularly in the vicinity of the place where Ed had stopped to fix the broken mud guard. But there was no sign of the pocketbook.
"Maybe it was dropped farther back," suggested Jack.
"Well, we'll try there," assented Cora, and for ten minutes they walked up and down the road, some distance back from the place where Ed had alighted.
"Now try farther on," was Walter's suggestion, and they did this.
But all to no purpose. They were not rewarded by the welcome sight of a brown leather wallet, bulging with riches.
"It's no use," said Jack.
"Oh, let's try a little longer," begged Cora.
"Well, if he dropped it before he got here, or after he left, we might as well make the entire trip to New City, and then reverse and go to Chelton," went on Jack. "And we can't look over every inch of all the distance."
"We can drive along slowly," was Cora's idea. "The wallet is so large that it could easily be seen. It's too bad we haven't Sid and Ida along to help hunt for it. And the Robinson girls, and Mary. The more eyes, the better. I'll go on to New City, if you'll make a search on the road from here to Chelton, Jack."
"Oh, I don't know as it would do any good."
"It won't do any harm," said Walter. "That is, if Cora isn't too tired."
"Oh, I should love to go. I can't get enough of my new car. Will you come, Walter?"
"Then, Jack, you go back to Chelton and keep a lookout on both sides of the road."
"Hard to do that with one pair of eyes," was her brother's reply. "I wish I had some one to ride with me. But go ahead; I'll do the best I can."
"It would be a good plan," assented Cora, "to have a person with you. If you could pick up some one—"
"Or run across somebody," added Jack with a grin.
"No, Jack, I'm serious. Don't joke. Even a stranger would do. Some man—"
"Here comes a man now!" exclaimed Walter as an individual came in sight around a bend in the road. The man was not very well dressed.
"I don't like his looks," said Jack in a low voice. "He seems like a tramp."
"I don't blame you for not liking his looks," interrupted Walter. "That's Lem Gildy."
"The man we saw talking to Sid when he ran his auto into the blacksmith shop?" asked Cora.
"Humph!" mused Jack. "I don't exactly fancy telling Lem Gildy about a pocketbook containing twenty thousand dollars lying alongside the road. He might not admit that he saw it if he happened to spy it while with me, and later on he might come back and pick it up."
"Well, don't tell him what you're looking for," suggested Cora with ready wit. "Just say it's—er—a—er—"
"Say it's a lady's pocketbook," put in Walter, "and then he'll know it's got everything in it but money. That's playing a safety with a vengeance."
"Oh, so that's your opinion of us, is it?" asked Cora quickly. "But, after all, Jack, I think it's the best plan to ask him to ride back with you, and have him watch one side of the road. Of course, he's rather dirty—I mean his clothes—and it's not nice to sit alongside of him, but—"
"Oh, I don't mind clean dirt," interrupted Jack. "It's only garden soil on Lem's clothes. He does odd jobs, you know."
"Not very often," added Walter. "But go ahead, Jack. He's coming nearer. I don't believe you can do better than ask him to ride back to Chelton with you. Needn't be too specific about what's in the pocketbook. But two pairs of eyes are better than one, you know."
"All right," assented Jack. "Here goes."
Lem Gildy was shuffling along the road. He was a particularly unprepossessing man, with a reddish growth of whiskers which he never seemed to take the trouble to shave off, and they stuck out like so many bristles in a half-worn toothbrush.
His teeth were yellow, and his habit of chewing tobacco was not to be commended. In short, he was a "shiftless" character, and nice persons had very little to do with him.
"Hello, Lem!" called Jack pleasantly.
"Hello," was the rather surly answer, and Lem shot a suspicious glance at Jack. It was not often that the young and wealthy Jack Kimball condescended to speak to Lem Gildy, and Lem realized it.
"Want a ride?" went on Jack, trying to make his voice sound natural.
"Don't look as if you was goin' my way," replied Lem with a grin. Then he turned his gaze on Cora, and the beautiful girl could not repress a shudder as she felt the bold glance of the man.
"Oh, I'm going to turn around," declared Jack. "I'm going back to Chelton. That's where you're headed for, I take it?"
"Sure. That's where I'm goin', and I'm tired, too. I've had a long walk this mornin', and—"
"Are you working in the blacksmith shop?" asked Walter quietly.
"No. What made you think that?" asked Lem quickly. "If you think—"
Then he stopped suddenly. An indignant look, that Lem had assumed, faded from his face. "No, I wasn't workin' there," he went on. "I—er—I just stopped in to see about gettin' a piece of iron."
"Well, do you want to ride back with me?" asked Jack, who wondered at Walter's question.
"That's what I do, if you're goin' my way."
"Yes, I'll turn around in a minute. Go ahead, Cora and Walter. Get back as soon as you can."
Jack cranked up his car, got in, and, running in a half circle, steered it to where Lem was standing.
"I ain't much in the habit of ridin' in these here kind of wagons," remarked Lem with a smirk. "I hope nothin' happens t' us."
"I guess nothing will. But, Lem, I'm not going to give you a ride for nothing," said Jack.
The man drew back suspiciously. He had expected something like this, his manner seemed to say.
"I ain't got any money," he whined.
"No, it's not money," went on Jack. "I only want you to help me look for something."
"Look for Suthin'?"
"Yes; along the road."
"What's the matter? Lose part of your autymobil?"
"No; it's a pocketbook—a wallet."
"A wallet?" exclaimed Lem, with such suddenness that Jack started.
"Yes," cried the lad. "You don't mean to say you found it?"
Lem seemed agitated. He shuffled his feet in the dust.
"Me find a pocketbook?" he said at length with a short laugh. "Well, I guess not. I ain't in the habit of findin' such things as that. What kind was it, and what was in it?"
"It was a long one of brown leather," replied Jack, describing Ed's pocketbook and ignoring the question of what was in it. "A friend of mine dropped it along here, and we're helping him hunt for it. My sister and Mr. Pennington are going to look in one direction, and you and I'll look in the other."
Jack tried to make his voice sound friendly, but it was difficult work.
"You'll look on one side of the road, and I'll keep watch on the other," he went on.
"All right; I'm agreeable," said Lem with a leer. "I don't believe we'll find it, though—I ain't never very lucky."
He got into the auto beside Jack, and the two started off slowly. Cora and Walter also started, and the search for the missing twenty thousand dollars was continued.
Jack and Lem did not talk much on the way back. Lem Gildy was not an accomplished conversationalist, and Jack was too anxious to find the wallet to care for the distraction of talk. Several times he thought he saw the pocketbook, but each time it was a flat stone or a clod of dirt that misled him.
They reached Chelton, and Lem asked to be set down in a secluded street.
"Why?" asked Jack curiously.
"Because if some of me chums saw me ridin' in a swell wagon like this they'd never speak to me again," and Lem grinned and showed all his yellow teeth. "I was afraid we wouldn't find that pocketbook," he added.
"Well, maybe Cora will," said Jack.
"Yes," said Lem slowly, "maybe she will—or some one else will."
His tone was so peculiar that Jack asked quickly:
"What do you mean, Lem?"
"Oh, nothin'," and the fellow assumed an injured air. "Only if a pocketbook is lost, some one's bound to find it, ain't they?"
"I suppose so," assented Jack, and as he drove his car through the streets of Chelton, after the unsuccessful search, he found himself vainly puzzling over Lem's strange manner.
Then, as he was turning a corner, Jack caught sight of Ed.
"Hey!" he called.
Ed turned. There was a momentary look of hope on his face.
"Did you—" he began.
Jack sadly shook his head.
FINDING THE WALLET
"No luck, eh?" went on Ed as he approached Jack.
"No; that is, Lem and I didn't have any."
"Lem—do you mean to say Lem Gildy?"
"Now, don't get nervous. I didn't tell him it was your pocketbook that was lost. You see, I had to have some one keep watch on one side of the road while I looked on the other, and he was the only one available."
Then Jack related the details of the search.
"I'm glad Lem doesn't know about it," went on Ed. "I heard to-day that he and Sid Wilcox have been seen together several times lately, and I'm not quite ready to have my loss made public—especially to Sid."
"Maybe Cora and Walter will have better luck," suggested Jack hopefully. "We won't hear from them for some time, though. Did you 'phone to the bank in New City?"
"Yes. I told them I couldn't get any trace of the wallet here, and, as you know, I have already notified the Chelton police. They have been making a quiet search about town, but I fear it will be hopeless."
"The bank people didn't say it had been turned in there, by any chance, did they?"
"No such good fortune," and Ed laughed uneasily. "Well, I'm going home now to get a list of the bonds and their numbers, as well as the numbers of the big bills. The; police say they will want them when they send out a general alarm."
"But I thought you said you didn't want it generally known."
"I don't, until I have made a thorough search at home. It is barely possible that I took up the wrong wallet by mistake when I rushed out this morning. I have two that look exactly alike. I may have picked up the empty one, shoved it into my pocket, and lost that one. The one containing the bonds and cash may still be at my house. I am hurrying there to see. If I don't find it, the police are to send out a general alarm."
"I hope you find it."
"So do I. It means a big loss to me—almost my entire fortune gone. I don't know what I am going to do."
"Let's hope for the best," spoke Jack as cheerfully as possible, but there was a dubious look on his face as he watched Ed turn in the direction of his home.
But Ed found that he had made no mistake in the wallets. The empty one was safely in his room, but the one containing the twenty thousand dollars was—as he had feared—lost. He communicated this fact to the police, and soon the chief had ordered some handbills printed, describing the pocketbook and the contents, and offering a reward of five hundred dollars for the cash and bonds, Ed having agreed to pay this amount and ask no questions.
"Ha!" exclaimed Lem Gildy that night as one of the hastily printed bills came into his possession, "so this is the wallet they are lookin' for, eh? Twenty thousand dollars! But I knowed it all the while. As if Jack Kimball an' his sister could fool me! But I'll bleed him—that's what I'll do. I'll make him whack up—or—or I'lltell!" and Lem chuckled to himself, while there was a dangerous look on his mean face.
The search conducted by Cora and Walter was, as might be guessed, as unsuccessful as the one undertaken by Jack and Lem. Cora and Walter looked carefully over the whole length of the road to New City, but saw nothing of the wallet, and came back disconsolate in the auto.