E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE MOTOR GIRLS THROUGH NEW ENGLAND
Held by the Gypsies
The Goldsmith Publishing Co. New York, N.Y.
Copyright, 1911, by Cupples & Leon Company
I THE SHADOW II STRIKE OF THE LEADING LADY III A MISHAP IV TO THE RESCUE V FRIEND OR FOE VI A THIEF IN THE NIGHT VII THE SEARCH VIII THE BEGINNING OF THE END IX THE START X AN EXPLOSION XI THE RESULT OF A BLAZE XII QUEER COBBLERS XIII A DELAY AND A SCARE XIV THE MIDNIGHT TOW XV THE GIPSY'S WARNING XVI THE DISAPPEARANCE XVII MISSING XVIII KIDNAPPED XIX THE DEN OF THE GYPSY QUEEN XX CORA AND HELKA XXI MOTHER HULL XXII SADDENED HEARTS XXIII ANOTHER STORY XXIV THE COLLAPSE XXV THE AWAKENING XXVI SURPRISES XXVII THE CALL OF THE HEART XXVIII VICTORY XXIX A REAL LOVE FEAST
THE MOTOR GIRLS THROUGH NEW ENGLAND
"Look, girls! There's a man!"
"Just creeping under the dining-room window!"
"What can he want—looks suspicious!"
"Oh, I'm afraid to go in!"
"Hush! We won't go in just now!"
"If only the boys were here!"
"Well, don't cry—they will be here soon."
"See! He's getting under the fence! There he goes!"
"Did you get a look at him?"
"Yes, a good look. I'll know him next time."
Bess, Belle and Cora were holding this whispered conversation. It was Belle, the timid, who wanted to cry, and it was Cora who had really seen the man—got the good look. Bess did say she wished the boys were around, but Bess had great confidence in those boys, and this remark, when a man was actually sneaking around Clover Cottage, was perfectly pardonable.
The motor girls had just returned from a delightful afternoon ride along the shore road at Lookout Beach. Bess and Belle Robinson, otherwise Elizabeth and Isabel, the twins, were in their little car—the Flyaway—and Cora Kimball was driving her fine, four-cylinder touring affair, both machines having just pulled up in front of Clover Cottage, the summer home of the Robinsons.
"Did the boys say they would come directly from the post-office?" asked Belle, as she eyed the back fence suspiciously.
"Yes, they had to drop some mail in the box. We won't attempt to go in until they come. At any rate, I have a little something to do to the Whirlwind," and Cora pulled off her gloves, and started to get a wrench out of the tool box.
"I'll get busy, too," declared Bess. "It will look better in case our friend happens to come around the corner."
"No danger," and Cora glanced up from the tool box. "I fancy that gentleman is not of the type that runs into facts."
"Do you think he is a burglar?" asked Belle.
"Well, I wouldn't say just that. But he certainly is not straightforward. And that is a bad sign," replied Cora.
"And not a person in the house to help us," sighed Belle. "Oh, I don't see why mamma——"
"Now, Belle Robinson!" interrupted her sister. "You know perfectly well that mamma had to take Nellie and Rose over to Drifton. They have to get ready for school."
"Mamma fusses a lot over those two girls," continued Belle. "It seems to me a lucky thing they happened to run away—our way."
This remark was lost upon Bess and Cora. Bess was intent upon something—nothing definite—about the Flyaway, while Cora was working assiduously trying to adjust a leaky valve.
The prospect of dark coming on with no one but themselves about the cottage, and the late appearance of the strange man, kept each one busy thinking. Presently Belle exclaimed:
"Oh, here come the boys!" and without waiting for the young men to turn the corner, which marked the end of the Clover Cottage grounds, she ran along with the news.
Jack Kimball, Cora's brother, Walter Pennington, his chum, and Ed Foster, the friend of both, sauntered along.
"I suppose Belle will say we had a bandit," remarked Cora, with a laugh, "but to tell the truth, Bess, I did not like the fellow's looks." She closed the engine bonnet and hurried to the sidewalk.
"Neither did I," replied Bess, "but it never does to let Belle know how we feel. She is so nervous!"
"I'm glad the boys are here," finished Cora.
"Oh, I'm always glad when they are here," confessed Bess, stepping up beside Cora, as the two waited for Belle and the young men to come up the gravel walk.
"Hello, there!" saluted Jack. "More haunted house?"
"No, only more haunts," replied Cora. "Guess he didn't like the style of the house."
"Oh, you girls are too fussy," said Ed. "Seems to me if I were a young lady, and saw a young chap hanging under my window, I'd be sort of flattered."
"We prefer the hanging done in the open," exclaimed Bess. "Besides, he didn't hang—he sneaked."
"He crawled," declared Belle.
"No, I distinctly saw him creep," corrected Cora.
"Mere baby, evidently," hazarded Walter.
"Well, I suppose he was after——"
"Grub," interrupted Jack. "The creeping, crawling, sneaking kind invariably want grub. It was a shame to let him go off hungry."
They all took seats upon the broad piazza, after the boys, by a casual look, were satisfied that no intruder was about the grounds. Belle kept close to Ed—he was the largest of the young men—but Cora and Bess showed no signs of fear.
"Let's tell you about it," began Bess.
"Let's," agreed Walter.
"Then listen," ordered the young lady with the very rosy cheeks.
"Listen while they let's," teased Jack.
"I won't say one word," declared Bess; "not if the fellow comes down the chimney——"
Every one laughed. Bess had such a ridiculous way of getting angry.
"No joking," went on Cora, "when we came up the road we did see a fellow sneaking around the cottage. I'm not exactly afraid, ahem! but I may as well admit that I am glad you boys appeared just now, and I hope the interloper caught a glimpse, ahem! of your manly forms."
The three boys jumped up as if some one had touched a spring. Ed was taller, Walter was stouter and Jack was—well, he was quicker. Bess noticed that, and did not hesitate to say so in making her special report of the trio.
"At any rate," ventured Ed, "we are much obliged, Cora. It's awfully nice of you to notice us."
"Suppose we take a look through the house," suggested Cora. "Not that I think anything is wrong. You know, girls are never really afraid——"
"Oh, no! they are only afraid of being afraid," interrupted Walter. "Well, come along. And, since Ed is the biggest, let him lead!"
The incident merely furnished sport for the boys. A burglar hunt was no uncommon thing at Clover Cottage, and this one was no more promising that had been a dozen others. Belle did not venture in with the searching party. She had her fears, as usual. Cora by reputation was not timid, and she had that reputation to maintain just now. As a matter of fact, she knew perfectly well that the man who took the trouble to crawl around the house had some sinister motive in doing so. Bess had not really seen him do it, so when she went in, along with the boys, she had scarcely any fear of running down either a sneak thief or a tramp, both varieties of undesirable citizens being common enough at the watering place.
It did not strike Cora Kimball just then that she had a particular part to play in the impending drama which was to involve herself and her friends. In the first volume of the series, entitled "The Motor Girls," Cora found it her duty to unravel the mystery of the road, when a wallet, empty, but which should have contained a small fortune in bonds, was actually found in the tool box of her own car. Then in the next volume, "The Motor Girls on a Tour," Cora again had the lines of the leading lady, for it fell to her lot to "keep the promise" that restored little Wren, the cripple, to her own, both in money and in health. In the third book of the series, "The Motor Girls at Lookout Beach," it was Cora again who had to unearth the mystery, and now——
She smiled as she followed Ed into the big pantry.
"You girls and boys seem to count me a star," she said pleasantly. "Ever since we were organized you have been keeping me in——"
"The spotlight," finished Ed, with an unmistakable smile. "Well, Cora, we will try to let you down easy this time. Here, Bess, you poke your nose in the cubby hole and see if you see anything."
"Oh!" screamed Bess, "I'll do nothing of the sort. Let Cora."
"Why?" asked Cora.
"Because—you're never the least bit afraid," stammered Bess.
"Thanks," said Cora, without hesitation thrusting her head into the aperture through which dishes were passed. "Ouch!" she exclaimed, hastily withdrawing with her hand on her nose.
"What's the matter?" asked Ed. "Did you bump into something?"
"Yes," replied Cora, looking straight into the eyes of Bess. "I just bumped into—a fact."
Then she and her brother walked into another room, leaving their friends to discuss the happening and follow at their leisure.
STRIKE OF THE "LEADING LADY"
"Exactly what did you mean, Cora?"
"You know perfectly well, Jack."
"No, really, I did not know what you—bumped into. Did you hurt your nose?"
"Not the least bit, my dear brother. And the real bump—the fact, you know—was that I just discovered how much these two little girls depend upon me. Bess said I was never the least bit afraid——"
"And are you?"
"Perhaps. At any rate, I didn't like the looks of that man, Jack. I don't intend the girls shall know it, but I was just the least bit afraid to come in the house. Who do you suppose he might be?"
"Why, Cora!" and Jack looked his surprise. "What's up? Are you going to strike?"
"Don't you believe me, Jack, that I was afraid?"
"It is not like you. But I suppose there was something——"
"Well, Jack, even a leading lady may get tired. I am going to try to do a little less of the leading."
"Angry with the girls?"
"Why, bless you, no. Why should I be? Aren't they the dearest—babies. But you boys——"
"Oh, mad at us! Cora Kimball!" and her brother threatened to injure his beauty on the matting rug. "If I had only the least idea that you didn't like us, I would have packed the whole crowd off to the bungalow."
"Still you insist upon misunderstanding me. Well, I may as well give up, Jack. Let us talk about something else."
"I might make another mistake. But I would like to tell you what some of the boys said about the dance last night. They were just raving about you. Did you like Porter?"
"The boy with a smile? Yes, I did. I don't know when I saw a young man so real. You know, Jack, with all due respect to boys hovering around twenty, they usually display too much—hover."
"Chumpy, you mean."
"If the word were a little less—aspirated. Girls might say—crude."
"Real nice of the girls. But Porter asked me if I'd bring him around."
"Why not? Bess had a splendid time with him."
"But he spoke of you, Cora. And he's a great fellow at college."
"By all means cultivate the great," replied Cora. "But here come the others. Ask them."
"Striking again, Cora. All right. If Porter wants to take Bess to the games——"
"He's welcome. I have already promised Ed."
It was an hour after the strange-man scare, and the Robinson girls had finally been convinced that there were no miscreants lurking anywhere about the place. The excitement had made Bess prettier in the deep, red flush that overspread her face, and Belle, the pale, dainty blonde, had actually taken on a tint herself. Cora had the color that comes and stays, and only her deep brown eyes seemed brighter after the hunt had been declared "off."
"If mother were only home," sighed Belle.
"Thank goodness, she is not," put in Bess. "Bad enough to hunt burglars without consoling mamma."
"Are you girls going to stay alone to-night?" asked Ed suddenly.
"Oh, no, indeed! We expect Nettie back from the city. Never was there a girl like Nettie for scaring away scares," replied Bess.
"But suppose she does not come?" spoke Jack. "Don't you think it might be well——"
"To hire a special officer? No, thank you," answered Cora. "We are not the least bit afraid. Besides, we have a gun."
"The dearest little revolver," went on Bess. "Father got it specially for mamma, and she won't even look at it, so it's mine."
"Yes, and you most scared Nettie to death with it," interrupted the twin sister. "What do you think, boys? Nettie wouldn't touch the thing, and actually took a dustpan and a brush and scooped the weapon up from under Bess's pillow. Wasn't that dangerous?"
"And dumped it in the bureau drawer," added Cora, with a laugh. "Better let me take charge of that, Bess. I won't take chances with Nettie scooping it up while I'm here."
"Very well, Cora. You may take charge of it. Father suggested it was not a bad thing to have along when we take lonely runs. But, of course, I should never dare to fire it even to scare a tramp."
"Say, are you girls going to stay here all summer?" asked Walter. "I thought you had planned for a tour somewhere."
"We have. We are going to tour in our cars through New England," answered Cora. "First, we are going to the Berkshires, then we may go to the White Mountains. Of course, we are not going to let our cars get rusty around here."
"No, indeed," put in Bess. "We are only waiting to arrange about our chaperon. Isn't it dreadful to be a girl, and have to be toted around under some maternal wing?"
"Well, no. I shouldn't exactly think it dreadful to be a girl," and Jack made a funny face; "that is, a real nice twin girl, with rosy eyes and blue cheeks——"
"But I was just going to say," went on that young man, "that the toting around might be inconvenient—at times."
"Couldn't a fellow or two do the toting?" asked Walter the innocent.
"That's just exactly the trouble. If we were perfectly sure we would not meet a fellow or two," replied Belle, making a very pretty mouth at Walter, "there would be no need of the toting."
"Then don't meet them—take them along. I'll go."
"Me, too," added Ed.
"Me, three," multiplied Jack.
"We fully expected you all to come," drawled Cora coolly.
"Oh, you did? Isn't that nice! They fully expected us all to come, and never told us a word about it. Now, that's what I call real cozy, and real——"
"Jack," interrupted Cora, "have we ever had a long trip entirely without you?"
"Seems to me you did have one or two—rather disastrous they were, too, if I remember aright. But we caught up. Now this time you are really going to allow us to go in the line, eh?"
"Just to wind up the season," Cora reminded him.
"Oh, sort of a winder. Well, it's all right, Cora. I hope we can fix it to go. When do we start, if a fellow might make bold to ask? You see, my car is in the shop. Walter has loaned his to some one up the State. But a little thing like that doesn't matter when the girls say we shall go——"
"If we have to walk," finished Ed.
"We did plan to leave as soon as mamma could arrange about a friend of hers to accompany us," said Bess, with a sigh. "We hoped she would know when she came back to-morrow."
"Well, I'm going to take my car down to the garage," remarked Cora, getting up from the porch swing. "We can talk of the trip after tea. And we have also decided to ask you poor, starved bungalofers to tea. Have you had any since you went to housekeeping?"
"Ed said it was tea," replied Jack, "but I think it was stove polish thinned out. We didn't really enjoy it. Now, that's awfully nice. To stay to tea! Bess, may I take your car in for you?"
"If you would, Jack. I am lazy after the sunny ride. Seems to me the sun never goes down at the beach."
Ed had not asked permission to run Cora's car down the street for her, but he was now cranking up, while Walter deliberately took his place at the wheel.
"Let the 'chiffonier' do the work," said Walter, with a laugh. "He loves work."
Cora stepped lightly into the tonneau of her handsome machine, and Ed followed. "To the Imperial!" he shouted into Walter's ear, "and see that you get there, man!"
So the tables were turned, and Walter was "doing the work." As there was nothing left to do, Walter threw in the gear lever and let in the clutch, while Cora, laughing at the trick, settled herself comfortably at the side of Ed. The Whirlwind skimmed along the avenue, first down to the post office and later fetched up at the garage. Bess and Jack, with Belle, followed, and as the little party glided along through the sea-side town, many admiring glances were cast in their direction.
"If Nettie does not come," remarked Ed, "are you sure, Cora, you won't be the least bit afraid alone at the cottage?"
"Why, no. There is a telephone wire over to the hotel, and, besides, I'm going to cock the little ivory pistol before I go to bed. A sneak thief always runs at the very sound of a pistol."
"Well, I hope you will have no occasion to fire," replied Ed, "but, if you do, fire from the south window, and we will hear you."
"And run all the way up the beach?" Cora told him, laughing at the possibility. "Why, there is always an officer on the pier, and he will be only too glad to have a run—he needs it."
"You have it all planned?"
"No, how silly! I was only thinking that in a real emergency it is well to be ready."
"I guess you won't have any trouble. Here, man," to Walter, "don't you know better than to drive the lady into the barn?"
But Walter paid no heed, and before the car stopped it was properly stalled in the very end of the big stone garage.
"The tea was just right," declared Ed, "and I can't see why you will not consent to let us entertain you for the remainder of the evening. Just because the maid has not come down is surely no reason why you should lose such a fine evening's sport."
"But we never leave the house entirely alone after dark," protested Belle vaguely.
"Lucky house," put in Jack. "But I don't believe the cottage would mind it the least bit, would you?" and he put his ear to the wall. "No, it says to go ahead. Yes? What's that? Delighted? Of course, I knew it would be. Nice Clover," and he patted the plain, white wall. "Of course, you want the girls to go out with us in that dandy little launch. I knew it! Now, girls, get ready. It is time to start."
"And no chaper—" they all protested.
"Quit!" shouted Walter. "I have it on good authority that when a girl's brother is along, and when there are twins in the same party, and when there are two fellows, near twins, in aforesaid same party, that makes a cross-finger combination on the chaperon. She doesn't have to come along."
Walter was looking his very best, which was always good, for the brown boy was now browner than ever, with the tan of beach sand and sun. Bess wore a most becoming linen gown, with just a rim of embroidered pink around her plump neck, and she, too, looked charming. Then Belle—Belle always wore dainty things, she was so perfectly blonde and so bisquelike. Her gown was of the simplest silvery stuff that Jack described as cloudy. Cora, after her auto trip of the afternoon, had "freshed up" in dazzling white. She loved contrast, and invariably, after driving, would don something directly opposite to that required for motoring. Her dark hair looked blacker than usual against the fleecy white, and her face was strictly handsome. Cora Kimball had grown from pretty to handsome just as naturally as a bud unfolds into a flower, with the attending dignity.
"If Cora thinks it's all right," weakened Bess.
"I don't see why we shouldn't go," replied Cora, "especially as the boys cannot have the launch for another evening. But I suppose that would mean a second change of dress," with a look at the flimsy costumes about her.
"Why?" asked Jack.
"These—in the evening on the water?"
"Why not? Wear shawls or something——"
"Yes," assented Belle. "It is all right to be dressed up in a launch when we don't have to motor the boat."
"Oh, I'll attend to the motoring," promised Ed. "I am the fellow who borrowed the boat."
"Has Nettie a key?" asked Cora.
"I guess so," replied Bess. "We can leave the cellar window——"
"We can do nothing of the sort, Bess Robinson," interrupted Belle, "and have that man sneak in? I guess not!"
"Oh, your man!" protested Jack. "Haven't you forgotten him yet? That's what I call faithful."
"Well, at any rate, I am sure Nettie has her key," finished Bess. "And there is only one more train. If she does not come——"
"I'll sleep in the hammock on the porch," volunteered Jack. "It would be heaps better than melting in the bungalow to-night."
"I thought that bungalow was perfection," remarked Belle.
"It is—on the catalogue. But after a day's sun like to-day we just put our ham and eggs on the corrugated iron roof, and they are done to a turn in the morning, with nice little ridge patterns on them."
"If we are going sailing, we'd better be at it," Walter reminded them. Whereat the girls ran off to get wraps, and shortly returned ready for the trip.
Nor were the wraps lacking in beauty or usefulness. Cora had a family shawl—the kind that defies description outside of the French-English fashion papers. It was of the Paisley order, and did not seem to be cut any place; at the same time it fell in folds about her arms and neck with some invisible fastenings. Her hood was made from a piece of the same wonderfully embroidered stuff—a big red star, with the points drawn in. Bess and Belle both wore pretty cloaks of eiderdown. Bess was in pink and Belle in blue.
"Take your guitar, Cora," suggested Ed. "We will have some singing."
"And you can play that piece—what is it? 'Love's Hankering?'" asked Jack.
"'Love's Triumph,'" corrected Bess, "and it's the prettiest piece out this summer. Cora plays it beautifully."
"It is pretty," confirmed Belle.
"Yes, I like it," admitted Cora. "As long as you are bent on a romantic evening, we may as well have the little love song," and she slipped the strap of her guitar case over her arm as they started off.
Jack took his banjo. He, too, liked the new summer "hit;" in fact, every one was whistling it as well as they could, but it took tuned strings to give it the correct interpretation.
It was delightful on the water. The smaller bay opened into another and provided safe motor boating. The tide was slowly receding, and as the party glided along, little moonlight-tipped waves seemed to caress the launch. Jack and Cora were playing, Bess and Belle were humming, while Walter was "breathing sounds" that could scarcely be classified, and Ed was content to run the motor.
"Now, isn't that pretty?" asked Belle of Ed, as Cora and Jack finished the popular piece.
"Very catchy," replied the young man.
"But Cora has given it a twist of her own," said Jack; "the end goes this way," and he correctly played a few bars, "while Cora likes it thusly," and he played a strain or two more in different style.
Was it the moonlight on the baby waves? was it the murmur of that gliding boat? or was it something indefinable that so awakened the sentiments of the party of gay motorists?
For some moments no one spoke; then Jack broke the spell with a lively fandango, played in solo.
"This seems too good to last," prophesied Belle, with a sigh, "Do you think it was all right to leave the cottage alone?"
"Now, Tinkle," and Walter moved as if to take her hand, "haven't we assured you that the cottage expressly desired to be left alone to-night, and that we fellows wanted your company?"
It was a pretty speech for Walter, and was not lost on the sensitive Belle.
"How about sand bars, Ed?" asked Jack. "Might we run onto one?"
"We might, but I guess I could feel one coming. The tide is getting away. We had better veer toward the shore."
"Oh! is there danger?" asked Belle, immediately alarmed.
"Not much," replied Ed, "but we wouldn't like to walk home from this point." He was twisting the wheel so that the launch almost turned. Then a sound like something grating startled them.
"Bottom!" exclaimed Jack, jumping up and going toward the wheel. "That was ground, Ed!"
"Sounded a lot like it, but we can push off. Get that oar there, Walter; get the other and——"
The launch gave a jerk and then stopped!
"Oh! what is it?" asked Bess and Belle in one voice.
"Nothing serious," Cora assured them. "You see, the tide has gone out so quickly that it has left us on a sand bar. I guess the boys can push off. They know how to handle oars."
But this time even skillful handling of oars would not move the launch. Ed ran the motor at full speed ahead and reversed, but the boat remained on the bar, which now, as the tide rapidly lowered, could be plainly seen in the moonlight.
"What next?" asked Cora coolly.
"Hard to say," replied Ed, in rather a mournful tone. "If we had gone down the bay, we would not have been alone, but I thought this upper end so much more attractive to-night. However, we need not despair. We can wait for the tide."
"Till morning!" almost shouted Belle.
"It's due at three-thirty," announced the imperturbable Walter.
"Oh! what shall we do?" wailed Bess.
"We might walk," suggested Cora. "It isn't very far to that shore, and it's shallow."
"Mercy, no!" exclaimed Belle. "There are all sorts of holes in the mud here. I would stay forever before I would try walking."
Cora laughed. She had no idea of being taken seriously.
"Now, you see," said Walter, "my wisdom in curtailing the chaperon. Just imagine her now," and he rolled laughingly over toward Jack.
"Easy there! No need for artificial respiration or barrel-rolling just yet," declared Jack. "In fact, if we had a bit of water, we'd be thankful. Let me work the engine, Ed. Maybe I can give luck a turn and get more push out of it."
Ed left his place, and Jack took it, but the sand bar held the little launch like adamant, and it seemed useless to exert the gasoline power further.
"Suppose we have the little ditty again," suggested Ed, taking a seat near Cora. "What was it? 'Love's Latitude?'"
"No, 'Love's Luxury,'" asserted Walter, as he made a comical move toward Belle. But Belle was disconsolate, and she only looked at the moon. It was almost funny, but the humor was entirely lost on the frightened girl.
"When in doubt play 'The Gypsy's Warning,'" suggested Cora, picking up her guitar. "There is something bewitching about that tune."
"See if we can bewitch a wave or two with it," remarked Jack. "That would fetch us in a little nearer to shore."
But the situation was becoming more serious each moment. There they were—high though not exactly dry upon a big sand bar! Not a craft was in sight, and none within call!
"If we only could trust the bottom, we fellows might get out and push her off," suggested Walter, "but it wouldn't be nice to get right in the line with Davy Jones' locker."
"Oh, please don't do that," begged Bess. "It will be better to stay safely here and wait for the tide than to take any chance of losing——"
"Wallie. Sometimes he's Walter, but when it comes to the possibility of our losing him, he's Wallie," declared Jack, clasping his arms around the other boy's neck. "Starboard watch ahoy!"
"Right about face, forward march!" called Walter ridiculously.
"That's not the same set," corrected Jack. "This was another kind of a watch—stem winder."
The jollying of the boys kept the girls from actually feeling the seriousness of their plight. But to wait until morning for the tide!
TO THE RESCUE
"Don't tell the girls, but I am going to swim ashore," whispered Walter to Jack. "A nice fix we would be in if Mrs. Robinson came home and found the girls missing."
"Swim ashore!" repeated Jack in surprise. "Why, Walter, it's a mile!"
"Can't help it. I can do it, and I see a light directly opposite here. You give Ed the tip to keep the girls busy, while you stay back here with me. I'll be overboard in no time."
Jack tried to persuade his friend not to take the risk, but Walter was determined; so, unobservedly divesting himself of his heaviest garments, he dropped over the side of the launch and was soon stroking for the shore.
For some time the girls did not miss him, but Belle, keen to scent danger, abruptly asked if Walter had fallen asleep.
"Yes," drawled Jack, "he is the laziest fellow."
Cora pinched Jack's arm, and he in return gave her two firm impressions. She instantly knew that something was going on, and did her best to divert Belle's attention from it.
"But where—is—he!" exclaimed Belle, for her gaze had traveled to the end of the launch and back again without seeing Walter. "He—is gone!"
Realizing that the young man was actually not aboard the boat, she sank down in abject terror, ready to cry.
"Don't take on so," said Ed. "He is all right. He has gone ashore to get help."
"Gone ashore!" exclaimed both Belle and Bess in a breath.
"Girls, do you imagine we would sit here calmly and try to quiet you if there was anything actually wrong?" asked Cora. "Why don't you give the boys credit, once in a while, for having a little common sense?"
Looking across the water, the movement of the swimming youth could be seen, where the moonlight reflected on the waves.
"Oh, I am so frightened!" exclaimed Belle. "I felt that something would happen!"
"Something always does happen when it is expected," Cora told her, "but let us hope it will be nothing worse than what we already are conscious of. It was splendid of Walter to go, and I am sure he will return safely."
"He's a first-rate swimmer," declared Ed, looking anxiously at the little rippling motion that marked Walter's progress. "He can easily go a mile."
Then quiet settled upon the party. It was, indeed, a gloomy prospect. Stranded—Walter swimming in the bay—and nothing but sky above and water beyond them, just far enough away to be out of the reach of the launch.
All the thoughts of the young folks seemed to follow Walter. Belle hid her face in her hands, Bess clung to Cora, and the two young men watched the progress of the swimmer.
It seemed hours when, suddenly, a movement in the water, not far from them both, was noticed by Bess.
"Oh! what is that?" she called. "Can it be——"
"Oh, it's Walter!" shrieked Belle, clasping her hands.
"It can't be!" answered Ed, at the some moment raising a lantern above his head to see, if possible, what was making the splash in the water.
"It's as big—as—a——," began Belle.
"Horse!" finished Cora. "I saw a head just then."
"Oh, it's a whale!" cried Bess, actually dropping into the bottom of the boat as if to hide from the monster.
"And he may have eaten Walter!" wailed Belle.
"Girls!" commanded Cora. "Do try not to be so foolish. There are no whales in this bay." But all the same her voice was unsteady, and she would have given worlds for a reassuring shout from Walter.
"There he goes! It's a porpoise!" cried Jack. "No danger of one of those hog-fish going near a man. They're as timid as mice. Just see him go! There ought to be a lot of others, for they generally go in schools. Maybe this one was kept in because he couldn't spell 'book,' and is just getting home."
Cora breathed a sigh of relief at Jack's joking tone. She didn't care to see the big fish swim—she was only too glad that he was going, and that he was of the harmless species described by Jack. The others watched the porpoise as he made his way out to the open sea.
"My, I'll bet Walter was frightened if he met that fellow," said Ed. "I wish he hadn't gone," he whispered to Jack a moment later.
"He said he would fire a pistol when he got to shore. He took a little one with him, and it's waterproof. Let's listen."
As if the magical words had gone by wireless, at that very moment a shot was heard!
"There! He's safe! That was his signal!" cried Jack, and Cora said afterwards that he hugged Belle, although the youth declared it was his own sister whom he had embraced.
"Now, we will only have to wait and not worry," Ed remarked. "Over at that light there must be human beings, and they must have boats. Boats plus humans equal rescue."
The relief from anxiety put the girls in better spirits. Bess and Belle wondered if Nettie had returned, and speculated whether, on finding them gone, she might have notified the police. Cora was thinking about what sort of lifeboat Walter would return with, while Ed and Jack were content to look and listen.
A good hour passed, when a light could be seen moving about the beach.
"They're coming, all right," declared Ed. "Watch that glimmer."
The light moved first to the north, then in the other direction, until finally it became steady and was heading straight for the party in distress.
"Wave your lantern," suggested Cora. "They may not be able to see it as it stands."
Ed stood on the seat and circled the light about his head.
Breathlessly they stood there—waiting, wondering and watching.
"I'm going to call," said Bess, at the same moment shouting, "Walter!" at the top of her voice.
"C-o-m-ing!" came the reply, and this time it was an open question whether Bess hugged Ed or Jack.
"Now we will be all right," breathed Belle. "Oh, I shall never want to see a motor boat again! The Flyaway is good enough for me."
"Yes, I fancy a motor on the earth myself," Cora agreed, "but, of course, a little experience like this adds to our general knowledge. I hope Walter is all right."
"Just hear him laugh," said Jack, as a chuckle came over the water. "Likely he has struck up with some mermaid. It would be just Wallie's luck."
The merry voices that could now be heard were reassuring indeed. Nearer and nearer they came, until the girls actually became interested to the extent of arranging side combs and otherwise attending to little niceties, dear to the heart of all girls.
"It's a mermaid, sure," declared Jack. "I heard her giggle!" and he grabbed out Cora's side comb to arrange his own hair.
"Oh, it is—a girl," whispered Bess to Cora. "I heard her voice."
"I hope she's nice," answered Cora, "but as long as we get some one to pull us off we have no occasion to be particular."
By this time the rowboat was almost alongside.
"Hurrah!" shouted Jack.
"Also hurray!" added Ed.
"Walter, you're a brick!" exclaimed Cora fervently.
The light of the lantern now fell upon the face of the stranger.
The stranded ones looked upon the countenance of a girl, not perhaps a very young girl, nor a very pretty girl, but her face was pleasant, and she pulled a stroke as steady as did Walter.
Walter stood up. He was enveloped in a bath robe!
FRIEND OR FOE?
When their launch pulled up to the dock that night, an anxious party greeted them. Nettie had returned from the city, and upon finding the cottage deserted had waited a reasonable length of time before consulting the neighbors. Then she found that the young folks had gone sailing.
That settled it, for the waters of the bay are never considered too reliable, and when the girls did not return by ten o'clock Nettie locked up the cottage and set off for the beach.
Of course, she learned that such a party had gone out, but in what direction no one along the beach front seemed to know. The upper bay course was the last thing thought of, and, when Nettie did succeed in hiring a fisherman to set out and search, he went down the cove opposite to the course taken by Ed in his motor boat.
In half an hour the fisherman returned, and, as luck would have it, he brought with him Walter's cap, which had fallen overboard as the youth started out from the stalled motor boat, and so drifted in the other direction.
In the rapid time that bad news always flies, the report became circulated that a sailing party was lost. Hazel and Paul Hastings, two friends of the motor girls, heard the report at their cottage, and hurried down to the little wharf, where they found Nettie in the deepest distress.
Just as Paul was about to set out himself, the launch chugged in, with the party laughing and singing, Cora playing that same tune, and with our friends was the little lady from the bungalow, she who had rescued Walter, and who went with him to the succor of the stranded ones on the sand bar.
It was a wonderful evening, and when Cora, with Bess, Belle and Miss Robbins, the new girl, stepped ashore, they evidently did not regret the length of time spent upon the water.
Miss Robbins, it developed, was a young doctor, stopping up the river in a bungalow with her mother. Her boat was towed by the launch when they came in, and, although she wanted to row back, the others would not listen to such a proposition.
"It won't take half an hour to get to the garage and bring my car right down here," insisted Walter, "unless you prefer walking up to the cottage with the young ladies, and I can run over there for you. I will have you back in your bungalow in ten minutes more."
Miss Robbins was one of those rare young women who always did what was proposed for her, and she now promptly agreed to go to the cottage, and there await Walter and his car.
As they entered the little parlor Bess drew Cora aside and demanded:
"How ever did Walter find out that she'd just love to go to the Berkshires? And he wants to know if she is homely enough to be our chaperon," she added, with a laugh.
"She is," replied Jack's sister promptly, and in a tone of voice remarkably decisive for Cora, considering.
"But she's nice," objected Bess.
"Very," confirmed Cora, "and we should conform to the rules—homely, experienced and wise."
"She's a lot of those," went on Bess, who seemed taken with the idea of going to the hills with Miss Robbins as chaperon. "Besides, I like her."
"That's a lot more," said Cora, with a laugh. "I like her, too. It seems to me almost providential. We are going to the Berkshires, she wants to go, we can't get a mother to take us, so a young doctor ought to be the——"
"Very thing," finished Bess, and she joined the others indoors.
"But here is Walter back. How quickly he got around! Looks as if Walter is very keen on time—this time," and the tooting of the auto horn outside drew them to the door.
"Walter's privilege," whispered Cora, just as Miss Robbins hurried to the steps.
"Isn't this splendid," said the stranger, with polite gratitude.
"One would not mind getting shipwrecked often for an auto ride. And such an evening! or night, I suppose it is now."
"I'll go along," said Cora, realizing that she ought to do so.
"Me, too," said Jack, thinking he should go with Cora.
Bess and Belle would then be alone with Ed. Of course, Nettie was about, and they might sit on the porch until the others returned. Jack jumped in with Walter, while Cora and Miss Robbins took the second seat. The car was not Walter's runabout, but a larger machine from the garage.
"I'll have to come down in the morning for my boat," said Miss Robbins. "We've been living on soft clams lately, and I have to go out quite a way to dig them."
"Do you dig them?" asked Cora.
"Of course, why not? It is muddy and dirty, but it's lots cheaper than buying them, and then we are sure they are fresh."
"I'll go up in the boat when I fetch the robe back," said Walter, who, it was plain to be seen, liked the excuse to visit the bungalow on the rocks. "What time do you clam?"
"Well, I have to call at the fresh-air camp tomorrow. I'll be back about eleven, and can then get some dug in time for lunch."
"We are bungalowing," spoke Jack. "Why can't we clam, Wallie?"
Walter poked his free elbow into Jack's ribs.
"You can, of course, what's to prevent you," and he gave him such another hard jab that Jack grabbed the elbow. "But I wouldn't start tomorrow—it's unlucky to clam on Wednesday," finished Walter.
The girls were too busy talking to notice the boys' conversation, if the pokes and exclamations might be classified as such.
"Don't you ever sink?" called back Jack to Miss Robbins.
"Oh my, no! I can tell all the safe and unsafe places." And she laughed merrily.
"It is late for us to bring you home," said Cora. "I hope your mother won't be frightened at your absence."
"Oh, no, mother has absolute confidence in me," replied Miss Robbins. "You see, mother and I are chums. We built the bungalow."
"Built it?" echoed Cora.
"Yes, indeed. You must come around in daylight and inspect it. Poverty may not be a blessing, but it is a pace-setter."
Walter felt this was the very kind of a girl he had dreamed of. She might not be pretty, but when she tossed the bath robe out to him as he was virtually washed up at her door, tossed it out while she ran to get her own wraps to join him in the rescue, he felt instantly that this girl was a "find." Then, when she spoke of going to the Berkshires, he was further convinced, and now, when she told of building a bungalow—what an acquisition such a woman would be!
"Aren't you afraid in the bungalow—just you and your mother in this lonely place?" asked Cora, as they drew up to the territory that outlined a camping ground.
"Well we never have been afraid," replied Miss Robbins, "as I am pretty good with a revolver, but there seems to be some tramps around here lately. One visited us this morning before breakfast, and mother remarked he was not at all a pleasant sort of customer."
"We had something like a similar call," said Cora, "only the man didn't ring the bell—he crawled around the house."
"Mercy! Why didn't the boys chase him?"
"They did, but he was beyond chase when they arrived. That's the one thing uncertain about boys—their presence when one wants them," and Cora stepped out of the machine to allow Miss Robbins room to pass.
"There's a light in the window," remarked Jack, as he, too, alighted from the machine.
"And there's mother! Mother, come out a minute," called Miss Robbins. "I want to——"
"Daughter!" exclaimed the woman at the little door. "I am almost frightened to death. What happened? Where's your boat?"
"Why! you frightened, mother? About me?"
"Well, I suppose I should not have been," and the lady smiled as she stepped within range of the auto lamps. "But that horrid tramp. He came again!"
"He did! How long ago?"
"Just as you left. I cannot imagine why he should sneak around here at this hour. He could not have wanted food."
There was no time for introductions. The excitement of Mrs. Robbins precluded any such formality. All talked just as if they had been well acquainted.
"We could tell the town officers," suggested Walter. "It is not safe for women to be alone away up here."
"He wanted to hire a boat, Regina," said the mother, "just as if he could not get one handy at the pier."
"Shall we hunt for you?" asked Jack. "We are professional burglar hunters—do it 'most every evening."
"Oh, thank you! but there are no hiding places about our shack. Either you are in it or out of it, and in one way or the other one is bound to be in evidence," said Miss Robbins, smiling frankly.
"What did your visitor look like?" inquired Cora.
"He was tall and dark and very stooped," replied Mrs. Robbins. "Besides this, I noticed he wore boots with his trousers outside, as a farmer or clammer wears them."
"Oh!" said Cora simply. But she did not add that this description tallied somewhat with that of the man she had seen about Clover Cottage. She particularly saw the boots, but many clammers wear them that way.
"I fancy the girls will be timid to-night," Cora remarked, as they started back to the cottage.
"Yes, this has been what you might call a portentous evening," agreed Walter, "and I do declare I think Miss Robbins is—well—nice, to put it mildly."
"Wallie," said Jack. "I will have an awful time with you, I can see that. But you are young, boy, very young, and she is already a doctor, so maybe there is hope—she may be able to cure you."
A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
"I heard it!"
"I would have to go out in the hall—the noise was somewhere near the second stairs."
"But I am so frightened—I shall die!"
"No, you won't. Please be quiet! I have the little revolver!"
Cora crept out of bed and left Belle trembling there. She only advanced a few steps when the sounds in the hall again startled her. The stairs certainly creaked. There was no cat, no dog. Some one was walking on those steps.
Cora realized that discretion was the better part of valor. It would be foolhardy to run out in the hall, even with the cocked revolver in her hand. If she could only touch the button of the electric hall light! She stepped out cautiously. Something seemed very near, yet, at that moment, there was no sound, just that feeling of some one near.
She reached her arm out of the door, touched the button, and, in an instant, had flooded the hall with light.
As she did so she saw a man turn and run down the three steps near the window, part way up the stairs.
The window was open! Cora was too frightened to move for a moment, then she raised her revolver, and the next instant the sound of a shot rang through the house.
The man dropped out of the window.
Cora ran to it, looked down, saw the figure on the ground beneath, and fired again, but not at the man.
With a cry the fellow jumped up, and as he hurried away Cora saw that he limped. She must have hit him!
In all this time she could not give a word to the three frightened girls who were screaming and shouting for help. Nettie had run down from the third floor, Belle was threatening to die, and Bess was doing her best to make the boys down at the bungalow hear her cries.
"Did you kill him?" gasped Belle, when Cora finally returned to the bedroom.
"No, indeed, but I guess I hurt him a little. He limped off rather unsteadily. I had no idea of hitting him, but just as I fired toward the window he darted into it. I could not help it. He should have surrendered."
Cora was as pale as death. Her black hair fell in a cloud about her shoulders. She sank into a chair and still held the smoking weapon.
"Put that down!" commanded Nettie.
"Not yet—he might come back," murmured Cora. "There is no reason for you to fear, it is not cocked," and she held up the revolver to prove her words.
"Oh, do put it down!" begged Belle.
"Seems to me you are more afraid of the revolver than of the burglar," remarked Cora. "Do you realize that a man has just jumped out of the window?"
"Of course we do," wailed Bess, "but we don't want any more things to happen, and it's always the perfectly safe, unloaded guns that shoot people."
"Oh, I'll put it away, if you feel so about it," and Cora stepped over to the dresser as she spoke. "I really hope I have not hurt the man very much!"
"Couldn't have, when he was able to get away," declared Nettie. "But I just wish you had! The idea of a mean man sneaking around here! Likely he's taken the silver. I didn't bring it up last night!"
"Well, that was not your fault, Nettie," Bess said. "We had so much excitement last night you are not responsible. Besides, you wanted to go down for it, and I said not to bother. But I hope he didn't take grandma's spoons."
"Let's go down and find out," suggested Cora.
"Oh, mercy, no!" cried Belle, who all the time continued to shiver under the bed clothes. "Let the old silver go—grandma's spoons and all the rest. We may be thankful we are alive."
"But the man is gone," declared Cora. "I saw him go."
"Yes, but there might be another man down stairs. Who knows anything about such persons or their doings?"
"Again I'll agree, if it makes you feel better," replied Cora. "But, you see, mother has been away so much, and Jack is always at college, so that I am rather educated in this sort of thing," and as she glanced at her watch on the dresser the other girls could not help admiring her prudent courage.
"What time is it?" asked Nettie.
"The mystic hour—when we are supposed to be farthest from earth," replied Cora. "Just two."
"There is no use in trying to sleep any more," said Bess. "We might better get up and dress."
"And look like valentines in the morning! No, indeed, I am going to bed," and Cora deliberately dropped herself down beside Belle.
"Oh, Nettie will keep guard," said Bess, apparently disappointed that Cora should give up her part of the "guarding."
"Strange, the neighbors did not hear the shots," the maid said. "But it is just as well. We might have had to entertain people more troublesome than burglars. I'm going down stairs. I must look about the spoons. Mrs. Robinson will be so angry——"
"You will do nothing of the sort, Nettie!" commanded Belle, sitting bolt upright. "I tell you we must all stick together until morning. I won't consent to any one leaving the room!"
Even Bess laughed, the order was so peremptory. Nettie fussed around rather displeased. Finally she asked if the young ladies wanted anything, and learning that they did not made her way upstairs.
"If you are to stay in this room, Bess," said Cora, "please get some place. I want to put out the light."
"Oh, we must leave the light burning," insisted Belle.
"Must we? Very well," and Cora drew a light coverlet over her eyes. "Good night, or good morning, girls. Let me sleep while I may. Who knows but the officers will be after me in the morning!"
Bess dropped down upon the couch in the corner. Both twins had unlimited confidence in Cora, and as the time wore on they both felt, as she did, that there was no longer need for alarm.
"She's actually asleep," said Belle quietly.
"Good girl," replied Bess. "Wish I was. I hate to be awake."
"But some one has to watch," said the sister.
"He might come back."
"With a ball in his leg, or somewhere? Not much danger. Cora was plucky, and we were lucky. There! a rhyme at this hour! Positively dissipation!"
"I am glad mother was not at home," whispered Belle. "Of course, that was the man who has been sneaking around."
"Did Cora say so?"
"No, not just so, but she said she saw him."
"Do you suppose they will say anything about her shooting him?" (This in a hissed whisper.)
"I must—go to—sleep!"
"Then I must stay awake. Some one has to watch!"
The spoons were gone!
Nettie discovered this very early the next morning, for the truth was, the maid did not return to sleep after the escape of the burglar from the Robinson cottage.
The fact that she had been intrusted with the care of the table silver, during the absence of Mrs. Robinson, gave the girl grave anxiety, and, although Bess was willing to say it was partly her fault that the silver had not been brought upstairs that night, Nettie felt none the less guilty.
The boys, Ed and Jack, were around at the cottage before the tired girls had a chance to collect themselves after breakfast.
"We have got to make a quiet search first," said Jack, after hearing the story. "No use putting the officers on until we get a look over the neighborhood. From Cora's version of the affair he could not have gone very far."
This was considered good advice, and accordingly Jack went back to the bungalow for Walter, so that all three chums might start out together.
"Did you really get a look at him?" Ed asked Cora.
"Not exactly a look," replied Cora, "but I noticed when he jumped up into the window that he wore a beard—he looked almost like a wild man."
"Naturally he would look to you that way, under the circumstances," said Ed, "but what stumps me is how you expected him—how you had the gun loaded and all that."
"Well, didn't he prowl around the very first day we came in from leaving mother at the train? He seemed to know we would be alone," declared Belle. "I hope he is so badly hurt that he had to——"
"Give up prowling," finished Cora. "Well, I hope he is not badly hurt. It is not pleasant to feel that one has really injured another, even if he be a bold, bad burglar."
"Don't let that worry you," encouraged Ed. "I rather guess his legs are used to balls and bullets. But here come the fellows. So long, girls," as he started off to meet Walter and Jack. "If we don't get the spoons we will get something."
"Where are they going?" asked Bess.
"Oh, I am so nervous and tired out this morning!" and Belle's white face corroborated that statement. "I feel I will have to go back to bed."
"It's the best thing you can do," advised Cora, for, indeed, the dainty, nervous Belle was easily overcome. "I might say, though, go out on the porch and rest in the hammock. The air will help."
Nettie was already searching and beating the ground from under the hall window out into the field, and then into the street. She had found one spoon, and she had also found a spot that showed where some one had lately been lying in the tall grass.
Cora joined her now, and the two came to the conclusion that the man had rested there possibly to do something for the injured foot or leg.
"It is well you found even one spoon," said Cora, bending low in the bushes to make sure there were no more dropped there, "for that will help in identifying the others."
"But I do feel dreadfully," sighed Nettie. "I have been with Mrs. Robinson so long, and nothing of the kind has ever before happened."
"There has to be a first time," said Cora, "and I am sure Mrs. Robinson will not blame you."
"Only for you what might have happened," exclaimed the girl, looking into Cora's flushed face. "I cannot see how you ever had the courage to fire!"
"I had to! Think of three helpless girls—and a desperate man. Why, if I showed fright, I am sure we might have all been chloroformed or something. Why, what's this? I declare! a chloroform bottle! There! And it's from the town drug store! Well, now, wasn't it lucky I had the revolver?" She picked up a small phial.
"Don't tell Miss Bess or Miss Belle," cautioned Nettie. "They are so nervous now, I think they would not stay in the house another night if they knew about the bottle."
"All right," agreed Cora, "but it will be well for the boys to know about it. It shows that the man went to the Spray drug store, and that he must belong about here some place."
Meanwhile, Ed, Jack and Walter had done considerable searching. They followed what they took to be a trail, down over the railroad tracks, through swamps, and they finally brought up at an abandoned gypsy camp!
"They left in a hurry," declared Ed. "See, they had a meal here last night, at least."
The remains of food and of a campfire showed that his surmise was correct, and Jack made bold enough to pull down an old horse blanket that hung to the ground from the low limbs of a tree. "Hello! Who are you?" exclaimed Jack, for back of the improvised curtain lay a man asleep!
The other boys ran to the spot.
"That's him," whispered Ed, ignoring his education. "Look at the bandaged foot!"
The man turned over and growled. He was not asleep, but pretended to be, or wanted to be.
"Here!" exclaimed Ed, giving him a shove, "wake up! We want those spoons you borrowed last night!"
The fellow pulled himself up on his arms and made a move as if to get something in his pocket, but the boys were too many and too quick for him.
Ed and Walter had his arms secure before he had a chance to sit upright. Jack whipped out a strap, and while the fellow vigorously protested and exerted a desperate effort to free himself, the young men made him their prisoner.
"You stay here, and I will go for the officer," said Jack, having tied fast the man's hands and noting that the sore foot would not permit of any running away.
"What do you want?" shouted the man. "If you don't let me go, I'll——"
"Oh, no, you won't," interrupted Ed.
"A nice chap to break in on a couple of girls! Even robbers should have some honor," and Ed pushed the man back into the grass just to relieve his feelings.
"I didn't do no breaking in," said the fellow, turning in pain. "I got kicked with a horse."
"A little iron broncho," remarked Walter, with a smile. "Well, that sort of kick stays a while. I guess you won't feel like running after that horse. Did he run away?"
The man looked as if he would like to strangle Walter, but he was forced to lie there helpless.
Jack had gone. The officer, after hearing the story, decided to ask Cora to go to the swamp to identify the man. With this intention the two stopped at the cottage, and Cora promised to hurry along after them down to the abandoned camp.
"I can't go this very minute," she said, "but I know the way. I will follow directly."
"No need to go into the woods," said the officer, on second thought. "Just step down to the station house. We will have him there inside of half an hour."
This was agreed upon, and when Jack and the Constable had gone toward the camp, Cora, without telling Bess or Belle, who did not happen to see the man with Jack, slipped into a linen outing suit and started for the country police station.
The road led cross-cut through a lot. There were trees in the very heart of this big meadow, and when Cora reached a clump of birches she was suddenly startled to see an old woman shuffling after her. Cora stopped instantly. It was broad daylight, so she had no thought of fear.
"What do you want?" she demanded of the woman, whom she saw was an old gypsy.
"I—want—you, young lady!" almost hissed the woman. "Do not get Salvo into trouble!" and she raised a black and withered hand in warning, "or trouble shall be upon your head!"
"Tony Salvo! Liza has spoken!" and the old gypsy turned away, after giving Cora a look such as the young girl was not apt soon to forget.
But Cora went straight on to the police station.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Cora was pale and frightened. Jack and Ed had already reached the office of the country squire, where that official had taken the sulky prisoner. Walter went back to the cottage to assure the young girls there that everything would ultimately be all right.
From under dark, shaggy eyebrows the man stared at Cora. He seemed to know of the gypsy woman's threat, and was adding to it all the savagery that looks and scowls could impart. But Cora was not to be thus intimidated—to give in to such lawbreakers.
"Do you recognize the prisoner?" asked the officer.
"As well as I can tell from the opportunity I had of seeing him," replied the girl, in a steadied voice.
"What about him do you remember?"
"The beard, and the fact that he is lame. I must have hit him when I fired to give the alarm."
The man looked up and smiled. "Humph!" he grunted, "fired—to give—the alarm!"
"Pretty good firing, eh?" demanded the squire. "Now, Miss Kimball, please give us the whole story."
Again the man cast that swift, fierce look at Cora, but her eyes were diverted from him.
"The first time I saw him—I think it was he—was one evening when we were returning from a motor ride. I saw a man creeping around the cottage. He had that peculiar stoop of the shoulders."
"He's got that, all right," agreed the squire.
"The next time I saw the person, whom I take to be this man, was last night, about midnight. I was aroused from sleep, and upon making a light in the hall I saw a man under the window. The next moment he jumped out, and again I saw the figure under the window."
Cora paused. Somehow she felt unreasonably nervous, but the strain of the night's excitement might account for that.
"What have you got to say for yourself, Tony?" asked the squire.
"Not guilty," growled the man. "I was at the camp last night, and when the old folks were packing up I got kicked with that big bay horse. Ouch!" and he rubbed the injured leg.
"Looks funny, though, doesn't it, Tony?"
Jack and Ed were talking to Cora. "If you have finished with us, Squire Redding, we will leave," said Ed. "My sister is not used to this sort of thing."
"Certainly, certainly," agreed the squire politely. "I am much obliged for her testimony. I guess we will hold Tony for the grand jury. Gypsies in this county have to be careful, or they lose their rights to come in here. I think, myself, we would be better off without them."
"Then give me a chance to leave," snapped the man. "The rest are gone. We are done with this blamed county, anyhow."
"Well, you will have to settle up first," declared Squire Redding. "Those spoons were valuable."
"I ain't got no spoons! I tell you I was at the camp all night, and I don't know nothin' about this thing."
"Very well, very well. Can you furnish a thousand-dollar bond?"
"Thousand-dollar bond!" and the gypsy shifted uneasily. "I guess not, judge."
"Then here comes the man to attend to your case. Constable Cummings, take this man to the station again and lock him up. Here, Tony, you can walk all right. Don't play off that way."
But Tony did not move. He sat there defiant.
Officer Cummings was a big man and accustomed to handling prisoners as rough and as ugly as this one. The two steel cells back of the fire house were often occupied by rough fishermen and clammers who forgot the law at the seaside place, and it was always Tom Cummings who put them in "the pen."
"Come, Tony," he said, with a flourish of his stick. "I never like to hit a gypsy; it's bad luck."
The prisoner looked up at big Tom. Then he shuffled to his feet and shambled out of the room.
As he passed down the stone steps he brushed past Cora. Whether intentionally or otherwise, the man shoved the girl so that she was obliged to jump down at the side of the step. Jack saw it and so did Ed, but big Tom winked at them and merely hurried the prisoner along. Cora only smiled. Why should the man not be rude when her evidence had accused him of a serious crime—that of breaking and entering?
"I didn't tell you about the bottle," she said to the boys as they walked along. "I found this bottle in the fields."
"Chloroform!" exclaimed Jack. "You should have told the judge, Cora."
"But could I prove that the man had it? Besides, it would be awful to have that made public."
"You are right, Cora," agreed Ed. "First thing we'd know, it would be in the New York papers. 'Attempt to Chloroform Three Young Girls!' That would not be pleasant news for the folks up home way."
"Oh, well, I suppose you are right," said Jack. "But that bottle puts a different light on the case, and it seems to me the fellow ought to suffer for it."
"And do you know that old gypsy woman, Liza, met me and tried to scare me into—or out of—identifying Tony? She made a most dramatic threat."
"Did, eh? I thought all the gypsies had cleared out!" exclaimed Jack. "I'll go and get a warrant for her——"
"She took the eleven o'clock train," said Cora. "I saw her going to the station as I came up the street. Oh, I wouldn't bother with the poor old woman. This man is her brother, and naturally she wants to keep him out of trouble."
"At the expense of trouble for others." Jack was determined to have justice for his sister. "I'm going to make sure she and the whole tribe have left the county. The lazy loafers!"
"Now, Jacky," and Ed smiled indulgently. "Didn't Liza tell your fortune once, and say that you were going to marry the proverbial butter tub? It is not nice of you to go back on a thing like that."
"Did it strike you, boys, that this man answers the description of the man Mrs. Robbins was frightened by?" asked Cora.
"That's so," agreed Ed. "I'll bet he had his eye on something around the bungalow—not Miss Robbins, of course."
"Well, it seems better that he is now safe," said Cora, with a sigh. "I'm glad I am through with it."
"I hope you are," said Ed, and something in his manner caused Cora to remember that remark. "I hope you are!"
But Cora was not through with it by a great deal—as we shall soon see.
"Dear me! I did think something else would happen to prevent us from getting off," said Bess, as she and Belle, with Cora, actually started out to get the autos ready for the tour to the Berkshires. "And to think that Miss Robbins can go with us!"
"I'm sure she will be a lot better than a nervous person like dear mamma," said Belle. "Not but what we would love to have mamma go, but she does not enjoy our kind of motoring."
"It does seem fortunate that Miss Robbins wanted to go," added Cora. "I like her; she is the ideal type of business woman."
"Is she?" asked Belle, in such an innocent way that the other two girls laughed outright.
"Oh, I suppose I ought to know," and Belle pouted; "but we always think Cora knows so much better—and more."
"Which is another fact I have bumped into," said Cora.
"I just feel that we are going to have the jolliest of good times," remarked Bess, as they started down the road. "I never care what route we take. Isn't it fine that the boys attended to all that arrest and police business for us?"
"Very fine," agreed Cora, "but I like to have my say now about our plans. We are going to take the main road along the New York side. We will touch Bridgeport and Waterbury. You might like to know that much."
"There are the boys, and there is Miss Robbins! My, doesn't she look smart!" suddenly exclaimed Bess.
"That's a smart outfit," Cora agreed, as they saw the party approaching, Miss Robbins "done up" in a tan suit, with the exact shade in a motor cap.
"I'm so glad we have all the things in the cars. It is so much better to do that the night before," remarked Belle.
"But you didn't do it the night before; I did!" her sister reminded her.
"Did you bring the hot-water bottle?" asked Cora. "If Belle gets a headache, you will surely need it."
This was not a joke, neither was it intended for sarcasm, for on previous tours Belle had suffered, and the getting of reliable remedies was one of the real discomforts of the trip.
"I put in the water bag and mustard, too," said Belle. "Bess is just as likely as not to get a cold, and she has to have mustard."
"I suppose Cora brought cold cream," called Bess, with a laugh. "That is usually the important drug in her medicine chest."
"I did," admitted Cora. "I will surely have to use a barrel of it going through the changes in the hills. I cannot stand a stinging face."
Mrs. Robinson had taken a notion that her twins were outgrowing their twinship, consequently their outfits for the mountain trip had been made exactly alike in material and effect. The result was, the boys purposely mixed the girls up, asking Belle what made her so thin, for instance, when they knew perfectly well that she was always thin, and that it was Bess who had to own to being stout.
The twins' costumes were of hunter-green corduroy, with knitted green caps. Cora wore mole-color cloth, with a toque to match, and as they now stood before the garage, waiting the coming of the others, who had stopped at the post office, many admiring eyes turned in their direction.
"They have a lot of mail," remarked Cora gleefully, as Jack waved letters and cards to her. "I hope it is nothing we don't want just now."
"As long as the gypsy man is safe, we needn't fear anything unpleasant," said Bess, "but I did feel a lot better when I heard that they took him to the real county jail."
"Oh, yes," and Cora laughed. "You seemed to think that man was our particular evil genius. Bess, all gypsies are supposed to steal."
"Here we are!"
"Everybody and everything!"
"No, Wallie forgot his new handkerchief—the one with the pretty rose in the corner."
"And Jacky forgot his rope. We won't be able to haul him this time."
"I forgot something," began Miss Robbins, "my absorbent cotton. See to it that if you must get hurt you don't get——"
"The nose-bleed," Ed finished more practically than eloquently.
Miss Robbins was to travel in Cora's car, with Cora and Hazel Hastings. The boys had tried to alter this plan, they declaring one boy, at least, should go in the big car, but Cora argued that the Whirlwind was distinctly a girl's auto, and only girls should travel in it. This put Jack in his own runabout and Walter and Ed in the Comet. The Robinson girls, of course, were not to be separated, as the Flyaway seemed to know all about the twins, and the twins knew all about the Flyaway.
The weather was uncertain, and the fog horn at the point lighthouse had blown all night, so that the girls were naturally apprehensive. Only Cora's car was canopied, so that should it rain they would be obliged to stop and wait for clear weather.
Nevertheless it was a very jolly party that now waited at the garage for the machines to be run out. The boys went inside and attended to the very last of the preparations, while Cora, too, insisted upon looking over her machine before starting off.
"You'll have a fine trip," remarked the man at the garage. "I think the run through the Berkshires one of the best there is. Fine roads and nice people along the way."
"Well, we need both," answered Miss Robbins. "I don't know so much about roads, but people—we always need them."
"All aboard," cried Ed, as finally they all did get into the cars, and, as usual, the Whirlwind led. Next came the Flyaway, then the two runabouts with the young men.
"What a fine chauffeur Miss Cora is?" remarked Miss Robbins to Hazel.
"Yes, but you must call her Cora," corrected Hazel gayly. "We make it a rule to go by first names when we like people."
"Then you must call me Regina," added Miss Robbins. "I hope the young men don't make me Reggie."
"They're very apt to," commented Hazel.
Cora had thrown in the third speed, and was now bending over her wheel in real man fashion. They were getting out on the country roads, where all expected to make good time. Bess also threw on her full speed, following Cora's lead, and the boys, of course, gave the speeding signal on their horns.
"My!" exclaimed Miss Robbins admiringly, as the landscape flashed by.
"Can't we go," added Hazel exultingly.
"It's like eating and drinking the atmosphere," continued the young lady physician.
"I do love autoing," went on Hazel. "My brother is a perfect devotee of the machine. But we do not happen to own one of our own."
"That is where good friends come in," said Miss Robbins. "This trip is a perfect delight to me. And, really, it will fix me up wonderfully for what I have to undertake this fall. You see, we have just closed the bungalow, mother has gone home, and that left me free to go to the Berkshires and have a little pleasure, together with attending to some business. I have a very old patient there. I have to call on her before she leaves the hills."
"And you really have patients?" Hazel looked in surprise at the young woman beside her.
"Of course, I do. But this one I inherited—she is a great aunt of mine."
Hazel leaned forward to ask Cora what her speedometer was registering.
"Only twenty miles an hour," replied Cora. "And we could go thirty easily. But I don't fancy ripping off a shoe, or doing any other of the things that speed might do."
"I shall enjoy it all the more when I am so sure of that," spoke Regina. "I cannot see why people take risks just for the sake of——"
"Hey, there!" shouted Ed, as his car shot past Cora's. "We are going on ahead."
"So—we—see!" answered Cora dryly.
"What do you suppose they are up to?" asked Bess, as she turned the Flyaway up to the side of the Whirlwind.
"Haven't any idea," replied Cora, just as Jack, too, shot by.
"See you later," called Jack.
"Not deserting us, are they?" asked Regina.
"Oh, no, just some lark," answered Cora.
But scarcely had the boys' machines disappeared than a trail of three gypsy wagons turned into the mountain highway from some narrow crossroad.
"Oh!" sighed Belle, apprehensively clutching the arm of her sister.
"Don't, Belle. You almost turned me into the Whirlwind," cautioned the sister, as she quickly twisted around the steering wheel.
"Those are the beach gypsies," Cora was able to say to Bess.
Then no one spoke. Bess leaned over her wheel, while Cora looked carefully for a place to turn out that would bring her clear of the rumbling old wagons.
A woman sat in the back of one of the vehicles. She poked her head out and glared at the approaching machines. Then she was seen to wave a red handkerchief so that the persons in the next wagon could distinctly see it.
The motor girls also saw it.
This caused some confusion, as the motorists were trying to get out in the clear road, while the wagons were blocking the way.
Then, just as the Whirlwind was about to pass the second wagon, the driver halted his horse and stepped down directly in her path. He waved for Cora to stop.
"Don't!" called Miss Robbins, and Cora shot by, followed closely by Bess, who turned on more gas.
The gypsy wagons had all stopped in the middle of the road.
The automobiles were now safely out of the wanderers' reach.
"That was the time a chaperon counted," said Cora, "for I had not the slightest fear of stopping. I thought he might just want to ask some ordinary question."
"You are too brave," said Miss Robbins. "It is not particularly interesting to stop on a road like this to talk to gypsies when our boys are out of reach."
"We must speed up and reach them," said Cora. "I might meet more gypsies."
Belle was thoroughly frightened. Hazel did not know what to make of the occurrence, but to Cora and to Bess, who had so lately learned something of queer gypsy ways, the matter looked more serious, now that there was time to think of it.
"There they are!" shouted Bess, as she espied the two runabouts stopped at the roadside.
"They are getting lunch," said Hazel. "Look at Jack putting down the things on the grass."
"They certainly are," confirmed Cora. "Now, isn't that nice of them? And we have been blaming them for deserting us!"
Neither the motor girls nor the motor boys knew what the meeting of the gypsy wagons was about to lead to—serious trouble for some of the party.
The rain came. It descended in perfect sheets, and only the fact that our tourists could reach a mountain house saved them from more inconvenience than a wetting.
They had just partaken of a very agreeable lunch by the roadside, all arranged and prepared by the boys, with endless burned potatoes down on the menu as "fresh roasted," when the lowering clouds gave Dame Nature's warning. Next the thunder roared about what it might do, and then our friends hurried away from the scene. The run brought them some way on the direct road to the Berkshires, and in one of those spots where it would seem the ark must have tipped, and dropped a human being or two, the young people found a small country community.
The special feature of this community was not a church, nor yet a meeting house, but a well-equipped hotel, with all the requisites and perquisites of a first-class hostelry.
"No more traveling to-day," remarked Cora, as, after a wait of two hours, she ventured to observe the future possible weather. "It looks as if it would rain all there was above, and then start in to scoop up some from the ocean. Did you ever see such clouds?"
Ed said he had not. Walter said he did not want to, while the girls didn't just know. They wanted to be off, and hoped Cora's observations were not well-founded.
Miss Robbins found in the hotel a sick baby to take up her time, and she inveigled Bess into helping her, while the wornout and worried mother took some rest. The little one, a darling girl of four years, had taken cold, and had the most troublesome of troubles—an earache—so that she cried constantly, until Miss Robbins eased the pain.
When the boys realized what a really good doctor the girls' chaperon was, they all wanted to get sick in bed, Jack claiming the first "whack."
But Walter had some claim on medical attendance, for when the storm was seen to be coming up he had eaten more stuff from the lunch basket than just one Walter could comfortably store away, and the headache that followed was not mere pretense.
So the rainy afternoon at Restover Hotel was not idle in incident. It was almost tea time when Cora had a chance to speak with her brother privately. She beckoned him to a corner of the porch where the rain could not find them; neither could any of their friends.
"Jack," she began, "do you know that the people in the gypsy wagon really did try to stop us? All that prattle of Bess and Belle was not nonsense. Only for Miss Robbins I should have stopped."
"Well, what's the answer?" asked her brother.
"That's just what I would like to find out," replied the sister. "It seems to me they would hardly have stopped a couple of girls to ask road directions or anything like that, when so many wagons, easier to halt than automobiles, had also passed by them."
"Maybe they wanted some gas—gasoline. They use that in their torches."
"But why ask girls for it?" insisted Cora.
"Because girls are supposed to be soft, and they might give it. Catch a fellow giving anything to a gypsy!"
"Well, that might be so, but I have a queer feeling about that old witch's threat. She looked like three dead generations mummified. Her eyes were like sword points."
"She must have been a beaut. I should like to have met her witchship. But, Cora dear, don't worry. We boys are not going to run away again, and if we see the gypsies we will see them first and last."
"But there are bands of them all over the hills, and I have always heard that they have some weird way of notifying each band of any important news in the colony. Now, you see, Jack, the arrest of that man would be very important to them. They are as loyal to each other as the royalty."
"Nevertheless it is a good thing the fellow is landed, and it was a blessing that he went for the cottage instead of to Miss Robbins' bungalow. They had no means of calling help," mused Jack.
"I suppose it was," answered Cora. "But I tell you, I do not want another such experience. It was all right while I had to act, but when it was all over I had to——"
"React! That's the trouble. What we do with nerve we must repeat without nerve. Now, what do you think of your brother as a public lecturer?" and Jack laughed at his own attempt to explain the reaction that Cora really felt.
"My, wasn't that a bright stroke of lightning?" exclaimed Cora. "Listen! Something is struck!"
A terrific report followed the flash. Then cries and shrieks all over the hotel alarmed those who were not directly at the scene of the panic.
"Oh, it's the kitchen! See the smoke!"
Jack and Cora rushed indoors, their first anxiety being to make sure that all the girls and boys of their party were safe.
"Where is Bess?"
"Where is Belle?"
"Where are Walter and Ed?"
"Oh! where is Miss Robbins?"
Every one was looking for some one. In the excitement the guests at the hotel were rushing about shouting for friends and relatives, while smoke, black and heavy, poured up the stairs from the basement.
Jack, Ed and Walter were among the first to get out and use the fire extinguishers. There were plenty of these about the hotel, but on account of the injury to the men who were working in the kitchen at the time of the explosion, and owing to the fact that all the guests in the hotel just then were girls and women, the men having gone to the city, there really were not enough persons to cope with the flames that followed the lightning.
"Quick!" shouted Cora, "we can get the buckets. Bess take that one," pointing to the pail that hung on the wall, and which was filled with water. "Belle, run around and find another! Regina is with the injured men, so we cannot have her, but there is a girl! Won't you please get a bucket from the hall?" this to a very much frightened young lady. "The fire extinguishers seem to be all emptied, and the men are beating back the flames from the stairway."
In a remarkably short time more than a dozen frightened girls and women had formed a bucket brigade under Cora's direction, and as fast as they could get the pails they handed them, filled and again refilled, to the boys, who were now doing all in their power to keep the fire from spreading to the dining-room floor.
"What happened?" demanded one woman, when Jack turned to take a pail of water from Cora.
"Lightning struck the boiler," replied the young man.
"Oh, mercy!" exclaimed the same unreasonable person, who was delaying the men with her questions. "Any one hurt?"
"Yes, three," and Jack, his shirt sleeves rolled up, and looking like the earnest worker he was, dashed again down a step into the dense smoke to splash the pail of water on the smouldering but now well-wetted woodwork.
It seemed then as if all the guests but our own friends had run out of the building, and were huddled on the porch or standing in the rain under the trees along the path.
Ed and Walter had carried the cook and the dishwasher out from the kitchen immediately after the explosion of the boiler, and the other injured ones were in the little cottage adjoining the hotel, where Miss Robbins was binding up their burns and making good use of her skill and the materials that she carried in her emergency case.
"But I am afraid this man is very dangerously injured," she told Ed. "A piece of the boiler struck him directly on the back of the head."
"Should he go to the hospital?" asked the young man.
"Without question, if he could. But this is so far from anything like a hospital."
"We could take him to Waterbury in Cora's car," suggested Ed. "That is large enough to make him somewhat easy."
"The very thing! But I could not go with him. This other man is suffering so," and she poured more oil on the face that had not yet been bandaged in cotton.
"Cora could run the machine, and I could hold Jim—they say his name is Jim."
"Poor Jim!" sighed the young lady doctor. "He has a very slight chance. See, he is unconscious!"
Ed rushed out, and in a short time had the Whirlwind at the door. Jack and Walter were still busy with the fire, but they stopped when he called them, and together all three carried Jim tenderly out, and when Ed got in first they put the man in his arms. Cora also had been summoned, and without as much as waiting for her cap, but, getting into the cloak that Bess threw from the hall rack, she cranked up, and was at the wheel, following the directions for the nearest way to a hospital in Waterbury.
"It is his only chance," remarked Miss Robbins, when she heard some one say the jolting of the auto would kill him outright, "and both the car and its chauffeur can be depended upon."
THE RESULT OF A BLAZE
"That was plucky, Cora."
"You running into Waterbury with a man who might have died in your car."
"Then he would have died in your arms."
"But I thought girls were so queer about things of that sort. When one dies in a house, for instance, a girl never likes the room——"
"But you would have had to keep your arms. Ed, I think the pluck was all on your side. But I do hope Jim has a chance. He seems an awfully frail little fellow."
"Weighs about as much as you do, I should judge. But they say that kind of build is the best for fighting disease—there is not so much blood to take up the poison."
They were riding back to Restover. Ed insisted upon driving the car, although Cora declared that she was not the least tired. The trip to the hospital had been made at a very high rate of speed, as the unconscious man seemed in imminent danger, and Cora's hands now trembled visibly from their work at the wheel of the Whirlwind.
"I suppose we will have to live on love tonight," remarked Ed, "for that kitchen is certainly a thing of the past."
"What saved the second floor?"
"The heavy beams and metal ceiling. I guess they have had fires before in that hotel, for the ceiling was practically of iron. I just wonder what the boys are doing about now. I fancy Walter has turned nurse to assist Miss Robbins."
"And Jack has taken up the role of engineer—to be made chief of the fire department. I shouldn't wonder but what they had formally organized by this time."
"He certainly deserves to be chief; he did good work. When a gas tank—a small affair—started to hiss in the servants' dining room, Jack grabbed up a big palm and dumped the contents of the flower pot into the tank. It was a small thing they heated coffee on, and when, the next moment, the tank broke it was surprised to find itself buried under a bed of sand, with flowers on the grave."
Cora laughed heartily at Ed's telling of the incident. Certainly strange things, if not really funny things, always seem to occur during the excitement caused by fire.
"If everything in the kitchen is gone, don't you think we had better bring back some refreshments?" asked Cora. "The folks will all have appetites when they find there is nothing to eat."
"Great idea. Here is a good-looking store. Let's load up."
"But is there no manager at the hotel? Who was or who is boss?"
"Jim. The management of that sort of place goes into the shape of bills and accounts, settled every month. Some New York company owns the place. It was a failure, and they leased it to a local man. That's why there will be no one to look after things now."
"Well, we will buy the food and send our bill in to the company. I guess they will be glad enough to pay it when they hear of the emergency."
"Yes, it would not do for the hotel disaster to get into the New York papers, with a starved-to-death head. Well, here's our store. What shall we buy?"
Cora and Ed left the car and went into the store. They bought all sorts of canned goods, although Cora declared they would have to be eaten raw. Then they bought bacon and eggs. Ed insisted on that, no matter, he said, if they had to come to town again and take back to Restover a gas stove. He insisted that no well-regulated emergency feed ever went without bacon and eggs. Bread and butter they procured for fifty persons. Some cake for the ladies, Ed suggested. Pork and beans, canned, Cora thought might do for breakfast, even if they had to be eaten from the cans. Then the last thought, and by no means the most trifling, was wooden plates and tin cups. The bill footed up to ten dollars, and Ed insisted that the man make out the bill as paid and marked for the Restover Hotel.
A half hour later the Whirlwind drew up to the hostelry.
The rain had ceased, and the hotel patrons were almost all out of doors, so that the motor girls and boys trooped down to meet Ed and Cora.
As was anticipated, hunger prevailed, and when it was found that stores of eatables were in the tonneau of the Whirlwind even the most helpless, nervous ladies at the hotel wanted to help get the refreshments into the house.
"But where can they be cooked?"
"What can we cook on?"
"There is no gas stove!"
"Not even an oil stove!"
"We can't eat bacon raw!"
"The bread is all right, anyway!"
Such was the volley of remarks that came out from the crowd.
"We will manage somehow," said Cora. "Our boys are used to emergency work in the line of eating and fixing meals."
"Seems ter me," whined a wizen old lady, "thet the girls knows somethin' about it, too!"
In the dining room on the second floor were two chandeliers. Under these were, of course, tables, and before the anxious ones had time to settle their fears there stood on these tables Cora, Bess and Belle, and on the other Ed, Jack and Walter. Each of our friends had in his or her hand something that answered to the pan or pot brand of utensil, and in the pan or pot, which was held over the gas, was something that began to "talk-talk" out loud of good things to eat, sizzling and crisping.
It was very funny to see the young folks cooking over the handsome chandeliers, from which, of course, the glass globes had been removed.
"Well, did you ever!" exclaimed more than one.
"Those young folks do beat all! I used to think ma and pa brung us up right, but whoever on earth would have cooked bacon and eggs over a lamp," ejaculated an old man.
"I guess driving them machines makes them smart," said another guest, as she took the pan Cora handed down and gingerly slopped the stuff over on a wooden plate. "I guess it is a good thing to know how to drive an automobile. Makes you right smart! Whew! but that was hot!" and she put the overheated fingers into her mouth.