Chapter X.
 

At first the girls could not believe their eyes. But it was all too true. The deep tracks in the dust of the road showing the well-known prints of the Striped Beetle's tires told beyond a doubt that the car had gone on and left them.

"But I never heard it start!" said Gladys.

"It was the murmuring of your old brook, Hinpoha, that you were raving about," said Chapa, "that filled our ears."

It took them actual minutes to realize that Pearl, the spineless clinging doll-faced girl they had befriended, had sold them out.

"And we took her for such a baby!" said Hinpoha, in bewilderment.

"Who would ever dream she could drive a car?" gasped Gladys. "She was afraid to toot the horn." To lose your automobile in the midst of a tour must be like having your horse shot under you. One minute you're en route and the next minute you're rooted, if the reader will forgive a very lame pun. And the spot where the Striped Beetle had been (figuratively) shot from under the girls could not have been selected better if it had been made to order for a writer of melodrama. There was not a house in sight nor a telephone wire. The dust in the road was three inches deep and the temperature must have been close to a hundred. They were at least five miles from the nearest town. Chapa looked at Medmangi, Medmangi looked at Hinpoha, and Hinpoha looked at Gladys. Gladys, having no one else to look at, scratched her head and thought.

"Well," she said finally, "we can't stay here all day. We might as well walk to the nearest town and tell the police. They may be able to trace the car. It was stolen once before and they found it in a town forty miles away."

Whenever anyone mentions that walk in the heat the four girls begin to pant and fan themselves with one accord. They had gone about three miles when they came upon the Striped Beetle standing in the road, abandoned. With a cry of joy the girls threw themselves upon it. The cause for its abandonment soon came to light. The gasoline tank was empty. Otherwise it was undamaged. But before it could join the innumerable caravan again it must have gasoline, and naturally there was none growing on the bushes.

"You two sit in the car and see that no one else runs away with it," said Gladys to Medmangi and Chapa, "and Hinpoha and I will go for gasoline."

It was not until they had finished the two miles to town and stood by a gasoline station that they remembered that they had no money. The gasoline man firmly refused to give them any gas unless they paid for it. Gladys was aghast. Hinpoha leaned wearily against a post and mopped her hot face. Hinpoha suffers more from the heat than the rest of us.

"Pretty tough to be dead broke, aint it, lady?" asked a grimy urchin, who had been an interested witness of Gladys's discomfiture.

"Worse to be alive and broke," jeered another one. Gladys's face was crimson with heat and embarrassment. She turned and walked rapidly away from the place, followed by Hinpoha.

"You'll have to wire home for money now," said Hinpoha.

"And lose the bet," said Gladys, disconsolately. "And father'll laugh his head off to think how neatly we were beaten.

"I know what I'll do," she said, resolutely. "I'll not wire him at all. I'll wire the bank where I have my own money and have them wire me some."

Accordingly, she hunted up the telegraph office and sent a wire collect to her bank, feeling much pleased with herself at the idea of having found a way out without calling on her father for aid.

The telegraph office was in the railway station and she and Hinpoha sat down after sending the wire and waited for the ship to come in, wondering what the other girls would think when they failed to come back with the gasoline. It was past dinnertime but there was no dinner for them as long as they had no money. From jaunty tourist to penniless pauper in two hours is quite a change. An hour passed; two hours, but no gold-laden message came over the wire. Hinpoha had been chewing her fingers for the last hour.

"Oh, please stop that," cried Gladys irritably, "you make me nervous. You remind me of a cannibal."

"Isn't there a poem about 'My beautiful Cannibalee?" returned Hinpoha. "I'll go out and eat grass if that will make you feel any better," she continued. She strolled outdoors, leaving Gladys listening to the clickety-click of the telegraph instrument and growing more nervous every minute. Presently Hinpoha came back and said she couldn't stand it outside at all because there was a crate of melons and a box of eggs on the station platform, and she was afraid she wouldn't have the strength to resist if she stayed out there with them.

"And it's going to rain," she announced. "You ought to see the sky toward the west."

And then the darkness began to make itself felt; not the blue darkness of twilight, but the black darkness of thunder clouds through which zig-zags of lightning began to stab. A baby, waiting in the station with its mother for the train, began to wail with fright and Hinpoha forgot her hunger in an effort to amuse him. Then the storm broke. The train roared in just as it began and mingled its noise with the thunder. Hardly had it disappeared up the track when there came a crash of thunder that shook the station to its foundations, followed by a dazzling sheet of blue light, and then the telegraph operator bounded out of his little enclosure, white with fear. His instrument had been struck, as well as the wires on the outside of the building and the roof began to burn. Gladys and Hinpoha rushed out into the rain regardless of their unprotected state and found shelter in a near-by shed, from which they watched the progress of what might well be taken for a second deluge.

"If the water rises much higher in the road we won't need any gasoline," remarked Hinpoha. "The Striped Beetle will float."

"I only hope the girls got the storm curtains buttoned down in time," Gladys kept saying over and over again.

"If it starts to float," persisted Hinpoha, "do you suppose it will come this way, or will they have to steer it? Would the steering-wheel be any good, I wonder, or would they have to have a rudder? Oh," she said brightly, "now I know what they mean by the expression 'turning turtle'. It happens in cases of flood; the car turns turtle and swims home. If it only turned into turtle soup," she sighed.

Gladys looked up suddenly. "What time was it when we sent that wire to my bank?" she asked.

"A quarter after one," replied Hinpoha, promptly. "I heard a clock chiming somewhere. And I calculated that I would just about last until you got an answer."

"A quarter after one," repeated Gladys. "That's Central time. That was a quarter after two Cleveland time. The bank closes at two o'clock. They probably never sent me any money!"

"Now you'll have to wire your father after all," said Hinpoha.

For answer Gladys pointed to the blackened telegraph pole which was lying with its many arms stretched out across the roof of the station. There would be no wires sent out that day.

By the time the rain had ceased the darkness of the thunder clouds had been succeeded by the darkness of night, and Hinpoha and Gladys took their way wearily back over the flooded road to where the Striped Beetle stood.

"Did you have to dig a well first, before you got that gasoline?" called Chapa, as they approached. (They had put down the storm curtains, Gladys noted.)

Gladys made her announcement briefly and they all settled down to gloom.

"Talk about being shipwrecked on a desert island," said Hinpoha. "I think one can get beautifully shipwrecked on the inhabited mainland. We are experiencing all the thrills of Robinson Crusoe and the Swiss family Robinson combined."

"We haven't any Man Friday," observed Gladys.

"What good would he be if we had him?" inquired Hinpoha, gloomily.

"He could act as chauffeur," replied Gladys, "and supply the modern flavor."

"This is Friday, too," remarked Medmangi.

"That's why the car won't start," said Hinpoha, "it won't start anything on Friday."

"Couldn't we dig for oil?" suggested Chapa. "We're in the oil belt. There must be all kinds of gasoline in the earth under our very feet, and we languishing on top of it! It's like the stories where the man perishes of thirst in the desert right on top of the water hole."

"We really and truly are Robinson Crusoe-like," said Gladys, looking out at the flooded fields and deserted road.

"Robinson Crusoe had the advantage of us in one thing," said Hinpoha, returning to her main theme. "He had a corn-stalk, and clams, and things."

"'If we only had some ham, we could have some ham and eggs, if we only had some eggs,'" quoted Gladys.

"Here's where the Slave of the Lamp would come in handy," sighed Hinpoha.

"You might rub the lamp," said Gladys, pointing to the tail light, "and maybe the Slave will appear."

"I want baked potatoes on my order," said Gladys.

"And I want broiled chicken," said Chapa.

Hinpoha got down and solemnly rubbed the tail lamp of the Striped Beetle, exclaiming, "Slave, appear!"

Something black bounded out of the darkness at the side of the road and landed at her feet. It was Mr. Bob, who had gone off for exercise. He carried something in his mouth which he laid decorously on the ground beside her. She stooped to look at it. It was an apple.

The girls all shouted. Hinpoha straightened up. "Girls," she said solemnly, "coming shadows cast their events before, I mean, coming events cast their shadows before. Where there's honey you'll find bees, and where there's apples you'll find trees. The famine is over, and now for the feast."

She led the way down the road with Chapa and Medmangi on either side. They found the tree, close beside the road, and loaded with fruit. They filled their pockets for Gladys and returned to the Striped Beetle, and then for some time, as Hinpoha said, "Nothing was heard in the air but the hurrying munch of the greening."

"It must be a disadvantage to be a negro," remarked Hinpoha reflectively, "you can't tell the difference when they're clean."

"May I ask," inquired Gladys politely, "just what it was that caused you to make that remark at this time?"

"Greening apples," returned Hinpoha, calmly. "You can't tell which are ripe and which are green."

"You can tell by the seeds," said Gladys.

"All seeds are black by night," returned Hinpoha.

"Not changing the subject," said Chapa, "but where are we going to stay to-night?"

"You're not going to stay," replied Hinpoha, "you're staying. Right here. The Inn of the Striped Beetle.

  "Under the wide and starry sky
   Fold up the seats and let us lie!"

"We'll sleep with the raggle taggle gypsies, O!" added Gladys.

"I want a fire," said Hinpoha. "We always have a fire when we sleep out."

"Well, build one in a puddle, if you can," said Gladys. "Your hair will be the only blaze we have to-night."

Chapa and Medmangi stood up together on the running-board and began to sing dolefully,

  "Forsaken, forsaken, forsaken, am I,
   Like the bones at a banquet, all men pass me by."

"I wish a few would pass by," said Gladys, "By the way, have you noticed that not a single car or wagon has passed through here since we've been stranded? I thought this was the main road."

"If this is the main road," said Hinpoha, "I'd hate to be stranded on a by-path."

Of course, the girls did not know then that the storm had washed out the bridges on either side of them and the roadway had been closed to traffic. They sat peering into the darkness like Columbus looking for land and wondering why no one came along to whom they could appeal for a tow into the village. The moon shone, a slender sickle in the west that Gladys said reminded her of the thin slices of melon they used to serve for breakfast at Miss Russell's school.

"I think it looks more like a toe nail," said Hinpoha, squinting sidewise at it.

"Don't look at it squarely, it'll bring you bad luck," said Chapa.

"I'm not looking at it," said Hinpoha, "it's looking at me."

"Where does the man in the moon go when it turns into a sickle?" asked Medmangi.

"That doesn't worry me half so much as where Pearl went with my silver mesh bag," said Gladys. That brought them all down to earth again and back to the cause of their predicament, and the moon turned into a yellow banana and fell off the sky counter while they voiced their indignation. And, of course, they all turned on Hinpoha for being taken in by her in the first place, and Hinpoha vented her irritation on Mr. Bob, who was sitting with his head on her knee in a lover-like attitude.

"It's all your fault that we are in this mess," she said to him, crossly. "If you hadn't jumped out of the car after that yellow dog and chased him into the empty store I wouldn't have had to go after you, and if I hadn't gone after you I would never have discovered Pearl and brought her along with us. It's the last time I'll ever travel with you." Mr. Bob, feeling the reproach in her tone, crept away with his head down.

"O come, let's not quarrel about whose fault it was," said Gladys. "It isn't the first time people have been taken in."

"We seem to be left out, rather than taken in," murmured Hinpoha.

"You're unusually brilliant to-night," remarked Chapa. "It must have been the apples, because on an ordinary diet you never say anything bright."

"Is that so?" said Hinpoha.

"Look at the stars," said Gladys hastily, "aren't they brilliant to- night?"

"Almost as brilliant as Hin--" began Chapa.

"If we sit up late enough," said Gladys, cutting in on Chapa's remark, "we may see some of the winter stars. I actually believe there's Orion now."

"And the Twins," cried Hinpoha, forgetting her momentary offended feeling in the interest of her discovery.

"And Sirius and the Bull and the River," added Gladys. "It's just like getting a peep at the actors in their dressing-rooms before it is time for them to come out on the stage, to see the winter stars now."

"I hate to look at the stars so much," said Hinpoha, dolefully. "They make me feel so small."

"I should think that anything that made you feel small would--"

Gladys again interrupted the flow of Chapa's wit, directed this time against Hinpoha's bulk.

"I'm going to bed," she announced. There was a scramble for the robes and for comfortable places in the tonneau, and it took much adjusting and readjusting before there was anything resembling quiet in the bedchamber of the Striped Beetle. But weariness can snore even on the floor boards of a car and that long walk over the road had done its work for at least two of the girls. The last thing they heard was Hinpoha drowsily spouting:

  "Let me sleep in a car by the side of the road,
   Where the hop toads are croaking near-by,
   With Medmangi's camera between my knees stowed,
   And Gladys's foot in my eye!"

And then, when they were all nicely settled and had dropped off to sleep, Hinpoha had the nightmare and screamed the most blood-curdling screams and cried out that the apple tree was hugging her to death, which sounded nonsensical, but was really suggestive. For, in the morning she discovered that green apples are gone but not forgotten when used as an article of diet and sat doubled up in silent agony on the floor of the car and announced she was dying.

"It serves you right," said Medmangi, in her best doctor manner. "You were in such a hurry to eat them that you ate every one that came along without waiting to find out whether it was ripe or not. The rest of us stuck to the ripe ones and we're all right."

"Well, the unripe ones are sticking to me," groaned Hinpoha, unhappily.

Mr. Bob laid his head on her knee with an air of sympathy. Where Hinpoha is concerned he never stops to think whether the sympathy is deserved or not.

"What family do apples belong to, anyway?" asked Gladys idly, seeing it was time to turn Medmangi aside from preaching to Hinpoha.

"Not my family," said Chapa, "we're all peaches."

"Forget-me-not family," said Hinpoha, with another groan.

They ate more apples for breakfast, except Hinpoha, who pretended not to see when they offered them to her. Then Gladys decided to walk to town again to see what cheer there was there.

"Up, up, Hinpoha," she cried, "and join me in my morning stroll."

"You should say 'Double up, Hinpoha', like 'double up Lucy'," said Chapa, and then dodged as Hinpoha's hand reached out for her hair.

Hinpoha tried to stand up, but immediately sat down again, and Chapa went to town with Gladys.

They sat and watched the repairmen fixing the wires of the telegraph and, after a while, the messages began to pour in again. And one of them was the one that brought joy to Gladys's soul and as soon as the formalities were gone through she had actual money once more. They bought enough gasoline to bring the Striped Beetle in and returned to the anchored ones in triumph. They found that during their absence Hinpoha had manufactured a large "For Rent" sign and hung it on the front of the car, intending, as she said, to go into business and rent out the car at a dollar an hour until they had enough money to proceed.

"How were you intending to rent it out without any gasoline to run it?" inquired Gladys.

"Make them pay in advance," replied Hinpoha.

"With the constant stream of foot-sore pedestrians over this road it would no doubt have been profitable," said Gladys, scanning the road up and down. There was not a living being in sight. But Gladys knew the reason now, for she had seen the washout.

To get the Striped Beetle back to town they had to drive through private property to reach the other road. After eating breakfast--the first real meal they had had since the morning before--they set out once more for Rochester to meet Nyoda.

"So it's money makes the Striped Beetle go," said Hinpoha reflectively, as they sped along. "And I had been thinking all the while it was gasoline."