Chapter XII.
 

"What a tale of adventure we will have to tell Nyoda when we find her," said Gladys, as the Striped Beetle followed its nose Rochesterward. "It will make Sahwah green with envy. She is always so eager for adventure. And there never was such a combination as we have experienced. First, we picked up a girl in trouble, then we got quarantined; next, we lost our trunk and followed a man all the way to Indianapolis, thinking that he had it, which he didn't; then we were robbed of all our money and the Striped Beetle at one fell swoop, and were stranded on a country road without a cent or a drop of gas and had to spend the night in the car. There certainly never was such a chapter of events. The Count for the next Ceremonial will be a regular book.

"I wonder what the girls in Rochester have been doing all this time while they have been waiting for us?"

"Migwan's writing poetry, of course," said Hinpoha, "and Sahwah's getting into mischief and Nakwisi's staring into space through her spy- glass. It's easy enough to guess what they are doing."

"Well, anyway, they know why we were delayed," said Chapa. "You got a second wire off to Nyoda before the storm?"

"Yes," said Gladys, "I sent it right after I wired for money."

Hinpoha sat silent for a long time. "A penny for your thoughts," said Gladys. "I can't help thinking about the scarf," said Hinpoha. "I brought it along because I was afraid something would happen to it if I left it behind, and here we had to lose it on the way. I would rather lose anything than that." And she sighed and looked so woe-begone that it quite affected the spirits of the others.

"Nyoda can help us find the trunk," said Gladys confidently, thinking with relief as they neared Rochester that Nyoda would soon be at the helm of the expedition again. This thought filled them all with so much cheer that even Hinpoha brightened up. She ceased thinking about the scarf and looked at the flying landscape.

"As a sight-seeing trip this has been somewhat of a failure," she said. "And I had intended making so many sketches of the interesting things we saw on the way to put into the Count, but the only thing that comes to my mind now is the picture of ourselves, always standing around wondering what to do next"

"You might draw a picture of the pain you had from eating green apples," suggested Chapa.

"That pain was about the only real thing about the whole trip," said Hinpoha. "All the rest seems like a dream."

Hinpoha began idly sketching herself running away from a large apple on legs which was pursuing her. And that is the only picture we have of the whole trip!

The girls got to Rochester about noon and went immediately to Number 43 Main Street. Mrs. Moffat came to the door and when she saw the girls in tan suits and green veils she closed it all but a crack.

"My rooms are all taken," she said, coldly.

"We don't want rooms, we want someone who is staying here," said Gladys. "Is Miss Kent here with three girls?"

"No, she isn't," said Mrs. Moffat "They came here as bold as brass, but you can bet they didn't stay long after I found out about them. Do you belong to her company, too? You're dressed just like the rest of them."

"Why yes, we belong to her party," said Gladys, bewildered beyond words at this reception. "Will you please tell us what--"

But Mrs. Moffat closed the door in their faces with a resounding bang and no amount of ringing would induce her to open it again. The girls were simply staggered. What could be the meaning of the woman's words? "You can bet they didn't stay long after I found out about them." After she found out what about us? When had we left the house and where were we now? They stood around the Striped Beetle irresolutely.

"If she only hadn't shut the door in our faces before we could ask some more questions!" said Gladys. "I don't suppose it would do any good to try again; she'd do the same thing a second time."

Just then a small boy came whistling down the street and Gladys had an idea. Getting the girls quickly into the car she drove down to meet him. When they met him they were well away from the house. Gladys called him to her. "I'll give you ten cents," she said, "if you'll go to Number 43 Main Street and ask the lady where the girls in the tan suits, who stayed at her house, went when they left. Maybe you had better go around to the back door," she added.

"Give me the ten cents first," said the boy, squinting his eyes shrewdly.

"Not until you bring back the answer," said Gladys. "I won't go unless you give me a nickel first," he maintained, firmly. Gladys gave him the nickel and he departed in the direction of Number 43. Still keeping out of sight of the house, they awaited his return. In five minutes he was back.

"She says she doesn't know where they went" he said, speaking in an unnecessarily loud voice, the way young boys do. "She says she doesn't keep track of rogues. Where's the other nickel?"

Stupefied, Gladys gave it to him and he ran off down the street "What did he say?" she gasped. "She doesn't keep track of rogues? She turned them out of the house when she found out about them? Whatever has happened? What made her think the girls were rogues? And where did they go?"

They were standing almost within a stone's throw of Number 22 Spring Street, where we had gone from Mrs. Moffat's, but, of course, there was no sign on the house to tell them we had been there.

"Well," said Gladys, "they were here in Rochester, that much we know, and perhaps they are here yet. Somebody must have seen them. Where do you think we had better go to inquire?"

"Do you see a candy store anywhere?" asked Hinpoha. "Sahwah would surely have to buy some candy if she saw any. Whenever I lose her downtown at home I go straight to the nearest candy store, and I invariably find her, standing on one foot and unable to make up her mind whether she should buy chocolates or Boston wafers."

Accordingly, they visited each of the three candy stores on Main Street, and Hinpoha bought a mixed collection of stale chocolates and peppermint drops while they were making their inquiries, but they came out about as wise as they went in. The tan quartet they were seeking had evidently not invested in candy. "Sahwah's either reformed or short of cash," said Hinpoha, decidedly. Which half of that statement was true at that particular moment the reader already knows.

Next, they reached the "department" store which carried everything from handkerchiefs to plows. The proprietor started when they entered and looked keenly at their suits. To their questions about the other four he replied that he hadn't seen them, and if he had he wouldn't know where they were now.

"What a queer thing to say!" exclaimed Gladys, when they were outside once more. "'If he had seen them he wouldn't know where they were now.' It sounds almost like what the woman said, 'She didn't keep track of rogues.' What on earth has happened?"

While they were standing there the boy to whom they had given the dime came walking by again. He walked past several times, and finally he stood still near them. "Say," he called, "will you give me another dime if I tell you something?" He was very red-headed and very freckled, and his eyes were screwed up in an unpleasant squint which might have been dishonesty and might have been the effect of sunlight, but, at any rate, they weren't much taken with his looks. Still, he might be honest after all.

"What do you know?" parried Gladys.

"I saw the girls you're looking for," he said.

"Where?" asked Gladys, eagerly.

"Give me the ten cents first," he demanded. Gladys gave him a dime. "They had their car fixed at the garage over there," he said. "They came in with a lamp and a fender smashed. I was in the garage and I saw them. They were talking to a young fellow on a motor-bike. Afterward, I seen them leaving town and pretty soon I seen the fellow starting after them."

"What day was that?" asked Gladys.

"It was Thursday morning when they came in," he said, "and it was Friday afternoon when they went out."

Friday afternoon! And that was Saturday! The girls hastened over to the garage and inquired about the Glow-worm.

"There was a car like that in here Thursday morning," agreed the proprietor. "The right headlight and the right front fender were broken. They had run into a limousine in the fog the night before. I had it all fixed up by three in the afternoon and they came and got the car, but pretty soon they brought it back and said they weren't going to leave town that night. One of the girls was sick, they said. They got it the next morning and I haven't seen them since. But I heard them tell a young fellow that came in to get his motorcycle looked over that they were going to Chicago. By the way, you say there were four girls in tan suits. There were five when they brought the car in in the morning."

Well might the girls be puzzled by the three things they had found out that day.

First. Nyoda and the other girls were considered rogues by the woman at Number 43 Main Street.

Second. There were five girls in the Glow-worm instead of four.

Third. Nyoda had gone on to Chicago instead of waiting for them as they had requested in their message and had left no word for them.

"It's as clear as mud," said Hinpoha, who was plunged into deepest gloom again, now that Nyoda was not there and there was no one to advise them what to do about the trunk.

"Did she get our telegram?" wondered Gladys. "We might go down to the office and find out if it was delivered."

The first one was delivered, they were informed. The messenger boy who had delivered it (the company had only two) was in at the time and he testified that he had gone to Number 43 Main Street and was told that the parties had left, and he was on his way back to the office when he saw them standing in the road beside the automobile and gave it to them. He knew them because he had been delivering a message in the hotel the day before when they had come there and asked for rooms, and he had overheard the clerk telling them to go to Number 43 Main Street because the hotel was filled with convention delegates. He also said that there were five girls in the party instead of four. But no second telegram had been received at the office.

Gladys rubbed her head wearily. The puzzle was getting deeper all the while. For the hundredth time she wondered what could have induced Nyoda to keep running away from them like that. Nyoda, who was the chaperon of the party, and who had promised her mother that she would never let the girls out of her sight!

"Well, if Nyoda's gone to Chicago," she said, "there's nothing left for us to do but go too, although I don't know what to make of it."

So, puzzled and perplexed, they looked up the route to Chicago from Rochester and set out to follow it.

"We aren't very good hounds in this game," sighed Hinpoha, "or we'd have run down our hare before this."

"But it's such an uncommonly fast hare," sighed Gladys. "And it leaves such amazing and apparently contradictory footprints."

"Hi," said Chapa, "look at the crowd in this town. What do you suppose has happened?" In fact, the streets of the village through which they were passing were choked with vehicles of every kind and the sidewalks were crowded with people.

"It's a band," said Hinpoha, "I hear the music."

Mr. Bob began to quiver with excitement and whine, and Hinpoha caught him firmly by the collar and held him so he could not jump out again.

"It's a circus parade!" cried Gladys. And sure enough, it was. From a side street the crimson and gold wagons began to stream into the main street.

How it happened they were never able to tell, but the next thing they knew they were in the line of the parade and were being swept along with the procession. They could not turn out because the street was too narrow. They had to keep going along, behind a huge towering wagon with pictures of ferocious wild beasts painted on its sides, which drew shrieks of excitement from the children on the sidewalk, and just ahead of the line of elephants. Gladys slowed the car down to a crawl and wondered every minute if she could keep it going so slowly. They could easily be taken for a part of the circus, for the Striped Beetle is rather a conspicuous car outside of the fact that it had the Winnebago banner draped across the back, and besides the girls were all dressed alike.

"What do you suppose they are?" they heard one small boy shout at another.

"Look like snake charmers," answered the second. Hinpoha giggled. "That's meant for you, Gladys," she said. "Tain't either snake charmers," said a third small boy. "It's the fat lady." And he pointed directly at Hinpoha. Gladys laughed so she nearly lost control of the car while Hinpoha turned fiery red.

Without warning the elephant directly behind them thrust his trunk into the car and picked up Medmangi's camera, to the immense delight of the crowd on the sidewalk. After much prodding from his rider he released it again, dropping it safely into Medmangi's lap. All the rest of the ride Medmangi kept her head over her shoulder so she could watch what the beast was doing. He kept blinking at her knowingly, and every few minutes he would extend his trunk toward the car in a playful manner and send her into a panic, and then he would drop it decorously to the ground like a limp piece of hose, with a sound in his throat that resembled a chuckle.

"Poor beast," she said, after watching him plod rather wearily along for several blocks, "a circus life is no snap."

"He's better off than we are," said Hinpoha crossly, "for he has his trunk, and that's more than we have." Hinpoha's temper had been slightly ruffled by her having been mistaken for the fat lady.

"We'd still have our trunk if we carried it in the front the way he does, instead of in the back," said Medmangi.

Mr. Bob was nearly barking his head off at the shouting boys, and about drove the girls frantic with his noise. Gladys's hands were shaking as she held on to the steering-wheel, while Hinpoha vainly tried to silence him. Chapa dared Medmangi to reach out her hand and touch the elephant's trunk and she did so. The elephant sneezed a sneeze that nearly unseated his rider and blew Chapa's hat off. Medmangi screamed and ducked under the seat, thinking that the beast was about to attack her. Gladys turned around to see what she was screaming at and just then the red and gold mountain ahead of her stood still for a minute, with the result that she bumped into it. It resounded with a hollow clang and something inside set up a fearful roaring like a whole jungle full of wild beasts. Then the small boys shouted worse than ever and the perspiration stood out on Gladys's forehead.

"Stop that dog barking, or I shall go wild," she said.

After numerous ineffectual commands and shakes, Hinpoha rolled Mr. Bob in one of the robes, which nearly smothered him, but produced the desired result. Save for a few smothered growls and "oofs" nothing more was heard from him.

Then, as Hinpoha always said afterward, after the parade the real circus began. The man-killing anaconda got loose. How it happened no one ever found out, but the first thing anybody knew, there he was, tearing down the middle of the street like an express train. "How does he go so fast without wheels?" gasped Gladys, as he shot by them.

Then there was a scene of pandemonium. The crowd tried to scatter, but it was packed in so closely between the buildings and the street that there was no place to scatter to. Most of the stores had been closed in honor of the greatest show on earth, and the thieves that accompanied it and the people found only locked doors when they tried to enter the stores. Shrieks filled the air. The whole line of elephants began trumpeting.

"Oh, if we could only get out of this," cried Gladys.

The next minute they were out of it, but in a manner they had not foreseen. For down from one of the painted wagons a man leaped directly into the Striped Beetle, picked Gladys up as if she had been a feather, lifted her over the back of the seat into the tonneau and took the wheel himself. Round went the Striped Beetle into the side street through a gap in the line of wagons and after the snake. The scattering of the people told the trail it was taking, and a low cloud of dust lengthening rapidly along the road showed that it was still in the middle of the street. Up one street and down another they flew, as fast as the Striped Beetle would go, with the snake always a length ahead of them. At last, it darted across the sidewalk, up the front walk of a brick mansion, up the front steps and in at the open front door.

Wild screams from within indicated that his presence had been observed. The next instant two maids tried to issue from the door at the same instant and stuck there in the doorway, fighting to get out, until both were shot out as from the mouth of a cannon by the impact of the body of a man, coming behind them down the stairs. They rolled down the steps, picked themselves up, and rushed out of the gate and up the street, closely followed by the man in shirt sleeves, shouting wildly that it was only a drop he had taken for his rheumatism, but he would never take another. Shaken and breathless as they were, the girls laughed until they cried at the trail of superstitious terror left by the man-killing anaconda. The man who had taken such cool possession of the Striped Beetle jumped out and followed the snake into the house. When he returned some five minutes later the man-eater was wrapped around his body in great coils. Gladys got one look at the monster which the man evidently intended placing in the car, and then she was over the back of the seat and behind the steering-wheel, and the Striped Beetle went gliding off down the street.

"There's one thing I object to being, and that's careful mover of a circus," she said through her teeth. She was still too breathless to talk properly. "I'd just as soon take the man back to his wagon, but I won't sit beside a snake. There's nothing in the etiquette book about how to behave toward them and I'm afraid I might do the wrong thing and rouse his ire."

We were well into the country before she slackened her dizzy pace and the circus and the man-killing anaconda were left far behind. Hinpoha was still giggling about the man who thought he was seeing snakes and had forgotten all about poor Mr. Bob, who was still wrapped in his muffling blanket. A convulsive movement of the roll in her arms brought her back to earth and she undid the bundle in time to save him from being completely smothered. All the rest of the trip Mr. Bob retired under the seat every time anyone touched that blanket.

Later in the afternoon they stopped for gasoline and while the tank was being filled were entertained by the loud-voiced conversation of two men who were standing against the wall of the gasoline station.

"But I tell you it isn't my trunk," said the first, "and I'm not going to carry it. The rear end of the car hits the bumpers now every time we strike a bump in the road and I won't have any unnecessary weight back there."

"Oh say, be a good sport and carry it," said the second man. "It's a good looking trunk and I can get something for it when we get back to the city. But I hate to pay express on it."

"How did you get it, anyway?" asked the first man.

Gladys, who had pricked up her ears at the word "trunk" and was intently listening to the above conversation, was disappointed in not hearing the end of it. For, with the question just recorded the two men moved across the street toward a car which stood there. Just then the tank of the Striped Beetle was filled and they were released. Gladys steered across the street just as the engine of the other car started up. But she had caught a glimpse of the trunk under discussion, standing on the unoccupied rear seat of the car, and there, full in the sunlight, were the initials GME, Cleveland, O. Without a doubt it was her trunk.

The other car gained speed rapidly and began to draw away from them. Gladys put the Striped Beetle on its mettle and followed. They passed through several towns at the same high rate of speed, never gaining on the car ahead of them until it stopped in front of a hotel in one place. Gladys also stopped. She jumped out of the car and was alongside the other before either man was out. She began without preliminary. "Excuse me," she said, "but we have lost our trunk from our car and the one you have is exactly like it. Would you mind telling me whether it is your own or not?" The two men looked at each other.

One of them, the one who had objected to carrying the trunk, flushed red and looked uncomfortable. As he was driving the car it was to him that Gladys had addressed her remarks.

"It's not mine," he answered. "It belongs to Mr. Johnson, this gentleman here."

"Yes, it's mine," said the man referred to, as if daring her to dispute his statement.

Gladys was nonplused. There was something queer about their possession of the trunk she knew from the conversation she had overheard.

"You say your name is Johnson?" she asked. "Then how does it come that you have the initials GME--my initials--on your trunk?"

The man glared at her in silence. A crowd began to gather around them on the sidewalk. A policeman elbowed his way to the front. "What's the matter here?" he asked.

"Lady says the man stole her trunk," replied one of the bystanders.

Gladys grew hot all over when she heard that, because she had not said a word about the man's having stolen the trunk, although that thought was uppermost in her mind.

"How about it?" asked the policeman.

"It's none of your business," growled the man addressed as Mr. Johnson. "That's my trunk, whether those are my initials or not. It was given me in exchange for something else."

"But I believe it's mine," said Gladys, looking helplessly around the circle of faces. "It was stolen off our car in Ft. Wayne."

"It was no such thing," said Mr. Johnson, hotly. "We'll soon find out," said the policeman. "What was in your trunk, lady?"

Gladys described several articles which were inside, and mentioned that it was lined with grey and had the same initials on the inside of the cover.

"Open the trunk," said the Solomon in brass buttons.

Mr. Johnson had no key, which was another suspicious fact. Gladys produced her key and unlocked the trunk. It was absolutely empty. There was the grey lining all right and the initials on the inside of the cover, GME, Cleveland, O.

"Disposed of the contents," said a voice from the sidewalk.

Hinpoha, who had been on a pinnacle of hope for her scarf ever since they had recognized the trunk, slumped into despair again when she saw that it was empty.

"Is that your trunk, lady?" asked the policeman.

"It looks like it," said Gladys.

"It answered her description all right," said the voice in the circle.

"Where did you get the trunk and from whom?" asked the policeman of Mr. Johnson.

"None of your business," replied that individual, with a savage look. "But it's mine, I tell you."

Here his companion pulled out his watch and uttered an exclamation.

"Give her the trunk and come along," he said, in a stage whisper. "We'll never make it if we stand here bantering all day."

Scowling like a thundercloud, Mr. Johnson gave the trunk a savage kick as it stood on the sidewalk and got back into the car, snapping out that it was his and never would have given it up if he wasn't in such a tearing hurry. The grey car glided away in a cloud of dust and the policeman lifted the trunk to the rack of the Striped Beetle.

"Fellow stole it, all right," rose the murmurs on every side, "or he wouldn't have been so willing to give it up. Probably threw the contents away. Well, you've got the trunk, lady, and that's worth more than what was in it."

Hinpoha could not agree with this, of course. That scarf was worth more in her eyes than the price of a dozen trunks, and she was not very much overjoyed at having the trunk returned without the scarf, for it was certain now that the contents were stolen and would never be recovered.

They arrived in Chicago during the afternoon and went directly to the Carrie Wentworth Inn. As they got out at the curb a man lounged down from the doorway and approached them. "You are under arrest," he said, quietly.

"Arrest!" gasped Gladys, thinking of all the traffic rules she might have broken in crossing the busy corner they just passed. "What for? And who are you, anyway, you're not a policeman."

The man opened his coat and showed an official badge. "I'm a policeman all right, you'll find," he said, calmly.

"What have we done?" gasped Gladys. The trunk was in her mind now. What if it were not theirs after all and they were to be accused of stealing it!

"You are wanted in connection with an attempt to steal a diamond necklace from the home of Simon McClure," said the detective, for such he was.

"What?" said Gladys, in sheer amazement. "I never heard of such a person."

"Tell that to the police," said the man facetiously, "and in the meantime, just come along with me." He got into the car and motion them to follow. Too much dazed to resist, they obeyed.