Chapter XIV.

Before we had finished staring at each other in stupefied surprise the door opened again, and a woman ran in, at the sight of whom "Sal" darted forward and threw herself into her arms.

"Margery!" cried the newcomer.

"Mother!" cried the girl.

A few steps behind the woman came a man and he looked coldly at the two. "You have forestalled us, I see, Mrs. Anderson," he said, coldly. The girl was Margery Anderson after all! I shall never forget the expression on the light-haired detective's face when he saw Margery rush into that woman's arms. He turned all shades of red and purple and looked ready to burst.

"Confound that Sal!" we heard him mutter under his breath. "She's given us the slip again."

Then we happened to look at Sahwah and the two people with whom she was standing. Sahwah was doubled up with laughter and the man and woman were as surprised looking as the detective. The man reminded me of nothing so much as a collapsed balloon.

It was the queerest police station scene anyone could imagine. Instead of making charges against us the various policemen and detectives all looked bewildered and uncertain how to proceed. Everybody looked at everybody else; and everybody waited to see what would happen next. And things kept right on happening. The door opened a second time and an officer came in leading a young woman in a stylish blue suit. Her appearance seemed to create a profound sensation with Gladys and Hinpoha and Chapa and Medmangi; they all uttered an exclamation at once and started forward. The one in blue looked at them and then burst into a mocking laugh. The four unknown girls dressed like us and the other one in blue seemed to be good friends of hers for they hailed each other familiarly.

"The game's up, dearies," said the newcomer, gaily. "My, but I did have the good time, though, playing the abused little maiden. Took you in beautifully, didn't I?" she said over her shoulder to Gladys. "Maybe Sal can't act like an angel when she wants to!"

"Light Fingered Sal!" exclaimed the detective who had brought us in, staring at her fascinated. "And all the rest of your company! Can't really blame me for getting on the wrong scent," he remarked, looking from them to us. "The only description I had was the suits and they are identical. Well, you're safe home, Sal, safe home at last," he added, with a grin. Sal and her companions were taken out then and we saw them no more.

Then we heard the officer who had brought her in tell his tale to the detective. A man in an automobile had come to him that morning and said he had been robbed of his pocketbook and watch by a young woman he had picked up on the road. He had run into her and knocked her down and was taking her to her home. After he had put her down at the address she gave him he discovered that his property was missing and returned to the house, but could get no answer to his ring. The officer took note of the address and promised to keep an eye on the place. Later on he saw a young woman come out of the house and enter a near-by pawn shop. He followed her and saw that she was pawning the watch whose description had been given him. He arrested her and discovered she was the famous Light Fingered Sal, whom the police of a dozen cities were looking for. The house was searched, but the other inmates had fled. But it seems that they were fleeing in an automobile and went several miles beyond the speed limit with the result that they were brought into the station, where their real identity was established. They were the four tourists in tan and the one in blue, whom we had blindly followed out of Toledo, thinking they were Gladys and the other girls in the Striped Beetle. Sal still had the man's purse in her pocket when she was brought into the station and the owner was notified of that fact while we stood there.

Again, it was these friends of Sal's who had been ahead of us at the hotel in Ft. Wayne, whom the check man had told us about and who had left for Chicago by way of Ligonier. Together with Sal, they had committed some daring thefts in Toledo stores, and when the police had almost caught them they had escaped in an automobile. There had been no time to wait for Sal; they trusted her to join them somewhere along the road. The police were so hot on her trail that she had to spend the night in the empty storeroom where Hinpoha had found her, waiting until after dark that night to venture out. Then Mr. Bob had blundered in on her hiding-place, followed by Hinpoha. Sal saw her chance of working on Hinpoha's sympathies and so getting out of Toledo, and how she accomplished it we already know. She told her a well fabricated tale of being accused wrongfully of taking a paper from the office safe, and played the role of the helpless country girl in the city, with the result that the girls took her in tow and set out to find Nyoda. She assumed airs of helplessness until they did not think her capable of lacing her own shoes. All the while she was keeping a sharp lookout for the police along the road. At the same time she found out that the girls were carrying all their money in their handbags.

At first, she had intended staying with them until she got to Chicago, as that was her destination, but the losing of the trunk made them go to Indianapolis, where the automobile races had drawn great crowds from everywhere. She was sorely tempted to break away from the girls there and slip into the crowd, where she could gather a rich harvest; but she had been afraid that the police would be watching for her and decided that the prudent thing would be to go to Chicago. But after they had actually left Indianapolis and she began to think of what she had missed, she wished she had stayed there. She blinded the girls to her real character by pretending to know nothing about any kind of worldly pleasure and amusement, and acted as though she disapproved of everything gay, and Gladys had remarked somewhat loftily that when she had seen a little more of life she would not be so narrow in her views!

Then the girls had seen the flowers growing beside the river and had gotten out of the car to walk among them, leaving her to sit in the car and hold their purses. It was as if opportunity had fallen directly into her lap. The lure of the crowd at Indianapolis was too strong and she started to drive back, leaving the girls minus their money and their car. But some distance down the road the car had come to a stop and she could not make it go on. She did not know that the gasoline had given out. She abandoned it in the road and walked across country until she came to the electric line, which she had taken into Indianapolis. She had a narrow escape from the police there and took the train for Chicago. There she had been run into by the man in the automobile and her fertile brain had whispered to her to feign injury and have him take her home. While she was in the car she had managed to get the watch and purse. Later she tried to pawn the watch and was caught.

The detective, who had started out from Toledo after her had never seen her or her companions and had somehow gotten onto our trail and believed we were the ones. He had made no attempt to arrest us when he first came up with us, because he believed there were still others in her crowd and he wanted to wait until she joined them in Chicago and so get a bigger catch in his net, when he finally drew it in. He had waited around Rochester simply on our account; there had been nothing the matter with his motorcycle at all. We had told him ourselves we were going to Chicago, and then he had heard Nyoda telegraphing to friends at the Carrie Wentworth Inn there. He had told Mrs. Moffat to keep a close watch on us because we were dangerous characters, and she had promptly put us out of the house. The news spread through the town like wild-fire that there was a gang of pickpockets there and wherever we went we were watched. That accounted for the queer actions of the various storekeepers. But then, who had given us the address of 22 Spring Street when Mrs. Moffat had turned us out? That point still remained to be cleared up.

When we abruptly left town in the direction of Indianapolis the detective had followed us, but the storm had thrown him off our track. He had come across us the next day near Lafayette and had made up his mind to hold on to us that time. Our headlong flight when we became aware of his presence drove all doubt away as to our being the ones, and then when he had seen the scarab the last link was forged in the chain which held us.

The timely arrest of Sal and her companions and the arrival of Margery's mother had naturally wrought sad havoc with the charges upon which we had all been brought into the station, and instead of feeling like criminals we all sat around and talked as if we were perfectly at home in a police station. The facts I am telling you somewhat in order all came out bit by bit and sometimes everybody talked at once, so it would be useless to try to put it down just the way it was said.

When Nyoda finally got the floor, she told about the finding of the scarab and about our being taken into the McClure home and sent down to the ballroom where she later found the diamond necklace in her pocket. This tale created a profound sensation and now it was the turn of the detective who had brought in Gladys and those girls to look foolish. The police asked us the minutest details about the appearance of the servants who had admitted us. We told about the maid Carrie with the black eyes which were not the same height and one of the detectives nodded his head eagerly. "Black-Eyed Susan," he said. "She's one of the crowd we're after." He also recognized the footman with the blue vein in his nose and the chauffeur with the crooked fingers. We were praised highly for having observed those little things.

Then it was that we found the solution of the mystery which had been tantalizing us since the night of the ball, and which we thought we had found when we believed Margery to be Sal. That diamond robbery had been skilfully planned as soon as the invitations for the ball were sent. Three of the crowd were in the employ of Mrs. McClure. It happened that these three did not know Sal and her intimates personally. They had been instructed that on the evening of the ball five young women would arrive in an automobile. They were to be admitted into the house and gotten into the ballroom. Carrie was to do the actual robbery, slipping the necklace into the pocket of one of the five. They would then leave the ballroom and ride away. Their automobile was to be kept in readiness at the door and the way made clear when the time came. The mark of identification of these five was to be a certain scarab which one would carry in her pocket. Naturally, when Nyoda had dropped the scarab out of her pocket that day the chauffeur had taken us for the five. The rest you know.

The only hitch in their plans had been the maid Agnes. Carrie had an idea that she suspected her for some reason or other and was afraid she would think there was something strange in our being admitted into the house and made ready for the ball. She had therefore taken advantage of our drenched condition to pretend that we were merely seeking shelter from the storm. Then, in Agnes's hearing, she had come in and said that Mrs. McClure wanted us to attend the ball. That made everything regular in Agnes's eyes and apparently cleared Carrie of connivance.

The person who had put the scarab into Nyoda's pocket had been still another member of the crowd who had gotten on the trail of the wrong ones. He was to drop it into the pocket of one of the five girls in motor costumes who would be at the Ft. Wayne hotel at a certain time. The real ones found themselves too closely watched by the police to attempt the diamond robbery, and abandoned it, heading straight for Chicago. Thus they went through Ft. Wayne a day before they were expected and did not stop. We came on the day they were expected and got away before he could give it to us. He, therefore, trailed us to Rochester and dropped it into Nyoda's pocket when she sat in the restaurant eating lunch.

Of course, we did not find out everyone of these facts in the police station that day, although I am telling them as if we did. One of Sal's companions later turned state's evidence and it was from her statement that we got the whole story. When the scarab was produced everybody crowded around it curiously. It was one which was stolen from a private collection in Boston some time before, and occasional rumors had leaked out about it's being used as a sign of identification between members of the gang who were so scattered that they did not all know each other.

The light-haired detective left in a great hurry to get the three servants in the McClure home. I might say right here, however, that he never got them, for they had fled on the finding of the necklace in the jardinier, fearing an investigation.

There was so much that happened that afternoon in the police station that I really don't know what to tell first. I suppose the reader has been wondering all the time what has become of Margery Anderson and how it happened that her mother appeared on the scene just at that time. It seems that she was in Chicago on business and had gone to the office of her brother-in-law, Margery's uncle. He was out and she was waiting for him. While she was there she heard the stenographer take a message over the telephone to the effect that Margery was in the police station, and leaving the office hurriedly she had gone right down, determined to get there before Margery's uncle did. She found Margery as we already know, not in the company of the man and woman, as she had expected, but with us three. When Margery's uncle finally received the message he also hastened to the station, but it was too late. Margery was with her mother and he could not take her away again.

Sahwah came over and stood by us, breaking into giggles every few minutes at the discomfiture of Mr. and Mrs. Watterson, in spite of her heroic efforts to keep a straight face. Her captors left the station very red and uncomfortable after their little business with the police was over.

By the time all our stories were told we were good friends with the police lieutenant and all the officers standing around, who were inclined to be pleased with us because we had helped bring Sal and her crowd into their hands. This would be a feather in their cap, although, of course, we would get no official credit.

Finally, there were only Nyoda and the seven Winnebagos left in the station, and when one of the officers offered to show us around Nyoda accepted the invitation gladly. She is always anxious that we should see as much as possible. Nyoda stood and talked to the matron a long time while we went on through, and when we came back she was invisible. We waited awhile, but she did not appear.

"She's probably waiting for us out in the room where the fat one is," said Sahwah. "The fat one" was her disrespectful way of referring to the police chief. (Sahwah saw me writing this down and corrected me, saying that he wasn't the chief; he was a lieutenant, because we were in a branch station, but I have always thought of him as chief.) So we moved back toward the "main reception-room".

"What's in there?" asked Sahwah, pointing to a closed door. Sahwah, like the Elephant's Child, was filled with 'satiable' curiosity.

"It's the matron's room," answered the row of brass buttons, who was guiding us.

"May we look in?" asked Sahwah.

"May if you like," answered the row of buttons.

Sahwah quietly opened the door and we looked in. We looked in and we kept on looking. In fact, we couldn't have taken our eyes away if we had wanted to. For there in that matron's office--the matron was not there--stood Nyoda, and there stood the Frog, and he had his arms around her and he was kissing her!

By the time we had gotten our breath back again they were miles apart, nearly the whole width of the carpet runner, and the Frog had his goggles off and explanations were in full swing. The Frog was Sherry, Nyoda's camp serenader of the summer before. They had been corresponding ever since and he had been to see her several times, although we did not know it. They had been almost engaged at the beginning of the summer and then they quarreled and Nyoda sent him away.

He was touring the country all by himself in a mood of great dejection and happened to see us in the dining-room at Toledo. He followed so he could be near her. His big goggles and the mustache he had grown during the summer were an effectual disguise. He had kept a respectful distance, afraid to make himself known, for fear Nyoda would order him off. So he had followed us and it was a merry chase we had led him, I must say. When the impudent young man had spoken to us in the hotel parlor at Wellsville he had promptly called him down for it and that had caused the uproar we had heard when we ran out to the garage. Later, he had led us out of the burning hotel to the back window where we made our escape. Then, while we were in the house dressing, he had gone to get the Glow-worm out of the threatened garage. He was driving it across the park to a place of safety when we had seen him and thought he was stealing the car. He wouldn't even take advantage of the great service he had rendered us in piloting us through the burning building to present himself to Nyoda. When we thought he was making off with Margery he was taking a girl to her home in the next town. It seemed that everything conspired to make the poor man appear the villain when he was in reality the hero.

He thought he had lost us that night in the fog, but the next morning he turned around and there we were behind him. When Nyoda tried to overtake him, he fled. But he had followed us to Rochester and it had been he who had given us the address of the woman on Spring Street after Mrs. Moffat had turned us out. He had heard Nyoda arguing with Mrs. Moffat at the front door and thought it was about the price of the rooms; he did not know that we were in any such predicament as we were.

He had found out that we intended going to Chicago and when we disappeared so suddenly from the town he thought we had gone there and had followed, but did not overtake us. Inside the city he had run into Light Fingered Sal and while charitably taking her to her home, as he supposed, she had relieved him of his watch and his money. He had notified the police and some time later had been summoned to the --th precinct station to recover his property. There he had seen Nyoda in the matrons' office. What happened between that time and the moment when Sahwah opened the door was never made public, but it was evidently highly satisfactory to him.

There remains but one more tangled thread to straighten out. That concerns the trunks. We did not find out the truth until long after. Gladys's trunk had actually been put onto Mr. Hansen's car in Ft. Wayne, but he had lost it on the way and it was picked up by a man who went through Wellsville the night of the fire. In the excitement it was left in the garage, where it was found by the proprietor and sent us in answer to our description. The one which we had left in Wellsville was taken by the salesman of the Curline stuff and returned to Gladys's address several weeks later, rather battered on the outside, but still intact as to contents. Gladys was aghast when she thought of the trunk she had forcibly wrested from the man on the road. She left it there in the police station in the hope that the real owner would get it some day. That was the last we ever heard of it. Whether the man had actually stolen it, and who the initials GME of Cleveland referred to we never found out.

The reason Gladys's second wire to us in Rochester was not received was that she had absent-mindedly written Rochester, N. Y., instead of Rochester, Ind.

Well, as far as adventures are concerned, the tale of our trip is told. The rest was uneventful and the telling of it would be uninteresting, as it would consist mainly of descriptions of scenery and places, which the reader already knows by heart from other books. Sherry hinted strongly that a red car would be a great addition to our color scheme, but Nyoda firmly refused to let him come with us. She had enough to look after when she had us, she insisted, without trying to keep him out of mischief. Besides, ours was a strictly family party and he was not one of the family--yet. So he meekly continued his journey to Denver as originally planned, while we went south to Louisville.

Then once more we followed "along the road that leads the way," the yellow road unwinding like a ribbon under our wheels, but this time we didn't build any Rain Jinx before we started.