Chapter IV.
 

I woke up with the strangest feeling I have ever had in my life. I remember dreaming that we had left the door open, and all the tobacco smoke from below had floated up into the room and was choking me. When I first awoke I thought that the racketers were still at it below, for from somewhere there came a horrible din. There was the sound of many voices shouting unintelligible things, when suddenly above the roar one voice shrieked out "Fire!" Then I knew. The room was filled with smoke, dense and choking.

"Wake up!" I shouted, shaking Sahwah, who was sleeping with me. I dragged her out of bed and we two ran into the other room where Nyoda and Nakwisi and Margery were sleeping. The smoke was still thicker there and I believe they must have been nearly suffocated. We had hard work rousing them. Above the shouts of the people in the street below we could hear an ominous crackling that increased every minute. At first I was so frightened I could hardly move. It was the first time I had ever been in a burning building. The time the tepee burned we were out of it in one jump, before we had realized what had happened. I shudder yet, when I hear crackling wood.

Nyoda's voice roused me to action. She had regained her wits and was cool-headed as usual. Margery clung to her and screamed and she shook her and told her to be quiet.

"Carry out your clothes if you can find them, girls," she said calmly, "but don't wait to put anything on."

We groped through the smoke and found our clothes on the chair beside the bed, and gathering them up went out into the hall. The hotel was old-fashioned, with a long, narrow wooden hallway running the entire length of the up-stairs, crossed in places by other halls. Somewhere along that hall was the stairway; we had a dim remembrance of the direction from which we had come up the night before. We had to grope our way along by keeping our hands on the wall, for the smoke was so thick that it was impossible to see a step before us. We reached the stairs at last. After one look we jumped back in alarm. The whole stairway was one mass of leaping flames. I have never seen such a dreadful sight. We groped our way back toward our rooms, which were at the front of the building, intending to lean out of the windows and shout for help from below. But we lost our way in the smoke and could not find the way back. There we were, caught like rats in a trap, with the flames beginning to come through the floor in places, and the smoke rolling around us in blinding, suffocating clouds. There was no escape, then. We were to perish in this hotel blaze. Would we ever be identified? How soon would they know at home? All these things flashed through my mind as we stood there in the midst of that awful nightmare.

Suddenly something appeared out of the smoke close beside us, something white and ghostlike. Then a voice spoke. "Follow me, girls," it said, and we knew that the ghost was a man with a towel tied over his face. "All of you get in line behind your mother," said the voice thickly, "and each one hold onto the one in front of you. Don't let go, or you'll be lost and I can't watch you."

We didn't even smile at his thinking Nyoda was our mother. With the military precision we have learned from long practice of doing things together, we formed in a goose line behind Nyoda, each one gripping tightly the hand of the one ahead of her, and thus we began to move forward. After what seemed a hundred years, but could not have been more than five minutes, we felt a gust of fresh air blowing on us, and knew that we were standing beside an open window.

"This window looks out on the roof of the second story at the back of the building," said the voice, "and it's an easy drop to the roof."

We had to take his word for it, for the smoke obscured everything so that we did not know whether we were going to drop three feet or thirty. The air coming in the window blew the smoke away from our faces for a moment and we got a breath, or otherwise I am afraid we would have strangled on the verge of being rescued. Without a moment's hesitation the hands that belonged to the towel and the voice seized Nyoda and swung her out of the window as if she had been a feather, and in a moment her "All right" told that she had landed safely on the roof. One by one he took us in the same manner. We were still in a dangerous position, for there was fire under us, although the worst blaze was at the front of the building, and as far as we could see there were no ladders anywhere around waiting to take us down.

"Confound these one-horse country towns, anyway", we heard the voice mutter, "that can't support a decent Fire Department.

"Here," he shouted to the gaping crowd below who were watching the few that were trying to fight the flames with garden hoses, "bring blankets, hurry!"

It was rather a thrilling moment when we stood on that burning building waiting for the blankets to come into which we were to jump. Now that I look back at it I think we must have been a funny sight, for while we stood there we threw on our jackets over our night-dresses and held the rest of our belongings in our hands. With all the rest of her impedimenta Nyoda had rescued her camera, Nakwisi her spy-glass and I my note-book, and they gave us an odd, jaunty tourist appearance which must have been amusing. Well, the people came running with blankets and held them for us to jump and we jumped, although we had to throw Margery down. She stood there trembling, afraid to jump and there was no time to argue the necessity of prompt action. We gathered up our possessions from the people to whom we had tossed them and hastened into a near-by house where we got ourselves dressed.

Our rescuer had jumped right after us, and by the time we had picked ourselves up and got our breath back enough to thank him he had vanished from the scene. He must have been the proprietor, we judged, for he knew the inside of the hotel so well. Possibly he went back to rescue some more of his patrons.

After we were dressed we returned to the scene of the fire, which had drawn people from all the country around, in the usual half-dressed state in which people go to midnight fires. Of course, there was no hope of saving the building, for the few thin streams of water that were playing on it went up in steam as soon as they touched the blaze. The walls fell in with terrifying crashes and the roof caved in like a pasteboard box. It had been nothing but a dry shell of a building and burned like tinder.

"It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good," said Sahwah, giggling nervously, "that piano is a hopeless ruin and the people around here won't have to listen to it any more. And even if they do rebuild the hotel they can never get another piano like it, for there aren't two such tin pans in existence."

After the rain had stopped that night a fog had settled down and the glare of the flames through the mist made a weird lurid scene that I shall never forget. All this time the wind had been from the east, which drove the flames toward an open square where they could set nothing else afire, but suddenly it veered to the west, and showers of burning brands began to fall on the roof of the garage where the Glow- worm was standing. The scanty water force was then turned to save this building and we had several anxious moments until the wind shifted again.

"How foolish I was not to have taken the car out immediately," said Nyoda. Other people were hurrying to the spot to rescue their cars and we also went over. The interior of the place had not been damaged by the small blazes which had been kindled on the roof, though I tremble to think what might have happened if the gasoline stored inside had exploded. Thankful that fortune had favored us so far in this night of accident, we took our way among the other cars in the place to where the Glow-worm had stood. Then we rubbed our eyes and looked at each other. For where the Glow-worm had been when we left the place the night before there was an empty space. A hasty search through the place, which was not very large, revealed that the car was gone. Frantically we rushed after the proprietor, who was standing in the doorway watching the grand spectacle next door. He knew nothing about the matter. The car had been there when he closed up that night, but as soon as the fire broke out people had been coming for their cars and the place had been open. He was much excited over it and declared that such a thing had never happened before as long as he had been in business, but then, he added, neither had the hotel ever burned down before.

To say that we were dismayed was putting it mildly. To have your own car stolen is bad enough, but when it is a car belonging to someone else who has kindly loaned it to you to take a pleasure trip in, it is ten times worse. Nyoda had promised to bring the car back in safety and she was almost beside herself at the thought of its being stolen. None of us ever felt like facing Mr. Evans again. We reproached ourselves a thousand times that we had not gone for the Glow-worm immediately upon getting out of the burning building, without waiting to dress or stand around and watch the walls fall. We searched vainly through the line of motors moving up and down the street for the familiar black body and yellow lamps of the Glow-worm.

Discouraged and heartsick over this new calamity, we retired to the park-like square on the other side of the hotel to talk things over and lay out our course of action. Through the trees in the square we could see something moving along the road, and, by a sudden glare from the fire we made out the Glow-worm, proceeding slowly and silently in the opposite direction, and the man at the wheel was the Frog! We all darted after him, shouting "Stop thief!" at the top of our voices. The Frog turned around in the seat, saw us streaming across the square, and evidently decided that the chase was too hot, for he jammed on the brakes and jumped from the car, leaving the motor still running. He ran into a clump of shrubbery and disappeared from sight.

We were too glad to get the car back to hunt for the thief and bring him to justice. In our relief from the dismay of the moment before we were ready to hug the old Glow-worm.

"Girls," said Nyoda, "what do you say to starting out for South Bend this very minute? I don't believe any of us could sleep any more to- night even if we had a place to do it, which is extremely doubtful. It's positive folly to leave this car standing around here any longer. That garage man is too much interested in the fire to take care of his business. We have no belongings to go back after, for everything we left in the hotel is lost."

We were thankful then that we had carried so little hand luggage, for beyond a few toilet articles which could easily be replaced at the next town we had lost nothing. The trunk with our extra clothes was carried on the car. We agreed to Nyoda's proposal eagerly. Sleep for the rest of the night was out of the question and we might as well be driving as not. It would be a good way to get an appetite for breakfast, we all agreed.

"Jump in, girls," said Nyoda, taking her place behind the wheel. "You sit up here with me, Margery."

Then we had the second shock of the evening. Margery was nowhere to be seen! We were all sure that she had been there just a moment ago, clinging to Sahwah's arm and squealing, although we could not remember whether she had been with us when we ran across the park after the Glow-worm or not.

"She has gotten separated from us in the crowd," said Nyoda. "You girls run and find her while I stay here and watch the car."

We hunted everywhere, high and low, asking everybody we met, but there was no trace of her. Finally, we ran into the garage man and thought it only fair to tell him that we had found the car. He was much overjoyed at the fact and listened sympathetically when we told him we had lost Margery.

"Did she have on a tan suit like yours?" he asked.

"Yes," we answered eagerly, "have you seen her?"

"I saw a girl in a tan suit driving away just a minute ago with a man in a red roadster," he answered.

"What did the man look like?" we asked.

"I can't tell you much about his looks," replied the garage man. "He wore great big green goggles that covered up half of his face. Looked just like a frog."

We looked at each other in dismay. The Frog had run off with Margery! We ran in haste to tell the news to Nyoda.

"It's queer," she said. "He must be one of her relations after all, though I surely thought he had begun to follow us from Toledo. But it might have been only a coincidence that he was behind us then, for after all he never said anything to us."

"But why did he take our car first, if it was Margery he was after all the while?" I asked.

"So we couldn't follow him," said Sahwah, with startling clear- sightedness.

Nyoda, who doesn't believe in premonitions, had one then. "I don't believe he's a relative of hers at all," she said, flatly. "I have a feeling in my bones that he isn't. I also have a feeling that something has happened to Margery which it is our business to investigate."

In less time than it takes to tell about it we had inquired the direction taken by the driver of the red roadster and had started in pursuit. The fog was closing in on us thicker than ever and the Glow- worm's eyes shone dimly through the white curtain. We could not go ahead at full speed because we had to proceed slowly and carefully. The fact that the road was exceptionally good along here was the only thing that kept us from accident, I suppose. If we had struck some of the holes that we did a distance back--

We were divided between joy over the fact that the Frog couldn't go any faster than we were going in that fog and so couldn't use his powerful car to his advantage, and the fear that he would slip off into some side road without our noticing it and so escape us. The fog naturally muffled all sounds, but we recognized at last the steady throbbing of a motor ahead of us on the road and knew that we were on the trail of the fugitives. We didn't know whether the Frog knew we were after him or not, but it seemed to us that the throbs began to grow fainter after a time as if the car were getting farther away. Finally, they stopped altogether and we began to realize that after all we had not much chance to catch up with that powerful car.

"They're leaving us behind," said Sahwah, in a disappointed tone

The next instant we crashed full into a car that was standing still in the road and which loomed out of the fog with the suddenness of an apparition. Nyoda had jammed on the emergency brake a half minute before we struck or there would have been a worse smash. As it was the Glow-worm was shaken from end to end and I can imagine what the stalled car felt like.

We experienced all the thrills of the heroines in the moving picture plays when we ran into that car and expected to see the grotesque face of the Frog in the light of our lamps, with the terrified Margery near- by. The next minute showed us our mistake. The man who was standing beside his car in the road, when we had torpedoed it from the rear was not the Frog. It was a man we had never seen before. He was all alone. The automobile was not the red roadster, but a limousine.

We all sprang out to see what damage had been done the Glow-worm. We were relieved to find it not so terrible after all. Nyoda had given the steering-wheel a sharp twist the instant she saw she was going to strike something, and the car glanced to one side, so that it was the right front wheel and fender that actually struck. The limousine was in worse shape. Our wheel had jammed into its rear wheel and torn it off, while the side of the Glow-worm had scraped across the hack of the bigger car, splintering the wood in places. Every window in the limousine had been broken by the shock.

The driver of the battered car stood and looked gloomily at the havoc we had wrought.

"Can't you look where you're going?" he burst out angrily.

"You didn't have your tail lamp lit," replied Nyoda calmly, "and we couldn't see you in the fog. I tried to turn out but it was too late."

"It's true," said the man, pacifically. "It's my fault, or rather the fault of the car. I couldn't make the lights burn. That's why I was standing here. I was afraid to go ahead in the fog."

Then I suppose he was afraid that we could bring suit against him for the damage done to the Glow-worm because he was standing in the road without any lights, for he left the limousine and came and looked carefully at what had happened to us. He was much relieved when he saw it was no worse. The front wheel wobbled tipsily and the fender was torn off, but these it appeared were not mortal wounds. His eye went back from our car to his.

"It's a good thing no one was riding in the back," he said thoughtfully, looking at the shattered windows. At that very moment a wail rose from somewhere, coming apparently from the inside of the limousine. Startled, he leaped over and pulled the door open. He turned a pocket flash into the car and we could all see that there was somebody lying on the floor half under the seat. It was a girl in a tan suit. When the light was flashed into her face she looked up and saw us. Then she sat up. It was Margery.

"Margery!" exclaimed Nyoda. "What are you doing here?"

Margery got out of the tipping car and ran to Nyoda and hung on her arm. She was trembling so she could hardly stand. She looked from one to the other of us with big frightened eyes. The owner of the limousine regarded her in wide-eyed astonishment.

"How did you get into that car?" asked Nyoda, gently.

"I hid in it," said Margery. "In the garage. And he," she pointed to the man, "drove away and I was afraid to come out."

"What made you hide in the car?" asked Nyoda.

Margery gave a quick glance around. "I saw my uncle," she said in a half whisper. "He was looking at the fire. He didn't see me. I ran away and hid in the garage and when people began coming for their cars I was afraid they would find me and I got into this one. Pretty soon my uncle came into the garage. I was down on the floor of the limousine and he didn't see me. Just then the driver got up in front and began to take the car out, but I didn't dare open the door and come out. He drove away with me and I didn't know what to do, so I stayed in. Then the car stopped on the road and I was going to get out and run away when the other car came up behind and ran into us. I was afraid it was my uncle and didn't even come out when the car nearly fell over. But I was frightened and cried and you heard me and opened the door."

"Tell me," said Nyoda, "was your uncle the man with the goggles?"

"No," answered Margery, "he wasn't. My uncle is a little, thin man with gray hair."

"It's a mercy you weren't hurt," said Nyoda, thinking with a shudder of the blow we had dealt the limousine. "You did get cut," she cried, turning the flashlight full on her face. The blood was running down her cheek from a cut in her forehead and her arm was also bleeding. We tied her up with strips of handkerchiefs and set her on the back seat of the Glow-worm.

The owner of the limousine decided to leave it there and come for it in the morning, and, as our engine was not hurt we thought best to drive on. The man offered to pay for having our wheel fixed and the fender put on again and seemed dreadfully afraid we were going to sue him. He gave us his name and address and told us to send the bill to him. He lived in the neighborhood and could find his way home on foot.

After he had disappeared in the fog and the Glow-worm was once more proceeding on her journey, we suddenly realized that we did not know where we were nor in which direction we were going. We were not on the road to Chicago, we knew, because the road we had followed out of Wellsville in pursuit of the Frog had gone off at right angles to that road. At the time we had thought only of finding out what had become of Margery and had followed him blindly. The fog was getting thicker instead of thinner and it was impossible to see anything like a sign post. A sharp east wind was blowing that chilled us to the bone. It was rather a dismal situation we found ourselves in. Of all kinds of bad weather I hate fog the worst. It makes me feel as if I had lost my last friend. Nyoda hadn't any idea where she was going, but she kept the car moving slowly, hoping that we would come to a town pretty soon. We sounded the horn constantly to warn any other vehicles on the road and Nakwisi offered to sit in front and keep a lookout with her telescope.

"Telescope!" said Sahwah, scornfully. "What you want is a collide-o- scope!" Whereupon we all pinched her for making a pun and went on shivering.

Just when we got off the road I don't know, but gradually we became aware that it was not hard earth we were riding over but something that swished under the wheels like long grass.

"We're in a field!" cried Sahwah.

Nyoda turned the car around and we went a few yards, expecting to get back into the road every minute. Then suddenly the car began to go down hill very rapidly, and at the bottom there was a grand splash, and we found ourselves up to the wheel hubs in water. We had run into a stream of some kind. The bottom was soft mud and to keep from sinking we had to go on across. Luckily it was shallow and not very wide and the water did not come inside the car. Margery screamed all the way across and we had a rather breathless few minutes, until we came out on the farther bank. Once on dry land again Nyoda stopped the car and flatly refused to drive another inch. We were off the road, we had no idea where we were, and there was too much danger of running into things in the fog. None of us dared to think what might have happened if that river had been deep.

So here we were stranded, at about two o'clock in the morning, in a field nobody knew where, by a road whose direction we could not even guess, with a thick mantle of fog rolling around us as dense as the smoke had been a few hours before. Could it have been only a few hours before that we came near burning to death? And now we were in nearly as much danger of freezing to death. Fire and dampness all in one night! It certainly was a varied experience.

And the cold was no joke. It pierced the very marrow of our bones. We were not dressed for any such weather as that. We had had two blankets in the car but there was only one left when we recovered it from the Frog. Sahwah suggested that we join hands around the Glow-worm and sing "When the mists have rolled away".

"You'll have to get out and walk around, if you don't want to catch cold," said Nyoda. We walked up and down for a while, each with a hand on the other's shoulder so as not to get separated and lost in the fog. This walk soon turned into a snake dance and then a war dance around the Glow-worm. It must have been a weird sight if anyone had seen us, ghostly figures flitting about in the illumined fog around the car. I suppose they would have taken us for dancing nymphs or will-o'-the- wisps, or some other creatures which inhabit the swamps.

We really became hilarious as we danced, although it was a serious business of keeping warm, and on the whole I would not have missed that night for anything. I adore unusual experiences and I'm sure not many people have been stalled in a fog when on an automobile trip and have had to spend the night dancing to keep warm. Margery didn't see the funny side of it, and you really couldn't blame her, poor thing, for it was all her fault that we were in this mess and she had been so badly frightened earlier in the night and then so shaken up when the Glow- worm ran into the limousine.

She didn't want to dance to keep warm and sat shivering in the car with the one blanket around her, except when Nyoda made her get out and exercise.

Morning came at last and when the sun rose the fog lifted. We found ourselves in the middle of a field some distance from the road, near the stream into which we had plunged the night before. We must have been off the road for some time before we noticed it. The place where we had run off was where the road turned and we had kept on straight ahead instead of turning. We got out of the field and followed the road. It was not a regular automobile road and was not sign-posted. We did not know whether we had gone north or south from Wellsville the night before. The fog had us completely turned around. By the position of the sun, the road extended toward the south. How far we had come we could not tell. We thought of going back to Wellsville and striking the main road again, but then Nyoda decided that by finding a road which ran toward the west we could strike the other trunk line route that went up to South Bend by way of Rochester and Plymouth. We did not want to make Wellsville again if we could possibly help it, for fear we would run into Margery's uncle.

That ride to Rochester was more like a bad dream than anything else. As I have said, we were not on the main automobile road, and we soon got into such ruts and mud holes as I have never seen. In places the road was strewn with stones and we were nearly shaken to pieces going over them. It was not long before we came to a sound asleep little townlet, but we didn't have the heart to wake it up and ask it its name, so we went on to the next. It was then about six in the morning and a few people were stirring in the main street. We found by inquiry that we were in the town of Byron and that by turning to the west beyond the schoolhouse we would strike a road which eventually led to Rochester. "Eventually" was the right word. It certainly was not "directly". It twisted and turned and ended up in fields; it wound back and forth upon itself like a serpent; it dissolved in places into a lake of mud. We didn't go very fast because we were afraid the wobbly wheel would wobble off. Hungry as we were we decided to wait until we reached Rochester before getting breakfast, so we could put the car into the repair shop the first thing and save time. We staved off the keenest pangs of hunger by plundering an apple tree that dangled its ripe fruit invitingly over the road, and I haven't tasted anything so delicious before or since as those Wohelo apples, as we named them.

The poor Glow-worm minus the one fender looked like a glow-worm with one wing off and the wobbling wheel gave it a tipsy appearance. Nyoda frowned as she drove; I know she hated the spectacle we made.

  "Needles and pins, needles and pins,
   When a girl drives an auto her trouble begins,"

spouted Sahwah.

"Aren't we nearly there?" sighed Nakwisi, as she came back to the seat after rising to the occasion of a bump.

"Long est via ad Tipperarium", replied Sahwah, and then bit her tongue as we struck a hole in the road.

The morning was beautiful after the foggy night and our spirits soared as we traveled along in the sunshine, singing "Along the Road that Leads the Way". But it was not long before there was a fly in the ointment. Turning around one of the innumerable curves in the road we saw the red roadster proceeding leisurely ahead of us.