Chapter V.
 

As far as we could make out there was only one person in the car and that was the driver, and if he had left the scene of the burning hotel with a girl in a tan suit she was no longer with him. I think Nyoda would have turned aside into some by-road if there had been such a thing in sight, but there wasn't. The Frog turned around in the seat and saw us coming. That action seemed to rouse Nyoda to fury. Two red spots burned in her cheeks and her eyes snapped.

"I'm going to overtake him," she said with a sudden resolution, "and ask him pointblank why he is always following us."

At that she put on speed and went forward as fast as the wobbling wheel would allow. But no sooner had she done this than a surprising thing happened. The Frog looked around again, saw us gaining on him, and then the red roadster shot forward with many times the speed of ours and disappeared around a bend in the road.

"He's running away from us!" exclaimed Sahwah.

"He may be afraid we are going to make it unpleasant for him for stealing the Glow-worm," said Nyoda. "But," she added, "I can't understand why he has ventured near us at all since that episode. You would expect him to put as much space as possible between himself and us."

"He probably didn't know we were following him," said Sahwah, shrewdly.

But the whole conduct of the Frog since the beginning was such a puzzle that we could make neither head nor tail out of it, so we gave it up and turned our attention to the scenery. Behind us a motorcycle was chugging along with a noise all out of proportion to the size of the vehicle, and we amused ourselves by wondering what would happen if it should try to pass us on the narrow road, with a sharp drop into a small lake on one side and a swamp on the other. But the rider evidently had more caution than we generally credit to motorcyclists and made no attempt to pass us, so we were not treated to the spectacle of a man and a motorcycle turning a somersault into the lake or sprawling in the marsh.

We certainly were ready for our long delayed breakfast when we finally got to Rochester, after giving the Glow-worm into the hands of the doctor once more. The poor Glow-worm! She never had such a strenuous trip before or after. The man on the motorcycle came into the repair shop while we were there to have something done to his engine, and he listened with interest while we were telling the repair man how we had run into the limousine in the fog. He looked at Margery curiously and I wonder if he noticed that her suit did not fit her by several inches. But Nyoda says men are not very observant about such things.

He was a good-looking, light-haired young man, and he stared at us with a frank interest that could not be called impertinent. I believe there is a sort of freemasonry between motor tourists, especially when they are having motor troubles, that makes it seem perfectly all right to talk to strangers. When the young man asked where we were from and where we were going we answered politely that we were on our way to Chicago by way of Plymouth and LaPorte. (We had decided not to go to South Bend at all, as it was out of the way of the route we were now traveling.) Nyoda added that we hoped to make Chicago before night. Here Sahwah advised her to rap on wood. We had planned to make it before nightfall once before. When we told about the fire the young man agreed that we certainly had had adventures a-plenty. He ended up by telling us a good restaurant where we could get breakfast (he evidently had been in town before) and we hastened to find it, leaving him explaining to the repairman what was the matter with his motorcycle.

While we were eating breakfast we saw him pass on the opposite side of the street and enter a building which bore the sign of the telegraph company. I couldn't help wishing that we knew his name and would meet him again on the trip, he seemed such a pleasant chap. I am always on the lookout for romantic possibilities in everything.

The Glow-worm was to be ready to appear in polite society sometime in the afternoon and we had nothing to do but kill time until then. There were no picture shows open in the morning so the only thing left for us to do was to go for a walk through the town. It was terribly hot, nearly ninety in the shade, and what it was out in the sun we could only surmise. Margery wanted to keep her veil down because she was afraid of meeting people, and Sahwah thought it would appear strange if only she were veiled and suggested that we all keep ours down, but they nearly stifled us. So we compromised on wearing the tinted driving goggles, which really were a relief from the glare of the sun, even if they did look affected on the street, as Nakwisi said. I'm afraid we didn't have our usual blithe spirit of Joyous Venture, as we walked up and down the streets of the town, looking, as Sahwah said, "for something to look at". The frequency with which the Glow-worm was being laid up for repairs was beginning to get on our nerves. Sahwah remarked that if we had set out to walk to Chicago we would have been there long ago, and that the rate at which we were progressing reminded her of that gymnasium exercise known as "running in place", where you use up enough energy to cross the county and are just as tired as if you had gone that far, while in reality you haven't gotten away from the spot.

Nakwisi stood up on a little rise of ground and focused her spy-glass in the direction of Chicago and said she had better try to get a look at the Forbidden City from there because she might never get any nearer.

Nyoda had torn her green veil on her hatpin and the wind had whipped the loose ends out until they looked ragged and she was frankly cross.

  "When lovely woman stoops to folly,
   And learns too late that veils do fray--"

chanted Sahwah, trying to be funny, but no one even laughed at her. We were too much exhausted from the heat and too busy wiping the perspiration out of our eyes.

As a town of that size must necessarily come to an end soon, we found ourselves after a while, beyond its limits and on a country road. We saw a great tree spreading out its shady branches at no great distance and made for it. With various sighs and puffs of satisfaction we sank down in the grass and made ourselves comfortable. Of all the sights we had seen so far on our trip the sight of that tree gave us the most pleasure. We had not sat there very long when a young man passed us in the road. He was the light-haired young man we had seen in the repair shop. He lifted his hat as he passed but he did not say anything. He was on foot, from which we judged that he also had some time to kill while his motorcycle was being fixed.

We did not sit long under that tree after all. First, Sahwah discovered that she was sitting next to a convention hall of gigantic red ants and a number of the delegates had gone on sight-seeing excursions up her sleeves and into her low shoes, which naturally caused some commotion. Then a spider let himself down on a web directly in front of Margery's face and threw her into hysterics. And then the mosquitoes descended, the way the Latin book says the Roman soldiers did, "as many thousands as ever came down from old Mycaenae", and after that there was no peace. We slapped them away with leaves for a time but there were too many for us, so in sheer self-defense, we got up and began to walk back to town. The only thing we had to be thankful for so far was that the Frog had apparently vanished from the scene.

We went back to the little restaurant where we had eaten our breakfast and ordered dinner. We had our choice between boiled fish and fried steak and we all took steak except Margery, who wanted fish. The heat had taken away our appetites, all but Margery's, and she ate heartily. Dinner over, we went out into the heat once more. We went up to see if the picture show was open yet, for the thought of a comfortable seat away from the sun and with an electric fan near, was becoming more alluring every minute. It was open and we passed in with sighs of joy. Somewhere along the middle of the performance, Sahwah, who was sitting next to me, gave me a nudge and pointed to the other side of the house. There sat the Frog, as big as life.

"I should think he'd smother in those goggles," whispered Sahwah.

At the same time Nakwisi, who was on the other side of me, also nudged me and told me to look around a few minutes later so it wouldn't look as if she had called my attention. After a short interval I looked. There sat the motorcyclist directly behind us. How I did wish we could tell him about the Frog and how he was always following us around, why, we could not guess.

Before the picture was finished Nyoda thought it was time to go and get the Glow-worm, which should be finished by that time. But when we got out into the sun again Margery began to feel dizzy and sick. We were perplexed what to do. This little country town was not like the big city where there are rest rooms in every big store. We finally decided to get a room at the hotel, which was near-by. But here as everywhere, that miserable Jinx had raised an obstacle against us. There was a rural church conference going on in town that week and, of course, the hotel was filled to overflowing. Delegates with white and gold badges were standing around everywhere and there was not a room to be had.

Margery sat down in the parlor awhile and then said she felt somewhat better, but she still looked so white that Nyoda refused to set out with her in the car. As in S----, the clerk gave us the name of a woman near-by who would let us have a room if we wanted it, and after a while we went up there. We wanted Margery to lie down on a bed for a while. But no sooner were we there than she was taken with terrible pains. Thoroughly alarmed, Nyoda went across the street where a doctor's sign swung on a post before a house and brought him over. Margery was very ill by this time and the doctor said she had symptoms of ptomaine poisoning. He asked what she had eaten for dinner. At the mention of fish he nodded his head gravely. Eating fish with the thermometer at ninety-five degrees is a somewhat hazardous proceeding, he remarked. How glad we all were then that we had taken the steak, even if it was tough! The doctor gave Margery some medicine and said we needn't worry because she wouldn't get any worse, and left us with a few more remarks about eating fish in a restaurant in hot weather.

Margery was more distressed about having delayed our start than she was over her own discomfort, so we had to make light of it, even though we were dismayed ourselves. Now the Glow-worm was ready and we were not! I couldn't help feeling that it had been no ordinary fish from the near- by lake that Margery had eaten, but one of the fateful fishes of the zodiac itself, especially prepared for the occasion. For it soon became evident that we could not leave town that night. Margery was feeling better, but was still too weak for automobile traveling.

Nyoda knit her brows for some time. "I'll have to wire Chicago," she said, thoughtfully. Gladys and the others must be there by this time.

I walked over to the telegraph office with her and stood beside her while she wrote the message: "Held in Rochester to-night on account sickness. Address Forty-three Main Street." She directed it to Gladys at the Carrie Wentworth Inn, the new Women's Hotel where we were to stay in Chicago. She read it out loud to me, counting over the words. As we turned away from the window-desk someone turned and went out just ahead of us. It was the motorcyclist.

Margery was sleeping when we returned, and we sat down beside the bed and read the paper we had bought at the corner stand. Nyoda gave a smothered exclamation as she read and pointed to an article which said that both Margery Anderson's father and uncle were scouring the country for her, and the uncle was accusing the father of having spirited her away. The paper said that private detectives were trying to trace her. Then it was that we remembered the mysterious reappearance of the Frog. We hadn't much doubt that he was a detective. But if he were a detective, why had he attempted to steal the Glow-worm? The only reason could have been the one which Sahwah suggested, namely, that he wanted to cut us off from following him. He had probably carried away the wrong girl in the excitement of the fire and did not discover his mistake until later and then had let her go. This accounted for the fact that there was no girl in the red roadster when it loomed up ahead of us in the road that morning.

But why had he run away from us when we tried to overtake him? That was a baffling question, and the only way we could explain it was that he was afraid we would accuse him of theft. That he had not gone very far away from us was shown by the way he had appeared in the picture theatre that afternoon. But if he was a detective, why did he not boldly march up to Margery and attempt to take her away from us?

Between the heat and the puzzle we were reduced to a frazzle. We carefully hid the paper so Margery wouldn't see it when she woke up and went down to supper. The house was on a corner and it seemed to me, as I sat at the table that I saw the Frog walking down the side street. But it was growing dark and I was not sure, so I said nothing about it. Margery was very weak when she woke up and still unable to eat anything, and I believe she had a touch of sunstroke along with her ptomaine poisoning. She was clearly not a strong girl. The room seemed stuffy and close and we fanned her to make her feel cooler. But we were still thankful that we were not in the hotel, with its crowd of delegates and its band continually playing.

Sahwah was telling that joke about the man thinking the car was empty, when all the while there was a miss in the motor and a "dutchman" in the back seat, when there came a rap on the door and the lady of the house came in. A minute later we were all looking at each other in bewildered astonishment. She had asked us to leave the house.

"But we've engaged the rooms for the night," said Nyoda.

That made no difference. We could have our money back. She had changed her mind about letting the rooms.

"You certainly can't think of turning this sick girl out of the house!" exclaimed Nyoda, incredulously.

Mrs. Moffat's face did not change in the least. She looked from one to the other of us with a steely glitter in her eye, which was a great change from the professional hospitality of her manner when she had let the rooms. "People aren't always as sick as they make folks believe," she said, sourly.

"You certainly don't doubt that this girl is sick!" said Nyoda, in desperation.

"I'm not saying I doubt anything," replied Mrs. Moffat. "I said I didn't want you to have the rooms to-night and I meant it."

"Will you please come outside and explain yourself," said Nyoda, "where it won't excite this sick girl?"

They went down-stairs to the lower hall, where Nyoda argued and pleaded to be told the meaning of Mrs. Moffat's strange attitude toward us, but she got no satisfaction. Mrs. Moffat would say nothing more than that she had a reputation to keep up. When Nyoda defied her to put Margery out Mrs. Moffat said grandiloquently that her son was on the police force (I suppose she meant he was the police force) and we would see what she could do.

Nyoda, at her wit's end, was trying to think of what to say next when there was a rap on the door and a small boy arrived with a note, which he would not give into Mrs. Moffat's hand. He just held it up so she could see what was on the outside. It was addressed to "The black- haired automobile lady". This, of course, was Nyoda and the boy was perfectly satisfied to give her the note once he had looked at her. Wonderingly she unfolded it. It contained only one line: "Go 22 Spring Street." It was signed "A fellow tourist." Nyoda turned to ask the boy who had given him the note, but he had disappeared.

22 Spring Street. Spring Street was one block down Main Street. Nyoda called me to go with her and we went to 22 Spring Street. A perfectly dear old lady came to the door and, when we asked if she could keep us all night, she said she would be delighted to. She asked such few questions that I have a suspicion that she knew all about us already from the motorcyclist, for we had no doubt that it was he who had sent Nyoda the note. How he knew Mrs. Moffat was trying to put us out was beyond us, unless he had been passing the open front door and overheard her conversation, which had not been in low tones by any means. As the new place was so near we got Margery over without any trouble and shook the dust of Mrs. Moffat's house from our feet disdainfully, if still completely in the dark as to why it should be so.

What had caused the change in her manner toward us? She had been perfectly cordial at the supper table and asked how we liked the beds. Something had evidently occurred while we sat upstairs, but what it was we could not guess. Then, like a flash, I remembered having seen the Frog sauntering past the house while we were eating supper. Had he gone to Mrs. Moffat with some story about us which had caused her to put us out? It sounded like a moving picture plot, and yet we all realized the possibility of it. We were simply dazed with the events of the day and evening by the time we reached the new rooms and had put Margery to bed.

"What a record we are setting this week!" said Sahwah. "First night we wandered into a Congressman's house by mistake and were put out; second night we got burned out of a hotel and finished by getting lost in the fog; third night we are put out of a lodging house for some mysterious reason. There aren't enough more things that can happen to us to last the week out." Which showed all that Sahwah knew about it.

When we had simmered down to something near normal again we realized that we would need the trunk which was carried on the Glow-worm. Nyoda drove the Glow-worm over and we carried the trunk up-stairs while she ran the car back to the garage. It was heavier than we expected and we were pretty well winded when we set it down on the floor of our room.

"Won't I be glad to see my dressing-gown again," said Sahwah, sucking her thumb, which had gotten under the trunk when it was set down. "This dress shrank when it got drenched in the fog last night and the collar's too tight."

"Slippers are what appeal to me," I sighed, wishing Nyoda would hurry back with the key. My shoes had been soaked in mud which had dried and left them stiff, and walking around all day on the scorching sidewalks had about parboiled my feet. Nyoda returned just then and opened the trunk without delay, while we crowded around to seize upon our wished- for belongings as soon as possible.

But when the cover was tilted back we fell over in as much surprise as if a jack-in-the-box had sprung out at us. Instead of Sahwah's red dressing-gown on top as we had expected there were rows and rows of bottles. We stared stupidly, not knowing whether to believe our eyes or not.

"You've got the wrong trunk!" we cried to Nyoda.

Nyoda went post-haste back to the garage. When she came back she wore a puzzled look. "The garage man declares that was the trunk that came with the Glow-worm," she said, in a dazed voice. "He says it was never removed from the rack, as all the work was on the front wheel and front fender."

Sahwah took one of the bottles from the trunk and held it up. It contained some fluid guaranteed to make the hair stay in curl in the dampest weather. There was a bright yellow label halfway around it that bore the classic slogan, "One touch of Curline makes the whole world kink." Sahwah began to giggle hysterically. At any other time we would all have laughed heartily over that ridiculous trademark, but just now we were too much concerned with the loss of our things to feel like laughing.

"No wonder the trunk was so heavy," said Sahwah, rubbing her arms at the remembrance of that climb up the stairs.

We searched our memories for the events of the previous day and tried to remember just where the trunk had been all the while. Then we remembered the scene of the fire and the fact that the Glow-worm might have been unguarded for some time in the garage. The trunk had been taken off the rack the day before when the repairs were made, because they had some work to do on the tail lamp bracket, and I heard the man say the trunk was in the way. This trunk with the bottles was the same on the outside as ours with the exception of Gladys's initials, and it might have been put onto the rack of the Glow-worm by mistake when the repairs were finished.

Nyoda lost no time in getting the proprietor of the garage at Wellsville on the long distance phone. When she returned this time she was entirely cheerful again. "He says there's another trunk just like it in the garage," she said. "He didn't know whom it belonged to. I told him to send it to us by express and it will be here in the morning. We will send this one back to him, for the rightful owner will be coming back after it."

"Whatever would anyone want with a trunkful of this stuff?" asked Sahwah, curiously.

"Probably a traveling salesman," suggested Nyoda. She took the bottle from Sahwah's hand and put it back into its place in the trunk. "One touch of Curline makes the whole world kink," she mused. "Well, 'one touch of Curline' has put a 'kink' in our retiring arrangements, all right."

She locked up the trunk with our key, which fitted the lock perfectly, remarking as she did so that locks weren't quite as useful as they might be, since other people's keys fitted them. The rest of the night passed peacefully, and we were so tired out from having had scarcely any sleep the previous night that we sank to slumber as soon as we touched the pillows.

In the morning we took the stranger's trunk to the express office and called for ours. We hailed that six-sided thing of boards and leather as though it had been a long lost friend and cheered it lustily when it was set down in our room. We could easily see where the garage man had made the mistake in giving us the salesman's trunk, for the two were identical. We opened ours up to see if our belongings were still intact. It took us a few minutes to realize the import of what we found. There, apparently, was our trunk, but the things in it were not ours. They belonged to the other girls. There was Gladys's pink silk crepe kimono; and Hinpoha's blue one; there were Gladys's Turkish slippers with the turned up toes; there were Hinpoha's stockings, plainly marked with her name.

We stared at each other with something like fear in our eyes. The thing was so uncanny. Gladys's trunk had not been in the garage when we arrived; it must have come after we left; and yet, the Striped Beetle had gone on to Chicago ahead of us!

The thing was monstrous; incredible. Had the fairies been playing tricks on us? We stood gazing with fascinated eyes at the open trunk which stood in our midst like a silent portent.