Chapter VIII.
 

If I were an experienced writer of fiction I would know how to weave all the various odds and ends of my story into the telling so as to keep the action moving forward all the time, with all parts nicely balanced. But as it is, I am afraid that I have been trying to tell it all at once and am getting it rather one-sided. So far I have told only what happened to us girls in the Glow-worm, and I fear that the reader will have forgotten by this time that there were eight girls who started out on the trip instead of four. So now I am going to carry you back to a point almost at the beginning of the story; the point where we almost struck the old woman and where the Striped Beetle vanished from sight. As I said before, I am going to tell the story just as if I had been along and seen everything, without stopping to quote Gladys or Hinpoha or Medmangi or Chapa.

You will remember that we were proceeding westward through Toledo at the time and the Striped Beetle was in the lead. Hinpoha sat in the front seat with Gladys, holding Mr. Bob in her lap. The street was crowded with vehicles and Gladys was driving carefully. A wagon loaded almost to the sky with barrels threatened to fall over on them and they had a narrow squeeze to get through between it and the curb. Some small boys on the sidewalk shouted at the driver of the wagon and he shouted back; a street car trying to make headway on a track from which a sand wagon refused to move itself raised an ear-splitting racket with its alarm bell; the noise was so deafening that the girls put their hands over their ears and did not take them down again until Gladys had turned a corner into a quieter street. They had turned another corner before they discovered that the Glow-worm was not right behind them. Gladys merely stopped the car and waited for us to come up.

"They're probably caught in that line of wagons and trucks on T---- Street," said Gladys, when we did not come immediately. "I hope their engine didn't stall on that corner."

The minutes passed and we did not appear.

"Run down to the corner and see what is keeping them," said Gladys to Chapa and Medmangi. The two girls got out and retraced their steps. But nowhere did they see the Glow-worm. Puzzled, they returned to Gladys and she promptly turned the Striped Beetle around and drove back through the streets the way she had come. The Glow-worm had apparently vanished off the face of the earth. Inquiry at frequent points brought out the fact that the Glow-worm had knocked down an old woman (that is the way such things are exaggerated) and had gone on again. Their asking which way it had gone started an argument which ended in a fist fight, for the two small boys they asked each maintained stoutly that it had gone in a different direction. Then the mother of the boys ran out from a grocery store to see what the racket was about and seizing them by the back of their necks she shook them apart, boxing their ears. When the cause of the argument was made known to her she settled it in an emphatic manner by pointing with a fat forefinger down the street.

"They went that way," she declared. "Four girls in tan suits and green veils just like yours."

They took her word for it and started in pursuit of the Glow-worm, expecting to come upon it at every turn, their wonder growing momentarily. They could not understand why Nyoda had ceased to follow them and was taking a route which was not marked in the route book. They inquired at numerous places and found that we had passed just ahead of them.

"I don't blame Nyoda for going this way," said Gladys, "it's lots quieter than the other way; sort of back streets. She probably turned off when the jam occurred on T---- Street and thought we saw her and followed. It seems a little strange that she didn't wait for us to come up, though."

Mr. Bob, our long-eared mascot, had a most angelic disposition, but nevertheless, he knew when he was outraged, and when a yellow cur of no special breed and no breeding at all snarled impudently at him from the curb he jumped through Hinpoha's restraining arms with the intention of chewing up the insolent one. The yellow dog saw him coming and, turning tail, he fled yelping up a side street. Hinpoha shouted commands in vain; Mr. Bob had set out to put his teeth into that yellow dog and he would not be turned aside from his purpose. Gladys stopped the car and Hinpoha ran after Mr. Bob. The yellow cur knew his neighborhood and turned into an alley just as Mr. Bob nearly had him. Mr. Bob, with Hinpoha hard after him, also turned into the alley. The back door of an empty store offered the fugitive a safe refuge and he darted inside. So did Mr. Bob, growling ferociously, and so did Hinpoha, panting for breath and holding her hand to her side. From the back room of the store the dogs passed to the front and Mr. Bob caught the yellow dog in a tight corner behind a counter. For all he had run in such a cowardly fashion the yellow dog was a good fighter and the battle which occurred when the two clinched frightened Hinpoha out of her wits. She seized an old broom which was standing against the wall and ran behind the counter to beat them apart. In the darkness behind the counter she almost fell over something on the floor, and the broom clattered out of her hand. In her astonishment she forgot the fighting dogs. The thing she had fallen over and which she had, at first, thought was a sack of something, stirred and huddled up against the wall and Hinpoha heard the sharp intaking of a breath. Then she made out the form of a girl; a girl in a blue suit sitting on the floor with her hands over her face.

"Did--did the dogs frighten you?" asked Hinpoha. The girl dropped her hands and looked up quickly. Just then the yellow dog broke away from Mr. Bob and retreated through the back door. Mr. Bob, who had evidently derived honorable satisfaction from the encounter, came over to Hinpoha and subsided at her feet. With a look of wonder Hinpoha turned to the girl crouching on the floor. She had moved into the light from a window and Hinpoha could see that fear was written all over her face. It was a girl about eighteen years old with a round cherubic countenance, framed in fluffy light hair, wide open guileless blue eyes, with an expression as innocent as a baby's. Just now the eyes were swimming in tears.

"You are in trouble?" asked Hinpoha, with ready sympathy.

The girl reached out her hand and took hold of Hinpoha's jacket as a child holds on to its mother, in spite of the fact that she was evidently older than Hinpoha. Hinpoha caught her hand and held it tightly.

"Tell me about it," she said, gently.

The girl gulped down a big sob and wiped her eyes. "I'm--I'm hiding," she said, in a shaky voice.

"Hiding from what?" asked Hinpoha.

"From--from the man I work for," said the girl. "He said I stole something and I didn't, and he says he can have me arrested," she said with fresh sobs.

"But how can anyone have you arrested if you didn't steal anything?" asked Hinpoha.

"I don't know," answered the girl, "but I'm afraid he will." She cried for a moment and then collected herself and went on. "My name is Pearl Baxter," she said. "I used to live on a farm down state with my mother and then she died and I came here to the city and went to work in an office. I was the only girl in the office and I knew the combination of the safe. A few days ago Mr. Sawyer, that's one of the men I work for, asked me to get certain papers out of the safe, and when I went there I couldn't find them. He made an awful fuss and said I had taken them. They were bonds, if you know what they are. He said he would have me arrested. I believe his son took them because he knew they were there. When the other partner of the firm found they were gone he insisted on having the office searched and the bonds were found in my desk drawer. They would not believe me when I said I did not put them there. That was yesterday and I ran away and hid here all night and I'm afraid to go out for fear they will get me."

She broke down again and wept into her handkerchief. Tender-hearted Hinpoha was ready to weep in sympathy. "You poor thing!" she exclaimed. "Have you no friends who would help you?" she asked.

The girl shook her head. "I don't know anybody up here," she said. "I've only been working here three months."

For Hinpoha there was always one court of last resort. That was Nyoda.

"You come along with me," she said. "I know somebody who can tell you what to do."

She led the girl out to the Striped Beetle and told her story to the other girls. They all agreed that the only thing to do was to take her to Nyoda as quickly as possible. She sat in the tonneau of the car between Chapa and Medmangi with her veil tied down over her face, through which she peered nervously to the right and left as the car moved on through the streets. Gladys's brow was drawn up into a frown of perplexity as corner after corner was turned and they still did not come upon the Glow-worm. Boys playing in the street told them that it had gone past over fifteen minutes before. Hinpoha anxiously wished for a sight of the familiar car so that Pearl could be turned over to Nyoda very soon.

"It's like a game of Hare and Hounds," said Chapa from the back seat "Nyoda is the hare and we are the hounds. She's probably doing it on purpose to see how well we can trail her to the city limits. You know how fond she is of putting us to unexpected tests."

"I'll make it," said Gladys, determinedly.

Several times she consulted her route book and then she laughed. "The joke is on Nyoda after all," she said. "This way leads to the southern route and not the northern, and they'll have the pleasure of crossing the city again. Won't we have the laugh on them, though, when we meet them at the city limits?"

But the Glow-worm was not waiting for them at the city limits and they were much surprised to learn that it had traveled on over the road to the west. "The southern route?" asked Gladys, wonderingly, "I can't imagine what Nyoda is doing. I'm sure she understood we were to take the northern. It's all right, of course, because there is no great difference in the routes, they each lead to Ft. Wayne, but I can't imagine why she changed without telling us."

"Maybe she couldn't stop the car," said Hinpoha, beginning to giggle. "It's happened before. The fellow next door to us bought a motorcycle and got it started and couldn't stop it again and he whizzed up and down the city until the gas gave out, and there were eleven policemen chasing him before he got through."

The picture of the Glow-worm traveling across country with the bit between its teeth, carrying its passengers willy-nilly over the wrong road, was so funny that they all laughed aloud, in spite of the improbability of it.

"Maybe she'll make us trail her all the way to Ft. Wayne," said Gladys, musingly. "It's really our fault for losing her; we should have kept a better lookout. But it's a cold day when the Striped Beetle can't catch up with the Glow-worm." And Gladys put on full speed ahead.

Hinpoha was not worrying much about us and our disappearance; her thoughts were taken up with Pearl and her night in the empty storeroom. Hinpoha always takes other people's troubles so to heart.

At Napoleon they stopped for gasoline and learned that the Glow-worm had passed some time before and had also stopped for gasoline.

For the most part Pearl sat silent, turning her head every little while to watch the road behind them. She was that pink-and-white-doll-baby- helpless-in-emergency type of girl who ought never be allowed away from home without a guardian. After they had been traveling awhile she leaned back against the seat and looked so white and faint that the girls became alarmed.

"Do you feel ill?" asked Medmangi, feeling her pulse with a practised hand. Medmangi is going to be a doctor and is in her element when she has a patient to attend to. Pearl opened her big blue eyes languidly.

"I just got light-headed," she said, in a weak voice. "I think maybe it's because I'm--I'm hungry."

"Why didn't we think of it before?" asked Hinpoha, filled with self- reproach. "We might have known you hadn't had anything to eat since yesterday if you stayed in that storeroom all night. We'll stop in this village and get you something."

"I'd rather you wouldn't," said Pearl, in a somewhat embarrassed manner. "I really don't want anything to eat."

"Not want anything to eat!" echoed Hinpoha. "Why don't you want to eat if you're hungry?"

"You see," answered Pearl, still more embarrassed, "when I, when I ran away, I didn't stop to take my purse and I haven't any money to pay--"

"That's nonsense," said Gladys, firmly. "You have got to let us help you. It isn't any more than you would do for someone in the same position."

They stopped and got her something to eat and the others drank pop to keep her company. In spite of her being as hungry as she must have been Pearl did not eat very much; her trouble had evidently taken away her appetite. The girls exerted themselves to cheer her and assured her that everything would come out all right as soon as they found Nyoda and got her advice.

Somebody must have been moving a crockery store in the neighborhood and dropped it in the middle of the road, for, as they were passing through the outskirts of the little village where they had stopped they ran into a regular field of broken china. Gladys stopped short when she saw it, but it was too late, they were already in the midst of it. Both the front tires breathed their last. I think it should be made a criminal offense to leave things like that in the road. But then maybe the man carrying the china was knocked down by an automobile in the first place, and left the pieces in order to get revenge on some member of the auto driving fraternity. Ever since then I have been wondering how many of our calamities are brought down upon us by our best friends.

Gladys backed out of the mess and set about repairing the damage. The Striped Beetle carried two extra tires done up in a nice shiny cover all ready for emergency, but for some reason or other Gladys couldn't get the old tires off. It seems the demountable rims refused to demount, or whatever it is they are expected to do when you take a tire off.

Don't expect me to get the details straight or I shall throw up the job of reporter right here. I never could see through the workings of a motor car. I am like the Indian who had the automobile explained to him until he knew every part like a brother and then, when asked if he understood it, he replied that he understood all but one thing and that was what made it go without horses. So if the reader, who knows a car from A to Z, will kindly forbear to smile when I muddle things up, I will be her debtor forever.

Gladys saw that she would have to have help in getting those tires off and began scanning the horizon for a man. There are times when a man is a most useful member of society. There was not a man on the horizon at that time, though, and the only promising thing was a house set far back from the road in a grove of trees, and with a vegetable garden running down to the road. They had already left the village behind and habitations were scarce. Gladys went up to the house and returned in a short while with a man, who wrestled with the tires awhile and then proposed driving the car into the yard in the shade of the trees, as the sun was scorching hot in the road. Gladys accepted the invitation with alacrity.

While the Striped Beetle was holding up its poor cut front shoes for the man to take off the girls strolled over to the pump for a drink. A tired-looking woman, holding a fretful baby in her arms, came to the door and asked the girls to come up on the porch and sit down until the exchange of tires was made. Medmangi promptly offered to hold the baby while the woman finished her work. With a sigh of relief the woman handed her the baby.

"Such a time I've had with him to-day," she said, mopping her forehead. "He's cried steady since morning. He acts sick and he's got a fever."

Medmangi took the fretful child and endeavored to soothe him while his mother went about her work. Hinpoha, who is crazy about babies, insisted on holding him half the time, but neither of them could make him stop crying. A three year old girl, red-faced and heavy-eyed, as if she had recently awakened from sleep, peered shyly through the screen door and Chapa coaxed her to come out and sit in her lap. The mother came to the door every few minutes to tell us how thankful she was for the relief.

The relief promised to be one of considerable length, for the Striped Beetle steadfastly refused to put on its new tires. At last, the man proposed going after another man who lived down the road to help him. Gladys joined us on the porch while he was gone and helped amuse the babies. Still the little fellow cried. Medmangi explored for pins with a skilled hand but there was nothing sticking into him. Neither did he appear to be teething.

"There's something the matter with this baby," she said to the mother, when next she came to the door. "Hadn't you better have a doctor?"

The woman came out on the porch and looked down at the child in a worried way. "I sent my husband to town for the doctor this morning," she said, "but he had gone out into the country on a call and would not be back until late to-night. The next dearest doctor is in B----; that's eight miles away and we have no horse. So we'll have to wait until Dr. Lane gets back from the country."

"Wouldn't you like to have me drive over and get the doctor from B---- as soon as the tires are on?" asked Gladys. Gladys is always the one to offer the helping hand.

"Would you?" asked the woman, eagerly.

"I would be very glad to," said Gladys.

The man came back with his friend and between the two of them they managed to get the Striped Beetle shod anew. Gladys drove off to B----, leaving Chapa and Medmangi and Pearl and Hinpoha on the porch with the babies and taking Mrs. Martin with her. She had seen Mrs. Martin give a wistful glance toward the big car and surmised rightly that she had few chances to go automobile riding. They were back in less than an hour saying that the doctor would be right along, and he appeared presently in a dusty roadster with another man beside him, probably a friend.

I suppose everybody has been taught from childhood that virtue is its own reward and one good turn deserves another. But once in awhile they discover that the reward of virtue is just as apt to be trouble as not, and that one good turn can unscrew the lid of a whole canful of calamities. Thus it was that Gladys's generous offer to fetch the doctor from B---- ended up in disaster for all five of us. For the doctor examined the fretful baby and the heavy-eyed little girl and announced that they both had scarlet fever.

Scarlet fever! The girls looked at each other in dismay. Not one of them had had it. And they had all handled both the babies; Medmangi had hung over the little boy most of the time.

"If we have ourselves disinfected," said Medmangi, as they moved hastily toward the car, "there won't be much danger of our getting it. Scarlet fever isn't really contagious in the first stages."

"Stay right where you are," said the doctor, in a tone of authority. "No one must leave this house. You are all under quarantine."

"But we can't stay here," said Gladys. "We're touring and only stopped here."

"That makes no difference," said the doctor. He was a very young doctor and had recently been appointed health officer in his district. There was a serious epidemic of scarlet fever in that part of the state which it was almost impossible to check because people would not keep to themselves when they had it in the house. Young Dr. Caxton had made up his mind that the next case that was reported would be as rigidly quarantined as they were in the big cities. And automobile tourists would be the very ones to spread the infection abroad through the countryside. He was determined to hold them there at all costs.

They argued and pleaded in vain; he was obdurate. He had brought a friend with him in the car and he proceeded to station him as guard over the house to see that no one left it. Oh yes, he would see to it that they got all necessary supplies; they would suffer no hardship, but, on no account, would a member of that household set a foot off the grounds. He ordered the babies put to bed and the curtains taken down in that room and the rugs taken out. Mrs. Martin obeyed his orders in a flutter of distress. She was frightened because her children had the scarlet fever and worried half to death at the predicament her passing guests were in. She had been so grateful to Gladys for taking her along in the automobile to B----.

But her distress over it was nothing compared to theirs. To be held up in the midst of a tour and quarantined with a scarlet fever case! Whatever was to become of them? If Nyoda were only there!

"Now you'll have to telegraph your father," said Chapa.

Gladys's face was drawn with distress. "Mother would be frightened to death if she knew about it," she said. "I don't believe I'll tell her yet. I'll wait until I hear from Nyoda."

"How will we get word to Nyoda?" asked Hinpoha.

"Ft. Wayne," answered Gladys. "We were to stay there to-night and she must be there by this time."

"You'll send a wire for us?" she asked the doctor beseechingly.

"Certainly," he answered, amiably. "Any service--"

But Gladys cut him short. He was plainly enjoying the situation. The doctor departed with his horrid shiny little case and the message in his pocket and left the guard to watch the house. The first thing he did was to take something out of the Striped Beetle--I don't know what--so Gladys couldn't start it and make a dash for liberty. Gladys was ready to cry with rage at this high handed act, but that was all the good it did her.

"Well, there's one thing about it," said Hinpoha, who was far more philosophical than the rest, "if we have to stay prisoners here we might as well get busy and help Mrs. Martin. It's no fun to have five people quartered on you when there are two sick children in the house." Medmangi was already in the sick room giving medicine and drinks of water in an accomplished manner. It seems that the Winnebagos have a specialist in every line.

The others went down to the kitchen and finished paring the peaches which Mrs. Martin had been trying to can.

Later in the evening the guard slipped an envelope through the screen door. It was a telegram. It was signed by the telegraph company and read: "Yours date addressed Elizabeth Kent Potter Hotel Ft. Wayne undelivered. Party not registered."