Chapter IX.
 

The girls were entirely at sea at not reaching Nyoda at Ft. Wayne. They had counted so confidently upon her advice to help them out of the difficulty in which they found themselves. Being lost from her was the worst calamity they could conceive of. They were very much puzzled and a little hurt that she should have run away and left them as she did. It was so unlike Nyoda. On all other expeditions she had kept them under her eye every minute, like the careful Guardian she was. None of them slept much that night for worrying over the strange predicament they were in. Besides that they had to sleep three in a bed. Gladys made up her mind to wire her father in the morning when the doctor came.

When they looked out of the door in the morning the guard of the day before was gone and a new one had taken his place. Evidently Dr. Caxton was going to do the job thoroughly. Towards noon a buggy drove into the yard and a white-haired man got out and came up on the porch. He carried a shabby medicine case.

"Why, Dr. Lane!" exclaimed Mrs. Martin cordially, when she saw him.

"You left a call for me yesterday when I was out in the country," said Dr. Lane, in a pleasant voice. "I did not get in until early this morning. What's the trouble?"

"It's the children," said Mrs. Martin. "They've got scarlet fever. I was so worried about Bobby yesterday that I sent for Dr. Caxton from B----. We'll have to keep him now, I suppose, but do you want to look at them anyhow? Mary doesn't want to take her medicine, and maybe you could--"

"Certainly I'll go up and see them," said Dr. Lane. He was the kind of man you would love to have for your grandfather. His pockets bulged suspiciously as though they contained bags of lemon drops or peanuts. Talking cheerfully all the while he entered the sick room and looked at the patients.

"So Dr. Caxton said they had scarlet fever!" he said, musingly.

"Yes," said Mrs. Martin.

"Scarlet fever your grandmother!" returned Dr. Lane. "They've got prickly heat. If Dr. Caxton called that scarlet fever, what would he call a real case of scarlet fever?"

A minute later the man on guard heard a laugh that almost shook the windows of the house. Not long after that he was pedaling down the road on the bicycle that had brought him, very red in the face and very hot under the collar. The quarantine ended right then and there. Whether Dr. Caxton came again or not we never found out, for the girls left immediately. They sped over the road to Ft. Wayne as fast as the Striped Beetle could carry them. They went to the Potter Hotel and naturally discovered that we had not stayed there. I believe they had held to the hope all the time that we had arrived after the telegram had gone back undelivered. They stood around irresolutely until the check man to whom we had talked spied them and told them that we had left not half an hour before and were on our way to Chicago by way of Ligonier. They could hardly believe their ears when they heard that Nyoda had gone off and left them the second time. But as they were so close behind us the only thing for them to do was to follow.

Gladys stopped at a service station and had the Striped Beetle's carburetor adjusted, or something that sounded like that, and then started post-haste on the road to Chicago. Pearl looked from one to the other of the girls with fear and suspicion in her face. "Is there--is there really such a person as you say you are taking me to see, or are you taking me somewhere else?" she faltered.

And the girls had a hard time convincing her that Nyoda was not a myth, although they began to wonder if she had not turned into one. Gradually Pearl began to thaw out under their persistent cordiality and was really not such a bad companion after all. She still furtively watched the road behind them as if she feared pursuit, but some of the scared rabbit look was going out of her eyes when she began to realize that the width of a whole state lay between her and her persecutors and they had absolutely no clue to her whereabouts. She repeatedly expressed her amazement that a group of girls so young had the courage to travel by themselves in an automobile, and were not frightened to death to have gotten separated from their chaperon, but were calmly following her up as fast as they were able.

She was much interested when she heard they were Camp Fire Girls, and wanted to know all about the Winnebago doings.

"I wish I could have belonged to something like that in the city where I worked," she said with a sigh, "maybe I wouldn't have been so lonesome all the time. And I would have had a Guardian--is that what you call her?--to go to when I got into trouble."

"Maybe you'll get into a group yet," said Hinpoha, optimistically. "There are some in the city where you live."

Pearl was as great a curiosity to them as they were to her. How any girl of eighteen could be so babyish and helpless as she was was a revelation to them. Everyone of them wished devoutly that she could become a Winnebago so they could make something out of her. Hinpoha began making plans right away.

"As long as you have no people and it doesn't matter where you work, why couldn't you come to Cleveland and find work, and possibly join our group?" she suggested. "I'm sure Nyoda would take you in. When Migwan goes to college she won't be able to attend the meetings regularly and there will be a vacant place. Couldn't you?" she cried, warming to her plan, and the rest of the girls voiced their approval.

"Oh, do you suppose I could?" asked Pearl timidly, clasping her hands before her in a nervous manner. "Oh, I never could do it. I'm afraid to go to a bigger city for fear I'll get into trouble again. And I never could do the things you girls do, I just never could." And she looked at them with appealing helplessness in her big blue eyes.

"Nonsense," said Hinpoha, "you can do anything you want to if you only think you can do it." And she told her a marvelous tale of how I earned the money to go to college when things seemed determined to go against me. Which is all perfectly nonsensical; the chance of earning money to go to college fell right into my lap. Pearl only opened her eyes wider at Hinpoha's recital and answered with a sigh, "Oh, I never could do it!"

The girls went on happily planning how they would take her back to Cleveland with them and make her one of the Winnebagos.

They had to slow up the Striped Beetle along the road for a cow and a calf that were monopolizing the right of way and Hinpoha decided to take a picture of them. "Oh, this film's finished," she said impatiently, examining her camera. "I'll have to stop and reload. Oh, Gladys, do you mind if I open the trunk here on the road? My extra films are all in there."

"Go ahead and open it," said Gladys good-naturedly, handing her the key.

Hinpoha got out and went behind the machine to get her film from the trunk, all the while calling out to the cow and her calf in a friendly and coaxing manner not to walk away before she could take them. But she stopped suddenly in the midst of a persuasive "Here, bossy, stay here," to utter a surprised exclamation.

"What's the matter?" asked Gladys.

"There isn't any trunk here." cried Hinpoha. "It's gone!"

Consternation reigned in the Striped Beetle. The trunk, containing all their extra clothes, had vanished from the rack at the back of the car!

"And my scarf was in it," said Hinpoha, ready to cry with distress, "that mother sent me from Italy!"

"Don't worry, we'll get it again," said Gladys soothingly, although she was as much dismayed herself. "Where did we have it last? We had it in Ft. Wayne, I know, because we opened it there. It must have been taken off in the service station where we had the carburetor adjusted. We'll have to go back and see if it's there."

Accordingly they turned around and drove swiftly back to Ft. Wayne. Inquiries at the service station at first brought out nothing, because the proprietor declared that the trunk had not been touched--whoever heard of taking off a trunk to adjust a carburetor? But a repairman coming in just then, heard the talk about the trunk and said he was the man who had made the adjustment on the car and he noticed that the trunk rack seemed to be sagging and took off the trunk to fix it. He had not put the trunk on again, because just then he had been called to help install new gears in a car for a man who was in a great hurry and had called one of the helpers to put on the trunk and fill the tank. The helper was called and admitted that he had put a trunk on a car, but it was not the Striped Beetle; it was a similar car owned by a man who was driving to Indianapolis. He had thought the trunk belonged to him.

The girls looked at each other tragically. Their trunk on the road to Indianapolis!

"How long ago did he start?" asked Gladys.

"About an hour," answered the repairman.

"We'll have to go after him," said Gladys, resolutely. "We need that trunk. Can you tell us what the man's name is?"

"Hansen," replied the repairman. "George Hansen. Driving seven passenger touring car, brown, with black streamer and gold striping. He was driving to Indianapolis over the road that goes through Huntington, Marion and Anderson; I heard him talking about it. That's one of the main roads out of here. You ought to be able to overtake him on the way; he's a slow driver and his motor was missing pretty badly. Wouldn't let me fix it though, because it would take too long and he wanted to get to Indianapolis in time to see the races. He lives there, so you ought to be able to find him; runs some kind of a store."

He poured out his information eagerly; he seemed anxious to do anything he could to aid in the recovery of the trunk, since he had put it on the wrong car. "Funny how well it fitted that other rack!" he said. But Gladys says there is nothing peculiar about that because the two cars, being the same make, had the same style rack, and the trunk was the ordinary one carried by automobilists.

She hastily looked up the route to Indianapolis and started in pursuit of the unconscious thief. It was then nearly five o'clock in the evening. They really did not have much hope of catching the other car on the way, since it had an hour's start, but they were confident of recovering the trunk in Indianapolis, where they could find out the man's address and follow him to his home. Fortune played into their hands in that they found good roads all the way and had no breakdowns, and sometime after eight they reached Indianapolis. There were half a dozen George Hansens in the telephone book, four of whom were away on automobile trips. But further inquiry brought out the fact that one of them did own a seven passenger brown W---- car. He was expected home that evening, but had not yet arrived. His wife (it was she who was talking) was very sorry about the trunk, but if it had been placed on the rack of her husband's car it would undoubtedly arrive when he did. He would probably come home during the night, as he was very anxious to see the races, which were to take place the next two days. Would they call later?

Somewhere on the road they had passed him, but it was too late now to wonder where. The only thing to do was to wait until he came. At ten o'clock he had not arrived yet. The girls went down to the Young Women's Christian Association, where they could spend the night. Gladys concluded that Nyoda must be told if possible where they were, and judging that she had reached Chicago by that time she wired the Carrie Wentworth Inn, where they had planned to stay that night, telling what had happened and saying she would arrive in Chicago the next day.

They called the Hansen home the first thing in the morning and learned to their dismay that Mr. Hansen had not yet returned. But he was expected any minute and Hinpoha would not hear of leaving without the trunk. Shortly afterward their telegram came back undelivered from the Carrie Wentworth Inn in Chicago, with the notation, "Party not registered." That threw them into a state of bewilderment, but Gladys, after thinking hard and long about the matter, remarked that the Glow- worm had a habit of breaking down at inconvenient times and that probably accounted for our not having reached Chicago the night before.

Every half hour they called up the Hansen home to find out if Mr. Hansen had returned and every time they received a negative answer. Finally, Hinpoha suggested that they drive out to his house and sit on the curbstone where they could see him coming, before they spent all their substance in a riotous feeding of nickels into the public telephone. Which they proceeded to do. But their vigil was vain, for he came not and it became apparent that they must either depart without the trunk or stay there another night. Gladys was for going on and having it sent after them, but Hinpoha refused to budge until she had seen that scarf with her own eyes. Accordingly, they sent another wire to the Carrie Wentworth Inn, thinking surely Nyoda must have arrived by that time, and stayed a second night in Indianapolis.

The next morning they received the news that Mr. Hansen had arrived, but alas, he had brought no trunk with him. He knew nothing about the matter at all. He could remember no trunk being on the back of his car when he left the repair shop in Ft. Wayne, but then, he had not looked particularly. He had made several stops on the way home on business--he was a traveling salesman--and that was how they had passed him on the road. The car had stood for a time in a dozen different places, the trunk could easily have been stolen, and he had never known the difference. Possibly they could hold the repair shop responsible.

The girls were much downcast at this news, especially Hinpoha, on account of the scarf that had been the last gift of her mother. Where was the trunk now? It might be anywhere between the north and south poles in that length of time. Gladys's only hope was now that it had been mislaid and not stolen, and that it would fall into the hands of some honest person who would ferret out the owner.

They were just about to start out for Chicago again when they were handed a telegram. It was from the Carrie Wentworth Inn and was dated midnight of the night before. It read: "Wire from party you want says address Forty-three Main Street Rochester Indiana."

That wire threw them into great perplexity. What were Nyoda and the girls doing in Rochester, when they had been on the road to Chicago two days before?

"The Glow-worm is more like a flea than a glow-worm," said Hinpoha. "It's never where you expect to find it. I really believe Nyoda has lost control of the car and it is taking her wherever it wants to."

Gladys was consulting the route book. "Rochester is on the direct road to Indianapolis," she said. "We can make the run in a few hours. I'm going to wire Nyoda that we're coming and she should wait for us."

So she sent the wire we received that morning in Rochester:

"Where on earth are you? Wait Rochester for us. Coming to-day noon."

That was Friday, the day of the big races in Indianapolis. The town was full of people. Tourists from all over managed to make the city just at that time, and the streets were crowded with motor cars of every description. Gladys looked sharply at every car they passed on the way out of the city to see if her trunk was on the back of any of them, but in vain.

"I suppose I'll never see that scarf again," said Hinpoha, sadly.

Pearl looked a little enviously at the women who came to town in their big fine cars with drivers and bull dogs. "It must be lovely to be rich and taken care of," she said, with a sigh.

Pearl was the kind of a girl who should have been born to a life of luxurious ease. She certainly had no backbone to fight her own battles in the world. She was a Clinger, who would curl around the nearest support like a morning glory vine. She didn't seem to have any more spirit than an oyster. Hinpoha, still imbued with the idea of taking her in hand and making a Winnebago out of her, kept trying to draw her out with an idea of finding out what her possibilities were. It was rather a matter of pride with us that each one of the Winnebagos excelled in some particular thing. When Hinpoha asked her what her favorite play was she answered that she had never been to the theater and considered it wicked. She opened her eyes in disapproval when Hinpoha mentioned motion pictures. Hinpoha had been on the verge of launching out on our escapade with the film company the summer before, but checked herself hastily. She also suppressed the fact that I had written scenarios, which fact Hinpoha glories in a great deal more than I do and which she generally sprinkles into people's dishes on every occasion. The fact that Gladys danced in public seemed to shock her beyond words. Clearly she was unworldly to the point of narrowness, and Hinpoha began to reflect that, after all, she might be somewhat of a wet blanket on the Winnebago doings if she came and joined the group. Pearl showed such marked disapproval of Gladys when she remarked that she wished her father were in town so they could have gone to the races that an awkward silence fell on the group. No topic of conversation seemed safe to venture upon.

They were driving along country roads now and in one place they crossed a small river with the most gorgeous early autumn flowers growing along its banks. They caught Hinpoha's color-loving eye and she must get out and wander among them. Gladys and Chapa and Medmangi decided that they too would like a stroll beside the river, after sitting in the car so long. Pearl did not care to get out; she offered to stay in the car and hold the purses of the other girls until they returned. The four girls walked along the stream, admiring the flowers, but not picking any, because they would only fade and wither and if left on the stems they would give pleasure to hundreds of people. Now and then they dabbled their fingers in the cool water.

"It's such a temptation to go wading," sighed Hinpoha, who never will grow up and be dignified if she lives to be a hundred.

Gladys was afraid Hinpoha would yield to the temptation if it stared her in the face too long, and announced that it was time to be under way. Reluctantly, Hinpoha tore herself away from the river and followed Gladys to the road.

What a rude ending that little wayside idyll was destined to have!

For when they returned to the road where they had left the Striped Beetle there was nothing but empty air. Car, Pearl, and four purses, containing every cent the girls had with them, had vanished!