Chapter I. News
 

With a crunching of the small stones in the gravel drive, the big car swung around to the side entrance of the house, and came to a stop, with a whining, screeching and, generally protesting sound of the brake-bands. A girl, bronzed by the summer sun, let her gloved hands fall from the steering wheel, for she had driven fast, and was tired. The motor ceased its humming, and, with a click, the girl locked the ignition switch as she descended.

"Oh, what a run! What a glorious run, and on a most glorious day!" she breathed in a half whisper, as she paused for a moment on the bottom step, and gazed back over the valley, which the high-setting house commanded, in a magnificent view.

The leaves of the forest trees had been touched, gently as yet, by the withering fingers of coming winter, and the browns, reds, golden ambers, purples and flame colors ran riot under the hazy light of an October sun, slowly sinking to rest.

"It was a shame to go alone, on this simply perfect day," murmured the autoist, as she drew off one glove to tuck back under her motoring cap a rebellious lock of hair. "But I couldn't get a single one of the girls on the wire," she continued. "Oh, I just hate to go in, while there's a moment of daylight left!"

She stood on the porch, against a background of white pillars, facing the golden west, that every moment, under the now rapidly appearing tints of the sunset, seemed like some magically growing painting.

"Well, I can't stand here admiring nature!" exclaimed Cora Kimball, with a sudden descent to the commonplace. "Mother will be wanting that worsted, and if we are to play bridge tonight, I must help Nancy get the rooms in some kind of shape."

As Cora entered the vestibule, she heard a voice from the hall inside saying:

"Oh, here she is now!"

"Bess Robinson!" murmured Cora. "And she said she couldn't come motoring with me. I wonder how she found time to run over?"

Cora Hung open the door to confront her chum Bess or, to be more correct, Elizabeth Robinson--the brown-haired, "plump", girl--she who was known as the "big" Robinson twin--the said Bess being rather out of breath from her rapid exit from the parlor to the hall.

As might be surmised, it did not take much to put Bess out of breath, or, to be still more exact, to put the breath out of Bess. It was all due to her exceeding--plumpness--to use a "nice" word.

"Oh, Cora!" exclaimed Bess. "I've been waiting so long for you! I thought you'd never come! I--I--"

"There, my dear, don't excite yourself. Accidents will happen in the best of manicured families, and you simply must do something--take more exercise--eat less--did you every try rolling over and over on the, floor after each meal? One roll for each course, you know," and Cora smiled tantalizingly as she removed her other glove, and proceeded to complete the restoration of her hair to something approaching the modern style--which task she had essayed while on the porch.

"Well, Cora Kimball, I like your--!"

"No slang, Bess dear. Remember those girls we met this summer, and how we promised never, never to use it--at least as commonly as they did! We never realized how it sounded until we heard them."

"Oh, Cora, do stop. I've such a lot to tell you!" and Bess laid a plump and rosy palm over the smiling lips of her hostess.

"So I gathered, Bess, from your manner. But you must not be in such a hurry. This is evidently going to be a mile run, and not a hundred yard dash, as Jack would say. So come in, sit down, get comf'y, wait until you and your breath--are on speaking terms, and I'll listen. But first I want to tell you all that happen to me. Why didn't you come for a spin? It was glorious! Perfectly 'magnificent!"

"Oh, Cora, I wanted so much to come, you know I did. But I was out when you 'phoned, and mamma is so upset, and the house is in such a state--really I was glad to run out, and come over here. We are going--"

"My turn first, Bess dear. You should have been with me. In the first place, I had a puncture, and you'll never in the world guess who helped me take off the shoe--"

"Your shoe, Cora!"

"No, silly! The tire shoe. But you'd never guess, so I'll tell you. It was Sid Wilcox!"

"That fellow who made so much trouble--"

"Yes, and who do you think was with him?"

"Oh, Ida Giles, of course. That's easy."

"No, it was Angelina Mott!"

"What, sentimental Angie?"

"The same. I can't imagine how in the world she ever took up with Sid enough to go motoring."

"Say, rather, how he took up with her. Sid is much nicer than he used to be, and they say his new six-cylinder is a beautiful car."

"So it is, my dear, but I prefer to select my chauffeur--the car doesn't so much matter. Well, anyhow, Sid was very nice. He offered to put in a new inner tube for me, and of course I wasn't going to refuse. So Angelina and I sat in the shade, while poor Sid labored. And the shoe was gummed on, so he had no easy task. But I will say this for him--he didn't even once hint that there was a garage not far off. Wasn't that nice?"

"Brave and noble Sid!"

"Yes, wasn't he, Bess? But I don't want to exhaust all my eloquence and powers of description on a mere puncture."

"Oh, Cora! Did anything else happen?" and Bess, who had followed her chum into the library of the Kimball home, sank down, almost breathless once more, into the depths of a deep, easy chair.

"There you go again!" laughed Cora, laying aside her cap and veil. "I'll have to pull you out of that, Bess, when you want to get up. Why do you always select that particular chair, of all others?"

"It's so nice and soft, Cora. Besides, I can get up myself, thank you," and, with an assumption of dignity that did not at all accord with her plump and merry countenance and figure, Bess Robinson tried to arise.

But, as Cora had said, she needed help. The chair was of such a depth that one's center of gravity was displaced, if you wish the scientific explanation.

"Now don't you dare lean back again!" warned Cora, as her chum sat on the springy edge of the chair, in a listening attitude. "To resume, as the lecturer in chemistry says, after Sid had so obligingly fixed the puncture, I started off again, for mamma wanted some worsted and I had offered to run into town to get it for her. The next thing that happened to me, Bess dear, I saw the nicest young man, and ran right into--"

"Not into him, Cora! Don't tell me you hurt anyone!" cried Bess, covering her face with her hands or at least, trying to, for her hands were hardly large enough for the completion of the task.

"No, I didn't run into him, Bess, though there was a dog--but that's another story."

"Oh, Cora! I do wish you'd finish one thing at a time. And that reminds me--"

"Wait, Bess, dear. I didn't run into the young man, but he bowed to me, and I turned around to make sure who he was, for at first I thought him a perfect stranger, and I was going to cut him. In my excitement, I ran right into a newly oiled place on the road, and, before I knew it, I was skidding something awful! Before I could reach the emergency brake, I had run sideways right against the curbing, and it's a mercy I didn't split a rim. And the young man ran over--"

"Oh, Cora Kimball! I'll never get my news in, if I don't interrupt you right here and now!" cried Bess. "Listen, my dear! I simply must tell, you. It's what I ran over for, and I know you can't have had any serious accident, and look as sweet as you do now--it's impossible!"

"Thanks!" murmured Cora, with a mock bow. "After that, I must yield the floor to you. Go on, Bess. What is it? Has some one stolen your car, or have you discovered a new kind of chocolate candy? I wish I had some now; I'm simply starved! You have no idea how bracing and appetizing the air is. What was I telling you about?"

"Never mind, Cora. It's my turn. You can't guess what has happened."

"And I'm not going to try, for I know you're just dying to tell me. Go on. I'm listening," and Cora sat on a stool at the feet of her chum.

"Well, it would take too long to tell it all, but what would you say, if I went on a long sea voyage this winter?"

"What would I say? Why, my dear, I'd say that it was simply perfectly magnificent! It sounds like--like a wedding tour, almost. A sea voyage. Oh, Bess, do tell me!" and Cora leaned forward eagerly, expectantly. "Are you really going?"

"It seems so, yes. Belle and I shall have to go if papa carries out his plans, and takes mamma to the West Indies. You see it's like this. He has--"

A knock came at the door. Cora turned her head quickly, and called: "Come in!"

A maid entered, bearing on a silver server a note, the manila envelope of which proclaimed it as a telegraph message.

"Oh, a telegram!"' gasped Cora, and her fingers trembled, in spite of her, as she opened it.

She gave a hasty glance at the written words, and then cried:

"Oh, it was for mother, but the envelope had 'Miss Kimball' on it. However, it doesn't matter, and I'm glad I opened it first. Oh, dear!"

"Bad news?" asked Bess, softly.

"It's about my brother Jack," said Cora, and there was a sob in her voice. "He has suffered a nervous breakdown, and will have to leave college at once!"