Chapter II. More News

"Oh, Cora!" murmured Bess, rising from, the chair, and it was with no easy effort that she did so, for she had allowed herself to sink back again into its luxurious depths. "Oh, Cora dear! Isn't that perfectly dreadful!"

Cora Kimball did not answer. She was staring at the fateful telegram, reading it over and over again; the words now meaningless to her. But she had grasped their import with the first swift glance. Jack was ill--in trouble.

Bess put her arms around her chum, and slipped one plump hand up on the tresses tangled by the wind on the motor ride.

"Can I do anything to help--your mother is she--"

"Of course!" exclaimed Cora with a sigh. "I must tell mother at once. Yes, she's at home, Bess. Will you--do you mind coming with me?"

"Of course not, my dear. I wouldn't think of letting you go alone to tell her. Is the telegram from jack himself?"

No, it's from Walter Pennington. Walter says a letter follows--special delivery."

"Oh, then you'll get it soon! Perhaps it isn't so bad as you think. Dear Walter is so good!"

"Isn't he?" agreed Cora, murmuringly. "I sha'n't worry so much about Jack, now that I know Wally is with him. Oh, but if he has to leave college--"

Cora did not finish. Together she and Bess left the library, seeking Mrs. Kimball, to impart to her the sudden and unwelcome news. And so, when there is a moment or two, during which nothing of chronicling interest is taking place, my dear readers may be glad of a little explanation regarding Cora Kimball and her chums, and also a word or two concerning the previous books of this series.

Cora Kimball was the real leader of the motor girls. She was, by nature, destined for such a position, and the fact that she, of all her chums, was the first to possess an automobile, added to her prestige. In the first volume of this series, entitled "The Motor Girls," I had the pleasure of telling how, amid many other adventures, Cora, and her chums, Bess and Belle Robinson, helped to solve the mystery of a twenty thousand dollar loss.

Cora, Bess and Belle were real girl chums, but they never knew all, the delights of chumship until they "went in" for motoring. Living in the New England town of Chelton, on the Chelton River, life had been rather hum-drum, until the advent of the "gasoline gigs" as Jack, Cora's brother, slangily dubbed them. Jack, with whose fortunes we shall concern ourselves at more length presently, had a car of his own--one strictly limited to two--a low-slung red and yellow racing car, "giddy and gaudy," Cora called it.

Later on, the Robinson twins also became possessed of an automobile, and then followed many delightful trips.

"The Motor Girls on a Tour," the second volume of the series, tells in detail of many surprising happenings, which were added to, and augmented, at "Lookout Beach."

Through New England the girls went, after their rather strenuous times at the seaside, and you may be sure Cora Kimball was in the forefront of all the happenings on that rather remarkable run.

Perhaps the most romantic of all the occurrences that befell the girls were the series at Cedar Lake. There, indeed, were Cora and her chums put to a supreme test, and that they emerged, tried and true, will not be surprising news to those of you who really know the motor maids.

As another summer followed the green spring, so adventures followed our friends, and those on the coast were in no whit tamer than previous happenings. Once again did Cora prove that she could "do things," if such proof were needed.

"The Motor Girls on Crystal Bay, Or The Secret of the Red Oar," is the title of the book immediately preceding this one.

It would hardly be fair to tell you, bold-facedly, what the "secret" was. I would not like a book spoiled for me that way, and I am sure you will agree with me.

But when Cora and her friends made the acquaintance of sad little Freda Lewis, and later on of Denny Shane, the picturesque old fisherman, they had the beginnings of the mysterious secret. And in solving it, they bested the land-sharpers, and came upon the real knowledge of the value of the red oar.

Those incidents had taken place during the summer. Autumn had come, with its shorter days, its longer nights, the chill of approaching frosts and winter, and the turning of leaves, and the girls I had bidden farewell to the sad, salty sea waves, and had returned to cheerful Chelton.

Cheerful Chelton--I believe I never thus alliteratively referred to it before, but the sound falls well upon my ear. Cheerful Chelton-- indeed it was so, and though Cora and her chums had enjoyed themselves to the utmost at Crystal Bay and in so enjoying had done it noble service still they were glad to get back.

And now--

I beg your pardon! I really am forgetting, the boys, and as they always have, and seem always destined to play in important part in the lives of the girls, perhaps I had better introduce them in due form.

To begin with, though not to end with, there was Cora's brother Jack. Like all other girls' brothers was Jack--a tease at times, but of sterling worth in hours of distress and trouble.

Jack was a junior at Exmouth College, but, bless you! that is not nearly as important as it sounds, and none of my new readers need be on their dignity; or assume false society manners with Jack. For I warn them, if they do, the thin veneer will very soon be scratched off. A true boy was Jack!

So was his chum, Walter Pennington--"Wally," the girls often called him, though it was not at all an effeminate term of endearment. Walter gave exactly the opposite impression from that. Besides, he was too athletic (which you could tell the moment you looked at him) to further such associations.

Other young men there were, Ed Foster, in particular, who often went motoring with the girls, to make the third male member which caused the little parties to "come out even."

Occasionally Paul Hastings, and his sister Hazel, would be included, but, of late, Paul had been too busy setting up an automobile business of his own, to ride with his friends.

So much for the boys--though there were more of them, but we need not concern ourselves with them at present.

Bess and Belle Robinson were the daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Perry Robinson--the "rich"' Mr. Robinson, as he was called, to distinguish him from another, and more humble, though none the less worthy, citizen of Chelton. Bess and Belle had nearly everything they wanted--which list was not a small one. But mostly they wanted Cora Kimball, and they looked up to her, deferred to her and loved her, with a devotion that comes only from sweet association since early childhood.

"Cheerful Chelton!" Somehow I cannot seem to forego the temptation of using that expression again. It was a typical New England village, the nearness of it to New York not having spoiled it.

Of late, the invasion of many automobiles had threatened to turn it into a "popular" resort. There was already one garage, and another in building, and to the trained and experienced motorist, no more need be said.

It was to Chelton that Cora Kimball and her chums had returned, following their summer at Crystal Bay. Cora, after trying in vain to get some of her chums, by telephone, to come for a little motor run with her, had gone alone, coming back to find Best at her home, when the events narrated in the initial chapter took place.

Now the two girls were on their way upstairs to impart the news contained in the telegram, to Mrs. Kimball.

"Do you--do you think she'll faint?" asked Bess.

"No--of course not! Mother isn't of the fainting sort," replied Cora, for Mrs. Kimball, a widow since her boy and girl were little children, was used to meeting emergencies bravely and calmly.

"I wonder what could have happened to Jack?" mused Bess, as they reached the upper hall. "Do you suppose he could have been hurt playing football, Cora?"

"I don't see how. The season hasn't really opened yet, and they play only light games at first. Besides, Jack has played before, and knows how to take care of himself. I can't imagine what it is--a nervous breakdown."

"Probably Wally's letter will tell."

"I hope so. Oh, but, Bess, I didn't hear your news. You must tell me all about it, my dear."

"I will--when this excitement is over."

Mrs. Kimball received the news calmly--that is, calmly after a first sharp in-taking of breath and a spasmodic motion toward her heart. For Jack was very dear to her.

"Well, my dears, we must hope for the best," she said, cheerfully, to the girls. "Fortunately, his room is in order, which is more than can be said for it when he went away. Cora, can look up trains, or, better still, ask the station agent when one might get in from Exmouth. Probably Walter will bring Jack home as soon as he can.

"It can't be so very serious, or Walter would have so specified in his telegram. I am anxious to get his letter, however. You might call up the post-office, Cora, and find out when the next mail gets in. Then you could go down in your car and get the special. That will be quicker than waiting for the boy to come up on his bicycle with it. Often he has half a dozen letters to deliver, and he might be delayed coming to us."

"I'll do that, Mother. You seem to think of everything!" and Cora threw her arms about the neck of the gray-haired lady, in whose eyes there was a troubled look, though neither in voice nor manner did she betray it.

"I can't imagine Jack ill," murmured Bess.

"Nor I," said Cora. "He has always been so strong and healthful. If only it isn't some accident--"

"Don't suggest it!" begged Bess. "Shall I come with you to the station, Cora?"

"I'd like to have you, dear, if you can spare the time."

"As if I wouldn't make time for such a thing as this. Come, do your telephoning, and we'll go."

Cora learned that no train which Jack could possibly get would arrive until very late that afternoon, but at the post-office it was said a mail would be in within the hour, and there was a chance that the special delivery letter would be on it.

"We'll go and see," decided Cora, now again a girl of action.

"And on your way, Cora dear," requested her mother, "stop at Dr. Blake's office, and ask him to meet the train Jack comes on. While I anticipate nothing serious, it is best to be on the safe side, and Jack may be in a state of collapse after his trip. You had better explain to Dr. Blake, rather than telephone."

"Yes, mother. Now are you sure you'll be all right?"

"Oh, certainly. I am not alone, with the servants here. Besides, John is just outside, trimming the lawn paths. You won't be long."

"No longer than we can help. Come on, Bess. Oh! and now you'll have a chance to tell me what you started to."'

"Oh! It isn't so much, Cora. In fact, I don't like to mention my pleasure, after hearing of your trouble."

"Then it's pleasure?"

"Yes, Belle seems to think so."

"Did you mention the West Indies?"

"Yes, father has to go to Porto Rico on business, and we are going to make a winter cruise of it. Mamma and we girls are going, and what I came over to ask you--"

The voice of Bess was rather lost in the throb of the motor as Cora thrust over the lever of the self-starter. As the two girls settled themselves in the seat, Bess resumed:

"I came over to ask if you couldn't go with us, Cora? Can't you come on a winter's cruise to where there is no snow or ice, and where the waters are blue--so blue?"

"Come with you?" gasped Cora.

"Yes. Papa and mamma specially asked me to come and invite you. Oh, Cora, do say you'll go! It will be such fun!"

"I'd love to, Bess," said Cora, after a moment's thought. "But there's poor Jack, you know. I shall probably have to stay home and nurse him. I can't leave mother all alone."

"Oh, Cora!" murmured Bess, in disappointed tones.