Chapter I. A Spoiled Dinner
 

The big maroon car glided along in such perfect rhythm that Cora Kimball, the fair driver of the Whirlwind, heard scarcely a sound of its mechanical workings. To her the car went noiselessly - the perfection of its motion was akin to the very music of silence.

Hazel Hastings was simply sumptuous in the tonneau - she had spread every available frill and flounce, but there was still plenty of unoccupied space on the luxuriously cushioned "throne."

It seemed a pity to passers-by that two girls should ride alone on that splendid morning in the handsome machine - so many of those afoot would have been glad of a chance to occupy the empty seats.

Directly following the Whirlwind came another car - the little silver Flyaway. In this also were two girls, the Robinson twins, Elizabeth and Isabel, otherwise Belle and Bess. Chelton folks were becoming accustomed to the sight of these girls in their cars, and a run of the motor girls was now looked upon as a daily occurrence. Bess Robinson guided her car with unmistakable skill - Cora Kimball was considered an expert driver.

Sputtering and chugging close to the Flyaway came a second runabout. In this were a girl and a boy, or, more properly speaking, a young lady and a young gentleman. As they neared the motor girls Bess called back to Belle:

"There come Sid and Ida. I thought they were not on speaking terms."

"They were not, but they are now," answered Belle with a light laugh. "Why should a girl turn her back on a young man with a brand new machine?"

"It runs like a locomotive," murmured Bess, as, at that moment, the other car shot by, the occupants bowing indifferently to the Robinson girls as the machines came abreast.

Cora turned and shook her head significantly when the third car had forged ahead. She, too, seemed surprised that Ida Giles should be riding with Sid Wilcox. Then Bess rolled up alongside the Whirlwiind.

"My, but they are going!" she called to Cora. "I thought Ida said she would never ride with Sid again."

"Why not?" flashed Cora merrily. "Isn't Sid's car new and - yellow?"

"Like a dandelion," put in Belle, who was noted for her aesthetic tendencies. "And, precisely like a dandelion, I fancy that machine would collapse without rhyme or reason. Did you every try a bunch of dandelions on the table?"

The girls all laughed. No one but Belle Robinson would ever try such an experiment. Everybody knew the ingratitude of the yellow field flower.

"I can never bear anything of that color since my valentine luncheon," declared Belle bravely. "That's why I predict disaster for Sid's new car."

"They have dropped something!" exclaimed Hazel as she peered ahead at the disappearing runabout.

Bess had taken the lead.

"Let's put on speed," she suggested, and, pulling the lever, her car shot ahead, and was soon within close range of the yellow runabout.

"Be careful!" called her sister. "You will run over - "

It was too late. At that moment the Flyaway dashed over something - the pieces flew in all directions.

"Their lunch-hamper!" exclaimed Belle.

The runabout had turned to one side, and then stopped. Bess jammed on the brakes and also came to a standstill.

"Well!" growled Sid Wilcox, approaching the wreck in the road.

"I - couldn't stop," faltered Bess remorsefully.

"I guess you didn't try," snapped Ida Giles, her cheeks aflame almost to the tint of her fiery tresses.

"I really did," declared Bess. "I would not have spoiled your hamper for anything."

"And your lunch was in it?" gasped Belle. "We're awfully sorry!"

Bent and crippled enameled dishes from the lately fine and completely equipped auto-hamper were scattered about in all directions. Here and there a piece of pie could be identified, while the chicken sandwiches were mostly recognizable by the fact that a newly arrived yellow dog persistently gnawed at one or two particular mud spots.

"Oh, we can go to a hotel for dinner," announced the young man, getting back into his car.

"But they ought to pay for the hamper," grumbled Ida, loud enough for the Robinson girls to make sure of her remark.

"We will, of course," called Bess, just as Cora and Hazel came up, and then the Wilcox runabout darted off again.

"Table d'hote?" called Cora, laughing.

"No, a la carte," replied Bess, picking up a piece of damaged celery, putting it on a slice of uninjured bread and proffering it to Hazel.

"What a shame!" sighed Hazel. "Their picnic will be spoiled."

"But look at the picnic we've had," put in Belle. "You should have seen Ida's face. A veritable fireless cooker."

"And Sid - he supplied the salt hay," declared Bess. "I felt as if I were smothered in a ton of it."

"And that was the peace-offering hamper," declared Cora, alighting from her car and closely viewing the wreck. "Jack told me that Ida gave Sid a handsome hamper for the new car."

"I told you that the yellow machine would turn - "

"Dandelion," Hazel interrupted Belle. "Well, I agree with you that was an ungrateful trick. To demolish the lunch, of all other available things to do, on a day like this!"

"Souvenirs?" suggested Cora, removing her glove to dig out of the mud a knife, and then a fork.

"Oh, forget it!" exclaimed Bess. "I am sure I want to. Let's get going again, if we are to make the Woodbine Way in time to plan the tour. I'm just crazy about the trip," and the enthusiastic girl expended some of her pent-up energies on the crank at the front of the Flyaway.

Cora was also cranking up. "Yes," she said, "we had best be on the road again. We are due at the park at twelve. I expect Maud will have the family tree along and urge us to stop overnight at every gnarl on the `trunk.'"

"We might have asked Ida and Sid," reflected Belle aloud, sympathetically.

"Yes," Bess almost shouted, "and have them veto every single plan. Besides, there are to be no boys on this trip; Lady Isabel please take notice!"

"As if I wanted boys!" sneered her sister.

"As if you could have them if you did!" fired back Bess in that tantalizing way that only sisters understand, only sisters enjoy, and only sisters know how to operate successfully.

"Peace! peace!" called Cora. "If Belle wants boys she may have them. I am chairman of the acting committee, and if boys do not act I would like to know exactly what they do."

"No boys!" faltered Hazel, who, not owning a machine, had not as yet heard all the details of the proposed three-days' tour of the motor girls.

"Nary a one!" returned Bess, now about to start.

"If we had boys along," explained Cora, "they would claim the glory of every spill, every skid, every upset and every `busted tire.' We want some little glory ourselves," and at this she threw in the clutch, and, with a gentle effort, the Whirlwind rolled off, followed closely by the Flyaway.

"I suppose Sid and Ida are licking their fingers just about now," remarked the good-natured Bess.

"Very likely," rejoined her sister, "for I fancv their meal was made up of buckwheat cakes and molasses, as Sid had to pay for it."

"Oh, I meant sheer deliciousness," corrected her sister. "I 'fawncy'" - and she imitated the dainty tones used by Belle - "they have had - "

"Backbiting and detraction," called Cora, who had been close enough to hear the sisters' remarks. "I would not have been in your place at that table, Bess, for a great deal."

Bess tossed her head about indifferently. She evidently knew what to expect from Ida and Sid.

"Now for a straight run!" announced Cora, throwing in third speed. "We must make the bridge by the quarter whistle or the Maud Morris family tree may have been consumed for luncheon. I particularly want a peg at that tree."

"We're off!" called Bess, following with additional speed.

Then the Whirlwind and the Flyaway dashed off, over the country roads, past scurrying chicks and barking dogs, past old farmers who turned in to give "them blamed things" plenty of room, out along Woodbine to the pretty little park where the plans for the first official run of the motor girls were soon to be perfected.