Chapter X. "They're Off!"
 

"Isn't it too mean? I never thought that Cecilia would act so. I think Jack knows why."

Bess Robinson was talking to Cora. Her voice betrayed something other than disappointment. Bess now called Cecilia by her full name - the affectionate "Clip" had been laid aside. Besides this she hesitated when Jack's name was needed in her conversation. The fact was perfectly evident. Jack's attention to Cecilia, their runaway ride, and the consequent talk, had rather hurt Bess. Jack had always been a very good friend to her.

"But Clip simply can't come," said Cora. "Her machine is out of order, and, besides this, she is called away to look after some sick relative."

"Cora Kimball!" exclaimed Bess. "You're a perfect baby. Sick relative! Why, every one sickens a relative when they want to go away in a hurry. It might be interesting to know who else has a made-up sick relative who demands, say, Jack's immediate attention."

"Why, Bess! I'm surprised that you should speak so bitterly. You know perfectly well that Jack's going to the races. You heard them make all the arrangements - Jack, Ed and Walter. Besides - " Cora stopped. She tossed back her pretty head as if too disgusted to speak. She was packing the last of her touring things into the hampers of the Whirlwind. She would have everything ready for the early start next morning. Bess Robinson had run over for final instructions, when Cora announced that Cecilia Thayer could not go with them on the motor girls' tour. This information drove all other details from the mind of Bess. And now Cora was locking her boxes.

"Oh, I suppose we will get along very well without her," said Bess finally. "In fact, it may be better that she does not come, for she is bound to be doing things that are risky."

"Well, we will miss her, I'm sure," said Cora, "for she is such good company. But we will have to manage."

"Has Belle all your tools packed? Don't forget candles; they are so handy when anything happens after dark. I always fetch them. They poke under little places so nicely."

"Oh, I fancy Belle has managed to take along the candelabra. At least, I think I can count on the glass candlesticks. Poor Belle! I wonder will she ever leave off that sort of thing. She cares more or an `effect' than for a good square meal," answered Bess.

"Alt kinds make a world," replied Cora. "Suppose she were as sensible as you or I? Why, as well take away the flowers, and plant kindling wood.

Bess laughed. Cora turned up the path with her. "I met Ray," said Bess, "buying a new veil, of course. I would hate to be as pretty as Ray, and have so much trouble to keep up the reputation. That's the worst of pretty girls. They really have to keep pretty."

"And Daisy? Was she buying a new novel to read en route? They might both do better to `chip in' and buy a new kit of tools," said Cora.

At precisely eight forty-five o'clock the next morning the Whirlwind drew up in front of the post-office. The start was to be made from that point, and Cora was first to arrive. With her were Hazel Hastings, and Gertrude Adams, a school friend of Cora's.

Two minutes later the Flyaway puffed into sight with the Robinson twins smiling serenely from her two-part seat.

Scarcely had the occupants of the two car exchanged greetings than Daisy Bennet and Maud Morris drove up in the Bennet runabout, called the Breeze. On account of the change of plan, Ray Stuart was to ride with Cora, instead of with Clip, as was at first proposed. Ray met the girls at the post-office. As predicted, she did look like a brand new bisque statue. She wore a soft silk coat, of light green pongee, the same shade hood, over which "rested," one might say, a long white chiffon veil. It reposed on the hood, where two secret pins held it, but otherwise the veil was mingled with Ray's expression and the surrounding atmosphere. The girls sighed as they beheld her. She had been waiting for some minutes in the post-office, and needless to say there were others waiting, too - not altogether engrossed in reading the latest mail.

Cora stepped out of the Whirlwind and opened the tonneau door for Ray. Hazel and she were to ride within the car, while Gertrude shared the seat with Cora. Cora wore her regular motor togs. The close-fitting pongee coat showed off well her perfect figure, and with the French bonnet, that nestled so snugly to her black tresses there was no semblance to the flaring, loose effect so common to motorists. She looked more like a Paris model than a girl equipped for a tour. But Cora had that way - she was always "classy," as the boys expressed it, or in perfect style, as the girls would admit.

Hazel usually affected strong shades - she was dark and could wear reds and browns to good advantage. It so happened that the motor girls afforded a peculiar variety, no two wearing similar outfits. Timid little Maud Morris was in white, and Daisy was in linen. The Robinson girls wore their regular uniform - Bess in Havana-brown and Belle in true-blue. So it will be seen that such an array of beauty and clothes could not help but attract attention, to say nothing of the several automobiles that made up the procession in front of the post-office.

At the last moment Belle had to run into a store to make some trifling purchases, while Daisy sent two extra postcards, and Ray needed something from the drug store.

Finally all was ready. It was just nine o'clock.

"Ready!" called Cora.

A blast on a bugle startled them. Then -

What was it?

It looked like a hay wagon, but it came along at the speed of a fine auto.

"The boys!" called the girls in one breath.

Sure enough, there were Jack, Walter, Ed and some others of their chums, piled up on a veritable hay rack, and they wore all sorts of farmer clothes. The hay rack evidently set upon the body of are automobile.

And Jack on the "monkey seat," blowing that bugle!

"Start!" called Cora.

"They're off!" shouted the chorus from the hay wagon, and then Chelton folks were treated to a sight the like of which they had never before witnessed.

It was the first official tour of the original motor girls.