Chapter XII. The Girl in the Ditch
 

When all the machines had been stopped there was a wild rush to the rescue - Bess and Belle with Gertrude hurrying back to where Daisy and Maud had been left, while Cora, Ray and Hazel ran forward to the side of the strange runabout. The boys divided themselves - some going in each direction.

Presently Cora shouted

"Jack! Jack! Hurry! It's Clip! And she is unconscious!"

Jack was not far away, and at his sister's call he hurried to her. Ray had taken Cecilia's head in her lap, while Cora was trying to lift the unconscious girl from her bent-up posture in the narrow, roadside, grass-grown ditch.

"Oh, the poor dear!" sighed Cora. "To think that our sport should have - "

Cecilia was opening her eyes.

"Clip! Clip, dear!" whispered Cora. "Try to - wake up!"

Cecilia did try - she put her hand to her dazed eyes.

"Here! Let me lift her," commanded Jack, slipping down on the other side into the deep grass and without any apparent effort lifting Cecilia up. With one long step he reached the road. Then for a moment he seemed uncertain - should he lay the girl down, or carry her to a machine?

"Oh, I can stand," she said faintly. "I am much better now. What - happened?"

"You happened," answered Jack, so dismissing the question. "Just keep still, and we will have you around directly. This is where you beat the motor girls." He was now helping her to her feet. "You may ride back with the motor boys."

"Are you better?" asked Ray anxiously, stroking Cecilia's white hand, which had been divested of its glove. "Wasn't it dreadful?"

"Very," sighed Cecilia. "And my poor little machine! Jack, how can I ever - "

"You can never," he insisted with a wink. "I never saw such a rambunctious ram. Didn't he ramify, though?"

"What in the world was it?" asked Cecilia. She was sitting on the grass and seemed almost prepared to laugh. "I thought I must be seeing things. Then I - "

"Felt things," said Jack. "That's the regular course of the disease. Here come the others. Hello, Daisy has the veil tied up, and Maud is limping."

"What happened to them?" asked Cecilia.

"Same thing that happened to you," replied Jack. "The ram. That was the most happening thing I have seen in some time."

Maud was limping, and had Ed's arm. Daisy kept her hand to her face, and she clung to Walter. Hazel flashed a meaning look to Cora. The girls might not be very badly injured, but they needed help - that sort of help.

"Well!" exclaimed Cora. "You look as if something did happen."

"Oh, I'm all scratched," fluttered Daisy. "That is, my face feels like a grater." She took her handkerchief from the abused face. A few harmless scratches were discernible.

"Not so bad," said Jack. "Just the correct lines, I believe, for - let me see - intellectuality."

"Oh, you needn't joke," snapped Daisy. "I suppose Cecelia - is - badly hurt!"

She said this with the evident intention of drawing attention to Jack's attitude toward Cecilia.

"Now, Daisy," said Jack good-naturedly, "if you want to dump in the ditch again, and will only give me the chance, I will be perfectly delighted to fish you out: I fancy I would get you first shot."

"Oh, you need not bother," interrupted Walter. "I can take care of Miss Bennet."

At this he spread his handkerchief most carefully on the grass, and, with mock concern, assisted Daisy to the low seat.

Ed followed suit, adding to the handkerchief cushion his cap - to make the grass softer for Maud.

"But however did you happen along, Cecilia?" asked Belle, who now added her dainty self to the line of girls on the roadside.

"Now, here!" called Jack. "No more happenings! I beg your pardon, Belle, but we have had such a surfeit of this happening business that we intend, in the language of the poets, to cut it out."

Cecilia gave Jack a grateful glance. Cora broke in promptly with a new thought - to divert attention.

"And you are the girls who wanted `No Boys!'" exclaimed Walter. "I should just like to know what you would have done without us?"

"There! Didn't I tell you?" said Cora. "They are actually claiming the glory of the whole thing. I suppose, Walter, you hired the ram to do the proper thing in initiating the motor girls in the art of touring?"

"Wouldn't he make a hit, though, at some of our college affairs!" exclaimed Ed. "I wonder if we could buy the beast? Here comes the owner now."

The girls looked alarmed. Suppose the farmer should blame them for the disappearance of the ram!

"I'll do the talking," suggested Walter. "If you say anything, Jack, there might be a row."

"Humph!" said Jack. "I suppose you know just how to deal with ram owners."

The farmer was quite up to them now. He was not an ill-natured-looking man, and as he approached he touched his big straw hat.

"No one hurt?" he asked, much to the girls' relief.

"Oh, no, thank you," said Cora, before Walter could open his mouth. "I hope you have not lost the sheep."

"Lose him! Couldn't do that if you chucked him in the mill-pond and let the dam loose on him. Only yesterday the plagued thing went for my wife. Yes, sir, and he 'most knocked her down. When I seed your steam wagons comin' along I knowed there would be trouble. He's that pesky!"

The man looked at the disabled machine.

"Busted?" he asked.

"Some," replied Walter. "But I guess we can manage. Would you like to sell that ram?"

"Sell him? What for? To kill folks as try to feed him? I bought him from a fellow who always wore an overcoat, and, bless me, that ram got so used to it if I haven't had to put my ulster on the hottest days this summer to do down to the pasture where he was chewin'."

The boys laughed heartily at this. Walter seemed keener than ever now on making a bargain.

"Well, you see," he said, "we might use the fellow for stunts - tricks. I think we might train him - "

A scream from Belle startled them.

"Oh!" she yelled. "There he comes! What shall we do?"

Without waiting for instructions, however, Belle, with the other girls, jumped up and started for a little cottage not far from the roadside. The ram was coming over the fields straight for the autos.

"Now wait," cautioned the farmer, as the boys made ready to confront the animal. "Just keep back until he gets near that machine. Then maybe we can git him."

"He's game sport, all right," said Walter. "He evidently hasn't had enough."

The brush and low trees along the road made it possible for the young men to hide, while the excited animal dashed through the tall grass out into the road.

He went straight for the hay wagon. With a bound he was in the decorated auto, like a beast in a cage, with the rack and hay trimmings surrounding him.

"Now we've got him," said the farmer; "that is, if we're careful."

"How?" whispered Ed.

"Someone must lasso him. "The farmer held out the rope in his hand, making a loop ready to throw over the ram's head.

The girls had reached the cottage, but were calling to the boys all sorts of warning and cautions.

"When he gets at the hay," said the farmer, "I guess he'll eat. That run likely whet up his appetite."

"More fun than a deer hunt," said Jack, laughing. "I wonder what will turn up next on this motor girls' tour."

"Get busy," said Ed, creeping toward the hay wagon. "Now, Walter - Oh, Glory be! If he isn't at my four-dollar gloves!"

Quick, like the well=trained athlete that he was, Ed grabbed the rope from the farmer, sprang to the hay rack and made a cast.

It landed true on the animal's horns.

"I've got him!" exclaimed the boy. "Now, fellows, quick! Make his legs fast."

No need to say "quick," for the boys were up and busy making fast the beast before the surprised farmer had a chance to exclaim.

"So you like the real thing in gloves?" asked Ed while pulling at the rope. "Well, I fancy you will make something real - perhaps a robe - for the best record of this trip. Oh, I say, fellows, let's buy the brute, have him done up properly, and offer his coat to the girl who comes home with a record."

Shouts of glee followed this suggestion, and the girls, seeing that the animal was made safe, were now running back from the cottage to add their voices to the excitement.

Clip insisted upon helping to tie the ram - she declared he had done his share toward making it uncomfortable for her - while Daisy, in her timid way, wanted to do something to the "saucy thing" for upsetting her, and Jack suggested that she "box his horrid ears."

Cora glanced at her watch.

"If it's all the same to the gentlemen," she said, "we will continue on our way. We have lost a full hour already."

"Lost!" repeated Walter meaningly.

"She said `lost,'" faltered Ed with similar intent.

"Not actually lost," corrected Cora, "but at least dropped out of our itinerary."

"We were due ten miles ahead now," sighed Maud in her wistful way.

"Too bad, too bad," whimpered Jack, who was still pulling at the ram's rope. "But it was not our fault, girls. Now, Daisy, do you think you can run your machine without taking in any more circuses? We have examined your car, and it is intact - not so much as a footprint did the naughty beast leave."

Clip was looking over her runabout. It was not damaged, it seemed, and for this she was most grateful. Clip was not out for pleasure - you have guessed that - and it would have been highly inconvenient for that young lady to go back to town in the hay.

Jack left off at the ram's horn, and came to crank up for her.

"All right, Clip?" he asked with evident concern. "I don't want you to go over that lonely road if you do not feel just like it. I can go with you."

"You!" she exclaimed. "Why, Jack Kimball, what are you thinking about?" and she laughed airily. "If you want to finish the impression we started the other day, just take another ride with me. No, Jack, my dear boy, I am very much all right, and very much obliged. But I must hurry off. Whatever will my little brown Wren think of me?" She stepped into the car. "Good-by, girls," she called. "I am so sorry I delayed you, but so glad we met. Take care of the ram, boys, and am I eligible for the trophy? I am a motor girl, you know."

"Of course you are," said Jack, before the others could speak. "All motor girls are eligible."

"Ida Giles, too?" asked Bess. The moment she had spoken she could have bitten her tongue. Why could she never hide her feelings about Jack and Clip?

"And, girls," called Cecilia, who was starting now, "don't forget about your promise. Wren is counting on results."

"What promise?" asked Ed.

"Oh, don't you know?" replied Cora. "Well, I am afraid Jack will have to tell you. We really have not another moment. Are you ready, girls?"

"Why, our strange promise," put in Maud, who was glad to have a "real remark" to make to Ed. "We promised a little girl we would find an old table for her and we have just ransacked the farmer's house, hoping to find it.

Cora burst out laughing. Such an explanation!

"Why, I'll promise a `little girl' that," said Ed, taking up Cora's laugh. "Any qualifications? Might it be a time-table?"

Maud pouted. She stepped into Cora's car, evidently disgusted with boys in general.

Gertrude had something to say to Walter, and was obliged to stand up on the hay rack to do so, as the young man would not let go the rope that held the ram.

There was a sudden hum of an auto, and Clip was gone.

"Thought she had a sick relative," murmured Bess.

"So she has," said Jack, who overheard the remark. "But she came near neglecting her this morning. That was a close call."

"Oh, yes," said Bess with a curled lip. "It seems to me everything Cecilia does is close."

"Bess Robinson!" exclaimed Jack. "Do you want me to hug you? You have been treating me shamefully for weeks past. Now, own up. What have I done?"

Jack knew how to restore Bess to good humor, and his success this time was marked.

"You ridiculous boy!" exclaimed Bess. "You know perfectly well what I mean."

And Jack did.