Chapter XVII. The Road to Breakwater
 

"What a delightful morning!" exclaimed Maud. "The wait was certainly worth while. I do believe there is something inspiring about the morning air."

"Yes," rejoined Daisy, throwing in the second speed, "it always makes me feel like a human rain-barrel. I want to go out in a great, big field, and sit down in a lump. Then I want to throw back my head and open my mouth very wide. That is my idea of drinking in the fresh morning air."

"Well, never mind the dewy morning business," called Cora. "Just get your machines well under way. You know, we must make twenty-five miles by noon."

Cora was, as usual, in the lead. Daisy and Maud came next, then Bess and Belle lined up the rear, as Cora thought it best that the two big machines should lead and trail.

Cora tried her best to be cheerful. She had definite ideas about a friend's duty to a friend, and no one could say she failed in that duty. Why should she think of Jack and Clip and Wren when she was captain of the Motor Girls' Club, and they expected a good time on their initial run?

"Oh, I am so glad everything happened!" exclaimed Tillie, who was in the Whirlwind; "for if everything did not happen we never could have come along."

"And we never could have had all our camping things," put in Gertrude. "I am just dying to get out on the grass and light up under the kettles. That was a very bright idea of Adele's to fetch along part of the tea-house outfit."

"Won't it be jolly to build miniature caves to keep the wind from the lamp?" suggested Cora. "I tell you, after all, the motor girls were poor housekeepers - we had to take lessons from our business friends."

This pleased Tillie immensely. She was the sort of girl who is glad to prove a theory, and in keeping the tea-house she had proven that girls - mere girls - are not always sawdust dolls.

Daisy was speeding up her machine to speak with Cora.

"There's Cedar Grove over there!" she shouted; "and Aunt May's is only four miles from the turn in the road."

"But we are going to lunch on the road," replied Cora. "The girls are bent on camping out."

A cloud fell over Daisy's sensitive face. "I must telephone to papa that I am all right," she remarked. "Aunt May expected us last night, and if you girls do not want to come, Maud and I will go. We can meet you farther on."

"Oh, of course," Cora hurried to say, "we must go on, since we are expected. We can have the camping out to-morrow. I had actually lost track of our plans in the mix-up."

"Isn't it too bad that Hazel had to turn back?" said Ray. "I do hope her brother is not seriously ill."

"I heard last night that he was very much better," replied Cora. "It seems that robbery unnerved him. Ridiculous as the situation appeared, it was no fun to Paul. I don't wonder he broke down."

Bess, Belle and Adele were in the Flyaway, and they, like the others, seemed to take new pleasure in flying over the roads since they had realized what it meant to have to stand still.

Adele was all enthusiasm. She had not often been privileged to enjoy automobile sport, and the prospect of the trip seemed like an unopened wonder book to her - every mile revealed new delights.

Along the shady byways, through the Numberland Hills, past the famous springs, where everybody stopped to drink and make a wish, the motor girls took their way.

"Let me lead now, Cora?" asked Daisy. "I am just dying for Aunt May to see us come up. And say, girls, I've got the dearest, darlingest cousin - a young doctor!"

A scream went up from every throat. Daisy had not told of her attractive cousin until the party were within very sight of him.

"Me first!" shouted Belle. "I have been a perfect angel ever since we left Chelton; didn't even speak to the nice man with the short thumb - Clip's friend."

At that moment an auto dashed by. Tillie seized Cora's arm.

"That's the man who talked about Hastings!" she exclaimed. "The man who took tea in our house yesterday."

"And that's the very man we met on the road the day Paul was help up," Cora declared. "Oh, now I see the coincidence. Of course they heard of the hold-up, they being on the road about the time it happened, and when they were at your house they might have been discussing the latest account of the affair - there was something in the daily paper about it, you know."

Cora was not sure she believed herself, but at the moment she decided it would be best for the happiness of the party to think lightly of the meeting with the strange men. Rob Roland's voice still rang in her ears like a threat, and while she was no coward neither did she invite trouble.

There seemed now to be clearly some connection between the missing papers from the mailbag and the missing promise book, but of the two Cora's girlish heart considered the loss of the book the more serious.

"Did you ever see such old-fashioned houses in all your born days?" asked Bess. "Look at that one over there. If our table is not in that house, then we had better abandon the antique and look in some new, first-class hotel."

"That house over there is my aunt's!" shouted Daisy, laughing at Bess for making the blunder, "and I am going to tell Duncan exactly what you have said about it."

Bess begged off, and made all sorts of apologies, but Daisy insisted that her cousin, the doctor, should hear what Bess thought of one of the finest old mansions in Breakwater.

"Here we are!" called Daisy, pulling up on the gravel drive. "And there are Duncan and Aunt May."

Out on the broad veranda stood a young man - plainly a professional, for while at a glance a girl might decide that Duncan Bennet was "up to date," still there was about him that disregard for conventionality that betokens high thinking, with no room for the consideration of trifling details of every-day life.

Cora instantly said: "There! He's fine!"

Ray was thinking: "How unpolished!"

Bess whispered to Belle: "I see trouble ahead. Gertrude will want to take him along."

Maud was "adjusting her eyes." She could not forget her famous "imploring look."

But Duncan Bennet, with one bound, left the veranda, clearing the steps without touching them, and he was in front of Daisy's car dangerously soon.

"Look out, Duncan!" called Daisy. "Do you want to spatter yourself all over my nice clean machine?"

"Not exactly," he replied, "but I felt I should do something definite to welcome you. I suppose I may extend the kiss of peace?"

"Oh!" gasped Maud. "Will he really kiss us?"

"Without a doubt," replied his cousin, laughing. "Duncan Bennet is famous for his hospitality, and quite demonstrative. Don't worry, dear. He is an awfully nice fellow."