Chapter XIX. Paul and Hazel
 

Meanwhile, at another bed of sickness sat a girl pale and wan from nights and days of anxiety. Hazel Hastings had left the motor girls' tour and hurried to her sick brother with more apprehension stirring her heart than the report of his actual condition warranted. Paul had always been subject to peculiar spells - shocks they were termed - but Hazel knew what collapse meant, or what it might mean, unless -

Brother and sister were to each other what the whole world might be to others. Paul had kept up well under the strain of the hold-up, but when suspicion was pointed at him he collapsed.

Who could be at the back of the defaming scheme to spread the report? Who could have dared to say that he was in league with whoever took those papers from the mailbag?

"Are you better, Paul?" murmured the girl. "You had a lovely sleep."

"Oh, yes," he sighed. "I feel almost good. If only my head would stop throbbing. What time is it?"

"Almost noon, dear, and Clip will soon be here."

"Will she fetch the morning papers? I must see how the thing is going on. They were to go to court this morning."

"Now you must not think of that, you know, Paul," commanded the girl gently. "If you are to grow strong enough to go and take your own part you will have to leave the others alone. There is nothing new, or I should have told you."

"But Mr. Robinson called - I heard you talking to him last night."

"Yes, you did, dear. But he came to inquire for you. He is very anxious about you."

Hazel Hastings went to the dresser and slipped under the cover a piece of yellow paper. Paul was getting better, and he should not see Mr. Robinson's check for money, which that gentleman had insisted upon leaving for the sick boy's expenses. They were not poor, neither were they rich, but Paul Hastings should not want for anything through his sister's pride.

"He was so glad to hear you were improving," she went on, "and particularly said you were not to worry about the papers. It seems they have some important clue, and feel positive of recovering them."

"If they only could," sighed Paul. "To think that I should have lost them! And they meant a small fortune to the Robinsons. What if they should become poor, and through me!"

"Oh, you silly boy! Stop that nonsense this moment. There! I heard Clip coming. I am glad, for she knows better than I how to control you."

It was Clip who entered the room, but what with her buoyant, happy way, and the great bunch of flowers she carried, one could hardly be certain it was only a girl - it might have been some fairy of sunshine.

"Well!" she exclaimed, glancing from Paul to Hazel. "You are better, Paul. Has Hazel been treating you again with some of her magic suggestion business? At any rate, I cannot deny its power." She flittered over to the bed and playfully buried Paul's face in the bouquet. "There! Aren't they splendid? And you would never guess who sent them. Guess, Hazel."

"Ed," hazarded the girl.

"No, indeed. You try, Paul."

"Walter Pennington," replied Paul, smiling.

"Indeed, Walter probably has forgotten my very existence."

"Then it was - "

"Oh, you would never guess. It - was - Rob Roland!"

A dark look stole over the face of the young man on the bed. "I don't like him, Clip," he said.

"Neither do I," she replied promptly. "That is precisely why I am so nice to him. I have to keep friends with him just now. And I have not the slightest doubt his motive is identical with my own." She paused to laugh indifferently, then she tossed aside her dust coat and stood revealed in spotless white linen. "How do you like me?" she asked, straightened up to her short height. "Am I not a full-fledged `strained' nurse, now? You know I am summoned to court this afternoon, and all the papers will describe me."

Her brightness seemed infectious. Paul leaned upon his elbow, and Hazel was actually interested in Clip's new costume.

"Yes," she went on. "You see, Mrs. Salvey has been called to account for Wren - did you ever hear of anything so ridiculous? Those lawyer relatives of hers pretend to believe that Wren is being neglected because we have taken her away from the supposed care of that absurd doctor. Well, I just told Mrs. Salvey to answer the summons and go to court. It will be the best thing that ever happened to have her get her real story before the public."

"But what about yourself ?" asked Hazel. "They will ask you how old you are, and what is your occupation "

"And my friends will all fall dead." Cecilia did not appear worried at the prospect. "Well, I shall say I am not as old as some girls, and that I am engaged in being a member of the Motor Girls' Club."

"That is precisely where your trouble will begin," said Paul. "The motor girls will never stand for a 'strained' - "

"Indeed, I am not the least bit afraid that I shall lose the friendship of Cora and her brother. Even Walter and Ed will think it jolly to have kept up the joke. Of course" - and she hesitated - "some of the others - "

"Well, you can count on us," declared Paul warmly. "And if ever I get out of this trouble, and am well again, I am going to take Hazel for a long tour. You might - "

"Oh, you silly! I might go along? Where on earth would I get seventy-five cents to go to Europe with?"

She placed the bouquet on the small table near the window. "There; I guess the flowers will not contaminate us. But when he gave them to me - or, rather, sent them, there was a note in the box," she added.

Both Hazel and Paul looked their question.

"Yes," replied Clip. "Would you like to hear the note?" She took from her pocket a slip of paper. "It always strikes me as odd that people who try hardest to do one thing, and mean another, fail utterly to hide the intention. Now this gentleman, who writes with such solicitation about Wren, says he really misses seeing her, declares frankly that Jack Kimball and I were seen to smuggle her off in Jack's auto, and then - But let me read the finish. I am spoiling the effect:

"`Of course you have the child safe,'" she read, "`and no one questions your ability to care for her. All the little clandestine trips which you and your friend made to the Salvey cottage happened to have been observed.' Just hear the boy! Happened to have been observed, when I knew he was watching - saw him on more than one occasion." She turned over the page of business letter paper, and continued:

"`But the fact that I, her own cousin, am denied the privilege of seeing her makes the thing look odd.'

"Now do you see what that means?" asked the girl. "He is trying to make me feel that it would be better to produce Wren than to keep her away from the lawyers, because it looks `odd.' Well, I'll take my chances on the odds," she said with a laugh; "and Wren Salvey will be `produced' when I am sure that the motor girls' strange promise will be kept. We have those smart men just where we want them now, and if they want Wren they must give us that table."

"You think they know where the table is?" asked Hazel.

"I am not so sure of that," responded Clip, putting away the paper and preparing to place upon the center table some of the contents of her satchel. "But I do know that this man, Reed, is Mrs. Salvey's second cousin. She told me he was always interfering between Wren and the popular grandfather. Now, if the table contained the will, as Wren declares, and if that same table was sold at auction, by this man, Reed, or through his management, it seems more than likely that he could trace it."

"But if he could find it, why would he not do so, and destroy the document?" asked Paul.

"Bright boy!" declared the girl. "That only goes to show, Hazel, that when a girl gets a thought she stops. When a boy gets one he looks for another. I think now that perhaps the old table is safe in some unthought-of place, and that perhaps - "

"That is why they wanted to get the promise book, to find if any clue to its whereabouts might be within its pages," put in Hazel. "Well, I know that Cora Kimball will find that table if it is in any house around here. She vowed when she started out she would either bring back the table or acknowledge herself beaten. The latter possibility is actually beyond serious attention "

"Whew!" Paul almost whistled. "But our little sister is progressing. Talk about professions, Clip. I rather fancy there will be more than one to report at the final meeting of the Motor Girls' Club."