Chapter XXI. Perplexities
 

When Cecilia Thayer in her own little runabout, the Turtle, went over the road to Mrs. Salvey's cottage, after the visit to the Hastings, her alert mind was occupied with many questions.

She had advised the mother to go to court to account for her own child, a most peculiar proceeding, but one insisted upon by a well-meaning organization, the special duty of which was to care for children. What sort of story Mrs. Salvey's relative may have told to bring such a course about, neither she nor Cecilia knew. But at any rate a private hearing was arranged for, and now Cecilia was on her way to fetch the widow to town.

Driving leisurely along, for the Turtle could not be trusted to hurry, Cecilia had ample time to plan her own course of action, should the judge insist upon having Wren shown in court. This Cecilia felt sure would be dangerous to the extremely nervous condition of the child, and it was such a move she most dreaded.

"I will call Dr. Collins," thought Cecilia, "and have him state the facts, if necessary. But then I would have to give an account of my own part," came the thought, "and that would mean so much to me just now."

The "burr r-rr-r" of an approaching automobile startled her. She turned and confronted Rob Roland.

"Well," he exclaimed, his pleasure too evident, "this is luck. Were you going to Aunt Salvey's?"

Cecilia was annoyed. But she had no other course than to reply that she was going to the cottage.

"So am I," replied the young man, "and very likely our business is of the same nature."

"I am going to fetch her into town to the hearing," spoke up Cecilia, "and I have to hurry along."

"And I, too, was going to fetch her. She is quite in demand, it seems," and he stretched his thin lips over his particularly fine teeth in something like a sneer. "I wish I had known you were coming out; I should have invited you to ride with me."

"Thanks," said Cecilia indifferently. "But I could hardly have accepted. I had some calls to, make as I came along."

"Yes, I saw your machine at Hastings. How's the chap getting on?"

"Paul is almost better," replied Cecilia, making an effort to get out of talking distance. But he knew exactly why she sent her machine ahead, and while too diplomatic to actually bar her way, he, too, opened the throttle to increase the speed of his car.

It was very aggravating. Cecilia had expected to have an important talk alone with Mrs. Salvey.

Without a doubt this was also the very thing Rob Roland intended to do. If only she could get Mrs. Salvey into her car. But if she should prefer to ride with her nephew.

For some short distance Cecilia rode along without attempting conversation with the young man who was driving as close to her car as it was possible for him to do. Finally he spoke:

"Have you ever been in a courtroom?" he asked.

"No," she replied curtly.

"Then you are sure to make a hit. Bet your picture will be in the paper to-morrow."

"What!" gasped Cecilia. "I understood this was to be a private hearing."

"Nothing's private from the newspaper chaps. They make more of chamber hearings than the open affairs. Always sure to be something behind the doors, you know."

The thought flashed through the girl's mind that he was trying to frighten her - to keep her away from the hearing.

"Well, I hope they have decent cameras," she managed to say indifferently.

He glanced at her with a look that meant she would make a picture. And in this, at least, he was honest, for the girl was certainly attractive in her linen coat, her turn-over collar and her simple Panama hat. She looked almost boyish.

"Better let me call Aunt Salvey," he said as they neared the cottage. "But there she is - waiting for us."

Cecilia urged the Turtle slightly ahead, then stopped suddenly. She was almost nervous with suppressed excitement.

"All ready?" she asked as Mrs. Salvey greeted first her, then the young man.

"Yes. I wanted to be on time," replied the woman, stepping down from the porch.

"Well, you cannot ride in two cars," called young Roland, "and this is - if I must be impolite - the best machine, Aunt Salvey."

"But you had an appointment with me," pressed Cecilia, pretending to joke. "I would not trust even Mr. Roland to get you there on time, so I came myself."

"Of course," replied the widow, puzzled at the situation, "it was good of you to come, Rob, but I must go with Miss Thayer. I had arranged to do so."

"Just as you like," he said, tossing his head back defiantly, "but you know it would look better. Oh, we know perfectly well where Wren is," he sneered, "and if you go to see her this afternoon I am going, too."

So this was his scheme - he would follow them to find the child's hiding place.

Mrs. Salvey stepped into Cecilia's car. Her face was whiter than the widow's ruche she wore in her black bonnet. She trembled as Cecilia took her hand. What if she were making a mistake in trusting so much to this young girl, and so defying her antagonistic relatives! What if they should attempt to prove that she was not properly caring for her child! And if they should take Wren from her!

"Perhaps I ought not to anger him," she whispered to the girl. "Do you think I had best go with him?"

"After I have had a chance to say a word or two, you may get out if you like," replied Cecilia hastily. "But I must caution you not to mention where Wren is, no matter how they press you. If they insist upon knowing I shall call Dr. Collins. That is the most important thing. Next, don't tell who were the last persons who signed the promise book. Now, you may get out and make a joke of it. I will trust to luck for the rest."