Chapter XXIII. The Motor Girls on the Watch
 

Cora Kimball was turning away from the antique shop as indifferently as if nothing there interested her. The other girls looked at her aghast.

Bess could scarcely be motioned to silence, for the "little mahogany man" came to close the door of the tonneau, incidentally to look over his customers.

"If you come again in a day or so," he said to Cora, "I will have tables," and he rolled his eyes as if the tables were to come from no less a place than heaven itself. "Oh, such tables!"

"I may," replied Cora vaguely. "But I fancy I may have a seaman's table made. I would not be particular about an original."

"Wait, wait!" exclaimed the man. "If you do not care for an original I could make a copy. The one I am to get is something very, very original, and I will have it here. There is no law against making one like it."

"Well," said Cora, "I will be in Breakwater for a few days, and I may call in again. There," as he handed in her blue plates, "these are splendid. Mother has a collection of Baronials."

Then they started off.

Bess drove up to the Whirlwind.

"Why in the world didn't you ask who had ordered the table?" she almost gasped. "If you knew that you could easily have traced it."

"Wait, wait!" exclaimed Cora, in tones so like those of the shop proprietor that the girls all laughed heartily. "I will go to the shop again, and then I will see. Perhaps I will get the original - and then - well, wait - just wait."

"You are a natural born clue hunter!" declared Daisy, "and I am just dying to get back to Aunt May's to tell Duncan."

"Now see here, girls," called Cora very seriously, so that all in-the different machines might hear her, "this is a matter that must not be mentioned to any one. It would spoil all my plans if the merest hint leaked out. Now remember!" and Cora spoke with unusual firmness; "I must have absolute secrecy."

Every girl of them promised. What is dearer to the real girl than a real secret - when the keeping of it involves further delights in its development?

Once back at Bennet Blade the girls whispered and whispered, until Cora declared they would all, forsooth, be attacked with laryngitis, if they did not cease "hissing," and she called upon Doctor Bennet to bear out her statement.

Duncan was going to Chelton, and of course he took the trouble to ask what he might do there for the Chelton girls.

What he might do? Was there anything he might not do? The Robinson girls declared that their mail had not been forwarded, and they could not trust to mails, anyhow, since their father's papers had been lost. Would it be too much trouble for him just to call? To tell their mother what a perfectly delightful time they were having, and so on.

And Maud Morris hated to bother him, but could he just stop at Clearman's and get her magazine? She was reading a serial, and simply could not sleep nights waiting for the last instalment.

Of course he would go to see his uncle, Dr. Bennet, Sr. In fact, it was with Dr. Bennet he had the appointment; and when Daisy started to entrust him with her messages to her father, he insisted that she write them down - no normal brain could hold such a list, he declared.

Ray was what Bess termed "foxy." She did not ask him to do a single thing. "She thinks he will fetch her a box of candy, or a bottle of perfume. That's Ray," declared Bess to Belle.

Cora certainly wanted to send many messages, with the opportunity of having them go first-hand. It did seem such a long time since she had seen Jack; then there was Hazel, poor child, penned up with a sick brother. And Wren and Clip. Why couldn't Cora just run in to Chelton herself with Duncan?

The thought was all-conquering. It swayed every other impulse in Cora's generous nature. Why should she stop at the thought of propriety? Was it not all right for her to ride with Doctor Bennet, to reach Chelton by noon and return before night?

She must go. She would go if every motor girl went along with her.

Mrs. Bennet was one of those dear women who seem to take girls right to her heart. As I have said, she was small and rosy, with that never-fading bloom that sometimes accompanies the rosy-cheeked, curly-headed girl far into her womanhood. Cora would go directly to her, and tell her. She would abide by her judgment.

Mrs. Bennet simply said yes, of course. And then she added that Cora might start off without letting the girls know anything about it. That would save a lot of explanation.

How Cora's heart did thump! Duncan was going in his machine, and, like all doctors, he always preferred to have a man drive - his chauffeur was most skilful - doctors, even when young in their profession, do not willingly risk being stalled.

But in spite of Cora's one guiding rule - "When you make up your mind stick to it" - she had many misgivings between that evening when her plans were made, and the next morning when she was to start off with Duncan Bennet. The other girls had gone out to an evening play in Forest Park, one of the real attractions of Breakwater, and at the last moment Cora excused herself upon some available pretense so that she was able to get her things together and see that her machine was safely put up, and then be ready to start off in the morning before the other girls had time to realize she was going.

"It does seem," she reflected, "that I am always getting runaway rides." Then she recalled how Sid Wilcox actually did run away with her once, as related in the "Motor Girls." "And," she told herself, "I seem to like running away with boys."

This was exactly what worried Cora; she knew that others would be apt to make this remark. "But I cannot help it this time," she sighed. "I have to go to Chelton, or - "

Cora was looking very pretty. Excitement seems to put the match to the flickering taper of beauty, hidden behind the self-control of healthy maidenhood. Her cheeks were aflame and her eyes sparkled so like Jack's when he was sure of winning a hard contest.

"Dear old Jack!" she thought. "Won't he be surprised to see me! That will be the best part of it. They will all be so surprised."

She went down to the study, where she was sure to find Duncan.

"I suppose your mother has told you of my mad impulse," she began rather awkwardly. "Do you think the folks will be glad to see me?"

What a stupid remark! She had no more idea of saying that than of saying: "Do you think it will snow?" But, somehow, when he put up his book and looked at her so seriously, she could not help blundering.

"They ought to be," he said simply. Then she saw that he was preoccupied - scarcely aware that she was present.

"I beg your pardon," he said directly, "but I was very busy thinking, just then."

"Oh, I should not have disturbed you," she faltered. "I will go away at once. I just wanted to be sure that you would wait for me - not run off and leave me."

"Oh, do sit down," he urged. "My brain is stiff, and I've got to quit for to-night. I haven't told you what takes me to Chelton - in fact, I haven't told mother. You see, she thinks I am such a baby that I find it better not to let her know when I am on a case. But the fact is, I am just baby enough to want to tell some one."

He arranged the cushions in the big willow chair, and Cora sat down quite obediently. She liked Duncan - there was something akin to bravery behind his careless manner. "What he wouldn't do for a friend!" she thought.

"Your case?" asked Cora. "I am very ignorant on medical matters, but I should love to hear about the Chelton case. I fancy I know every one in Chelton."

"Well, you know Uncle Bennet, Daisy's father, is quite a surgeon, and he has been called in this case by Dr. Collins. It is a remarkable case, and he has asked me to come in also."

"It is that of a child who has been a cripple for some years, and who now is making such progress under the physical-training system that she promises to be cured entirely.

"A child?" asked Cora, her heart fluttering.

"Yes; and I rather suspect that you know her." He seemed about to laugh. "Uncle mentioned your brother's name in his invitation for me to go in on the case."

"Oh, tell me," begged Cora, "is it Wren?"

"Just let me see," and he looked over some letters. "It seems to me it was some such fantastical name - yes, here it is. Her name is Wren Salvey."

"Oh, my little Wren! And Clip is doing all this! Oh, I must go! Is she going to be operated upon?"

"Seems to me, little girl," and the young doctor put his hand over hers as would an elderly physician, "that you are over excitable. I will have to be giving you a sedative if you do not at once quiet down. The child is not to be operated upon, as I understand it. It is simply what we call an observation case."

"But she is at our house - she has been there since I came away. Why, however can all that be going on at home and no one there but the housekeeper - "

"The child was at your house, but is now in a private sanitarium," he said quickly. "I have had the pleasure of being in close correspondence with your friend Clip."