Chapter XXIV. Cora's Resolve
 

For a moment Cora was dumfounded. Duncan Bennet a close friend of Clip!

The next moment the riddle was solved.

"Why, of course you know Clip," she said. "She goes to your college."

"Yes," and he ran his white fingers through his "fractious" hair. "The fact is, Cora, I am quite as anxious to see Clip as to go in on the case. Haven't seen her since school closed."

"I'll likely have some trouble in finding her," he added presently. "Never can find her when I particularly want to, but if she is in Chelton I'm going to hunt her up."

"Won't she be at the sanitarium?" asked Cora, and she wondered why her own voice sounded so strained.

"I think not," he replied. "Clip is a poster-girl, in our parlance, and we don't let them in on real cases."

"Poster?" asked Cora.

"Yes; it means she has had her picture in the college paper, with `Next' under it. I don't mind saying that I cut out that particular picture."

"It must be lots of fun to be in such affairs," said Cora. "I have often thought that the simple life of society is a mere bubble compared to what goes on where girls think."

"Well, I am going early," he said pleasantly. "I suppose you don't mind running away before breakfast."

"No, indeed," she answered. "I rather fancy the idea. If I ever trusted myself to meet the girls I would surely `default.'"

"All right. My man is always on time. Mother will see that we are not hungry - I've got the greatest mother in the world for looking after meals."

Cora laughed, and arose to go.

"I've told you a lot," he said rather awkwardly, "but somehow I felt like telling you."

"You may trust me," replied Cora lightly. "I have such a lot of secrets, that I just know how to manage them - they are filed away, you know, each in its place."

"Thanks," he said. "You know, we don't, as a rule, speak about our professional friends. Don't say anything to Daisy about Clip. I think she would die if she knew I fancied her."

He said this just like a girl, imitating Daisy.

"Why, she likes Clip," declared Cora. "We all do."

"Wait," he said, and he raised a prophetic finger, "wait until Clip sails under her own colors. Then take note of her friends. This is the thorn in her side, as it were. She speaks of it often."

How Cora's head throbbed! Perhaps, as Duncan had said, she was over excited. But just now there seemed so many things to think about.

If she went to Chelton she might hear something that would give her a clue to Wren's book. Jack insinuated that he had a clue when he spoke to her over the 'phone. What if she should be able to trace both the book and the table! And bring Wren into her own!

As if divining a change in the girl's mind, Duncan Bennet said:

"Now, you won't disappoint me? I am counting on your company."

"Well, I shall have to dream over it," replied Cora. "Mother says it is always safest to let our ambitions cool overnight."

"`Think not ambition wise, because 'tis brave?'" he quoted. But he did not guess how well that quotation fitted Cora's case.

It seemed scarcely any time before the girls were back from the park, just bubbling over in girlish enthusiasm about the wonderful woodland performance. And that Cora should have missed it! Even Gertrude, the staid and steady, could not understand it.

The Bennets' home was a very large country house, but with all the motor girls scattered over it the house seemed comparatively small. Chocolate and knickknacks were always served before bedtime, and Daisy had reason to be proud of her part in the entertainment of the girls.

"And to-morrow," said Adele, between mouthfuls of morsels, "we shall have to decorate for the fete. I am going to do the Whirlwind all my own way, am I not, Cora?"

"You certainly may," replied Cora vaguely. "I am the poorest hand at decorating. I prefer driving."

And they all wondered why she took so little interest in the preparations for the fete.

"I know," whispered Bess. "You are thinking of that little mahogany man. And so am I. I can't just wait to see the table."

Bright and early, the next morning the girls were astir. They had need to be "up with the lark," for the gathering of stuffs with which to decorate cars is quite a task, and they planned to make the fete a memorable affair, as Belle put it.

"Wait till Cora comes down," said Tillie. "Won't she be surprised that I have already been over the meadow, and gotten so many beautiful, tall grasses!"

Mrs. Bennet appeared at that moment.

"My dears," she began, "I have a surprise for you. Cora has taken a run home - she really had to go, but she will be back by nightfall. Now, there," to Daisy, "you must not pout. Cora has been a faithful little captain, and, from what I understand, there have been a great many things to demand her attention at home. Go right on with your plans, and make her car the very prettiest, and when she gets back she will have some reason to be proud of her allies. I have arranged to be at home all day, and to do whatever I can to assist you, in Cora's place."

The girls were utterly surprised, but what could they say? Show displeasure to so affable a hostess? Never!

What they thought was, of course, a matter of their own personal business.