Chapter XXV. A Wild Run'
 

"Speed her up, Tom," ordered Dr. Duncan Bennet to his chauffeur, as he and Cora started out that bright, beautiful morning. "We will have all we can do to cover the ground and make home by nightfall."

"Without a single stop," remarked Cora, "I calculated we could do it. Do you think there is any possibility of us failing to get back?"

"Tom knows no end of short cuts," said Duncan, settling himself down comfortably. "We take quite a different route to that which you girls came over."

"Oh, yes, of course. We could never get to Chelton and back in one day over the roads which we came by," replied Cora.

"The one controlling thought is," said the young physician, "that an automobile is not a camel. No telling when its thirst will demand impossible quenching. But this is a first-rate car," he went on, "and it has never gone back on me yet."

"It rides beautifully," agreed Cora, as the machine was speeding over the roads like the very wind. "After all, I do believe that an experienced chauffeur is a positive luxury "

"Now, now!" exclaimed Duncan. "Don't go back on your constitution. You will have to report, I suppose. What do you imagine our little girls are thinking and doing about now?"

Cora laughed. Duncan seemed amused at the idea of "stealing" the captain of the club - he liked nothing better than a "row" with girls.

"Well, I suppose," said Cora cautiously, "that they are scouring Breakwater for things to decorate the machines with. I am glad that I entrusted the Whirlwind to Tillie - she is so artistically practical that she will be sure to avoid making holes in the car to stick bouquets in."

"The fellows will be up to-night. They have taken rooms at the Beacon. There'll be no end of a rumpus if they strike Breakwater, and I am not there to pilot them."

"Likely our girls would attempt to put them to rights," said Cora, joking. "Just fancy a crowd of students, and those silly girls."

"It is well that they can't hear you," remarked Duncan. "Of course, you are very - very sensible."

"You mean - I should not have come?" she said, her face flushing.

"Oh, indeed, I meant nothing of the sort," he hurried to explain. "In fact, I never could have carried out my plan if you had not come along. I am going to bring Clip out for the meet."

"Oh, wouldn't that be splendid!" exclaimed Cora. "If only we can manage it. But she is always so busy - "

"Then I intend to make her stop work for a few days at least. I want my brother to meet her, and this - well, quite an opportunity."

Cora looked at the earnest young man beside her. "Clip is worth knowing," she said simply. Then she added: "I wonder if we could arrange it to have Hazel come? It would be just glorious to have the club complete after all our little drawbacks. If her brother is better I will not take `no' for an answer. I shall simply insist upon Hazel coming."

Cora was aglow with the prospects - if only everything would go along smoothly and no other "drawback" should occur.

"Your friends are from Exmouth, aren't they?" asked Duncan. "I ought to know some of them; we played their team last year."

"Oh, do you know Ed Foster? And Walter Pennington?" asked Cora.

"I happen to remember their names," said Duncan. "I would be glad if we could manage to have them come out to the show. Let me see. How could we fix it up?"

"Jack has a car, and so has Walter," replied Cora, while the chauffeur looked at his speedometer and noted that they were doing twenty-five miles an hour.

"Then," said Duncan, "if we can fix it - But that observation case will take quite a little time."

"You can attend to your case, and get Clip," said Cora with a mischievous smile, "and I will attend to the boys."

"Oh, my!" exclaimed Duncan. "You are ready and willing to make the `round up.' Well," and the car gave an unexpected bump that almost threw Cora over into her companion's arms, "I would like first rate to have them all come to Breakwater, and our fellows would count it the best part of their vacation to have an auto run of that kind. If we find everything all right out in Chelton we will call a special meeting of the motor girls, the girls being you, and the motor boys being me, and then we will come to the quickest decision on record."

Cora was arranging her goggles and veil. The speed of the car was playing sad havoc with her costume, and she was not too independent to want to look well when she got into her home-town.

"Look out, Tom!" called Duncan to his man. "Here is about where they enforce the speed laws, isn't it?"

"We have to take chances," replied the man, "if we expect to cover the ground."

"Mercy!" exclaimed Cora. "Please do not take any chances with speed laws. I have a perfect horror of that sort of thing."

"What's she doing?" asked the doctor.

"Only twenty miles, sir," replied the chauffeur, "and they allow us fifteen."

"Couldn't we just as well conform to the regulation speed?" asked Cora anxiously. It was rather unusual for her to show such timidity.

"Leave it to Tom," replied the young doctor. "Chauffeurs are like house-maids - they must not be interfered with."

Up to this time Cora had really not noticed the speed. Her conversation with Duncan had been altogether engrossing. But now she began to appreciate the situation, and this precluded all other considerations, even the thoughts of Chelton.

Duncan Bennet had no sister, and, consequently, was not versed in the art of "fidgets." He only knew the ailment when it took definite form. But Cora was getting it - in fact, she now felt positively nervous.

How that machine did go! The speed delighted Duncan. Tom was like an eagle bending over his prey - he urged the car on with such determination. Once or twice Cora felt bound to exclaim, but Duncan only shook his head. It was going, that was all he seemed to care for. Near the station they were obliged to slow up some to look for trains. As they did so Cora saw another car dash by, and in she recognized the man now known to her as Mr. Reed, Rob Roland's cousin.

She made no remark to Duncan; he seemed so occupied with his own thoughts. But when, after a few minutes, the same car passed them again, having made a circuit on a crossroad, and the same man stared at Cora as if to make sure it was she, she felt a queer uneasiness.

This time the other car shot ahead at such a wild pace that even Duncan's machine was not speeding compared with that.

"Talk about going!" commented the physician; "just look at that fellow. If he can use up that much gasoline and escape the law, no need for us to worry."

The chauffeur was simply intent upon speed - he seemed to have gone speed crazy, Cora thought.

They were traveling over a perfectly straight road, and Duncan Bennet took out his field glasses.

"Here," he said to Cora, "I often find these interesting when on a long journey. Take a peek."

Cora adjusted the glasses and peered ahead.

"That man," she said, "has stopped at a small shed - "

"That's the constable's hang-out," remarked Duncan. "I had to stop there once - just once," and the thought was evidently funny, for he laughed boyishly.

"Yes," went on Cora, "there is some one talking to him. Oh, Duncan," and she clutched his arm nervously, "do tell Tom to drive slowly past there, for I think I know that man."

"Go slow, Tom," called Duncan carelessly. "We might be held up. Just let me take the glasses, Cora."

He peered through the strong lenses. "The other car has gone on," he said. "Perhaps the cop is a friend of your friend's"; and again he laughed, much to Cora's discomfort.

On and on the machine flew. Finally they were within a few rods of the little shed by the roadside. A man on a motor-cycle was waiting. As the Bennet car came up he shot out into the center of the road.

Duncan did not mistake his intention. Tom turned his head and gave the other a meaning look. Then the chauffeur slowed down - slower and slower.

"Stop!" called the man on the motor-cycle, at the same moment dismounting from his wheel.

Tom almost stopped. Cora thought he had turned off the gasoline, but the next moment he had shot past the surprised officer, and was going at a madder pace than ever.

Cora was frightened. Some motor-cycles can beat ordinary automobiles; she knew that. But Duncan was laughing. If only that man, Reed, was not on the same road just then.

"Can you make it?" asked Duncan, calling into the chauffeur's ear.

"Don't know," replied the man. "But we may as well get as far out of the woods as possible."

"Don't worry, little girl," said Duncan to Cora with that self-confidence peculiar to those who are accustomed to being obeyed. "We are all right. It is only a fine, at any rate, and I always carry small change."

"Stop!" yelled the man at the rear. "You cannot cross the line, and if you don't stop soon you will find your tires winded."

A revolver shot sounded.

Tom drew up instantly. "I don't fancy putting on new tires," he said coolly, "so we may as well surrender."

Duncan looked at the officer in a perfectly friendly way.

"Well, what's up?" he asked indifferently.

"You ought to know," replied the man, scowling angrily. "If I hadn't stopped you land knows but you would have been over the falls. What's the matter with you fellows, anyhow? Can't you take a joy ride without committing murder and suicide ?"

"You're mistaken," replied Duncan. "I'm a doctor on a hurry call - "

"Yes, you are ! You look it!" and the officer sneered at Cora. "Tell that to the marines!"

"Well, what's the price?" demanded Duncan with some impatience. "I'm in a hurry."

"Wait till your hurry cools off," said the officer, who from his own wild chase was now plainly uncomfortably warm. "You made the marked-off distance in the shortest time on record, from post to post in one minute."

"How do you know?" asked the chauffeur sharply.

"What's that to you?" replied the officer. "Didn't I see you?"

"You did not!" shouted Tom. "Some one `squealed,' and you have no proof of what you are saying."

The man hesitated. Then he blurted out: "Well, what if a friend did tip me off? Wasn't he in as much danger from your runaway machine as the next one?"

"That man!" whispered Cora to Duncan. "He stopped and told him to arrest us."

"Well, the price?" called Duncan, with his hand in his pocket. "I tell you I am a doctor, and I am in a hurry to get to Chelton. Can't you make it something reasonable - and then something for your own trouble?"

The man eyed Duncan sharply. "I was told you would say just that," he said with a curious laugh.

"And that is just what the other fellow said to you," spoke Tom. "Now look here, Hanna. I know how much you have got out of this already, and I happen to know the sort of coin that that sneak, Reed, carries. He has offered me some - at times. He travels out here quite some of late. Take my advice and be square. It is all bound to come out in the wash."

Cora gazed at Duncan in astonishment. "I told you," said the latter, "that it is best to leave a good man alone. Like a good cook, they usually know their own business."

But the officer was not so sure. He hesitated, then said: "Well, I see judge Brown over in the meadow. He can settle it. Come along."