Chapter XXVI. Legal Strategy
 

Cora was in despair. To be thus detained when there was not an hour to spare! Tom drew the machine well to the roadside. Duncan leisurely climbed out and then asked the girl if she would remain in the car.

"That's the mean part of this business," remarked Duncan; "they don't want money - they want time - good, honest time."

Then, of a sudden, with that boyishness that Cora had so greatly admired in so thoughtful a young man, he sprang off on a run toward the meadow, where the constable had indicated the judge could be found.

"Come on, friend," he called good-naturedly to the officer on the wheel. "When a thing's to be done, may as well do it. The sooner the quicker," he joked, while Cora wondered more and more how so wronged a person could be so good-humored.

Tom fussed about the machine, looking to see that the official bullet had not struck through a tire. Evidently the constable did not expect Duncan to take him at his word, and go after the squire, for it took him some time to put his wheel against a tree and prepare to follow on foot.

"You can't go that way," he shouted to Duncan. "That's all swamp."

"Won't hurt me," replied the irrepressible Duncan. "I am taking the water cure."

Soon Duncan was talking to the farmer - and the constable was still "picking his steps" toward the spot where the two stood.

"I am sure Duncan will win him," thought Cora, "and perhaps we will not be so long delayed, after all."

But Tom could not stand the suspense. He asked Cora if she would mind being left alone for a few minutes, and soon he, too, was hurrying over the meadow.

Cora had great faith in Tom's judgment now, and was rather glad that he had gone to Duncan's help. She stepped out of the car to gather a few wild flowers, and was just about to step in again when the rumble of an approaching machine attracted her attention.

She turned and saw coming toward her that man Reed. With assumed indifference she stepped back to the road to get another flower. This took her just a bit farther from his path than she would have been in the car, but as he came up she heard him slacken, then stop.

Her heart seemed to stand still. In an instant she realized what it meant for a girl to be alone on a road - she should not have left Breakwater, and the doctor and Tom should not have left her.

"Miss Kimball," called a voice from the other car. "I am sorry to see you in this predicament. I am Mr. Reed, of Roland, Reed & Company," and he said this with all possible courtesy. "I believe we have met before, and I came back to see if I might be of any assistance to you. This speeding business is rather troublesome, and I ventured to guess that you are most anxious to be in Chelton to-day, as there are so many interesting things going on there."

For an instant Cora felt that she had wronged this man. Perhaps, after all, he was a perfect gentleman, and had nothing to do with their being detained. If only Duncan or Tom was there!

"Yes, I am in a hurry to get home," admitted Cora. "But I think we will soon be off again."

"Not very likely," went on the other. "That old judge seems to delight in keeping folks away from their business. He has the most roundabout way possible of transacting matters. I was about to suggest that if you really are anxious to get to Chelton I would go over there and speak with your friend, and, as we are not so far away from the home town, it might be wise for you to ride with me. It is very awkward for a lady to be in this position. Sometimes a newspaper fellow comes along, and, as they say, `gets a story' out of it."

"Oh, I thank you very much," she said hurriedly and not without showing her confusion, "but I will wait until Dr. Bennet comes. I am sure he will not be detained long. They should have some consideration for physicians."

"Dr. Bennet? Oh, I see. He is in a hurry, too, to get to Chelton." (If Cora could have seen the flash that shot through the lawyer's brain at that moment.) "Well, of course, he ought to be allowed to go - although we all have to keep within the speed limit."

"They are coming now," said Cora joyously, for the interview was anything but pleasant. "I will tell Dr. Bennet of your kindness "

The man cranked up instantly, excusing his haste with a glance at his watch. "Well," he said, "I have a noon appointment, so I may as well hurry on. Good morning, Miss Kimball. I suppose we shall see each other again in Chelton, as we both are interested, I believe, in the same affair - finding the promise book and finding the lost table."

Then he was off.

Duncan, Tom and the two officers were up to the car before Cora had quite recovered herself.

"That was Reed, miss, wasn't it?" asked Tom sharply.

"Yes," replied Cora.

"Well, he's a cool one," went on Tom, while Duncan looked after the receding car. "Do you know him, if I may ask?"

"Yes, and no," said Cora nervously, for the constable and justice were looking at her with some impertinence.

"I thought so. His usual game. He makes himself known. Now see here," said Tom, in a manner that made Cora think of Paul - perhaps Tom loved machines as did Paul, and was more than an ordinary chauffeur - "that man is a keen lawyer, Dr. Bennet, and he has some purpose in delaying you."

"Delaying me!" echoed Duncan.

"No," interrupted Cora. "It is in me he seems to have the interest, for he asked me to ride back to Chelton with him. Oh, I know!" she exclaimed. "It is in Wren! He is the lawyer who has to do with Mrs. Salvey's case, and he is trying to keep Dr. Bennet away from Chelton to-day. He must have heard that you were on the case," declared Cora, as the whole strange proceeding seemed to flash before her excited mind.

"That's bad!" groaned Duncan.

The officials were talking at one side of the road.

"Look here, squire," called Tom, "this is all a putup game. You have no proof that we were going faster than the law allows. That sneak Reed simply told you so. Now own up, Hanna. Am I not right?"

"He sure said so," grumbled Hanna.

"And you had only his word?" asked the old justice angrily.

"I saw the smoke from that car, and - "

"Well, I'm goin' to let you go," asserted the judge. "I don't like this here kind of business, Hanna, and I want you after this to have all your charges first hand. Don't take no tips from nobody, d'ye hear?"

Hanna smiled. He had his hand in his pocket, and it may as well be told that there was also in the pocket something which resigned him to letting the automobilists go. Reed had attended to the compensation.

"Just as you say, judge," remarked the constable.

Duncan put his hand out to the old squire. "Here, squire," he said. "I do this openly. I want you to take this, not as a bribe, but as a personal gift, which I have a perfect right to offer you. You are doing me a kindness, and also this young lady a kindness, and the one most concerned is a helpless little creature who waits until I reach Chelton to know whether or not she is to be made perfectly well, so to speak. Not that I am the one to say that, but because a noted specialist will wait for all the other doctors. It's a long stony, but I will let you know how we make out if I beat that sharper into Chelton."

Cora couldn't speak. She, too, put out her hand to the old squire, who was wiping his eyes and shaking his head against Duncan's gift. Finally the young doctor prevailed upon him, and then once more they started on their mad run for Chelton