Chapter XXVII. Against the Law

Two hours later Cora almost fell into the arms of her brother - so overstrained were her nerves after the exciting ride.

"Oh, Jack," she exclaimed, "I had the awfullest time! It is very well to be a girl and imitate boys in the matter of risking; but I say, Jack, it is always risky."

"Well, I am glad you have found that out, little girl," answered the brother, putting her comfortably down in the big armchair. "What's the particular risk now? No more stolen girls?"

"Oh, that was your part," she said, laughing. "And, by the way, I hear you are quite a successful kidnaper."

"Not so bad. But you should have seen the time we had to get Wren to the sanitarium. She didn't want to leave here, and had a mortal fear of a hospital. But how are you?" and he looked into her flushed face. "I declare it seems moons since I've seen you."

"And all the other planets since I saw you, Jack. I wonder will I ever have the courage to tell you all about it?"

"Wouldn't the courage just naturally come on my side? I would have to listen - "

"Oh, no. You don't have to - "

"There you go! Home ten minutes and picking a fight - "

"Jack Kimball!"

"Cora Kimball!"

Then they both laughed. It was jolly even to play at quarreling, and be real brother and sister again.

"Well, I have so little time, Jack, I must be serious. You know we have to get back to Breakwater to-night. We are to fetch you, and Ed and Walter and Clip - "

"Oh, you don't say! In a suit case or a la hamper? Ed is literally cut up about all the girls being out of town at once. He would fit in the shirt box, I fancy. But Wallie - he seems to have expanded. I doubt if you could manage him - "

"Oh, you ridiculous boy! Come on. Run after me while I get through the house. I must see dear old Margaret. How is she treating you?"

"First-rate, for Margaret. She only starved me out of the midnight rations twice - "

"You should not eat after ten, Jack. But come along. I must look over the place, and talk at the same time," and with that intention Cora started on her tour of home inspection, while Jack made all the noise he possibly could make (which was not a little), running through the house after her.

Margaret, of course, knew what the tumult was about. She always declared that boys went to college to learn how to make unearthly noises.

Cora found little out of place. Margaret was an old and trusted servant, and, in the absence of her mistress, could always be depended upon to look after the "children."

"And now I must go and get the folks together," remarked Cora. "Can you come, Jack?"

"And help you pick up the humans? Well, guess I may as well, as I am to be in the collection. But what is it all about?"

In a girl's way Cora told of the plans for the auto fete, and of Dr. Bennet wishing to have the Chelton boys meet his student friends.

"First rate!" responded Jack, when Cora paused for breath. "I rather fancy the idea of going after some of the girls. I cannot help but agree with Ed that all the girls should not leave town at once - you should take turns."

"But how about Clip? The others imagine that she makes up for quite a number - with you and Walter."

"There you go again, picking a fight," and he laughed honestly. "Now, Cora, Clip is just Clip, no more and not one whit less, but she has been so busy - oh, so tremendously busy!" He was getting into his motor togs, and Cora was already equipped for her ride about Chelton. "Say, sis," he added, "did I tell you I have my suspicions about the loss of Wren's book? Did she describe to you the pair who last signed the contract?"

"No," answered Cora, now fully interested.

"Well, she told me it was a fellow with bent shoulders, and a girl with red hair. Now, who does that fit?"

Cora thought for a moment. Then her face showed quicker than her words that she guessed who might answer those descriptions.

"Sid Wilcox and Ida Giles!" she exclaimed. "But what motive could they have?"

"Sid Wilcox and Rob Roland are termed the Heavenly Twins, they are so often together. Now, Rob Roland has been the paragraph and the period, so to speak, in this story," said Jack meaningly.

"But why should Ida stoop to such a thing?"

"Didn't you run over her dining-car one day early this summer?" Jack reminded her. "Or was it Bess? No matter just who, it was one of the motor girls. And, besides, you did not ask her to go on the run."

"If I thought Ida Giles knew anything about that book I would go directly to her house and demand an explanation," said Cora, flushing. "Ida is too apt to be influenced by Sid Wilcox. I thought she had seen enough of the consequences of such folly."

"Oh, Ida is ambitious in that line," replied the cool, deliberate Jack.

"Well, let us start," suggested Cora. "I have quite some ground to cover. Dr. Bennet has agreed to find and fetch Clip."

"Has, eh? Smart fellow, Doc Bennet! I tried all afternoon yesterday to locate the lithersome Clip. Took a coy little jaunt of two miles afoot - some one said she had a friend out Bentley way, but I did not locate her. Hope Doc has better luck."

Jack said this in a way that opposed his words to their own meaning. He evidently meant he hoped Dr. Bennet would not have better luck.

"I am so anxious about the report on Wren," commented Cora, as they finally started off in Jack's runabout. "It will mean so much to her mother, and to her, of course."

"Well, if Clip has had any influence, I should say Wren would turn out an artist's model, physically. Clip has just about lived with the child since you went away. Of course, we had Miss Brown, and if she isn't Brown by nature as well as by name. I wouldn't say so. I never got one single smile to cut across her map."

"Shall we look for Ed first?" and Cora could not control a most provoking flush that threatened her cheeks.

"Just as you say, lady. But I have not told you -let the last moment be the hardest. Ed has taken to the ram. He is training the ram. Can't get him away from the ram. Mary's little lamb is a `bucking bronco' to it."

"Oh, I have been wondering about that," said Cora. "I thought I was to wear the ram's fleece as a sort of real baby-lamb coat next winter."

"Nothing of the sort, girl. Ed's ramifications are the talk of the town. He is to give an exhibition at college when we get back. A clear case of the lamb and Mary's school days."

"Well, where shall we hope to find him?" and she glanced at her watch. "I must find some one soon."

"Come along. I'll hunt him up. He is likely at this very moment giving Minus his morning ablutions. He called the ram Minus because the animal takes away so much of his time. Joke, eh ?"

Jack directed his machine toward the same little creek that figured in my first story of the motor girls, when Ed rescued them from a sorry plight, the Whirlwind having run into a mudhole.

"Now, I'll bet we find him by the brookside with Minus chewing daisies and, incidentally, Ed's stray clothing," declared Jack.

Along the way people appeared surprised to see Cora, and their greetings were a mixture of query and astonishment.

"There's Ida!" suddenly exclaimed Jack. "Don't let on you see her. I don't want to stop here to talk to her."

"Why?" asked Cora curiously.

"Because in about one minute you will see her trailer, the insufferable Sid, and I am not in Sid's humor.

"I would like to speak with Ida," objected Cora. "I really wanted to ask her something."

"Save it," commanded the ungovernable brother. "A thing like that gets better with time."

So they passed along, Cora having to be content with a bow and a smile to Ida Giles, who returned both promptly.

"Jack," said Cora, when they were also up to the hill behind which they hoped to find the idler by the brook, "do you know I think I have an actual clue to Wren's table. An antique man out Breakwater way has an order for one. I am watching that order."

"That's easy. When you know that Reed has been in and out of the place for some days. That's the best of being a girl. You can trace around after the most important clues and no one would ever suspect you of knowing what you are after. Now, I rather think when the fete is `pulled off,' if I may use the term," and he laughed his apology, "then there will be some doin's. I just want to see rocky Rob rumpled."

"Let us not delay talking long with Ed," proposed Cora, "for I must be at Hazel's at one - I am so anxious about Paul."

"About Paul? Why, he's all right. He's out and has been to the office," was the brother's surprising answer. "Didn't you hear about Mr. Robinson wanting to send him away for his health? Robinson has taken a great fancy to Paul. The stolen document business is also near a climax. I had a fine time trying to keep Clip's name out of the paper, the day they had the hearing about Wren. You see, I - the great first person - ran into the courtroom just as the judge was dismissing the absurd case set up against Mrs. Salvey. Of course, that was nothing more or less than a trick to get information for the other side. Well, Mr. Robinson was hurrying to court and he has passed his running days creditably, I believe when he met me. I took up his run at a moment's notice, reached the courtroom, waved my hands wildly in the air - "

"Oh, Jack!" interrupted Cora; "don't be so absurd. You know I am just dying to hear what happened."

"Then don't die until you do hear," and he slowed up at the hill. "The fact is, I just caught the whole City News force red-handed with a great story about Clip. The reporters had called her the modern Clara, and all that, but I got it away from them. I know one of the best of them, and he agreed, so they all had to. It was a good little story, for the lawyers were matched against a motor girl. That made it interesting from a newspaper viewpoint. Hello! Didn't I tell you? Say, there, Mr. Foster! Chain up the ram, Ed. We want to approach."

Just as they rounded the hill, Ed could plainly be seen as Jack had foretold - idling by the brook with the ram in the same picture, but at a polite distance from its owner.

"I thought Walter wanted the ram," remarked Cora as they neared the spot where Ed was "getting himself together."

"Oh, he did. But do you remember what the man said about having to put his overcoat on to feed that animal? Well, he wouldn't even stand ,for Walter, with or without the ulster. He tried his best raincoat and all, but the ram just went for him. But look how he purrs around Ed - tame as a kitten."

"I am not going to trust him, though," decided Cora. "One experience with Mr. Minus is enough for me. Shout to Ed to come over. I must hurry."

Cora's invitation to go to Breakwater came almost as a shock, Ed declared, but coming from Cora he would accept. Consequently he hurried the ram to its quarters, and, agreeing to look up Walter, the girl was left to pay her visit to Hazel.

"We fellows will start from here about daybreak," Jack decided, "and we will reach Breakwater about ten o'clock. That's the time Doc Bennet gave me for the official gun to go off."

It happened that Ed knew the young doctor slightly, so that he took Jack's urgent "appeal" as coming from the actual host.

"I told you he would be glad to join the Motor Girls' Club," remarked Jack, while Ed was exchanging civilities with Cora. "He's just been pining around here like a lost - "

"Now, Jack, be square," interrupted the handsome young man, whom Cora thought had actually grown handsomer in the days since she had last seen him. "I never pine. I growl - just plain growl."

"You take me over to Hazel's, Jack?" asked Cora. "Then you may go along and help look for Walter. I must meet Dr. Bennet at two-thirty. And then, I wonder, will we be able to get back to Breakwater by six."

She was thinking of her experience coming out to Chelton; also she kept on the lookout for Mr. Reed. He had hinted that there were interesting things developing in Chelton just then. He had said openly that his interest and Cora's were mutual. Would he again molest her?

With this thought she determined not to get too far away from Jack. She would have him call at the Hastings' house for her.

And the Roland, Reed & Company lawyers knew that Cora Kimball was a leader among the motor girls the club that had avowed its purpose of finding the book, as well as the table.

All this was complicated and involved, but to the shrewd lawyers, Cora knew the working out of the details was merely a matter of opportunity.

Having failed to prove Wren a subject for some "shut-in" institution, these same lawyers were now engaged on another scheme, that of trying to show that the child was detained against her will, and was actually in the possession of Cora Kimball.

Jack had told Cora all this, trying to make it a matter of small importance, and laughing at Rob Roland's initial performance, as Jack put it; but Cora felt that it was no laughing matter, and that at least the happiness of two persons - Mrs. Salvey and her delicate little daughter - was involved.

Cora and Jack were on the road, and Jack had cranked up. Ed, having made the ram secure in the field, was about to walk to his own lodgings. Suddenly a flash of red swept across the streak of brown highway. Cora recognized it instantly as Dr. Bennet's car.

He was coming at such a pace that in drawing up the gears and brakes of his machine protested with unpleasant, grinding sounds.

Dr. Bennet seemed flushed and excited. He began, without any preliminaries, to tell Cora that she must get into his car, and hurry back to Breakwater.

"I have been on the wildest hunt," he said, smiling an acknowledgment to Cora's introduction to Ed, and bowing to Jack, whom he had met earlier in the day. "I have been all over Chelton, but of course did not expect to locate you out here."

Duncan Bennet possessed that manner which is at once persuasive and at the same time courteous combination of the doctor and the man.

"You see," he continued, "I happened to overhear that you are to be subpoenaed in that Robinson patent case. In fact, I heard Reed say he would have you in an hour, so I determined to beat him back home - get you over the State line before he can serve the papers. Now, you had best jump right in. Clip is waiting for us at Wiltons'. We will pick her up and then fly."

"Oh!" gasped Cora, seizing at Jack's arm. "I am not going to run away. I will stay right at home - with my brother." Cora was as near crying as any young lady with the reputation of strength of character might safely venture. But Jack knew more of the case than he had confided to her, and he instantly agreed with Dr. Bennet.

"Run along, sis, " he advised, with the jollity that makes a brave boy ever a girl's hero. "I'll be after you with the others, and it will be no end of fun. Clip's going, and I'll try to have Paul and Hazel join - if Paul is fit. Then with Ed and Walter - Say, we will have the time of our young lives! Get in with Dr. Bennet, and I'll turn back and stop in front of the ice cream place. Of course, Reed or Roland will come along that way, and of course you will be inside eating frapped subpoenas."

Cora was now climbing in beside Dr. Bennet.

"And that is why that horrid man tried to get me to ride in town with him!" cried Cora. "He wanted to make me take those papers -"

"Certainly," interrupted Duncan. "But we have fooled him thus far. Be sure to come to the show, boys," this to Ed and Jack. "My crowd will be out there to-night, but I suppose we will not see the Chelton throng until to-morrow. Excuse haste - and a bad pen," he added, laughing, while Tom gave a signal on the horn. "This is the time we make a run against the law."