Chapter XXVIII. Confidences
 

"Now, Tom," called Duncan Bennet to his chauffeur, after Clip had joined Cora, "you had better slow up some. The young ladies may want to find out whether or not they still wear hats." They had ridden fast and far.

"Oh!" exclaimed Clip, "I never had such a delightful ride. I suppose that is what you call being motor mad - going and going until you cannot go fast enough. They say it is a disease, isn't it, doctor?"

"I believe it is so defined," answered Duncan with mock dignity. "But we are not to talk disease, if you please, young lady," and he smiled a command which might easily be interpreted to mean: "You must rest from that sort of thing for a while."

Cora turned to look back over the dusty road. Her face, usually alive to every mood, was strangely set - as if too anxious to venture a change of expression. Duncan from the front seat saw her look.

"Oh, he is not coming," he said. "No need to worry now. We are across the State line."

"I never was so frightened in my life," admitted Cora. "Not that I was afraid of going to court, but I was mortally afraid we would not be able to make the run in time. I should have known better, however, for Tom had qualified before to-day."

"Tom knows just how fast this machine ought to go," added Duncan. "I don't mind Tom hearing it, either."

The chauffeur smiled in acknowledgment to the compliment. It had been a hard run, and the Chelton lawyer had only turned back at the last mile post.

"Wonder where that motor-cycle officer is now?" remarked Cora. "I mean Constable Hanna."

"Oh, he's out having a good time on what he earned this morning," answered Duncan. "One hold-up in a day is plenty for Hanna."

"I have scarcely had a chance to speak to you, Clip," Cora began, as her nervousness vanished. "I am so glad to see you."

"Well, you have been looking whole vocabularies at me, Cora, in many and various languages," said Clip in her own inimitable way. "I have been wondering whether you had turned into a Sphynx or just Liberty."

"But, Clip, I did have a fright. Suppose I should have had to give up the run, and go to that stuffy old courtroom!"

"Well, I am glad you didn't," answered Clip sincerely. "I do think that a courtroom is about the meanest place I have ever visited - and I have been in a lot of queer places. And the girls," went on Clip. "Whatever will they say to you two runaways?"

"What won't they say?" replied Duncan. "I am not to blame, of course. Miss Cora simply inveigled me into allowing her to ride with me - "

"I saw Reed pass over the back country road a moment ago, interrupted Tom. "I might guess where he is going."

"Where?" asked the trio in a breath.

"To that junk shop on the turnpike," replied Tom. "He seems to think the shop is haunted with a valuable ghost. He goes out there almost daily."

"You mean the antique shop?" asked Cora. "Oh, I know. He is after a table. I am sure it is he who has given the order - " She stopped - her finger on her lip. Tom seemed to know so much - what if he should know about the missing table? "Have you any idea what he is after?" asked Cora directly.

"Well, I ought to know," replied Tom, "for he has made no secret of it. He has searched every attic from Breakwater to Moreland. I caught an old junk dealer in our barn the other morning, and while I watched him get down the road I saw Reed come along. Of course, he had hired the man to search where he himself could not go. He is after some sort of ancient rustic table, I believe."

Clip and Cora exchanged meaning looks. Cora had not for a moment forgotten about the antique man's promise to have the original table in a few days. She was to see this and then -

"We are not out of the woods yet," remarked Clip. "I am thinking, Duncan, that you have undertaken a large contract. You have positively agreed to have me back in Chelton by to-morrow afternoon at four o'clock."

"Oh, we will see about that," replied the physician with a sly look at Cora. "There is a telephone in Breakwater - "

"Duncan Bennet! If I thought I should be late for the `clearing-up' to-morrow I would start right now," declared Clip most emphatically.

"Oh, you won't be. We will fix it so the `clearing-up' will be late for you. I suppose you think everything that ever happened is going to repeat itself to-morrow afternoon, just because one Miss Cecilia Thayer is going - "

"Hush, Duncan! Cora does not know one word about it. She may have guessed, but that is not knowing, is it, Cora?"

"I confess to a keen curiosity," answered Cora, "but as a matter of fact I expect to be very much busy myself to-morrow. Just now I cannot see how it is all going to be managed."

"Well, when the Chelton boys arrive I guess the girls will not be so particular about their time," said Duncan. "I fancy even the captain will have to show somebody the beauties of Breakwater. But hark! Wasn't that Daisy? I just heard a breath. We are only about ten miles from home - Daisy can easily breathe that long when she is excited. Oh, I am just aching to hear what they will say, Cora," and he laughed. "I'll wager Ray will be the aggrieved one. She will likely manage to keep out of the work, don't you think so?"

Cora did not reply in so many words, but she looked acquiescence. Certainly those who knew Ray appreciated her ability to take care of her own personal self at the risk of all other matters. But Cora was thinking of something else - of Wren and the medical report. She knew better than to ask Duncan outright what might have been the result of their inquiry. Nevertheless, she could not refrain from "begging the question."

"Is little Wren happy?" she asked, without apology for the sudden turn in their conversation.

"Well, just now," replied Duncan very seriously, "she can scarcely be expected to realize either happiness or unhappiness, for we had to give her a powerful anesthetic."

"For an operation?" Cora could not refrain from asking. Clip showed no curiosity, and Cora knew at once that she was acquainted with the circumstances.

"Something of that kind," answered Duncan vaguely. "But put your mind at rest - the child has every chance of ultimate recovery. The trouble was the wrong treatment. We use purely physical training for that sort of thing."

"Could the neglect have been intentional?" asked Cora further. She had in mind the "quack" doctor so long sent to Salveys' by the Roland branch of the family.

"Oh, I wouldn't like to venture an opinion on that," replied Duncan, "but ignorance is closely allied to criminal negligence."

Clip set her deep dark eyes in a tense, strained expression. Then they all fell to thinking, and for a time conversation ceased.

"Ten more telegraph poles and we run into Breakwater," announced Duncan, while Tom eyed his speedometer. "Then for our reception!"

It seemed but two minutes, at most, from that announcement that Duncan's machine turned into the Bennet estate.