Chapter VIII. Jack and Clip
 

"A deliberate trick of Cecilia's," murmured Daisy.

"She pretends to be so off-hand," answered Maud. "I have always noticed that that sort of girl is the greatest schemer."

"To leave her car out on the road, and then boldly ask Jack Kimball to go with her to fetch it. Who ever heard of such a thing? I wonder Cora tolerates her."

"Cora is what some people call `easy,' " said Daisy with uncertain meaning. "She takes her chances in choosing friends."

"Did they fetch the car back?"

"I saw it at the garage this morning. I do hope it cannot be fixed. I mean," Maud hurried to say, "I hope she will not hamper us with it on our tour. It is only fit for the junkman."

Daisy and Maud were walking toward the post office. It was the morning after the adventure on the road, and the two girls had heard from Ray Stuart something of the news they were now discussing. The hold-up of Paul Hastings was to them not so important as the fact that Cecilia Thayer had gone over to Kimball's and actually asked Jack Kimball to take her out Woodbine way to tow home the balky Turtle.

But, precisely as her friend had said, Clip was a schemer. In the first place, she had no idea of detaining her companions on the lonely road to "monkey with the machine," so soon after Paul's hold-up. Next, she had no idea of leaving the car there at the mercy of fate. Instead, she deliberately went over to Kimball's after dinner, asked Jack to take her out Woodbine way, and incidentally suggested that he take along a gun. Jack had two good friends, each opposite the other in type. Bess Robinson was very much admired by him; and Cecilia Thayer, she who always played the tomboy to the extent of affording a good time for others when she could actually disguise a serious reason in the joke, she who affected the "strained" nurse costume for fun, when it was a real necessity - Jack Kimball liked Cecilia Thayer. Her rather limited means often forced her to make sport of circumstances, but, in every case, Cecilia "won out." She was, the boys said, "no knocker."

So it happened as Daisy related. Clip did ask Jack to go with her to fetch home the car. It also happened that they encountered Sid Wilcox on the way. He seemed to be returning alone in his auto from Cartown. Sid told Ida, Ida told Ray, Ray told Daisy and Daisy told Maud.

Daisy and Maud were inseparable chums. They agreed on everything - from admiration for Jack Kimball and Walter Pennington, to dislike for Cecilia Thayer, and something akin to jealousy for the Robinson girls. Cora was beyond criticism - they simply "regarded her."

"And," spoke Daisy, as they turned into the green, "I do believe that the boys played that trick on Paul. I thought when they hurried so to get away that they were up to something."

"Queer joke," commented Maud.

"Didn't you think those strange men acted suspiciously?" asked Daisy.

"How could they do otherwise when Cecilia acted as she did? I never saw a girl so forward."

"I suppose she will have some boys tagging after us on our tour, if her car is fixable," went on Daisy in sarcastic tones. "Likely she will find some excuse for stopping at hotels, and such places. Mother insisted I should not go to any public eating place unless we have some older person along. But Cecilia - she is old or young, just as it suits her."

"There's Bess and Belle!" exclaimed Maud, as the Robinson twins' runabout swerved into the avenue.

"And there are Jack - and Cecilia!" Daisy fairly gasped the words.

At that instant the two last named persons, in Jack's little car, came up to the turn. Cecilia looked almost pretty - even her critics admitted that, secretly. Of course, Jack was always handsome.

"I wonder how Bess feels," remarked Daisy with scornfully curled lip.

"She thinks a lot of Jack," replied Maud, as both bowed to the occupants of the runabout.

"Where do you suppose they are going?" went on Daisy.

"Oh, probably to see about having the old car fixed up. Of course, when she got Jack to fetch it she will manage to have him attend to the rest."

Bess and Belle were now abreast of the girls on the sidewalk. The twins bowed pleasantly, while the others nodded in return.

"I wish mother had not gone to town this morning," said Daisy. "I would just like to see where they are all going."

"Your mother took the car?"

"Yes; and she won't be home until evening. Well, I declare if there isn't Cora and - "

"Walter Pennington," finished Maud. "She is almost as changeable as her brother."

"Isn't it too mean that we have to walk," complained Daisy. "I have a mind to go over to the garage and ask for a car. Father often gets one."

"Oh, yes. Doctors are always having breakdowns. Do you suppose you could get one?"

"Well, I am going to try, at any rate," and Daisy Bennet quickened her pace, while Maud Morris hurried along with her companion. It was but a few minutes' walk to the garage, and when the girls reached the entrance they were surprised to find the three automobiles, Jack's, Cora's and the twins' pulled up outside.

"Oh, I can't go in now," demurred Daisy. "We will have to wait until they go. Funny they should be taking a morning run, without asking us along."

Paul Hastings was talking to the Robinson girls. It was evident that he was much excited. Cora was on the sidewalk, and Cecilia was beside her. Jack stood off to one side with Walter.

"Some important consultation," whispered Daisy. "I'll wager it's about the hold-up."

"Of course, father knows you had nothing to do with it," Bess was saying to Paul, "but he is positive the papers were in that mail. Corn, thought it best we should let you know right away."

"Forewarned is forearmed," said Paul. Then Daisy and Maud came up to the group.

"My!" exclaimed Daisy. "Quite a gathering."

"Yes," answered Clip. "We are glad you came. Now our meeting is complete. We want evidence. Tell us all you know about the strange men. You had a good chance to observe. You were not in the little quadrille on the road."

"Why," stammered Daisy, "I thought them very nice-looking men. They were well dressed, and - "

"That's it," interrupted Jack. "They were nice men, well dressed. What else do you expect young ladies to observe? Clip, your suspicions are not borne out by facts. Not a girl in the party but yourself saw - what was it? The corner of the missing blue envelope in the upper right-hand pocket - "

"Jack Kimball! You know perfectly well I never said such a thing. I did see something blue, but it might have been - "

"A captured shadow from Daisy's eyes," said Walter dryly.

"What happened?" breathed Maud. Then Walter realized what a girl's eyes may do in the matter of "imploring." He deliberately stepped over to Maud's side.

"Oh, some valuable papers were taken from the mailbag," volunteered Clip. "And we thought the strange men might have found them."

"You cheerful fibber," whispered Jack. "Come on, if you expect to get to Cartown to-day."

"How can we, now?" asked Clip in an undertone.

"Just jump in and go," replied Jack. "Why should we explain?"

Jack cranked up his car, and in her usual deliberate way, Cecilia Thayer stepped into the runabout, pulled on her gloves, smoothed out the robe, and then said: "Good morning!"

Jack and Clip left the others standing in surprise and, perhaps, disappointment. Only Cora guessed where they were actually going.