Chapter X. Suspicions
 

"Hello!" cried Jack, springing forward to his sister's aid. "I never knew Cora to do that before. Is she hurt, Walt?"

"No; only shocked, I guess."

"Help her into the car and put her on the rear seat," directed Belle.

"No; keep her head up," advised Bess.

"Somebody get water!" exclaimed Diddick, turning around in a circle to look for a spring.

Jack was rubbing his sister's hands, while Walter held her in a reclining position.

"There's a spring over by that tree," spoke Walter. "One of you get some water."

"I will--in my hat!" answered Parks, starting off on a run.

"Here's a cup," called Elizabeth, producing a collapsible one from a pocket in the tonneau of the touring car.

The lad took it, and came hurrying back with it half full of liquid, having spilled the rest on his hasty trip. Jack managed to get a little between Cora's lips, and it revived her. She opened her eyes, noted that Walter was holding her, and her face flushed slightly.

"I'm--I'm all right now," she declared as she tried to stand upright.

"Better get in the car and sit down," advised Jack.

She assented, and rather limply got into the tonneau of her machine. She drank some more water, and presently was herself again.

"How silly of me to nearly faint," she said with a wan smile. "But when I saw the pocketbook--empty--it was enough--"

"I should say so," interrupted Belle. "Who would ever have thought of finding it in your toolbox, Cora?"

The words seemed fraught with strange import.

"Was it really in the tool-box, Walter?" Cora asked.

"On top of the tire pump and the lifting-jack," replied Walter.

"And empty--that's the queer part of it," commented Belle. "I guess that's what shocked you as much as anything, Cora. Now, if it had had the twenty thousand dollars in it--"

"It's strange that the wallet should have been there--in my tool-box--at all," murmured Cora.

"It certainly is," added Jack. "What can it mean--to find it in Cora's car?"

"Is this the one Ed Foster lost?" asked Diddick. "We heard something about it."

"The same one," answered Walter as he picked the wallet from the road where it had fallen. "See, it has his name on it."

"I feel creepy--almost as if something supernatural had put it into my tool-box," said Cora in a curiously quiet voice.

"More likely some unnatural person did it," spoke Jack quickly. "Yet who in the world would do it? If I had seen--"

He stopped suddenly, leaving the sentence unfinished.

"And it was on top of the pump and jack," mused Cora, after a quick look at her brother. "I haven't used the pump since--let me see--"

"Since the day of the collision--the day when the pocketbook was lost," interrupted jack. "You pumped up a tire just before the race, so that the pocketbook must have been placed there right after the robbery."

"Or loss," added Walter. "Some one may have found the wallet, taken out the money and bonds, and then thrown the empty pocketbook away."

"That some one threw it in a curious place," remarked Elizabeth dryly.

"Indeed, they did," observed Cora. "It looks--"

She hesitated.

"Oh, you might as well say it--before some one else does," put in Jack. "It looks mighty suspicious, Cora."

There was a vindictive air about him. He seemed to challenge an accusation against his sister.

"I'm sure there was no need to say that," spoke Walter. "It may be a mere--er--"

"Coincidence," finished Cora.

"A queer coincidence," quoth Jack. "Incidentally, some one got the money, all right. We must hurry home and tell Ed."

"I wonder what he'll think?" asked Cora.

"What can he think?" demanded her brother. "Only that some one found or stole his wallet and threw the empty pocketbook into your tool-box."

"And I found it," added Walter. "Which might mean--"

He, too, hesitated.

"Well, what?" asked Jack.

"That I put it there, and only pretended to find it," finished Walter with a laugh.

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Cora. "But come, let's hurry back to Chelton. I want to be the first to tell Ed."

"Do you feel all right?" asked Jack anxiously.

"Oh, yes. Very well. I never fainted before, that I remember."

"Yes, you did. Once when you burned your hand on the stove," corrected Jack.

"Oh, that was a good while ago."

There was a period of silence.

"Well, as long as I started to pump up the tire I suppose I may as well finish," remarked Walter, as he took out the jack and raised the wheel.

It was rather a quiet company of young people who made their way back to Chelton in the two autos a little later. The gay members of the mandolin club had little to say, and when they did attempt a pleasantry the laughter was soon over. Every once in a while some one would refer to the discovery of the empty wallet.

"The next thing to find," remarked jack, with a trace of bitterness in his tones, "is the person with the cash and the bonds."

"Maybe they're in--the tool--box of your car," said Diddick jestingly. "It may run in the family--"

Then he was conscious that he had made rather a bad "break," and he subsided, while every one tried to talk at once to cover it up. Jack laughed uneasily, and Cora seemed annoyed.

One thought was running through the mind of both Cora and her brother. Who could it have been who tried to injure her in this way by throwing suspicion on her, and what could have been their motive?

She tried to reason certain things out. She went over in detail, while Walter was driving her car for her, every incident that she could remember in connection with the collision and the subsequent loss of the money.

She speculated on the actions of every one. Mary's desire to leave the car at the post-office and not go back to her shop was odd, Cora thought, though her employer had given Mary permission to go for a ride with such well-paying customers as the Kimballs and the Robinson twins. Next Cora tried to analyze Sid's actions, also those of Ida, and she even found herself wondering at Sid's seeming intimacy with Lem Gildy. But it all came to nothing. There was still that unanswered question: "Who took the money from the wallet?"

That the same person did so who had placed the empty pocketbook in the tool-box seemed evident.

Jack and Cora went together to tell Ed. Walter wanted to accompany them, but Cora insisted that she be allowed to tell the story first.

"Later Ed may want to question you," she declared.

The three members of the mandolin club were left at the Kimball home until Cora and Jack returned.

Ed at first was much startled by the news. Then he opened the wallet.

"They didn't leave anything," he said slowly.

"Is that all you want to remark?" asked Jack.

"All? Why, of course. What else can I say?"

"Well, don't you think--not to put too fine a point upon it--that it looks suspicious?"

"For whom?"

"Us--Cora," said Jack bluntly.

"Look here," began Ed fiercely; "if it wasn't you who said that--say--look here--Oh, what nonsense! I hope, Cora, that you haven't for one moment thought that I would have the least suspicion against you."

"I--er--I--of course I didn't," she finished quickly. "Only Jack thought it looked queer."

"How foolish!" exclaimed Ed. "Why, it would be the easiest thing in the world for the thief to throw the empty pocketbook into your tool-box as the car was passing him in the street. The box isn't kept locked, is it?"

"No; not always."

"Then that's how it happened. The thief is around Chelton--that's evident. In order to divert suspicion he--"

"Or she," interrupted Jack with a smile.

"Yes, or she, if you like--he or she opened the box when your car was halted momentarily in the street, and dropped the wallet in. It's as simple as can be."

"But not so simple to find the thief," retorted Jack.

"Indeed not," agreed Ed with a rueful smile. "But I'll give the police this clue. It's a good one, I should think."

"And if they want to arrest me--why, I'll be at home," declared Cora with a laugh. "Would you like to see Walter?"

"No; you have told me all that is necessary."

Cora and Jack made a quick run back home, while Ed, went to communicate to the police the latest clue.

That evening, when Jack, Cora and the three college lads went down to the post-office, Cora happened to look in the window of the millinery shop where Mary Downs was employed. She was surprised to see on the big plate glass a sign: "Apprentice Wanted."

"That's odd," she mused. "I didn't suppose that Madam Julia could use two apprentices. I wonder if Mary has been discharged--for taking that ride with me. I must inquire."

The mail was late, and as the young people waited for it to be sorted they heard in the crowd talk indicating that the news of the finding of the empty wallet was known. Ed had told the police, and several reporters had also heard of the matter.

"Well, it's a very strange and romantic affair," remarked Angelina Bott, a sentimental sort of girl, to her chum, Alice Haven. "It would make quite a story."

"For the detectives--yes," assented Alice. Then, speaking so loudly that Cora could not help but hear, she added: "I guess hiders make the best finders, after all."

Cora's face turned red. Jack, with an angry retort on his lips, stepped forward, but his sister laid a detaining hand on his arm.

"Don't, Jack," she begged.

"But it's as good as saying you took it."

"I know; but--but, Jack, there will be more or less of--suspicion."

Jack swallowed a lump in his throat. He glared at Alice Haven, who looked coldly at him and then turned away.

Just then the windows were opened, indicating that the mail was sorted, and there was a rush on the part of the waiting crowd. Alice and Angelina were swallowed up in it.

Cora, with bitterness in her heart, turned aside. There were tears in her eyes, and she did not want Jack to see them.

As she looked down a corridor of the post-office, she saw a stooping figure hurrying along. It was that of Sid Wilcox. And from another corridor, crossing the main one, came a girl, who joined him.

The girl was Ida Giles, and as Cora watched them she saw Sid hand Ida something that showed white in the gleam of an incandescent lamp. It was evidently a letter.