Chapter XI. Motoring Outfits
 

For days following the loss of the money and the finding of the empty pocketbook every possible clue was followed up, both by the police of New City and Chelton, and by many detectives, who were lured on by the offered reward of five hundred dollars.

Nor were suspicious tongues idle. If Cora was not openly accused, it was because she had a brother who would vigorously defend her. Nor did the Robinson girls altogether escape, though it was generally hinted, in the case of all the young ladies, that they might have hidden the money "just for fun," and when they saw what excitement it caused they were afraid to return it.

"As if that was a joke," said Cora, when she heard this version.

Of course, the boys who took part in the race had to answer numerous questions for the police, but at the end of a week, which was an unpleasant one for all concerned, the detectives were as far off the track as ever. Sid and Ida had their share of the "third degree" of police questioning in a mild form, and though Sid was at first indignant and refused to answer questions, he finally gave in. There was an unofficial verdict of "not guilty" in the case of all, and Ed's little fortune seemed likely never to be found.

When, about two weeks after the loss, Cora took a hundred-dollar bill to the bank to get it changed, and the teller looked at it rather longer than seemed necessary, Jack, who was with his sister, asked:

"What's the matter? Isn't that good?" He betrayed some feeling, for the finger of suspicion seemed pointing at his family from every person he met.

"Why--I hope it's good," was the smiling answer. "If it isn't I have lost faith in the government printing office."

"My grandmother gave it to me for my birthday," explained Cora. "I haven't had time to spend it since getting my auto. No one ever questioned a bill of hers before."

"Neither have I questioned it," declared the teller. "I was merely making a note of the number. We have instructions to take a memorandum of all bills of large denomination. I was merely doing that."

"Since when was that rule in effect?" asked Jack.

"Since the Foster robbery."

Jack started. Then he remembered that in Ed's wallet were bills of large denomination.

"Suspicion even here," he muttered to Cora as they went out.

"Hush, Jack, dear," she said softly. "Some folks will hear you."

"Well, I don't care if they do. It's fierce--the way people believe that you--and I--had a hand in that robbery."

"Never mind," replied his sister. "Oh," she added quickly, "there are the Robinson girls outside," and she hurried down the bank steps. The two sisters were walking slowly along, and from a certain air about Bess it was evident that she had something important to tell Cora.

"Any news of the--robbery?" Bess asked Jack.

"Not that I know of," he answered rather gloomily. "The trouble is that so many of those who might be able to throw additional light on it are away. Sid has gone--no one seems to know where--Ida is away visiting, and we haven't been able to find that old farmer that got his team in the way of the race. Ed remembers passing him on the road, and he spoke to him, but even that wouldn't account for how the wallet got in Cora's car."

"No," said Elizabeth with a sigh. "But where are you going, Cora?"

"Around to Madam Julia's. I went in the bank to get grandmother's hundred-dollar bill broken, so I could pay for my things at madam's. I suppose they are done by this time. Won't you girls come with me?"

"Yes," added Jack, "and speaking of hundred dollar bills, what do you suppose that bank teller did? He--"

"Jack, dear," spoke Cora softly, and her brother subsided.

"Do come," she urged the twins: "It will be such fun to see me try on my motor togs."

"Wait until we tell you something!" burst out Belle. "We have--"

"A surprise for you," interrupted Bess.

"A brand-new--" started in Belle.

"Motor car," finished Bess triumphantly.

"That is, we're going to get it," added her sister.

"Father has promised it to us;" supplemented Bess.

"Oh, isn't that splendid!" exclaimed Cora. "I'm so glad! This is a surprise. Now we'll all be motor girls."

"Yes," added Belle; "and mother said we could go this afternoon and select some motor things for ourselves at madam's. Isn't that just too sweet of her?"

"Lovely!" cried Cora, giving the twins a little hug in turn.

"Here, quit that in public. Want to make a fellow jealous?" demanded Jack.

"Oh--you--" began Belle with an arch look at Cora's brother.

"Now we're going to take a preliminary look at things with you, Cora," said Bess. "I'm just dying to get a certain bonnet that I saw in the window."

"Toot-toot! Farewell!" cried Jack, as he puffed in imitation of an auto and turned up the street.

"Do you know," began Cora as soon as her brother was safely out of sight, "speaking of that robbery, I have been thinking lately how strange it was that Ida, Mary and Sid should have been talking so seriously behind my car when I happened to look around and see them. Mary's face flushed, and Ida immediately walked away."

"Is that so?" demanded Bess.

"Yes, and I have been puzzling over it for some time."

"I overheard some of the things they said," declared Belle. "I think Sid was trying to get Mary and Ida to promise to go out for a ride with him that evening. Ida refused, and Mary--well, I didn't hear just what she said--but it wasn't no, I'm sure."

"But they all three looked so--so guilty," went on Cora. "It was exactly as if they didn't want to be discovered."

"Maybe Sid was ashamed to be seen asking Mary to go for a ride. You know, he's reported to be well off, and Mary--well, she's a dear, sweet little girl, but she works for a living, and you know what a fellow like Sid thinks of working girls."

"I thought I heard Sid saying something about hiring a machine to take them out in," went on Belle.

"Well, maybe we'll get a chance to ask Mary about it when we get to madam's," said Cora. "She'll be sent in to help us try on our things."

They were soon in front of the shop with the big' glass front--the only real, big glass front in Chelton--and behind the plate was displayed a single hat--a creation--as Madam Julia described it. Madam Julia was very exclusive.

The door-boy, a dapper little colored chap, in an exceedingly tight-fitting suit of blue, with innumerable brass buttons on it, in double rows in front, in triple rows behind, and in single rows on sleeves, opened the portal for the young ladies, bowing low as he did so.

"I guess this is Mary coming now," said Cora in a low voice as she heard some one approaching from behind the silken draperies that separated part of the shop.

But the three customers looked up in surprise when a strange young girl appeared through the parted curtains.

"Miss Kimball," said Cora, announcing her own name, for she had an appointment.

"Oh, yes," was the girl's answer. "I will tell madam."

"Where is Mary?" whispered Bess.

"That accounts for the sign I saw," spoke Cora, telling her chums of the notice that an apprentice was wanted. "Mary must have been discharged. Madam would never keep two--in Chelton."

Madam Julia, as she was always called, entered with a swish of skirts and leaving a trail of French instructions behind her in the work-room--instructions to her employees as to the trimming on this "effect" and the reshaping of that "creation."

"Ah, yes, Mees Kimball," she began. "I am all in readiness --but--pardon--zat Marie--she haf left me--in such hastiness--I am all at what you call ze ocean--how you express it?"

With a pretty little motion of her hands she looked appealingly at Cora.

"You mean all at sea, madam."

"Ah, yes! At sea! How comprehensive! Ze sea is always troubled, and so am I. Zat Marie she left me so suddenness--I know not where are all my things--I depend so much on her--"

"Has Miss Downs left?" Cora could not refrain from asking.

"Ha! Yes! Zat is eet. Precisely. So quickly she go away an' leaf me. She does not think much about it, perhaps, but I am too busy to be so annoyed. Just some relation not well--indisposition, maybe--well--voila! she is gone--it was not so in my time that a girl must leaf her trade and depart with such quickness--run away. Louise! Louse! Come instantly and for me find zat motor chapeau for Mademoiselle Kimball."

Her voice rose to a shrill call.

"Quick!" she called, and then came a string of French. "I must not be kept waiting--eet was already packed--"

Louise, who had replaced Mary Downs, found the bonnet Cora had ordered, and handed it to her mistress. Cora took her place before a mirror, and madam began patting the motor cap hood affectionately over the girl's black tresses.

"It will suit you to perfection!" exclaimed the French woman. "You have ze hair beautiful. Zere!" She brushed the hood down over Cora's ears. "Zat is ze way. Do not wear a motor hood as if it was a tiara! Zat is of a hatefulness! Such bad taste! Voila--what is it zat you Americans say?--ze fitness of zings. Yes, zat is what I mean."

The hood certainly looked well on Cora. Bess and Belle nodded their approval. It was of the old-fashioned Shaker type, of delicate pongee silk, and showed off to advantage Cora's black, wavy fair, as it fell softly about her temples.

"Es eet not becoming?" demanded madam, and then she became profuse in her native tongue. "Zat--what you call Shaker--eet is ze prettiest--so chic--voila!" and once more she patted it on Cora's head.

Cora was very well pleased with it. Then the mask was brought out. This was a simple affair--Cora only wanted such things as were practical. The mask, which had been specially designed to suit the girl, was nothing more than a piece of veiling, with the goggles set in. The veil was secured to the hood by a simple shirr string of elastic.

Madam slipped it over Cora's face.

"Zere!" the milliner exclaimed.

"Lovely!" declared Bess.

"Very beautiful!" added Belle.

Louise, the little girl helper, gave a wonder look of admiration. Louise had well-trained eyes.

"Would you know me?" asked Cora with a little laugh.

"Never!" replied Bess. "Won't it be splendid? Suppose we all get things alike? Then we can travel--incog!"

"Oh, jolly!" cried Belle. "Just fancy Walter asking me to have soda, and he thinking I'm some one else!"

Cora laughed merrily at Belle's joke. Walter's preference for Cora was no secret.

"How about my cloak?" asked Cora.

"Not quite ready," replied madam. "You see, zat naughty Marie, leaving me so--"

"Did you say some of her relatives were ill?" ventured Bess.

"I believe so. Some aunt, away in some far place. Marie is gone to her."

Louise took the mask and hood from Cora and flitted away with them beyond the silk curtains. There was to be a stitch taken here, and a little, tacking up was needed there. The veil was to be a bit closer, the milliner explained.

Next Madam Julia turned to the twins.

"My friends wish to see about some motor things, also," remarked Cora. "What would you think of having them all alike--for us there?"

This brought on such a discussion, madam talking more in French than English, and Belle was kept busy translating for her sister.

The madam preferred giving the young ladies such hoods and cloaks as would best suit their complexions. Bess should have a brown one--just running to the shade of her hair, but not quite reaching it, and Belle needed a dark blue--for only a true blond can wear dark blue and not look old in it.

So madam explained. But the twins would not decide, after all, until their mother could be consulted, so the order was not definitely placed.

When they were about to leave, and madam had vanished behind the silken draperies, Bess turned to one of the hat sticks, upon which rested a most conspicuous piece of headgear.

"Oh, look at that!" she exclaimed. "Isn't it awful?"

"It certainly is ridiculous!" chimed in Belle, taking the motor hood, for such it was, off the support and holding it up for inspection.

"That's certainly what madam calls a 'creation,'" said Cora.

"Who in the world would ever wear that?" asked Bess with a laugh.

"I expected to," unexpectedly replied a voice behind them. The three girls turned quickly to confront Ida Giles. She had come in so quietly that they had not heard her. Cora, Belle and Bess looked dumfounded.

"And perhaps in the future," went on Ida in icy tones, "it would be just as well to leave another person's hat alone."

"I beg your pardon," Cora managed to say, "We--er--we were just--interested in motor hoods."

"And making fun of mine!" snapped Ida.

Louise had entered to attend to the new customer. Ida turned to her:

"I wish to see Madam Julia!" she exclaimed. Outside Bess burst into her full, hearty laugh.

Then the three motor girls made their escape.

"I thought I would choke in there!" she exclaimed.

"Lucky for you that Ida didn't take a hand in, helping you out in the choking process," remarked Cora. "She looked as if she would like to have done it."

"But what in the world do you suppose she wants with a motor hood?" asked Belle.

"To ride with Sid, of course," answered Cora.

"But his machine is out of order, and he as much as said that he didn't intend to get it fixed right away," persisted Belle.

"Maybe he's going to get a new one," ventured Cora.

"I don't see how he can," replied Belie. "I heard father say he was dreadfully in debt. His folks had some dealings with father, I believe, about advancing him some money that is to come to him when he is a certain age, but it won't be for some time yet. They had to have some to pay his debts."

"You ought not to repeat that, Belle," cautioned Bess. "You know father would be displeased if he knew you had spoken of his private affairs."

"Well, I'm sure it will go no further--with Cora," retorted Belle. "I wouldn't mention it to any one else."

"Of course, I'll not repeat it," promised Cora. "But what do you think .about Mary leaving so suddenly?"

"I don't know what to think," replied Bess. "It looks odd. to say the least. What reason would she have for leaving town so-well, mysteriously, to put it mildly?"

"Of course, it may be a mere coincidence," went on Cora, "but in connection with her talk with Ida and Sid--well, I have often noticed that matters conspire to `look strange' whenever there is a chance of making complications."