Chapter XIV. Just Cora and Paul
 

As if this had been the entire object of his peculiar actions, Sid suddenly stopped the car.

"This is as far as I care to go," he said. "I think I'll leave you now. I can't thank you enough for the ride," he added mockingly, and, with a bow that had much of irony in it, he walked down a side path of the park, into which he had directed the machine.

Cora did not answer him, but her look was sufficient to show what she thought. And in spite of her contempt she felt an overwhelming desire to question him about what he had said of Mary Downs.

Did Sid Wilcox know anything about the robbery?

That was a question Cora asked herself as she took her place at the wheel, just vacated by the unmannerly youth.

"He certainly acts as though he did," she reasoned to herself. "And why should he make such an insinuation against Mary?"

She found no answer to her question. Suddenly looking at her watch she noted that no train had departed from New City since she and Paul had reached there. She was yet in time to give, him a ride home as she had planned. Turning quickly she made the run back toward the bank building.

From behind a clump of bushes Sid Wilcox watched her.

"I wonder if you'll tell your brother?" he mused, "If you do there may be a row over my kidnaping you. But I couldn't help it. No, I don't think you will tell Jack. You don't want to see us--quarrel."

He added the last word below his breath, and there was a mean smile on his face. As he turned to continue his walk he met a man coming in the opposite direction.

"Lem Gildy! What are you doing here?" he exclaimed.

"Why--er--I'm sort of lookin' for work."

"You--work!" exclaimed Sid.

"Well, I heard you was goin' to take a trip across country, and I thought maybe you'd take me along. You and me's pals, ain't we?"

"Hush!" exclaimed Sid, as if afraid of someone hearing the man's words. "Don't you know better than to follow me?"

"Well, I heard you was comin' for a new job, an' I thought--"

"You think entirely too much. Now you get hack to Chelton, and stay there. I may need you."

Lem's little, rat-like eyes gleamed.

"You'll pay me, won't you?" he asked.

"Of course."

"Well, I'm a little short now, an'--"

Sid extended a bill, which the man took quickly.

"Now be off," ordered young Wilcox, "and don't ever follow me again."

He waited until Lem had shuffled off, and then he took a different path.

"He's getting altogether too familiar," said Sid to himself as he strolled along. "But I may find him useful."

Scarcely had Cora, driving her big car, turned into the turnpike leading from the park to New City, than she again encountered Ed Foster and Walter Pennington. She instantly realized that they would wonder why she did not stop, for Ed was slowing up his car. But she knew she could not get back to the bank building to meet Paul if she halted, so, with a smile, as comprehensive as she was able to make it, she sent the Whirlwind ahead at a fast speed. She noted the looks of surprise on the faces of her friends as she passed them.

"How ever will I be able to explain?" was the thought that flashed into Cora's mind. "Walter acted as if he wanted to say something-- perhaps something about the money. He looked as if he were pleased. Maybe he has some good news."

It took Cora but a short time to make the run back to the city. She turned her machine toward the depot, as she knew a train would shortly leave for Chelton, and she fancied Paul might try to get it. Reaching the station she saw his tall figure, clad in the linen duster, pacing up and down the platform. She was just in time.

"Did you think I ran away?" she asked as she skillfully turned the car up to the platform and stopped.

"Oh, no," he replied with a happy laugh. "I happened to see who got into the car, and I guessed that you were run away with."

"Wasn't it contemptible of him?" she asked, her fate flushing at the recollection of the ride. "But perhaps some day I may be able to make him realize it. He doesn't seem to--now."

"No; he isn't that kind."

"I was afraid I wouldn't be in time to take you back, after your interview with the automobile people, and I fancied you had not come prepared for a train trip to Chelton."

"That's very kind of you. I'm sorry you took the trouble to return. You have put yourself out considerably on my account, I'm afraid."

"Indeed, I have not. I enjoyed it myself--the ride, I mean --er--that is, the first ride," and she laughed nervously. "I'm glad we beat Sid. I fancy he acted as he did for revenge. But were you successful?"

"Very much so, thanks to you."

"Well, if you want to ride back with me, I'll be very glad to have you. I must get back in time for luncheon or mamma may worry."

"Well, we mustn't have that happen. I'll get right in," which he did, after cranking up the car for her, for not always could she stop it leaving a charge in one cylinder, so that it would start from the seat.

"I'm very glad you got the place," went on Cora as she steered out from among a tangle of other autos and carriages about the station.

"So am I. It means a great deal to me."

"And Sid was so disappointed. I could tell by his face, though he pretended not to be. But that's why he--ran away with me--or, rather, with my car."

"It would be difficult to understand all his reasons," declared Paul with a smile. "He may have had another, equally weighty."

"You mean--"

Cora felt the warm blood mounting to her cheeks.

"I think he wanted to boast that he had ridden with you."

Paul was rather sorry he had said this, the moment after the words were uttered. Cora seemed much embarrassed. To give a new direction to her thoughts, Paul said:

"I want to tell you about my sister. It was on her account that I particularly wished to get this position. Hazel wants to go to college, and we couldn't afford to send her. Now, with the increase in salary which I shall get, it will be possible."

"Oh, how nice!" exclaimed Cora. "What college is she going to?"

"I don't know yet. But she is very ambitious."

"I should judge that--from knowing her brother."

"That's very nice of you," he said, and then both laughed.

"I'd like to meet your sister," Cora remarked; without thinking of all her words might imply.

"Would you?" he asked warmly. "I'll be glad to have you. I think she's a mighty fine girl."

"Won't you hate to leave her when you make the run across country?"

"Well, it isn't to start for a month, but I shall have to go to New City to get familiar with the new machine I am to drive. I'm not going away at once. I'll be in New City for some time."

"Oh," began Cora, "I'm glad--"

She stopped, and again felt herself blushing. Her tone had been a little too warm. She realized that her evident pleasure and polite interest might be misinterpreted. It looked very much as if Cora was glad that Paul was not going away at once.

"Then your sister will not be deprived of your company just yet," she managed to say, and she seemed to be paying particular attention to the sparking lever.

"No," he replied. "Hazel and I are great friends--chums, you might say. In fact, I've never had a boy friend with whom I was able to get along so well as I can with my sister."

"That's very nice. It's what Jack says about me. He and I are the best of friends. Of course, I'm very fond of the Robinson girls, but Jack comes first. You remember the pretty twins, I've no doubt?"

"Yes, indeed I do. I could not help thinking how very 'untwinly' they are for twins."

"Aren't they? But they are the dearest girls! And they are going to have a new car."

"Is that so? Do you happen to know what kind?"

Paul assumed his professional air.

"I believe it has not been decided yet. But they will most likely get it from the Whitehall Company. Would you like to turn in the order?"

"It would be quite a help for me to be able to sell a car now, so soon after taking a place with them. And the commission--just as I am starting--"

"I think I can manage it easily enough," she said quickly. "They are sure to consult Jack about it. Couldn't you come over to our house this evening, and--"

Again she found herself stopping suddenly and blushing. It was rather awkward to ask a young man to call, particularly when one has never been properly introduced to him. If he were only acquainted with Jack, now . . .

Then Cora had a bright thought.

"You say you are acquainted with Walter Pennington?" she asked.

"Oh, yes. Our folks and the Penningtons are old friends."

"Then we must fix up a plan--er--to be perfectly proper. Not that it makes any difference. First I want to meet your sister. After that I am going to give a small affair. I have been putting it off for some time--it's a positive duty, but I've been so interested in my machine. There--I have it! I think I'll give an auto affair."

"Great possibilities in it," observed Paul. "But please do not trouble yourself to get up one on account of myself or my sister, though I appreciate--"

"Oh, no, indeed," Cora hastened to explain. "I am due to give one, anyhow, and it may as well be that. I will be doubly interested if there should happen to be a matter of business for you involved in it. The twins are in no great hurry about their car. When you can meet them properly, and I will arrange it, I am sure they will give you the order."

"That would be splendid. I can't thank you enough."

"Wait until you get the order," and she laughed, "Mother declares I have a positive faculty for business."

"I rather agree with her," said Paul with a smile, as his fair companion turned the machine into the main street of Chelton. "I really feel unable to properly thank you for what you have done for me to-day--"

"Now, please," interrupted Cora. "I was amply repaid in beating Sid Wilcox. But I cannot understand why he wanted the position. Even your explanation will hardly account for his extraordinary conduct. Why should he want to run a car across country?"

"Well, it can't be because he is short of funds," said Paul frankly. "I'm positive of that. He took particular pains to display a roll of bills when he was in the auto office, and I think that did not favorably impress the manager, though I was practically sure of the place when he came in."

"Well, that's just like Sid Wilcox," and Cora shuddered. It was a reaction of the unpleasant ride she had been forced to take with him.

"I hope, Miss Kimball, that you will soon be able to meet my sister," said Paul after a little silence, during which the car had run along. They were near the Beachwood Road, at the end of which, in a little grove of trees, was Cora's home.

"Not on account of what you have done for me," he went on, "but because I am sure you and she would be good friends. Hazel is a fine girl, as I said before, and besides that--" Paul stopped abruptly.

"Oh, I'm going to meet Hazel," declared Cora warmly as Paul alighted from the car. "I'll invite her to my affair. I am going to wake up folks around here. Do you know, we all seem to be terribly depressed since that money was--lost."

"Yes, and I don't wonder at it. Twenty thousand dollars is a large sum. I'd call it a fortune. But, somehow, I feel sure that Mr. Foster will recover it. I wish I could help unravel the mystery. I would like to--for more reasons than one."

What could he mean by that? His manner was very earnest. Cora glanced at him gratefully.

"Good-by," she said suddenly.

"Good-by," echoed Paul, and he turned up the street.