Chapter XV. Three Girls
 

Reflecting on her strange experience while in New City, seated late that same afternoon on the broad veranda of her handsome home, Cora had one gratifying thought. No one whom she knew had seen her while Sid Wilcox was in possession of her car--and of her.

Feeling this assurance she decided not to mention to any one at home the fact of his having stolen the ride. She resolved to ask Paul to keep it a secret, and she knew he would. As for Sid himself, if he did boast of it, few would credit his story, for he did not bear a very good reputation for truth, and he was constantly getting into scrapes. Cora especially hoped Jack would not hear of the escapade.

Now Cora, who had been sitting in an easy chair, trying to read a book, decided to take the hammock for a change. She did not feel like reading.

She wore a simple frock of white muslin, and her hair was let down in a most becoming fashion, in long, loose braids, all combining to make her particularly girlish-looking.

Cora was taking what she called her "loll." This particular form of rest, she always declared, was the only sort a healthy girl could reasonably enjoy.

"When you rest, why, just rest," she used to say to Isabel Robinson, who, on account of her nervous temperament, had rather been overdone with "rest cure" ideas. Isabel delighted in such terms as "relaxation" and "siesta," while Cora reveled in her "loll."

A box of "deadly chocolates"--that is what Isabel would have called them--were at Cora's elbow, and she was just reaching for the tenth one, when Isabel herself, and her sister, sauntered along the path.

"Come on up, girls," called out Cora. "But please don't ask me to move. I'm in the most delicious heap."

"Exactly that!" exclaimed Isabel, who looked particularly pretty in a soft-blue summer gown, while Elizabeth was like some flower, in deep-pink muslin. "You do get into the most awful heaps, Cora, dear. But you never can rest without relaxing, and to do that--"

"Belle!" exclaimed Cora, "that is precisely why you never rest--you never relax your brain. You're always thinking of resting and not doing it."

Bess sank into a wicker chair and smothered the cushions. Bess was stout--"when she sat down," as Cora expressed it.

"Got your car ordered yet?" asked the hostess, passing around the box of chocolates. Neither girl could resist them.

"Oh, no," answered Belle. "Poor papa is in the greatest muddle. Every one in New City seems to have the best car to sell, and, as he wants a good one, he doesn't know which one to select."

"Why not ask Jack?" suggested Cora. "He's had lots of experience."

"Just what I proposed," replied Belle. "You, know how queer poor, dear papa is. He really dislikes motors."

"Seen Ida lately?" asked Bess.

"Not a sight of her," answered Cora. "I was hoping you might bring some news--not particularly about her, though, but some news. I am just pining for a real, choice bit."

She passed the chocolates again. Bess took one, but her sister shook her head.

"Well, as to news," remarked Bess, "we have heard that Sid Wilcox has a new machine."

This was news indeed, after what that youth had said to Cora that very day. Or had he been only fooling her?

"A new one," repeated Cora vaguely, trying to, gather her thoughts.

"Brand, spick--span new," went on Bess. "We haven't seen it, you know, but we've heard that it is a beauty."

"What extravagance!" murmured Cora,--still busily thinking. "His runabout isn't very old. I wonder where he gets all his money?"

"Don't you remember he said he had some to invest in the new issue of bank stock?" suggested Belle.

"But the bank wouldn't let him subscribe," added her sister.

"What did he do with his other car--the one that was broken in the collision?" asked Cora.

"Maybe he--pawned it," suggested Belle, who had rather vague ideas concerning pawnshops.

"Very likely he would if he could." This from Cora with a light laugh. "I guess Sid is very fond of a change--and excitement." She thought of her experience with him.

"Even a change of girls," commented Belle.

"Aula Allen told me that he and Ida were `on the outs.'"

"Indeed!" and Cora raised her pretty eyebrows. "I fancied he was too--too convenient a friend for Ida to drop. But my dears, as our English teacher says, I have something more important to discuss than Ida Giles and Sidney Wilcox. I'm going to have a `doings,' as I used to call them."

"Goody!" exclaimed Bess, helping herself to some more of the chocolates. "Make it a lawn party."

"Well, that's just what I want you to help me with. I know that Belle will want to make it a seance with relaxed robes and collapsed masks and relapsed--"

"Oh, you're mean!" exclaimed the taunted one. "I'm not such a freak as that."

"Oh, no," drawled Bess.

"Cer-tain-ly not," added Cora in a teasing tone.

"Well, go on with your `doings,'" insisted Belle. "I won't make a single suggestion."

"Not make them; but veto them," persisted Cora. "Well, then, never mind, sissy. You sometimes have splendid ideas, even if they are all sterilized."

"And when they are disclosed the sterilization gets away," put in Bess. "That's what mother's nurse declared when we tried on those aprons that come in air-tight packages. But now, Cora, let's have a lawn party."

"Wouldn't it be nicer to have an out-door play?" asked Belle, who had forgotten her resolution not to make a suggestion.

"Oh, dear! I suppose we'll have to have it in the afternoon, when our nurses can be with us," said Bess. "We're supposed to be such kiddies--not out yet, and all that. It's detestable--"

"Indeed," interrupted Cora, "mother says I may have an evening affair, and also out of doors, if I like. Since my last birthday I've been wonderfully grown up."

"Out of doors! And after dark!" cried Bess. "That's great!" and she clapped her hands. "Oh, let's have it a masked affair. I never have been to one in all my life, and I'm just dying to mask!"

"Now, girls, let's be serious," suggested Cora, "for I haven't any too much time to arrange this affair. We ought to have it in June, when we can depend on having a pleasant evening. Suppose we plan a masked mythology fete? Have a dark, green cavern, presided over by: er--um--let's see--who was the gentleman who had charge of passing shades from earth to some place, and where did he pass 'em to?"

"You mean Charon," said Belle. "But, Cora Kimball, do you suppose we could make mythological frocks that would stand damp, night air? Of course, they would be comfortable."

"Oh, we'll manage somehow. At any rate, we'll have a masked 'doin',' that's settled."

"That's all that really counts," said Bess.

"Masks?" questioned Cora. "Just mask in order to be of some account? Not the blessed boys, and the jealous girls--and the chances of pretending you mistake Jack for Walter--and you say a lot of things you are just dying to say, and would not dare to say if you weren't masked. All that--But hush! Here comes Jack!"

"Hello, girls," greeted her brother, and at the sight of Jack, Bess and Belle adjusted themselves in more conventional attitudes. "How are you all?" he went on. "Sis, here's a letter for you. I kept it in my hand all the way from the post-office so as not to forget to give it to you."

"Awfully kind of you, Jack."

Cora glanced at the postmark, and slipped the missive into the large, loose sleeve of her gown.

"Oh, you may read it," spoke Bess, smiling frankly at Jack. "We don't mind."

"Not in the least," came from Jack as he took a chair next to Isabel. "In fact, we would be glad to have you do so. Go ahead, sis. Help yourself," he went on pleasantly, dipping into the chocolate box.

"It will keep," said Cora quickly. "But, Jack, what's new? For mercy's sake, do tell us something new! Is there anything more about--"

"Yes, a lot about it," and Jack anticipated his sister's question. "I hear that the sleuths have a straight tip. They told Ed this afternoon that they would have his money back inside of a--"

"Oh, isn't that fine!" broke in Belle. "I have been so uncomfortable ever since that affair happened and they found the empty wallet in poor, dear Cora's car. It looked just as if we--"

"Don't!" spoke Cora quickly in a low voice.

"It certainly was uncomfortable," put in Bess.

"Especially for Ed Foster," remarked Jack with a. significant grin as he took another chocolate. "Um--um--these are mighty fine, sis!"

"Oh, take them all!" cried Cora. "But tell us some more about it; do, Jack, please!"

"Yes. Do they really think they're on the right track?" asked Isabel.

"That's all I know about it," answered Jack calmly as he finished the last candy. "I heard the detectives had promised to get the money back inside of a week, and that's all. Maybe it was only talk. They have to say something for their pay, you know. But I almost forgot. There is another bit of news, girls."

"What?" they demanded in chorus.

"Ed says he knows who took the money."

As Jack made this announcement he looked around as indifferently as if he had made the most ordinary remark on the most commonplace subject.