Chapter XXIII. The Mystery Solved
 

Ida Giles had always been unpopular, and the kindness shown her by Cora Kimball, following opt the timely rescue of her from Lem Gildy, came to the unhappy girl like a revelation.

For the first time in her dissatisfied life Ida determined to do what her better nature prompted her to do, even at the risk of getting into trouble. She determined to clear up the mystery that had been hanging so heavily over the heads of Cora and her friends.

"I--I don't care what Sid thinks--or says," murmured Ida, "I'm done with him forever."

She hurried to a select bowling alley, where she was pretty sure she would find Sid. Within the little office in front one might buy confections or ice cream, and at the same time be able to look in on the alleys, where athletic young men were banging away at the pins. Ida sent in word by the clerk, and Sid came out at once when he heard who wished to speak to him. Ida was struck at his appearance. He looked thin and worn, but, more than that, worried.

"Sid," she began bravely, "you must come with me at once. I will aid you all I can, but we must go right over to the Kimballs', explain everything, and set matters right."

"What!" exclaimed the youth in an anxious whisper. "You mean confess?"

"Yes, that's just it."

"But--but--er--I--"

"I've promised to help you,", she said slowly. They were talking outside now, for the clerk had come back and was behind the showcase. "You must come, Sid, and tell everything. I will do my part. Besides, there is really nothing to confess, you know. You really didn't steal the money, but you must tell them--tell Ed, Cora and all--what you did with it--and about the empty wallet."

"Oh, Ida, I never could do that!"

Sid's bravery--his gay, sneering, bold manner--were all gone. He was a craven--weak. "You'll have to tell them," he added. "I'm going--going away."

"That's just like you!" exclaimed Ida. "Leave me to shoulder all the shame. No, Sid Wilcox! I've risked enough for you! I'm done! If you don't go to the Kimballs' this very afternoon and tell everything, I shall go to the police and relate to them all that I know about the missing money, the bonds and the wallet. The detectives will be glad enough to get the reward."

Sid was really afraid now. His face was pale, and his voice shook as he answered:

"I'll--I'll make it all good now. I have the money. Can't you--can't you give it back to Ed, the way the bonds--"

"No!"

"Not to help me out?"

"No!"

"But you promised--"

"I promised too much! Will you tell everything, or--"

There was a moment's silence. Sid was battling with his mean nature. Even yet he was trying to find a way of escape--to discover some plan by which he could avoid the shame of making a humiliating confession.

"Well?" asked Ida, and there was a new ring in her voice.

"I--I suppose I'll have to," spoke Sid in low tones.

"Come, then. I'll go with you."

An hour later Cora, Jack, Ed, Sid Wilcox and Ida Gales were seated in the library of the Kimball home. Sid was uneasy, and Ida's eyes showed that she had been weeping.

"Sid has something to tell you all," began Ida, "and so have I. I guess you know what it's about."

Cora nodded and smiled at Ida. Then she went over and stood beside the unhappy girl.

"I'll make a clean breast of if, fellows," began Sid hesitatingiy. "I--I really didn't mean to make so much trouble over it, but one thing went to another, and when I started there didn't seem to be any stopping place, or any way to get back.

"When Ed stooped over to fix the mud guard on Cora's car, that day of the race and the collision, the wallet dropped from his pocket into the soft dust of the road. I saw it and picked it up, intending first only to play a joke on him. Ida and Mary Downs saw me, and--well, I don't know what they thought, but I only did it for fun."

"Queer fun," murmured Jack indignantly.

"I slipped out the money and bonds," went on Sid, "and then Ed turned toward me, and I didn't know what to do with the empty wallet. There was only one chance, and I took it. I dropped it in the tool-box of Cora's car. I was mean to do it, for I thought it might make a mix-up and add to the joke."

Jack murmured something inaudible, and Cora shot a warning glance at her brother.

"Yes, it was a poor joke," admitted Sid weakly, "but I've learned a lesson. I found out it was going to cost considerable to fix my car, and as I had some other--er--well, expenses to meet, I just used some of Ed's cash. I knew I could pay it back later.

"That is, I thought I could, but my folks shut down can my allowance, and when I missed getting that job which Paul Hastings got I was in a bad way. I didn't know where I was to get the cash to repay Ed, and I didn't dare say anything, for fear you'd have me arrested for stealing:

"Then I got mixed in with Lem Gildy. He saw me with a lot of cash, and he suspected something. The man is sharp, and one day he saw the numbers of one of the bank notes I had. He looked up the numbers which Ed gave the police, and it corresponded. Then he jumped to the conclusion that I had stolen the ten thousand dollars in cash, and the bonds. Nothing I could say about it being a joke could convince him. He began to bleed me for hush money, and I had to give it to him. Then I thought of a plan for getting him out of the way. I put him up to start Jack's car off, thinking he might be arrested for malicious mischief and put in jail, but I never dreamed you would be hurt, Jack. Honest, I didn't."

Jack did not answer.

"Well, that plan didn't work," went on Sid, "and Lem kept getting worse. Then I didn't know what Mary Downs might be up to, going away as she did. I believe she thought I really stole the money."

"She did," put in Cora. "She told me so; but her going away had nothing to do with it. A relative was taken suddenly ill, and she had to leave. She wrote me something about the robbery--excuse me, I'll not call it a robbery now--but Mary thought it was, and she imagined both Sid and Ida were guilty."

"I can't blame her much," murmured Ida unhappily.

"I have treated you very meanly, Ida," confessed Sid. "I made you keep my secret, and Lem found out--at least, he thought he did--that you were in with me."

"That's why he followed me and demanded money of me," spoke Ida. "I decided then that it must all come out, though I also decided that I would never again have anything to do with you, Sid Wilcox."

"Not even after--" began the youth:

"No. Your--your ring is--here," and she, pointed to the safe.

Sid started.

"I wondered why you didn't wear it," he said: "Yes," he went on, "I have been mean to Ida, though I--I did ask her to take the ring--to--to make up for it."

It was clear that he did care for the girl, as much as it was possible for a person of his selfish nature to care for any one.

"I--I spent some of the money for the ring for Ida," he went on.

"Yes, and for that reason, as much as for any other--because I knew you were only a shade removed from a thief--I threw it away!" burst out Ida.

"When?" asked Sid, much astonished.

"The same night when, masked as a nun, I slipped back the bonds into Ed's pocket--as you asked me to."

"So that's how they got there!" exclaimed Ed.

"Then, when Ida came and told me a little while ago about Lem," went on Sid after a pause, "I knew the game was up. He was getting desperate, and he's liable to send word to the police at any moment, accusing me, and I don't want to be arrested."

He seemed very anxious.

"Now here is your ten thousand dollars back," he said to Ed, handing him a roll of bills. "I managed to get from my folks the amount I had used, including the sum for the--the diamond ring, and what I had to give Lem."

"What's become of him?" asked Jack.

"I guess he's skipped out," answered Sid. "After holding up Ida it won't be safe for him to linger too close to these parts."

"I should say not," commented Cora.

"Now, will you take this money, and--and call it square?" asked Sid nervously.

"Hardly square," murmured Jack. "Look at the suspicions about my sister--"

"Hush, Jack," pleaded Cora, looking at Ida, who was weeping.

"I think the best way will be to call the incident a closed one," decided Ed. "I'll take the money, and--"

"What will you tell the police?" asked Jack.

"I'll tell them the money came back to me in a mysterious way."

"They may want to claim the reward."

"They can't. There is only one person who will get the reward, and she is--"

He paused and walked over until he stood in front of Ida, who sat with bowed head.

"Miss Giles, it is due to you, more than to any, one, that this mystery is solved," he said: "Will you please accept the reward?" and he took some bills off the roll Sid had handed him.

"I couldn't oh, I couldn't!" she sobbed.

Ed looked embarrassed. Every one was under a strain. Jack went to the safe and took out the diamond ring.

"I guess that comes back to you," he said to Sid, "as long as you've made up to Ed the whole sum."

Sid took it hesitatingly. Then with a quick motion he stepped up to Ed.

"Here," he exclaimed, "this belongs to you."

"What for?"

"Interest on your money. It's more than the ring cost, maybe, considering the loss on the bank stock, but I'll make it up later."

"No," said Ed after a moment's thought "We'll call it settled."

He held the ring in his hand and went over to the weeping girl.

"Will you--will you accept this for what you have done for me--for all of us?" he asked gently.

Ida looked up through--her tears. Then she shook her head.

"Let me give it to her," whispered Cora, and Ed handed over the sparkling gem.

"Take it from me, Ida," whispered Jack's sister. "Let it be a pledge of--of whatever you like."

"A pledge from an up-to-date motor girl!" cried Jack gaily, and his words ended the strain that was on them all.

Sid slipped out, and Ida was led away by Cora. Then such talking as there was between Ed and Jack!

"Well, did you ever hear such a yarn?" asked Jack. "Did you suspect him, Ed?"

"Yes, but I thought his motive was a different one. I had an idea the strain would soon tell on him--or Ida. I'm glad it's over."

"So am I!" exclaimed Cora, coming into the room, having parted from Ida. "Oh, I feel years younger!"

"Look out!" warned Ed. "You'll soon be a mere infant again if you keep on."

"I don't care!" she cried. "Come on out and take a long run in the Whirlwind. I want to get some of the cobwebs swept off my brain with a glorious breeze. Come, Jack--Ed."

They went with her, each one happier than they had been in many days.

"Oh! There are Belle and Bess!" cried Cora. "I must tell them."

"Well," remarked Ed, when Cora and Belle had about talked themselves out, "I suppose you motor girls call that quite a series of adventures?"

"Indeed we do," answered Cora. "I don't know that I care to have any more just like them."

But, though no adventures just like those narrated here occurred to the motor girls, the possession of their new cars led them into a strange complication not long afterward, and the details of it will be set down in the next book of this series, to be entitled: "The Motor Girls on a Tour; or, Keeping a Strange Promise."

"Let's have a race!" cried Jack, who was handling the new car of the twins. "Come on, Cora, I challenge you."

"Not now, Jack, dear," replied his sister. "I just want to rest-- and think," and she slowed her car down and ran along a quiet country road, with Bess and Jack trailing in the rear.

THE END