Chapter VI. Getting a Tow
 

For a few minutes every one seemed to be talking at once, and there was considerable confusion. Sid and Ida came in for a number of rather angry glances, for the mishap seemed to be due entirely to their thoughtless conduct, and that their runabout had been the most damaged did not appear to lessen their offense.

Walter took the wheel of the Whirlwind, which Cora gladly relinquished to him, and soon had the car out of the ditch and upon the highway. The Streak, of course, could not move under its own power for more than a short distance, as the water had all leaked out of the radiator, and, there being none to cool the cylinders, to operate it was to invite disaster. Jack and Bess had alighted from the Get There. Jack was very angry.

"Nice way to race!" he exclaimed. "I've got a good mind to--do something to you, Sid Wilcox!"

"Oh, you have, eh?" sneered Sid. "Well, I don't know but what I might like to take it out of you for your sister cutting so close across my course. I guess I'm the one to get mad,"

"You sneak! She did nothing of the sort!" cried Jack.

"Oh, Jack! Please don't!" begged his sister. "If it was my fault, I'm ready to apologize."

"Your fault!" exclaimed Walter. "It wasn't your fault at all. It was--er--well, Sid and Ida were to blame."

"That's the way it looked to me," declared Cora.

Ida stared at Jack's sister for a moment, and then, with an open sneer on her face, turned deliberately away.

"Oh, I'm so glad we escaped, anyhow!" ejaculated Mary Downes. Her voice attracted Sid's attention. He had not noticed the little work girl before. At first he appeared to scowl, and then he smiled most pleasantly. The action was not lost upon Belle, though Cora, puzzling over Ida's manner, had not seen it.

"Come on, get in, girls," called Walter from his seat in the touring car. "No use standing there in the sun."

"You've got to tow me," ordered Sid in a peremptory manner.

"Got to?" repeated Walter, with a curious inflection.

"Hush!" whispered Cora. "Let's do it, Walter. Jack is so angry at him that I'm afraid something will happen."

"Very well. Just as you say," replied Walter gallantly.

Jack turned away in disgust. He was evidently trying hard to keep his temper under control.

"That he and Ida should deliberately endanger the lives of several people, to say nothing of their own risk, seems past belief," Jack murmured to Walter. "I've a good mind to teach him a much-deserved lesson. We ought to leave him to walk home."

"Oh, I do dislike rows!" exclaimed Cora, and she whispered in Jack's ear: "Don't bother with him, Bud. He isn't worth it."

"You're right about that," was the response, and the lad looked affectionately at his sister. She had gotten over the momentary fright, and there was now a pretty flush on her face. "I'll overlook it this time, sis," went on Jack. "Perhaps he'll get his lesson later--without me having to give it to him."

"Aren't some of you going to tow me?" asked Sid rather disconsolately. "I can't run my car the way it is."

"Don't ask any favors of them," Cora heard Ida whisper to Sid. "We'll walk."

"I will not," he answered sharply. "I'm not going to leave my car here. Will you give me a tow, Cora?" he asked. "Seeing that you made me smash--"

"She did not!" cried Jack. "And if you say so you're--"

"Jack!" exclaimed his sister.

"Well, he knows it was his own fault," concluded Jack, not wishing to accuse Ida.

Sid looked a bit worried.

"We'll tow you," said Cora simply.

"Thank you," responded Sid.

"Got a rope?" asked Walter.

"Here's one," answered the owner of the Streak, producing a strong rope from the rear of his runabout.

"Looks as if you were in the habit of getting towed," remarked Walter.

"Yes. I've had bad luck with this car."

Sid and Walter were soon busy arranging the two cars, so that the big auto would tow the disabled one.

"I want the boys to separate," whispered Cora to Bess. "I'm so Afraid Jack and Sid will quarrel."

"Not if they keep as far apart as they are now," was the answer, for Jack had gotten back into his own car, and was looking on. Ida, too, seemed to keep herself at a distance from the other girls.

"Well, I guess that will hold," remarked Walter as he put the last knot in the rope.

"Here comes Ed Foster!" suddenly exclaimed Jack as the puffing of an auto was heard and a machine came in sight. "Now I guess we're all here. Hello, Ed!"

"Hello, yourself," replied Ed. "Well, what's up now? Somebody turned turtle?"

"No, but somebody's turned--" began Jack, on the point of saying something uncomplimentary about Sid, but Cora interrupted him.

"We had a race, and this is how I--that is, we--won it," she said with a laugh.

Ed stepped out of his car and walked to where Sid's silent machine stood.

"Radiator, eh?" he questioned. "A bad break."

"That's what. Cora collided with me--but it was partly my fault," added Sid quickly for jack's benefit.

"And look at my nice, new mud guard," spoke Cora. "See how it hangs down, like a dog's broken leg. Isn't it a shame? I guess we'll have to tear it off, so we can run."

"Let me look at it," suggested Ed. "Maybe I can spring it back into place."

"I never thought of that,"--remarked Walter.

Ed was searching in his tool-box, and presently drew out some strong string.

"I never go without a bit of cord, a knife and some pins for just such emergencies as these," he said with a laugh. "I never know when I may be shipwrecked on a desert island."

Ed skillfully sprung the guard back, and as one of the rivets was torn out, he lashed the protector into place. It was only a temporary repair, but it would protect the occupants of the car from a shower of dust or mud.

"There," said Ed finally. "I guess that will answer. The road ahead is pretty muddy. Too much moisture from a sprinkling-cart, I guess. I caught some of it."

Cora turned to see if everything was in readiness for a start, and was surprised to find Mary in close conversation with Ida. Both girls and Sid were in a group an the other side of the Whirlwind. And another thing Cora noticed was that the faces of both Ida and Mary were unusually flushed.

"That's rather odd--that Mary and Ida should get so chummy," murmured Cora. "Sid must have introduced them to each other:"

A moment later Ida looked over, and seeing Cora watching her, she quickly turned away and walked over to where Ed was locking up his toolbox. She placed her hand on the seat of his small auto and began talking to him.

"I hear you are going into business," Cora heard Ida say.

"Well, not exactly business," replied Ed. "I'm going to have some interest in the bank at New City."

"Oh, yes. I heard about it."

"Say, Ed, have you all that--" began Jack, and then he stopped quickly. He had been on the point of asking Ed if he had with him the twenty thousand dollars in cash and negotiable securities, but he quickly reflected that such a question was not a proper one to ask on a public road.

"Got what?" inquired Ed with a laugh, but at the same time Cora saw him frown slightly at her brother.

"I meant to say, have you any of those fish with you that we caught last time?" asked Jack, laughing rather uneasily.

"Yes, I have them," replied Ed, which was his way of replying to Jack's implied question.

"Going over to New City?" asked Sid, coming around from an inspection of the broken radiator.

"Yes; I've some business over there, and as it's getting late I'll have to hurry. I'll bid you all good-by. Hope you get safely home."

Ed jumped into his car, which he had quickly cranked up, and called a general farewell.

"So long," answered Jack.

"Come on," called Walter, as Ed's car puffed out of sight. "We'll have a load to pull now, Cora."

"Perhaps I had better get in with Jack and Bess," remarked Belle. "We can manage it--if we squeeze some."

Then she blushed, and everybody laughed.

"The more the merrier," replied Jack. "I think it will be a good idea, though. We'll get home quicker than Cora and her tow will."

Belle climbed into the Get There. This left Cora alone with Walter in the big car. Ida and Sid stood on the ground, apparently waiting for an invitation to get in somewhere.

"I'll have to steer my car," said Sid. "You had better get in Cora's machine, Ida, for it's no fun riding in a towed auto."

"Yes, do come in here," said Cora quickly, but Ida hung back and looked miserably unhappy.

"Come on," and Walter added his invitation. "I'm going to be the 'shuffler,' and I may as well have something worth while to 'shuffle' while I'm at it."

Ida smiled at this. It was evident that she could not resist after this appeal--especially as it came from Walter, who found much favor in her eyes.

Ida climbed into the big car nimbly enough, and sat on the thick cushions in the roomy tonneau beside Mary.

"I guess she'd rather be in front," remarked Bess in a whisper to Belle, but she took care that Jack should not hear.

Walter started Cora's car off, and Sid's followed, with himself at the wheel, looking very glum. Jack brought up in the rear with the pretty twins.

The Whirlwind easily towed the weight of the disabled runabout, and the autoists were soon approaching town.

"Let me out at the post-office, please," begged Mary of Cora, as they rolled through the village streets. "I had better not let madam see me out riding."

"Why, she gave you permission, didn't she?" asked Cora in surprise.

"But I would rather get out here," insisted Mary, not answering the question directly.

"If you'll cast me loose, I'll run my machine in this shop," suddenly called Sid, as they passed a rather tumble-down shack on a side street.

"But you're not going to let old Smith tinker with it, are you?" asked Walter.

"Oh, I don't know what I'll do with it!" snapped Sid. "May as well leave it here as anywhere else."

Smith's place was a second-rate blacksmith shop, while at Chelton Center, a little farther on, there was a fine garage--Newton's--the one at which Cora and the twins had met the handsome machinist.

"Why don't you take it to Newton's?" asked Cora. "We'll go there with you. I--er--, I know the machinist there."

"I prefer to leave it here," said Sid shortly. "Stop, please, and I'll loosen the rope."

"Oh!" exclaimed Cora shortly. She could not understand Sid. Walter stopped her car, and before it had come to a full halt Sid was detaching the tow rope. Mary took this chance to alight from the Whirlwind, as they were not far from the post-office, and Ida followed her. Sid cranked up for the short run into the blacksmith shop. Ida and Mary were walking down the street together.

"Go ahead!" Sid called to Walter.

"Oh, you're welcome," replied Walter sarcastically. "Not the least trouble, thank you. Glad at any time--"

Sid shot at him an angry glance over his shoulder.

"I'd like to know who had a better right to haul me out of the ditch?" he said sneeringly.

Jack, with the twins, had run on. As Walter started Cora's machine off again, they saw a man coming out of the smithy. He helped Sid push the car in, and then stood talking with him in a friendly sort of fashion. The man's clothing was unkempt, and his general appearance anything but prepossessing.

"Who's that?" asked Cora.

"Him, you mean?" inquired Walter. "Oh, that's Lem Gildy. Or just plain Lem, if you like that better."

"What does he do?"

"Nothing. Easily said. Yet I've heard it remarked that he'd do anything for money."

"Curious that Sid should be on such friendly terms with such a character."

"Rather," remarked Walter, and he turned to see Sid pointing at the big car, while Lem Gildy was nodding his head as if assenting to something.