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- The Campfire Girls Go Motoring - 4/30 -
little white table in the bathroom. They were all heavily embroidered with initials and the fringe on them was every bit of six inches long.
"The fringe for me!" exclaimed Sahwah, when she saw them. She seized a whole pile of them at once, using only the fringe for drying, and putting on affected aristocratic airs that made us shriek with laughter. We had been dressing all over the two rooms and the floor was strewn with towels and articles of clothing. Suddenly the door of the bedroom opened and a woman stood in the room. She was a gray-haired woman of about fifty, very handsome and proud-looking, and dressed in a gown of plum-colored satin. She said nothing; just looked at us. I glanced around at the others. There was Sahwah, her kimono wrapped loosely around her, patting her feet dry with the fringe of a dozen towels; Nyoda stood in front of the dressing-table with a towel wrapped around her, combing her hair: I was sitting on the floor putting my shoes on, while through the bathroom door came the sounds of the shower turned on full force, with an occasional shriek from Nakwisi when she got it too cold. Suddenly I felt unaccountably foolish. Nyoda and Sahwah looked up and saw the woman the next instant. She stood looking at us, her eyes nearly popping out of her head, her face purple, leaning against the foot of the bed for support. Nobody said a word. As Sahwah expressed it afterward, "Silence reigned, and we stood there in the rain."
"How did--how did you get in?" the woman gasped faintly, after a silence of a full minute. We knew something was wrong. We could feel it in the marrow of our bones.
Nyoda, holding her towel closely around her, answered in as dignified a manner as possible. "We were directed to your house from the hotel as a place where we could spend the night, and your maid admitted us and brought us in here. Is there anything the matter?"
The woman stood staring as if fascinated at the towels which were lying all over the floor. At that moment Nakwisi opened the door of the bath and emerged in her dressing-gown, the open door behind her revealing splashes of water all over the room and more towels on the floor. The woman put her hand to her throat as if she were choking. She tried to speak but evidently could not.
"Isn't this Mrs. Butler's house?" asked Nyoda, with growing misgiving. "Don't you take in tourists when the hotel is filled?"
The woman swallowed convulsively and found her voice. "No," she said, emphatically, "this is not Mrs. Butler's house, and I don't take in tourists when the hotel is filled. This is the McAlpine residence and my husband is State Senator McAlpine. My daughter is getting married to-night and we have a houseful of wedding guests. We had two special trains, one from Chicago and one from New York, bringing guests. If my maid let you in she thought you were some of them." Then she looked around the room and seemed on the verge of apoplexy once more. "But how did you get in here?" she cried, wildly. "This is the bridal chamber!"
I suddenly felt weak in the back-bone, and thought my head was going to drop into my lap. The towel fell from Nyoda's shoulders and she stood there like a statue with her long hair around her. Sahwah stopped still with her foot on the stool and the handful of towels in her hand. For one moment we remained as if turned to stone and then Sahwah buried her face in the towels with a muffled shriek. If embarrassment ever killed people I know not one of us would have survived. Nyoda apologised profusely for our intrusion, which, after all, was not our fault, as we soon found. The hotel man had told us number 65 South Vine Street when it was number 65 North Vine Street he had meant.
We got dressed faster than we ever had before in our lives and packed up our scattered belongings, leaving the rooms nearly as tidy as they were when we came in. Mrs. McAlpine had withdrawn into the next room, and through the closed door we could hear the sound of excited talking and knew that she was telling the story to someone. When she had finished we heard a man's voice raised in a regular bellow. Evidently it had struck him as funny.
"No!" we heard him chortle. "You don't mean it! Got put into the bridal chamber, ha, ha! When you wouldn't let me put a foot into it! Took a bath and used up all the wedding towels that you wouldn't even let me touch! Oh, ha! ha! ha!" The very house seemed to shake with the violence of his mirth. Senator McAlpine, for we judged it was he, must have had a sense of humor. "Where are they?" we heard him shout. "Let me see them!"
But at the thought of facing that battery of laughter we fled in haste. Feeling unutterably small and ridiculous, we crept down-stairs and out of the front door, past numbers of people who were arriving. Once out on the sidewalk we leaned against the ornamental iron fence and laughed until we cried. The more we thought about it the funnier it seemed. What a tale we would have to tell the other girls when we met them in the morning!
As we had had our bath there only remained supper, and we certainly did justice to it when we finally arrived at Mrs. Butler's house on North Vine Street. It was after eight o'clock and we were ravenous. The rooms we had in that house, while they were nothing compared to what we almost had, were still very comfortable, and we were in such high spirits that any place at all would have looked good to us. Our long day in the open air had made us sleepy and it was not long before we were all touring in the Car of Dreams.
While we were eating breakfast in Mrs. Butler's big, airy dining-room we heard a boy arrive at the kitchen door and ask for the "automobile ladies." He had been sent out from the telegraph office and the hotel clerk had told him where we were. He handed Nyoda a message. As she read it a surprised and puzzled look came into her face.
"What is it, Nyoda?" we all cried.
She handed us the bit of yellow paper. It was what is called a service message from the telegraph company, and read: "Message sent Gladys Evans Potter Hotel Ft. Wayne undelivered. No such party registered."
We stared in open-mouthed astonishment. Gladys and the others not in Ft. Wayne? If they weren't there, where were they? We were expecting to join them this very morning. Nyoda came to a sensible conclusion first, as she always does, "Where are they?" she repeated. "Why, stranded in some place along the road, just as we are, of course. We're not the only ones that can have accidents. I thought Gladys would get into some trouble or other at the rate she was driving that car. I hope none of them got hurt, but it serves them right if they did have a hold-up of some kind. And I hope the trouble, whatever it is, keeps them tied up until we overtake them. We must ask at every village whether the Striped Beetle is there. Wouldn't we laugh to see them standing around some garage waiting impatiently for the damage to be mended?"
It was nine o'clock before the Glow-worm was in running order again and we were ready to take the road once more. Since being towed into the repair shop the night before we had seen nothing of the Frog, and I concluded that he had gone on his way and would cross our path no more. But we had not gone many miles on the road when I saw the now familiar roadster traveling leisurely along behind us. I mentioned the fact casually to Nyoda as I was sitting beside her, and while she made no comment whatever, I noticed that she began gradually to increase the pace of the car. As yet neither of us had hinted at our unspoken antagonism to this persistent follower--for Nyoda was antagonistic to him, because I noticed that she bit her lip in an annoyed way when she saw him again. After all, he might not be following us. He certainly had every right in the world to be traveling in the general direction of Chicago over the public highway at the same time we were making our trip.
And yet--why did he stay all night in S---- when there was nothing the matter with his car, and when accommodations were so very scarce. We hadn't the least idea where he had stayed, but he must have been in S---- all night or he couldn't have followed us out in the morning. Even that fact, which might have been a coincidence, did not convince me so much that he was following us as my own intuition did. And I have learned by experience to respect those intuitions. Out of a whole dining-room full that man had been the only one who had attracted my attention, and I felt antagonistic toward him instantly. I had the same feeling when I saw him behind us on the road to Napoleon. And the worst part of it was that he had done absolutely nothing to make me feel that way toward him. He hadn't been impertinent, in fact, he had never said a single word to any of us! All he had done was to stare searchingly at Nyoda through that goggle mask of his. There was nothing the matter with his looks, goodness knows. All we could see under the big goggles were part of a nose and a brown mustache and they looked harmless enough. Then why did Nyoda and I both have the same feeling toward him?
We inquired carefully all the way, but nowhere did we come upon any trace of the Striped Beetle. At several places they had seen the brown car go by the day before and at one place it had stopped for gasoline, but no one knew of any repairs that had been made on it. The thing began to loom up like a puzzle. If the Striped Beetle had not been delayed by accident why had not Gladys arrived in Ft. Wayne the night before as per schedule.
"Possibly they did arrive all right, and didn't go to a hotel because you weren't with them," suggested Sahwah. "Gladys may have friends there and they may have stayed with them." That fact was so very probable that we ceased to worry about the girls, trusting that the whole thing would be made clear when we got to Ft. Wayne.
We were in Indiana now, running through beautiful farm country, with occasional tiny villages. Sahwah made up a game, estimating the number of windmills we would see in a certain time and then counting them as we passed to see how near she came to being right. As we were keeping a sharp lookout on each side of the road so as not to miss any, we saw a girl running across a field toward the road just ahead of us. She was waving her arms and we looked to see whom or what she was waving at, but there was nothing in sight.
"I actually believe she's waving at us!" said Sahwah. There was no mistake about it. The girl stood still in the road waiting for us to come up and motioned us to stop. We did so. She stood and looked at us for a minute as if she were afraid to speak. I looked back to see if the Frog was gaining on us. The red roadster had disappeared. The girl who stood before us looked about eighteen or twenty. She wore a plain suit of dark blue cloth with a long skirt down to the ground and a white sailor hat with a veil draped around it that covered her face. In her hand she held a small traveling bag. She looked beseechingly from one to the other of us and then her eyes came back to Nyoda.
"Could you--would you--will you take me to Decatur?" she faltered. "I'll pay you whatever you think it's worth," she added hastily. Now Decatur was out of our course altogether, some miles to the south. We were hurrying to Ft. Wayne to find out what had become of Gladys and
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