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- The Campfire Girls Go Motoring - 5/30 -
why our telegram had come back unanswered. But this girl was plainly in trouble. Through the veil we could see that her face looked haggard and her eyes were big and staring. She looked frightened to death. No girl in trouble ever came to Nyoda in vain.
"Do you want to go to Decatur very badly?" she asked, gently.
"I must go," said the girl, earnestly. "I have to catch a train there, the train for Louisville." She checked herself when she had said that and looked around as if afraid she had been overheard.
"But why go to Decatur?" asked Nyoda. "You can get the Louisville train in Ft. Wayne. We are going directly to Ft. Wayne and are nearer there now than Decatur. We will be very glad to take you along."
But at the mention of Ft. Wayne the girl shrank back. "No, no, not there," she said in evident terror. "They--they would be watching for me there."
Nyoda looked at the girl keenly. She must have seen what we did not. "My dear," she said, in a big sister tone, "are you running away from home?"
The girl started and looked haunted. "Yes, I am running away," she said in a tone of desperation, "but I'm not running away from home. I'm running back home. Home to my mother." She looked over her shoulder at a house set far back from the road.
"Tell me about it," said Nyoda, with that smile of hers that never fails to win a confidence. The girl looked into Nyoda's eyes and did not look away again. It's the way everybody does.
"I'm Margery Anderson," she said. "You know now who I am and why I'm running away."
Yes, we all knew. The papers all over had been full of the fight Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, who were separated, had been making to get possession of their daughter Margery. The law had given her to her mother, but she had been kidnapped twice by her father and the last that had been published about her was that she was in the keeping of an uncle, who was hiding her from her mother. But the papers had said that Margery was only thirteen years old. This girl looked older.
"My uncle wants to take me to Japan, where I'll never see my mother again," she said. "I want my mother!" she finished with a very childish sob.
Nyoda got out of the car and put her arm around her. "You shall go to your mother, my dear," she said. "We'll take you to Decatur."
In walking to the car Margery fell all over the long skirt she was wearing, and then we realized that she was dressed up in someone else's clothes to make herself look older. She was only thirteen after all. Nyoda had been able to observe this right away when she had looked at her closely. She was as straight and as slender as a boy and the jacket modeled for an older woman hung on her as on a pole.
"Do you know the road to Decatur?" asked Nyoda. Margery said that she did, and told Nyoda how to turn. Our arrival in Ft. Wayne would be delayed an hour or so by going to Decatur, but none of us minded. We were all keenly interested in this much talked of young girl and were anxious to see her get to her mother before her uncle could stop her. Who would not have done the same thing in our place?
"What time does the Louisville train leave Decatur?" asked Nyoda, looking at her watch.
"Eleven-thirty," said Margery.
Nyoda put the watch back hastily and increased the speed of the car. She did not say what time it was and none of us asked her, thinking that the time might be short and Margery would be worried for fear we would not make it. We knew Nyoda would make it if she possibly could do so. Margery looked at her inquiringly, and Nyoda answered with a bright reassuring smile. Once Nyoda and I caught each other looking behind at the same moment and we each smiled faintly. The red roadster was nowhere in sight. By making this detour to Decatur while it was delayed on the road we had undoubtedly thrown it off the track.
We could not have been many miles from Decatur when a shot startled us. We all looked around expecting to see Margery's uncle after us, but it was only the bursting of a tire. Only the bursting of a tire! But to this day I hold that that tire did not burst of its own accord. Fate deliberately jabbed a pin into it. We carried an extra and with the help of a farmer who was passing we jacked up the Glow-worm in a hurry and put on its new gum shoe, Margery walked up and down the road nervously during the process. I suppose the minutes seemed like hours to her.
I beguiled the time by scribbling verses in my note-book to celebrate the occasion:
"Tires, brand new tires, I know not what they mean, Freshly inflated from the Free Air pump, Giving no warning of their base designs, Scatter in air with a terrific bang, And all upon a sudden are no more.
"Sweeter it is than dreams of paradise To ride with friends beside one in one's car, O'er sunlit roads; past fields of waving grain. Bitter it is as drops of greenest gall, To blow a tire, and sit there in the sun."
At this juncture the exchange of tires was completed and we were off once more. I saw Nyoda look at her watch.
"What time is it?" asked Margery.
"My watch has stopped," answered Nyoda. There was a clock on the corner of two streets in the next village we passed through and the hands pointed to eleven. This would give us plenty of time. We were not far from Decatur. We all breathed a sigh of relief, for we had been afraid that the bursting of the tire had caused us to miss the train. Nyoda calculated closely and announced that we would have time to stop and buy gasoline. She was not sure whether we had enough to make Decatur or not, and it would be a shame to go dry outside the very walls of Rome, she said. It took the young boy in charge of the place where they sold the gasoline some minutes to fill our tank, as he was only looking after the place while the proprietor was out and he was awkward. It was ten minutes after eleven when we got under way again. Nyoda set her watch by the clock.
When we got into Decatur we had an unpleasant surprise. All the clocks we came to said ten minutes to twelve. The other clock we had seen had been half an hour slow. We hurried to the station in the hope that the train was late, but there was no such luck. It had been on time for once. Margery sank down on the seat in the waiting-room and looked at us with wide frightened eyes. Clearly she was appealing to Nyoda to tell her what to do.
"When is the next train to Louisville?" Nyoda inquired at the ticket window.
"None until to-morrow noon," was the reply.
Margery looked so dismayed that Nyoda said hastily, "Why won't you go to Ft. Wayne and get the train there? The fast trains that don't stop here stop there and you can get one later in the day."
But Margery looked more frightened than ever. "I can't go to Ft. Wayne," she said. "My uncle would expect me to go there and would have the station watched. That's why I wanted to go to Decatur. They would never think of looking there for me. What shall I do. I know I'll never get to mother!"
She looked so young and babyish and helpless that Nyoda made up her mind on the spot that she was not the kind of girl who could be left on her own resources.
"Tell me," she said, "does your mother expect you to-morrow?"
Margery shook her head. "She doesn't even know that I'm coming."
"Then," said Nyoda decidedly, "I'm not going to leave you to find your way there alone. We will be going through Louisville in a few days and you're going to stay right with us until we get there. Your uncle will probably be having trains watched and would never think of you in an automobile. It is the best solution of the problem. We'll get you a dress and veil like the other girls and everyone will think you are one of our party. In that case you don't need to be afraid to go to Ft. Wayne, where we must stop, as we will not go near a railway station."
Margery agreed to this plan with such an air of relief that it was plain to be seen what an ordeal it had been for her to try to travel alone.
With this delay of having to go to Decatur it was past noon before we got to Ft. Wayne. Once there we were at a loss how to proceed to find the Striped Beetle and the girls. I believe everyone of us confidently expected to find them waiting for us at some point where the road entered the city, and it threw us off our bearings to find they were not there. Even Nyoda was plainly puzzled what to do. We found the little Potter Hotel where we were to have stayed and asked to see the register. It was possible that the girls had been there after all in spite of the telegram not having been delivered. Telegrams have failed to connect before. But they had not been there. If they had stayed with friends we did not know where they were now. It was a riddle. Not getting any light on the subject we decided to eat our dinner before we looked farther.
We checked our cameras and the man at the checking counter looked at us closely when we came up. There was no one else there and he seemed inclined to be talkative.
"There was a party just like you here yesterday," he said.
"What do you mean by 'just like us?'" we asked.
"Same clothes," he answered. "Four girls in tan suits and green veils and one in a blue suit and white veil."
We all looked at each other. The four girls were evidently ours, but who was the one in blue?
"What time were they here?" we asked.
"About five o'clock yesterday afternoon," he answered. "They checked some things here and then went into the dining-room."
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