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- The Campfire Girls Go Motoring - 6/30 -
Five o'clock was the time we should all have reached Ft. Wayne if things had gone right.
"Have you any idea where they have gone now?" we asked, eagerly.
"They were on their way to Chicago, going through Ligonier," answered the man. "I heard them talking about it. They seemed to be in a great hurry and were only in the dining-room about fifteen minutes. The one in blue kept telling them to make haste."
"The plot thickens," said Sahwah. "Gladys is mixed up in some adventure of her own, apparently. She's not running away from us for the fun of the thing, you can rest assured. I never thought so from the first. She's probably taking some distressed damsel to Chicago in a grand rush and counts on us to trust her until we catch up with her and hear the explanation."
"Yes," agreed Nyoda, "she must have had some urgent reason for acting so, that's a foregone conclusion."
"It's a _four gone_ one all right," said Sahwah, but Nyoda's mind was too busy with wondering about Gladys to notice the pun.
"I think the best thing to do is to follow them as fast as we can," said Sahwah.
"I think so too," said Nyoda.
Puzzled as we were about Gladys's strange behavior, we were yet relieved of all anxiety about the Striped Beetle and its passengers. The girls were on their way to Chicago by way of Ligonier, the way we had planned in the beginning, and had undoubtedly not fallen by the wayside. We did wait long enough in Ft. Wayne to buy Margery a suit and veil just like ours and were surprised and gratified to find that we could get a suit exactly like ours down to the last button.
"Who do you suppose the girl in blue is with Gladys?" we asked each other, as we took the road again. But, of course, no one could answer this.
I was sitting in the front seat beside Nyoda. We had not gone very far on the way when I saw her knit her brows in a frown and heard her mutter to herself, "I thought we had lost you!" At the same time she increased the speed of the car. Naturally, I looked ahead in the direction in which she was looking, but there was nothing in sight. Then I looked behind. About a hundred yards behind us was the red roadster with the Frog calmly sitting at the wheel. How did Nyoda know he was there? She had not turned around since we had left Ft. Wayne.
"Have you an eye in the back of your head?" I asked, curiously.
"No, but I have one in the back of my collar," she answered, trying to hide her annoyance in a joke. "I just had a feeling he was there," she added.
This time I actually had a chill when I saw him. There was something terrifying in that figure always following us, never coming any nearer, never saying anything, but yet, never losing sight of us. Those mask- like goggles and the cap he wore pulled low over his face made him look like one of the creatures you see in a bad dream.
We had spent so much time in Ft. Wayne looking for a suit for Margery that it was four o'clock before we finally got under way. The morning had been fine, but the afternoon was misty and chilly. It must have rained not long before, for the road was muddy. We did not make such very good time, for the car began to act badly, and it was soon evident that something was wrong. We began to run slowly. Involuntarily, I glanced around to see how much the roadster was gaining on us. It had slowed down too and was going at exactly our pace. By this time the other girls could not help noticing that it was following us. Margery crouched in the seat and clung to Sahwah's arm. She was sure it was her uncle after her, and then I had to explain that the Frog had been following us all the way from Toledo, before we had taken her in.
We had expected to make Ligonier in a very short time and reach South Bend before night, but as things turned out we never got there at all. Somewhere between Ligonier and Goshen, at a little town called Wellsville, the poor Glow-worm must have been taken with awful pains in its insides, for it began to pant and gasp like a creature in misery, and utter little squeals of distress. There was nothing left to do but hunt up the one garage in town, which fortunately had a repair shop in connection with it, and get someone to look at the engine. I don't pretend to know anything about the machinery of the car, so I haven't the slightest idea what was the matter, but the man talked knowingly about magnetos and carburetors and said he could have the trouble fixed by eight o'clock in the evening. We were vexed that it should take so long, because we had expected to make South Bend early in the evening, but there was no help for it, so we repaired to the hotel next door--"hotel" by courtesy, for it was nothing more than a wayside inn--for supper.
It was raining a fine drizzle, and, as we did not care to walk around in it, after supper we sat in the stuffy parlor and tried to pass away the hours until the Glow-worm would be cured of its sickness and we could resume our journey. The carpet on the floor was a mixture of hideous red and pink roses on a green background. I can see that carpet yet. It was a Brussels, and Sahwah kept referring to it as one of the Belgian Atrocities. There was a larger room opening out of the parlor in which we sat, a sort of general reception and smoking-room combined. There was an old square piano out there and some young man was banging ragtime on it, while half a dozen others leaned over it and roared out songs in several different keys at once. All around the room sat men, smoking until the air was blue, and talking in loud voices, or shouting snatches of the songs. They seemed a rather noisy lot and from the scraps of conversation we heard we judged that they had come from somewhere to attend the September horse races which were being held in the neighborhood. At any rate, the hotel was swarming with them and we were glad that we were to get out of there by eight o'clock and did not have to stay all night. Once one of them walked into the parlor where we sat and said "Good evenin', ladies," in an impertinent sort of way, but we all froze him up with a glance and he went out without saying anything more to us. We saw him cross the other room toward a door at the farther side, and, as he crossed the floor we saw someone else get up from a chair in the corner of the room and go out after him. The second man was right under a light and we recognized the Frog, still with his goggles and cap on. Soon there came a loud uproar from the invisible room and unmistakable sounds of scuffling. We waited to hear no more. If there was going to be a quarrel in that hotel we did not wish to see any of it. We ran out in the rain and went into the garage where the man was working on the Glow-worm. The quarrel we had fled from didn't amount to anything after all, I suppose, for in a few minutes we heard the men back at their singing.
It was now nearly eight o'clock and we looked anxiously from time to time at the Glow-worm to see if it was nearly finished, but some of the parts were scattered out on the floor and the man was wrenching away at what was left in the car and did not seem to be in any hurry to put the others back. At eight o'clock it was not done and Nyoda asked him how soon it would be.
"Not before nine or nine-thirty, Miss," replied the man.
The rain had stopped and we walked up and down the main street for the next two hours, stopping in at the garage every time we passed, in the vain hope that the work was finished and we could go on. But it was not to be so. It was half past ten before it was finally ready and that was too late to start. We realized that we would have to stay in that inn all night, much as we were disinclined to do so. The racket was still in full blast when we returned and were shown to rooms. We had to go up on the third floor because the other rooms were all taken by the racketers. The ceiling sloped down on our heads and the windows were small and the furniture was exceedingly cheap, but it was a place to stay and that was the main thing.
"There's only one quilt on my bed," said Nakwisi rather disdainfully, "and I don't believe that has more than an eighth of an inch of batting in it."
"I think an eighth of an inch is a pretty good batting average for a hotel quilt," giggled Sahwah, whose spirits nothing can dampen.
We made up our minds to get up at six o'clock and get a good early start the next morning. As things turned out we got a much earlier start than we had anticipated. Margery didn't like the room at all and cried while she was undressing, and Nyoda had to pet her and make a fuss over her before she would lie down in the bed. I couldn't help wondering just what Nyoda would have done to one of us if we had cried about that hotel room. But then Margery isn't a Winnebago, and that makes a lot of difference.
We went to sleep with the banging of the piano and the sound of the songs floating up from downstairs, and each of us puzzling about the appearance of the Frog and wondering why he hadn't approached us in the parlor if he were really trying to make our acquaintance. Possibly he meant to, later, only we upset his plan by going out when we did, I reflected. It really had been rather an eventful day, I thought, even if we hadn't made much progress with our trip. Think of spending a whole day in going a distance that should have consumed at the most only a few hours! We really must get an early start to-morrow and make Chicago in good time, or be laughed at for running a lame duck race, I thought as I dropped off to sleep.
I woke up with the strangest feeling I have ever had in my life. I remember dreaming that we had left the door open, and all the tobacco smoke from below had floated up into the room and was choking me. When I first awoke I thought that the racketers were still at it below, for from somewhere there came a horrible din. There was the sound of many voices shouting unintelligible things, when suddenly above the roar one voice shrieked out "Fire!" Then I knew. The room was filled with smoke, dense and choking.
"Wake up!" I shouted, shaking Sahwah, who was sleeping with me. I dragged her out of bed and we two ran into the other room where Nyoda and Nakwisi and Margery were sleeping. The smoke was still thicker there and I believe they must have been nearly suffocated. We had hard work rousing them. Above the shouts of the people in the street below we could hear an ominous crackling that increased every minute. At first I was so frightened I could hardly move. It was the first time I had ever been in a burning building. The time the tepee burned we were out of it in one jump, before we had realized what had happened. I shudder yet, when I hear crackling wood.
Nyoda's voice roused me to action. She had regained her wits and was cool-headed as usual. Margery clung to her and screamed and she shook
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