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Title: The Automobile Girls at Washington - Checkmating the Plots of Foreign Spies
Author: Crane, Laura Dent
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Automobile Girls at Washington - Checkmating the Plots of Foreign Spies" ***

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WASHINGTON***


THE AUTOMOBILE GIRLS AT WASHINGTON

or, Checkmating the Plots of Foreign Spies

By

LAURA DENT CRANE

Author of The Automobile Girls at Newport, The Automobile Girls in the
Berkshires, The Automobile Girls Along the Hudson, The Automobile Girls
at Chicago, The Automobile Girls at Palm Beach, etc.

1913



[Illustration: A Fat Chinese Gentleman Stood Regarding Her.
(Frontispiece)]



CONTENTS

Chapter

       I. A Chance Meeting
      II. Cabinet Day in Washington
     III. Mr. Tu Fang Wu
      IV. At the Chinese Embassy
       V. Sub Rosa
      VI. The Arrest
     VII. Mollie's Temptation
    VIII. At the White House
      IX. Bab's Discovery
       X. The Confession
      XI. In Mr. Hamlin's Study
     XII. Barbara's Secret Errand
    XIII. A Foolish Girl
     XIV. "Grant No Favors!"
      XV. Bab Refuses to Grant a Favor
     XVI. Barbara's Unexpected Good Luck
    XVII. The White Veil
   XVIII. A Tangled Web or Circumstance
     XIX. Harriet in Danger
      XX. Foiled!
     XXI. The Discovery
    XXII. Oil on the Troubled Waters
   XXIII. Suspense and the Reward
    XXIV. Home at Laurel Cottage



CHAPTER I

A CHANCE MEETING


Barbara Thurston stood at the window of a large old-fashioned house,
looking out into Connecticut Avenue. It was almost dark. An occasional
light twinkled outside in the street, but the room in which Barbara was
stationed was still shrouded in twilight.

Suddenly she heard a curtain at the farther end of the drawing-room
rustle faintly.

Bab turned and saw a young man standing between the curtains, peering
into the shadows with a pair of near-sighted eyes.

Barbara started. The stranger had entered the room through a small study
that adjoined it. He seemed totally unaware of any other presence, for he
was whistling softly: "Kathleen Mavourneen."

"I beg your pardon," Bab began impulsively, "but are you looking for
some one?"

The newcomer flashed a charming smile at Barbara. He did not seem in the
least surprised at her appearance.

"No," he declared cheerfully, "I was not looking for any one or anything.
The butler told me Mr. Hamlin and Harriet were both out. But, I say,
don't you think I am fortunate to have found you quite by accident! I
came in here to loaf a few minutes."

Barbara frowned slightly. The young man's manner was surprisingly
familiar, and she had never seen him before in her life.

"I hope I am not disturbing you," he went on gayly. "I am an attaché of
the Russian legation, and a friend of Miss Hamlin's. I came with a
message for Mr. Hamlin. I was wondering if it were worth while to wait
for him. But I can go away if I am troublesome."

"Oh, no, you are not disturbing me in the least," Barbara returned. "I
expect Miss Hamlin and my friends soon. We arrived in Washington last
night, and the other girls have gone out to a reception. I had a headache
and stayed at home. Won't you be seated while I ring for the butler to
turn on the lights?"

The newcomer sat down, gravely watching Barbara.

"Would you like me to guess who you are?" he asked, after half a
minute's silence.

Bab laughed. "I am sure you will give me the first chance to tell you
your name. I did not recognize you at first. But I believe Harriet told
us about you last night. She described several of her Washington friends
to us. You are Peter Dillon, aren't you?"

"At your service," declared the young attaché, who looked almost boyish.
"But now give me my opportunity. I do not know your name, but I have
guessed this much. You are an 'Automobile Girl!' Permit me to bid you
welcome to Washington."

Barbara nodded her head decidedly. "Yes, I am Barbara Thurston, one of
the 'Automobile Girls.' There are four of us. Harriet has probably
explained to you. My sister, Mollie Thurston, Grace Carter, Ruth Stuart
and I form the quartet. Mr. William Hamlin is Ruth's uncle. So we are
going to spend a few weeks here with Harriet and see the Capital. I have
never been in Washington before."

"Then you have a new world before you, Miss Thurston," said the young
man, his manner changing. "Washington is like no other city in the world,
I think. I have been here for four years. Before that time I had lived in
Dublin, in Paris, in St. Petersburg."

"Then you are not an American!" exclaimed Bab, regarding the young man
with interest.

"I am a man without a country, Miss Thurston." Bab's visitor laughed
carelessly. "Or, perhaps, I had better say I am a man of several
countries. My father was an Irishman and a soldier of fortune. My mother
was a Russian. Therefore, I am a member of the Russian legation in
Washington in spite of my half-Irish name. Have you ever been abroad?"

"Oh, no," Bab returned, shaking her head. "For the past two years, since
I have known Ruth Stuart, the 'Automobile Girls' have traveled about in
this country a good deal. But we are only school girls still. We have
never really made our début in society, although we mean to forget this
while we are in Washington, and to see as much of the world as we can. I
do wish I knew something about politics. It would make our visit in
Washington so much more interesting."

"It is the most interesting game in the world," declared Barbara's
companion, dropping for an instant his expression of indifference. His
blue eyes flashed. Then he said quickly: "Perhaps you will let me teach
you something of the political game at Washington. I am sure you will be
quick to learn and to enjoy it."

"Thank you," Bab answered shyly. "But I am much too stupid ever to
understand."

"I don't quite believe that. You know, you will, of course, hear a
great deal about politics while you are the guests of the Assistant
Secretary of State. Mr. Hamlin is one of the cleverest men in
Washington. I am sure you will be instructing me in diplomacy by the end
of a week. But good-bye; I must not keep you any longer. Will you tell
Mr. Hamlin that I left the bundle of papers he desired on his study
table? And please tell Harriet that I shall hope to be invited very
often to see the 'Automobile Girls.'"

The young man looked intently at Barbara, as though trying to read her
very thoughts while she returned his scrutiny with steady eyes. Then with
a courteous bow, he left the room.

When Barbara found herself alone she returned to the window.

"I do wish the girls would come," she murmured to herself. "I am just
dying to know what Mollie and Grace think of their first reception in
Washington. Of course, Ruth has visited Harriet before, so the experience
is not new to her. I am sorry I did not go with the girls, in spite of my
headache. I wonder if some one is coming in here again! I seem to be
giving a reception here myself."

By this time the room was lighted, and Barbara saw a young woman of about
twenty-five years of age walk into the drawing-room and drop into a big
arm chair with a little tired sigh.

"You are Miss Thurston, aren't you?" she asked briskly as Bab came
forward to speak to her, wondering how on earth this newcomer knew her
name and what could be the reason for this unexpected call.

"Yes," Barbara returned in a puzzled tone, "I am Miss Thurston."

"Oh, don't be surprised at my knowing your name," Bab's latest caller
went on. "It is my business to know everybody. I met Mr. Dillon on the
corner. He told me Harriet Hamlin was not at home and that I had better
not come here this afternoon. I did not believe him; still I am not sorry
Miss Hamlin is out, I would ever so much rather see you. Harriet Hamlin
is dreadfully proud, and she is not a bit sympathetic. Do you think so?"

Bab was lost in wonder. What on earth could this talkative young woman
wish of her? Did her visitor believe Bab would confide her opinion of
Harriet to a complete stranger? But the young woman did not wait for
an answer.

"I want to see you about something awfully important," she went on.
"Please promise me you will do what I ask you before I tell you
what it is."

Bab laughed. "Don't ask me that. Why you may be an anarchist, for
all I know."

The new girl shook her head, smiling. She looked less tired now. She was
pretty and fragile, with fair hair and blue eyes. She was very pale and
was rather shabbily and carelessly dressed.

"No; I am not an anarchist," she said slowly. "I am a newspaper woman,
which is almost as bad in some people's eyes, I suppose, considering the
way society people fight against giving me news of themselves and their
doings. I came to ask you if you would give me the pictures of the
'Automobile Girls' for my paper? Oh, you need not look so surprised. We
have all heard of the 'Automobile Girls.' Everybody in Washington of
importance has heard of you. Couldn't you let me write a sketch about you
and your adventures, and put your photographs on the society page of our
Sunday edition? It would be such a favor to me."

Barbara looked distressed. She was beginning to like her visitor.
Though Barbara had been associated mainly with wealthy people in the
last two years of the "Automobile Girls'" adventures, she could not
help feeling interested in a girl who was evidently trying to make her
own way in the world.

"I am awfully sorry," Bab declared almost regretfully, but before she
finished speaking the drawing-room door opened and Ruth Stuart and
Harriet Hamlin entered the room together.

"How is your head, Bab, dear?" Ruth cried, before she espied their
caller.

Harriet Hamlin bowed coldly to the newspaper woman in the big arm chair.
The young woman had flushed, looked uncomfortable at sight of Harriet and
said almost humbly:

"I am sorry to interrupt you, Miss Hamlin, but my paper sent me to ask
you for the pictures of your guests. May I have them?"

"Most certainly not, Miss Moore," Harriet answered scornfully. "My
friends would not dream of allowing you to publish their pictures. And my
father would not consent to it either. Just because he is Assistant
Secretary of State I do not see why my visitors should be annoyed in this
way. I hope you don't mind, Ruth and Barbara." Harriet's voice changed
when she turned to address her cousin and friend. "Forgive my refusing
Miss Moore for you. But it is out of the question."

Ruth and Bab both silently agreed with Harriet. But Barbara could not
help feeling sorry for the other girl, who flushed painfully at Harriet's
tone and turned to go without another word.

Bab followed the girl out into the hall.

"I am so sorry not to give you our photographs," Barbara declared. "But,
of course, we cannot let you have them if Mr. Hamlin would object. And,
to tell you the honest truth, the 'Automobile Girls' would not like it
either." Barbara smiled in such a frank friendly way that no one could
have been vexed with her.

The older girl's eyes were full of tears, which she bravely winked
out of sight.

"Everyone has his picture published in the papers nowadays," she replied.
"I am sure I intended no discourtesy to you or to Miss Hamlin."

Then the girl's self-control gave way. She was very tired, and Bab's
sympathy unnerved her. "I hate Harriet Hamlin," she whispered,
passionately. "I am as well bred as she is. Because I am poor, and have
to support my mother, is no reason why she should treat me as though I
were dust under her feet. I shall have a chance to get even with her,
some day, just as certainly as I live. Then, won't I take my revenge!"

Barbara did not know what to reply, so she went on talking quietly. "I am
sure your asking us for our pictures was a very great compliment to us.
Only important people and beauties and belles have their pictures in the
society papers. It is just because the 'Automobile Girls' are too
insignificant to be shown such an honor that we can't consent. But please
don't be angry with us. I am sure Harriet did not intend to wound your
feelings, and I hope I shall see you soon again."

Marjorie Moore shook Barbara's hand impulsively before she went out into
the gathering darkness. "I like you," she said warmly. "I wish we might
be friends. Good-night."

"Where are Mollie and Grace?" was Bab's first question when she rejoined
Ruth and Harriet.

"They would not come away from the reception," Harriet returned, smiling.
She was quite unconscious of having treated Marjorie Moore unkindly.
"Ruth and I were worried about your headache, so we did not wish to leave
you alone any longer. Strange to relate, Father offered to stay until
Mollie and Grace were ready to come home. That is a great concession on
his part, as he usually runs away from a reception at the first
opportunity that offers itself. Mrs. Wilson, a friend of Father's is
helping him to look after Mollie and Grace this afternoon. Bab, did some
boxes come for me this afternoon? I left orders at the shop to send them
when Father would surely be out. Come on upstairs, children, and see my
new finery."

"Why, Harriet, are you getting more clothes?" Ruth exclaimed. "You are
like 'Miss Flora McFlimsey, of Madison Square, who never had anything
good enough to wear.'"

"I am no such thing, Ruth Stuart," returned her cousin, a little
peevishly. "You don't understand. Does she, Barbara? Ruth has so much
money she simply cannot realize what it means to try to make a good
appearance on a small allowance, especially here in Washington where one
goes out so much."

"I was only joking, Harriet," Ruth apologized as she and Barbara
obediently followed their hostess upstairs. Bab, however, secretly
wondered how she and Mollie were to manage in Washington, with their
simple wardrobes, if their young hostess thought that clothes were the
all-important thing in Washington society.

Harriet Hamlin was twenty years of age, but she seemed much older to Bab
and Ruth. In the first place, Harriet was an entirely different type of
girl. She had been mistress of her father's house in Washington since she
was sixteen. She had received her father's guests and entertained his
friends; and at eighteen she had made her début into Washington society,
and had taken her position as one of the women of the Cabinet. Harriet's
mother, Ruth's aunt, had died a few months before Mr. Hamlin had received
his appointment as Assistant Secretary of State. Since that time Harriet
had borne the responsibilities of a grown woman, and being an only child
she had to a certain extent done as she pleased, although she was
secretly afraid of her cold, dignified father.

Mr. William Hamlin was one of the ablest men in Washington. He was a
quiet, stern, reserved man, and although he was proud of his daughter, of
her beauty and accomplishments, he was also very strict with her. He was
a poor man, and it was hard work for Harriet to keep up the appearance
necessary to her father's position on his salary as Assistant Secretary
of State. Harriet, however, never dared tell her father of this, and Mr.
Hamlin never offered Harriet either sympathy or advice.

Barbara and Ruth could only watch with admiring eyes and little
exclamations of delight the exquisite garments that Harriet now lifted
out of three big, pasteboard boxes; a beautiful yellow crêpe frock, a
pale green satin evening gown and a gray broadcloth tailor-made suit.
Harriet was tall and dark, with very black hair and large dark eyes. She
was considered one of the beauties of the "younger set" in Washington
society. Ruth had not seen her cousin for several years, until she
received the invitation to bring the "Automobile Girls" to Washington.

Ruth Stuart and Barbara Thurston had changed very little since their
last outing together at Palm Beach. Barbara was now nearly eighteen. At
the close of the school year she was to be graduated from the Kingsbridge
High School. And she hoped to be able to enter Vassar College the
following fall. Yet the fact that she was in Washington early in December
requires an explanation.

Two weeks before Bab had walked slowly home to Laurel Cottage at
about three o'clock one November afternoon with a great pile of books
under her arm.

On the front porch of their little cottage she found her mother and
Mollie, greatly excited. A telegram had just come from Ruth Stuart. The
"Automobile Girls" were invited to visit Ruth's cousin in Washington,
D.C. Ruth wished them to start at the end of the week.

Bab's face flushed with pleasure at the news. She had not been with her
beloved Ruth since the Easter before. Then the color died out of her face
and her cheeks showed an unaccustomed pallor.

"I am so sorry, Mother," Bab responded. "I would give anything in the
world to see Ruth. But I simply can't stop school just now, or I shall
lose the scholarship. Mollie, you can accept Ruth's invitation. You and
Grace Carter can go to Washington together. You won't mind going
without me."

"I shall not stir a single step without you," blue-eyed Mollie returned
firmly. "And Mother thinks you can go!"

Mollie and Mrs. Thurston, aided by Bab's teachers, at last persuaded
Barbara to take a few weeks' holiday. Bab could study to make up for lost
time during the Christmas holidays. For no one, except the young woman
herself, doubted Barbara's ability to win the desired Vassar scholarship.

And so it was arranged that Bab and Mollie should go with Ruth to
Washington. Bab had grown taller and more slender in the past few months.
Her brown braids are now always coiled about her graceful head. Her hair
was parted in the middle, although a few little curls still escaped in
the old, careless fashion.

Ruth Stuart, too, was looking sweeter and fresher than ever, and was the
same ingenuous, unspoiled girl, whose sunny disposition no amount of
wealth and fashion could change.

Readers of the first volume in the "Automobile Girls Series," entitled
"The Automobile Girls At Newport," will recall how, nearly two years ago,
Ruth Stuart, with her father and her aunt, Miss Sallie Stuart, came from
their home in far away Chicago to spend the summer in Kingsbridge, New
Jersey. The day that Barbara Thurston stopped a pair of runaway horses
and saved Ruth Stuart from death she did not dream that she had turned
the first page in the history of the "Automobile Girls." A warm
friendship sprang up between Ruth and Bab, and a little later Ruth Stuart
invited Barbara, her younger sister, Mollie Thurston, and their friend,
Grace Carter, to take a trip to Newport in her own, red automobile with
Ruth herself as chauffeur and her aunt, Miss Sallie Stuart, as chaperon.

Exciting days at Newport followed, and the four girls brought to bay the
"Boy Raffles," the cracksman, who had puzzled the fashionable world!
There were many thrilling adventures connected with the discovery of this
"society thief," and the "Automobile Girls" proved themselves capable of
meeting whatever emergencies sprang up in their path.

In "The Automobile Girls in the Berkshires," the second volume of the
"Automobile Girls Series," the scene is laid in a little log cabin on
top of one of the highest peaks in the Berkshire hills, where the four
girls and Miss Sallie spent a happy period of time "roughing it." There
it was that they discovered an Indian Princess and laid the "Ghost of
Lost Man's Trail."

In the third volume of the series, "The Automobile Girls Along the
Hudson," the quartet of youthful travelers, accompanied by Miss Sallie
Stuart, motored through the beautiful Sleepy Hollow country, spending
several weeks at the home of Major Ted Eyck, an old friend of the
Stuarts. There many diverting experiences fell to their lot, and before
leaving the hospitable major's home they were instrumental in saving it
from destruction by forest fires.

The fourth volume of the series, "The Automobile Girls at Chicago,"
relates the adventures of the four friends during the Christmas holidays,
which Mollie, Grace and Bab spent with Ruth at Chicago and at
"Treasureholme," the country estate of the Presbys, who were cousins of
the Stuart family. While there, principally through the cleverness of
Barbara Thurston, the hiding place of a rich treasure buried by one of
The ancestors of the Presbys was discovered in time to prevent the
financial ruin of both Richard Presby and Robert Stuart, who had become
deeply involved through speculation in wheat.

Before Mollie, Grace and Barbara returned to Kingsbridge, Mr. Stuart had
promised that they should see Ruth again in March at Palm Beach, where he
had planned a happy reunion for the "Automobile Girls." There it was
that they had, through a series of happenings, formed the acquaintance of
a mysterious countess and become involved in the net of circumstances
that was woven about her. How they continued to be her friend in spite of
dark rumors afloat to the effect that she was an impostor and how she
afterwards turned out to be a princess, is fully set forth in "The
Automobile Girls at Palm Beach."

"Really, Bab," said Ruth, as the two girls went upstairs to their rooms
to dress for dinner, "I have not had a chance to talk to you, alone,
since we arrived in Washington. How is your mother?"

"As well as can be," Bab answered. "How is darling Aunt Sallie? I am so
sorry she did not come to Washington with you to chaperon us. There is no
telling what mischief we may get into without her."

Ruth laughed. "I have special instructions for the 'Automobile Girls'
from Aunt Sallie. We are to be particularly careful to mind our 'P's' and
'Q's' on this visit, for Aunt Sallie wishes us to make a good impression
in Washington."

Barbara sighed. "I'll try, Ruth," she declared, "but you know what
remarkable talent I have for getting into mischief."

"Then you are to be specially par-tic-u-lar, Mistress Bab!" Ruth said
teasingly. "For Aunt Sallie's last words to me were: 'Tell Barbara she is
to look before she leaps.'"

Barbara shook her brown head vigorously. "I am not the impetuous Bab of
other automobile days. But, just the same, I wish Aunt Sallie had come
along with you."

"Oh, she may join us later," Ruth returned. "To tell you the truth, Bab,
Aunt Sallie is not fond of Harriet. She thinks Harriet is clever and
pretty, but vain and spoiled. Here come Mollie and Grace. Home from that
reception at last!"

The other two girls burst into Ruth's room at this moment.

"Whom do you think we have seen?" called out Miss Mollie rapturously.
"Oh, Washington is the greatest fun! I feel just like a girl in a book,
we have been presented to so many noted people. I tell you, Barbara
Thurston, we are country girls no longer! Now we have been traveling
about the country so much with Ruth and Mr. Stuart, that we know people
everywhere. Just guess whom we know in Washington?"

"I can guess," Ruth rejoined, clapping her hands. "You have seen Mrs.
Post and Hugh. Surely, you had not forgotten that they live in
Washington. Hugh has finished college and has a position in the Forestry
Department. I had a note from him this morning."

"And didn't tell! Oh, Ruth!" teased Grace Carter. "But, Bab, what about
our Lenox friends, who spend their winters in Washington?"

"You mean Dorothy and Gwendolin Morton, the British Ambassador's
daughters, and funny little Franz Haller, the German secretary, I hope we
shall see them. But do hurry, children. Please don't keep the Assistant
Secretary of State waiting for his dinner. That would surely be a bad
beginning for our Washington visit. No, Mollie Thurston; don't you put on
your very best dress for dinner to-night. I have just gotten out your
white muslin."

"But Harriet wears such lovely clothes all the time, Bab," Mollie
pleaded, when she and Barbara were alone.

"Never mind, child. Harriet Hamlin is not Mollie Thurston," Barbara
concluded wisely.



CHAPTER II

CABINET DAY IN WASHINGTON


It was Harriet Hamlin's reception day. There are certain times appointed
in Washington when the members of the President's Cabinet hold
receptions.

The "Automobile Girls" had come to Washington in time for one of these
special entertainments. For, as Harriet explained, they could see
everyone worth seeing at once. Not only would the diplomats, the senators
and congressmen call with their wives, but the Army and Navy officers,
all official Washington would appear to pay their respects to Mr. William
Hamlin and his lovely daughter.

"Then there will be a crowd of unimportant people besides," Harriet had
continued. "People who are never asked to any small parties come to this
reception just because they can get in. So you girls will have to
entertain yourselves this morning. I have a thousand things to do. Why
not take the girls to look at the White House, Ruth? That is the first
thing to do in Washington. I am sorry I can't go with you. But you just
walk straight down Connecticut Avenue and you can't miss it."

It was a perfect day. Although it was early in December, the atmosphere
was like Indian summer. Washington shone sparkling white through a dim
veil of haze. The "Automobile Girls" walked briskly along toward the
White House, chatting every step of the way.

"Where are the poplar trees planted along this avenue by Thomas
Jefferson, Ruth?" Grace Carter demanded. "I read somewhere that Jefferson
meant to make this avenue look like the famous street called '_Unter den
Linden_' in Berlin."

"He did, child, but most of the poplar trees died," Ruth rejoined, "and
some one else planted these oaks and elms. Why are you so silent,
Barbara? Are you tired?"

"I think Washington is the most beautiful city in the whole world," Bab
answered with sudden enthusiasm.

"Wait until you have seen it," Ruth teased. "Uncle William wants to take
us through the Capitol. But I suppose there is no harm in our looking at
the outside of the White House. Later on, when we go to one of the
President's receptions, we can see the inside of it."

"Shall we ever see the President?" Mollie asked breathlessly. "Won't it
be wonderful? I never dreamed that even Mr. Hamlin could take us to the
President's home."

"Here we are at the White House," said Ruth.

The "Automobile Girls" stood silent for a moment, looking in through the
autumn foliage at the simple colonial mansion, which is the historic
"White House."

"I am glad our White House looks like that," Bab said, after half a
moment's pause. "I was so afraid it would be pretentious. But it is just
big and simple and dignified as our President's home ought to be. It
makes me feel so glad to be an American," Barbara ended with a flush. She
was afraid the other girls were laughing at her.

"I think so too, Bab," Ruth agreed. "I don't see why girls cannot be as
patriotic as boys. We may be able to serve our country in some way, some
day. I hope we shall have the chance."

The "Automobile Girls" had entered the White House grounds and were
strolling along through the park.

Bab and Ruth were talking of the beauties of Washington. But no such
thoughts were engrossing pretty Mollie's attention. Mollie's mind was
dwelling on the society pleasures the "Automobile Girls" expected to
enjoy at the Capital City. Grace Carter was listening to Barbara's and
Ruth's animated conversation.

From the very first days at Newport, Mollie Thurston had cared more for
society than had her sister and two friends. Her dainty beauty and pretty
manners made her a favorite wherever she went. Mollie's friends had
spoiled her, and since her arrival in Washington the old story had
repeated itself. Harriet Hamlin had already taken Mollie under her
special protection. And Mollie was wildly excited with the thought of the
social experiences ahead of her.

The four girls spent some time strolling about the White House
grounds. Then Ruth proposed that they take a car and visit the
Congressional Library.

"I think it is the most beautiful building in Washington, and, in fact,
one of the finest in the world," she said enthusiastically, and later
when the "Automobile Girls" were fairly inside the famous library, they
fully agreed with her. It was particularly hard to tear Barbara away from
what seemed to her the most fascinating place she was ever in, and she
announced her intention of visiting it again at the first opportunity.

The sightseers arrived home in time for luncheon and at four o'clock that
afternoon they stood in a row, beside Harriet Hamlin and her father,
helping to receive the guests who crowded in to the reception. Some of
the women wore beautiful gowns, others looked as though they had come
from small towns where the residents knew nothing of fashionable society.

Mollie and Bab wore the white chiffon frocks Mr. Prescott had presented
them with in Chicago. But Grace and Ruth wore gowns that had been ordered
for this particular occasion. Bab thought their white frocks, which
looked as though they were new, as pretty as any of the gowns worn there.
But little Mollie was not satisfied. She hated old clothes, no matter how
well they looked. And Harriet Hamlin was rarely beautiful in an imported
gown of pale, yellow crêpe.

After receiving for an hour, Bab slipped quietly into a chair near a
window. She wished to examine the guests at her leisure. Mollie and Ruth
were deep in conversation with Mrs. Post and Hugh. Grace was talking to
Dorothy and Gwendolin Morton.

Barbara's eyes wandered eagerly over the throng of people. Suddenly some
one touched her on the shoulder.

"You do not remember me, do you?"

Bab turned and saw a young woman.

"I am Marjorie Moore," said the newcomer. "I am the girl who came to ask
you for your pictures. Perhaps you think it is strange for me to come to
Harriet Hamlin's reception when she was so rude to me last night. But I
am not a guest. Besides, newspaper people are not expected to have any
feelings. My newspaper sent me to find out what people were here this
afternoon. So here I am! I know everybody in Washington. Would you like
me to point out some of the celebrities to you? See that stunning woman
just coming in at the door? She has the reputation of being the most
popular woman in Washington. But nobody knows just where she comes from,
or who she is, or how she gets her money. But I must not talk Washington
gossip. You'll meet her soon yourself."

"How do you do, Miss Moore?" broke in a charming contralto voice.
"You are the very person I wish to see. I can give you some news for
your paper. It is not very important, but I thought you might like
to have it."

"You are awfully good, Mrs. Wilson," Marjorie Moore replied gratefully.
"I have just been talking to Miss Thurston about you. May I introduce
her? She has just arrived in Washington, and I told her, only half a
second ago, that you were the nicest woman in this town."

Mrs. Wilson laughed quietly. "I know Miss Thurston's sister and her
friend, Miss Carter. Mr. Hamlin let me help chaperon them at a reception
yesterday afternoon. But Miss Moore has been flattering me dreadfully. I
am a very unimportant person, though I happen to have the good fortune to
be a friend of Mr. Hamlin's and Harriet's. I am keeping house in
Washington at present. Some day you must come to see me."

Bab thanked her new acquaintance. She thought she had never seen a more
unusual looking woman. It was impossible to guess her age. Mrs. Wilson's
hair was snow-white, but her face was as young as a girl's and her eyes
were fascinatingly dark under her narrow penciled brows. She was gowned
in a pale blue broadcloth dress, and wore on her head a large black hat
trimmed with a magnificent black plume.

"The top of the afternoon to you!" declared a new arrival in Bab's
sheltered corner. "How is a man to find you if you will hide behind
curtains?" This time Bab recognized Peter Dillon, her acquaintance of the
afternoon before.

Mrs. Wilson, whose manner suggested a charming frankness and innocence,
took Peter by the arm. "Which of the three Graces do you mean to devote
yourself to this afternoon, Peter? You shall not flatter us all at once."

"I flatter?" protested Peter, in aggrieved tones. "Why truthfulness is my
strong point."

Marjorie Moore gave a jarring laugh. "Is it, Mr. Dillon?" she returned,
not too politely. "Please count me out of Mr. Dillon's flatteries. He
does not include a woman who works in them." Marjorie Moore hurried away.

"Whew-w!" ejaculated Peter. "Miss Moore does not love me, does she? I
came up only to say a few words. Miss Hamlin is keeping me busy this
afternoon. Come and have some coffee, Miss Thurston. I am sure you
look tired."

"I would rather not," Barbara protested. "I am going to run away upstairs
for a minute, if you will excuse me."

Before Barbara could make her escape from the drawing-room she saw that
Peter Dillon and Mrs. Wilson had both lost their frivolous manner and
were deep in earnest conversation.



CHAPTER III

MR. TU FANG WU


Bab knew that at the rear of this floor of Mr. Hamlin's house there was a
small room that was seldom used. She hoped to find refuge in it for a few
minutes, and then to return to her friends.

The room was empty. Bab sank down into a great arm chair and
closed her eyes.

A few moments later she opened them though she heard no sound. A fat
little Chinese gentleman stood regarding her with an expression of
amusement on his face.

Barbara jumped hastily to her feet. Where was she? She felt frightened.
Although the man before her was yellow and foreign, and wore strange
Chinese clothes, he was evidently a person of importance. Had Barbara
awakened at the Court of Pekin? Her companion wore a loose, black satin
coat, heavily embroidered in flowers and dragons and a round, close
fitting silk cap with a button on top of it.

"I beg your pardon," Bab exclaimed in confusion. "Whom did you wish to
see? There is no one in here."

The Chinese gentleman made Bab a stately bow. "No one," he protested.
"This is the first time, since my residence in America, that I have heard
an American girl speak of herself as no one. Miss United States is always
some one in her own country. But may I therefore present myself to little
'Miss No One'? I am Dr. Tu Fang Wu, His Imperial Chinese Majesty's Envoy
Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States."

"I am very proud to meet you, Mr. Minister," Barbara returned, wondering
if "Mr. Minister" was the proper way to address a foreign ambassador.
She thought Mr. Hamlin had told her so, only the night before.

Bab did not know in the least what she should do or say to such a
distinguished Oriental. She might make a mistake at any minute. For Bab
had been learning, every hour since her arrival in Washington, that in no
place is social etiquette more important than in the Capital City.

"May I find Mr. Hamlin for you?" Bab suggested, hoping to make her
escape.

The Chinese Minister shook his head slowly. "Mr. Hamlin is engaged with
his other guests."

"Then won't you be seated?" Bab asked in desperation. Really she and this
strange yellow gentleman could not stand staring at each other the whole
afternoon. It made Bab feel creepy to have a Chinaman regard her so
steadfastly and without the slightest change of expression, even if he
were a foreign minister.

Bab felt this meeting to be one of the strangest experiences of her whole
life. She had never seen a Chinaman before, except on the street carrying
a basket of laundry. But here she was forced into a tête-à-tête with one
in the highest social position.

"Have you any daughters?" Barbara asked in her effort to break the
awful silence.

Mr. Tu Fang Wu again bowed gravely. "I have one daughter and one small
son. My daughter is not here with me this afternoon. Chinese girls do
not go to entertainments where there are young men. My daughter has been
brought up according to the customs of our country. But she has been in
Washington for several years. I fear she, too, would like to be
emancipated, like the American girl. It is not possible, although she
enjoys many privileges she will not have when she returns to China. My
daughter is betrothed to a nobleman in her own country. Perhaps you would
like to meet my daughter, Wee Tu? She is fifteen years old. I shall ask
Miss Hamlin to bring you to luncheon at the Embassy."

To Barbara's relief Mr. William Hamlin now appeared at the door.

The Chinese minister again bowed profoundly to Barbara. "I was
looking for your smoking-room," he laughed, "but I found this young
woman instead."

As the two men went out of the room, Bab had difficulty in making sure
that she had not been dreaming of this fat, yellow gentleman.

"Barbara Thurston, what do you mean by running away by yourself?"
exclaimed Grace Carter, a moment later. "We have been looking for you for
ten minutes."

Hugh Post, Mollie and a strange young man were close behind Grace.

"I want to present my friend, Lieutenant Elmer Wilson," Hugh announced.
"He is a very important person in Washington."

"Not a bit of it," laughed the young man. "I am one of the President's
aides. I try to make myself generally useful."

"Your work must be very interesting," Barbara said quickly. "Do you--"

Just then a soft contralto voice interrupted her. "Are you ready to go
with me, Elmer?" it said.

Barbara recognized the voice as belonging to the Mrs. Wilson whom she had
met in the drawing room not an hour before. Could it be that this young
and lovely looking woman was the mother of Elmer Wilson? Surely the young
man was at least twenty-two years old.

"Coming in a moment, Mother," Elmer replied. "Have you said good-bye
to Harriet?"

"Harriet is not in the reception room now. Nearly all her guests have
gone," Mrs. Wilson murmured softly. "Mr. Hamlin is angry. But poor
Harriet ought to have a chance to talk for a few minutes to the richest
young man in Washington. I will leave you, Elmer. If you see Harriet, you
may tell her I did not think it fair to disturb her."

Barbara went back to the drawing-room to search for Ruth. She found Ruth
standing next her uncle, Mr. Hamlin, saying the adieux in Harriet's
place. A few moments later the last visitor had withdrawn and Mr. Hamlin
quickly left Ruth and Bab alone.

Mr. Hamlin was a small man, with iron gray hair, a square jaw and thin,
tightly closed lips. He seldom talked, and the "Automobile Girls" felt
secretly afraid of him.

"Uncle is dreadfully angry with Harriet," Ruth explained to Bab, after
Mr. Hamlin was out of hearing. "But he is awfully strict and I do not
think he is exactly fair. He does not give Harriet credit for what she
does, but he gets awfully cross if she makes any mistakes. Harriet is
upstairs, in her own sitting-room, talking to a great friend of hers. He
is a man Uncle hates, although he has known Charlie Meyers since
childhood. He is immensely rich, but he is very ill-bred, and that is why
Uncle dislikes him. I don't think Harriet cares a bit more for this young
man than she does for half a dozen others. But if Uncle doesn't look out
Harriet will marry him for spite. Harriet hates being poor. She is not
poor, really. But I am afraid she is terribly extravagant. Promise not to
laugh when you see Charlie Meyers. He looks a little like a pig, he is so
pink and fat."

"Girls!" called Harriet's voice. "Are you still in here? Mr. Meyers has
just gone, and I wanted you to meet him. He is going to have a motor
party and take you to see Mount Vernon. We can drive along the Potomac
and have our supper somewhere in the country."

"I'm going to drive Mr. A. Bubble, Harriet," Ruth replied. "As long as I
brought my car to Washington I must use it. But I suppose we can get up
guests enough to fill two automobiles, can't we?"

"Where's Father?" Harriet inquired, trying to conceal a tremor in her
voice. "Did he know I was upstairs?"

"I am afraid he did, Harriet," Ruth replied.

"Well, I don't care," declared Harriet defiantly. "I will select my own
friends. Charlie Meyers is stupid and ill-bred, but he is good natured,
and I am tired of position and poverty."

"You are no such thing, Harriet," protested Ruth, taking her cousin by
the hand and leading her to a long mirror. "There, look at yourself in
your yellow gown. You look like a queen. Please don't be silly."

"It's clothes that make the woman, Ruth," Harriet replied, kissing Ruth
unexpectedly. "And this yellow gown is just one of the things that
troubles me. Dear me, I am glad the reception is over!"



CHAPTER IV

AT THE CHINESE EMBASSY


"Shall we eat our luncheon with chopsticks to-day?" Mollie Thurston asked
Harriet Hamlin an hour before the "Automobile Girls" and their hostess
were to start for the Chinese Embassy.

Harriet laughed good-humoredly at Mollie's question. "You absurd child,
don't you know the Chinese minister is one of the most cultivated men in
Washington! When he is in America he does what the Americans do. But his
wife, Lady Tu, is delightfully Chinese. She paints her face in the
Chinese fashion and wears beautiful Chinese clothes in her own home. And
the little Chinese daughter is a darling. Really, Mollie, you will feel
as though you had been on a trip to the Orient when you meet dainty
little Wee Tu."

"Oh, I don't believe a Chinese girl can be attractive," Mollie argued,
her eyes fixed on the pile of pretty gowns which Harriet was laying out
on her bed.

"Do wear the rose-colored gown to-day, Harriet!" Mollie pleaded. "It is
such a love of a frock and so becoming to you with your white skin and
dark hair. Dear me, it must be nice to have such lovely clothes!" Mollie
paused for a minute.

Harriet turned around to find her little friend blushing.

"I do hope," Mollie went on, "that you are not going to feel ashamed of
Bab and me while we are your guests in Washington. You can see for
yourself that we are poor, and have only a few gowns. Of course it is
different with Grace and Ruth. But our father is dead, and--" Mollie
stopped. She did not know how to go on with her explanation. Somehow she
did not feel that Barbara or her mother would approve of her apologizing
to Harriet for their simple wardrobes.

"Mollie!" Harriet exclaimed reproachfully. "You know I think you and
Barbara are so pretty and clever that it does not matter what your
clothes are like. Besides, if you should ever want anything special to
wear while you are here, why, I have a host of gowns."

Mollie shook her head. Of course she could not borrow Harriet's gowns.
And, though Harriet was trying to comfort her, her tone showed very
plainly that she had noticed the slimness of the Thurston girls'
preparations in the matter of wardrobe for several weeks of gayety in
Washington.

At a little before one o'clock the "Automobile Girls" and Harriet were
ushered into the reception room of the Chinese Embassy by a grave Chinese
servant clad in immaculate white and wearing his long pig-tail curled on
top of his head.

The minister and his wife came forward. Lady Tu wore a dress of heavy
Chinese embroidery with a long skirt and a short full coat. Her hair was
inky black and built out on each side of her head. She had a band of gold
across it and golden flowers set with jewels hung above each ear. Her
face was enameled in white and a small patch of crimson was painted just
under her lip.

Bab could hardly restrain an exclamation of delight at the beauty of the
reception room. The walls were covered with Chinese silk and heavy panels
of embroidery. A Chinese banner, with a great dragon on it, hung over the
mantel-piece. The furniture was elaborately carved teakwood.

The girls at once glanced around for the Chinese minister's daughter. But
she was no where to be seen. Instead, Peter Dillon, Bab's first chance
acquaintance in Washington, was smiling a welcome. Mrs. Wilson and her
son were also present. The two or three other visitors were unknown to
the "Automobile Girls." Even when luncheon was served the little Chinese
girl did not make her appearance. The four girls were beginning to feel
rather disappointed. They had come to the Embassy chiefly to see Wee Tu,
and they were evidently not going to be granted that pleasure.

Just as they were about to go back to the reception room, Mr. Tu Fang Wu
suggested courteously to his girl guests: "If it pleases you, will you
now go up to my daughter's apartments? She does not eat her meals with us
when we entertain young men guests. It is not the custom of our country."
The Chinese minister touched a bell and another Chinese servant appeared,
his slippered feet making no noise. At the top of the stairs a Chinese
woman met the "Automobile Girls" and conducted them to the apartment of
Wee Tu, the minister's daughter.

Wee Tu bowed her head to the floor when the "Automobile Girls" entered.
But when she raised her face her little black eyes were glowing, and a
faint pink showed under her smooth, yellow skin. Think what it meant to
this little Chinese maid, with her shut-in life, to meet four American
girls like Barbara, Ruth, Grace and Mollie! Harriet had lingered behind
for a few moments.

"Your most honorable presence does my miserable self much honor," stated
Wee Tu automatically.

Bab laughed. She simply could not help it. Wee Tu's greeting seemed so
absurd to her ears, though she knew it was the Chinese manner of
speaking. But Bab's merry laugh saved the situation, as it often had done
before, for the little Chinese maid laughed in return, and the five girls
sat giggling in the most intimate fashion.

The servant passed around preserved Chinese fruits, nuts and dried
melon seed.

"Is Miss Hamlin not with you?" the Chinese minister's daughter asked
finally, in broken English.

At this moment Harriet's voice was heard in the corridor. She was talking
gayly to Peter Dillon. The Chinese girl caught the sound of the young
man's charming laugh. Bab was gazing straight at Wee Tu. Wee Tu looked
like a beautiful Chinese doll, not a bit like a human being.

At the entrance to Wee Tu's apartment Peter bowed gracefully. He waited
until Harriet entered.

"Your most honorable ladyship," he inquired. "Have I your permission to
enter your divine apartment? Your most noble father has waived ceremony
in my favor and says I may be allowed to see you in company with your
other guests. You are to pretend you are an American girl to-day."

Wee Tu again made a low bow, almost touching the soft Chinese rug with
her crown of black hair. Her mantle was of blue silk crepe embroidered in
lotus flowers, and she wore artificial lotus blossoms drooping on either
side of her head.

After Peter's entrance, Wee Tu did not speak nor smile. She sat with her
slender yellow hands clasped together, her nails so long they were tipped
with gold to prevent their breaking. Her tiny feet in their embroidered
slippers looked much too small for walking.

Peter made himself agreeable to all the girls. He chatted with Harriet,
joked with Bab and Ruth. Now and then he spoke to the Chinese girl in
some simple gentle fashion that she could understand.

"Peter Dillon is awfully attractive," Bab thought. "I wonder why I
was prejudiced against him at first because of what that newspaper
girl said."

Peter walked with Barbara back to Mr. Hamlin's house.

"Would you mind my asking you a question?" Bab demanded when they were
fairly on the way.

Peter laughed. "It's a woman's privilege, isn't it?"

"Well, how do you happen to be so intimate at the Chinese minister's?"
was Barbara's direct question. "They seemed so formal and then all of a
sudden Mr. Tu Fang Wu let you come up to see his daughter."

"I know them very well," Peter returned simply. "I often dine at the
Chinese minister's with his family. So I have met his daughter several
times before. I have made myself useful to Mr. Tu Fang Wu once or twice,
and my legation likes me to keep in touch with the people in authority."

"Oh," exclaimed Barbara. She remembered that Peter was equally intimate
at Mr. Hamlin's, and she wondered how he managed to keep up such a
variety of acquaintances.

"I wonder if you would do a fellow a favor some day?" Peter asked. "I'll
bet you have lots of nerve. Harriet is apt to get frightened at the
critical minute."

"It would all depend on what you asked me to do," Bab returned puzzled by
Peter's remark.

"Oh, I won't ask you until I have managed to do something for you first.
It is only that I think you can see a joke and I have a good one that I
mean to try some day," Peter replied.



CHAPTER V

SUB ROSA


The next morning, Peter Dillon was lounging in Mrs. Wilson's library,
chatting with her on apparently easy terms.

"I think it is a special dispensation of Providence that sent the
'Automobile Girls' to Washington to visit Harriet Hamlin just at this
particular time, Mrs. Wilson," declared Peter Dillon.

Mrs. Wilson walked back and forth across her drawing room floor several
times before she answered. She looked older in the early morning light.
But her restlessness did not disturb Peter, who was reclining gracefully
in a chair, smoking a cigarette.

"I am not sure you have reason to bless Providence, Peter Dillon," Mrs.
Wilson protested. "What a man you are! You simply cannot judge all girls
by the same standard. Some day you are going to meet a girl who is
cleverer than you are. And then, where will you be?"

"Oh, I'll go slowly," Peter argued. "I know I am taking chances in making
friends with the clever one. But she has more nerve and courage than the
others. I am sure it will be much better to leave Harriet out of the
whole business, if possible."

"All right, Peter," Mrs. Wilson agreed. "Manage your own affairs, since
this happens to be your own special joke. But you had much better have
left the whole matter to me."

"And spoil my good time with five charming girls?" Peter protested,
smiling. "No, Mrs. Wilson; that is too much to ask of me. If I can't
carry the thing off successfully, you will come to the rescue and help
me. You've promised that. We have had our little jokes together before.
But this strikes me as being about the best of the whole lot. We will
have everybody in Washington laughing up his sleeve pretty soon. There
will be a few people who won't laugh, but so long as we keep quiet we
need not worry about them. Has Elmer gone to work? I know I have made
you a dreadfully early visit. It is very charming of you to be up in
time to see me."

"Don't flatter me, Peter; it is not worth while," Mrs. Wilson said
angrily. Then she smiled. "Never mind, Peter; you can no more help
flattering than you can help breathing, whether your reason is a good or
a bad one. I suppose it is because you are an Irishman. By the way, Elmer
admires one of these charming 'Automobile Girls.' He has talked of no
one else except Mollie Thurston since Harriet's tea. Be careful what you
say or do before him."

"I shall be careful," Peter returned easily. "My attentions are directed
toward the other sister. How have you managed to keep that big boy of
yours so much in the dark about--oh, a number of things?" finished Peter.

"It is because Elmer has perfect faith in me, Peter," Mrs. Wilson
answered, passing her hand over her eyes to hide their expression.

"As all other men have had before him, my lady," Peter avowed. "Is it
true that Mr. William Hamlin is now a worshiper at your shrine?"

"Absurd!" protested Mrs. Wilson. "Here comes Elmer."

"Why, Peter Dillon, this is a surprise!" exclaimed the young lieutenant,
walking into the room in search of his mother. "I never knew Mother to
get up so early before. I have just been inquiring of your maid, Mother,
to know what had become of you. Harriet Hamlin wants you to chaperon us
on an automobile ride out to Mt. Vernon and along the Potomac River.
Charlie Meyers is giving the party, and Harriet thinks her father won't
object if you will go along to look after us. That Charlie Meyers is an
awful bounder! But Harriet wants to show her little Yankee visitors the
sights. Do come along with us, Mother. For I have a fancy I should like
to stroll through the old Washington garden with 'sweet sixteen.'"

"I will chaperon you with pleasure, Elmer," Mrs. Wilson agreed. "But what
about you, Peter? Are you not invited?"

Peter looked chagrined.

"No; I am not invited, and I call it unkind of Harriet. She knows I am
dreadfully impressed with the 'Automobile Girls.'"

Mrs. Wilson and Elmer both laughed provokingly. "That is just what's the
trouble with you, Peter. Harriet is accustomed to your devotion to her.
Now that you have turned your thoughts in another direction, she may look
upon you as a faithless swain," Mrs. Wilson teased.

"Don't undertake more than you can manage, Peter," teased Elmer Wilson.

"That is good advice for Peter. Remember, Peter, I have warned you. Some
day you will run across a girl who is cleverer than you are. Then look
out, young man," Mrs. Wilson repeated.

But Peter only laughed cheerfully. "What girl isn't cleverer than a man?"
he protested. "_Au revoir_. I shall do my best to persuade Harriet to
let me go along with her party this afternoon. I suppose we shall be
starting soon after luncheon, as it is Saturday."

"Mother, can you let me have some money?" Elmer asked, as soon as Peter
was out of hearing. "I am ashamed to ask you for it. But going out in
society does cost a fellow an awful lot."

Mrs. Wilson shook her head. "I am sorry, Boy; I can't let you have
anything just now. I am short of money myself at present. But I expect to
have some money coming in, say in about two weeks, or even ten days. Then
I can let you have what you like."

       *       *       *       *       *

"How shall we divide our party for the motor ride, Ruth?" asked Harriet
Hamlin about two o'clock on the afternoon of the same day.

Ruth's red car was standing in front of Mr. Hamlin's door with another
larger one belonging to Harriet's friend, Charlie Meyers, waiting
behind it.

The automobile party stood out on the side walk and Peter Dillon had
somehow managed to be one of them.

"Suppose, Barbara, Grace and Hugh Post go along with me, Harriet?" Ruth
proposed. "Mr. Meyers' car is larger than mine. He can take the rest of
the party."

"What a division!" protested Peter Dillon, as he climbed into Ruth's
automobile and took his seat next Bab. "Do you suppose, for one instant,
that we are going to see Hugh Post drive off, the only man among three
girls? Not if I can help it!"

The two automobiles traveled swiftly through Washington allowing the four
"Automobile Girls" only tantalizing glimpses of the executive buildings
which they passed on the way.

In about an hour the cars covered the sixteen miles that lay between the
Capital City and the home of its first President.

Such a deep and abiding tranquillity pervaded the atmosphere of Mt.
Vernon that the noisy chatter of the young people was, for an instant,
hushed into silence, as they drove through the great iron gates at the
entrance to Mt. Vernon, and on up the elm-shaded lawn to the house.

Although it was December, the fall had been unusually warm and the trees
were not yet bare of their autumn foliage; the grass still looked smooth
and green under foot.

The "Automobile Girls" held their breath as their eyes rested on the most
famous historic home in America.

"Oh, Ruth!" exclaimed Bab. But when she saw Peter's eyes smiling at her
enthusiasm she stopped and would not say another word.

Of course, Mt. Vernon was an old story to Mrs. Wilson, to Harriet, and
indeed to the entire party, except the four girls. But they wished to see
every detail of the Washington house. They went into the wide hall and
there beheld the key to the Bastile presented by Lafayette to General
Washington. They examined the music room, with its queer, old-fashioned
musical instruments; went up to Martha Washington's bedroom and even
looked upon the white-canopied bed where George Washington died. Indeed,
they wandered from garret to cellar in the old house. But it was a
beautiful afternoon and the outdoors called them at last.

And, after all, it is the outdoors at Mt. Vernon that is most beautiful.
The house is a simple country home with a wide, old-fashioned portico and
gallery built of frame and painted to look like stone.

But there is no palace on the Rhine, no castle in Spain, that has a more
beautiful natural situation than Mt. Vernon. It stands on a piece of
gently swelling land that slopes gradually down to the Potomac, and
commands a view of many miles of the broad and noble river.

Bab and Ruth managed to get away from the rest of their party and to slip
out on the wide colonnaded veranda.

"How peaceful and beautiful it is out here," Ruth exclaimed, with her
arm around her friend's waist. "It seems to me that, if I lived in
Washington, I would just run out here whenever anything uncomfortable
happened to me. I am sure, if I spent the day at Mt. Vernon, I should not
feel trouble any more."

Barbara stood silent. A vague premonition of some possible trouble
overtook her.

"Ruth," Bab asked suddenly, "do you like Harriet's friend, Peter Dillon?
Every now and then he talks to me in the most mysterious fashion. I don't
understand what he means."

Ruth looked unusually grave. Then she answered Bab in a very curious
tone. "I know you have lots of common sense, Bab, dear," Ruth began. "But
promise me you won't put any special faith in Peter Dillon. He is not one
bit like Hugh, or Ralph Ewing, or the boys we met at the Major's house
party. When I meet any one who is such a favorite with everyone I always
wonder whether he has any real feelings or whether he is trying to
accomplish some end. I suppose Peter Dillon can't help striving to be
agreeable to everyone."

Bab laughed a little. "Why, Ruth," she protested, "that idea does not
sound a bit like you. You are sweet to everyone yourself, dear, and
everyone loves you. But I do know what you mean about Peter Dillon. I--"

"Hello," cried Mollie's sweet voice. She waved a long blue scarf
toward Ruth and Bab. Mollie and Elmer Wilson were standing on the
lawn, examining the motto on the sun dial. It read, "I record none but
sunny hours."

"Let me write down that motto for you, Miss Thurston," Elmer Wilson
suggested. "I hope you may follow the old sun dial's example and record
none but sunny hours yourself."

"Ruth!" called Hugh, coming around from the other side of the porch with
Peter Dillon. "Well, here you are, at last! It is not fair for you two
girls to run off together like this. Harriet has disappeared, and Mrs.
Wilson is hiding somewhere. Do you remember, Ruth, you promised to go
with me to see the old Washington deer park. It has just been restocked
with deer. Won't you come, too, Bab?"

Barbara shook her head as Hugh and Ruth walked off together. Bab felt
sure that Hugh would like to have a chance to talk with Ruth alone,
for they had never ceased to be intimate friends since the early days
at Newport.

Peter Dillon stood looking out at the river, whistling softly, "Kathleen
Mavourneen." It was the song Barbara had first heard him whistle in the
drawing-room of Mr. Hamlin's house. The young man said nothing, for a few
moments, even when he and Bab were alone. But when Bab came over toward
him, Peter smiled. He had his hat off and he had run his hands through
his dark auburn hair.

"I say, Miss Thurston, why can't you make up your mind to like me?" he
questioned. "Surely you don't suspect me of dark designs, do you? You
American people are so strange. Just because I am half a Russian you
think I have some sinister purpose in my mind. I am not an anarchist,
and I don't want to go about trampling on the poor. I wish you could
meet the Russian ambassador. He is about the most splendid-looking man
you ever saw. I know him, well, you see, because my mother was a distant
cousin of his."

Barbara laughed good-humoredly. "You seem to be a kind of connecting link
between three or four nations--Russia, America, China. What are your real
duties at your legation?"

Barbara looked at her companion with a real question in her brown eyes--a
question she truly desired to have answered. She was interested to know
what duties an attaché performed for his embassy. Peter, in spite of his
frivolities, claimed to be a hard worker.

"You have not seen the loveliest part of Mt. Vernon yet, Miss Thurston,"
Peter Dillon interposed just at this instant. "I want to show you the old
garden, and we must hurry before the gates are closed. Yes; I know I did
not answer your question. An attaché just makes himself generally useful
to his chief. But if you really want to know what my ambition is, and how
I work to achieve it, why some day I will tell you." Peter looked at Bab
so seriously that she answered quickly:

"Yes, I should dearly love to see the garden."

Bab and Peter Dillon wandered together through the paths formed by the
box hedges planted in Martha Washington's garden more than a century ago.

Neither seemed to feel like talking. The young man had seen the gardener
as they entered the enclosure, and had persuaded him to allow them to go
through the lovely spot alone.

Bab's vivid imagination brought to life the old colonial ladies who had
once wandered in this famous garden. She saw their white wigs, their
powder and patches and full skirts. So Bab forgot all about her
companion.

Suddenly she heard Peter give a slight exclamation. They had both come to
the end of the garden walk. There before them stood a great rose tree.
Blooming in the unusually warm sunshine were two rose-buds, gently tipped
with frost.

"Ah, Miss Thurston, how glad I am we found the garden first!" Peter
cried. "This is the famous Mary Washington rose, which Washington
planted here in his garden, and named in honor of his mother. Wait here
until I find the gardener. I am going to make him let us have these two
tiny rose-buds."

"How nice Peter Dillon really is," Bab thought. "Ruth was mistaken in
warning me against him. Of course, he does not show on the surface what
he actually feels. But perhaps I shall find out he is a finer fellow than
we think he is. Mr. Hamlin says Harriet is wrong in believing Peter is
never in earnest about anything."

"It's all right, Miss Thurston," called Peter, returning in a few minutes
with his eyes shining. "The gardener says we may have the roses." The
young fellow dropped down on his knees before the rose bush without a bit
of affectation or self-consciousness. He skilfully cut the two half faded
rose-buds from the stalk and handed one to Barbara.

"Keep this, Miss Thurston," he said earnestly. "And if ever you should
wish me to do you a favor, just send the flower to me and I shall perform
whatever task you set me to do to the best of my skill." Peter looked at
his own rose. "May I keep my rose-bud for the same purpose?" he begged
quietly. "Perhaps I shall send my flower to you some day and ask you to
do me a service. Will you do it for me?"

"Yes, Mr. Dillon, I will do you any favor that I can," Bab returned
steadily. "But I don't make rash promises in the dark. And I have very
little opportunity to do people favors. You make me think of the
newspaper girl, Marjorie Moore. She tried to force me into a promise
without letting me know what she wanted, the first day I saw her. Does
everyone try to get some one to do something for him in Washington?"

At the mention of Marjorie Moore's name the change in Peter Dillon's face
was so startling that Barbara was startled. Just now he did not look in
the least like an Irishman. His lips tightened into a fine, cruel line,
his eyes grew almost black and had a queer, Chinese slant to them. It
suddenly dawned on Barbara, that Russians have Asiatic blood in their
veins and are often more like Oriental people than they are like those of
the western world.

But Peter only said carelessly, after he had regained control of his
face: "Miss Moore doesn't like me; and frankly, I don't like her. She
told you she did society work for her newspaper. She does a great deal
more. She is constantly watching at the legations to see if she can spy
on any of their secret information. It is not good form to warn one girl
against another. But if I were you, Miss Thurston, I would take with a
grain of salt any information that Miss Moore might give you."

Barbara answered quietly: "Oh, I don't suppose Miss Moore will tell me
any of her secrets. She does not come to Mr. Hamlin's except on business.
Harriet does not like her."

"Good for Harriet!" Peter muttered to himself. "It may be Harriet,
after all!"

"Barbara Thurston, you and Peter come along this minute," Harriet ordered
unexpectedly. "Don't you know we shall be locked up in Mt. Vernon if we
stay here much longer. Ruth's automobile is already filled and she is
waiting to start. You and Peter are to get into Mr. Meyers' car with me.
We have another hour before sunset. We are going to motor along the river
and have our supper at an inn a few miles from here."

As Peter Dillon ran ahead to join Harriet Hamlin, a small piece of paper
fell out of his pocket. Barbara picked it up and slipped it inside her
coat, intending to hand it back to Mr. Dillon as soon as she had an
opportunity. But there were other things that seemed of more importance
to absorb her attention for the rest of the evening. And Barbara was not
to remember the paper until some time later.



CHAPTER VI

THE ARREST


After eating supper, and spending the evening at an old-fashioned
Southern Inn on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, the two
automobile parties started back to Washington.

Barbara and Peter Dillon occupied seats in the car with Harriet and Mr.
Meyers, Mrs. Wilson, and two Washington girls who had been members of
their party.

As Ruth did not know the roads it was decided that she keep to the rear
and follow the car in front of her.

It was a clear moonlight night, and, though the roads were not good, no
member of the party dreamed of trouble.

Bab sat next to Charlie Meyers, and her host was in a decidedly sulky
temper. For Harriet had grown tired of his devotion, after several hours
of it during the afternoon, and was amusing herself with Peter.

No sooner had the two cars sped away from the peaceful shadows of Mt.
Vernon, than Peter began to play Prince Charming to Harriet.

Charlie Meyers did not know what to do. He was a stupid fellow, who
expected his money to carry him through everything. He would hardly
listen to Barbara's conversation or take the slightest interest in
anything she tried to say.

Every time Harriet's gay laugh rang out from the next seat Charlie Meyers
would drive his car faster than ever, until it fairly bounded over the
rough places in the road.

Several times Mrs. Wilson remonstrated with him. "You are going too fast,
Mr. Meyers. It is dark, and I am afraid we shall have an accident if you
are not more careful. Please go slower."

For an instant, Mr. Meyers would obey Mrs. Wilson's request to lessen the
speed of his car. Then he would dash ahead as though the very furies were
after him.

As for Ruth, she had to follow the automobile in front in order to find
her way, so it was necessary for her to run her car at the same high
speed. Neither Ruth nor her companions knew the pitfalls along the road.
Hugh did not keep his automobile in Washington, and, though he had a
general idea of the direction they should take, he had never driven along
the particular course selected by Mr. Meyers for their return trip.

Ruth felt her face flush with temper as her car shook and plunged along
the road. In order to keep within a reasonable distance of the heavier
car, she had to put on full power and forge blindly ahead.

Once or twice Ruth called out: "Won't you go a little slower in front,
please? I can't find my way along this road at such a swift pace."

But Ruth's voice floated back on the winds and the leading car paid no
heed to her.

Then Elmer and Hugh took up the refrain, shouting with all their lung
power. They merely wasted their breath. Charlie Meyers either did not
hear them or pretended not to do so. He never once turned his head, or
asked if those back of him were making a safe journey.

Barbara was furious. She fully realized Ruth's predicament, although she
was not in her chum's car. "Please don't get out of sight of Ruth's car,
Mr. Meyers," Bab urged her companion. But he paid not the slightest
attention to her request.

Bab looked anxiously back over the road. Now and then she could see Mr.
A. Bubble's lamps; more often Ruth's car was out of sight. Patience was
not Barbara's strong point.

"Harriet," she protested, "Won't you ask Mr. Meyers to slow down so that
Ruth can follow him. He will not pay the least attention to me."

"What is your hurry, Charlie!" asked Harriet, in a most provoking tone.
She knew the young fellow was not a gentleman, and that he was showing
his anger against her by making them all uncomfortable. But Harriet was
in a wicked humor herself, and she would not try to appease their cross
host. She was having an extremely pleasant time with Peter Dillon, and
really did not realize Ruth's difficulties.

The front car slowed imperceptibly, then hurried on again.

At about half past ten o'clock, Mr. Meyers turned into one of the narrow
old-fashioned streets of the town of Alexandria, which is just south-west
of Washington. The town was only dimly lighted and the roads made winding
turns, so that it was impossible to see any great distance ahead.

Ruth had managed to keep her car going, though she had long since lost
her sweet temper, and the others of her party were very angry.

"It serves us right," Hugh Post declared to Ruth. "We ought never to have
accepted this fellow's invitation. I knew he wasn't a gentleman, and I
know Mr. Hamlin does not wish Harriet to have anything to do with him.
Yet, just because the fellow is enormously rich and gives automobile
parties, here we have been spending the evening as his guests. Look here,
Ruth, do you think I can forget I have enjoyed his hospitality, and
punch his head for him when we get back to Washington, for leading you on
a chase like this?"

Ruth smiled and shook her head. She was seldom nervous about her
automobile after all her experiences as chauffeur. Yet this wild ride at
night through towns of which she knew little or nothing, was not exactly
her idea of sport.

Mr. Bubble was again outdistanced. As the streets were deserted, Ruth
decided to make one more violent spurt in an effort to catch up with the
front car. Poor Mr. A. Bubble who had traveled so far with his carload of
happy girls was shaking from side to side. But Ruth did not think of
danger. Alexandria is a sleepy old Southern town and nearly all its
inhabitants were in bed.

"Aren't there any speed regulations in this part of the world, Hugh?"
Ruth suddenly inquired.

But she was too late. At this instant everyone in her car heard a
loud shout.

"Hold up there! Stop!" A figure on a bicycle darted out of a dark alley
in hot pursuit of them.

"Go it, Ruth!" Hugh whispered. But Ruth shook her head.

"No," she answered. "We must face the music." Ruth put on her stop brake
and her car slowed down.

"What do you mean," cried a wrathful voice, "tearing through a peaceful
town like this, lickitty-split, as though there were no folks on earth
but you. You just come along to the station with me! You'll find out,
pretty quick, what twenty-five miles an hour means in this here town."

"Let me explain matters to you," Hugh protested. "It is all a mistake."

"I ain't never arrested anybody for speeding yet that they ain't told me
it was just a mistake," fumed the policeman. "But you will git a chance
to tell your story to the chief of police. You're just wasting good time
talkin' to me. I ain't got a mite of patience with crazy automobilists."

"Don't take us all to the station house, officer!" Hugh pleaded. "Just
take me along, and let the rest of the party go on back to Washington.
It's awfully late. You surely wouldn't keep these young ladies."

"It's the lady that's a-runnin' the car, ain't it? She's the one that is
under arrest," said the policeman obstinately.

Ruth had not spoken since her automobile was stopped.

She had a lump in her throat, caused partly by anger and partly by
embarrassment and fright. Then, too, Ruth was wondering what her father
would say. In the years she had been running her automobile, over all the
thousands of miles she had traveled, Ruth had never before been stopped
for breaking the speed laws. She had always promised Mr. Stuart to be
careful. And one cannot have followed the fortunes of Ruth Stuart and her
friends in their adventures without realizing Ruth's high and fine regard
for her word. Yet here were Ruth and her friends about to be taken to
jail for breaking the laws of the little Virginia city.

It was small wonder that Ruth found it difficult to speak.

"I will go with the policeman," she assented. "Perhaps he will let you
take Mollie and Grace on home."

Of course no one paid the slightest attention to Ruth's ridiculous
suggestion. Her friends were not very likely to leave her alone to argue
her case before the justice of the peace.

"I say, man, do be reasonable," Hugh urged. He would not give up. "You
can hold me in jail all night if you will just let the others go."

"Please don't argue with the policeman, Hugh," Ruth begged. "He is only
doing his duty. I am so sorry, Mollie darling, for you and Grace. But I
know you won't leave me."

"Oh, we don't mind," the two girls protested. "I suppose we can pay the
fine and they will let us go at once."

Hugh said nothing, for he knew that he had only a few dollars in
his pocket.

When Ruth's car finally reached the station house it was almost
eleven o'clock.

The policeman took the automobile party inside the station. It was bitter
cold in the room, for the winter chill had fallen with the close of the
December day. The fire had died out in the air-tight iron stove in the
room, and Mollie, Ruth and Grace could hardly keep from shivering.

"Well, where is the justice of the peace or whatever man we ought to see
about this wretched business?" Hugh demanded.

At last the policeman looked a little apologetic. "I'll get some one to
make up a fire for you," he answered. "I have got to go out and wake up
the justice to look after your case. It's bed-time and he's home asleep."

"Do you expect us to sit here in this freezing dirty old room half the
night while you go around looking up a magistrate?" Hugh demanded,
wrathfully.

"I told you I would have the fire built up," the policeman answered
sullenly. "But it ain't my fault you got into this trouble. You ought
not to have broken the law. We have had about as much trouble with
automobilists in this here town as we are willing to stand for. And I
might as well tell you, right now, the court will make it pretty hot for
you. It may be I can't get the justice to hear your case until to-morrow,
and you'll have to stay here all night."

"Stay here all night!" cried the five young people, as they sank down
into five hard wooden chairs in utter despair.

"Harriet, have you seen Ruth's automobile?" Bab asked, as Charlie Meyers'
car got safely out of Alexandria and started on the road toward
Washington.

Harriet and Peter both looked around and strained their eyes in the
darkness. But there was no sign of Ruth or her party.

"Don't you think we had better go back a little, Charlie?" Harriet now
suggested. "I am afraid you have gotten too far ahead of Ruth for her to
follow you."

"What has Miss Stuart got Hugh Post and Elmer Wilson with her for, if
they can't show her the way to town?" argued the impolite host of the
automobile parties.

"I think Charlie is right, Harriet. I would not worry," interposed Mrs.
Wilson, in her soft tones. "Elmer may not have known the road during the
early part of our trip, but neither one of the boys is very apt to lose
his way between Alexandria and Washington." Mrs. Wilson laughed at the
very absurdity of the idea.

Harriet said nothing more, and, although Bab was by no means satisfied,
she felt compelled to hold her peace.

"Will you leave me at my house, Charlie?" Mrs. Wilson demanded, as soon
as their automobile reached Washington. "I know Harriet expects to make a
Welsh rarebit for you at her home, but I am going to ask you to excuse
me. I am a good deal older than you children, and I am tired."

When Barbara reached the Hamlin house she hoped ardently to see the
familiar lights of her old friend, A. Bubble waiting outside the door.
But the street was bare of automobiles.

There was nothing to do but to follow the other young people into the
house and take off her hat and coat. But Bab had not the heart to join
Harriet in the dining-room where the preparations for making the rarebit
were now going on. She lingered forlornly in the hall. Every now and then
she would peer anxiously out into the darkness. Still there was no sign
of Ruth or any member of her party! Barbara was wretched. She was now
convinced that some accident had befallen them.

"Come in, Barbara," called Harriet cheerfully. "The Welsh rarebit is
done and it has to be eaten on the instant. I will make another for
Ruth's crowd when they get in. They are certainly awfully slow in
arriving."

"Harriet!" Barbara's white face appeared at the dining-room door. "I
hate to be a nuisance, but I am dreadfully worried about the other
girls. I know they would have gotten home by this time if nothing had
happened to them."

Poor Barbara had to make a dreadful effort to swallow her pride, for
Charlie Meyers had been dreadfully rude to her all afternoon. "Mr.
Meyers," she pleaded, "won't you take me back in your car to look for my
friends? I simply can't bear the suspense any longer." Barbara's eyes
were full of tears.

"Oh, Bab, you are foolish to worry," Harriet protested. "It would not be
worth while for you and Mr. Meyers to go back now. You would only pass
Ruth on the road. It is nearly midnight."

"I know it is," Bab agreed. "And that is why I am so frightened. Don't
you think you could take me to look for them? Please do, Mr. Meyers."

The ill-bred fellow shrugged his shoulders. "What do you take me for,
Miss Thurston? I am not going to let my rarebit get cold. There is
nothing the matter with your friends. They are likely to be along at
any minute."

Barbara did not know what to do. Mr. Hamlin had not yet come in. Yet she
must find out what had happened to Ruth, Mollie and Grace. Bab once
thought of starting out alone and on foot, back up the long country road,
but she gave up the idea as sheer foolishness.

At that moment the grandfather's clock in the hall chimed midnight.
Almost two hours had passed since the two automobiles had entered
Alexandria, and the little town was only eight miles from Washington.

Bab felt she was going to cry before Harriet's guests. She slipped her
hand in her pocket to find her handkerchief. As she silently pressed her
handkerchief against her trembling lips she smelt a delicate perfume.
Something fresh and cool and aromatic touched her face. It was the tiny
rose-bud Peter Dillon had presented to her in the garden!

Now Bab had determined never to ask Peter to do her a favor. She felt
that, once she returned his pledge to him, he had the same right to ask
a favor of her. But what could Barbara do? Her beloved sister and
friends had certainly come to grief somewhere. And Bab was helpless to
find them alone.

"Mr. Dillon," Bab spoke under her breath, just showing her handkerchief
to him with the rose-bud crushed between its damp folds, "won't you help
me to find Ruth?" Bab only glanced at the flower with a shy smile. But
Peter saw it.

He jumped to his feet, his face flushing.

"Put the flower back, Miss Thurston," he said quietly to Barbara. "You do
not need to ask me to help you look for your friends as a favor to you. I
am ashamed of myself to have waited until you asked me. Harriet, I am
going back to look for your guests."

Harriet, who was also feeling uneasy without being willing to confess it,
cheerfully agreed.

"I am going to take your car, Meyers," declared Peter Dillon without
saying so much as by your leave.

Bab and Peter Dillon hurried out to the waiting automobile. Both stopped
only to take coats and caps from the rack in the hall.

If Peter Dillon wished to make a friend of Barbara Thurston, his prompt
response to her plea for help came nearer accomplishing it than anything
else in the world. When Peter refused Bab's proffered rose-bud she then
determined to do him any favor that she could whenever he might desire to
ask it of her.



CHAPTER VII

MOLLIE'S TEMPTATION


The next morning the "Automobile Girls" were sitting in the library of
Mr. Hamlin's home. Ruth, Mollie and Grace were there, for Peter and Bab
had secured their release from the Alexandria jail.

"But how do you think he ever accomplished it?" Mollie inquired.

Harriet laughed and flushed. "Oh, Peter accomplished it in the same way
he does everything else--by making friends with people," she declared.
"Girls, I hope you realize how ashamed I am of last night's proceedings.
I never dreamed that anything had happened to you, or I should have
certainly forced Charlie Meyers to turn back. But I think I have learned
a lesson. Charlie Meyers was horribly rude to you, Bab, and I told him
what we thought of him after you left. I don't want to see him again. So
Father, at least, will be glad. Though how I am to get on in this world
without a husband with money, I don't know." And Harriet sighed.

"Still I would like to have my questions answered," Mollie repeated. "How
did Peter Dillon get us away from that wretched jail in such a short
time when we thought we might have to stay there all night?"

"Why, he just found the justice of the peace, arranged about Ruth's fine,
mentioned Mr. Hamlin's name and did a few more things," Bab laughed. "So,
at last, you were permitted to come home."

"Poor Hugh and Elmer were so mortified at not having enough money with
them to pay the fine. It was just an accident. Yet it was truly my
fault," Ruth argued. "Father has always insisted that I take my
pocket-book whenever I go out of the house. But, of course, I forgot it
yesterday."

"Will Uncle Robert be very angry with you, Ruth, for being arrested?"
Harriet asked. "He need never find out anything about it. Your fine
wasn't so very large, and you always have money enough to pay for
anything."

Ruth laughed. "Oh, I always tell Father every thing! I don't think
he will be very angry with me, when he hears how we happened to get
into trouble."

"Do you really tell your father everything?" Harriet asked, in a
surprised tone.

"Why, yes; why not?" Ruth questioned.

Harriet shook her head. "Well, I do not tell my father all my affairs.
Oh, dear me, no!"

"I suppose I shall have to go back to Alexandria to-day, and appear at
court," Ruth lamented. "I just dread it."

"Oh, no you won't," Bab explained. "Mr. Dillon said he would talk matters
over with Mr. Hamlin, and that he had some influential friends over
there. You will have to pay your fine, Ruth, but you probably will not
have to appear at the trial. They will settle it privately."

"Girls," exclaimed Harriet, "I forgot to tell you something. There is a
big reception at the White House to-morrow evening, and Father says he
wishes to take the 'Automobile Girls' to present them to the President."

"How exciting!" exclaimed Grace Carter. "To think that the 'Automobile
Girls' are going to meet the President, and yet you speak of it as
calmly, Harriet Hamlin, as though it were an everyday affair."

"Oh, nonsense, Grace," Harriet begged. "It will be fun to go to the
White House with you. You girls are so interested in everything. But a
White House reception is an old story to me, and I am afraid there will
be a frightful crowd. But which one of you will go shopping with me
this morning?"

"I will," cried Mollie. "I'd dearly love to see the shops. We don't have
any big stores in Kingsbridge."

"Is there anything I can get for you, girls?" Harriet asked.

Ruth called her cousin over in the corner. "Will you please order flowers
for us to-morrow night!" Ruth requested. "Father told me to be sure to
get flowers whenever we wanted them."

"Lucky Ruth!" sighed Harriet. "I wish I had such a rich and generous
father as you have!"

"What can we wear to the President's reception to-morrow, Bab?" Mollie
whispered in her sister's ear, while Harriet and Ruth were having their
conference.

Bab thought for a moment. "You can wear the corn-colored frock you wore
to dinner with the Princess Sophia at Palm Beach. It is awfully pretty,
and you have never worn it since."

"That old thing!" cried Mollie, pouting.

"Suppose you get some pale yellow ribbons, Mollie, and I will make you a
new sash and a bow for your hair," Bab suggested.

Pretty Mollie frowned. "All right," she agreed.

Harriet and Mollie did not go at once to the shops. They drove first to
Harriet's dressmaker, the most fashionable in Washington.

"I must try on a little frock," Harriet explained. "We can do our
shopping afterwards. I want you to see a beautiful coat I am having made,
from a Chinese crepe shawl the Chinese Minister's wife gave me."

Madame Louise, the head of the dressmaking establishment, came in to
attend to Harriet. The new coat was in a wonderful shade of apricot,
lined with satin and embroidered in nearly every color of silk.

"Oh, Harriet, how lovely!" Mollie exclaimed.

"Yes, isn't it?" Harriet agreed. "But I really ought not to have had this
coat made up. It has cost almost as much as though I had bought it
outright. And I don't need it. I hope you have not made my dress very
expensive, Madame. I told you to get me up a simple frock."

"Ah, but Miss Hamlin, the simple frocks cost as much as the fancy ones,"
argued the dressmaker. "This little gown is made of the best satin and
lace. But how charming is the effect."

Mollie echoed the dressmaker's verdict as she gazed at Harriet with
admiring eyes. Harriet's gown was white satin. Her black hair and great
dusky eyes looked darker from the contrast and her skin even more
startlingly fair.

Harriet could not help a little smile of vanity as she saw herself in the
long mirror in the fitting room.

"Be sure to send these things home by to-morrow, Madame Louise," she
demanded. "Father and I are going to take our guests to one of the
President's receptions and I want to wear this gown."

Mollie gave a little impatient sigh.

"What is the matter, Mollie?" inquired Harriet, seeing that her little
friend looked tired and unhappy. "I am awfully sorry to have kept you
waiting like this. It is a bore to watch other people try on their
clothes. I will come with you directly."

"Oh, I am not tired watching you, Harriet," pretty Mollie answered
truthfully. "I was only wishing I had such a beautiful frock to wear to
the reception to-morrow."

Madame Louise clapped her hands. "Wait a minute, young ladies. I have
something to show you. You must wait, for it is most beautiful." The
dressmaker turned and whispered to one of her girl assistants. The girl
went out and came back in a few minutes with another frock over her arm.

Mollie gave a deep sigh of admiration.

"How exquisite!" Harriet exclaimed. "Whose dress is that, Madame? It
looks like clouds or sea foam, or anything else that is delicately
beautiful."

Madame shook out a delicate pale blue silk, covered with an even lighter
tint of blue chiffon, which shaded gently into white.

"This dress was an order, Miss Hamlin," Madame Louise explained. "I sent
to Paris for it. Of course it was some time before it arrived in
Washington. In the meanwhile a death occurred in the family of the young
woman who had ordered the dress. She is now in mourning, and she left the
dress with me to sell for her. She is willing to let it go at a great
bargain. The little frock would just about fit your young friend. Would
she not be beautiful in it, with her pale yellow hair and her blue eyes?
Ah, the frock looks as though it had been created for her! Do you think
she would allow me to try it on her?"

"Do slip the frock on, Mollie," Harriet urged. "It will not take much
time. And I would dearly love to see you in such a gown. It is the
sweetest thing I ever saw."

Mollie shook her head. "It is not worth while for me to put it on,
Harriet. Madame must understand that I cannot possibly buy it."

"But the frock is such a bargain, Mademoiselle," the dressmaker
continued. "I will sell it to you for a mere song."

"But I haven't the song to pay for it, Madame," Mollie laughed. "Come on,
Harriet. We must be going."

"Of course you can't buy the dress, Mollie," Harriet interposed. "But
Madame will not mind your just slipping into it. Try it on, just for my
sake. I know you will look like a perfect dream."

Mollie could not refuse Harriet's request.

"Shut your eyes, Mollie, while Madame dresses you up," Harriet proposed.

Mollie shut her eyes tightly.

Madame Louise slipped on the gown. "It fits to perfection," she whispered
to Harriet. Then the dressmaker, who was really an artist in her line,
picked up Mollie's bunch of soft yellow curls and knotted them carelessly
on top of Mollie's dainty head. She twisted a piece of the pale blue
shaded chiffon into a bandeau around her gold hair.

"Now, look at yourself, Mademoiselle," she cried in triumph.

"Mollie, Mollie, you are the prettiest thing in the world!" Harriet
exclaimed.

Mollie gave a little gasp of astonishment when she beheld herself in the
mirror. Certainly she looked like Cinderella after the latter had been
touched with the fairy wand. She stood regarding herself with wide open
eyes of astonishment, and cheeks in which the rose flush deepened.

"The dress must belong to Mademoiselle! I could not have made such a fit
if I had tried," repeated the dressmaker.

"How much is the dress worth, Madame?" Harriet queried.

"Worth? It is worth one hundred and fifty dollars! But I will give the
little frock away for fifty," the dressmaker answered.

"Can't you possibly buy it, child?" Harriet pleaded with Mollie. "It is a
perfectly wonderful bargain, and you are too lovely in it. I just can't
bear to have you refuse it."

"I am sorry, Harriet," Mollie returned firmly. "But I have not the money.
Won't you please take the gown off me, Madame!"

"Your friend can take the frock from me now and pay me later. It does not
matter," said the dressmaker. "She can write home for the money."

For one foolish moment Mollie did dream that she might write to her
mother for the price of this darling blue frock. Mollie was sure she had
never desired anything so keenly in her life. But in a moment Mollie came
to her senses. Where would her mother get such a large sum of money to
send her? It had been hard work for Mrs. Thurston to allow Barbara and
Mollie the slight expenses of their trip to Washington. No; the pretty
gown was impossible!

"Do unbutton the gown for me, please, Harriet," Mollie entreated. "I
really can't buy it." Mollie felt deeply embarrassed, and was sorry she
had allowed herself to be persuaded into trying on the gown.

"Mollie!" exclaimed Harriet suddenly. "Don't you have a monthly
allowance?"

Mollie nodded her head. Silly Mollie hoped Harriet would not ask her just
what her allowance was. For Mrs. Thurston could give her daughters only
five dollars a month apiece for their pin money.

"Then I know just what to do," Harriet declared. "You must just buy this
frock, Mollie dear. I expect to have a dividend from some stock I own,
and when it comes in, I shall pay Madame for the dress, and you can pay
me back as it suits you. Do please consent, Mollie. Just look at yourself
in the glass once more and I know you can't resist my plan."

Mollie did take one more peep at herself in the mirror. But if she had
only had more time to think, and Harriet and the dressmaker had not
argued the point with her, she would never have fallen before her
temptation.

"You are sure you won't mind how long I take to pay you back, Harriet?"
Mollie inquired weakly.

"Sure!" Harriet answered.

"All right then; I will take it," Mollie agreed in a sudden rush of
recklessness, feeling dreadfully excited. For little Mollie Thurston had
never owned a gown in her life that had cost more than fifteen dollars,
except the two or three frocks which had been given to her on different
occasions.

"Madame, you will send Miss Thurston's gown with mine, so she can wear it
to the White House reception," Harriet insisted.

"Certainly; I shall send the frocks this evening," the dressmaker agreed,
suavely. "But are you sure you will be in? I want you to be at home when
the frocks arrive."

Several other customers had entered Madame Louise's establishment.

Harriet Hamlin flushed at the dressmaker's question. But she replied
carelessly: "Oh, yes; I shall be in all the afternoon. You can send them
at any time you like."

Before Mollie and Harriet had gotten out into the street, Mollie clutched
Harriet's arm in swift remorse. "Oh, Harriet, dear, I have done a
perfectly awful thing! I must go back and tell Madame that I cannot take
that gown. I don't see how I could have said I would take it. Why, it
will take me ages to pay you so much money!" Mollie's eyes were big and
frightened. Her lips were trembling.

"Sh-sh! You silly child!" Harriet protested. "Here comes Mrs. Wilson. You
can't go to tell Madame Louise you have changed your mind before so many
people. And what is the use of worrying over such a small debt? The dress
was a wonderful bargain. You would be a goose not to buy it."

Now, because Harriet was older than Mollie, and Mollie thought her very
beautiful and well trained in all the graces of society, foolish little
Mollie allowed herself to be silenced, and so made endless trouble for
herself and for the people who loved her.

"Don't tell Barbara about my buying the frock, Harriet," Mollie
pleaded, as the two girls went up the steps of the Hamlin home, a short
time before luncheon. "I would rather tell Bab about it myself, when I
get a chance."

"Oh, I won't tell. You may count on me," promised Harriet, in sympathetic
tones. "Will Bab be very cross!"

"Oh, not exactly that," Mollie hesitated. "But I am afraid she will be
worried. I am glad we are at home. I want to lie down, I feel so tired."

Not long after Harriet and Mollie had started off on their shopping
expedition, Bab came across from her room into Ruth's.

"Ruth, do you think I could telephone Mr. Dillon?" she asked. "I picked
up a piece of paper that he dropped in the garden yesterday, and I
forgot to return it to him."

"Give it to me, child. I told you yesterday that I did not wish you to
grow to be an intimate friend of that man. But I am writing him a note to
thank him for his kindness to us last night. I can just put your paper in
my letter and explain matters to him."

Bab carelessly tossed the sheet of paper on Ruth's desk. It opened, and
Ruth cried out in astonishment. "Oh, Bab, how queer! This note is written
in Chinese characters. What do you suppose Peter Dillon is doing with a
letter written in Chinese?"

"I don't know I am sure, Ruth," Bab demurred. "It is none of our
business."

"Did you get the yellow ribbon, Mollie?" Barbara asked her sister, two
hours later, when Mollie and Harriet came in from their shopping. "I have
been fixing up your dress all morning. It is awfully pretty. Now I want
to make the sash."

"I did not get any ribbons, Bab." Mollie answered peevishly. "I told you
I would not wear that old yellow dress."



CHAPTER VIII

AT THE WHITE HOUSE


Mollie Thurston was not well the next day. She stayed in bed and
explained that her head ached. And Harriet Hamlin behaved very strangely.
She was shut up in the room with Mollie for a long time; when she came
out Mollie's eyes were red, and Harriet looked white as a sheet. But
neither of the girls would say what was the matter.

Just before the hour for starting to the White House reception, Mollie
got out of bed and insisted on dressing.

"I am afraid you are not well enough to go out to-night, Mollie," Bab
protested. "I hope you won't be too disappointed. Shall I stay at home
with you?"

Mollie shook her head obstinately. "I am quite well now," she insisted.
"Bab, would you mind leaving me alone while I dress? I do feel nervous,
and I know Ruth and Grace won't care if you go into their room."

"All right, Mollie," Barbara agreed cheerfully, wondering what had
come over her little sister. "Call me when you wish me to button your
gown. I have put the yellow one out on the lounge, if you should
decide to wear it."

When Mollie was left alone two large tears rolled down her cheeks. Once
she started to crawl back into bed and to give up the reception
altogether. But, after a while, she walked over to her closet and drew
out a great box. With trembling fingers Mollie opened it and gazed in
upon the exquisite blue frock that had already caused her so much
embarrassment and regret.

Should she wear the frock that night? Mollie Thurston asked herself. And
what would Bab say when she saw it? For Mollie had not yet mustered up
the courage to make her confession. Well, come what might, Mollie decided
to wear her new frock this one time. She had risked everything to own it,
so she might as well have this poor pleasure.

When Mollie joined Mr. Hamlin and the other girls downstairs a long party
cape completely concealed her gown.

Mr. Hamlin did not keep a private carriage; so, as long as Ruth's
automobile was in Washington, he decided to take his party to the White
House in Ruth's car.

The girls were ready early, for Mr. Hamlin explained to them that they
would have to take their position in the line of carriages that slowly
approached the White House door, and that sometimes this procession was
nearly a mile in length.

"I suppose you girls won't mind the waiting as much as we older people
do, because you always have so much to say to each other. And perhaps
this is my best chance to learn to know you better. I have been so busy
that I have seen little of you during your visit to Harriet."

But Mollie and Harriet were strangely silent, and Bab felt absolutely
tongue-tied before Mr. Hamlin. Fortunately, Grace and Ruth sat on each
side of him.

"Mr. Hamlin," Grace asked timidly, "would you mind telling me what are
the duties of the Secretary of State? Washington is like a new, strange
world to us. I have learned the titles of the different members of the
President's Cabinet, but I have not the faintest idea what they do.
Mollie and I looked over the cards of the guests who came to your
reception. Some of the cards just read: 'The Speaker,' 'The Chief of
Staff,' 'L'Ambassadeur de France,' without any personal names at all."

Mr. Hamlin seemed pleased. The stern, half-embarrassed expression, that
he usually wore before the girls relaxed a little at Grace's eager
questioning.

"I am glad, Miss Carter, to find you take an interest in Washington
affairs," he answered. "It is most unusual in a young girl. I wish
Harriet cared more about them, but she seems devoted only to society."
Mr. Hamlin sighed under his breath. "Yes; it is the custom for the
officials in Washington to put only the titles of their office on their
visiting cards. You are sure you wish to know the duties of the Secretary
of State? I don't want to bore you, my child."

Grace nodded her head eagerly.

"Well, let me see if I can make it plain to you. The Secretary of State
has charge of all the correspondence between the foreign countries and
their representatives in the United States," Mr. Hamlin continued. "Do
you understand?"

"I think I do," Grace answered hesitatingly, while Bab leaned over from
the next seat to see if she could understand what Mr. Hamlin was
explaining.

"The Secretary of State also receives all kinds of information from the
consuls and diplomatic officers, who represent the United States abroad,"
Mr. Hamlin went on. "Sometimes this information is very important and
very secret. It might bring on serious trouble, perhaps start a war with
another country, if some of these secrets were discovered. The Secretary
of State has other duties; he keeps the Great Seal of the United States.
But my chief business as Assistant Secretary is just to look after the
important private correspondence with all the other countries."

"Father," exclaimed Harriet, "why are you boring the girls to death
with so much information? They don't understand what you mean. I have
been living in Washington for four years, and I have not half an idea
of what your duties are. But thank goodness, we have arrived at the
White House at last!"

Their motor car had finally drawn up before the entrance to the Executive
Mansion at the extremity of the eastern wing. The house was a blaze of
lights; the Marine Band was playing a national air.

Harriet, who was familiar with all the rules that govern the President's
receptions, quickly marshaled her guests into the lobby, where they had
to take off their coats and hats.

Bab was so overcome at the enormous number of people about her, that she
did not see Mollie remove her cape.

Mollie slipped quietly into a corner, and was waiting by Harriet's side,
when Harriet called the other girls to hurry up the broad stairs to the
vestibule above, where the guests were forming in line to enter the
reception room.

Barbara, Ruth and Grace gave little gasps of astonishment when they
first beheld Mollie. If little Mollie Thurston's heart was heavy within
her on this brilliant occasion, she held her pretty head very high. The
worry and excitement had given her a slight fever; her cheeks were a deep
carmine and her eyes glittered brightly.

"Why, Mollie! What a vision you are!" exclaimed Ruth and Grace together.
"Where did you get that wonderful gown? You have been saving it to
surprise us to-night, haven't you?"

But Bab did not say a single word. She only looked at Mollie, her face
paling a little with surprise and curiosity. How had Mollie come by a
gown that was more beautiful than anything Bab had ever seen her sister
wear? Barbara knew Mollie had not had the gown when they left home
together, for she had packed her sister's trunk for her. But this was not
the time to ask questions. Bab's mind was divided between the wonder and
delight she felt at the scene before her, and amazement at Mollie's
secret. "I do hope," she thought, as she followed Mr. Hamlin up the
steps, "that Mollie has not borrowed that gown of Harriet. But no; it
fits her much too well. Some one must have given it to her as a present
and she has kept the secret until to-night to surprise me."

The "Automobile Girls" stood behind Mr. Hamlin and Harriet in the great
vestibule just outside the famous Blue Room of the White House, where
the President and his wife were waiting to receive their guests. The
line was moving forward so slowly that the girls had a chance to look
about them. Never had any one of them beheld such a beautiful spectacle.
Of course the "Automobile Girls" had been present at a number of
receptions during their brief social careers, but for the first time
to-night they saw men in other than ordinary evening dress. The
diplomats from other countries wore their superb court costumes with the
insignia of their rank. The American Army and Navy officers had on their
bright full dress uniforms.

Bab thought the Russian Ambassador the most superb looking man she had
ever seen, and Mollie blushed when Lieutenant Elmer Wilson bowed
gallantly to her across the length of the hall.

When the girls first took up their positions in the line, they believed
they would never grow weary of looking about them. But by and by, as they
waited and the number of people ahead of them only slowly decreased, they
grew tired.

A girl passed by Barbara and smiled. It was Marjorie Moore. She was
not going to try to shake hands with the President. She had a note
book and a pencil in her hand and was evidently bent on business.
Barbara also caught a glimpse of Peter Dillon, but he did not come up
to speak to them.

Mr. Hamlin's charges at last entered the Blue Room. The President and his
receiving party stood by a pair of great windows hung with heavy silk
portieres.

It was now almost time for the "Automobile Girls" to shake hands with the
President. They were overcome with nervousness.

Harriet was next to her father; Bab stood just behind Harriet, followed
by Ruth, Grace and Mollie.

"You are just supposed to shake hands with the President, not to talk to
him," Harriet whispered. "Then the President's wife is next and you may
greet the other women in the receiving line as you pass along. The
Vice-President's wife stands next to the President's wife and the ladies
of the Cabinet just after her."

Bab watched Harriet very carefully. She was determined to make no
false moves.

Finally, Barbara heard her name announced by the Master of Ceremonies.
She felt her heart stop beating for a moment, and the color mount to her
cheeks. The next moment her hand was clasped in that of the President of
the United States.

Barbara said a little prayer of thankfulness when she had finished
speaking to all the receiving ladies. She felt glad, indeed, when Mr.
Hamlin drew her behind a thick blue silk cord, where the President's
special guests were talking in groups together. Bab then watched Ruth,
Grace and Mollie go through the same formality.

Now nobody had ever warned Mollie that it was not good form to speak to
the President before he spoke to her. She thought it was polite to make
some kind of a remark when she was introduced to him. So all the way up
the line she had been wondering what she ought to say.

As the President took Mollie's little hand he bent over slightly. For a
very small voice said, "I like Washington very much, Mr. President."

The President smiled. "I am glad you do," he answered.

A little later, Mr. Hamlin took the girls through all the state
apartments of the White House. One of these rooms was less crowded than
the others. Groups of Mr. Hamlin's friends were standing about laughing
and talking together. Barbara was next Mr. Hamlin when she happened to
glance toward a far corner of the room. There she saw her newspaper
friend. The girl made a mysterious sign to Barbara to come over to her
and to come alone. But Bab shook her head.

Still she felt the girl's eyes on her. Each time she turned, Marjorie
Moore again made her strange signal. Once she pointed significantly
toward a group of people. But Bab only saw the broad back of the little
Chinese Minister and the stately form of the Russian Ambassador. The
two men were talking to a number of Washington officials whose names
Barbara did not even know. Of course, Marjorie Moore's peculiar actions
could not refer to them. But to save her life Bab could not find any
one else nearby.

Womanlike, Barbara's curiosity was aroused. What could the girl want with
her? Evidently, her news was a secret, for Miss Moore did not come near
Mr. Hamlin's party and Bab simply could not get away without offering
some explanation to them.

Barbara was growing tired of the reception. She had been introduced to so
many people that her brain was fairly spinning in an effort to remember
their names. Again Bab looked across at Miss Moore. This time the
newspaper girl pointed with her pencil through a small open door, near
which she was standing. Her actions said as plainly as any words could
speak: "Follow me when you have a chance. There is something I must tell
you!" The next instant Marjorie Moore vanished through this door and was
lost to sight.

A few minutes later Bab managed to slip over to that side of the room.
She intended merely to peep out the open door to see whether Miss Moore
were waiting for her in the hall. Bab carefully watched her opportunity.
Mr. Hamlin and the girls were not looking. Now was her chance. She was
just at the door, when some one intercepted her.

"Ah! Good evening, Miss Thurston," said a suave voice.

Barbara turned, blushing again to confront the Chinese Minister looking
more magnificent than ever in his Imperial robes of state.

The young girl paused and greeted the official. Still the Chinese
Minister regarded her gravely with his inscrutable Oriental eyes that
seemed to look her through and through. He seemed always about to ask her
some question.

Of course, Barbara was obliged to give up her effort to follow Marjorie
Moore, though she was still devoured with curiosity to know what the girl
had wished to say to her. The next ten minutes, wherever Bab went, she
felt the Chinese Minister's gaze follow her.

It was not until Barbara Thurston discovered that the Oriental gentleman
had himself withdrawn from the reception room that she mustered up a
sufficient courage to try her venture the second time.

"Miss Moore, of course, is not expecting me now," Barbara thought. "But
as I have a chance, I will see what has become of her."

Bab peeped cautiously out through the still open door. She saw only an
empty corridor with a servant standing idly in the hall. Should she go
forward? No; Barbara did not, of course, dare to wander through the White
House halls alone. She was too likely to find herself in some place to
which visitors were not admitted.

The servant who waited in the hall saw Barbara hesitate, then turn back.
He leaned over and whispered mysteriously: "You are to come to the door
at the west side, which opens on the lawn. The young woman left a message
that she would wait for you there."

"But I don't know the west side," Bab faltered hesitatingly, feeling that
she ought to turn back, yet anxious to go on.

"The young woman said it was most important for her to see you; I can
show you the way to the west door," the man went on.

Barbara now quickly made up her mind. Marjorie Moore was only a girl like
herself. If she needed her or if she wanted to confide in her, Bab meant
to answer the summons.

Bab found the portico deserted. There was no one in sight.

Down on the lawn, some distance ahead, she thought she saw a figure
moving. Barbara drew her chiffon scarf more closely over her shoulders
and ran quickly out into the garden without thinking. It was, of course,
Marjorie Moore ahead of her. But Bab had not gone far, when the figure
disappeared, and she realized her own foolishness. She must get back into
the White House in a hurry before any one found out what she had done.

It was exceedingly dark out on the lawn in contrast with the brilliant
illumination of the house, and Barbara was running swiftly. She had begun
to wonder what explanation she could make if Harriet or Mr. Hamlin asked
where she had been. As usual, Barbara was repenting a rash impulse too
late. She ran obliquely across the yard in order to return in a greater
hurry. Between a clump of bushes set at some distance apart her feet
struck against something soft and heavy and Bab pitched forward across
the object.



CHAPTER IX

BAB'S DISCOVERY


Then Barbara Thurston's heart turned sick with horror. She recognized, in
the same instant, that she had fallen over a human body. In getting back
on her own feet, Bab was obliged to touch the figure over which she had
fallen. She shuddered with fright. It could not be possible that any one
had been murdered in the grounds of the White House, while a great ball
was being given on the inside. Had Marjorie Moore expected foul play and
called on Bab to help her guard some one from harm?

Barbara did not know what to do--to go on with her search for the
newspaper girl, or go back to the White House and raise an alarm.

Bab was standing up, but she dared not look at the figure at her feet.
She was now more accustomed to the darkness and she did not know what one
glance might reveal.

"What a coward I am!" Bab thought. Trembling, she put out her hand and
touched the body. It was warm, but the figure had fallen forward on its
face. As Bab's hand slipped along over the object that lay so still on
the hard ground, an even greater horror seized her. Her hand had come in
contact with a skirt. The figure was that of a woman!

Barbara dropped on her knees beside the figure. She gently turned
the body over until it was face upward. One long stare at the face
was enough. The woman who lay there was the young newspaper girl who
had summoned Bab to follow her but a short time before. She still
had on her shabby evening dress. The pad and pencil with which she
took down her society items lay at her side. But Marjorie Moore's
face was pale as death.

Bab's tears dropped down on the girl's face. "My dear Miss Moore, what
has happened? Can't you hear me?" Bab faltered. "It is Barbara Thurston!
I tried to come to help you, but I could not get here until now."

The figure lay apparently lifeless, but Bab knew now that the girl was
still alive. Bab did not like to leave her, for what dreadful person
might not stumble over the poor, unconscious girl? Yet how else could
Bab get help?

At this moment Bab looked up and saw a number of lighted cigars in the
garden near the White House. Evidently a group of men had come out on the
lawn to smoke. As Bab ran forward she saw one of the men move away from
the others. He was whistling softly, "Kathleen Mavourneen, the bright
stars are shining."

"Oh, Mr. Dillon!" cried Bab. "Poor Miss Moore has been dreadfully hurt
and is lying unconscious out here on the grass. Won't you please find Mr.
Hamlin, or some one, to come to her aid?"

"Miss Moore!" exclaimed Peter Dillon in a shocked tone. "I wonder whom
the girl could have been spying upon to have gotten herself into such
trouble? But, Miss Thurston, you ought not to be out here. Come back with
me to the reception rooms. I will get some one to look after Miss Moore
at once. It is best to keep this affair as quiet as possible."

"I can't leave the poor girl alone," Bab demurred. "So please find Mr.
Hamlin as soon as you can. I will ask two of these other men to take Miss
Moore up on a side porch, out of the way of the guests."

The rest of the group of men now came forward; their uniforms showed
they were young Army and Navy officers. One of them was Lieutenant
Elmer Wilson.

"What a dreadful thing!" he exclaimed, as he and another officer, under
Bab's directions, picked up Marjorie Moore's limp form and carried it
into the light. "Some one has struck Miss Moore over the temple with a
stick. She has a nasty bruise just there. But she is only stunned. She
will come to herself presently."

Mr. Hamlin now hurried out with Peter Dillon, followed by Ruth and
Harriet.

"Find our automobile; have it brought as near as possible. We must put
the poor girl into it," Mr. Hamlin declared authoritatively. "Mr. Dillon
is right. This affair must be kept an entire secret. It is incredible!
Above all things, the newspapers must not get hold of it. It would be a
nine days' wonder! Mr. Dillon, will you go to Miss Moore's paper? Say you
feel sure the President himself would not wish this story to be
published. Then you can find out where Miss Moore's mother lives, and see
that she is told. The girl is not seriously injured, but she must be seen
by a physician."

"But you are not going to take Marjorie Moore to our house, Father,"
Harriet protested. "She is so--" Harriet checked herself just in time.
She realized it would not be well to express her feeling toward the
injured girl before so large a group of listeners.

"I most certainly do intend to take Miss Moore to our house," interrupted
Mr. Hamlin sternly. "Her father was an old friend of mine whom changes in
politics made poor just before his death. His daughter is a brave girl. I
have a great respect for her."

In the excitement of helping their wounded visitor to bed, Barbara
forgot all about Mollie's wonderful gown, and the questions she intended
asking her. Bab and Ruth undressed Marjorie Moore, and stayed with her
until the doctor and a nurse arrived. Then Bab went quickly to her own
room and undressed by a dim light, so as not to disturb her sister.
Mollie's face was turned toward the wall and she seemed to be fast
asleep. There was no sign of the blue gown about to reawaken Bab's
curiosity. Barbara was too weary from the many impressions of the evening
and the fright that succeeded them, and hurriedly undressing she crept
quietly to bed and was soon fast asleep.



CHAPTER X

THE CONFESSION


It was almost dawn when Barbara began to dream that she heard low,
suppressed sobs. No; she must be wrong, she was not dreaming. The sounds
were too real. The sobs were close beside her, and Bab felt Mollie's
shoulders heaving in an effort to hold them back.

"Why, little sister," cried Bab in a frightened tone, putting out
her hand and taking hold of Mollie, "what is the matter with you!
Are you ill?"

"No," sobbed Mollie. "There is nothing the matter. Please go to sleep
again, Bab, dear. I did not mean to wake you up."

"You would not cry, Mollie, if there was nothing the matter. Tell me at
once what troubles you," pleaded Barbara, who was now wide awake. "If you
are not ill, then something pretty serious is worrying you and you must
tell me what it is."

Mollie only buried her head in her pillow and sobbed harder than ever.

"Tell me," Bab commanded.

"It's the blue gown!" whispered Mollie under her breath.

"The gown?" queried Barbara, suddenly recalling Mollie's wonderful
costume at the President's reception. "Oh, yes. I have not had an
opportunity to ask you where you got such a beautiful frock and how you
happened not to tell me about it."

"I was ashamed," Mollie sobbed.

Barbara did not understand what Mollie meant, but she knew her sister
would tell her everything now.

"I bought the frock," Mollie confessed after a moment's hesitation.
"That is I did not exactly buy it, for I did not have the money to pay
for it. But Harriet was to pay for it and I was to give her back the
money when I could."

"How much did the gown cost, Mollie?" Bab inquired quietly, although her
heart felt as heavy as lead.

"It cost fifty dollars!" Mollie returned in a tired, frightened voice.

"Oh, Mollie!" Bab exclaimed just at first. Then she repented. "Never
mind, Molliekins; it can't be helped now. The dress is a beauty, and I
suppose Harriet won't mind how long we take to pay her back. We must just
save up and do some kind of work when we go home. I can coach some of the
girls at school. So please don't cry your pretty eyes out. There is an
old story about not crying over spilt milk, kitten. Go to sleep. Perhaps
some one will have left us a fortune by morning."

Barbara felt more wretched about her sister's confession than she was
willing to let Mollie know. She thought if Mollie could once get to
sleep, she could then puzzle out some method by which they could meet
this debt. For fifty dollars did look like an immense sum to the two poor
Thurston girls.

"But, Bab dear, I have not told you the worst," Mollie added in tones
of despair.

"Mollie, what do you mean?" poor Bab asked, really frightened this time.

"Harriet can't let me owe the money to her. Something perfectly awful
has happened to Harriet, too. Promise me you will never tell, not even
Ruth! Well, Harriet thought she could lend me the money. But, the day
after we got home from the dressmaker's, that deceitful Madame Louise
wrote poor Harriet the most awful note. She said that Harriet owed her
such a dreadfully big bill, that she simply would not wait for her money
any longer. She declared if Harriet did not pay her at once she would
take her bill straight to Mr. Hamlin and demand the money. Now Harriet is
almost frightened to death. She says her father will never forgive her,
if he finds out how deeply in debt she is, and that he would not let her
go out into society again this winter. Of course, Harriet went to see
Madame Louise. She begged her for a little more time, and the dressmaker
consented to let us have a week. But she says that at the end of that
time she must have the money from me and from Harriet. Harriet is
dreadfully distressed. She simply can't advance the money to me for, even
if the dividend she expects comes in time, she will have to pay the money
on her own account. Oh, Bab, what can we do? I just can't have Mr. Hamlin
find out what I have done! He is so stern; he would just send me home in
disgrace, and then what would Mother and Aunt Sallie and Mr. Stuart say?
I shall just die of shame!"

"Mr. Hamlin must not know," Barbara answered, when she could find her
breath. Somehow her own voice sounded unfamiliar, it was so hoarse and
strained. Yet Bab knew she must save Mollie. How was she to do it?

"Do you think, Bab," Mollie asked, "that we could ask Ruth to lend us the
money? I should be horribly ashamed to tell her what I have done. But
Ruth is so sweet, and she could lend us the money without any trouble."

"I have thought of that, Mollie," Barbara answered. "But, oh, we could
not ask Ruth for the money! It is because she has been so awfully good to
us, that I can't ask her. She has already done so much for us and she
would be so pleased to help us now that somehow I would rather do most
anything than ask her. Don't you feel the same way, Mollie?"

"Yes, I do," Mollie agreed. "Only I just can't think what else we can do,
Bab. I have worried and worried until I am nearly desperate. We have only
one week in which to get hold of the money, Bab."

"Yes, I know. But go to sleep now, Mollie. You are too tired to try to
think any more. I will find some way out of the difficulty. Don't worry
any more about it now." Bab kissed her sister's burning cheeks, whereat
Mollie could only throw her arms about Barbara and cry: "Oh, Bab, I am so
sorry and so ashamed! I shall never forget this as long as I live."

Bab never closed her eyes again that night. A little while later she saw
the gray dawn change into rose color, and the rose to the blue of the
day-time sky. She heard several families of sparrows discussing their
affairs while they made their morning toilets on the bare branches of
the trees.

At last an idea came to Barbara. She could pawn her jewelry and so raise
the money they needed. She had the old-fashioned corals her mother had
given to her on her first trip to Newport. There was also the beautiful
ruby, which had been Mr. Presby's gift to her from the rich stores of his
buried treasure. And the Princess Sophia had made Bab a present of a
beautiful gold star when they were at Palm Beach. Barbara's other jewelry
was marked with her initials.

Now Bab had very little knowledge of the real value of her jewelry, and
she had an equally dim notion of what a pawn shop was. But she did know
that at pawn shops people were able to borrow money at a high rate of
interest on their valuable possessions, and this seemed to be the only
way out of their embarrassment.

But how was Barbara to locate a pawn shop in Washington? And how was she
to find her way there, without being found out either by Mr. Hamlin or
any one of the girls?

Bab was still puzzling over these difficulties when she went down to
breakfast.

"Miss Moore says she would like to see you, Barbara," Harriet Hamlin
explained, when Bab had forced down a cup of coffee and eaten a small
piece of toast. "Miss Moore is much better this morning, and a carriage
is to take her home in a few hours. I have just been up to inquire about
her. Father," continued Harriet, turning to Mr. Hamlin, "Miss Moore wants
me to thank you for your kindness in bringing her here, and to say she
hopes to be able to repay you some day. Marjorie Moore seems to think you
discovered her out on the White House lawn, Barbara. However did you do
it? I suppose you were out there walking with Peter Dillon. But it is
against the rules."

"Does Miss Moore happen to know how she was hurt, Daughter?" Mr. Hamlin
queried. "Lieutenant Wilson declares the girl was struck a glancing blow
on the head with the end of a loaded cane. And the doctor seemed to have
the same idea last night."

"Miss Moore does not understand just what did happen to her," Harriet
replied. "Or at least she won't tell me. She declares she was out in the
grounds looking for some one, when she was knocked down from behind. She
never saw who struck her. How perfectly ridiculous for her to be running
about the White House park alone at night! I wonder the guards permitted
it. What do you suppose she was doing?"

"Attending to her business, perhaps, Daughter," Mr. Hamlin returned
dryly. "Miss Moore works exceedingly hard. It cannot always be pleasant
for a refined young woman to do the work she is sometimes required to do.
I hope you will be kind to her, Harriet, and help her when it is within
your power."

But Harriet only shrugged her shoulders and looked obstinate. "I should
think Miss Moore would find the society news for her paper inside the
reception rooms, rather than outside in the dark. It looks to me as
though she went out into the grounds either to meet some one, or to find
out what some one else was doing."

None of the "Automobile Girls" or Mr. Hamlin made response to Harriet's
unkind remark and they were all glad when breakfast was over and the
discussion ended.

Barbara at once went upstairs to the room that had been allotted to their
wounded guest the night before. She found Marjorie Moore dressed in a
shabby serge suit, lying on the bed looking pale and weak. A refined,
middle-aged woman, with a sad face, sat by her daughter holding her hand.
She was Marjorie's mother. The two women were waiting for the carriage to
take them home.

"I want to thank you, Miss Thurston," Marjorie Moore spoke weakly. "I
believe it was you who found me. I ought not to have asked you to come
out into the yard, but I did not dream there would be any danger to
either one of us. I want you to believe that I did have a real reason for
persuading you to join me, a reason that I thought important to your
happiness, not to mine. But I cannot tell you what it was, now; perhaps
because I may have made a mistake. I must have been struck by a tramp,
who had managed to hide in the White House grounds. I have no other
explanation of what happened to me. But--" Miss Moore stopped and
hesitated. "I have an explanation of the reason I wanted to talk to you
alone. Yet I cannot tell you what I mean to-day. I want to ask you to
trust me if ever you need a friend in Washington."

Bab thought the only friend she was likely to need was some one who could
lend her fifty dollars. And Marjorie Moore was too poor to do that. She
would have liked to ask the newspaper girl where she could find a pawn
shop, but was ashamed to make her strange request before that gentle,
sad-eyed woman, Marjorie Moore's mother.

So Barbara only pressed the other girl's hand affectionately, and said
she was glad to know she was better, and that she appreciated her
friendship.



CHAPTER XI

IN MR. HAMLIN'S STUDY


All morning Barbara pondered on how she could find a pawn shop in
Washington, without asking questions and without being discovered. Her
cheeks burned with humiliation and disgust at the very name pawn shop!
Still Mollie must never know how much she dreaded her errand, and her
mother must be spared the knowledge of their debt at any cost.

About noon the Hamlin house was perfectly quiet. Grace and Ruth had gone
out sight-seeing and Harriet and Mollie were both in their rooms. Mr.
Hamlin was over at his office in the State Department.

Bab had taken a book and gone downstairs to the library, pretending she
meant to read, but really only desiring to think. She was feeling almost
desperate. A week seemed such a little time in which to raise fifty
dollars. Bab wished to try the pawn shop venture at once, so that in case
it failed her, she would have time to turn somewhere else to secure the
sum of money she needed.

Barbara was idly turning over the pages of her book, staring straight
ahead of her at nothing in particular, when she unexpectedly leaped to
her feet. Her face flushed, but her lips took on a more determined curve.

When Barbara Thurston undertook to accomplish a thing she usually found a
way. Only weak people are deterred by obstacles.

Bab had remembered that she had heard Mr. Hamlin say that he kept a
Washington directory in his private study. She knew that by searching
diligently through this book she could find the address of a pawn shop.

Now was the time, of all others, to accomplish her purpose. With Bab, to
think, was to do.

Barbara knew that no one was expected to enter Mr. Hamlin's study. She
did not dream, however, that she would be doing any harm just to slip
quietly into it, find the directory and slip quickly out again, without
touching a single other thing in the room.

As has already been explained, Mr. Hamlin's study was a small room
adjoining the drawing-room, and separated from it by a pair of heavy
curtains and folding doors, which were occasionally left open, when Mr.
Hamlin was not in the house, so that the room could be aired and at the
same time shut it off from public view.

Bab went straight through the hall and entered Mr. Hamlin's study through
a small back door.

The room was dark, and Bab thought empty when she entered it. The inside
blinds were closed, but there was sufficient light through the openings
for Barbara to see her way about perfectly. She was bent upon business
and went straight to her task without pausing to open the window, for she
wished to take no liberties with Mr. Hamlin's apartment.

The four walls of the study were lined with books, reports from Congress;
everything pertaining to the business of the government at Washington.
Certainly finding that old-time needle in a haystack was an easy duty
compared with locating the city directory in such a wilderness of books.

First on her hands and knees, then on tip-toe, Bab thoroughly searched
through every shelf. No directory could be found.

"I can hardly see," Bab decided at last. "It will not do any harm for me
to turn on an electric light."

Bab was so intent on her occupation that, even after she had turned on
the light, which hung immediately over Mr. Hamlin's private desk, she
still thought she was alone in the room.

Lying under a heap of magazines and pages of manuscript on Mr. Hamlin's
desk, was a large book, which looked very much as though it might be the
desired directory.

Still Bab wavered. She knew no one was ever allowed to lay a hand on Mr.
Hamlin's desk. Even Harriet herself never dared to touch it. But what
harm could it do Mr. Hamlin for Barbara to pick up the book she desired?
She would not disarrange a single paper.

Bab reached out, intending to secure what she wished. But immediately she
felt her arm seized and held in a tight grip.

A low contralto voice said distinctly: "What do you mean by stealing in
here to search among Mr. Hamlin's papers?" The vise-like hold on Bab's
arm continued. The fingers were slender, but strong as steel, and the
grip hurt Barbara so, she wanted to cry out from the pain.

"Answer me," the soft voice repeated. "What are you doing, prying among
Mr. Hamlin's papers, when he is out of the house? You know he never
allows any one to touch them."

[Illustration: Bab Felt Her Arm Seized In a Tight Grip.]

"I am not prying," cried Bab indignantly. "I only came in here to look
for the city directory. I thought it might be on Mr. Hamlin's desk."

"A likely story," interrupted Bab's accuser scornfully. "If you wished
the directory, why did you not ask Mr. Hamlin to lend it to you? You
wanted something else! What was it? Tell me?" The hold on Barbara's arm
tightened.

"Let go my arm, Mrs. Wilson," returned Barbara firmly. "I am telling you
the truth. How absurd for you to think anything else! What could I wish
in here? But I needed to look into the directory at once--for a--for a
special purpose," Barbara finished lamely.

Then her eyes flashed indignantly. "I am a guest in Mr. Hamlin's house,"
she said, coldly. "How do you know, Mrs. Wilson, that I have not received
his permission to enter this room? But you! Will you be good enough to
explain to me why you were hiding behind the curtains in Mr. Hamlin's
study when I came in? You, too, knew Mr. Hamlin was not at home. Besides,
Harriet receives her guests in the drawing-room, not in here."

"I came to see Mr. Hamlin on private business," Mrs. Wilson replied
haughtily. "He is an old and intimate friend of mine, so I took the
liberty of coming in here to wait for his return. But seeing you enter,
and suspecting you of mischief, I did conceal myself behind the
curtains. I shall be very glad, however, to remain here with you until
Mr. Hamlin returns from his office. I can readily explain my intrusion
and you will have an equal opportunity to tell Mr. Hamlin what you were
doing in here."

Now Barbara, who had slept very little the night before, and had worried
dreadfully all morning, did a very foolish thing. She blushed crimson at
Mrs. Wilson's request. She might very readily have agreed to stay, and
could simply have explained later to Mr. Hamlin that she had come into
his private room because she needed to see the directory. But would Mr.
Hamlin have inquired of Barbara her reason for desiring the directory?
This is, of course, what Barbara feared, and it caused her to behave most
unwisely. She trembled and fixed on Mrs. Wilson two pleading brown eyes.

"Please do not ask me to wait here until Mr. Hamlin returns," she
entreated. "And, if you don't mind, you will not mention to Mr. Hamlin
that I came into his study without asking his permission. Truly I only
wanted to look at the directory, and I will tell Harriet that I have
been in here."

Mrs. Wilson eyed Bab, with evident suspicion. "Why are you so anxious to
see the directory?" she inquired. "If you wish to know a particular
address why do you not ask your friends, the Hamlins, about it?"

"That is something that I cannot explain to you, Mrs. Wilson," said
Barbara, a look of fear leaping into her eyes that was not lost on her
companion.

"Very well, if you cannot explain yourself, I shall lay the whole matter
before Mr. Hamlin the instant he comes home," returned Mrs. Wilson
cruelly. "It looks very suspicious, to say the least, when a guest takes
advantage of his absence to prowl among his private papers."

Tears of humiliation sprang to Barbara's eyes. It was bad enough to have
Mrs. Wilson doubt her integrity, but it would be infinitely worse if
stern Mr. Hamlin were told of her visit to his study. Bab felt that he
would be sure to believe that she was deliberately meddling with matters
that did not concern her. She looked at Mrs. Wilson. The forbidding
expression on her face left no doubt in Bab's mind that the older woman
would carry out her threat. Suddenly it flashed across the young girl
that perhaps if Mrs. Wilson really knew the truth she would agree to drop
the affair without saying anything to Mr. Hamlin.

"Perhaps it will be better after all for me to tell you my reason
for being here," Bab said with a gentle dignity that caused Mrs.
Wilson's stern expression to soften. "What I am about to say,
however, is in strictest confidence, as it involves another person
besides myself. I shall expect you to respect my confidence, Mrs.
Wilson," she added firmly.

Mrs. Wilson made a jesture of acquiescence. Then Barbara poured forth the
story of Mollie's extravagance and her subsequent remorse over the
difficulties into which her love of dress had plunged both of the
Thurston girls. "It is just this way, Mrs. Wilson," Bab concluded. "We
have very little money of our own and we simply can't ask Mother to pay
this debt. I won't ask Ruth to lend it to us because we are too deeply
indebted to her already. I have some jewelry that is valuable; a ring, a
pin and several trinkets, and I intend to take them to a pawn shop and
borrow enough money on them to free Mollie of this debt. Then we will
save our allowance money and redeem the things. I have never been in a
pawn shop and don't know anything about them, so I thought I would find
the address of a pawn broker in the directory and go there this
afternoon. That is why I wanted the directory and why I came into Mr.
Hamlin's study. Now that I have told you, perhaps you will feel
differently about saying anything to Mr. Hamlin. He is so stern and cold
that he would never forgive me if he knew of all this, although I am
doing nothing wrong. It is very humiliating to be placed in this
position, but now that the mischief has been done we shall have to pay
for the gown and set it all down under the head of bitter experience."

Mrs. Wilson regarded Barbara steadily while she was speaking. There was a
look of admiration in the older woman's eyes when Barbara had finished.
"You are a very brave girl, Miss Thurston, to take your sister's trouble
on your own shoulders. I am very glad that you saw fit to tell me what
you have. I hope you will forgive me for my seeming cruelty, but I simply
cannot endure anything dishonorable or underhanded. To show you that I
believe what you have told me, and to prove to you that your confidence
in me is well founded, I propose to help you out of your difficulty."

"You?" queried Bab in surprise. "I--I don't understand."

"I will lend you the money to pay the modiste," exclaimed Mrs. Wilson.
"Then you shall pay it back whenever it is convenient for you to do so,
and no one will ever be the wiser. We need tell no one that we met here
in the study this afternoon."

"But--I--can't," protested Barbara rather weakly. "It wouldn't be right.
It would be asking entirely too much of you and--"

Mrs. Wilson held up her hand authoritatively. "My dear little girl," she
said quickly. "I insist on lending you this money. I am a mother, and if
my son were in any little difficulty and needed help, I should like to
feel that perhaps some one would be ready to do for him the little I am
going to do for you. Come to my house this afternoon and I will have the
money ready for you. Will you do this, Barbara?" she asked extending her
hand to the young girl.

Barbara hesitated for a second, then she placed her hand in that of Mrs.
Wilson's. "I will take the money," she said slowly, "and I thank you for
your kindness. I hope I shall be able to do something for you in return
to show my appreciation."

"Perhaps you may have the opportunity," replied Mrs. Wilson meaningly.
"Who knows. I think I won't wait any longer for Mr. Hamlin. Come to my
house at half past four o'clock this afternoon. I shall expect you.
Good-bye, my dear."

"Good-bye," replied Bab mechanically, as she accompanied Mrs. Wilson to
the vestibule door. "I'll be there at half past four."



CHAPTER XII

BARBARA'S SECRET ERRAND


After the older woman had departed, Bab remained in a brown study. Had
she been wise in accepting Mrs. Wilson's offer? Would it have been better
after all to ask Ruth for the loan of the money? Bab sighed heavily. She
had been so happy and so interested in Washington, and now Mollie's
ill-advised purchase had changed everything. For a moment Barbara felt a
little resentment toward Mollie, then she shook off the feeling as
unworthy. Mollie had experienced bitter remorse for her folly, and Bab
knew that her little sister had learned a lesson she would never forget.
As for the money, it should be paid back at the earliest opportunity.

Barbara turned and went slowly upstairs to prepare for luncheon. She
found Mollie sitting by the window in their room. Her pretty mouth
drooped at the corners and her eyes were red with weeping.

"Cheer up, Molliekins!" exclaimed Bab. "I've found a way out of the
difficulty."

"Oh, Bab," said Mollie in a shamed voice. "Did you have to tell Ruth?"

"No, dear," responded Bab. "Ruth knows nothing about it. Bathe your face
at once. It is almost time to go down to luncheon, and your eyes are
awfully red. While you are fixing up I'll tell you about it."

"Oh, Bab!" Mollie said contritely when her sister had finished her
account of what had happened in the study. "You're the best sister a girl
ever had. I don't believe I'll ever be so silly about my clothes again.
This has cured me. I'm so sorry."

"Of course you are, little Sister," soothed Bab. "Don't say another word.
Here comes Ruth and Grace."

The two girls entered the room at that moment and a little later the four
descended to luncheon.

"I am going to do some shopping this afternoon," announced Ruth. "Would
you girls like to do the stores with me?"

"I'll go," replied Grace. "I want to buy a pair of white gloves and I
need a number of small things."

"I have an engagement this afternoon," said Harriet enigmatically. "I
must ask you to excuse me, Ruth."

"Certainly, Harriet," returned Ruth. "How about you and Mollie, Bab?"

"Mollie can go with you," answered Bab, coloring slightly. "But would
you be disappointed if I do not go? I have something else that I am
obliged to see to this afternoon."

"Of course, I'd love to have you with me, Bab, but you know your own
business best."

Suspecting that Bab wished to spend the afternoon in going over her own
and Mollie's rather limited wardrobe, Ruth made no attempt to persuade
Bab to make one of the shopping party, and when a little later A. Bubble
carried the three girls away, she went directly upstairs to prepare for
her call on Mrs. Wilson. It was a beautiful afternoon, and Bab decided
that she would walk to her destination. As she swung along through the
crisp December air the feeling of depression that had clung to her ever
since Mollie had made her tearful confession vanished, and Bab became
almost cheerful. She would save every penny, she reflected hopefully, and
when she and Mollie received their next month's pocket money, she would
send that to Mrs. Wilson. It would take some time to pay back the fifty
dollars, but Mrs. Wilson had assured her that she could return it at her
own convenience. Bab felt that her vague distrust of this whole-souled,
generous woman had been groundless, and in her impulsive, girlish fashion
she was ready to do everything in her power to make amends for even
doubting this fascinating stranger who had so nobly come to her rescue.

By following carefully the directions given her by Mrs. Wilson for
finding her house, Bab arrived at her destination with very little
confusion. She looked at her watch as she ascended the steps and saw that
it was just half past four o'clock. "I'm on time at any rate," she
murmured as she rang the bell.

"Is Mrs. Wilson here?" she inquired of the maid who answered the bell.

"Come this way, please," said the maid, and Bab followed her across the
square hall and through a door hung with heavy portieres. She found
herself in what appeared to be half library, half living room, and seemed
especially designed for comfort. A bright fire burned in the open fire
place at one side of the room, and before the fire stood a young man, who
turned abruptly as Bab entered.

"How do you do, Miss Thurston," said Peter Dillon, coming forward and
taking her hand.

"Why--I thought--" stammered Barbara, a look of keen disappointment
leaping into her brown eyes, "that Mrs. Wilson--was--"

"To be here," finished Peter Dillon, smiling almost tantalizingly at her
evident embarrassment. "So she was, but she received a telephone message
half an hour ago and was obliged to go out for a little while. I
happened to be here when the message came and she told me that she
expected you to call at half past four o'clock and asked me if I would
wait and receive you. She left a note for you in my care. Here it is."

Peter Dillon handed Bab an envelope addressed to "Miss Barbara Thurston,"
looking at her searchingly as he did so. Bab colored hotly under his
almost impertinent scrutiny as she reached out her hand for the envelope.
She had an uncomfortable feeling at that moment that perhaps Peter Dillon
knew as much about the contents of the envelope as she did.

"Thank you, Mr. Dillon," she said in a low voice. "I think I won't wait
for Mrs. Wilson. Please tell her that I thank her and that I'll write."

"Very well," replied the young man. "I will deliver your message." He
held the heavy portieres back for Bab as she stepped into the hall and
accompanied her to the vestibule door. "Good-bye, Miss Thurston," he said
with a peculiar, meaning flash of his blue eyes that completed Bab's
discomfiture. "I shall hope to see you in a day or two."

Bab hurried down the steps and into the street. The shadows were
beginning to fall and in another hour it would be dark. When she reached
the corner she looked about her in bewilderment, then with a little
impatient exclamation she wheeled and retraced her steps. She had been
going in the wrong direction. She had passed Mrs. Wilson's house, when a
murmur of familiar voices caused her to start and look back at it in
amazement. Stepping off the walk and behind the trunk of a great tree,
Barbara stared from her place of concealment, hardly able to believe the
evidence of her own eyes. Peter Dillon was standing just outside the
vestibule door, his hat in his hand and just inside stood Mrs. Wilson.
The two were deep in conversation and Bab heard the young man's musical
laugh ring out as though something had greatly amused him. Filled with a
sickening apprehension that she was the cause of his laughter, Bab
stepped from behind the tree unobserved by the two on the step above and
walked on down the street assailed by the disquieting suspicion that Mrs.
Wilson had had a motive far from disinterested in lending her the fifty
dollars. She glanced down at the envelope in her hand. She felt positive
that it contained the money, and her woman's intuition told her that
Peter Dillon's presence in the house had not been a matter of chance. She
experienced a strong desire to run back to the house and return the
envelope unopened, and at the same time ask Mrs. Wilson why Peter had
untruthfully declared that she was not at home. Bab paused irresolutely.
Then a vision of Mollie's tearful face rose before her, and squaring her
shoulders, she marched along through the gathering twilight, determined
to use the borrowed money to pay Mollie's debt and face the consequences
whatever they might be.

When Bab reached home she found that Harriet had come in and gone to her
room, while the other girls had not yet returned. Barbara was glad that
no one had discovered her absence, and divesting herself of her hat and
coat she hurried up to her room. Closing and locking the door, she sat
down and tore open the envelope and with hands that trembled, drew out a
folded paper. Inside the folded paper was a crisp fifty dollar bill. Mrs.
Wilson had kept her word.

While she sat fingering the bill, she heard voices downstairs and a
moment later Mollie tried the door, then knocked. Bab rose and unlocked
the door for her sister.

"Did you get it, Bab?" asked Mollie eagerly, a deep flush rising
to her face.

"Yes, Molliekins, here it is," answered Barbara quietly, holding up the
money. "To-morrow you and I will go to Madame Louise and pay the bill."

"Oh, Bab," said Mollie, her lips quivering. "I'm so sorry. I've been so
much trouble, but I'll save every cent of my pocket money and pay Mrs.
Wilson as soon as I can. It was so good of her to lend us the money
wasn't it?"

Barbara merely nodded. Her early gratitude toward Mrs. Wilson had
vanished, in spite of her efforts to believe in Mrs. Wilson, her first
feeling of distrust had returned. She thought gloomily, as she listened
to Mollie's praise of Mrs. Wilson's generosity, that perhaps after all it
would have been better to pay a visit to the pawn broker.



CHAPTER XIII

A FOOLISH GIRL


In the meantime Harriet Hamlin was equally as unhappy as Bab and Mollie.
For, instead of owing Madame Louise a mere fifty dollars, she owed her
almost five hundred and she dared not ask her father for the money to pay
the bill. The dividend, with which she had tempted Mollie to make her
ill-advised purchase, amounted to only twenty-five dollars. It had seemed
a sufficient sum to Harriet to pay down on her friend's investment, but
she knew the amount was not large enough to stay the wrath of her
dressmaker, as far as her own account was concerned.

Now, Harriet had never intended to let her bill mount up to such a
dreadful sum. She was horrified when she found out how large it really
was. Yet month by month Harriet had been tempted to add to her stock of
pretty clothes, without inquiring about prices, and she now found herself
in this painful predicament.

Harriet, also, thought of every possible scheme by which she might raise
the money she needed. On one thing she was determined. Her father should
never learn of her indebtedness. She would take any desperate measure
before this should happen; for Harriet stood very much in awe of her
father, and knew that he had a special horror of debt.

Since Charlie Meyers had behaved so rudely to Barbara, on the night of
their automobile ride to Mt. Vernon, Harriet had had nothing to do with
him. But now, in her anxiety, she decided to appeal to him. She could
think of no other plan. Charlie Meyers was immensely rich and a very old
friend. Five hundred dollars could mean very little to him, and Harriet
could, of course, pay him back later on. She fully intended to live
within her allowance in the future and save her money until she had paid
every dollar that she owed.

But how was Harriet to see Charlie Meyers? After all she had said about
him to the "Automobile Girls," she was really ashamed to invite him to
her house. So Harriet dispatched a note to the young man, making an
appointment with him to meet her on a corner some distance from the
house on the same afternoon that Bab made her uncomfortable visit to
Mrs. Wilson.

Charlie Meyers was highly elated when he read Harriet Hamlin's note. He
had known her since she was a little girl in short frocks and was very
fond of her. He had been deeply hurt by her coldness to him since their
automobile party, but he was such an ill-bred fellow that he simply had
not understood how badly he had behaved. He did know that Mr. Hamlin
disliked him and did not enjoy his attentions to his daughter; so he
hated Mr. Hamlin in consequence.

When Harriet's note arrived, he interpreted it to mean that she was sorry
she had treated him unkindly, and that she did care for him in spite of
her father's opposition. So he drove down to the designated corner in his
car, feeling very well pleased with himself.

Harriet, however, started out to meet the young man feeling ashamed of
herself. She knew that she was behaving very indiscreetly, but she
believed that Charlie Meyers would be ready to help her and that she
could make him do anything she wished. She accepted his invitation to
take a ride, but she put off the evil moment of voicing her request as
long as possible, and as they glided along in Meyers' car, she made
herself as agreeable to her escort as she knew how to be.

After they had driven some distance out from Washington in the direction
of Arlington, the old home of General Robert E. Lee, Charlie Meyers said
bluntly to Harriet:

"Now, Harriet, what's the matter? You said in your note that you wanted
to see me about something important. What is it?"

Harriet stopped abruptly and looked rather timidly at Meyers. She had
been trying in vain to lead up to the point of asking her favor, and here
her companion had given her the very opportunity she required.

Yet Harriet hesitated, and the laughter died away on her lips. She knew
she was doing a very wrong thing in asking this young man to lend her
money. But Harriet had been spoiled by too much admiration and she had
had no mother's influence in the four years of her life when she most
needed it. She was determined not to ask her father's help, and she knew
of no one else to whom she could appeal.

"I am not feeling very well, Charlie," Harriet answered queerly, turning
a little pale and trying to summon her courage.

"You've been entertaining too much company!" Charlie Meyers exclaimed. "I
don't think much of that set of 'Automobile Girls' you have staying with
you. They are good-looking enough, but they are kind of standoffish and
superior."

"No, indeed; I am not having too much company," Harriet returned
indignantly, forgetting she must not let herself grow angry with her
ill-bred friend. "I am perfectly devoted to every one of the 'Automobile
Girls,' and Ruth Stuart is my first cousin."

Harriet and Charlie were both silent for a little while after this
unfortunate beginning to their conversation, for Harriet did not know
exactly how to go on.

"I am worried," she began again, after a slight pause in which she
counted the trees along the road to see how fast their car was running.
"I am worried because I am in a great deal of trouble."

"You haven't been getting engaged, have you, Harriet?" asked the young
man anxiously. "If you want to break it off, just leave matters to me."

Harriet laughed in spite of herself. It seemed so perfectly absurd to
her to be expected to leave a matter as important to her happiness as her
engagement to a person like Charlie Meyers to settle.

Charlie Meyers was twenty-two years of age. He had refused to go to
college and had never even finished high school. His father had died when
he was a child, leaving him to the care of a stepmother who had little
affection for him. At the age of twenty-one the boy came into control of
his immense fortune. So it was not remarkable that Charlie Meyers, who
had almost no education, no home influence and a vast sum of money at his
disposal, thought himself of tremendous importance without making any
effort to prove himself so.

"No, I am not engaged, Charlie," Harriet answered frankly. "But I do want
you to do me a favor, and I wonder if you will do it?"

The young man flushed. His red face grew redder still. What was Harriet
going to ask him? He began to feel suspicious.

Now this rich young man had a peculiarity of which Harriet had not
dreamed, or she would never have dared to ask him for a loan. He was very
stingy, and he had an abnormal fear that people were going to try to make
use of him.

Harriet had started with her request, so she went bravely on:

"I'll just tell you the whole story, Charlie," she declared, "so you
will see what an awful predicament I am in. I know you won't tell Father,
and you may be able to help me out. I owe Madame Louise, my dressmaker,
five hundred dollars! She has threatened to bring suit against me at the
end of a week unless I pay her what I owe before that time. Would you
lend me the money, Charlie? I am awfully ashamed to ask you. But I could
pay you back in a little while."

Harriet's voice dropped almost to a whisper, she was so embarrassed. Her
companion must have heard her, for he was sitting beside her in the
automobile, but he made no answer.

Poor Harriet sat very still for a moment overcome with humiliation. She
had trampled upon her pride and self-respect in making her request, and
she had begun to realize more fully how very unwise she had been in
asking such a favor of this young man. Yet it had really never dawned on
the girl that Charlie Meyers could refuse her request. When he did not
answer, she began to feel afraid. Harriet could not have spoken again for
the world. Her usually haughty head was bent low, and her lids dropped
over her eyes in which the tears of humiliation were beginning to gather.

"Look here, Harriet," protested the young man at last. "Five hundred
dollars is a good deal of money even for me to lend. What arrangements do
you want to make about paying it back?"

"Why, Charlie!" Harriet exclaimed. "You can have the interest on the
money, if you like. I never thought of that."

"You can pay me back the interest if you wish," Charlie replied sullenly.
"But you know, Harriet, that I like you an awful lot, and for a long time
I've been wanting you to marry me. But you've always refused me. Now if
you'll promise to marry me, I'll let you have the money. But if you
won't, why you can't have it--that's all! I am not going to lend my good
money to you, and then have you go your way and perhaps not have anything
more to do with me for weeks. I tell you, Harriet, I like you an awful
lot and you know it; but I am not going to be made a fool of, and you
might as well find it out right now."

Harriet was so angry she simply could not speak for a few minutes. The
enormity of her mistake swept over her. But silence was her best weapon,
for Charlie Meyers began to feel ashamed. He was dimly aware that he had
insulted Harriet, and he really did care for her as much as he was
capable of caring for any one.

"I didn't mean to make you angry, Harriet," he apologized in a half
frightened voice. "I don't see why you can't care for me anyhow. I've
asked you to marry me over and over again. And I can just tell you, you
won't have to worry over debts to dressmakers ever again, if you marry
me. I've got an awful lot of money."

"I am very glad you have, Mr. Meyers," Harriet answered coldly, with a
slight catch in her voice. "But I am certainly sorry I asked you to lend
any of it to me. Will you never refer to this conversation again, and
take me home as soon as you can? I don't think it is worth while for me
even to refuse your offer. But please remember that my affection is
something that mere money cannot buy." Harriet's tone was so scornful
that the young man winced. He could think of nothing to reply, and turned
his car around in shame-faced silence.

Harriet too was very quiet. She would have liked to tell her companion
what she truly thought of him, how coarse and ill-bred he was, but she
set her lips and remained silent. She did not wish to make an enemy of
Charlie Meyers. After that day's experience, she would simply drop him
from her list of acquaintances and have nothing more to do with him.

Stupid though he was, the discomfited young man felt Harriet's silent
contempt. He wanted to apologize to her, to explain, to say a thousand
things. But he was too dense to know just what he should say. It was
better for him that he did wait to make his apology until a later day,
when Harriet's anger had in a measure cooled and she was even more
miserable and confused than she was at that time.

"I am awfully sorry, Harriet," Charlie Meyers stumbled over his words as
he helped her out of his machine. "You know I didn't exactly mean to
refuse your request. I'll be awfully glad to--"

But Harriet's curt good-bye checked his apologetic speech, and he turned
and drove swiftly away.



CHAPTER XIV

"GRANT NO FAVORS!"


"Mrs. Wilson's tea is at four o'clock, girls, remember," Harriet
announced a day or so later, looking up from the note she was writing.
"Are you actually going sight-seeing again to-day before the reception?
Truly, I never imagined such energy!"

"Oh, come, Harriet Hamlin, don't be sarcastic," Ruth rejoined. "If you
had not lived so long in Washington you would be just as much interested
in everything as the 'Automobile Girls' are. But Bab and I are the only
ones to go sight-seeing to-day. Mollie isn't feeling well, and Grace is
staying to console her. We shall be back in plenty of time. Why don't you
lie down for a while! You look so tired."

"Oh, I am all right," Harriet answered gently. "Good-bye, children. Be
good and remember you have promised not to be late."

Ruth and Bab were highly anxious for a walk and talk together, and they
had a special enterprise on hand for this afternoon. Bab had received a
mysterious summons from her newspaper friend, Marjorie Moore. The note
had asked Bab to bring Ruth, and to come to the Visitors' Gallery in the
Senate Chamber at an appointed time. Marjorie Moore chose this strange
meeting place because she had a "special story" of the Senate to write
for her paper and was obliged to be in the gallery.

Barbara was not particularly surprised at the request. She knew that
Marjorie Moore had been wishing to make her a confidant ever since the
reception at the White House. And she knew that the girl could not come
to Mr. Hamlin's house because of Harriet's hostile attitude toward her.

So Bab confided the whole story to Ruth, and feeling much mystified and
excited, the two girls set out for the Capitol.

During the long walk Barbara thought of her own secret, which she longed
to confide to Ruth, but she dared not tell Ruth of the borrowed money for
fear Ruth would at once insist on paying her debt. The money had to be
paid, of course, and Bab hoped to pay it back at an early date, but she
had not yet come to the point where she could bear to ask Ruth for it.

When Ruth and Bab finally reached the Capitol building, and made their
way to the Visitors' Gallery in the Senate Chamber, Marjorie Moore was
not there. She had failed to keep her appointment.

"I am not so very sorry Miss Moore has not come," Barbara remarked to
Ruth. "She seems to be such a mysterious kind of person, always
suggesting something and never really telling you what it is."

Ruth laughed. "The 'Automobile Girls' hate mysteries, don't they, Bab?
But goodness knows, we are always being involved in them!"

The two visitors sat down to listen to the speeches of United States
Senators. There was some excitement in the Chamber, Bab decided, but
neither she nor Ruth could exactly understand what was going on.
Both girls listened and watched the proceedings below them with
such intensity that they forgot all about Marjorie Moore and her
strange request.

A few moments later she dropped down into the vacant seat next to
Barbara. She looked more hurried and agitated than ever. Her hat was on
one side, and her coat collar was half doubled under. She was a little
paler from her trying experience of a few nights before, and an ugly
bruise showed over her temple. But she made no reference to her accident.

"I am sorry I am late," she whispered. "But come back here in the far
corner of the gallery with me. I want to talk with you just half a
minute. I am so busy I can't stay with you any longer. I just felt I must
see you, Miss Thurston, before you go to tea with Mrs. Wilson this
afternoon."

"Tea with Mrs. Wilson!" Bab ejaculated. "How did you know we were going
to Mrs. Wilson's tea? And has that anything to do with your message to
me?" Barbara did not speak in her usual friendly tones. She was getting
decidedly cross. It seemed to her that she had been under some one's
supervision ever since her arrival in Washington.

"Yes, it has, Miss Thurston," the newspaper girl replied quickly. "I want
to ask you something. Promise me you will grant no one a favor, no matter
who asks it of you to-day?"

Barbara flushed. "Why how absurd, Miss Moore. I really cannot make you
any such promise. It is too foolish."

"Foolish or not, you must promise me," Marjorie Moore insisted. Then she
turned earnestly to Ruth. "I know you have a great deal of influence with
your friend. If she will not agree to what I ask her, won't you make her
promise you this: She is not to consent to do a favor for any one this
afternoon, no matter how simple the favor seems to be. Do you
understand?"

Ruth looked at Marjorie Moore blankly, but something in the newspaper
girl's earnest expression arrested her attention.

"I don't see why you won't make Miss Moore the promise she begs of you,
Bab," Ruth argued. "It seems a simple thing she has asked you. And I
don't think it is very nice of you, dear, to refuse her, even though her
request does seem a little absurd to you."

"But won't you tell me why you ask me to be so exceedingly
unaccommodating, Miss Moore?" Bab retorted.

Marjorie Moore shook her head. "That's just the trouble. Again I can't
tell you why I ask this of you. But I want to assure you of one thing. It
would mean a great deal more to me, personally, to have you agree to do
the favor that may or may not be asked of you this afternoon. I am the
only outside person in Washington who knows of a certain game that is to
be played. It would mean a big scoop for my paper and a lot of money for
me if I would just let things drift. But I like you too well to hold my
tongue, though I am not going to tell you anything more. And I certainly
won't beg you to do what I ask of you. Of course you may do just as you
please. Good-bye; I am too busy to talk any more to-day." Before Barbara
could make up her mind what to answer, the newspaper woman hurried away.

Ruth looked decidedly worried after Marjorie Moore's departure. But
Barbara was still incredulous and a little bored at being kept so
completely in the dark.

"Look here, Bab," Ruth advised, as the two girls walked slowly home
together, "you did not promise Miss Moore to do what she asked of you.
But you must promise me. Oh, I know it seems absurd! And I am not exactly
blaming you for refusing to make that promise to Miss Moore. But, Bab, we
cannot always judge the importance of little things. So I, at least,
shall be much happier at this particular tea if you will promise me not
to do a single thing that any one asks you to do."

Both girls laughed gayly at Ruth's request.

"Won't I be an agreeable guest, Ruth?" Bab mimicked. "If any one asks
me to sit down, I must say, 'No; I insist on standing up. Because I
have promised my friend Miss Stuart not to do a single thing I am
requested to do all afternoon.' I wish I did not have to go to Mrs.
Wilson's tea to-day."

"You need not joke, Bab," Ruth persisted. "And you need not pretend you
would have to behave so foolishly. I only ask you to promise me what you
would not agree to, when Marjorie Moore asked it of you: 'Don't do any
favor for any one, no matter who asks it of you this afternoon!'"

Bab gave up. "All right, Ruth, dear; I promise," she conceded. "You know
very well that I can't refuse you anything, though I do think you and
Miss Moore are asking me to be ridiculous. I do hereby solemnly swear to
be, for the rest of this day, the most unaccommodating young person in
the whole world. But beware, Ruth Stuart! The boomerang may return and
strike you. Don't dare request me to do you a favor until after the bells
chime midnight, when I shall be released from my present idiotic vow."

Mrs. Wilson's afternoon teas were not like any others in Washington. They
were not crowded affairs, where no one had a chance to talk, but small
companies of guests especially selected by Mrs. Wilson for their
congeniality. So Mrs. Wilson was regarded as one of the most popular
hostesses at the Capital and distinguished people came to her
entertainments who could not be persuaded to go anywhere else.

Harriet and the four "Automobile Girls" were delighted to see a number of
service uniforms when they entered the charming French drawing-room of
their hostess, which was decorated in old rose draperies against ivory
tinted walls.

Lieutenant Elmer Wilson's friends, young Army and Navy officers, were out
in full force. They were among the most agreeable young men in Washington
society. Lieutenant Elmer at once attached himself to Mollie; and his
attentions might have turned the head of that young woman if she had not
been feeling unusually sobered by her recent experience with debt.

Barbara soon recognized the two young men who had helped her carry
Marjorie Moore from the lawn to the White House veranda. But neither one
of them referred to the incident while there were other people
surrounding them. Finally an opportunity came to one of the two men to
speak to Barbara. He leaned over and whispered softly: "How is the young
woman we rescued the other night? I almost thought she had been killed.
We have been sworn to secrecy. But one of my friends has an idea that he
saw the man who may have attacked Miss Moore. He was out on a porch
before the rest of us joined him, and he swears he saw two figures at
some distance across the lawn."

Bab shuddered. "I was on the lawn. Perhaps he saw me."

"No," her companion argued, unconvinced. "My friend is sure he saw two
men; one of them was rather heavily built--"

Peter Dillon's approach cut short the conversation and the young Army
officer turned away, as Peter joined Bab.

Barbara hardly turned around to greet the newcomer. She did not like
Peter Dillon and she was very anxious to hear what her previous companion
had to say. So Bab only gave Mr. Dillon her haughtiest bow. Peter did not
appear discouraged; he stood for a moment smiling at Bab good humoredly,
the boyish look shining in his near-sighted dark blue eyes.

Barbara was forced to speak to him. "How do you do, Mr. Dillon?" she
asked at last.

"Very well indeed," replied the young man cheerfully. "Did you arrive
home safely the other day?"

Barbara colored hotly. She felt certain now that despite her promise of
secrecy Mrs. Wilson had betrayed her confidence and told Peter Dillon
about the borrowed money. Why she had done so was a mystery and why he
had lied to Bab in saying Mrs. Wilson was out was also a problem Bab
could not solve.

While all this was passing through her mind Peter stood regarding her
with a quizzical smile. Then he said smoothly: "Miss Thurston, will you
do me a favor?"

Bab flashed a peculiar glance at him. "No," she replied abruptly.

The young man looked surprised. "I am sorry," he declared. "I was only
going to ask you to go in the other room to look at a picture with me."

A little later in the afternoon, Harriet managed to get the four
"Automobile Girls" together. "Mrs. Wilson wishes us to stay to dinner
with her," Harriet explained. "She has asked eight or ten other
people and Father has telephoned that he will come in after dinner to
take us home."



CHAPTER XV

BAB REFUSES TO GRANT A FAVOR


The dinner party was delightful. The "Automobile Girls" had not had such
a good time since their arrival in Washington. Mrs. Wilson was a charming
hostess. She was particularly gracious to Bab, and the young girl decided
to forget the disquieting suspicions she had harbored against this
fascinating woman and enjoy herself.

It was almost ten o'clock. Mr. Hamlin had not yet arrived at Mrs.
Wilson's. Bab was sitting in one corner of the drawing-room talking gayly
with a young Annapolis graduate, who was telling her all about his first
cruise, when Elmer Wilson interrupted them.

"I am terribly sorry to break into your conversation like this, Miss
Thurston," he apologized. "But Mother wishes to have a little talk with
you in the library before you leave here. I am sure I don't know what she
wishes to see you about; she told me to give you her message and ask no
questions. May I show you the way to her!"

Bab's gay laughter died on her lips. She rose at once and signified her
willingness to accompany Elmer to the library, but both young men
noticed that her face had grown grave and she seemed almost embarrassed.

Elmer Wilson wondered why Miss Thurston had taken his mother's simple
message so seriously. He was almost as embarrassed as Bab appeared to be.

When Barbara entered the room where she had received the envelope
from Peter Dillon the room was but dimly lighted. Two rose-colored
shades covered the low lamps, and great bunches of pink roses
ornamented the mantel.

Mrs. Wilson wore a black and white chiffon gown over white silk and had a
little band of black velvet about her throat from which hung a small
diamond star. Her beautiful white hair looked like a silver crown on her
head. She was leaning back in her chair with closed eyes when Bab entered
the room, and she did not open them at once. She let the young girl stand
and look at her, expecting her unusual beauty to influence Bab, as it had
many other older people. Mrs. Wilson looked tired and in a softened mood.
Her head rested against a pile of dark silken cushions. Her hands were
folded, in her lap.

She opened her dark eyes finally and smiled at Barbara. "Come here,
Barbara," she commanded, pointing to a chair opposite her.

Bab looked at her beautiful hostess timidly, but her brown eyes were
honest and clear. "You sent for me?" Bab queried, sitting down very stiff
and straight among the soft cushions.

"Of course I did," Mrs. Wilson smiled. "And I should have done so
before, only you and I have both been too busy. I am so glad you came to
my tea to-day." Mrs. Wilson reached out her slender white hand and took
hold of Barbara's firm brown one. "I want to make you a very humble
apology," she continued. "I am very sorry that I was obliged to be away
the other day when you called. I left the envelope with Mr. Dillon. I
received your note yesterday, so I know that it was delivered into your
hands. I did not return until after seven o'clock the other night, so it
was just as well you didn't wait for me. I knew I could trust Mr. Dillon
to give it to you."

The girl made no reply. She did not dare raise her eyes to the other
woman's face for fear Mrs. Wilson would divine from their expression that
Bab knew she had lied. At the same time a thrill of consternation swept
over her. What had been Mrs. Wilson's object in lending her the money?
Bab was now sure that the loan had not been made disinterestedly. But
what had Peter Dillon to do with it? It looked very much as though Mrs.
Wilson and the attaché were playing a game, and were seeking to draw her
into it. She resolved at that moment that she would write to her mother
for the money, or ask Ruth for it. She would do anything rather than
remain in Mrs. Wilson's debt. There was something about the intent way in
which her hostess looked at her that aroused fresh suspicion in her mind.
Bab braced herself to hear what she knew instinctively was to follow.

"I am so glad I was able to help you," Mrs. Wilson purred, continuing to
watch the young girl intently. "I know that you meant what you said when
you declared that you hoped to some day be able to do some favor for me.
I did not think then that I should ever wish to take you at your word,
but strange as it may seem, you are the very person I have been looking
for to help me with a joke that I wish to play upon Mr. Hamlin. You know,
Mr. Hamlin is a very methodical man. Well, I wagered him a dozen pairs of
gloves, the other day, that he would misplace one of his beloved papers.
And I hope to win the wager. What I wish you to do is to secure a certain
paper from his desk and give it to me. He will never know how I obtained
it. Of course I shall return it to him in a day or so, after he
acknowledges his defeat and pays his wager."

Barbara shook her head. "I don't think I can take any part in any such
joke, Mrs. Wilson," she said, looking appealingly at her hostess. "You
don't really mean that you wish me to take one of Mr. Hamlin's papers
without his knowledge, and then give the paper to you?"

"Certainly, child, I do mean just that thing," Mrs. Wilson said, laughing
lightly. "You need not take my request so seriously. Mr. Hamlin will
appreciate the joke more than any one else when I have explained it to
him. Won't you keep your word and grant me this favor?"

"I can't do what you ask, Mrs. Wilson," Bab said slowly. "I'm awfully
sorry, but it wouldn't be honorable."

Mrs. Wilson turned away her head, so that Barbara could not see the
expression of her face. "Very well, Miss Thurston," she said sharply.
"Don't trouble about it, if you think you will be committing one of the
cardinal sins in doing me this favor. But don't you think you are rather
ungrateful? You were perfectly willing to accept my offer the other day
when you were in need of money to pay your sister's debt, but now you are
in no hurry to cancel your obligation. I consider you an extremely
disobliging young woman."

Barbara sat silent and ashamed. Yet she made no effort to propitiate her
angry hostess.

The butler came to the library door to announce the arrival of
Mr. Hamlin.

Barbara rose quickly. "I am so sorry not to be able to do you the favor
you asked of me, Mrs. Wilson," she said in a low tone.

Mrs. Wilson did not reply. Then in a flash Barbara Thurston remembered
something! It was the promise Marjorie Moore had asked of her, and which
Ruth Stuart had insisted upon her making. Without recalling that promise
at the time, Bab had still kept her word. She had been asked to do some
one a favor--and she had refused. But of course Marjorie Moore must have
had some other thing in mind when she made her curious demand. Now that
Barbara thought again of her vow, she determined to be wary for the rest
of the evening and to keep as far away from Peter Dillon as possible.

"I am going to play chaperon at your house in the near future, Harriet,"
Mrs. Wilson announced, as her guests were saying good night. "Your father
says he is to be out of town on business and that I may look after you."

"We shall be delighted to have you, Mrs. Wilson," Harriet returned
politely, though she wondered why her father had suddenly requested Mrs.
Wilson to act as chaperon. Harriet had often stayed at home alone with
only their faithful old servants to look after her, when her father went
away for a short time. And now that she had the four "Automobile Girls"
as her guests, she did not feel in need of a chaperon.

Peter Dillon had not spoken to Bab again during the evening, but had
studiously avoided her, and Bab was exceedingly glad that he had kept his
distance. But as she put on her coat to go home, she heard the rustle of
a small piece of paper.

Barbara glanced down at it, of course, and found that some one had pinned
a folded square of paper to the inner lining of her coat.

She blushed furiously, for fear one of the other guests would discover
what had happened. Bab hated sentimentality and secrecy more than
anything in the world. Inside the folded square of paper she found the
tiny faded rose-bud, Peter Dillon had placed in his pocket that day when
he had picked the two buds in the old Washington garden at Mt. Vernon.

On the way downstairs, Barbara still kept the flower in her hand. But
when she found Peter's eyes were upon her she deliberately crushed the
little rose-bud, then defiantly tossed it away.



CHAPTER XVI

BARBABA'S UNEXPECTED GOOD LUCK


It was the second day after Mrs. Wilson's dinner when Barbara made up her
mind to tell Ruth of her debt to Mrs. Wilson and to ask her friend to
lend her the money to relieve her of her obligation. Bab could endure the
situation no longer. She simply determined to tell Ruth everything,
except the part that poor Mollie had played in the original difficulty.
She meant to explain to Ruth that she had needed fifty dollars, that she
had intended going to a pawn shop to secure the money, her interview with
Mrs. Wilson and her acceptance of the loan offered by the beautiful
woman. She would not tell Ruth, however, why she had suddenly required
this sum of money. Now, Bab knew Ruth would ask her no questions and
would grant her request without a moment's hesitation or loss of faith.
The sympathy between Ruth and Barbara was very deep and real.

It was one thing for Barbara Thurston to decide to appeal to Ruth's
ever-ready generosity, but another thing actually to make her demand.

The two girls lay on Ruth's bed, resting. They had been to a dance at the
British Embassy the night before. Mollie and Grace were together in the
next room and Harriet was alone.

"Barbara!" exclaimed Ruth suddenly. "If you could have one wish, that
would surely be granted, what would you wish?"

"I would like to have some money in a hurry," flashed through Bab's mind,
but she was ashamed to make such a speech to Ruth, so she said rather
soberly. "I have so many wishes its hard to single out one."

"Well what are some of them?" persisted Ruth. "Do you wish to be rich, or
famous, or to write a great book or a play?"

"Oh, yes; I wish all those things, Ruth," Bab agreed. "But you were not
thinking of such big things. What little private wish of your own did you
have in your mind? Please don't wish for things that will take you far
away from me," Bab entreated.

Ruth's blue eyes were misty when she replied: "Oh, no, Bab! I was just
going to wish that something would happen so that you and I need never be
separated again. I love you just as though you were my sister, and I am
so lonely at home without you and Mollie. Yet, as soon as our visit to
Harriet is over, you must go back to school in Kingsbridge and I have to
go home to Chicago. Who knows when we shall see each other again? I don't
suppose that our motor trips can go on happening forever."

Bab pressed Ruth's hand silently, her own thoughts flying toward the
future, when she would perhaps be working her way through college, and
teaching school later on, and Ruth would be in society, a beauty and a
belle in her Western home.

"Why don't you say something, Bab?" queried Ruth, feeling slightly
offended at Bab's silence. "Can't you say you wish the same thing that I
do, and that you believe our motor trips will last forever?"

A knock at the door interrupted Bab's answer. When she went to open
it a maid handed her three letters. Two of them were for Ruth and one
for Barbara.

Ruth opened her letters quickly. The handwriting on one of them was her
Aunt Sallie's. The other was from Ruth's father.

The postmark on Bab's letter was unfamiliar, however, so she did not
trouble to open it, until she heard what Ruth had to say.

"Oh, I am so sorry!" Ruth ejaculated. "See here, Bab, Aunt Sallie writes
us that she cannot come on to Washington. She has rheumatism, or
something, in her shoulder and does not want to make the long trip. She
says I had better come home in a week or ten days, and that Father will
probably come for me. Of course, Aunt Sallie sends love and kisses all
around to her 'Automobile Girls.' She ends by declaring I must bring you
home with me."

Bab gave a deep sigh. "I do wish Miss Sallie had been here with us,"
she murmured.

Ruth looked reflective. "Have you any special reason for needing Aunt
Sallie, Bab? I have an idea you have something on your mind. Won't I do
for your confidant!"

"Yes, you will, Ruth!" Bab said slowly, turning her face to hide her
painful embarrassment. "Ruth will you--"

Bab had picked up her own letter. More to gain time than for any other
reason, she opened it idly. A piece of paper fluttered out on the bed,
which Ruth picked up.

"Why, Bab!" she cried. "Look! Here is a check for fifty dollars! And
there is some strange name on it that I never heard of before."

But Ruth could not speak again, for Bab had thrown her arms about her and
was embracing her excitedly.

"Oh, Ruth, I am so glad, I am so glad!" Bab exclaimed, half laughing,
half crying. "Just think of it--fifty dollars! And just now of all times.
I never dreamed of such luck coming to me. It is just too wonderful!"

"Barbara Thurston, will you be quiet and tell me what has happened to
you?" Ruth insisted. "You haven't lost your wits, have you, child?"

"No, I have found them," Bab declared. "More wits than I ever dreamed I
had. Now, Ruth, don't be cross with me because I never confided this to
you before. But I have not told a single person until to-day, not even
Mother or Mollie. Months before I came to Washington, just before school
commenced, I saw a notice in a newspaper, saying that a prize would be
given for a short story written by a schoolgirl between the ages of
sixteen and eighteen. So, up in the little attic at Laurel Cottage, I
wrote a story. I worked on it for days and days, and then I sent it off
to the publisher. I was ashamed to tell any one that I had written it,
and never dreamed I should hear of it again. But now I have won the prize
of fifty dollars,"

Bab stood up on the bed waving her check in one hand and, holding
the skirt of her blue kimono in the other, executed a few jubilant
dance steps.

"Oh, Barbara, I am so proud!" Ruth rejoined, looking fully as happy as
Bab. "Just think how clever you are! The fame of being an author is more
desirable than the money. I must tell Mollie and Grace all about it."

[Illustration: "Oh, Ruth, I Am So Glad!"]

But Mollie and Grace had been attracted by the excitement in the next
room, and now rushed in to hear the news.

Mollie's eyes filled with tears as she embraced her sister. She knew how
Bab's fifty dollars must be used, and why her sister was so delighted
with her success.

"What are you going to do with the fifty dollars, Bab?" Grace inquired.
"I suppose you will put it away for your college money."

Bab did not reply. She was already longing for a little time to herself,
a pen, and ink and note paper.

Harriet came in now with a message:

"Children," she said, "it is time to dress for dinner. I have just had a
telephone call from Father. He is going out of town to-night, but Mrs.
Wilson is to stay with us. Father is not going until after dinner, and
Mrs. Wilson and Elmer and Peter Dillon will be here to dine with us. So
we shall have rather a jolly party. You girls had better dress."

Harriet's was at once informed of Bab's good luck, and in offering
Barbara her congratulations she forgot to tell the rest of her story.

Harriet had asked her father to come home half an hour before his guests
arrived. She had almost persuaded herself to make a full confession of
her fault. But the tangle of circumstance was not to be so easily
unraveled.

Before Bab went down to dinner she slipped over to her desk and indorsed
the check, put it in an envelope, and hid the envelope inside her dress.
Her heart was lighter than it had been in weeks, for she believed her own
and Mollie's share in the Washington trouble was over.

Mr. William Hamlin was late to dinner and his guests were compelled to
hurry through the meal on his account, as he wished to catch a special
train out of the city. But they had a gay dinner party nevertheless and
Harriet did not know whether she was sorry or glad that her confession
had been delayed.

After Mr. Hamlin had said good-bye to his visitors Harriet followed her
father out into the hall. She thought if she told him of her fault just
before he went away his anger would have time to cool before he could
have opportunity to do more than reproach her for her extravagance.

"Father," Harriet whispered timidly, "can't you wait a few minutes
longer? I told you there was something I had to tell you."

Mr. Hamlin shook his head impatiently. "No, Harriet, this is not the time
nor the place for confidences. I am in far too much of a hurry. If you
want to ask me for money I positively haven't any to give you. Now run
on back to your guests."

Harriet turned slowly away, and so Mr. Hamlin lost his chance to set
matters straight.

Just before he went out the door, he called back to his daughter:

"Oh, Harriet, I have left the key to my strong box on my study table.
Don't forget to put it away for me; it is most important that you do so,
for I really have not time to turn back."

During the entire evening Peter Dillon devoted himself exclusively to
Harriet, and Bab was vastly relieved that he did not approach her. She
decided that he fully understood that she did not consider the pledge of
the faded rose-bud, binding. Mrs. Wilson had apparently forgotten Bab's
refusal of her request. She was as cordial to Barbara as she was to
Harriet, or to any of the "Automobile Girls."

It was after midnight when Mrs. Wilson told Elmer and Peter that they
must both go home. Bab's envelope was still tucked inside her dress. She
had had no chance so far to give it to Mrs. Wilson. After Peter and Elmer
had gone, however, and the girls trooped upstairs to bed, laughing and
chatting gayly, Bab found a chance to slip the troublesome envelope into
Mrs. Wilson's hand. With a whispered, "In the envelope is a check for the
money I borrowed. I thank you so much for your kindness," Bab ran down
the hall to her own room, feeling more at ease in her mind than she had
since Mollie's confession.

As for Harriet, she was so fully occupied with her guests that her
father's command to secure the key of his strong box, which he had left
on his study table, slipped from her mind and she retired without giving
the matter a second thought.



CHAPTER XVII

THE WHITE VEIL


Long after every one had retired Ruth Stuart lay wide awake. Try as she
might, sleep refused to visit her eyelids. At last, after she had counted
innumerable sheep and was wider awake than ever, she resolved to go and
waken Bab. Ruth moved about in the dark carefully, in order not to arouse
Grace, with whom she roomed, found her dressing-gown and slippers, and
tip-toed softly into Barbara's room. She knew that Barbara would not
resent being awakened even at that unseasonable hour.

"Barbara, are you awake?" she whispered, coming up to Bab's bed and
laying a gentle hand on her friend's face. "I want to talk with you
and I am so thirsty. Won't you come downstairs with me to get a drink
of water?"

Bab turned over sleepily and yawned: "Isn't there always some water in
the hall, Ruth? I am so tired I can't wake up," she declared.

But Ruth gave her another shake. Barbara crawled slowly out of bed, while
Ruth found her bedroom slippers and wrapped her in her warm bathrobe.
Then both girls stole softly out into the dark hall.

At the head of the stairs there was a broad landing. On this landing,
just under a stained glass window, there was a leather couch and a table,
which always held a pitcher of drinking water. On the window ledge the
servants were required to keep a candle, so that anyone who wished to do
so might find his way downstairs at night, without difficulty.

The two girls made their way slowly to this spot, and Bab felt along the
sill for the candle. It was not in its accustomed place.

"I can't find the candle, Ruth," Bab whispered. "But you know where to
find the water. Just fumble until you get hold of the pitcher."

"Won't you have a glass of water?" Ruth invited, pushing the tumbler
under Bab's very nose. Then the two girls began to giggle softly.

"No, thank you," Bab answered decidedly. "Come, thirsty maiden! Who took
me from my nice warm bed? Ruth Stuart! Let's go back upstairs and get to
sleep again in a hurry."

But for answer, Ruth drew Barbara down on the old leather couch in the
complete darkness and put her arms about her.

"Don't go back to bed, Bab. I'm not a bit sleepy. That's why I dragged
you out of bed. I couldn't go to sleep and I just had to have company. Be
a nice Bab and let's sit here and exchange conversation."

"All right," Bab replied amiably, snuggling up closer to her friend.
"Dear me, isn't it cold and dark and quiet out here!"

Ruth gave a faint shiver. Then both girls sat absolutely still without
speaking or moving--they had heard an unmistakable sound in the hall
below them. The noise was so slight it could hardly be called a sound.
Yet even this slight movement did not belong to the night and the silence
of the sleeping household.

The sound was repeated. Then a stillness followed, more absolute
than before.

"Is it a burglar, Bab?" Ruth breathed.

Barbara's hand pressure meant they must listen and wait. "It may be
possible," Bab thought, "that a dog or cat has somehow gotten into the
house downstairs."

At this, the girls left the sofa and, going over to the banister, peered
cautiously down into the darkness.

This time the two girls saw a light that shone like a flame in the
darkness below. Quietly there floated into their line of vision something
white, ethereal--perchance a spirit from another world. It vanished and
the blackness was again unbroken. The figure had seemed strangely tall.
It appeared to swim along, rather than to walk, draperies as fine as mist
hanging about it.

"What on earth was that, Barbara?" Ruth queried, more curious than
frightened by the apparition. "If I believed in spirits I might think we
had just seen the ghost of Harriet's mother. Harriet's old black Mammy
has always said that Aunt Hattie comes back at night to guard Harriet, if
she is in any special trouble or danger."

"I suppose we had better go downstairs and find out what we have seen,"
whispered more matter-of-fact Bab. "Mr. Hamlin is not here. I don't think
there is any sense in our arousing the family until we know something
more. I should not like to frighten Mrs. Wilson and Harriet for nothing."

The two girls slipped downstairs without making a sound. Everything on
the lower floor seemed dark and quiet. Ruth and Bab both began to think
they had been haunted by a dream. They were on their way upstairs again,
when Ruth suddenly turned and glanced behind her.

"Bab," she whispered, clutching at Barbara's bathrobe until that young
woman nearly tumbled backwards down the steps, "there is a light in
Uncle's study! I suppose it is Harriet who is down there."

It flashed across Bab's mind to wonder, oddly, if Harriet's visit to her
father's study at night could have anything to do with her debt to her
dressmaker of five hundred dollars! For Mollie had reported to her sister
that Harriet was feeling desperate over her unpleasant situation.

"If it is Harriet downstairs I don't think we ought to go down," Bab
objected. "We would frighten her if we walked in on her so unexpectedly."

"Harriet ought not to be alone downstairs," Ruth insisted. "Uncle would
not like it. I am going to peep in on her, and then make her come on
upstairs to bed."

Ruth led the way, with Bab at her heels. But it occurred to Barbara that
the midnight visitor to Mr. Hamlin's study might be some one other than
his daughter. Bab did not know whether Mr. Hamlin kept any money in his
strong box in the study. She and Ruth were both unarmed, and might be
approaching an unknown danger. Quick as a flash Bab arranged a little
scheme of defense.

There were two old-fashioned square stools placed on opposite sides of
the hall. Without a word to Ruth, who was intent on her errand, Bab drew
out these two stools and placed them side by side in the immediate centre
of the hall. Any one who tried to escape from the study would stumble
over these stools and at once alarm the household. Of course, if Bab and
Ruth found Harriet in her father's study Bab could warn them of her trap.

"What shall we do, Bab?" Ruth asked when Barbara joined her. "The light
is still shining in the study. But I do not want to knock on the door; it
would frighten Harriet. And it would terrify her even more if we walked
right into the study out of this darkness. But we can't wait out here all
night. I am catching cold."

Barbara did not reply. They were in a difficult situation. Suppose
Harriet were in the study? They did not wish to frighten her. In case the
veiled figure was not Harriet any speech of theirs would give their
presence away.

"I think we had better open the door quickly and rush in," Ruth now
decided. "Then Harriet can see at once who we are."

Without waiting for further consultation with Bab, Ruth flung wide the
study door.

In the same instant the light in the room went out like a flash.

"Harriet, is that you?" Ruth faltered. There was no answer, save some
one's quick breathing. Ruth and Bab could both perceive that an
absolutely white figure was crouched in a corner of the room in the dark.

Bab moved cautiously toward the spot where she knew an electric light
swung just above Mr. Hamlin's desk. But it was so dark that she had to
move her hand gropingly above her head, for a moment, in order to locate
the light.

The veiled being in the corner must have guessed her motive. Like a
zephyr it floated past the two girls. So light and swift was its movement
that Bab's hand was arrested in its design. Surely a ghost, not a human
creature, had passed by them.

The next sound that Ruth and Bab heard was not ghostlike. It was very
human. First came a crash, then a cry of terror and surprise.

At the same moment Bab found the light she sought, turned it on, and Ruth
rushed out into the hall.

There on the floor Ruth discovered a jumble of stools and white
draperies. And, shaking with the shock of her fall and forced
laughter, was--not Harriet, but her guest, Mrs. Wilson! She had a long
white chiffon veil over her head, a filmy shawl over her shoulders,
and a white gown. With her white hair she made a very satisfactory
picture of a ghost.

"My dear Mrs. Wilson!" cried Ruth, in horrified tones, "What has happened
to you? Were you walking in your sleep! Do let me help you up. I did not
know these stools were out here where you could stumble over them."

Bab stood gravely looking on at the scene without expressing such
marked surprise.

Mrs. Wilson gave one curious, malignant glance at Bab, then she smiled:

"Help me up, children. I am fairly caught in my crime."

Bab took hold of Mrs. Wilson by one arm, Ruth grasped her by the other,
and they both struggled to lift her. Mrs. Wilson gave a slight groan as
she got fairly on her feet. Her right hand clutched Bab for added
support. In falling over the stools Mrs. Wilson had given her knee a
severe wrench.

At the moment she staggered, Barbara saw a large, oblong envelope fall to
the floor from under Mrs. Wilson's soft white draperies.

"What is the trouble?" called Harriet, Mollie and Grace, poking their
three sleepy heads over the banisters.

At this interruption Bab stooped down and quickly caught up the envelope,
while Mrs. Wilson's attention was distracted by the three girls who were
rapidly descending the steps.

"Mrs. Wilson came downstairs for something," Ruth explained in her quiet,
well-bred fashion. "Bab and I heard a noise and, as we did not recognize
her, we followed her. We frightened Mrs. Wilson so that she stumbled over
these stools out in the hall. I am afraid she is a little hurt. I think
you had better call the servants, Harriet."

Ruth did not, for an instant, let the surprise she felt at Mrs. Wilson's
extraordinary conduct appear in her voice.

"No, don't call any of the servants to-night, Harriet," Mrs. Wilson
demurred. "I am all right now. I owe you children an apology for my
conduct to-night and also an explanation. But I think I can explain
everything much more satisfactorily if we wait until morning. I think
Miss Thurston already understands my escapade. I have taken her into my
confidence."

Mrs. Wilson directed at Barbara a glance so compelling that it was
almost hypnotic.

Bab did not return her look or make any answer.

A little while later Barbara disappeared. She went back alone to Mr.
Hamlin's study. On top of his desk she discovered a box about a foot and
a half long. It had been opened and a key was lying beside it on the
desk. Barbara could see that there was no money in the box, only a
collection of papers. Bab returned the long envelope, which she had found
at Mrs. Wilson's feet in the hall to its place, turned the key in the
lock of the box, and then carried the key upstairs, intending to hand it
over to Harriet. But Bab did not know whether or not she ought to explain
to Harriet how she had come by the key.

Harriet was in the room with Mrs. Wilson, seeing her guest to bed for the
second time, when Barbara went upstairs. Bab had no desire to face Mrs.
Wilson again that night. The distrust of the woman that was deepening in
the girl's mind was too great to conceal.

"Come into my room in the morning before breakfast, Harriet, dear," Mrs.
Wilson entreated, as she kissed her young hostess good night. "I know you
will forgive my foolishness, when I have had a little talk with you. It
is too late now for explanations."

It was between two and three o'clock in the morning before the household
of the Assistant Secretary of State again settled itself to sleep. Under
her pillow Barbara Thurston had the key to Mr. William Hamlin's strong
box, in which valuable state papers were sometimes temporarily placed.



CHAPTER XVIII

A TANGLED WEB OF CIRCUMSTANCE


Harriet Hamlin spent half an hour in the room with Mrs. Wilson before she
came down to the breakfast table the next morning.

"It is all right, girls," she announced promptly, as soon as the maid
left the room. "Mrs. Wilson is going to have her breakfast in bed. She is
a little upset by the happenings of last night. But she has explained
everything to me. For some time, Mrs. Wilson has been trying to play a
joke on Father, and last night she made another attempt. I promised her
none of us would mention to him what had occurred. Will you give me your
word, all of you, not to tell?"

"Certainly, Harriet," Ruth agreed seriously. The other three "Automobile
Girls" quietly nodded their heads.

"I don't know that I quite approve of Mrs. Wilson's method of practical
joking," Harriet went on. "She frightened all of us. But then, if no one
had discovered her, no harm would have been done."

Mollie and Grace gazed at Harriet, without trying to conceal their
surprise, but Ruth and Bab only looked steadfastly at their plates.

"Father is so strict and good all the time, I just wish somebody would
play a trick on him," Harriet went on angrily. She was annoyed at the
attitude of the "Automobile Girls," and she was still smarting under the
hurt of her father's speech the night before. As long as her father had
refused her money before she had even asked him for it, Harriet had
decided that it would be worse than useless to appeal to him again. She
was now waiting for disaster to break over her head.

"Mrs. Wilson rather blames you, Barbara," Harriet continued. "She says
she did not succeed in her joke, after all, because you came down
stairs at the wrong time and foiled the whole thing. She could not find
the silly old paper she needed. But do please be quiet as mice about
the whole affair. Don't mention it before the servants. Father will be
home to-night. Will you girls mind excusing me for the day, and finding
some way of amusing yourselves? I have promised Mrs. Wilson to go home
with her."

"Of course we can get along, Harriet," Grace replied. "I hope you will
have a good time."

Bab made no answer to Harriet's report of Mrs. Wilson's attitude toward
her. But she was convinced that Mrs. Wilson knew she had discovered the
stolen paper and returned it to its rightful place.

The "Automobile Girls" did not see Harriet again that morning.

At noon a message was sent upstairs. Mr. William Hamlin had returned and
wished to see his daughter at once. When he learned that Harriet was not
at home, he immediately sent for Ruth.

"Ruth, I have come home sooner than I had planned," he declared, "And I
wish to have a talk with you. Now, please keep your self-control. Girls
and women have such a fashion of flying into a rage at the first word one
says, that it is perfectly impossible to have any reasonable conversation
with them. I wish to talk with you quite quietly and calmly."

"Very well, Uncle," Ruth replied, meekly enough, though she was far from
feeling meek. She could readily understand why Harriet had found it
impossible to make a confidant of her father.

"I am glad you are so sensible, Ruth," Mr. Hamlin went on. "For I have
reason to believe that your friend, Barbara Thurston, has proved herself
an undesirable guest, since her arrival in Washington, which I very much
deplore. She is dishonorable, for she has secretly entered my study and
been seen handling my papers, and she has contracted a debt; for I saw
the check by means of which she returned the borrowed money to Mrs.
Wilson. I cannot understand how you and your father have managed to be so
deceived by the young woman."

"Stop, Uncle William," Ruth interrupted hotly. "I cannot, of course, tell
you that the things which you say are untrue. But at least I have the
right to say that I positively know you are wrong. I shall ask Barbara to
come down to your study, at once, to deny these charges. Then we shall go
home immediately."

"There, Ruth, I expected it," Mr. Hamlin answered testily. "Just as I
said. You have gone off the handle at once. Of course your young friend
may have some plausible explanation for her actions. But I will not be
guilty of making any accusations against a guest in my own house under
any circumstances. I have only mentioned these facts to you because I
feel that it is my positive duty to warn you against this girl, whom you
have chosen for your most intimate friend. It is impossible that I have
been deceived in regard to her. I have positive proof of what I say, and
I sadly fear she is a very headstrong and misguided girl."

Ruth was already crying from anger, which made it hard for her to answer
her uncle's speech. "You certainly don't object to my telling Barbara of
your accusations, Uncle William?" Ruth demanded. "I think it is only
fair to her."

"Not while she is in my house. You are to tell her nothing," Mr. Hamlin
ordered. "When Miss Thurston leaves you may tell her whatever you wish.
But I will not have a scene with her while she is staying here."

Mr. Hamlin was a cold, selfish and arrogant man. He well deserved the
blow to his pride that he was to receive later.

Ruth controlled herself in order to think deeply and quietly. Her father
was wise in his trust in her. Ruth had excellent judgment and good
sense. She was not particularly impressed by her uncle's command. She
felt that she had a perfect right to tell her friend of what she had
been accused. Yet would it be a good idea? Barbara would be
heart-broken, and nothing would induce her to remain in Mr. Hamlin's
house another hour after she learned his opinion of her. Ruth knew it
would not be well for Bab to rush off home in sudden anger, leaving a
false impression behind her. Barbara must stay in Mr. Hamlin's house
until he himself apologized to her.

Ruth did not dare to go back upstairs to the other girls immediately
after her interview with her uncle. She knew her friends would recognize
at once, from her red eyes and her excitement, that something was the
matter. Yet Ruth longed for a confidant, and she meant to unburden
herself to Grace as soon as she had the opportunity. To go upstairs now
would reveal everything to Mollie and Barbara as well.

Ruth seized her coat and hat from a closet in the hall and rushed out
into the street. She began walking as rapidly as she could, to let the
fresh air cool the tumult of feeling that was surging within her. Ruth
must have walked a mile before she determined what to do. Before she
returned to Mr. Hamlin's house, she found a telegraph office and went
into it. She sent a telegram to her father in Chicago, which read:

"Come to Washington as soon as possible. Bab wrongly suspected. She is
still in ignorance, but we need you.

"Ruth Stuart."

Little did Ruth yet dream why these toils were being wound about
unhappy Barbara. Mollie's one act of weakness had involved her sister in
a number of actions that did look wrong to an outsider. Yet the
explanation of them was so simple, if Bab had only known it were best for
her to tell the whole story! But Barbara was trying to shield Mollie, and
Mollie did not dream that Bab would suffer any consequences from her
foolish deed. So Bab's peculiar proceedings since her arrival in
Washington had indeed played well into the hands of her enemies. Mr.
Hamlin's mind had been poisoned against her. She had been seen to do
several underhanded things, one following directly after the other. If a
big game were being attempted, the reputation of Barbara Thurston was of
little account. Besides Bab had already blocked several of the players in
the game. Revenge could very well enter into the present scheme of
things, and a girl who had no one to defend her might prove a useful
tool. As a last resort she could be made a scapegoat.

In the meanwhile, Barbara was blissfully unconscious of any trouble, and
went singing cheerily about her room that morning. Since the delivery of
her check to Mrs. Wilson it seemed to her that the skies were blue again.
During the rest of her stay in Washington Bab meant just to enjoy the
beautiful sights of the wonderful city and not to trouble about the
disagreeable people. She did intend to ask Harriet to take her to see the
cunning little Chinese girl, Wee Tu, before she went home, but she had no
other very definite desires.

As for Mrs. Wilson? Barbara had just wisely decided that the woman
belonged to a curious type, which she did not understand and wished to
keep away from. Bab did not admire Mrs. Wilson's methods of playing
jokes. On the other hand it was none of Barbara Thurston's business. So
long as she had put the paper back in Mr. Hamlin's strong box no harm had
been done.

Barbara still had in her possession the key to that strong box. She had
neglected to give it to Harriet, because Harriet had left home so soon
after breakfast. And now that very terrifying person, Mr. William
Hamlin, had returned home, and Barbara Thurston still had the key in her
possession. Even Ruth had gone out. What should she do? She decided to
keep the key until Harriet came back in the afternoon. Then Harriet could
make some sort of explanation to her father. Barbara simply did not have
the courage to tell Mr. Hamlin that she had discovered Mrs. Wilson
tampering with his papers, and that it was she who had found the stolen
paper and locked it up again.

However, fate was certainly against Bab at the present time. A
servant knocked at the door of the next room, where Grace and Mollie
were reading.

"Please," the maid said, "Mr. Hamlin wants to know if Miss Harriet
left a key with you? It is a most important key, and Mr. Hamlin needs
it at once."

Grace and Mollie both shook their heads. No; Harriet had mentioned no
such key to them.

Barbara was waiting in the next room with the door open. She knew her
turn would come next.

"Do you know anything of the key, Miss Barbara?" Harriet's maid inquired.

Of course Bab blushed. She always did at the wrong time.

"Yes, I have the key, Mary," she replied. "Wait a minute, I will get
it for you."

"Do the young ladies know anything of my key?" Mr. William Hamlin's
impatient voice was heard just outside Barbara's door.

Innocently the maid opened it. "Wait a minute, Mr. Hamlin, please. Miss
Thurston says she has the key. She is getting it for you now."

And Barbara had to come to the door herself to present the key to this
dreadful old "Bluebeard."

"I presume my daughter left my key in your charge," Mr. Hamlin
asked coldly.

"No," she declared almost under her breath, hoping her stern host would
either not hear her, or at least not heed her. "Harriet did not leave
it with me."

"Then kindly tell me how my key came into your possession?" Mr. Hamlin
inquired, in chilling, even tones. Bab shivered.

"I found it," Bab answered lamely, having it in mind to tell the whole
strange story of last night's experience. But she was too frightened by
Mr. Hamlin's manner and by the fear that she would be regarded as a
telltale by Harriet. If Mr. Hamlin's own daughter had not considered her
guest's actions unusual, it was not exactly Bab's place to report them.
So she remained silent, and her host also turned away in silence.

Harriet did not come home until just before dinner time. She told the
"Automobile Girls" she had spent a delightful day, but her behavior was
unusual. She looked frightened, though at the same time happier than she
had seemed since the hour she had received the first threatening letter
from her dressmaker.

Peter Dillon had walked home with Harriet. Barbara, who happened to be
standing at the front window, saw them stop to talk for a moment at the
door before Peter said good-bye. Peter was making himself very charming
to Harriet. He was talking to her in his half laughing, half earnest
fashion in the very manner that had seemed so attractive to Bab, too,
at first. But it was a manner she had learned later on to distrust and
even to fear.

When Harriet parted from Peter Dillon she nodded her head emphatically
and apparently made him a promise, and Barbara saw Peter look back at her
with a peculiar smile as she ascended the steps.



CHAPTER XIX

HARRIET IN DANGER


Harriet Hamlin was restless and nervous all the next day. Even Mr.
Hamlin, noticing his daughter's nervous manner at luncheon, suggested
that she take her friends out to pay some calls. So Bab put forth her
plea that she wished to make another visit to the home of the Chinese
minister. As the girls had not yet paid their luncheon call at the
embassy Harriet agreed to take them to see Wee Tu. Before she left the
house Harriet called up her dressmaker and had a long confidential talk
with her over the telephone. She seemed in better spirits afterwards.

The Chinese minister's wife, Lady Tu, was receiving. As there were no men
in the drawing-room, her daughter, Wee Tu, sat among the young girls as
quiet and demure as a picture on a fan.

Bab managed to persuade the little girl into a corner to have a quiet
chat with her. But Miss Wee Tu was difficult to draw out. Across the
room, Harriet Hamlin chanced to mention the name of Peter Dillon. At
once the little Chinese girl's expression changed. The change was very
slight. Hardly a shade of emotion crossed her unexpressive, Oriental
face, but curious Barbara was watching for that very change. She
remembered the young girl had been affected by Peter's appearance during
their former visit.

"Do you like Mr. Dillon?" inquired Bab. She had no excuse for her
question except her own wilful curiosity.

But Wee Tu was not to be caught napping.

"Lige?" she answered, with a soft rising inflection that made the "k" in
"like" sound as "g." "I do not know what Americans mean by the
word--'Lige.' You 'lige' so many people. A Chinese girl 'liges' only a
few--her parents, her relatives; sometimes she 'liges' her husband, but
not always."

"Don't like your husband!" exclaimed Bab in surprise. "Why, what do
you mean?"

The little Chinese maiden was confused both by the American word and the
American idea.

"The Chinese girl has respect for her husband; she does what he tells her
to do, but she does not all the time 'lige' him, because her father has
chosen him for her husband. I shall marry a prince, when I go back to
China, but he is 'verra' old."

"Oh, I see!" Bab rejoined. "You thought I meant 'love' when I said
'like.' It is quite different to love a person." Bab smiled wisely. "To
love is to like a great deal."

"Then I love this Mr. Peter Dillon," said the Chinese girl sweetly.

Bab gasped in shocked surprise.

"It is most improper that I say so, is it not?" smiled Miss Wee Tu. "But
so many things that American girls do seem improper to Chinese ladies.
And I do like this Mr. Peter very much. He comes always to our house. He
is 'verra' intimate with my father. He talks to him a long, long time and
they have Chinese secrets together. Then he talks with me so that I can
understand him. Many people will not trouble with a Chinese girl, who is
only fifteen, even if her father is a minister."

Barbara was overwhelmed with Wee Tu's confidence, but she knew she
deserved it as a punishment for her curiosity. The strangest thing was
that the young Chinese girl spoke in a low, even voice, without the least
change of expression in her long, almond eyes. Any one watching her would
have thought she was talking of the weather.

"I go back to China when my father's time in the United States is over
and then I get married. It makes no difference. But while I am in your
country I play I am free, like an American girl, and I do what I like
inside my own head."

"It's very wrong," Barbara argued hastily. "It is much better to trust to
your parents."

"Yes?" answered Wee Tu quietly. Bab was vexed that Peter Dillon's
careless Irish manners had also charmed this little Oriental maiden. But
Bab was wise enough to understand that Wee Tu's interest was only that of
a child who was grateful to the young man for his kindness.

Barbara rose to join her friends, who were at this moment saying good-bye
to their hostess.

"It is the Chinese custom," Lady Tu remarked graciously, "to make little
presents to our guests. Will not Mr. Hamlin's daughter and her four
friends receive these poor offerings?"

A servant handed the girls five beautiful, carved tortoise shell boxes,
containing exquisite sets of combs for their hair, the half dozen or more
that Chinese women wear.

"I felt ashamed of my wind-blown hair when Lady Tu presented us with
these combs," Grace exclaimed, just before the little party reached home.
They had paid a dozen more calls since their visit to the Chinese
Embassy. "I suppose Chinese women are shocked at the way American girls
wear their hair."

"Yes, but we can't take three hours to fix ours," laughed Mollie, running
up the steps of the Hamlin house. In the front hall Mollie spied an
immense box of roses. They were for Harriet. Harriet picked up the box
languidly and started upstairs. She had talked very little during the
afternoon, and had seemed unlike herself.

"Aren't you going to open your flowers, Harriet?" Mollie pleaded. "I am
crazy to see them."

"I'll open them if it pleases you, Mollie," Harriet returned gently. The
great box was crowded with long-stemmed American beauties and violets.

"Have some posies, girls?" Harriet said generously, holding out her arms
filled with flowers. For a long time afterwards the "Automobile Girls"
remembered how beautiful Harriet looked as she stood there, her face very
pale, her black hair and hat outlined against the dark oak woodwork with
the great bunch of American beauties in her arms.

"Of course we don't want your posies, Lady Harriet," Mollie answered
affectionately. "Here is the note to tell you who sent them to you." But
Harriet went on to her room without showing enough interest in her gift
to open the letter.

After dinner Harriet complained of a headache, and went immediately to
her room. The "Automobile Girls" were going out to a theater party, which
was being given in their honor by their old friends, Mrs. Post and Hugh.
Harriet sent word she would have to be excused. When Ruth put her head
into Harriet's room to say good-bye, just before she started for the
theater, she thought she heard her cousin crying.

"Harriet, dear, do let me stay with you," Ruth pleaded. "I am afraid you
are feeling worse than you will let us know."

But Harriet insisted that she desired only to be left alone. Feeling
strangely unhappy about her cousin, Ruth, at last joined the
theater party.

Mr. Hamlin did not leave the house immediately after dinner, although he
had an engagement to spend the evening at the home of Mrs. Wilson. She
had asked him, only that morning, to come. Mr. Hamlin was also troubled
about his daughter. He had not been so unobservant that he had not seen
the change in her. She was less animated, less talkative. Mr. Hamlin
feared Harriet was not well. Though he was stern and unsympathetic with
Harriet, he was genuinely frightened if she were in the least ill.

So it was with unusual gentleness that he tapped lightly on
Harriet's door.

"I am all right, Mary, thank you," Harriet replied, believing her maid
to be outside. "Go to bed whenever you please. I shall fall asleep
after a while."

Mr. Hamlin cleared his throat and Harriet started nervously. Why was her
father standing outside her door? Had he learned of her bill to her
dressmaker?

"I do not wish to disturb you, Harriet," Mr. Hamlin began awkwardly. "I
only desired to know if I could do anything for you."

"No, Father," poor Harriet replied wearily. As Mr. Hamlin turned away,
she sprang up and started to run after him. At her own door she stopped.
She heard her father's stern voice giving an order to a servant, and her
sudden resolution died within her. A few moments later the front door
closed behind him and her opportunity had passed.

An hour afterwards, when the house was quiet and the servants nowhere
about, Harriet Hamlin slipped cautiously downstairs. She was gone only a
few minutes. But when she came back to her own room, she opened a private
drawer in her bureau and hid something in it. Harriet then threw herself
on her bed and lay for a long time with her eyes wide open, staring
straight ahead of her.

Just before midnight, when she heard the gay voices of her friends
returning from the theater, and when Ruth tripped softly to her bedroom,
Harriet lay with closed eyes, apparently fast asleep.

The next morning Harriet was really ill. Her hand trembled so while she
poured the breakfast coffee that she spilled some of it on the
tablecloth. When Mr. Hamlin spoke to her sharply she burst into tears and
left the room, leaving her father ashamed of himself, and the "Automobile
Girls" so embarrassed that they ate the rest of their breakfast in
painful silence. Ruth did dart one indignant glance at her uncle, which
Mr. Hamlin saw, but did not in his heart resent.

Harriet was willing, that morning, to have Ruth come into her darkened
bedroom and sit by her bed. For Harriet's wakeful night had left her
slightly feverish.

"I don't want to disturb you, Harriet," Bab apologized, coming softly to
the door. "But some one has just telephoned for you. The person at the
telephone has a message for you, but whoever it is refuses to give his
name. What shall I do!"

Harriet sat up in bed, quickly, a hunted expression on her beautiful
face. "Tell Mr. Peter Dillon that I will keep my word," Harriet answered
angrily. "He is not to worry about me again."

"Is that your message?" Bab queried wonderingly. "It was not Mr.
Dillon's voice."

Harriet laughed hysterically. "Of course not!" she returned. "Oh, I know
you girls are wondering why I am behaving so strangely. And I am
breaking my word to tell you. But I must tell some one. I don't care
what Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon say, I know I can trust you. I have
decided to help Mrs. Wilson and Peter play their silly joke on Father
and the State Department! Oh, you needn't look so horrified, girls. It
is only a joke. The papers are about some Chinese business. I have them
hid in my bureau drawer."

Harriet nodded toward her dressing-table, while Ruth and Bab stood
looking at each other, speechless with horror, the same idea growing in
their minds.

"When Father comes to look for his stupid papers he'll find them gone,
and, of course, will think he has misplaced them," Harriet continued. "He
will be dreadfully worried for a little while; then Mrs. Wilson will
return the papers to me and I will slip them back in their old place, and
Father will never know what has happened. Mrs. Wilson and Peter have
vowed they will never betray me, and I have promised not to betray them.
If I were to be caught, I suppose Father would never forgive me. But I'll
take good care that he doesn't find out about it."

"Harriet, do please give up this foolish plan!" Ruth entreated earnestly.
"I know you are doing something wrong. Mrs. Wilson and Mr. Dillon both
know that Uncle William's papers are too valuable to be played with. Why,
they belong to the United States Government, not to him! Harriet, I
implore you, do not touch your father's papers!"

Harriet shook her head obstinately. She was absolutely adamant. Ruth
pleaded, scolded, in vain. Bab did not say a word nor enter a protest.
She was too frightened. All of a sudden a veil had been rent asunder. Now
she believed she understood what Peter Dillon and Mrs. Wilson had planned
from the beginning. They were spies in the service of some higher power.
The papers that Harriet thought were to be used for a joke on her father
were really to be sold! Was not some state secret to be betrayed? Ever
since Bab's arrival in Washington it had looked as though Peter Dillon
and Mrs. Wilson had been working toward this very end. Having failed with
her they had turned their attention to poor Harriet. But Mrs. Wilson and
Peter Dillon must be only hired tools! Shrewdly Barbara Thurston recalled
her recent conversation with innocent Wee Tu: "Mr. Dillon and my father,
they have Chinese secrets together." Could a certain distinguished and
wisely silent Oriental gentleman be responsible for the thrilling drama
about to be enacted? Bab was never to know positively, and she wisely
kept her suspicion to herself.

"I do wish, Ruth, you and Bab would go away and leave me alone," Harriet
protested. "I shall be well enough to get up for luncheon, if you will
let me take a nap. I don't see any harm in playing this joke on Father.
At any rate, I have quite made up my mind to go through with my part in
it and I won't give up my plan. You can tell Father if you choose, of
course. I cannot prevent that. I know I was foolish to have confided in
you. But, unless you are despicable tale bearers, the papers in my bureau
drawer will go out of this house in a few hours! I don't see any harm in
their disappearing for a little while. Father will have them back in a
few days. Please go!"

Yet with all Harriet's air of bravado, however, there was one point in
her story which she did not mention. In return for her delivery of
certain of her father's state papers Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon had
promised to advance to Harriet the five hundred dollars necessary to pay
her dressmaker. Harriet had agreed only to receive it as a loan. And she
tried to comfort herself with the idea that her friends were only doing
her a kindness in exchange for the favor she was to do for them. Still,
the thought of the money worried Harriet. But how else was she to be
saved from the weight of her stern father's displeasure?



CHAPTER XX

FOILED!


At Harriet's request Bab and Ruth went silently out of her room, their
faces white and frightened.

"Ruth, is there any place where we can be alone?" Barbara whispered
faintly. "I must talk with you."

Ruth nodded, and the two friends found their way into the library,
turning the key in the lock. Then they stood facing each other,
speechless, for a moment, from the very intensity of their feelings.

"Ruth, you must do something," Bab entreated. "The papers that Mrs.
Wilson and Mr. Dillon are making Harriet get for them they do not intend
to use for a joke. Oh, Ruth, they are no doubt important state papers!
Harriet may be betraying her country and ruining her father by placing
these papers in their hands."

"I think, too, that Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon are spies," Ruth
returned more quietly. "And, of course, we must do something to prevent
their getting their hands on the papers."

"But what can we do?" Barbara demanded sharply. "We cannot tell Mr.
Hamlin of Harriet's deed. It would be too cruel of us. Nor can we
confront Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon with the accusation. They would
only laugh at us, and declare that we were mad to have imagined any such
thing. Then, again, we would be betraying Harriet's confidence. We do not
know just what state papers Harriet is to give to them, but they must be
very, very valuable. I suppose those dreadful people will have the papers
copied, sell our country's secret, and return the papers to Harriet when
all the mischief has been done. Ruth, I believe, now, that Mrs. Wilson
and Peter Dillon both meant to make me steal Mr. Hamlin's papers. Then
they would have declared I had sold them to some one. And Mr. Hamlin
would never have suspected his friends. Now, they think poor Harriet will
be too much afraid to betray them."

Bab's voice trembled slightly. She realized how nearly she had been the
dupe of these two clever schemers. She felt that she and Ruth must save
Harriet at all events.

"Mrs. Wilson tried to steal Mr. Hamlin's papers the night she masqueraded
as a ghost," Barbara continued. "I picked up the envelope she dropped on
the floor in the hall."

"I know it, Barbara," Ruth answered in her self-controlled fashion,
which always had a calming effect on the more impetuous Bab. "I also
believe Mrs. Wilson meant to fix the guilt of the theft upon you. Uncle
William called me into his study the other day and asked me if I
considered you trustworthy. Of course I was awfully indignant and told
him just what I thought of him for being so suspicious. But I believe
Mrs. Wilson had tried to poison his mind against you. You must be on
your guard now, Bab, dear. If Harriet gives up these papers of Uncle's
the plotters may still try to use you as their scapegoat. When Uncle
finds his papers have disappeared Mrs. Wilson and Mr. Dillon will, of
course, appear to know nothing of them; but they will somehow try to
direct suspicion against you, trusting to Harriet's cowardice. Don't you
worry though, Bab, dear. You shall not suffer for Harriet's fault while
I am here."

"Oh, I am not worrying about myself, Ruth," Bab answered. "It is
Harriet's part in the affair that troubles me. Do, please, go to Harriet
and talk to her again. Surely you can make her see the risk she is
running. Do you suppose it would do any good if I were to call on Mrs.
Wilson? I could just pretend I still thought she meant to play the joke
on Mr. Hamlin. You know she told me she intended to do so. I could beg
her to give it up without mentioning Harriet's name or letting Mrs.
Wilson guess that Harriet had confided in us."

Ruth shook her head. "It would not do any good for you to go to Mrs.
Wilson, Bab. And, somehow, I am afraid for you. We do not know how much
further they intend to involve you in their plot."

"Oh, they won't do me any harm, now," Barbara rejoined. "Anyhow, I am
willing to take the risk, if Harriet will not give in."

"Just wait here, Bab, until I have been to see Harriet again," Ruth
entreated. "I will go down on my knees to her, if I can persuade her to
give up this wicked deed. Oh, why is she so determined to be so reckless
and so foolish?"

Fifteen minutes afterwards Ruth came back from her second interview with
Harriet, looking utterly discouraged. "Harriet simply won't give up,"
Ruth reported to Bab. "She is absolutely determined to go her own way,
and she is angry with me for interfering. Oh, Bab, what will happen?
Uncle is so proud! If his daughter is known to have given Mrs. Wilson and
Peter Dillon state papers, the report will be circulated that she stole
them, and Uncle William will be disgraced. Then, what will become of
Harriet? She does not intend to do wrong. But I simply can't make her
see this thing as we see it. So what can we do?" Unusually
self-contained, Ruth broke down, now, weeping on Bab's shoulder. The
thought of the dreadful disgrace to her uncle and her cousin was more
than she could face.

"I am going to see Mrs. Wilson, Ruth," Bab declared. "You had better
stay here and do your best with Harriet. The papers are not to be
delivered until four this afternoon, when, I believe, Harriet is to meet
Peter Dillon. Of course it was he who telephoned Harriet, only he was
clever enough to disguise his voice. So we have until afternoon to work.
Don't worry yourself sick. We simply must save Harriet in some way. I
don't pretend that I see the way clearly yet, but I have faith that it
will come. I cannot do any harm by going to Mrs. Wilson, and I may do
some good."

"I don't like you to go there alone, Bab," Ruth faltered. "But I don't
dare to leave Harriet by herself. She might find a way to give up the
papers while we were out, and then all would be lost!"

When Bab rang the bell at the door of Mrs. Wilson's home she did not know
that her approach had been watched. She meant to be very careful during
her interview, for she realized that she and Ruth were endeavoring to
foil two brilliant and unscrupulous enemies.

Mrs. Wilson and Peter were in the library, and through the window Mrs.
Wilson had watched Bab approaching the house.

"Here comes that tiresome Thurston girl, whom you were going to use as
your tool, Peter," teased Mrs. Wilson. "She wasn't so easy to manage as
you thought, was she? Never mind; she will still be used as our
scapegoat. But I shall not see her this morning. What's the use?"

"Let her come in, by all means, Mrs. Wilson," Peter Dillon urged. "I
shall hide so that she will not see me. What would fall in with our plans
better than to have this girl come here to-day! Who knows how this visit
may be made to count against her? Of course, if suspicion never points to
us we had best never mention the name of Barbara Thurston. But--if Mr.
Hamlin ever questions you, why not say Miss Thurston came here to-day and
betrayed the fact to you that she had stolen Mr. Hamlin's papers? We have
circumstantial evidence enough against her."

Bab found Mrs. Wilson very much surprised to see her, and looking very
languid and bored.

Straightforward Barbara rushed headlong into her request.

"Really, Miss Thurston, don't you think you are rather impertinent?"
drawled her hostess, when Bab finished. "I don't see what business it is
of yours whether or not I wish to play a joke on my friend, Mr. Hamlin.
Don't try to get out of mischief by reporting to Mr. Hamlin the story of
my poor little joke. You can hardly save yourself by any such method. No
one will believe you. And I have an idea that you came to my house
to-day for a very different purpose than to persuade me to give up my
joke. What was it?"

Bab was mystified. She had no idea how Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon had
planned to use her visit as evidence against her, so it was impossible
for her to understand Mrs. Wilson's insinuation.

Barbara did not stay long. She saw Mrs. Wilson had no intention of being
persuaded from her design. Even though the woman was beginning to see
that Bab and Ruth were a little suspicious of her, she had no idea of
being frightened from her deep-laid scheme by two insignificant
schoolgirls.

Barbara hurried to her car as fast as she could, anxious to get back to
Ruth and to devise some other move to checkmate the traitors. She even
hoped, against hope, that Harriet had been induced to change her mind and
that all would yet be well. But as Bab jumped aboard her car she saw
another girl, running down the street, waving something in the air and
evidently trying to induce Bab's street car to wait for her. Barbara
begged the conductor to hold the car for a moment, before she recognized
the figure, running toward them. But the next second she beheld the
ever-present newspaper girl, Marjorie Moore, tablet and pencil in hand,
completely out of breath and exhausted. Marjorie Moore could not speak
for some time after she had secured a seat next Bab in the car.

"I have been watching Mrs. Wilson's house since eight o'clock this
morning," she finally gasped. "What on earth made you go in there?"

"I can't tell you," Bab returned coldly. Not for anything in the world
would she have Marjorie Moore suspect what she and Ruth feared.

Miss Moore gave a little, half amused, half sarcastic laugh. "You can't
tell? Oh, never mind, my dear. I know you are all right. You weren't
doing anything wrong. I expect you were trying to help set matters
straight. You don't need to tell me anything. I think I know all that is
necessary. Good-bye now. I must get off this car at the corner. Let me
tell you, however, not to worry, whatever happens. I am in possession of
all the facts, so there will be no trouble in proving them. But if
anything disagreeable happens to you," Marjorie Moore gave Bab a
reassuring smile, "telephone me, will you? My number is 1607, Union."

Marjorie Moore rushed out of the street car as hurriedly as she had
entered it, before Bab could take in what she had said.

Barbara puzzled all the rest of the way home. Could it be possible that
Marjorie Moore had discovered Mrs. Wilson's and Peter's plot? Could she
also have guessed Harriet's part in it? Bab shuddered, for she remembered
the newspaper girl's words to her on the night of their first meeting:
"If ever I have a chance to get even with Harriet Hamlin, won't I take my
revenge?" Did Marjorie Moore also suspect that an effort would be made to
draw Barbara into this whirlpool of disgrace?

No one ate any luncheon at the home of the Assistant Secretary of State,
except Mollie and Grace. Fortunately Mr. Hamlin did not return home. Ruth
and Bab had decided not to tell the other two "Automobile Girls" of their
terrible uneasiness unless they actually needed the help of the younger
girls to save the situation. Ruth and Bab did not wish to prejudice
Mollie and Grace against Harriet if it were possible to spare her. But
Ruth had told Bab that, at four o'clock, Harriet was determined to
deliver the papers to Peter Dillon.

At two o'clock, however, the two friends had found no way to influence
Harriet to give up her mad project. Indeed, Harriet scarcely spoke to
either of them, she was so bitterly angry at what she termed their
interference.

At three o'clock, Ruth and Barbara grew desperate. For, at three, Harriet
Hamlin closed the door of her bedroom and commenced to dress for her
engagement.

"Try once again, Ruth," Bab pleaded. "It is worse even than you know. I
believe Marjorie Moore suspects what Harriet is about to do. Suppose she
publishes the story in the morning papers. Tell Harriet I have a reason
for thinking she knows about the affair."

Bab waited apprehensively for Ruth's return. It seemed to her that, for
the first time in their adventures, the "Automobile Girls" had met with
a situation that no amount of pluck or effort on their part could
control. This was the most important experience of their whole lives,
for their country was about to be betrayed! Once Barbara stamped her
foot in her impatience. How dared Harriet Hamlin be so willful, so
headstrong? Bab's face was white with anxiety and suspense. Her lips
twitched nervously. Then in a flash her whole expression changed. The
color came back to her cheeks, the light to her eyes. At the eleventh
hour the way had been made clear.

Ruth had no such look when she returned to Barbara. She flung herself
despondently into a chair. "It's no use," she declared despairingly.
"Harriet must go her own way. We can do nothing with her!"

"Yes, we can!" Bab whispered. She leaned over and murmured something in
Ruth's ear.

Ruth sprang to her feet. "Barbara Thurston, you are perfectly wonderful!"
she cried. "Yes, I do know where it is. Go to my desk and take that blank
paper. It is just the right size. Fold it up in three parts. There, it
will do, now; give it to me. Now go and command Grace and Mollie, if they
love us, to call Harriet out of her room for a minute. We can explain to
them afterwards."

Mollie and Grace feared Barbara had gone suddenly mad when she rushed in
upon them with her demand. But Mollie did manage to persuade Harriet to
go into the next room. As Harriet slipped out of her bedroom, her cousin,
Ruth Stuart, stole into it, hiding something she held in her hand. She
was alone in Harriet's room for not more than two minutes.

At a quarter to four o'clock, Harriet Hamlin left her father's house
with a large envelope concealed inside her shopping bag. Opposition
had merely strengthened Harriet's original resolution. She was no
longer frightened. Ruth and Bab were absurd to have been so tragic over
a silly joke.

At a little after four o'clock, in a quiet, out-of-the-way street in
Washington, Harriet turned over to Peter Dillon this envelope, which, as
she supposed, contained the much-coveted papers which she had extracted
from the private collection of the Assistant Secretary of State.

Whatever the papers were, Peter Dillon took them carelessly with his
usual charming smile. But inwardly he was chanting a song of victory. He
and Mrs. Wilson would be many-thousands of dollars richer by this time
to-morrow. He glanced into the envelope with his near-sighted eyes. The
papers were folded up inside and all was well! Peter did not dare, before
Harriet, to be too interested in what the envelope contained.

It would not have made him happier to have looked closer; the song of
victory would have died away on his lips. For, instead of certain secret
documents sent to the office of the Secretary of State, from
representatives of the United States Government in China, Harriet Hamlin
had turned over to Peter Dillon an official envelope, which contained
only folded sheets of blank paper!

It had been Barbara's idea and Ruth had carried it out successfully. In
the moment when Harriet left her room in answer to Mollie's call, Ruth
had exchanged the valuable state papers for the worthless ones. Once
Harriet was safely out of the way, she and Bab carried the precious
documents downstairs and shut them up in Mr. Hamlin's desk. Both girls
hoped that all trouble was now averted, and that Mr. Hamlin would never
hear of Harriet's folly!



CHAPTER XXI

THE DISCOVERY


The members of the Hamlin household went early to their own rooms
that night.

Ruth at once flung herself down on a couch without removing her clothing.
In a few minutes she was fast asleep, for she believed their difficulties
were over. Bab did not feel as secure. She was still thinking of the
speech the newspaper girl had made to her in the car.

At ten o'clock the Assistant Secretary of State, who was sitting alone
in his study, heard a violent ringing of his telephone bell. He did
not know that, at this same instant, his daughter Harriet had crept
down to his study door intending to make a full confession of her
mistakes to him.

Mr. Hamlin picked up the receiver. "'The Washington News?' Yes. You have
something important to say to me? Well, what is it?" Mr. Hamlin listened
quietly for a little while. Then Harriet heard him cry in a hoarse,
unnatural voice: "Impossible! The thing is preposterous! Where did you
ever get hold of such an absurd idea?"

Harriet stopped to listen no longer. She never knew how she got back
upstairs to her room. She half staggered, half fell up the steps.
Suddenly she realized everything! She had been used as a tool by Mrs.
Wilson and Peter Dillon. Ruth and Barbara had been right. She had stolen
her father's state papers. A newspaper had gotten hold of the story and
already her father and she were disgraced.

In the meantime, Mr. Hamlin continued to talk over the telephone, though
his hand shook so he was hardly able to hold the receiver.

"You say you think it best to warn me that the story of the theft of my
papers will be published in the morning paper, that you know that private
state documents entrusted to me keeping have been sold to secret spies?
What evidence have you? I have missed no such papers. Wait a minute." Mr.
Hamlin went to his strong box. Sure enough, certain documents were
missing. Ruth and Bab had put the papers in the desk. "Have you an idea
who stole my papers?" Mr. Hamlin called back over the telephone wire, his
voice shaken with passion.

Evidently the editor who was talking to Mr. Hamlin now lost his courage.
He did not dare to tell Mr. Hamlin that his own daughter was suspected of
having sold her father's papers. Mr. Hamlin repeated the editor's exact
words. "You say a young woman sold my papers? You are right; this is not
a matter to be discussed over the telephone. Send some one up from your
office to see me at once."

Mr. Hamlin reeled over to his bell-rope and gave it a pull, so that the
noise of its ringing sounded like an alarm through the quiet house.

A frightened servant answered the bell.

"Tell Miss Thurston and my niece, Miss Stuart, to come to my study at
once," Mr. Hamlin ordered. The man-servant obeyed.

"Ruth, dear, wake up," Bab entreated, giving her friend a shake.
"Something awful must have happened. Your uncle has sent for us. He must
have missed those papers."

[Illustration: "What Have You Done With My Papers?"]

Ruth and Bab, both of them looking unutterably miserable and shaken,
entered Mr. Hamlin's study. Their host did not speak as they first
approached him. When he did he turned on them such a haggard, wretched
face that they were filled with pity. But the instant Mr. Hamlin caught
sight of Barbara his expression changed. He took her by the arm, and,
before she could guess what was going to happen, he shook her violently.

"What have you done with my state papers?" he demanded. "Tell me quickly.
Don't hesitate. There may yet be time to save us both. Oh, I should never
have let you stay in this house!" he groaned. "I suspected you of
mischief when I learned of your first visit to my office. But I did not
believe such treachery could be found in a young girl. Ruth, can't you
make your friend speak! If she will tell me to whom she sold my papers, I
will forgive her everything! But I must know where they are at once. I
can then force the newspaper to keep silence and force my enemies to
return me the documents, if there is only time!"

Barbara dropped into a chair and covered her face with her hands. She did
not utter a word of reproach to Mr. Hamlin for his cruel suspicion of
her. She could not tell him that his daughter Harriet was the real thief.

"Uncle," Ruth entreated, laying a quiet hand on Mr. Hamlin's arm,
"listen to me for a moment. Yes, you must listen! You are not disgraced;
you are not ruined. Look in your desk. Your papers are still there. Only
the old envelope is gone. I put the papers in this drawer only this
afternoon, because I did not know in what place you kept them. Some
papers were given away, a few hours ago, to two people, whom you believed
to be your friends, to Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon. But they were not
your state papers, they were only blank sheets."

Mr. Hamlin looked into his drawer and saw the lost documents, then he
passed his hand over his forehead. "I don't understand," he muttered. "Do
you mean that, instead of the actual papers, you saved me by substituting
blank papers for these valuable ones? Then your friend did try to sell
her country's secrets, and you saved her and me. I shall never cease to
be grateful to you to the longest day I live. For your sake I will spare
your friend. But she must leave my house in the morning. I do not wish
ever to look upon her again."

"Bab did not sell your papers, Uncle," Ruth protested passionately. "You
shall not make such accusations against her. It was she who saved you. I
did only what she told me to do. I did substitute the papers, but it was
Barbara who thought of it."

"Then who, in Heaven's name, is guilty of this dreadful act?" Mr.
Hamlin cried.

Neither Ruth nor Bab answered. Bab still sat with her face covered with
her hands, in order to hide her hot tears. She cried partly for poor
Harriet, and partly because of her sympathy for Mr. Hamlin. Ruth gazed at
her uncle, white, silent and trembling.

"Who, Ruth? I demand to know!" Mr. Hamlin repeated.

"I shall not tell you," Ruth returned, with a little gasp.

"Send for my daughter, Harriet. She may know something," Mr. Hamlin
ejaculated. Then he rang for a servant.

The two girls and the one man, who had grown old in the last few minutes,
waited in unbroken silence. The girls had a strong desire to scream, to
cry out, to warn Harriet. She must not let her father know of her foolish
deed while his anger was at its height.

It seemed an eternity before the butler returned to Mr. Hamlin's study.

"Miss Hamlin is not in her room," he reported respectfully.

"Not in her room? Then look for her through the house," Mr. Hamlin
repeated more quietly. He had gained greater control of himself. But a
new fear was oppressing him, weighing him down. He would not give the
idea credence even in his own mind.

Three--four--five minutes passed. Still Harriet did not appear.

"Let me look for Harriet, Uncle," Ruth implored, unable to control
herself any longer.

At this moment Mollie came innocently down the stairs. "Is Mr. Hamlin
looking for Harriet?" she inquired. "Harriet left the house ten minutes
ago. She had on her coat and her hat, but she would not stop to say
good-bye. I think her maid went with her. Mary had just a shawl thrown
over her head. I am sure they will be back in a few minutes. Harriet
must have gone out to post a letter. I thought she would have come back
before this."

Imagine poor Mollie's horror and surprise when Mr. Hamlin dropped into
a chair at her news and groaned: "It was Harriet after all. It was _my
own child_!"

"Uncle, rouse yourself!" Ruth implored him. "Harriet thought she was only
playing a harmless trick on you. She did not dream that the papers were
of any importance. Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon deceived her cruelly. You
must go and find out what has become of Harriet." Mr. Hamlin shook his
head drearily.

"You must go!" insisted gentle Ruth, bursting into tears. "Harriet does
not even know that the papers she gave away were worthless. If she has
found out she has been duped she will be doubly desperate."

At this instant the door bell rang loudly. No one in the study appeared
to hear it. Mollie had crept slowly back upstairs to Grace. Ruth, Mr.
Hamlin and Bab were too wretched to stir.

A sound of hasty footsteps came down the hall, followed by a knock at
the study door. The door flew open of its own accord. Like a vision
straight from Heaven appeared the faces of Mr. Robert Stuart and his
sister, Miss Sallie!

Ruth sprang into her father's arms with a cry of joy. And Bab, her eyes
still streaming with tears, was caught up in the comforting arms of
Miss Sallie.



CHAPTER XXII

OIL ON THE TROUBLED WATERS


"What does all this mean, William Hamlin?" Mr. Stuart inquired
without ceremony.

With bowed head Mr. Hamlin told the whole story, not attempting to excuse
himself, for Mr. Hamlin was a just man, though a severe one. He declared
that he had been influenced to suspect Barbara ever since her arrival in
his home. His enemies had also made a dupe of him, but his punishment had
come upon him swiftly. He had just discovered that his own daughter had
tried to deliver into the hands of paid spies, state papers of the United
States Government.

Mr. Stuart and Aunt Sallie looked extremely serious while Mr. Hamlin was
telling his story. But when Mr. Hamlin explained how Ruth and Bab had
exchanged the valuable political documents for folded sheets of blank
paper, Mr. Stuart burst into a loud laugh, and his expression changed as
though by a miracle. He patted his daughter's shoulder to express his
approval, while Miss Sallie kissed Bab with a sigh of relief.

Mr. Stuart and his sister had both been extremely uneasy since the
arrival of Ruth's singular telegram, not knowing what troubled waters
might be surrounding their "Automobile Girls." Indeed Miss Sallie had
insisted on accompanying her brother to Washington, as she felt sure her
presence would help to set things right.

Mr. Stuart's laugh cleared the sorrowful atmosphere of the study as
though by magic. Ruth and Barbara smiled through their tears. They were
now so sure that all would soon be well!

"It seems to me, William, that all this is 'much ado about nothing,'" Mr.
Stuart declared. "Of course, I can see that the situation would have been
pretty serious if poor Harriet had been deceived into giving up the real
documents. But Bab and Ruth have saved the day! There is no harm done
now. You even know the names of the spies. There is only one thing for us
to consider at present, and that is--where is Harriet?"

"Yes, Father," Ruth pleaded. "Do find Harriet."

"The child was foolish, and she did wrong, of course," Mr. Stuart went
on. "But, as Ruth tells me Harriet did not know the real papers were
exchanged for false ones, she probably thinks she has disgraced you
and she is too frightened to come home. You must take steps to find
her at once, and to let her know you forgive her. It is a pity to lose
any time."

Mr. Hamlin was silent. "I cannot forgive Harriet," he replied. "But, of
course, she must be brought home at once."

"Nonsense!" Mr. Stuart continued. "Summon your servants and have some one
telephone to Harriet's friends. She has probably gone to one of them.
Tell the child that Sallie and I are here and wish to see her. But where
are my other 'Automobile Girls,' Mollie and Grace?"

"Upstairs, Father," Ruth answered happily. "Come and see them. I want to
telephone for Harriet. I think she will come home for me."

"Show your aunt and father to their rooms, Ruth," Mr. Hamlin begged.
"I must wait here until a messenger arrives from the newspaper, which
in some way has learned the story of our misfortune. And even they do
not know that the stolen papers were valueless. I must explain
matters to them."

"A man of your influence can keep any mention of this affair out of the
newspapers," Mr. Stuart argued heartily. "So the storm will have blown
over by to-morrow. And I believe you will be able to punish the two
schemers who have tried to betray your daughter and disgrace my Barbara,
without having Harriet's name brought into this affair."

For the first time, Mr. Hamlin lifted his head and nodded briefly. "Yes,
I can attend to them," he declared in the quiet fashion that showed him
to be a man of power. "It is best, for the sake of the country, that the
scandal be nipped in the bud. I alone know what was in these state papers
that Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon were hired to steal. So I alone know to
whom they would be valuable. There would be an international difficulty
if I should expose the real promoter of the theft. Peter Dillon shall be
dismissed from his Embassy. Mrs. Wilson will find it wiser to leave
Washington, and never to return here again. I will spare the woman as
much as I can for the sake of her son, Elmer, who is a fine fellow. Ruth,
dear, do telephone to Harriet's friends. Your father is right. We must
find my daughter at once."

Miss Sallie, Mr. Stuart and Ruth started to leave the room. Bab rose to
follow them.

"Miss Thurston, don't go for a minute," Mr. Hamlin said. "I wish to beg
your pardon. Will you forgive a most unhappy man? Of course I see, now,
that I had no right to suspect you without giving you a chance to defend
yourself. I can only say that I was deceived, as well as Harriet. The
whole plot is plain to me now. Harriet was to be terrified into not
betraying her own part in the theft, so she would never dare reveal the
names of Mrs. Wilson or Peter Dillon. I, with my mind poisoned against
you, would have sought blindly to fasten the crime on you. I regard my
office as Assistant Secretary of State as a sacred trust. If the papers
entrusted to my keeping had been delivered into the hands of the enemies
of my country, through my own daughter's folly, I should never have
lifted my head again, I cannot say--I have no words to express--what I
owe to you and Ruth. But how do you think a newspaper man could have
unearthed this plot? It seems incredible, when you consider how
stealthily Peter Dillon and Mrs. Wilson have worked. A man--"

"I don't think a man did unearth it," Bab replied. Just then the bell
rang again.

The next moment the door opened, and the butler announced: "Miss Marjorie
Moore!" The newspaper girl gave Bab a friendly smile; then she turned
coldly to Mr. William Hamlin.

"Miss Moore!" Mr. Hamlin exclaimed in surprise and in anger. "I wish to
see a man from your newspaper. What I have to say cannot possibly
concern you."

"I think it does, Mr. Hamlin," Miss Moore repeated calmly. "One of the
editors from my paper has come here with me. He is waiting in the hall.
But it was I who discovered the theft of your state documents. I have
been expecting mischief for some time. I am sorry for you, of
course--very sorry, but I have all the facts of the case, and as no one
else knows of it, it will be a great scoop for me in the morning."

"Your newspaper will not publish the story at all, Miss Moore," Mr.
Hamlin rejoined, when he had recovered from his astonishment at Miss
Moore's appearance. "The stolen papers were not of the least value. Will
you explain to Miss Moore exactly what occurred, Miss Thurston?" Mr.
Hamlin concluded.

When Bab told the story of how she and Ruth had made their lightning
substitution of the papers, Marjorie Moore gave a gasp of surprise.

"Good for you, Miss Thurston!" she returned. "I knew you were clever, as
well as the right sort, the first time I saw you. So I had gotten hold of
the whole story of the theft except, the most important point--the
exchange of the papers. It spoils my story as sensational political news.
But," Miss Moore laughed, "it makes a perfectly great personal story,
because it has such a funny side to it: 'Foiled by the "Automobile
Girls"!' 'The Assistant Secretary of State's Daughter!'" Miss Moore
stopped, ashamed of her cruelty when she saw Mr. Hamlin's face. But he
did not speak.

It was Bab who exclaimed: "Oh, Miss Moore, you are not going to betray
Harriet, are you? Poor Harriet thought it was all a joke. She did not
know the papers were valuable. It would be too cruel to spread this story
abroad. It might ruin Harriet's reputation."

Marjorie Moore made no answer.

"You heard Miss Thurston," Mr. Hamlin interposed. "Surely you will grant
our request."

"Mr. Hamlin," Marjorie Moore protested, "I am dreadfully sorry for you.
I told you so, but I am going to have this story published in the
morning. It is too good to keep and I have worked dreadfully hard on it.
Indeed, I almost lost my life because of it. I knew it was Peter Dillon
who struck me down on the White House lawn the night of the reception.
But I said nothing because I knew that, if I made trouble, I would have
been put off the scent of the story somehow. I tried to see Miss
Thurston alone, that evening, to warn her that Mrs. Wilson and Peter
Dillon were going to try to fasten their crime on her. I am obliged to
be frank with you, Mr. Hamlin. I will stick to the facts as you have
told them to me, but a full account of the attempted theft will be
published in the morning's 'News.'"

"Call the man who is with you, Miss Moore; I prefer to talk with him,"
Mr. Hamlin commanded. "You do not seem to realize the gravity of what you
intend to do. It will be a mistake for your newspaper to make an enemy of
a man in my official position."

Mr. Hamlin talked for some time to one of the editors of the Washington
"News." He entreated, threatened and finally made an appeal to him to
save his daughter and himself by not making the story public.

"I am afraid we shall have to let the story go, Miss Moore," the editor
remarked regretfully. "It was a fine piece of news, but we don't wish to
make things too hard for Mr. Hamlin." The man turned to go.

"Mr. Hughes," Marjorie Moore announced, speaking to her editor, "if you
do not intend to use this story, which I have worked on so long, in your
paper, I warn you, right now, that I shall simply sell it to some other
newspaper and take the consequences. All the papers will not be so
careful of Mr. Hamlin's feelings."

"Oh, Miss Moore, you would not be so cruel!" Bab cried.

Marjorie Moore turned suddenly on Barbara; "Why shouldn't I?" she
returned. "Both Harriet Hamlin and Peter Dillon have been hateful and
insolent to me ever since I have been making my living in Washington. I
told you I meant to get even with them some day. Well, this is my chance,
and I intend to take it. Good-bye; there is no reason for me to stay here
any longer."

"Mr. Hamlin, if Miss Moore insists on selling her story on the outside, I
cannot see how we would benefit you by failing to print the story," the
editor added.

"Very well," Mr. Hamlin returned coldly. But he sank back into his chair
and covered his face with his hands. Harriet's reputation was ruined,
for no one would believe she had not tried deliberately to sell her
father's honor.

But Bab resolved to appeal once more to the newspaper girl. She ran to
Marjorie Moore and put her arm about the newspaper girl's waist to detain
her. She talked to her in her most winning fashion, with her brown eyes
glowing with feeling and her lips trembling with eagerness.

The tears came to Marjorie Moore's eyes as she listened to Bab's pleading
for Harriet. But she still obstinately shook her head.

Some one came running down the stairs and Ruth entered the study without
heeding the strangers in it.

"Uncle!" she exclaimed in a terrified voice, "Harriet cannot be found! We
have telephoned everywhere for her. No one has seen her or knows anything
about her. What shall we do? It is midnight!"

Mr. Hamlin followed Ruth quickly out of the room, forgetting every other
consideration in his fear for his daughter. He looked broken and old. Was
Harriet in some worse peril?

As Marjorie Moore saw Mr. Hamlin go, she turned swiftly to Barbara and
kissed her. "It's all right, dear," she said. "You were right. Revenge is
too little and too mean. Mr. Hughes has said he will not publish the
story, and I shall not sell it anywhere else. Indeed, I promise that what
I know shall never be spoken of outside this room. Good night." Before
Barbara could thank her she was gone.



CHAPTER XXIII

SUSPENSE AND THE REWARD


All night long diligent search was made for Harriet Hamlin, but no word
was heard of her. The "Automobile Girls" telephoned her dearest friends.
Mr. Hamlin and Mr. Stuart tramped from one hotel to the other. None of
the Hamlin household closed their eyes that night.

"It has been my fault, Robert," Mr. Hamlin admitted, as he and his
brother-in-law returned home in the gray dawn of the morning, hoping
vainly to hear that Harriet had returned. "My child has gotten into debt
and she has been afraid to confess her mistake to me. Her little friend,
Mollie, told me the story. Mollie believes that Mrs. Wilson and Peter
Dillon tempted Harriet by offering to lend her money. And so she agreed
to aid them in what she thought was their 'joke.' I have seen, lately,
that Harriet has been so worried she hardly knew what she was doing. Yet,
when my poor child tried to confess her fault to me, I would not let her
go on. My harshness and lack of sympathy have driven her to--I know not
what. Oh, Robert, what shall I do? She is the one joy of my life!"

Mr. Stuart did not try to deny Mr. Hamlin's judgment of himself. He knew
Mr. Hamlin had been too severe with his daughter. If only Harriet could
be found she and her father would be closer friends after this
experience. Mr. Stuart realized fully what danger Harriet was in with
her unusual beauty, with no mother and with a father who did not
understand her.

"Harriet has done very wrong," Mr. Hamlin added slowly. It was hard,
indeed, for a man of his nature to forgive. "But I shall not reproach her
when she comes back to me," he said quickly. The fear that Harriet might
never return to him at all struck a sudden chill to his soul.

"The child has done wrong, William, I admit it," returned good-natured
Mr. Stuart. "She has been headstrong and foolish. But we have done worse
things in our day, remember."

"I will remember," Mr. Hamlin answered drearily, as he shut himself up
in his room.

Mr. Hamlin would not come down to breakfast. There was still no news of
Harriet. While dear, comfortable Aunt Sallie and the "Automobile Girls"
were seated around the table, making a pretense of eating, there came a
ring at the front door bell.

Ruth jumped up and ran out into the hall. Then followed several moments
of awful suspense. Ruth came back slowly, not with Harriet, but with a
note in her hand. She opened it with shaking fingers, for she recognized
Harriet's handwriting in the address.

The note read: "Dearest Ruth, I shall never come home again. I have
disgraced my father and myself. I would not listen to you and Bab, and
now I know the worst. Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon were villains and I
was only a foolish dupe. I spent the night in a boarding house with an
old friend of my mother's." Ruth stopped reading. Her voice sank so low
it was almost impossible to hear her. She had not noticed that her uncle
was standing just outside the door, listening, with white lips.

"I don't know what else to do," Harriet's note continued, when Ruth had
strength to go on. "So early this morning I telegraphed to Charlie
Meyers. When you receive this note, I shall be married to him. Ask my
father to forgive me, for I shall never see him again. Your heart-broken
cousin, Harriet."

"Absurd child!" Miss Sallie ejaculated, trying to hide her tears. But Mr.
Stuart stepped to Mr. Hamlin's side as he entered the room, looking
conscience-stricken and miserable.

Poor Harriet was paying for her folly with a life-time of wretchedness.
She was to marry a man she did not love; and her friends were powerless
to save her.

Mollie slipped quietly away from the table. No one tried to stop her.
Every one thought Mollie was overcome, because she had been especially
devoted to Harriet.

"Won't you try to find Mr. Meyers, Uncle?" Ruth pleaded. "It may not be
too late to prevent Harriet's marriage. Oh, do try to find her. She does
not care for Charlie Meyers in the least. She is only marrying him
because she is so wretched she does not know what to do."

Mr. Stuart was already getting into his coat and hat. Mr. Hamlin was not
far behind him. The two men were just going out the front door, when a
cry from Mollie interrupted them. The three girls rushed into the hall,
not knowing what Mollie's cry meant. But when they saw the little golden
haired girl, who sympathized the most deeply with Harriet in her trouble,
because of her own recent acquaintance with debt, the "Automobile Girls"
knew at once that all was well!

"Oh, Mr. Hamlin! Oh, Mr. Stuart! Do wait until I get my breath," Mollie
begged. "Dear, darling Harriet is all right. She will come home if her
father will come for her. I telephoned to Mr. Meyers and he declares
Harriet is safe with his aunt. He says, of course, he is not such a cad
as to marry Harriet when she is so miserable and frightened. He went to
the boarding house for her, then took her to his aunt's home. Mr. Meyers
was on his way here to see Mr. Hamlin."

Two hours later, Harriet was at home again and in bed, suffering from
nervous shock. But her father's forgiveness, his sympathy, his
reassuring words, and above all, the thought that by the ruse of Bab, she
had been mercifully saved from the deep disgrace that had shadowed her
life, soon restored her to her normal spirits. There was a speedy
investigation by the State Department--the result of which was that Mrs.
Wilson disappeared from Washington society. Her son Elmer reported that
his mother had grown tired of Washington and was living in New England.
As for Peter Dillon, his connection with the Russian Embassy was severed
at once. No one knew where he went.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The President would like to see the 'Automobile Girls' at the White
House to-day at half past twelve o'clock," Mr. William Hamlin announced a
few mornings later, looking up from his paper to smile first at his
daughter and then at the group of happy faces about his breakfast table,
which included Miss Sallie Stuart and Mr. Robert Stuart.

Harriet was looking very pale. She had been ill for two days after her
unhappy experience.

"What on earth do you mean, Mr. Hamlin?" inquired Grace Carter anxiously,
turning to their host.

The other girls smiled, thinking Mr. Hamlin was joking, he had been in
such different spirits since Harriet's return home.

"I mean what I say," Mr. Hamlin returned gravely. "The President wishes
to see the 'Automobile Girls' in order to thank them for their service to
their country." Mr. Hamlin allowed an earnest note to creep into his
voice. "The story has not been made public. But I myself told the
President of my narrow escape from disgrace, and he desires personally to
thank the young girls who saved us. I told him that he might rely on your
respecting his invitation."

"Oh, but we can't go, Mr. Hamlin," Mollie expostulated. "Grace and I had
nothing to do with saving the papers. It was only Ruth and Bab!"

"It is most unusual to decline an invitation from the President, Mollie,"
Mr. Hamlin continued. "Only a death in the family is regarded as a
reasonable excuse. Now the President most distinctly stated that he
desired a visit from the 'Automobile Girls'!"

"United we stand, divided we fall!" Ruth announced. "Bab and I will not
stir a single step without Grace and Mollie."

"There is one other person who ought to be included in this visit to the
President," Harriet added, shyly.

"Whom do you mean, my child?" Mr. Hamlin queried.

Harriet hung her proud little head. "I mean Marjorie Moore, Father. I
think she did as much as any one by keeping the story out of the papers
when it would have meant so much for her to have published it."

"Good for Harriet!" Ruth murmured under her breath.

"I did not neglect to tell the President of Miss Moore's part in the
affair, Daughter," Mr. Hamlin rejoined. "But I am glad you spoke of it. I
shall certainly see that she is included in the invitation."

Promptly at twelve o'clock the "Automobile Girls" set out for the White
House in the care of their old and faithful friend, Mr. A. Bubble. On
the way there they picked up Marjorie Moore, who had now become their
staunch friend.

The girls were greatly excited over their second visit to the White
House. It was, of course, very unlike their first, since to-day they were
to be the special guests of the President. On the evening of the
Presidential reception they had been merely included among several
hundred callers.

Ruth sent in Mr. Hamlin's card with theirs, in order to explain whose
visitors they were. The five girls were immediately shown into a small
room, which the President used for seeing his friends when he desired a
greater privacy than was possible in the large state reception rooms.

The girls sat waiting the appearance of the President, each one a little
more nervous than the other.

"What shall we say, Bab?" Mollie whispered to her sister.

"Goodness knows, child!" Bab just had time to answer, when a servant
bowed ceremoniously. A man entered the room quickly and walked from one
girl to the other, shaking hands with each one in turn.

"I am very glad to meet you," he declared affably. "Mr. Hamlin tells me
you were able to do him a service, and through him to your country, which
it is also my privilege to serve. I thank you." The President bowed
ceremoniously. "It was a pretty trick you played on our enemies. Strategy
is sometimes better than war, and a woman's wits than a man's fists."
Then the President turned cordially to Marjorie Moore.

"Miss Moore, it gives me pleasure to say a word of appreciation to you.
Your act in withholding this information from the public rather than to
sell it and make a personal gain by it, was a thoroughly patriotic act,
and I wish you to know that I value your service."

"Thank you, Mr. President," replied Miss Moore, blushing deeply.

The President's wife now entered the sitting-room with several other
guests and members of her family. When luncheon was announced, the
President of the United States offered his arm to Barbara Thurston.

The "Automobile Girls" are not likely to forget their luncheon with the
President, his family and a few intimate friends. The girls were
frightened at first; but, being simple and natural, they soon ceased to
think of themselves. They were too much interested in what they saw and
heard around them.

The President talked to Ruth, who sat on his left, about automobiles. He
was interested to hear of the travels of Mr. A. Bubble, and seemed to
know a great deal about motor cars. But, after a while, as the girls
heard him converse with three distinguished men who sat at his table, one
an engineer, the other a judge, and the third an artist, the "Automobile
Girls" decided wisely that the President knew almost everything that was
worth knowing.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Children," said Mr. Stuart that night, when the girls could tell no
more of their day's experience, "it seems to me that it is about time
for you to be going home." Mr. Stuart and Aunt Sallie were in the Hamlin
drawing-room with the "Automobile Girls." Mr. Hamlin and Harriet had
gone for a short walk. It was now their custom to walk together each
evening after dinner, since it gave them a little opportunity for a
confidential talk.

"You girls have had to-day the very happiest opportunity that falls to
the lot of any visitor in Washington," Mr. Stuart continued. "You have
had a private interview with the President and have been entertained by
him at the Executive Mansion. I have no doubt you have also seen all the
sights of Washington in the last few weeks. So homeward-bound must be our
next forward move!"

"Oh, Father," cried Ruth regretfully, her face clouding as she looked
at her beloved automobile friends. How long before she should see
them again?

The same thought clouded the bright faces of Mollie, Grace and Bab.

"We have hardly seen you at all, Miss Sallie," Grace lamented, taking
Miss Sarah Stuart's plump, white hand in her own. "We have been the
centre of so much excitement ever since you arrived in Washington."

"Must we go, Father?" Ruth entreated.

"I am afraid we must, Daughter," Mr. Stuart answered, with a half
anxious and half cheerful twinkle in his eye.

"Then it's Chicago for me!" sighed Ruth.

"And Kingsbridge for the rest of us!" echoed the other three girls.

"Ruth cannot very well travel home alone," Mr. Stuart remonstrated,
looking first at Barbara, then at Mollie and Grace, and winking solemnly
at Miss Sallie.

"Don't tease the child, Robert," Miss Sallie remonstrated.

"Aren't you and Aunt Sallie going home with me, Father?" Ruth queried,
too much surprised for further questioning.

"No, Ruth," Mr. Stuart declared. "You seem to have concluded to return to
Chicago. But your Aunt Sallie and I are on our way to Kingsbridge, New
Jersey, to pay a visit to Mrs. Mollie Thurston at Laurel Cottage. Mrs.
Thurston wrote inviting us to visit her before we returned to the West.
But, of course, if you do not wish to go with us, Daughter--."

Mr. Stuart had no chance to speak again. For the four girls surrounded
him, plying him with questions, with exclamations. They were all laughing
and talking at once.

"It's too good to be true, Father!" cried Ruth.



CHAPTER XXIV

HOME AT LAUREL COTTAGE


Mrs. Thurston stood on the front porch of her little cottage, looking out
in the gathering dusk. Back of her the lights twinkled gayly. A big wood
fire crackled in the sitting-room and shone through the soft muslin
curtains. A small maid was busily setting the table for supper in the
dinning room, and there was a delicious smell of freshly baked rolls
coming through the kitchen door. On the table stood a great dish of
golden honey and a pitcher of rich milk. Mrs. Thurston had not forgotten,
in two years, the favorite supper of her friend, Robert Stuart.

It was a cold night, but she could not wait indoors. She had gathered up
a warm woolen shawl of a delicate lavender shade, and wrapped it about
her head and shoulders, looking not unlike the gracious spirit of an
Autumn twilight as she lingered to welcome the travelers home. She was
thinking of all that had happened since the day that Bab had stopped
Ruth's runaway horses. She was recalling how much Mr. Stuart had done for
her little girls in the past two years. "He could not have been kinder
to Mollie and Barbara, if they had been his own daughters," thought
pretty Mrs. Thurston, with a blush.

But did she not hear the ever-welcome sound of a friendly voice? Was not
Mr. Bubble calling to her out of the darkness? Surely enough his two
great shining eyes now appeared at the well-known turn in the road. A few
moments later Mrs. Thurston was being tempestuously embraced by the
"Automobile Girls."

"Do let me speak to Miss Stuart, children," Mrs. Thurston entreated,
trying to extricate herself from four pairs of girlish arms.

"Come in, Miss Stuart," she laughed. "I hope you are not tired from your
journey. I cannot tell you what pleasure it gives me to see you and Mr.
Stuart once more."

Mr. Stuart gave Mrs. Thurston's hand a little longer pressure than
was absolutely necessary. Mrs. Thurston blushed and finally drew her
hand away.

"Look after Mr. Stuart, dear," she said to Bab. "He is to have the guest
chamber upstairs. I want to show Miss Stuart to her room. I am sorry,
Ruth, our little home is too small to give you a room to yourself. You
will have to be happy with Mollie and Bab. Grace you are to stay to
supper with us. Your father will come for you after supper. I had to beg
awfully hard, but he finally consented to let you remain with us. Our
little reunion would not be complete without you."

Mrs. Thurston took Miss Sallie into a charming room which she had lately
renovated for her guest. It was papered in Miss Stuart's favorite
lavender paper, had lavender curtains at the windows, and a bright wood
fire in the grate.

"I hope you will be comfortable, Miss Stuart," said little Mrs. Thurston,
who stood slightly in awe of stately and elegant Miss Sallie.

For answer Miss Sallie smiled and looked searchingly at Mrs. Thurston.

"Is there any question you wish to ask me?" Mrs. Thurston inquired,
flushing slightly at Miss Stuart's peculiar expression.

"Oh, no," smiled Miss Sallie. "Oh, no, I have no question to ask you!"

It was seven o 'clock when the party sat down to supper, and after nine
when they finally rose. They stopped then only because Squire Carter
arrived and demanded his daughter, Grace, whom he had to carry off, as he
and her mother could bear to be parted from their child no longer.

Miss Sallie asked to be excused, soon after supper, as she was tired
from her trip. "I think the 'Automobile Girls' had better go to bed,
too," she suggested. Then Miss Sallie flushed. For she was so accustomed
to telling her girls what they ought to do that she forgot it was no
longer her privilege to advise Bab and Mollie when they were in their
mother's house.

Bab insisted on running out to their little stable to see if her beloved
horse, "Beauty," were safe and sound. And, of course, Ruth and Mollie
went with her. But not long afterwards, the three girls retired to their
room to talk until they fell asleep, too worn out for further
conversation.

"I am not tired, Mrs. Thurston, are you?" Mr. Stuart asked. "If you don't
mind, won't you sit and talk to me for a little while before this cozy
open fire? We never have a chance to say much to each other before our
talkative daughters. How charming the little cottage looks to-night! It
is like a second home."

Mrs. Thurston smiled happily. "It makes me very happy to have you and
Ruth feel so. I hope you will always feel at home here. I wish I could
do something in return for all the kindness you have shown to my two
little girls."

Mr. Stuart did not reply at once. He seemed to be thinking so deeply that
Mrs. Thurston did not like to go on talking.

"Mrs. Thurston," Mr. Stuart spoke slowly, "why would you not come to my
house in Chicago to make us a visit when I asked you, nearly a year ago?"

Mrs. Thurston hesitated. "I told you my reasons then, Mr. Stuart. It was
quite impossible. But it has been so long I have almost forgotten why I
had to refuse."

"It was after our trip in the private car with our friends, the fall
before, you remember, Mrs. Thurston. But I know why you would not come to
my home," Mr. Stuart answered, smiling. "You were willing to accept my
hospitality for your daughters, but you would not accept it for yourself.
Am I not right?"

"Yes," Mrs. Thurston faltered. "I thought it would not be best."

"I am sorry," Mr. Stuart said sadly. "Because I want to do a great deal
more than ask you to come to visit me in Chicago. I wish you to come to
live there as my wife."

Mrs. Thurston's reply was so low it could hardly be heard. But Mr. Stuart
evidently understood it and found it satisfactory.

A few moments later Mrs. Thurston murmured, "I don't believe that Ruth
and your sister Sallie will be pleased."

"Ruth will be the happiest girl in the world!" Mr. Stuart retorted. "Poor
child, she has longed for sisters all her life. Now she is going to have
the two she loves best in the world. As for Sallie--." Here Mr. Stuart
hesitated. He thought Miss Sallie did not dream of his affection for the
little widow, and he was not at all sure how she would receive the news.
"As for Sallie," he continued stoutly, "I am sure Sallie wishes my
happiness more than anything else and she will be glad when she hears
that I can find it only through you."

Mrs. Thurston shook her head. "I can only consent to our marriage," she
returned, "if my girls and yours are really happy in our choice and if
your sister is willing to give us her blessing."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Oh, Aunt Sallie, dear, please are you awake?" Ruth cried at half-past
seven the next morning, tapping gently on Miss Stuart's door.

Ruth had been awakened by her father at a little after six that morning
and carried off to his bedroom in her dressing-gown, to sit curled up on
her father's bed, while he made his confession to her.

Ruth had listened silently at first with her head turned away. Once her
father thought she was crying. But when she turned toward him her eyes
were shining with happy tears. Ruth never thought of being jealous, or
that her adored father would love her any less. She only thought, first,
of his happiness and next of her own.

Mr. Stuart would not let Ruth go until, with her arms about his neck and
her cheek pressed to his, she begged him to let her be the messenger to
Barbara, Mollie and Aunt Sallie.

"You will be careful when you break the news to your aunt," Mr. Stuart
entreated. "I should have given her some warning in regard to my feelings
for Mrs. Thurston. I fear the news will be an entire surprise to her."

Ruth wondered what she should say first.

"Come in, dear," Miss Sallie answered placidly in reply to Ruth's knock.
Miss Stuart was sitting up in bed with a pale lavender silk dressing
sacque over her lace and muslin gown.

"I suppose," Miss Sallie continued calmly, "that you have come to tell me
that your father is going to marry Mrs. Thurston."

"Aunt Sallie," gasped Ruth, "are you a wizard?"

"No," said Miss Stuart, "I am a woman. Why, child, I have seen this thing
coming ever since we first left Robert Stuart here in Kingsbridge when I
took you girls off to Newport. Are you pleased, child?" Miss Sallie
inquired, a little wistfully.

"Gladder than anything, if you are, Aunt Sallie," Ruth replied. "But
Father told me to come to ask you how you felt. He says Mrs. Thurston
won't marry him unless we all consent."

"Nonsense!" returned Miss Stuart in her accustomed fashion. "Of course I
am glad to have Robert happy. Mrs. Thurston is a dear little woman.
Only," dignified Miss Sallie choked with a tiny sob in her voice, "I
can't give you up, Ruth, dear." And Miss Stuart and her beloved niece
shed a few comfortable tears in each other's arms.

"I never, never will care for any one as I do for you, Aunt Sallie," Ruth
protested. "And aren't you Chaperon Extraordinary and Ministering Angel
Plentipotentiary to the 'Automobile Girls'? The other girls care for you
almost as much as I do. I wonder if Mrs. Thurston has told Bab and
Mollie. Do you think they will be glad to have me for a sister?"

"Fix my hair, Ruth, and don't be absurd," Miss Sallie rejoined, returning
to her former severe manner, which no longer alarmed any one of the
"Automobile Girls." "It is wonderful to me how I have learned to do
without a maid while I have been traveling about the world with you
children."

The winter sunshine poured into the breakfast room of Laurel Cottage.
The canary sang rapturously in his golden cage. He rejoiced at the sound
of voices and the cheerful sounds in the house.

Bab and Mollie were helping to set the breakfast table, when Ruth joined
them. Neither girl said anything except to ask Ruth why she had slipped
out of their room so early.

Ruth's heart sank. After all, then, Barbara and Mollie were not
pleased. They did not care for her enough to be happy in this closer
bond between them.

Mrs. Thurston kissed Ruth shyly, but she made no mention of anything
unusual. And when Mr. Stuart came in to breakfast he looked as
embarrassed and uncomfortable as a boy. There was a constraint over the
little party at breakfast that had not been there the night before.

Unexpectedly the door opened. Into the room came Grace Carter with a big
bunch of white roses in her hand. "I just had to come early," she
declared simply. "I wanted to find out." Grace thrust the flowers upon
Mrs. Thurston.

"Come here to me, Grace," Miss Sallie commanded. "You are a girl after my
own heart. Robert, Mrs. Thurston, I congratulate you and I wish you joy
with my whole heart."

Barbara and Mollie gazed at each other in stupefied silence. What did
it all mean?

Mrs. Thurston blushed like a girl over her roses. "Miss Stuart, I
never dreamed you could have heard so soon. I have not yet told
Barbara and Mollie."

"Told us what?" Bab demanded in her emphatic fashion. Then Ruth's heart
was light again.

But Bab did not wait to be answered. She suddenly guessed the truth. Now
she knew why Ruth's manner had changed so quickly a short time before.
She ran round the table, upsetting her chair in her rush. And before she
said a word either to her mother or to Mr. Stuart, she flung her arms
about Ruth and whispered: "Our wish has come true, Ruth, darling! We are
sisters as well as best friends."

Then Bab congratulated her mother and Mr. Stuart in a much more
dignified fashion.

"When is it to be, Father?" Ruth queried.

Mr. Stuart looked at Mrs. Thurston. "In the spring," she faltered.

"Then we will all go away together and have a happy summer, somewhere,"
Mr. Stuart asserted, smiling on the faces of his dear ones.

"We shall do no such thing, Robert Stuart," Miss Sallie interposed
firmly. "You shall have your honeymoon alone. I intend to take my
'Automobile Girls' some place where we have never been before. Will you
go with me, children?"

"Yes," chorused the four girls. "Aunt Sallie and the 'Automobile
Girls' forever."





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