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Title: The Automobile Girls at Chicago - or, Winning Out Against Heavy Odds
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.

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Transcriber's note:

      Text in bold face is enclosed by equal signs (=bold=).

      Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).



THE AUTOMOBILE GIRLS AT CHICAGO

Or

Winning Out Against Heavy Odds

by

LAURA DENT CRANE

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

Illustrated



[Illustration: "He's Here!" Cried Barbara.

_Frontispiece._]



Philadelphia
Henry Altemus Company

Copyright, 1912, by
Howard E. Altemus

Printed in the
United States of America



CONTENTS

    CHAPTER                               PAGE
        I. THE MAN IN SECTION THIRTEEN       7
       II. THE MISSING PASSENGER            19
      III. A DIZZY ROUND OF PLEASURE        32
       IV. BATTLE OF THE BULLS AND BEARS    45
        V. AN EMBARRASSING MOMENT           56
       VI. THE WRECK OF MR. A. BUBBLE       68
      VII. THE MYSTERY OF THE IRON GATES    75
     VIII. EXPLORING THE SECRET PASSAGE     84
       IX. IN AN INDIAN GRAVEYARD           96
        X. MEETING A TREASURE HUNTER       106
       XI. GIVING AN ATTIC PARTY           116
      XII. A CURIOUS OLD JOURNAL           127
     XIII. THE MYSTERY OF THE ATTIC        136
      XIV. TOMMY TAKES A WILD RIDE         143
       XV. AN AMAZING OCCURRENCE           154
      XVI. BOB SOLVES ANOTHER MYSTERY      164
     XVII. A LONG-REMEMBERED CHRISTMAS     178
    XVIII. BAB'S EXCITING DISCOVERY        187
      XIX. A BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT         195
       XX. CONCLUSION                      204



The Automobile Girls at Chicago



CHAPTER I

THE MAN IN SECTION THIRTEEN


BARBARA THURSTON awakened with a violent start.

"Wha--a-at is it?" she muttered, then opened her eyes wide. In the
darkness of the Pullman berth she could see nothing at all save a faint
perpendicular line of light at the edges of the curtains that enclosed
the section.

"I--I wonder what made me wake up so suddenly?" Barbara put out a
groping hand. The hand came in contact with Mollie Thurston's face.
Mollie brushed it away, muttering irritably in her sleep. Then all at
once Barbara discovered what had awakened her. Close at hand she heard
the voices of two men. They were conversing in low, cautious tones.

"I tell you I'll crush him! I'll crush them both. I'll make beggars of
them!" declared one of the men in a slightly heightened tone.

The train had stopped, as Barbara realized at that moment. Otherwise she
might not have been able to hear the words so plainly. The girl
shuddered at the tone of the speaker's voice more than at the words
themselves. She drew the curtains aside a little and peered out. It was
then that she discovered by the light reflected from the adjoining
section that the berths next to her had not been made up. Two men were
sitting in the double seat within a few inches of where her head had
lain. She was unable to see the men, nor did Barbara recognize either of
the voices. Their conversation could be of no possible interest to her,
she told herself. Still for some reason that she did not stop to
analyze, the girl lay back with half-closed eyes, listening. She
listened not because she wanted to hear, but for the reason that she
could not well help overhearing the conversation in the adjoining
section.

At Barbara's side Mollie Thurston lay sleeping peacefully. As for
Barbara, she was now wholly awake, all thought of sleep having left her.

"You mean you will crush them financially?" suggested the second
speaker.

"Body and soul!"

"Do you mean to say that you would crush a human being--perhaps drive
him to do desperate things--merely to gratify your love of money and
power? Is that what you mean, Nat?"

"That is partly my meaning. Yes, I want power. Already they call me the
'Young Napoleon of Finance,' but that is not enough. Those men must be
driven to the wall, for in crushing them I shall be increasing my own
power as well as taking theirs from them. I'd crush them just the same
if I knew it to be my last conscious act on earth."

Barbara Thurston gazed into the darkness wide-eyed. She knew she was
listening to the resolve of a desperate man, though she had not the
slightest idea what might be his plans for accomplishing his purpose.

"Why do you hate them so?" questioned the second voice. "What have they
ever done to you?"

The first speaker paused a few seconds before replying, then in a voice
tense with suppressed emotion he answered slowly:

"Hate them? That isn't exactly the word, but it will answer. I hate ----
---- because he turned me out when I was making my start. Turned me out
into the street, Jim. Do you understand? Turned me out without a dollar
in my pocket when I was trying to make something of myself. I hate the
other man because he is working with him. They are pulling together and
they must go down together. Let them down me if they can. I'll make
beggars of both of them!"

"Oh!" exclaimed Barbara Thurston in a tone that plainly must have
reached the two men.

The terrible threat had struck her almost with the effect of a blow. A
name had been mentioned that stirred her to instant alertness, a name
almost as familiar to the girl as her own.

"What was that?" demanded the voice that had uttered the terrible
threats.

"Someone dreaming."

"Let them dream. As for me, I never sleep these days. I leave that to
others. Jim, you watch me. I'll be a king of finance yet. I'll be the
Napoleon in reality before I have done. And what is more, those men will
never know where their opposition comes from until after the blow has
fallen. I'll see to it that they know then, however. Watch me, but keep
silent. Not a word, not a breath of what I have told you. I've said too
much, but I had to talk to some one I could trust. Now I'm all right
again."

"Never fear, Nat."

"And I'll give you a tip, boy. Buy wheat."

Bab could not catch all of the sentence. She caught the word "wheat,"
but a word ahead of that she missed.

"Thank you, I never gamble," replied the second man. "I'm sure to lose
if I do, so I have always steered clear of speculation. But I'm sorry
for the Old Man if you are after him. I'm sorry for anyone that you
visit your displeasure upon. I should hate to have you get after my
scalp."

"What's--who's talking in this berth?" demanded Mollie, sitting up
suddenly.

"Sh-h-h!" warned Barbara, laying a restraining hand on her sister's
lips. "It isn't in this berth. It's in the next one. Go to sleep."

"Is--is Grace asleep?"

"Yes. Be quiet."

Grace Carter, the girls' companion, occupied the berth above them. As no
sound had been heard from that quarter it was reasonable to suppose that
Grace had not been awakened by the conversation of the two men.

Barbara was trembling violently. She was profoundly affected by what she
had overheard. Yet while she had heard a name mentioned and a threat
made against the owner of that name, she was in the dark as to the
meaning of the threat--she did not understand what it was that this man
proposed to do. Her ears were now strained to catch every word uttered
on the other side of the partition.

"I shall watch the market with interest, Nat," the second speaker was
saying. "I don't say that I approve of your way of getting revenge, but
that is your own affair. Remember, however, that people who play with
fire are sooner or later sure to be singed."

The other man laughed.

"My feathers were singed a long time ago, Jim," he said.

"Well, here's where I get off. Good luck, old man, and good night."

The train had moved forward slowly, halting at a station a short
distance from the last stop. The man who had made the threats
accompanied his friend to the door of the car, then instead of returning
to the seat he had occupied with his friend, he seated himself opposite
the section occupied by the girls.

Bab, determined to know who the man was, peered cautiously between the
curtains.

"It's the man in section thirteen!" she exclaimed. Then she realized
that she had expressed her thought aloud.

The man wheeled sharply, his face hardening, his eyes narrowed to mere
slits as he gazed questioningly about him. He saw no one, for Barbara
had quickly withdrawn her head, holding the curtains firmly so that he
should observe no movement of them. The girl had learned that which she
was so curious to know. She now knew the man who had uttered the
threats. He had occupied the section opposite to her all during the
previous afternoon, though she did not recall having heard him speak nor
did she know his name. The man across the aisle reached for his bag,
from which he selected a package of papers. These he regarded
thoughtfully for a full minute, after which he opened the package,
taking several documents, returning the rest to the bag. Then after
drawing his cigar case from the bag, he rose and strode rapidly toward
the rear of the car, where the smoking compartment was located.

"So that's the man. I'm glad I know what I do, even though I do not know
what it is all about. I must ask Mr. Stuart about that man," mused
Barbara. Consulting her watch, she found that it was nearly one o'clock
in the morning. The girl shivered, snuggled into her blankets and fell
asleep. It was December and the air was chill. Barbara had not been
asleep long when she was awakened by a violent jolt, then a bumping that
shook her until her teeth chattered. The sleeping car swayed giddily
from side to side as it moved slowly forward with a grinding, crunching
sound. Then the car gave a lurch that hurled Bab violently against her
sister.

Mollie uttered a little cry of alarm. Bab threw her arms about her,
hugging Mollie in a tight embrace to save her sister from being thrown
against the side of the car. As yet Bab had not had time to think of
what was occurring outside. But now she began vaguely to realize that
the Pullman car had left the rails. An accident had occurred. Shouts and
cries of alarm from various parts of the car testified to the terror of
other passengers who were being buffeted about by the rocking sleeper.
All at once the forward end of the car appeared to plunge down head
first, as it were. The two girls were tumbled into one end of their
berth where for a few agonizing seconds both were nearly standing on
their heads.

Mollie screamed again.

"Don't!" commanded Barbara sharply in a half-smothered voice, holding
her sister even more tightly than before.

"We're going over!" cried Mollie.

Barbara had managed to straighten out and was now bracing herself with
all her might. She had thus far made no effort to get out into the
aisle. She was a girl quick to think and act in an emergency. She had
reasoned that they would be safer in their berth than out of it, for
they could not be buffeted about so much in the narrow berth as they
might be in the aisle where they could hear the thud of bags and other
articles falling from the various berths or being hurled from one side
to the other of the car.

The lights suddenly went out. Fortunately the train had not been moving
very fast when the accident occurred. Now it gave a sudden, sickening
lurch and lay over on its side to the accompaniment of crashing glass as
the windows were burst in and renewed cries of fear came from the
passengers.

The broad windows of the Thurston girls' berth burst in, sending a
shower of glass over them. Both received bruises as well as slight cuts
from the broken glass that had showered over them, though Barbara had
borne the brunt of the shock, managing to keep her own body between
Mollie and danger.

"Are we killed? Are we killed?" moaned Mollie.

"No. We are all right," soothed Bab with a confidence that she did not
feel. "Quick! Get on your clothes if you can find them. Here, put this
on. Don't try to dress completely, but just throw about you whatever you
can find."

While urging her sister to action, Bab was hunting feverishly for their
belongings. She thrust the first clothing she could find into the hands
of the trembling Mollie, then wrapped the younger girl in a blanket.

"I want my shoes," cried Mollie.

Barbara thrust two shoes into the girl's hands. One was Mollie's shoe,
the other Barbara's, but she could not be particular under the
circumstances.

Now a new danger threatened. Bab was certain that she could smell smoke.
She fairly dragged Mollie from the berth into the aisle that was now
tilted at an angle.

"Hurry! Get to the upper end of the car as fast as you can. The other
passengers are out I do believe."

"Oh, I can't! Help me, Bab."

"Help yourself. I must look after Grace."

"Grace!" groaned Mollie, a sudden and new fit of trembling seizing upon
her until her legs threatened to collapse under her.

Barbara gave her a violent push.

"Climb up the aisle. Support yourself by the seats. You will be able to
get through all right. I'll follow you just as soon as I can find Grace.
She may have gotten out, but I don't believe she has."

"Is--is--do you think she is dead?" gasped Mollie.

"Hurry!" urged Barbara, as the smell of smoke smote her nostrils more
strongly than before. "Grace!" she called, as soon as she saw that
Mollie had begun climbing.

There was no answer. Barbara was hurrying into such of her clothing as
she was able to find. The intense darkness of the car made any
systematic effort to dress impossible.

"Grace! Oh, Grace!"

Still no answer. Bab observed by the light that now filtered through the
broken windows of section number thirteen on the opposite side of the
aisle, that that section was empty. The car itself appeared to be empty.
At least the cries had died out, though outside the car there was a
great uproar. Barbara climbed into the upper berth occupied by Grace
Carter, who lay silent, unheeding Barbara's voice.

"Oh, Grace! Grace!" begged Barbara, throwing her arms about her friend.
"Answer me."

There was no response. A bar of moonlight shone through the broken
window of section number thirteen, falling directly on the pallid face
of the unconscious girl. Barbara shook her, calling upon her friend to
answer, but Grace neither spoke nor stirred.

"Is there any one left in here?" called a voice from the other end of
the car.

"Yes, yes; come here quickly and help me," cried Barbara.

Instead of coming to her assistance, the owner of the voice appeared to
turn back and go out again. Barbara was now chafing the hands and face
of the motionless girl in the upper berth.

"Oh, she's dead, she's dead. What shall I do?" gasped Bab.

With a suddenly formed resolution, she clasped her arms about Grace and
with considerable difficulty--for Grace was now a dead weight--dragged
the unconscious girl from her berth into the aisle. Bab did not pause
for an instant. Handling her friend as tenderly as possible, she began
working her way up the steep aisle, making but slow progress, one arm
about Grace Carter, the other pulling herself and her heavy burden along
by grasping the backs of the seats and the partitions between such of
the berths as were made up.



CHAPTER II

THE MISSING PASSENGER


AN endless corridor it seemed to Barbara Thurston as little by little
she dragged her drooping burden to the end of the aisle. Reaching the
narrow passage that led past the staterooms, she was obliged to creep on
hands and knees along the slippery lower side of the car.

Suddenly she heard a groan.

Bab glanced apprehensively at the curtains that hung over the door of
the smoking room. The curtains now stood out at a sharp angle. A thin
cloud of smoke filtered out from the smoking compartment.

"Oh, there's some one in there," exclaimed the girl. But she had other
work to do just then. The young woman struggled on, at last reaching the
platform that now stood in the air some feet above the track.

"Jump! We'll catch you," called a voice.

"I--I can't. Help me. My companion is hurt."

"She's got someone with her. Get up there," commanded a sharp voice.

Two trainmen clambered to the platform.

"Is the girl dead?" demanded one.

"I don't know. Oh, please hurry," begged Barbara in an agonized tone.

The men quickly lifted down Grace Carter's limp form. Then they turned
to assist Barbara, but she already had swung down without assistance.
Mollie was kneeling beside Grace, other passengers crowding about the
unconscious girl who lay stretched out on the ground beside the track.
Someone pushed through the crowd to Grace and thrust a bottle of
smelling salts under her nose.

This served to restore her to consciousness, and she feebly brushed the
bottle aside.

"She's alive," screamed Mollie, almost beside herself.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" cried Barbara in an ecstacy of joy.

Grace Carter sat up dazedly.

"Are you hurt, dear?" urged Bab.

"I--I don't know. I think not. Oh, it was awful. I--I thought the world
surely was coming to an end. Was anyone--anyone killed?"

"No," answered a voice from the crowd. "Some of us got a fine shaking
up, but the train was running so slowly that the shock of the accident
was not very severe."

"What was the matter?" asked Grace as Barbara assisted the trembling
girl to her feet.

"The trainmen say it was a loose rail. They've been putting in new rails
at this point and the train was running slowly on that account, the work
not yet being entirely finished."

At this juncture the conductor came bustling up, ordering the passengers
to go to the cars ahead, which had not left the track. The train was to
move on in a few minutes. A flagman had been stationed some distance to
the rear to stop any following trains and the conductor was anxious to
reach the next station ahead to telegraph for a wrecking train and
report the wreck of the sleepers. A pleasant-faced woman whom Barbara
had seen on the train the day before, stepped up and offered to assist
them, which she did by placing an arm about Grace, helping to support
the latter in the walk to the cars.

"I am Miss Thompson, from Chicago," said the woman. "My father is with
me. I saw you yesterday and wanted to speak to you. Are you going to
Chicago?"

"Yes. You are very kind," answered Barbara.

"I wonder if all the passengers were gotten out of the sleeper?" asked
Miss Thompson when they had finally reached the cars up ahead and Grace
had been comfortably disposed of in another sleeper.

Barbara started.

"Oh, I forgot. Conductor! There was a man in the smoking compartment of
our car."

The porter who had followed them with the other passengers and such
luggage as he could find, shook his head.

"I know there was. I had forgotten all about it," declared Bab. "I heard
someone groan in there as I passed the compartment with my friend. Where
is the man who occupied the lower berth of section thirteen?"

No one had seen him. All the other passengers had been accounted for,
but no one had seen the tall, slim, sandy-haired man from section number
thirteen.

"Then he is in that smoking compartment. I saw him when he went there.
The compartment was on fire when I passed it," cried Barbara Thurston,
springing up, her face flushed, her eyes large and troubled.

"If there's anyone there the men will find him. There was no fire in
that car," said the conductor, with which statement the porter agreed.

"There was smoke," declared Bab. "I don't know about fire. I do know
that I'm going back to find out about that man," she announced.

"Come back," called the conductor. "We're going to start."

Unheeding, Barbara ran for the door, and, leaping from the platform,
started on a run back to the wrecked sleeper. The conductor was
determined to move his train, but the passengers objected so strenuously
that he reluctantly decided to wait and make a further hurried search of
the wrecked sleeper.

With a porter and half a dozen passengers the conductor followed
Barbara. She could smell the smoke before she reached the car. Hastily
climbing to the platform, she crawled in. By the time she had gotten
into the corridor a porter had also climbed up. The smoke was so thick
and suffocating that the girl choked and coughed.

"He's here," she cried, as a faint groan reached her ears. "Hurry! Oh,
do hurry!" Then Bab's words were lost in the fit of coughing that had
seized her.

Three men pushed their way into the smoking compartment. They saw that
the carpet was smouldering. It had probably been set on fire by a
burning cigar or a lighted match. There was no blaze, just a dull
smoulder and a lot of smoke. It did not seem possible that one could
live in that atmosphere for very long.

Suddenly the porter stumbled over the form of a man. It was the former
occupant of section number thirteen.

"Young woman, get out of here at once," commanded the conductor. "We
will take care of this man."

Bab staggered out to the platform, where she waited. A minute later the
men came out bearing the unconscious form of the stranger. Barbara asked
if he were dead. The men said no, but that he was half suffocated from
the smoke he had inhaled. They carried the man on ahead to the train and
up to the dining car, after which a doctor was hurriedly summoned from
one of the other cars. In the meantime Barbara had returned to her
companions, who were anxiously awaiting her reappearance. She told them
of finding the man, and was warmly commended by the passengers for her
bravery.

"I do wish we could get word to Ruth Stuart that we are all right," said
Barbara, after she had related the story of the finding of the man from
section thirteen.

"Ruth Stuart?" questioned Miss Thompson. "I wonder if by any chance she
could be related to Robert Stuart, a Chicago broker?"

"Why, she is his daughter. Do you know the Stuarts?" cried Barbara, a
smile lighting up her face still pale and somewhat drawn.

"No, but my father wishes to know Mr. Stuart. Only yesterday he was
speaking of him. I should not be surprised if he were to call on Mr.
Stuart soon to discuss a business matter with him."

"The world is small, after all, isn't it?" smiled Bab. "We are on our
way to Chicago to visit the Stuarts. We are friends of Ruth Stuart. We
four are known to our friends as the 'Automobile Girls.'"

The readers of this series must undoubtedly feel well acquainted with
that quartette of sweet, dainty, lovable girls, Ruth Stuart, Barbara and
Mollie Thurston and Grace Carter, who were met with in the first volume
of this series, "THE AUTOMOBILE GIRLS AT NEWPORT." Their acquaintance
really dated from the time Barbara Thurston so pluckily stopped a team
of runaway horses driven by Ruth Stuart, a wealthy western girl, then
summering at Kingsbridge, the home of the Thurstons. A warm friendship
sprang up almost at once between the two girls, culminating in a long
trip in Ruth's automobile, during which journey Ruth, Bab and Mollie
Thurston, their friend Grace Carter, and their chaperon, Aunt Sallie
Stuart, met with many exciting adventures. It was on this eventful trip,
as will be recalled, that Barbara distinguished herself by causing the
arrest of a society jewel thief, at the same time heaping coals of fire
on the head of a girl cousin who had treated Barbara and Mollie with
scornful contempt.

The girls were next heard from in "THE AUTOMOBILE GIRLS IN THE
BERKSHIRES," to which region, chaperoned, as always, by Ruth's Aunt
Sallie, they had driven in Ruth's car for a month's stay in a lonely
cabin in the Berkshire Hills. Their experiences with the "Ghost of Lost
Man's Trail" was not the least of their exciting adventures there; in
fact, their stay in the mountains was filled with a succession of
strange happenings that thrilled the girls as nothing in their lives
ever had done before.

By this time they considered themselves veteran automobilists and
seasoned travelers. As related in "THE AUTOMOBILE GIRLS ALONG THE
HUDSON," the now famous quartette showed themselves fully equal to the
more than ordinary emergencies they met with from time to time on a most
eventful journey. From balking highwaymen to fighting a forest fire that
for a time threatened the ancestral home of Major Ten Eyck, whose guests
they were at the time, the "Automobile Girls" fully lived up to the
reputation they had earned for themselves.

After their trip through the Sleepy Hollow country, Ruth had returned to
her home in Chicago, while Mollie, Barbara and Grace had settled down
to their studies in the Kingsbridge High School. But with the approach
of the holidays had come Ruth's cordial invitation to spend Christmas
with her in her own home, not forgetting to mention "Mr. A. Bubble,"
who, she promised, would do his part toward making their visit a lively
one. The three girls had set out on their journey to the Windy City on
the Chicago Express, that journey having been interrupted in a most
unexpected manner, as already related.

       *       *       *       *       *

The conductor sent off a message for them to Ruth Stuart at the next
stop. It was a characteristic message from Barbara, reading:

          "Train wrecked. 'Automobile Girls' safe. Arrive
          some time.

                                    "GRACE, MOLLIE, BAB."

This telegram for a time created no little excitement in the Stuart
home.

Daylight was upon them by the time the train started from the scene of
the wreck. Grace said she felt as though she had contracted a severe
cold, for she was aching in every muscle of her body. Mollie declared
that she was all right, but Bab averred that she knew she hadn't been in
bed in a hundred years.

The dining car was opened early, for all the passengers felt the need of
something more sustaining than fright. When the girls came back from the
dining car they felt much better. Grace had suffered no serious
injuries, but Bab's face was scratched from the particles of broken
glass that had showered over her when the windows burst in.

A young man was occupying Barbara's seat when she entered the car they
had occupied since the accident. He was leaning back against the high
chair. His eyes were closed and a bandage was bound about his head.

"That's the man from number thirteen," whispered Barbara over her
shoulder to Mollie. He glanced up, met Barbara's eyes and smiled.

"I am very glad to see that you weren't seriously hurt," said Bab.

The young man rose, supporting himself by the back of the chair.

"Are these your seats?" he asked.

"Yes, but please do not disturb yourself," urged Bab, taking a seat
across the aisle. The young man leaned toward her.

"You are Miss Thurston, are you not?" he asked.

Barbara nodded, flushing a little.

"I have been told that I practically owe my life to you. The fire was
nothing but a smoulder of the carpet, but I was slowly being
asphyxiated. Thirty minutes more and it would have been all up with me.
Even had I been rescued too late to get this train it would have been
serious for me. My presence in Chicago to-day is imperative. I might say
that it involves my whole future. You see, my dear young lady, you have
done more for me than you perhaps realize. You are going to Chicago?"

"Yes; we are going on a visit to our friends, Mr. Robert Stuart and his
daughter."

"Robert Stuart!" exclaimed the young man. Then his face grew hard.

Suddenly the conversation that she had overheard the previous night
flashed into the mind of Barbara Thurston. The color left her face. The
young man's keen eyes observed her change of expression. He shot a sharp
glance of inquiry at her.

"I have a slight acquaintance with Mr. Stuart and his daughter," he said
coldly. "I also know intimate friends of theirs, Mr. and Mrs. Presby and
their daughter. Therefore I may have the pleasure of meeting you again.
I think perhaps I had better lie down and rest for the remainder of the
journey. By the way," he continued, after a slight hesitation, "did you
perchance discover a bundle of papers when you found me in the
compartment on the other car?"

"Oh, I beg your pardon!" exclaimed Bab. "I did find some papers. They
are in my bag. I picked them up from the floor of the car thinking they
might be of value to you."

Slightly confused, Barbara opened her bag, and after turning over its
contents drew forth a bundle of papers held together with rubber bands.
She handed the bundle to the young man.

The smile that lit up his face as he thanked her changed his expression
completely. It was almost a gentle smile, and seemed strangely out of
place on that cold, calculating face.

"Here is my card. I am rated as a cold, heartless man. But, my dear Miss
Thurston, I have at least one virtue--gratitude. If ever you are in need
of assistance in any way do not hesitate to call upon me," he said,
extending a hand to Barbara as he rose rather unsteadily to his feet.
Bab mechanically dropped the card into her bag without looking at it,
closing and dropping the bag on the floor beside her before accepting
the hand. The touch of the cold fingers of the man's hand sent a feeling
of dislike through her. It recalled to her mind more vividly than ever
the conversation she had overheard in the sleeper.

"I hope I never shall see him again," muttered Barbara, just as Miss
Thompson came smiling up to them. But Barbara Thurston was destined to
see the man whom she had rescued, though under circumstances that she
little dreamed of at the present moment.



CHAPTER III

A DIZZY ROUND OF PLEASURE


THE train stopped at Englewood for a moment and then pulled out again
for the Union Station. The girls already knew that they were in Chicago,
and were feverishly gathering up their wraps. Bab was drawing on her
overshoes when two warm hands were suddenly pressed over her eyes.

"Guess who it is?" cried Grace, after she and Mollie had uttered little
smothered exclamations of delight.

"It's my Ruth! Oh, Ruth, Ruth!" cried Barbara, springing up and flinging
both arms about the neck of Ruth, fairly smothering her friend with
kisses. Ruth and her father had gotten on at Englewood to welcome their
young friends.

"You dear, dear 'Automobile Girls,'" cried Ruth, now clasping the three
girls one after another in a tight embrace.

"Am I to be left out of this entirely?" questioned Ruth's father in an
aggrieved tone.

The girls disengaged themselves from Ruth's arms and fairly pounced upon
Mr. Robert Stuart.

"Oh, how is dear Aunt Sallie and Mr. A. Bubble?" laughed Barbara, her
eyes shining with joy.

"Aunt Sallie is waiting to greet you at our home. Mr. A. Bubble is
outside growling over your delay in getting to Chicago," smiled Mr.
Stuart.

"We received your telegram," said Mr. Stuart, as they left the Union
Station. "For a time we were considerably upset. Later we saw an account
of the wreck in the morning paper. We did not learn that anyone was
injured."

"What caused it? Wasn't it awful?" questioned Ruth, gazing at her
friends admiringly. "And to think I wasn't there to share the honor of
being mixed up with a railroad wreck. Too bad," she pouted.

"It wasn't a wreck, it was a shake-up," answered Grace.

"I am glad you were not with us. Who knows what might have occurred,"
answered Bab soberly. "Oh, there is Mr. Bubble," she cried, her serious
expression changing to a happy smile as she ran forward to the puffing
red automobile and patted it affectionately. A thin curl of blue smoke
was rising from the exhaust of the motor car.

"Hear him purr his delight," cried Mollie. "He's just like a contented
kitten for all the world," she laughed. "He isn't grumbling at all."

"He was grumbling loudly enough when we left him," answered Mr. Stuart.

"That's because he was cold. But we will warm Mr. A. Bubble up on our
way home," declared Ruth. This she did, keeping a wary eye out for
traffic policemen who might claim that she was exceeding the speed
limit. But Ruth knew fairly well where to look out for a traffic man and
where not to look for him. Up Dearborn Street to Madison Street the car
whirled, the sharp air putting color in the faces of the girls and
making their eyes sparkle.

Bab kept stealing perplexed glances at Mr. Stuart. Something was on the
young woman's mind, but she did not give expression to the thought. In
the meantime the girls were chattering at a rapid rate. Through Madison
Street they traveled and into Michigan Avenue, where a gust of biting
wind fresh from Lake Michigan smote them in the face.

"Oh, look at the river!" cried Mollie.

"That's Lake Michigan, you goose," answered Ruth, laughing merrily. "How
insulting to call our lake a river. But here we are."

The car swung into a driveway, coming to a halt before an imposing
residence, four stories high, overlooking the lake.

"What is this great building?" questioned Mollie.

"This is where we live, dear," answered Ruth. "This is my home."

"Oh, dear me, I thought it was the Chicago public library," retorted
Mollie.

"Molliekins, what _are_ we going to do with you?" chided Ruth, laughing.

The other girls were already running up the broad stone steps. The doors
swung open and the next second Barbara, Mollie and Grace threw
themselves into the arms of Miss Sallie Stuart. There was a volley of
little screams of delight and any number of resounding smacks. Mr.
Stuart had followed them in. He stood with his back to the door, smiling
contentedly on the joyous scene. He had come to love the three girls
with a love that was not far behind his affection for his own daughter
Ruth.

The girls having released Miss Sallie from their embrace, Ruth dragged
her friends upstairs. They were first shown to their own rooms, and
wonderful rooms they were. None of the three girls from Kingsbridge ever
had seen anything to compare with the beauty of these handsome
apartments. A few minutes later they were in Ruth's private sitting
room, the walls of which were done in pale blue silk. The furniture was
of old mahogany and on a dainty writing desk the girls found paper and
envelopes bearing the monogram "A. G." Ruth had had these prepared for
the girls' use.

"Now, girls," she said, "are you too fatigued after your exciting
experiences to go out this evening?"

"No, indeed," cried the three girls in chorus.

"Then listen! Father has taken a box at the opera for this evening. We
are to hear Romeo and Juliet----"

"Oh, how perfectly lovely," bubbled Mollie.

"That reminds me, Molliekins, that I received a note from your 'lovely
lady,' Mrs. Cartwright, yesterday. She asked me to tell you to look for
a diamond butterfly at the opera to-night. She thought that might help
you to locate an old friend."

Mollie smiled happily. At this juncture there came a light tap at the
door and a well-known gentle voice asked, "may I come in?"

Miss Sallie was assisted into the room somewhat faster than she
considered dignified, but there was no resisting her "Automobile Girls."
After getting her breath she sank into an easy chair, the girls
surrounding her.

"I want to consult with you about our plans," she said. "We wish to make
this reunion one that you will remember all the rest of your lives. Our
cousins, the Presbys, wish you to spend some time with them. Olive
Presby, their daughter, is especially desirous of having you there. You
will find her a charming girl and I am sure you will all fall in love
with her at sight. What do you say?"

"About the falling in love?" questioned Mollie innocently.

"No, no, Molliekins," rebuked Ruth. "About the invitation, of course."

"I am sure we shall be well pleased with whatever arrangements have been
made for us," said Grace.

"Yes, indeed," added Barbara.

"I am between fire and water," declared Ruth laughingly, as she dropped
into a chair before the fireplace. "I want you to stay and I want you to
go to the Presbys. I have decided, with your approval, that we shall
divide your time between our home and the Presbys' place. First, we will
do Chicago, after which we will go to Cousin Jane and Cousin Richard
Presby. They have a grand old home and hundreds of acres of grounds
surrounding it."

"Are they so very rich?" questioned Mollie.

"On the contrary, they are extremely poor," answered Aunt Sallie,
whereat Mollie puckered her brow in perplexity. "Their property is
heavily mortgaged. They are in a fair way to lose it unless----"

"Unless what, Aunt Sallie?" asked Bab gently.

"Unless perhaps they may in the meantime find the buried treasure."

The effect of this announcement on Mollie, Barbara and Grace made Miss
Sallie smile.

"Buried treasure? Buried treasure! Oh, oh, oh!" they cried in chorus.

"Don't get excited, dears. There is no chance for the 'Automobile
Girls,'" interjected Ruth. "I've stirred myself up so many times over
that old treasure that I have lost ever and ever so many nights' sleep.
Take my advice and forget all about it," she admonished.

"Oh, please tell us about it," urged Mollie.

"A buried treasure? How perfectly delightful!" sparkled Barbara.

"I haven't time to tell you now. It is a long story. This treasure was
buried many years ago by one of the Presbys' ancestors. They will tell
you all about it when you go out there, and I am sure Cousin Richard can
make the story much more interesting than I could."

This had to suffice for the present, though the girls were burning to
hear the story. Anything that savored of adventure appealed to these
healthy, outdoor girls, and what could be more adventurous than hunting
for a treasure that had been buried for years and years?

The girls' trunks had been brought up, and while they were dressing for
the evening, Bab took advantage of the occasion to consult with Ruth
about her gown.

Ruth ran forward, flinging her arms about Barbara's neck the instant Bab
came into her room.

"Dear, dear old Bab," she breathed, running tender fingers over the
shining brown hair of her companion. "You can't know how I have wanted
you. It seems years since last I saw you. Answer me truly, dear. How do
you think father is looking?"

Barbara's face sobered instantly. Ruth noted the quick change of
expression.

"You needn't tell me. I see by your expression what you think," added
Ruth quickly, brushing a stray wisp of hair from her face.

"That was what I wished to ask you about, dear," said Barbara. "He looks
so worn. What is the trouble? Has your father been ill?"

"No. Not in the sense you mean. Nevertheless, we are greatly worried
about him. He has been speculating. We think he has lost a lot of money.
He does not speak of his business affairs as he used to do, and that
makes us all the more certain that things are not going as they should
with him. However, I mustn't speak of these matters now, as I wish you
to have the happiest time of your life while you are with us. Why,
Barbara Thurston, what a lovely frock!" exclaimed Ruth impulsively.

Barbara flushed with pleasure at the compliment. Her gown was of dark
red crepe-de-chine, trimmed in soft folds of liberty velvet. Bab had
tucked a single red rose in her hair. Ruth never had seen Bab look more
charming.

"It is mother's Christmas present to me," explained Bab, referring to
the frock. "I think it very pretty."

"I wish I could look half so well in anything," answered Ruth, but
without a trace of envy in her tone. "But I must hurry. If I run on like
this we'll never get to the opera."

"I was just about to ask if you mind my running down to chat with your
father a few moments before we go?"

"Do, dear. It will do him good. You always act like a tonic on father,"
smiled Ruth. "He's in the library."

Bab tripped away, holding up her skirts, followed by the admiring eyes
of her friend.

"She's such a dear," mused Ruth, beginning the finishing touches of her
dressing.

Bab was especially anxious to see Mr. Stuart alone. She wanted to see if
she could fathom the cause of his distress. He looked even more tired
and careworn than when she had first seen him. She entered the library
rather diffidently pausing before Mr. Stuart, who stood near the
fireplace.

"Am I intruding?" asked Bab.

"Intruding, my dear? You could not do that. But how beautiful you are
to-night."

"Don't. Please don't," protested Bab with well-feigned displeasure. "You
will make me a vain little creature. Ruth has just said the same thing
to me. At this rate I fear I shall begin to believe something of the
sort myself very soon."

"No," answered Mr. Stuart, gazing at her approvingly. "You are far too
sensible a young woman to have your head turned so easily as that. Tell
me about your good mother. How is she?"

"Quite well, thank you," replied Bab simply.

"I am sorry that she could not come with you. We had hoped to have her
with us."

"Yes, we wanted mother to come. She asked me to thank you very kindly
for your invitation, but said it would not be possible for her to go so
far away from home just now. Perhaps later she may visit you."

"Bab, a good mother like yours is a most priceless treasure. Never
forget to value your treasure at its real worth," said Mr. Stuart
impressively.

"I do and I trust I always shall, sir," answered Barbara, and Robert
Stuart smiled, for he knew that she meant what she said.

Ruth and the other two girls came in at this juncture and the
conversation turned on their gowns and the pleasures that were before
them that evening. Barbara had not mentioned that she thought Mr. Stuart
was looking ill. She would not have ventured to do so, although she was
more convinced than before that something very, very serious had come
into the life of her friend's father. She wondered if she might not be
able to do something to relieve the distress under which he was so
plainly laboring.

"There, now, what did I tell you, Bab?" demanded Ruth, entering the
library. "Didn't I say you were always a tonic to father?"

Barbara blushed.

"She is indeed, daughter. So are you all. But we must be going. Is your
Aunt Sallie ready?"

"She is waiting for us in the reception room," answered Ruth.

"Then we will be off. Be sure that you girls are well wrapped up. You
are not used to going out in this climate with such thin gowns. Ruth,
where is your cloak?"

"Below, father. I will pick it up on my way down."

Then they started downstairs, Mr. Stuart leading the way. They were
joined by Miss Sallie in the hallway and a few minutes later were being
borne away by Mr. A. Bubble, who, for this evening at least, was on his
best behavior. Reaching the opera house, they were conducted to the box
reserved for them. Ruth insisted on her guests occupying the front
chairs. How the heads of the three little Kingsbridge girls did swim!
Beautiful gowns, beautiful women and dazzling jewels were to be seen
wherever the eye rested. It was a brilliant and animated scene, such as
none of the three girls ever before had gazed upon, for this was their
first visit to the opera.

"Isn't it all wonderful?" said Bab to Ruth.

"Yes, indeed," responded Ruth warmly. "There is nothing quite like an
opera night, and I have been particularly interested in grand opera
since we discovered Zerlina."

"Oh, to be sure," exclaimed Bab. "Where is Zerlina now?"

"She is in Paris, studying under the best teachers that can be procured
for her," replied Ruth. "She writes me regularly. Her teachers give her
great encouragement, and she expects to be ready to sing important rôles
within the next two years. She adores José, and he is delighted with
having so talented a sister."

"She is one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen," said Barbara.
"What a wonderful 'Carmen' she will make."

"Yes; won't she, though," responded Ruth eagerly, "and that is the part
that she particularly looks forward to singing."

The subject of Ruth's and Barbara's conversation was a beautiful gypsy
girl that they had met during their trip along the Hudson. She had
become a protegé of Ruth, who had cherished high hopes of sending
Zerlina to a conservatory, but had been forestalled by the appearance on
the scene of Zerlina's handsome half-brother, José Martinez. On account
of family differences, José and Zerlina had been separated for many
years, but in the end Zerlina was persuaded by him to place herself
under his protection. All of this has been fully narrated in "THE
AUTOMOBILE GIRLS ALONG THE HUDSON."

"What do you think of it, Molliekins?" whispered Ruth over Mollie's
shoulder.

"Think of it?" breathed the golden-haired Mollie. "I'm so happy that I
could scream right out so everybody in the theatre would hear me,"
answered Mollie. "I don't know what I shall do when the music begins."

A wave of laughter rippled over the box at Mollie's quaint way of
expressing her delight.



CHAPTER IV

BATTLE OF THE BULLS AND BEARS


THAT evening at the opera was like a dream to the little Kingsbridge
girls. Mrs. Cartwright visited them between the acts, then they were
introduced to Olive Presby, who came to their box, accompanied by a
young man named Jack Howard, an artist who had just returned from Paris.
These two had been chums since childhood.

Bab thought Olive the most beautiful girl she had ever seen. She could
not keep her eyes off of her, and Olive appeared to be equally attracted
to Barbara, though there was little opportunity for conversation between
them. Olive was fully five years older than Barbara with fair skin,
black hair, and eyes of deep gray, veiled with long, black lashes,
making an unusual and most attractive combination. Olive Presby was a
striking looking girl. All through the second act Bab kept gazing across
at Olive, and it was with a deep sigh of regret that Barbara finally
turned her eyes away under the teasing of Ruth and Grace. The glorious
evening came to a close all too soon for them.

Reaching home, the girls lost little time in getting to their rooms,
for the three travelers had had little sleep in the past two nights.

They fell asleep almost the instant their heads touched their pillows,
but in spite of their late hours the four girls descended to the dining
room the following morning bright-eyed and ready for whatever the day
might bring forth.

Miss Sallie rustled in, dressed in her silk morning gown a few moments
after the others had reached the dining room. The girls greeted her
enthusiastically, each girl giving her a hearty hug and kiss, after
which they seated themselves at the breakfast table, and a lively
chattering ensued.

"What do you think of Cousin Olive?" asked Ruth.

"Oh, I just love her," cried Bab enthusiastically.

A cloud passed swiftly over the face of Ruth Stewart.

"I could love her almost to death. Is she engaged to Mr. Howard?"

"No indeed," said Miss Sallie with emphasis. "Olive is devoted to her
parents, especially now that they are in such deep trouble. She is their
comfort in their distress and she knows it."

"Young ladies," interrupted Mr. Stuart, "do you feel equal to beginning
your sight-seeing to-day?"

"We do," chorused the girls.

"I have so planned my affairs as to have this day free for you. Mr. A.
Bubble also is at your disposal. He has had a thorough going over at the
hands of his man this morning, and I think you will find him in fine
condition."

"Olive Presby is coming to see you this morning, you know," reminded
Miss Sallie.

Ruth's face clouded again. Bab's eyes glowed, for she wished to see
Olive even more than to explore Chicago.

"We might call her up on the telephone and have her come over so she may
go with us," suggested Mr. Stuart.

The girls seconded this proposal enthusiastically, and this was done
without delay, Olive promising to come over as soon after breakfast as
possible.

"I propose," announced Mr. Stuart, "to take you over to the Board of
Trade on La Salle Street to show you the famous Pit."

"Is it a very big hole?" questioned Mollie innocently, whereat a merry
laugh rippled all the way around the table.

"The Pit," explained Mr. Stuart, smilingly, "is the place where men buy
and sell grain-stuffs. It's the same as stock speculation."

Mollie thought stock speculation was trading in cattle.

"You ridiculous child," exclaimed Ruth. "I'll explain it to you so you
will understand it. Now if you want to speculate you order your brokers,
for instance, to 'buy a thousand shares of B. Sell five thousand shares
of G and ten thousand shares of C.' That's all. Next morning you wake up
to find yourself ten or fifteen thousand dollars richer----"

"Or poorer," added Mr. Stuart. "I must say, Ruth, that your explanation
is very lucid. Take the girls down to my office, leaving here at half
past ten o'clock. I shall have my morning mail disposed of by that time
and my day's orders issued, then my time will be at your disposal.
Sallie, are you going with the girls?"

"No, thank you. Not this morning. I have seen quite all of Chicago, I
think. Besides, I have no love for your horrid Board of Trade. The
automobile will be pretty well filled as it is."

"Oh, please come with us," urged Mollie.

Aunt Sallie shook her head smilingly, so it was arranged that the girls
should go downtown by themselves, there to be met by Mr. Stuart. Olive
bustled in shortly before ten o'clock. She was dressed in a brown
tailor-made suit of broadcloth, with furs and hat of mink. She came
running up the stairs to Ruth's sitting room, bright and eager, her eyes
sparkling with anticipation.

"Here I am," she cried gayly. "I'm going to introduce myself all over
again. I'm Olive, girls. I'm a sort of adopted cousin of the 'Automobile
Girls.' So this is Bab," she sparkled, giving Barbara's hand a friendly
squeeze. "This little yellow-haired girl is Mollie, and the bigger,
brown-haired one is Grace. Now I think we are properly introduced. Now
what can I do to add to the pleasure of the 'Automobile Girls' this fine
morning?"

"I would suggest that you first sit down and compose yourself," replied
Ruth with some severity. "How you do run on, Olive."

"Now, I call that downright mean," pouted Miss Presby. "Don't you, Bab?"
Olive suddenly bent over Barbara, giving the little Kingsbridge girl an
impulsive hug.

Ruth frowned. Bab looked embarrassed. She felt that Ruth resented
Olive's affectionate demonstration. It caused the three Kingsbridge
girls, however, to lose their awe of Miss Presby, whom they had before
looked upon as a superior grown-up person.

"What are the plans for the day, dear?" questioned Olive, turning to
Ruth.

"We are first to go to the office to pick up father. He is to take us
to the Pit. I don't know where we shall go from there."

About this time a maid came up to tell them that the car was at the
door. The girls hurried down, laughing and chatting, Ruth's irritation
apparently having been banished from her mind. It was a bright,
sparkling day. The lake glistened and the wind from it again blew the
color into the faces of the "Automobile Girls."

Mr. Stuart's office was in one of the tall office buildings on La Salle
Street, not far from the Board of Trade. The girls were shot up to the
seventeenth floor on the elevator with a speed that fairly took their
breaths away. Mollie uttered a chorus of subdued "ohs" all the way up.

Even in the staid business office the girls found much to interest them.
Mollie's attention was first attracted to an energetic little machine at
one side of the room. This odd looking machine ticked like a clock, but
resembled one in no other way, and from it at intervals spun a narrow,
ribbon-like strip of paper which curled and coiled into an elongated
waste-paper basket. Mollie stood over the basket regarding the
perplexing letters and figures printed on the paper ribbon.

"Do--do you make ribbons on this?" she questioned, laying a finger on
the glass globe that covered the mechanism.

"Not exactly, my dear," answered Mr. Stuart. "But that little machine
sometimes helps us to buy ribbons for our families. That is a ticker. It
gives the market quotations. I hardly think you will be interested in
it."

Mollie decided that she wasn't.

"If you are ready, girls, we will go over to the Board of Trade, where
you will see the bulls and bears engaged in a pitched battle. It is to
be a lively day on the floor of the Pit."

Mollie was frowning perplexedly.

"Are we really going to see a bull fight?" she whispered to Ruth. "Do
the bulls and the bears really fight? I--I don't think I want to see
them if they do."

"No, no, silly. Nothing of the sort. Oh, girls!" laughed Ruth merrily.

"Don't you dare tell them," admonished Mollie, "I'll never forgive you
if you do."

"Never mind," called Ruth to the others, "I'll explain, dear. Of course
you know nothing about these things. I wish I didn't. I wish father did
not, either," she added with a touch of bitterness. "Bulls and bears are
mere men. The bulls are those who try to force up the prices of wheat
and other things, while the bears are the ones who seek to keep the
prices down. I--I never have been able to make up my mind which of them
is the most undesirable."

"I am sure Mr. Stuart isn't a bear," muttered Mollie.

"Indeed he is not," laughed Ruth, once more restored to good nature.

Instead of taking Mr. A. Bubble, the girls walked down from Mr. Stuart's
office to the big, gloomy building that housed the Board of Trade. They
were conducted to the gallery, where Mr. Stuart left them to go down to
the brokers' rooms to consult with some of his friends.

It was a mad, wild scene that the little country girls gazed upon. It
was like nothing they ever had seen before.

"Goodness me, they _are_ fighting!" cried Barbara in alarm.

Men were dashing about here and there. Hats were smashed, paper was
being torn by nervous hands and hurled into the air, to fall like
miniature snow flurries over the heads of the traders. Shouts and yells,
hoarse calls were heard from all parts of the floor. One man threw up a
hand with the fingers spread wide apart. Instantly a dozen men hurled
themselves upon him. He staggered and fell. Willing hands jerked him to
his feet. It was then that the "Automobile Girls" saw that the
unfortunate man's coat had been torn from him. His collar flapped under
his ears and a tiny red mark was observable on one cheek.

"Oh!" gasped the Kingsbridge girls.

"Wha-a-at are they fighting about?" gasped Mollie, her face pale with
excitement, perhaps mingled with a little fear.

"They aren't fighting." Ruth had to place her lips close to the ears of
her companion to make herself heard. "They are buying and selling. That
is the way business is done on the floor of the Pit. See! There is
father!"

The girls gazed wide-eyed. Mr. Stuart had projected himself into the
maelstrom of excited traders. He, like the rest, was waving his arms and
shouting. A group of excited men instantly surrounded him. He was for
the moment the centre of attention, for Robert Stuart was one of the
largest and most successful traders on the Chicago Board of Trade. The
battle waged furiously about him, while the "Automobile Girls" gazed in
fascinated awe upon the strange, exciting scene.

All at once a gong sounded. The tension seemed to snap. Men who had been
fighting and shouting suddenly ceased their activities. The bodies of
some grew limp, as it were. Some staggered. Others walked from the floor
laughing and chatting. Out of the crowds strode a man--a young man.
What first attracted the attention of the girls to him was a bandage
about his head. He was walking straight toward them, though on the floor
below. All at once he glanced up. Only Bab was looking down at him now.
His gaze swept over the gallery. His eyes rested for a moment on the
face of Barbara Thurston.

"The man from section thirteen!" exclaimed Bab under her breath. Then as
she caught his eyes, she gazed in trembling fascination. The man's
features were contorted. Barbara thought it was the most frightful face
she ever had gazed upon. Anger, deadly passion and desperate purpose
were written there so plainly that anyone could read. Looking her fairly
in the face, the man sneered. Whether he recognized her or not, the girl
did not know.

"Oh!" cried Bab, with a shudder.

"What is it, dear?" questioned Ruth anxiously.

"Oh, take me away from here. Please take me away," almost sobbed
Barbara. "I--I can't stand it. It was awful."

"Come, girls," urged Ruth. "Bab is upset. I will confess that I have had
enough of this place of nightmares." Rising, she led her friends down
the stairs to the lower floor. Barbara was still trembling when they saw
Mr. Stuart coming toward them. His face was set and stern. But the
instant he caught sight of the "Automobile Girls" the sternness drifted
slowly from his features, giving place to a pleased smile.

"Why, Barbara, how pale you are!" he exclaimed. "What _is_ the matter?"

"She is upset," answered Ruth briefly.

Mr. Stuart eyed her keenly.

"Was the excitement too much for you, my dear?" he asked.

"I--I think so," replied Bab. Then as the thought of that face and its
dreadful expression recurred to her mind, she trembled more violently
than before. Mr. Stuart linked his arm in hers and led her away,
followed by the others of the party.

"It really is no place for young girls," said Mr. Stuart. "I should not
have brought you here. Girls, we will take the car and go home at once.
Barbara had better lie down for a while before luncheon. She is
completely unnerved."

This Barbara knew to be true, but by great effort she conquered her fit
of trembling, and before the Stuart's residence was reached she had in a
great measure regained her self-control.



CHAPTER V

AN EMBARRASSING MOMENT


"OH, it is good to be back," declared Bab, as they entered the broad,
cheerful hall of the Stuart mansion. "I don't feel as though I ever
wanted to leave the house again."

"I like it here just as well as you do," answered Mollie. "But I
shouldn't like to feel that I had to stay inside the house always."

Ruth had made good time on the return, now and then "shaving the paint
from the sides of a street car," as Bab expressed it. Still, Ruth Stuart
was not nearly as careless a driver as she appeared to be. She did take
chances frequently, but the guiding hand at the wheel was sure and
steady. She seldom used bad judgment. Her father had such confidence in
her driving that he never interfered while riding with her. As for the
three Kingsbridge girls, they were by this time so used to Ruth's
driving that they declined to get nervous even when she had narrow
escapes from collision.

"Girls, I am glad you have returned," greeted Miss Sallie, meeting them
in the hallway as they entered. "You have callers."

"Pshaw!" muttered Ruth disgustedly. "Bab wants to lie down and rest. She
is all upset. Can't we make our escape?"

"I am all right now," protested Barbara. "However, the company probably
came to see Ruth instead of the rest of us."

"You are wrong," smiled Aunt Sallie.

"Who is it?" questioned Ruth.

"Cousin Richard, Cousin Jane and Tom Presby. You don't mind them."

"Oh, no indeed," laughed Ruth. "Come on, girls, let's go upstairs and
get rid of our wraps, and remove some of this Chicago smoke from our
faces. If I look as dirty as I feel I must be a sight."

"Father and mother here? You don't mean it?" exclaimed Olive in
surprise. "I wonder why they have come in. Girls, you needn't worry
about your appearance. Neither father nor mother will notice it. They
are well used to the ways of healthy girls. As for Tom, well he doesn't
figure at all. He wouldn't know whether our faces were clean or grimy.
Come right in. Are they in the library, Aunt Sallie?"

"Yes, dear."

"Not one step will I go until I have made myself more beautiful,"
declared Ruth.

"I don't think that would be possible," said Bab in a tone calculated
for Ruth's ears alone.

"Don't," begged Ruth. "I shall think you insincere if you don't stop
talking that way. And my face is so besmudged that I am not fit to see
anyone. You must come upstairs with me," she added, linking an arm in
Barbara's. "Please tell them we shall be right down, Auntie."

Olive went directly to the library to see her parents. The other girls
soon followed her. The library was darkened, lighted only by the
snapping fire in the fireplace. Mr. Presby explained that he had come
into town to see Mr. Stuart, who was at that moment welcoming him. Mr.
Stuart excused himself, promising that he would return to his guests as
soon as he had telephoned certain necessary orders to his office. Mr.
Stuart had barely left the room when Bab and Ruth entered. Olive came
forward quickly. She took Barbara's arm in hers, steering Bab toward
Mrs. Presby.

"I want you to meet my mother. I know you will love her, for she's a
dear. Mama, this is Barbara Thurston, of whom you have heard so much. I
can assure you that she has not been overrated."

Bab moved blushingly forward. The floor was one of those slippery,
hard-wood traps for the unwary. Barbara was not used to polished floors.
She took a long step to keep up with Olive, who was moving rapidly.
Bab's foot came in contact with a small rug, and together the rug and
foot slid over the slippery floor.

Barbara Thurston's other foot followed the first. Realizing that a fall
was inevitable, Barbara quickly released her arm from Miss Presby's.

"Oh!" exclaimed Bab, and sat down on the floor with such force that it
jarred her from head to foot. There was a distinct vibration from
several articles in the room as though they were moving out of sheer
sympathy for the unfortunate girl.

Barbara struggled to her feet. Again she stumbled over the rug that had
caused her to fall, and brought up heavily against a dark object near
by. The object uttered a deep groan, as out of the shadows limped an
elderly, dignified man. Pain and anger were struggling for the mastery
of his facial expression. Barbara had landed fairly on Mr. Richard
Presby's gouty foot.

"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," pleaded the girl. "I am so awkward and I
did not see you at all. Please forgive me, if you can," she begged.

Mr. Presby, however, merely grunted out some unintelligible words. That
he was not appeased by her contrition was plain to be seen. He had been
in the act of rising to his feet to bow to the girls when Bab collided
with him. Grace, Mollie and Ruth, who had followed Barbara into the
room, suppressed their giggles with no little effort.

Barbara rushed toward the shadowy, far corner of the room, where she
sought to hide her confusion. She flung herself into a great, easy
chair. Something under her moved and wriggled.

"Oh, I say," exclaimed a voice from under her. "Get up. Don't put me out
of business, too."

Bab sprang to her feet, her face burning with humiliation. She whirled
about and peered into the depths of the chair. There sat a boy of
twelve, grinning from ear to ear.

"I'm Tom," he informed her. "Lucky for me it wasn't I who stepped on the
governor's game foot."

"Oh!" cried Barbara.

"I forgive you for sitting on me, but gracious, you're heavy."

Just at this moment Olive Presby, had hurried across the room. There was
deep sympathy in her face as she extended a hand to the embarrassed
Barbara.

"Don't mind it at all, dear. It is a thing that occurs to all of us
frequently. Polished floors are such a nuisance," said Olive.

The other girls had been introduced to Mrs. Presby in the meantime. It
was now Bab's turn, but instead of being first, as Olive had intended,
she was last. Her face was still flushed and her eyelids drooped as she
was presented.

Mrs. Presby pulled the girl's head down between two warm hands and gazed
into her eyes, then kissed Barbara full on the lips.

"Never mind, my dear," she said. "You couldn't help it."

"If I could have a good cry, I know I should feel better," was Bab's
plaintive rejoinder.

"Richard, come here, please, and shake hands with Miss Thurston,"
commanded Aunt Jane in a slightly peremptory tone. Mr. Presby did so,
but with apparent reluctance. He had had one experience with the
brown-haired girl from Kingsbridge.

"My dears, we want you to come to Treasureholme with us. We cannot spare
Olive, so you will have to come to us," smiled Mrs. Presby.

"We want you to come out for Christmas," interjected Mr. Presby rather
grudgingly, and as if he were reciting a line from memory.

"Before Christmas," nodded Mrs. Presby. "You must come out this week.
Sallie, you will come with them. We shall expect Robert also, though I
suppose he will be running away to the city all the time."

"I don't know whether Robert will wish to spare the girls or not. He
likes to have them with him as much as possible," said Miss Sallie.

"Treasureholme? What a beautiful name!" breathed Barbara.

"And such a romantic name too," added Mollie soulfully. "I could love
the place just on account of its name."

"We call the place 'Treasureholme' because it is or has been supposed to
hold a lost treasure. But we have given up that idea. We gave it up a
long, long time ago. You will come, won't you, girls? This, in all
probability, will be our last Christmas in the old home. We wish to make
it a bright and joyous occasion," said Mrs. Presby, with a wan smile.
"We have planned to have a Christmas tree. Cousin Robert, you and Sallie
can have the gifts delivered at our place just as well as at your home
here."

"I shall have to leave it all to Robert," answered Miss Sallie.
"Robert's business, as you know, is giving him no little concern these
days. He may not care to leave it, and I am certain he would not consent
to the girls going away at this time unless it were possible for him to
spend at least part of the time with them."

"Then I shall talk with Robert myself," announced Mrs. Presby firmly.
She did so then and there. Rather, she went directly to Mr. Stuart's
own particular sanctum, where Robert and Mr. Presby were then in
consultation over business matters. Mr. Stuart did object to the girls
going to Treasureholme to spend Christmas. But Mrs. Presby pleaded with
him to let them come. She told him that before another Christmas came
Treasureholme would be in other hands. She pleaded with Robert Stuart to
let nothing stand in the way of helping them all to have a joyous
holiday in the old home.

Mr. Stuart finally gave a reluctant consent. Mrs. Presby hurried back to
the library to acquaint the girls with his decision. A merry chatter
followed. Everyone talked at once, each making suggestions as to what
should be worn and how the Christmas holiday should be spent in the
country. As for the "Automobile Girls" from Kingsbridge, the idea of
going to the country appealed to them strongly. It would seem almost
like being home again. It must be confessed that Bab and Mollie now and
then suffered the pangs of homesickness, even though they found so
little time for their own thoughts.

It was finally decided that they were to leave for Treasureholme, a
distance of more than thirty miles from the city, on the following
Monday, three days hence. Mrs. Presby consented to Olive remaining with
them until that time, and accompanying the girls to the country in
Ruth's motor car. That arrangement stood. The guests declined an
invitation to remain to dinner and as soon as the two men had finished
their business talk, Mr. and Mrs. Presby took their leave.

Two of the following three days were given up to a round of
sight-seeing, paying and receiving calls on friends of the Stuarts,
during which time the cylinders of Ruth's automobile scarcely had time
to grow cold. Mr. A. Bubble was doing his full duty during these happy
days.

Sunday was a day of rest. All were ready for the rest, too. The
Kingsbridge girls looked a little more pale than usual, but their eyes
were bright and sparkling when Monday morning arrived. It was a clear,
frosty morning, with a suggestion of snow in the air. Miss Sallie had
risen early, in order to have plenty of time to make all arrangements
for their trip. She saw to it also that the girls' wardrobes were
properly selected for their stay in the country, and suggested that they
have the chauffeur drive them out.

"No, indeed," objected Ruth. "I am not wholly a fair-weather driver. I
shall have my heavy gloves. Therefore, my hands will be warm and my feet
will be so well occupied with working the brake and control that they
won't have time to get cold. Girls, you won't have anything to do, so
wrap yourselves up. Auntie, I'm going to get out some of father's heavy
coats. He won't need them."

"A jolly good idea," agreed Mollie. "Always provided that the master of
the house doesn't object," she added, smiling at Mr. Stuart.

"My dear, if you had lived in this house as long as I have, you would
understand that it would make little difference if the master of the
house did object," interjected Mr. Stuart.

"Oh, dad," chided Ruth. "How can you say such a thing? You know I am
your dutiful daughter."

"You suit me," answered Mr. Stuart, giving the protesting Ruth a quick
embrace and a kiss on the forehead. "Yes, take anything you can find in
the house. But leave the house. I may need it before I get out of the
woods."

A shadow flitted across the face of Ruth Stuart. Then she smiled and
kissed her father affectionately. A search for coats was made and a
thousand and one details attended to. It was well into the afternoon
before they were ready to start, Bab wrapped in Mr. Stuart's long fur
coat, the other girls in cloth coats, with the exception of Ruth, who
wore her own sealskin coat that reached down to her ankles. A fur cap,
silk lined and a pair of fur gloves that looked, Barbara said, like the
feet of a bear, completed the outfit.

Mr. A. Bubble was grumbling when the girls emerged from the house. Their
bags had been strapped on behind. Inside the automobile there were four
foot warmers. Bab and Ruth spurned theirs. With many urgings on the part
of Mr. Stuart and Aunt Sallie to be careful, Ruth threw in the clutch,
advanced the spark and Mr. A. Bubble wheeled himself slowly away from
the house, out into the avenue, then launched into a burst of speed that
set at defiance all the regulations of the Windy City.

This was to be an eventful visit. It was to be one full of excitement
and adventure, a visit that none of the girls ever would be likely to
forget.

They rapidly rolled through the city and in a little while were out in
the country, where the land flattened down into a rolling prairie,
broken here and there by groups of slender trees and farm buildings.

The snow began to sweep past them in flurries shortly after they cleared
the city limits. Ruth stopped the automobile and called upon the girls
to assist her in putting on the storm curtains. When they had finished
the car was entirely enclosed, a heavy curtain taking the place of the
wind shield which the driver had turned down at its middle.

"Isn't this comfy?" chirped Mollie.

It did not prove so "comfy" after all, the way Ruth accelerated the
speed, sending the car careening ahead at a high rate.

"Olive," said Bab, mustering courage to introduce a subject that was
near to her heart.

"Yes, dear."

"Would you--would you think me too personal if I asked you to tell us
the story of the buried treasure of Treasureholme?" she asked
hesitatingly.

"Not at all."

"Oh, do tell us," urged Mollie and Grace in one voice.

"I've been just dying to hear about it ever since I first learned there
was such a place as Treasureholme. Are there real ghosts there?"
questioned Mollie.

"No; no ghosts. But there are memories. Listen, girls, and I will tell
you all I know about it," said Olive, settling herself to relate the
tale that was to prove of such fascinating interest to the "Automobile
Girls."



CHAPTER VI

THE WRECK OF MR. A. BUBBLE


"BURIED treasures are such ravishing mysteries," observed Mollie, while
Olive was mentally arranging her facts. "I never thought I should
actually be face to face with one."

"I am sure it must be a grand old place," volunteered Barbara.

"In reality, it is very big and bare," smiled Olive. "But I love every
foot of the old place where I have lived all my life except when I have
been away to school and where my ancestors have lived for oh, ever so
many years."

Olive's eyes filled with tears. Barbara stole a groping hand under the
robe and clasped one of Olive's. The latter pulled herself sharply
together. She gave Bab a grateful look. The sympathy in that gentle hand
clasp had meant more than words to her. Perhaps in that one brief moment
the two girls came to understand each other better than in all the days
that had passed since their first meeting at the opera.

"You know we fully expect to be obliged to give up the place at an early
day. Father's business affairs have been going from bad to worse, until
now there seems to be no hope of our keeping Treasureholme."

"Perhaps it may not be so bad as you imagine," suggested Bab softly.
"'Never give up until you have to.' That is my motto."

"You wouldn't be the Barbara I have heard so much about if it weren't.
But to come to the story. Treasureholme has been in our family, as I
have already said, for many generations. My ancestor who founded the old
place was one of the pioneers here. He was rich when he came here, but
he foresaw a great future for what is now Chicago, so he brought his
family and all his worldly goods here. He said confidently that a great
city was certain to spring up here some day. You see how true was his
prophecy. It was almost uncanny as I look at it now."

The girls nodded, but said nothing.

"Gracious! Did you see that?" called Ruth, with a trace of excitement in
her tone.

"No, no. What is it?" cried the girls.

"Oh, nothing, only I ran down a cow," answered the fair driver, trying
to speak carelessly.

"Ran down a cow!" exclaimed Bab, peering through the curtain windows.

"You needn't look for her. She is a mile or more back now. I didn't run
over her. She appeared so suddenly out of the snow cloud that I didn't
see her until the car was almost on top of her. I must have hit her only
a glancing blow, for I barely felt the jar. I hope I didn't hurt the
poor thing."

"So long as we keep on four wheels, please don't interrupt us," begged
Miss Presby severely, whereat there was a series of giggles from the
girls. "Where was I, girls?"

"Still at Chicago," replied Mollie. "You were speaking of your
ancestor's prophecy."

"Oh, yes. At the time they were living in the garrison, at the first
fort ever built on the Chicago River. You know the Indians were pretty
thick hereabouts at that period."

"Indians!" murmured Grace apprehensively.

"Yes. After a time our ancestors built Treasureholme. That is why it is
so old-fashioned now, though many changes necessarily have been made in
the house since then, but the main part is practically as it was built
by my pioneer ancestor. The boards that were used were laboriously sawed
out and the timbers hewn by hand. It must have taken years to build the
place. Outwardly it now has a more modern appearance, each succeeding
ancestor adding and improving. But for a long time after it was built
there were Indians and bad men hereabouts. This perhaps accounts for
the secret passages and numerous hiding places in the old house."

"Glorious," said Mollie, her eyes dancing.

"One day a message came that the Indians were no longer friendly. My
ancestor was warned to hide his valuables and hasten to the fort with
his family for the safety afforded there. It is believed that the
treasure was buried at that time."

"Money?" asked Barbara.

"Gold and plate and jewels that had been brought from the old country
when the family first came to the new world from England. But, alas, the
garrison was wiped out by the Indians, leaving not a living person who
knew the location of the treasure. Later on other members of the family
came here from the east and took possession. The Presbys have been
living on the estate ever since."

"Has no attempt been made to find the treasure?" questioned Barbara.

"So many attempts that I couldn't count them. Someone always is nosing
about the place for clues. Father has spent a great deal of money in
looking for it himself, but I think he has about given up hope of ever
finding it. It is my idea that some of the other early members of the
family found the hidden treasure, but said nothing about it."

Silence reigned in the automobile for some moments.

"Do you know," said Barbara, breaking the silence, "I think this is an
excellent opportunity for the 'Automobile Girls' to distinguish
themselves further?"

Olive shook her head smilingly.

"It would be effort wasted. Besides, we shall manage to keep your time
so fully occupied that you will have no opportunity to search for buried
treasure."

"What about those secret passages that you spoke of?" asked Grace.

"You shall see them and explore them to your hearts' content. Tom will
show them to you. What Tom doesn't know about the old place, no one else
does. And he knows a lot more about it than any of the rest of the
family. I suspect that he has been making investigations on his own
hook. He, like the boy he is, still has hopes of discovering the buried
treasure."

"Is the gate open?" called Ruth over her shoulder.

"Yes. It hasn't been closed this fall."

"Then I'll drive in in style and make one of my flying stops," answered
Ruth. "We'll make them think a train has left the C., B. & Q. track and
is going to smash the house down. I think they will be surprised. I'll
open up the exhaust just as we get to the house, make a flying stop and
the noise will wake up Olive's scalped ancestors."

"Be careful that you don't hit the house in reality," laughed Olive.
"Remember it is old. It might tumble down. I don't care so much about
the house, but I shouldn't like to see it tumble down on father and
mother."

"Oh, it will not be quite as bad as that. We shall simply be making a
big noise."

"I was only joking," replied Olive. "You don't think I thought for a
minute you would run into the house, do you?"

"That is exactly what I am going to do."

"Ruth Stuart!" exclaimed Bab sternly.

"After I have stopped the car," finished Ruth, with a merry laugh. "But
look here, young ladies, if you keep on talking to me and making me
laugh, I am likely to pile you all in the ditch right here."

"Can you see the road?"

"Yes. Between snow flurries. I can't miss the road. The turn into the
grounds is enclosed in stone fences, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"I'll pick it up all right. You girls look out when I give the word. I
am going to make the turn wide and at full speed. Hold fast!" she cried,
giving the steering wheel a sharp turn. For one giddy moment Mr. A.
Bubble appeared to be uncertain whether to turn turtle or go on the way
he was headed. He decided upon the latter course, and settling down on
all four wheels shot straight ahead. The light was uncertain, but Ruth's
eyes were on the road, all her attention centred on her work. Suddenly
she uttered a sharp little cry. The emergency brake went on with a
shock. Then came a mighty crash. To the girls in the car in their brief
instant of consciousness, it seemed as if the universe were going to
pieces.



CHAPTER VII

THE MYSTERY OF THE IRON GATES


INSTEAD of running into the Presby home, as she had laughingly
threatened to do, Ruth Stuart had dashed at almost full speed into the
closed heavy iron gates at the entrance to the Treasureholme grounds.
These gates were supposed to be open. As Olive had said, they had not
been closed in some months. Why should they be closed now when the
"Automobile Girls" car was looked for to arrive at any moment?

None of the girls was thinking of this at the moment. None was in
condition to think at all. Ruth had discovered the obstruction in time
to throw on the emergency brake, but not quickly enough to stop the
headway of the automobile.

The car crashed against the gates with great force. The heavy iron bars
of the gates buckled under the impact, then with a great creaking and
rattling the hinges gave way, the old brick columns to which the hinges
had been attached crumbled and fell in a cloud of dust and mortar.
Accompanying the crash was the sound of breaking glass. But not a cry
had been raised from the interior of the car, save Ruth's warning.

That cry of warning had set Barbara instantly on the defensive. She
threw both arms about Mollie and Olive. Grace was on the front seat with
Ruth. Bab braced her feet with a mighty effort. Then the crash came.

It seemed to Barbara Thurston as though her arms were being torn from
their sockets. Then the three girls on the rear seat were jerked to
their feet. They toppled over the back of the seat ahead of them,
plunging head first into the forward part of the car, where the
operating mechanism was located.

Ruth and Grace had been hurled against the storm curtain, securely
fastened down between themselves and the glass wind shield. Fortunately
for them, the curtain held for a few seconds until the shower of glass
from the shield had fallen into the roadway, then the curtain gave way
and the two girls tumbled out in the wake of the glass.

The automobile, after the first impact, had recoiled several feet. It
essayed to plunge forward again, but the emergency brake held it
motionless while the motors began to race, making a noise that was heard
in the house, which stood at some distance from the fallen gates.

The "Automobile Girls" lay where they had fallen, Ruth and Grace in the
roadway, Bab, Mollie and Olive in the forward end of the car.

"There they come," cried Mrs. Presby. "Why, what a frightful noise," she
exclaimed, starting for the door, followed by Mr. Presby, with a painful
limp.

Tommy's face turned white when he heard the crash. With a bound he
passed his father and mother, tore down the steps and off down the
drive.

"Something has happened, Richard," cried Mrs. Presby.

"Something will happen to my gout, too, if I have to remain out in this
chill atmosphere," declared Mr. Presby irritably.

"Hurry, hurry!" wailed the distant voice of Tommy.

"Oh, what is it?" cried Mrs. Presby, picking up her skirts and running
down the drive.

"They're killed! They're killed!" howled Tommy. "They've smashed into
the gates. Everything's done. Finished!"

"Run, Richard! Quick! Get help! An accident has occurred," begged
Olive's mother.

The woman was almost beside herself with terror. Tommy's face was
ghastly.

"Here's Ruth," he said, almost brusquely, lifting the girl by main
strength and staggering toward the house. He bore the burden only a few
feet, however, then hastily deposited it on the ground. Ruth was
senseless.

A neighbor had witnessed the accident and with rare forethought
telephoned for a doctor. By this time a general alarm had been sounded.
The old fire bell on Treasureholme had been rung by Mr. Presby as the
quickest method of summoning assistance. Neighbors came on the run. They
were appalled when they first looked upon the wreck of the old gates.
The wreck at first sight appeared to be much worse than it really was.
The automobile motors were still racing, the exhaust emitting frequent
explosions that sounded like the discharge of a Gatling gun. It was
almost as though Mr. A. Bubble were summoning assistance on his own
responsibility.

No time was lost, however, in attending to the five girls. Ruth and
Grace being nearest at hand, were quickly lifted by strong arms and
borne to the house. The three girls still in the automobile were
tenderly lifted out and also carried in. Each girl was placed in the
room that had been set aside for her. The doctor was on hand almost by
the time the girls had been placed on their beds. He made a hasty
diagnosis of each case, announced that no bones had been broken and,
assisted by Mrs. Presby, administered restoratives to the victims of the
accident, who soon recovered consciousness.

No one had thought to send word to Mr. Stuart. The household was too
much upset to think of anything save the accident that had occurred.

Grace and Ruth really had the front storm curtain to thank for saving
their lives. Had they been hurled through the heavy glass wind shield
they undoubtedly would have been killed instantly. Mollie and Olive no
doubt were saved by Barbara Thurston's presence of mind. But Barbara by
devoting her whole effort to saving her companions had been badly
bruised and shaken.

Someone in the meantime had shut off the motors and pushed the car out
of the way. The wreckage of the gates was also cleared away at the
direction of Mr. Presby, so that no one else should collide with it.

The doctor remained at Treasureholme until nine o'clock in the evening.
Before taking his departure, however, he gave strict orders that none of
his patients were to be allowed to leave their beds until he called the
next morning, and pronounced them able to rise and dress.

Mrs. Presby broke down and cried after she learned that the girls were
not seriously injured. Tom went out in the woodshed and wailed so loudly
that he was heard in the rooms upstairs. Mr. Presby hobbled about
irritably. He did not care to have those in the house know how much
affected he really was.

Early the next morning he sent for one of his men. The old gentleman was
now in a fine temper. Owing to the excitement caused by the accident,
and a particularly painful attack of the gout, he had passed a sleepless
night and was therefore in a most unamiable frame of mind.

"Who closed those gates?" roared Mr. Presby the instant the man appeared
in the doorway of the dining room, where the master was hobbling back
and forth.

"I--I don't know, sir."

"You closed them!" thundered Richard Presby.

"I did not. They were open when I last saw them."

"When was that?"

"About an hour before the accident occurred, I think, sir."

"If you didn't close them, who did? Answer me that."

Of course the man could not answer that question. He made no answer at
all, thinking thereby not to further irritate his employer.

"I suppose the gates were closed by some of those rascally treasure
hunters that are continually tearing over my premises, digging holes for
the unwary to fall into and making general nuisances of themselves in
every other way. Drive them off. Pepper them with shot if you can't get
rid of them in any other way. I may not be here for long, but while I am
here, I'm the master of Treasureholme. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," answered the man humbly, his face reflecting no expression
at all.

Mr. Presby thumped back and forth with his cane for nearly an hour after
that, despite the fact that every step he took sent excruciating pains
through his gouty foot. Finally retiring to the library, he went to
sleep in his Morris chair, with the troublesome foot propped up on a
stool.

Early in the forenoon Mrs. Presby communicated with Miss Sallie and Mr.
Stuart, telling them as much of the details of the accident as was
known. Ten minutes later Robert Stuart and Miss Sallie were on their way
to Treasureholme as fast as an automobile could carry them. The girls
were asleep when they arrived. The doctor, who had arrived in the
meantime, would not permit his patients to be disturbed. He assured Mr.
Stuart, however, that the girls had providentially escaped with a few
slight scratches and bruises and that they would all be up before the
end of the day.

But the mystery of the closed gates was disturbing the entire household.
It was inexplicable. Mr. Presby declared that it was the work either of
his enemies or of some treasure-seeker who thought he was doing the
owner a service by closing his gates for him.

Late that afternoon the five girls appeared in the dining room little
the worse for their shaking up, although Barbara was far more lame and
sore than she would admit. A general season of rejoicing ensued, and
several neighbors dropped in to congratulate the girls on their
miraculous escape from serious injury.

On seeing her father, Ruth's first question was, "What happened to A.
Bubble?"

Mr. Stuart did not know. He promised to find out, which he did an hour
or so later. Mr. A. Bubble, he told her, would be sent to a shop for
repairs the next day, as he intended going back to Chicago that night
and would attend to it. The radiator had been badly bent, the forward
axle had buckled, guards were smashed, the hood was damaged, in short,
Mr. Bubble presented a most disreputable appearance.

Mr. Stuart told Ruth she was in a certain degree responsible for the
accident, still she had no thought that the gates would be closed.

"I'll know enough after this to keep my car under control. I won't try
to knock over any more houses and things," Ruth retorted.

By the afternoon of their second day at Treasureholme the "Automobile
Girls" had practically gotten over the effects of their accident and
were cosily established in Olive's room consuming hot chocolate and
cakes while Olive, at their urgent request, again recounted the story of
the buried treasure. Now that they were face to face with the great
mystery, they were alive with curiosity. They were burning to see with
their own eyes the place that held so much of mystery and perhaps a
fortune that was probably being trodden over by human feet every hour of
the day.



CHAPTER VIII

EXPLORING THE SECRET PASSAGE


"I CERTAINLY do adore this room!" exclaimed Mollie Thurston, with
glowing eyes.

The "Automobile Girls" and Olive were sitting in the dining room of old
Treasureholme. It was a massive, but cheerful room, the ceiling studded
with great beams. A fireplace constructed of boulders of varying shapes
and sizes, large enough to take a six-foot log, occupied the greater
part of one side of the room. Olive Presby had been telling her guests
various anecdotes relating to Treasureholme and as usual the
conversation had turned to the tale of the long-lost treasure.

An old-fashioned bookcase, extending all the way across one end of the
room, was filled with leather-bound books. Bab regarded them longingly.
She made up her mind to browse among these old volumes at the first
opportunity.

"Help yourself any time you wish," smiled Olive, who had observed Bab's
eager glances at the bookcase. Barbara blushed that her thoughts should
have been read so easily.

"Oh, I should love to!" she answered simply.

Mollie cast an apprehensive glance about her.

"Are you sure there are no ghosts in this old place?" she asked.

"Of course not. What made you think of that?" laughed Ruth.

"In all the stories I ever read about buried treasure there was sure to
be a ghost to guard it," replied Mollie. "Perhaps Treasureholme has a
ghost, too. At any rate, I feel spooky."

"So do I," agreed Grace. "Did you hear that noise?"

"It sounds to me like rats or mice," ventured Barbara. "Of course it is.
I know the sound. I hope they don't come out while I am here."

A hush fell over the little party of "Automobile Girls." A gentle
scratching that seemed to come from the left side of the fireplace was
audible to each of them. As they listened the sound seemed to magnify. A
draft through the open door that led into the hallway smote Mollie in
the back of the neck. She sprang up, uttering a little cry.

"It's a ghost. I felt it blow on my neck," she cried.

"Nonsense! I'll soon show you the ghost," offered Ruth, starting to her
feet. "I know this old place pretty well. May I, Olive?"

Olive nodded smilingly. Ruth stepped to the left side of the fireplace
and, grasping a knob that had escaped the observation of the
Kingsbridge girls, deliberately pulled out a panel that was in reality a
door.

The girls uttered exclamations of amazement. Then they saw something
move in the dark recess the door had revealed. It was Tom, sitting in
the hole in the wall, with his feet curled up under him. He was grinning
sardonically.

"Here's your ghost," announced Ruth, taking firm hold of the
irrepressible Tom's collar and assisting him out into the room. "You
ought to be ashamed of yourself, Thomas Presby, frightening young women
in that fashion."

"Yes, Tom, I am ashamed of you," rebuked Olive. But Tom was perfectly
cheerful and unabashed.

"A secret passage?" gasped Mollie.

"It's a sort of underground passage, built to look like an old-fashioned
Dutch oven," explained Olive.

"Per--perhaps the treasure is buried there," suggested Bab scarcely
above a whisper.

Tom laughed derisively. Olive smiled tolerantly.

"If it ever was hidden there, it was taken out long, long ago. That
passage has been known for some generations, I believe," said Olive.

"How ever did you get in there?" demanded Ruth, a sudden thought
occurring to her.

"Find out," grinned Tom.

"There must be another entrance to it, isn't there, Olive?"

"Not that I know of. Is there, Tom?"

"Maybe and maybe not."

"Oh, please tell us. Can't you see we are burning with curiosity?"
begged Bab.

"I'll show the place to any girl who's got the sand to go in there with
me," answered Tom Presby.

All the girls, except Barbara, drew back. She was regarding the boy
questioningly.

"Will you show me?" she asked.

"You bet I will if you've got the nerve."

"Don't trust him," warned the girls.

"I am not afraid of one small boy, especially Tom," answered Bab, with a
twinkle in her eyes. "But, Master Tom, if you try to play any tricks on
me it will be a sorry day for you. You can't play tricks on the
'Automobile Girls' without getting into trouble, remember. Olive, may I
go?"

"Of course, if you wish," smiled Miss Presby. "I have been in there ever
so many times, and"--with a blush--"I have dug and dug in there."

The girls laughed merrily, all save Bab, who was thoughtful. The
impression was strong with her that somehow this passage was connected
directly or indirectly with the secret of the lost treasure.

"Take a light with you. I won't go in in the dark," declared Barbara.

Tom produced a candle and lighted it. Barbara crawled into the dark hole
after him. The others crowded about, peering in wonderingly.

"Close the door," commanded Tom.

Barbara pretended to do so, but left a crack through which the light
from the dining room filtered faintly.

"Don't you girls dare to fasten the door," she called. "I should die of
fright if I thought I was locked in this hole."

"We'll come in by way of the front door," called back Tom, as he began
burrowing into the hole. The place was inky black save for the faint
light shed by the candle. "Don't be afraid. After we get out from under
the house you will be able to stand up."

"Oh! Is the passage so long as that?" gasped Bab. "I--I guess I don't
want to go any further. I'll explore with you to-morrow."

"It won't be any lighter in the daytime," reminded the boy. "It's always
dark down here." He was getting further and further away from her.

"Thomas Presby, you come right back here," commanded Barbara. "I won't
go another step."

"'Fraid cat!" jeered Thomas.

"I'm not!" retorted Bab, starting forward. She knew she could easily
find her way back again. She bumped her head against the roof of the
passage several times. The place smelled stuffy and mouldy, though the
girl realized that a faint current of air was passing through the
tunnel. All at once she discovered that the passage had grown larger.
She was able to stand up without difficulty. She then made a further
discovery. Tom and his light had disappeared.

"Tom! Oh, Tom!" cried Barbara.

There was no answer. The silence was so deep that it made her ears ring.
At first the girl was panic stricken, then she reasoned out her
situation more calmly. She had only to retrace her steps to return to
the dining room. Tom no doubt had eluded her and left the passage
through an exit known only to himself. She would show him that she was
as good as any boy.

"I'll go straight back," declared Barbara. But somehow the "going back"
was not accomplished with the ease that she had hoped for. The way
seemed much longer than had been the case when she was on her way in.
Bab was peering ahead of her, expecting every moment to catch sight of
the light from the dining room. She would have called out to her
companions, only she did not want them to know that she was in trouble
or that she was afraid.

Barbara had been in the low-ceilinged passage for some time when she
came in contact with a solid wall. She gave a glad little exclamation,
believing that she had reached the panel that led into the dining room.
She had now but to rap and her companions would open the panel. The wind
must have blown the panel shut. Barbara put out her hands and began
groping for the panel. To her horror, there was no panel there. Her
hands found nothing but earth. Some moments had elapsed when Barbara
Thurston realized that she was in a predicament.

"I am lost!" she groaned. "Oh, what shall I do?"

The girl decided to call for assistance. There seemed to be no other
way. She raised her voice and shouted, but, to her amazement, the shout
was merely a feeble call that could not have been heard many feet away.
The low walls deadened the sound of her voice.

A little investigation convinced her that she had strayed into a short
blind passage. Having made this discovery, she began creeping back,
hugging the right-hand wall of the passage, believing that the main
passage must begin on the right-hand side. In this she was correct.

Barbara had proceeded but a short distance before she found the junction
of the two passages. She had not observed this shorter passage when
following Tom, and no doubt he had known that she would be almost sure
to lose her way, just as she had done. But there was no Tom present on
whom to vent her displeasure. Neither was Barbara yet out of the tunnel.
For all she knew she might be in a wholly new passage. Before going
ahead she sat down to think over her situation carefully.

"No, I can't be mistaken. I must be right. But I ought to see the light
from the dining room from this point. However, I will go on and trust to
luck."

Barbara started on at once, though she took no chance of losing herself.
Every foot of the walls on either side was carefully groped over by her
hands as she made her way. The earth felt cold and damp. To touch it
made her shiver. But Barbara was plucky. She continued bravely on.

"Oh, there's the light," she cried. "I'll call to let them know I am
coming. No, I won't. I'll give them a scare. Lucky for me that I kept my
head. I might have been lost in that short passage and never found
again. How terrible. But an 'Automobile Girl' never gives up. I hear
voices. The girls must be wondering what has become of me. I think I
hear Tom in the dining room. I wonder what I had better do to punish him
for the trick he played on me? I shall have to think it over. I----

"Gracious! What would I do if the girls should happen to have company in
the old dining room? I shouldn't dare to come out, for I know I must
look a fright." Bab soon reached the panel, which was still as she had
left it upon entering the passage. Then as she craned her neck forward
and peered into the dining room she uttered a smothered exclamation.

Mr. and Mrs. Presby were sitting facing the fire, talking. The girl in
the passage drew back as she saw Mr. Presby's eye fixed upon the panel.
He appeared to be looking straight at her. A moment more and she was
convinced that he was not.

Bab was in a quandary. She dared not show herself. What would they think
of her, their daughter's guest, were she to be seen crawling from a hole
in the wall? Her first meeting with Mr. Presby had been unfortunate
enough. He surely would not forgive her for this exploit. Then the humor
of the situation dawned upon her. Bab stuffed her handkerchief into her
mouth so that they might not hear her giggles.

All at once she ceased laughing and sat up very straight.

"Nathan Bonner called on me at my office to-day. It was of that that I
wished to speak with you, and that is why I asked the girls to leave the
room." Mr. Presby was speaking.

"Did he wish to help you?"

"He intimated something of the sort. What he did want was permission to
call on Olive."

"Oh!" The exclamation escaped Mrs. Presby unwittingly.

"And you told him----?"

"No. Not with my permission. Bonner is a very rich man, Jane--and an
unscrupulous one I am informed. I know little more about him, except
that he has come to be an important figure on the Board of Trade. His
rise has been phenomenal. I don't care for the man, however. I do not
consider him the sort of man that Olive would like."

"You wish me to speak with her upon the subject?" asked Aunt Jane.

"No!" The word came out with explosive force. "The incident is closed. I
am not so base as to consider for a moment the idea of my daughter
making a rich alliance some day for the sake of retrieving our financial
affairs. I am simply confiding the facts to you, that you may be
governed accordingly."

Jane Presby rose, and, going over to her husband, kissed him tenderly on
the forehead.

"You are a noble man, Richard."

"Has it taken you all these years to find that out?" retorted Mr. Presby
testily.

"I have always known it," answered Mrs. Presby simply.

"What do you know about this Jack Howard's attentions to Olive?" he
demanded sharply.

"They are childhood friends. Olive is still our baby, Richard. She has
no thought of leaving us, I am sure. At least not in a long, long time."

Barbara, realizing that she was listening to a family conference, had
suddenly shrunk back further into the corridor. She still could hear
their voices. She retired further into the passage. Now their voices
reached her ears in a confused murmur. The girl crouched down, waiting.
The words of Mr. Presby had not made a very great impression on her,
except that he had objected to one Nathan Bonner calling on his
daughter. Who Nathan Bonner was Bab did not know.

Words, clear and distinct, spoken by Richard Presby, now reached Barbara
plainly. He was speaking of another matter, one that was near to the
heart of the "Automobile Girl" crouching there in the secret passage of
the old mansion. Barbara's face blanched as she heard and understood
what Mr. Presby was saying. She was powerless to shut her ears to the
words. Mr. Presby's further remarks were brief. He rose and stamped from
the room, followed a few seconds later by his wife.

Barbara crept forward to the panel, peered out cautiously to make sure
that there was no one there, then, throwing wide the panel, stepped into
the dining room, and, gathering her skirts about her, fled to her room
on the next floor. She could hear the girls laughing and talking in
Olive Presby's room.

Reaching her bedroom, Barbara Thurston threw herself on the bed, and
sobbed as though her heart would break.



CHAPTER IX

IN AN INDIAN GRAVEYARD


IT was Olive who found Bab there. She halted in the doorway, gazing in
in amazement.

"Why, Barbara Thurston! What can be the matter with you?" cried Olive.
"We thought you were exploring the secret passages under the old house,
and here you are crying all by your lonely little self. Where is Tom?"
demanded Miss Presby, with growing suspicion in her eyes.

"I--I don't know," confessed Barbara weakly.

"See here, Bab, did Tom play any tricks on you?"

"Nothing of any account. He went out by some other exit. I returned the
way I came. I am going back there to-morrow, if you do not object. I
must solve the mystery of that secret passage."

"You are a dear!" exclaimed Olive, kissing Bab affectionately.

At this juncture Ruth Stuart came in, having heard Bab's voice as she
was passing through the hall.

"Bab! When did you get back?" exclaimed Ruth. "Oh, I beg your pardon,"
she added, laughingly, as she discovered Olive and Bab engaged in
serious conversation. "I see I am intruding."

"Come in, Ruth," answered Olive. "I found Bab crying here. I think Tom
must have played pranks on her. Wait until I get my hands on the young
man. You say you haven't seen him since you left the passage, Barbara?"

Bab shook her head.

"I shall find him at once," announced Olive, rising and starting for the
door.

"Please, please don't scold him," begged Bab. "Really, it isn't that
that is the matter with me." But Olive insisted and went on her way in
search of the irrepressible Tommy. Ruth stepped over and sat on the edge
of the bed, gazing down at Barbara.

"Now, tell me all about it," urged Ruth gently.

"There--there isn't anything to tell," murmured Bab.

"I know what the trouble is. You are homesick," declared Ruth Stuart.
"To-morrow we have planned to give you an interesting day. We are going
to explore the old place and I am going to take you to the Indian
Cemetery. Quite likely some of the same gentlemen who scalped Olive's
ancestors are buried out there. Bab, do you love me just the same as you
used to?" asked the girl, bending a questioning gaze on Barbara's
tear-stained face.

"You ought not to ask me that question, dear," answered Bab. "You know I
do. It seems to me that I have known you for ever and ever so many
years. Perhaps our friendship began in some other life. Sometimes I
think it must have. But you haven't acted quite the same of late. It has
seemed to me that you didn't love me as dearly as you used to and the
thought has hurt me, oh, so much, Ruth."

"Why, Bab Thurston, how can you say so?" exclaimed Ruth. "I love you
better than any other girl I've ever known. You ought to know that. The
truth of the matter is that I am worried, dear. I have not been quite
myself of late. I'm worried about father. Was--was it that that made you
cry, dear?"

"Not exactly. I was crying because--because I felt sorry for you
and--and for----"

"For whom?"

Barbara shook her head and closed her lips firmly.

"I shan't say another word. Please don't ask me. I want to think. If you
don't mind, I am going to bed. Must I go downstairs first?"

"No, child. You tumble right in. I will tell the folks you are not
feeling quite well. I want to speak to Olive before I go to bed,
anyway."

"Tell them that I am going to bed, please."

"Yes."

"Please also say good night to Mr. and Mrs. Presby for me, won't you?"

Ruth said she would do so, and hurried from the room. She stopped in
Olive's room to tell the other "Automobile Girls" not to disturb Bab,
who had gone to bed feeling a little indisposed.

On the following morning matters appeared to have adjusted themselves to
the satisfaction of all, for the girls were in their brightest mood. Bab
now and then grew sober and thoughtful, but strove to throw off the
feeling of depression that persisted in taking possession of her.

"I have a note from father," announced Ruth. "He says Mr. A. Bubble has
entirely recovered. There were some broken bones, but these have been
mended. Bubble is to be returned to us to-day, and then we will have a
jolly ride."

"I sincerely trust there will be no gates in the way this time,"
observed Mrs. Presby, smilingly.

"Never fear. I have had my lesson," answered Ruth, flushing a little. "I
never thought it would be possible for me to get into so much trouble
with a motor car. Shall we show the girls the Indian burying ground this
morning?"

"You take them, Ruth, if you will, please," answered Olive. "I must help
mother with some family matters. You know more about the old cemetery
than I do."

They started out shortly after breakfast, full of keen anticipation.
Just outside the house Tom joined them. He had with him Olive's big
setter dog, "General." Bab pinched Tommy's ear playfully.

"You were a naughty boy last night," she said.

"But you didn't find out where I got out, just the same," jeered Tom.

"No, but I am going to."

"I'll bet you don't."

"I shall. See if I don't. By the way, Tom, have they found out yet who
closed those gates the night we ran into them?" asked Barbara
carelessly. She and Tom had fallen behind the others.

"No-o-o-o," answered the boy, giving her a quick glance. Bab's face told
him nothing.

"I suppose you haven't the slightest idea who could have done that?"

"How should I know anything about it?"

"I thought perhaps you might have done it; you are such a very smart
young man," observed Barbara soberly. "Couldn't you even guess?"

"No. Could you?"

"I don't have to guess."

Tommy regarded her shrewdly.

"What do you mean?"

"I don't have to guess because I _know_. You closed those gates, Tom
Presby. You thought it would be a good joke to fool Olive and Ruth and
the rest of us. I'm not sure but that you thought you would be taking a
proper revenge on poor me for sitting down on you that night at Stuarts'
house. You came near causing the death of five girls with what you
thought only a prank, young man," added Bab, in her most severe tone. "I
should think you would be ashamed of yourself."

Tommy's face grew very pale. Beads of perspiration broke out on his
forehead.

"Don't tell father. Don't, please don't. He'd skin me alive if he knew I
did that. How'd you find out?"

"You told me," answered Bab, now with a merry twinkle in her eyes. "I
guessed it first, then you admitted it just now."

"That was a mean trick. Nobody but a girl would take such a mean
advantage of a fellow."

"Nobody but a mischievous boy would intentionally cause an automobile
smash-up and endanger the lives of five girls, including his sister,"
rebuked Barbara. "What do you think I ought to do with you?"

"You aren't going to tell the governor? Oh, don't say you are. I'll do
anything for you! Say, I like you better than all the rest, Bab. Honest
and true I do. I'll show you how I got out of the hole last night if you
won't give it away. I'll show you everything I know about the old place.
You aren't going to squeal on a fellow, are you?"

"No, Tom, I'm not," answered Bab, laughing heartily. "Nor am I going to
ask you to show me the exit from the secret passage. If I can't find it
out for myself, I don't want to know."

Tommy regarded her admiringly.

"Say, you're a good sport, aren't you? I'll show you anyhow, for that."

About this time the setter dog, General, attracted the attention of the
girls by diving into a hole in the base of a great tree that stood some
little distance from the house. Nothing but his tail was visible. Tom
soon had a firm grip on this and was hauling the angry General out to
the accompaniment of merry shouts from the girls.

Ruth explained that this tree was an old landmark. It had been there
ever since the oldest inhabitant could remember. It was known as "Old
Sentinel," having stood sentinel over Treasureholme for at least a
hundred years.

"What is in that hole?" demanded Bab.

"General's buried treasure," answered Tom carelessly. "He hides his beef
bones there."

Now they moved on together, making an attractive picture as they walked.
Grace and Ruth were the only ones of the party who wore furs. Mollie
wore her heavy dark-blue traveling coat, with a gentian-blue scarf tied
about her throat. Bab, with a scarlet wing perched at a jaunty angle in
her brown cloth hat, reminded one of a robin redbreast.

"You don't think you will catch cold?" asked Ruth solicitiously.

Bab assured her that they would not, to which Ruth made no reply, though
she hugged a dark Christmas secret closer to her heart and chuckled
inwardly.

"There is the old burying ground," she announced finally, pointing to a
succession of hillocks a short distance ahead of them. These were of a
mushroom shape, with the tops sloping gently to the ground. The girls
thought them the most curious-looking graves they ever had seen. They
observed a very large mound in the centre. Ruth explained that this was
supposed to be the grave of an Indian chief.

"If that is true, his weapons and his faithful dog are buried beside
him," continued Ruth. "These graves, I believe, are very old. No one
appears to know just how old they are. Do you wish to see the rest of
them?"

The girls did. Mollie suggested that perhaps if they remained there long
enough they might possibly meet the ghost of the old chief.

"What would you do if we should?" questioned Ruth whimsically.

"I'd run," answered Mollie promptly.

"I rather think the rest of us would not be slow in following you,"
agreed Ruth.

"I should think the Presbys would feel spooky all the time with so many
queer things about them," observed Grace. "There's mystery all over the
old house, and there are goodness knows how many dead Indians and things
on the outside."

"Only girls are afraid," spoke up Tommy.

"Only girls?" questioned Bab, with a significant glance at the boy.
Tommy subsided instantly. Then all of a sudden General stiffened his
tail, uttered a low, menacing growl and stood pointing his nose in the
direction of a mound that reached higher than any of the others.

"What is it, General?" asked Ruth, gazing in the direction of the
point.

"He smells somebody," volunteered Tommy. "Don't be afraid. I'm here," he
added, swelling out his chest.

"It's a man!" cried Mollie. "He's there hiding behind that mound. I saw
him peer over the top just now. Oh, let's run. Hurry, girls!"

Tommy cast a withering look at Mollie and, whistling to the dog to
follow him, trudged toward the mound in question. Bab promptly followed
him, with Ruth not far behind her.



CHAPTER X

MEETING A TREASURE HUNTER


GENERAL made a leap over the high mound. There came a growl, then a
sharp bark.

"Down, General!" commanded a manly voice.

A young man wearing rough clothes and a broad-brimmed soft hat, from
under which looked out a pleasant face, appeared, facing the girls.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I thought perhaps you might not see me.
You are from the house yonder. I know Miss Stuart by sight and the
General and myself are old friends."

The young man stuffed some papers into his pockets. As yet none of the
party had spoken.

"Hello, Bob. Is that you?" greeted Tommy.

"Yes. You caught me this time."

"You bet I did!"

"Won't you introduce me to your friends, so I may apologize to them for
my peculiar actions?"

"Oh, they're only girls," answered Tom airily. "What are you doing
here?"

"I am Robert Stevens, young ladies. I live near by. The Presbys are
friends of mine."

The girls were beginning to feel more at ease. He was not a desperate
character, after all. Their adventure had ended in nothing more than
meeting a friendly neighbor. Ruth stepped forward at this juncture.

"I am on a treasure hunt," said Stevens, smiling sheepishly.

The girls were on the alert on the instant.

"Treasure hunting!" exclaimed Barbara. "Where are your pick and shovel?"

"Oh, I haven't gotten that far yet," laughed Bob.

The girls decided that they liked Mr. Bob Stevens, and what was more,
they were keenly interested in his statement that he was hunting for the
lost treasure.

"I may as well be frank with you," he said, flushing. "Ever since I was
Tommy's age I have hoped to find some day the fabled pot of gold, or
whatever the treasure may be. My grandfather before he died gave me maps
and diagrams that he had made. He was as mad on the subject of the
buried treasure as the rest of us," explained Stevens. "It was his idea
that it would be found not far from the lake. He thought the Presbys had
naturally planned to return by water for the treasure in case they had
to flee from the fort. I have worked the ground near the lake
thoroughly. Now I am trying this strip of woods, working out from these
Indian mounds."

"Is the trail hot or cold?" questioned Bab.

"Very cold. Almost colder than the atmosphere to-day. Still, I have
hopes."

"If you were to find the treasure what would you do with it?" demanded
Ruth severely.

"Do with it? Why, I should turn it over to its rightful owner," answered
Stevens. "It's the sport of the search that interests me. You did not
think I would keep what doesn't belong to me, did you?"

The girls murmured their apologies.

"Please tell Mr. Presby that you found me here. Perhaps I had better go
back with you. May I?"

"Come along, Bob. Father will be glad to see you," said Tom, answering
for them. The girls offered no objections, so the young man accompanied
them, walking beside Tommy and General.

"You young ladies might be interested in looking over those old maps and
diagrams," suggested their new acquaintance.

"Indeed we would," agreed Barbara enthusiastically.

"Another thing I'd like to say, if you will permit me. Were I in your
place, I wouldn't go into the woods back there alone. There are people
hanging about this estate who are little better than tramps."

"What do you mean?" asked Grace.

"The news has been circulated that the Presbys are going to lose the old
place. There are a choice lot of gentlemen nosing about here hoping to
get a clue to the treasure before another owner takes charge. I heard
yesterday that some fellow from the city is planning to put men to work
here systematically. I don't know how true it is."

"They wouldn't dare to dig for treasure on another man's property,"
retorted Ruth indignantly.

"They wouldn't have to dig until they had located the treasure. Then
they might dig it up in the night and be off before anyone else was the
wiser."

"I don't believe there is any danger in our going where we please about
these grounds. I have been here a good many times, Mr. Stevens, and you
are the first stranger I have ever met on the grounds," declared Ruth.

"There are two men back there in the woods now," answered Bob
carelessly.

The girls stopped short and stood gazing at the forest that lay beyond
the Indian burying ground.

"Are you sure of that?"

Stevens nodded.

"I saw them," he replied, "watching you all the time you were coming
toward the mounds. I was watching them, though they didn't know that."

"Why don't you speak to Mr. Presby and have him put them off the
premises?" demanded Barbara.

"It wouldn't do any good. The fellows would take good care to keep off
the place while a search was being made for them. There's Miss Olive
waiting for you."

"Oh, how do you do, Mr. Stevens? I am glad you are with the girls," said
Olive. "Father was disturbed when he found they had gone over to the
Indian mounds alone. He said it wasn't safe to do that. Have you met my
friends, Mr. Stevens?"

"In a somewhat unceremonious fashion," laughed Stevens.

"Father wants to see you. I'll venture that I can guess how you chanced
to meet the girls," smiled Olive. "Now confess that you were treasure
hunting."

"I confess. Where may I find your father?"

"In the library. Go right in."

Bob Stevens promised the girls that he would show them his diagrams
after he had finished his conference with Mr. Presby. Then, raising his
hat to them, he set off toward the house. Mr. and Mrs. Presby were fond
of Robert Stevens. He was of good family, and well educated for a
country boy. His people were comfortably situated and Robert's ambition
was to help his friends, the Presbys, find the treasure that he never
had doubted was hidden somewhere on the estate.

But the girls did not see him again that day. Ruth's motor car had
arrived by the time they reached the house. The girls ate a hurried
luncheon and set off for a long ride before the two men had finished
their conference. It was almost dinner time when they returned with rosy
cheeks and sparkling eyes, greatly invigorated after their drive. A.
Bubble had behaved himself splendidly. Ruth said he worked much better
than before the accident. Bab suggested that it might be an excellent
idea to have him collide with a pair of stout iron gates at regular
intervals.

Bob Stevens had left his maps and diagrams for the girls to look over,
which they did after dinner. They were unable to make anything out of
the lines and figures of the treasure hunter. Mollie declared that the
man who made them must surely have been insane.

For an hour after dinner the Presbys and their guests chatted in what
was called the drawing room, a long, low, barn-like apartment, almost
rustic in its fittings and furnishings. The dining room being cleared,
Olive called the girls there. They found the room in darkness save for
the light shed by the fire in the fireplace and five candles arranged on
the sideboard.

"One for each girl present," explained Olive.

"To light us to bed?" questioned Mollie.

"No, indeed," smiled Olive. "Bedtime is still a long way off. We are
going to have a feast by candle light."

"I couldn't eat another mouthful after the dinner we had to-night. It
would be a physical impossibility," declared Bab.

"Don't make any rash assertions until you see what I have provided for
you in the way of a feast," replied Olive, as she took a large, flat tin
box from the lower compartment of the old-fashioned sideboard. "Ruth,"
she continued, "if you will draw the rugs up close to the fireplace we
will lose no time in beginning the festivities."

Ruth Stuart did so, arranging the rugs in a semi-circle. But the
interest of the girls was centred on the tin box, not on the rugs, just
at that time. Then Olive brought out five long, slender white sticks,
which she distributed among the girls.

"Aren't you going to open the box?" begged Grace anxiously. "Can't you
see we are dying with curiosity to know what is inside?"

"Bab, you may open the box."

The cover was off almost before the words had left Olive's lips.

"Marshmallows!" cried the girls in chorus. "Oh, isn't that simply
glorious?"

"And such a lot of them, too," added Grace Carter.

"Five pounds," Olive informed them. "We are about to sit down to a
marshmallow toast. Eat all you wish, but for goodness sake do not make
yourselves sick."

"She means you, Mollie," teased Ruth.

"The coat doesn't fit me, however," retorted Mollie. "But I do love
marshmallows. Do we toast them over the flames of the candles?"

"No," replied Olive, as she placed the five-pound box of sweets on the
rug between them and the fire. The girls sat down on the rug, with their
feet curled under them. Each speared a marshmallow and thrust it close
to the fire. Little blue flames rose from the white cubes and a
tantalizing odor filled the air.

"Oh, dear me. Mine's gone into the fire," cried Mollie in distress. "It
just melted away."

"So did mine," answered Barbara, "but it melted in my mouth."

"How nice of you to think of this, Olive. Thank you ever so much,"
glowed Grace Carter.

"This isn't my treat. My part is to carry out the little surprise. Mr.
Stuart sent out the marshmallows to me, asking me to give you girls a
toast. It is a real treat, isn't it?"

"Glorious!" breathed the girls.

"Did you children ever do fire-gazing?" asked Olive after a moment of
silence as the girls helped themselves to the sweets.

The "Automobile Girls" confessed their ignorance of the game. Olive
explained that each girl was to gaze into the fire then describe what
forms or figures appeared to grow out of the flames or coals.

"I see a red automobile," cried Mollie, almost as soon as she had fixed
her gaze on the fire. "And, oh, look at the man driving it! He is all in
red, wears a pointed beard and has a cloven foot. Isn't he a frightful
looking creature?"

"Your imagination needs no encouragement," declared Olive. "Let us hope
that the gentleman with the cloven foot may drive his car up the chimney
flue and fly away. What do you see, Ruth?"

"I see a fiery pit with a lot of imps dancing about, hurling balls of
fire at each other."

"Your turn, Barbara."

Bab was gazing at the fire in wrapt attention.

"I see a black chest, but I can't see what it holds, for the cover is
down. There goes the cover! Oh, look, girls! See the gold and the
sparkling jewels! See the golden coins glitter in the light of the fire!
Oh, oh, oh!"

"Money? Money? Where?" cried Mollie. "I want some of that money."

The spell was broken in a merry laugh. Mollie laughed, too, then turned
her gaze toward the window, for her eyes were smarting from the heat.
Suddenly her face took on a frightened expression, the color fading from
it.

"Look! Oh, look!" she gasped, scarcely above a whisper.

What they saw made the "Automobile Girls'" faces turn white with fear.



CHAPTER XI

GIVING AN ATTIC PARTY


PEERING in at them was a hideous yellow face with a nose that in the
light from the room seemed to be fiery red. The face was pressed against
the window pane. Now a long-drawn, dismal groan sounded from the other
side of the window.

"It's a ghost!" cried Grace.

Barbara, however, had seen more than the other girls, and, mustering up
all her courage, ran to the door.

"Come back!" called the girls anxiously. Bab kept on, unheeding their
cries. As she jerked the outside door open, they heard a crash and the
frightful face suddenly disappeared from the window. Ruth and Olive
rushed to the door. Both girls remembered that an old rain barrel had
stood under that window for a long time.

"I've got the spook!" shouted Bab triumphantly. "I picked it out of the
rain barrel." She came in, dragging by an ear the irrepressible Tom.

"Thomas Warrington Presby, what does this mean?" demanded Olive
sternly.

"The--the rain barrel went to pieces," complained Tom.

"Oh! Was it you who scared us out of our wits?" questioned Mollie.

"I knew it was a false face almost the instant I saw it," said Barbara.
"Thomas, I fear I shall have to turn you over to your father. You have
evidently forgotten some things."

Tom wriggled, his face worked anxiously.

"Please don't. Maul me, do anything you want to punish me. I won't
squeal, but don't peach to father."

"Girls, what shall we do with him?" asked Bab.

"I move we make him sit down on the rug and eat marshmallows," suggested
Ruth.

"The very idea," agreed Mollie.

"But we want them ourselves," objected Grace.

"I have another box," admitted Olive. "Your father sent two boxes,
though I did not intend to tell you about the second one just yet."

It was agreed that Tom's punishment should be a sweet one. Tom grinned
broadly.

"Those things are for girls. I can swallow a boxful without winking an
eyelid," he declared. "Gimme the box."

"No, Thomas, you aren't going to eat them that way. We are going to wait
on you and help you to every mouthful," answered Barbara sweetly. "It
isn't every boy who has five nice girls to wait on him when he eats. Is
it, Tommy?"

"No," answered the boy in a doubtful tone. He did not exactly like the
look of things now. Barbara placed a firm hand on his arm and set him
down on a rug in front of the fireplace. Tommy was closer to the fire
than was comfortable, but there seemed to be no escape for him. The five
girls speared as many marshmallows, toasted them and thrust them flaming
at the boy. Tommy gulped down the first one with evident enjoyment. Four
others went down easily. Tommy decided that marshmallows were pretty
good stuff. He called for more, and got them. There was always a stick
with a flaming cube on the end of it ready to be thrust into his mouth.
Tommy rolled his eyes with satisfaction.

"I could take punishment like this for a week at a stretch. More!"

Still the girls fed him. Even Olive was gentle and considerate. Tommy
did not recall ever having seen her more so. All the girls were very
kind to him, but there was a mischievous twinkle in their eyes that
Tommy was not astute enough to read.

[Illustration: "I've Got the Spook," Shouted Bab Triumphantly.]

After a time the marshmallows began to take on a bitter taste. He did
not appear to be eating them with the same relish as before.

"That stuff's no good for men," he jeered.

"Have another, Tommy," answered Bab, thrusting a blue flame into the
boy's face.

"You needn't burn a fellow up," he rebuked, then swallowed the
marshmallow with a gulp.

"Here, Tommy, is a nice, large one," added Mollie.

Tom's eyes were rolling. His face that had appeared very red when he
first sat down before the fire, had grown several shades paler. The
girls continued to feed him with marshmallows, forcing one after another
upon him.

"I won't take another----" Tom did not finish what he had started to
say. Olive thrust a hot marshmallow into the boy's open mouth. Tommy
closed his mouth instantly, but not soon enough. The hot sweet clung to
the roof of his mouth, bringing from Tommy a yell of pain.

"I'll be even with you girls for this," he howled, the tears starting
from his eyes as he bounded for the kitchen for a drink of water. A
shout of merry laughter followed him. Tommy felt very sick and staggered
off to bed, where, half an hour later, his mother found him groaning. In
response to Mrs. Presby's anxious inquiries, Tommy explained that he had
an "awful stomachache."

"He deserved it," declared Olive. "He will learn to let us girls alone,
I hope. Nevertheless, we got even with him this time."

"Yes, revenge is sweet," observed Bab, whereat the girls groaned
dismally.

       *       *       *       *       *

It had been decided that the "Automobile Girls" and Olive were to drive
into Chicago on the following morning to bring Miss Sallie and Mr.
Stuart also to Treasureholme, if he could be induced to return with
them. Ruth felt too that Mr. A. Bubble had not been getting enough
exercise of late. Her companions agreed with her. But the next morning
dawned most disappointingly. A great gale was blowing in from Lake
Michigan, accompanied by blinding flurries of snow. It was not a
cheerful outlook. The day was dark and the wind bitter cold.

Ruth was for starting out just the same, but a telephone call from Miss
Sallie while the girls were at breakfast was to the effect that Mr.
Stuart had absolutely forbidden their starting out in such a storm.

"I am sorry, girls, but when dad puts it that way he means what he says.
I speak from long experience," declared Ruth. "We shall have to wait
until to-morrow."

"This storm is likely to last for some days," announced Mr. Presby.

Ruth made a wry face.

"We will explore for the treasure if we have to stay in the house all
the time," said Bab. "A day like this makes one feel mysterious."

"And creepy," added Mollie. "Why, good morning, Tommy. How are you
to-day?" she smiled, as Master Thomas Presby took his place at the
breakfast table. Tommy grunted out some unintelligible reply. For some
reason he was not in the best of humor that morning.

In the meantime Olive was trying to think up some entertainment that
would amuse the girls on a stormy day.

"I have it," she cried. "How would you girls like an attic party?"

They did not quite understand, never having heard of an attic party.

"What do we do at an attic party?" asked Mollie. "Do we have luncheon in
the attic?"

"No. It is an entirely new idea with me. My idea is that we go to the
attic and rummage. There are old chests and trunks up there, together
with all sorts of odds and ends, as is usual with a family garret."

The girls beamed on her.

"That will be perfectly splendid," cried Mollie. "Remember, Bab, how we
used to rummage in our garret on rainy days?"

"It will be a great fun," answered Bab.

"As we fear we may have to leave the old place," continued Olive, "we
wish to overhaul everything up there, burning such stuff as we have no
use for, saving anything that may be of use in the future. You girls can
help me clear out the place."

"Am I in on this game?" interrupted Tom.

"Yes, if you will behave yourself," replied Olive, giving him a severe
look.

"I can carry out the stuff that you want burned," he suggested.

Such willingness on the part of Tommy was unusual. Olive gave him a
smile of approval.

"You shall have some more marshmallows for that," declared Ruth.

A pained look appeared on the boy's face.

"I don't want any marshmallows," he growled. "No more girls' food for
me."

The "Automobile Girls" giggled. Mr. and Mrs. Presby paid no attention to
this conversation. They were not in possession of the secret. The girls
were eager for the attic party. There is always an element of mystery in
an old family garret. This was especially so at Treasureholme.
Everything about the old place savored of mystery. Then there was the
buried treasure, which, even though it might be a myth, lent an
atmosphere of greater mystery than all the rest.

Little time was lost in getting to the garret, the girls first, however,
putting on the oldest skirts they possessed. Olive explained that the
place was full of dust and cobwebs.

Tom hurried upstairs ahead of them. They followed a winding, narrow
stairway to the upper floor. To their surprise, the ceiling was high,
the side walls were heavily wainscoted, an unusual condition for a
garret. A broad chimney passing up through the centre of the big room
took the edge off the chill atmosphere of the morning, although they
could hear the wind whistle and wail about the gables. There were
shadowy corners holding old-fashioned trunks. Here and there were old
family pictures in faded, chipped frames, old clothes, curtains, books,
broken and old-fashioned furniture, in short, a varied and ancient
collection of odds and ends that almost filled the place.

"Oh, girls, isn't this jolly!" exclaimed Bab, halting at the head of the
stairs, taking in the scene eagerly. "I know we shall have a perfectly
splendid time up here, and who knows but that we may unearth some of
your ancestors' family skeletons, Olive?"

"Tom will dispose of them promptly if you find any," answered Olive.

"I'll make their old bones rattle. You just watch me," announced Tom.

"Now, girls, go ahead and browse to your heart's content. We are going
to empty every trunk and chest and box in the place. We may find
something exciting before we get through up here."

Olive's prophecy was a true one. They were going to meet with exciting
experiences in the old garret, even more exciting than any of them had
dreamed possible. They began eagerly to turn out the contents of trunks
and boxes upon the garret floor, first dragging the receptacles up where
the light from one or another of the windows would shine down on their
work.



CHAPTER XII

A CURIOUS OLD JOURNAL


"OH, here's a bundle of letters, ever and ever so old!" called Grace.
Hers was the first find of interest, "Wouldn't it be splendid if I had
unearthed an old romance?"

"Give them to Olive," suggested Bab. "We have no right to read them."

Grace promptly handed the packet to Olive, who turned them over
reflectively.

"The writers of these have been dead for many, many years. There can be
no harm in our reading the letters. However, let's defer that pleasure
until another time. Here, Tom, you might carry out those old clothes.
They are so moth-eaten that they are likely to fall apart before you can
get them outside." Tom reluctantly gathered up an armful and went
stamping down the garret stairs.

Old clothes, trinkets, some of them of value, recipes for cooking,
written on the fly leaves of books and on scraps of paper, a varied
assortment of everything, including early photographs of forgotten
persons, were discovered. Everything was assorted and placed in piles
for future disposal. The girls' faces and hands were covered with dust
long before they had gone through the contents of the first few trunks.

Nothing of unusual interest had been discovered after something more
than an hour's rummaging. Tom had made so many trips to the back yard
with rubbish that he was tired. Finally he rebelled, declaring that he
wouldn't tramp up and down those stairs again for the whole of
Treasureholme.

Ruth found a chest of books in very old bindings. She called Bab over.

"Here, dear. You are simply crazy over old books. Here are some that
will keep you busy for the rest of the morning."

Bab ran over, and with a little chuckle of delight dropped down on her
knees in front of the open chest. She lifted out the ancient bindings
almost reverently, ran the pages through her fingers, pausing here and
there to read a line or a page, or a faded notation in pencil, then
carefully piled the books by the side of the chest. She was so wholly
absorbed in the contents of the chest that she failed to hear the lively
chatter going on about her.

About half way down in the chest she found a thin, leather-covered
volume, showing indications of long usage and much thumbing. On the
front page she read, "Journal of T. W. P."

"Olive, who was 'T. W. P.'?"

"'T. W. P.'? Why that's Tom's initials. Wait! Did you find that in one
of those old books?"

Bab nodded.

"Then it must refer to Thomas Warrington Presby. He is the gentleman who
is supposed to have been scalped by the Indians, the man who buried the
treasure that we have had all the fuss and excitement about. What is the
book?"

"It is his journal. His diary, I think we would call it. May I read it?"

"Of course. I hope you may find something interesting in it."

The reading of the diary was not easy. The ink was faded and the writing
was so peculiar that Bab deciphered it with some difficulty. Bab curled
up on a pile of old clothes under a window and buried her nose in the
old diary. She found it fascinating to read the diary of the man who
actually buried the treasure that had made the name of Treasureholme
well known in all that part of the country.

The entries in the diary dealt with the routine affairs of the life of
the owner. Then there were other and more absorbing passages. One that
made the girl's pulses quicken was the following:

"Rumors of Indian troubles are afloat. Jake was wounded by an arrow
to-day, shot from somewhere in the forest back of the house. But no
Indians were seen. We shall soon have to seek safety in the fort, I
fear. What to do with my worldly goods when we go is the question that
is troubling me now."

"Oh!" breathed Barbara.

"Does it blow hot or cold?" questioned Olive.

"It seems to be getting warm," replied Bab. "He is talking about the
treasure."

"What?" The girls were on their feet in an instant. Barbara read the
entry to them.

"Oh, fiddle!" sniffed Mollie. "That doesn't amount to anything. Don't
arouse my curiosity again unless you have something worth while."

Barbara considered that she had found something worth while, but she
made no comment on Mollie's remark. Instead, the girl returned to her
perusal of the old diary, reading each page carefully, not knowing when
a word or a sentence might give a clue to the mystery all were seeking
to solve. The girls went on with their rummaging and their lively
chatter. Tom had gone to sleep on a heap of bed spreads that were yellow
with age. The ghosts of the past did not trouble this healthy young
country boy. Mollie crouched down beside him, gently tickling his ear
with a feather that she had found in a trunk. Mollie nearly exploded
with merriment to see Tommy fight an imaginary fly in his sleep. The
other girls were soon attracted to the game, though Barbara was entirely
oblivious of what was going on. The girls gathered noiselessly about
Mollie and Tom, shaking with silent laughter, taking care not to awaken
the sleeping boy.

Tom's face twitched nervously. After a little one eye opened ever so
little then closed warily. The girls did not observe the movement of the
eyelid. Then all of a sudden things began to happen. Tom, with
incredible quickness, leaped to his feet, and began laying about him
with a folded bed spread. Mollie was the first to go down under the
attack. The others tried to get away from that sturdily wielded spread,
but were not quick enough, however. Tom did considerable execution with
his unwieldly weapon before the girls finally threw themselves upon him.
Then Tom went down and out. The girls dragged him to the stairway and
started him sliding down the stairs, feet first. With faces flushed,
eyes sparkling, brushing truant wisps of hair from their foreheads, the
girls returned to their exploration of the old chests. First Olive
closed and locked the door that opened onto the staircase.

"There! I think we shall have peace now," she announced.

Suddenly Barbara uttered a sharp little cry.

"Girls! Girls! Come here! Oh, come here!"

The girls with one accord rushed pell-mell across the garret. Excitement
reigned for a few seconds.

"I've found it! I've found it!" shouted Barbara.

"Found the treasure?" cried a chorus of voices.

"It's here, here!" she exclaimed, waving the little leather-bound
journal above her head.

"What have you found?" demanded Olive, showing less excitement than her
companions.

"This entry. It means something. I don't know just what, but I know it
means something."

"Read it, read it!" demanded the girls.

"The item is a month later than the one I found in the journal in which
they were afraid the Indians were going to make trouble. Listen to this.
If you don't think I have found something you are not half so smart as I
had thought." Barbara hitched a little closer to the window and with her
back to the light read from the journal the following entry:

"'To My Heirs: I am fleeing with my family, to the fort. The future
looks dark. Should I not return, others of my family one day will come
here and take possession, provided the savages do not destroy the old
place, which is not probable, as the spirit of a long dead Indian chief
is said to make his home here.'"

"I knew all the time there were ghosts here," interrupted Mollie.

"Wearing false faces," added Grace under her breath.

"There are further directions. 'Search and you shall find. I cannot be
more explicit save to say that what is here is well worth years of
endeavor,'" Barbara read on. "'I have a feeling that I shall see the old
place no more. Remember, that to every people its own dead are sacred
and be governed accordingly.'"

Barbara glanced slowly up at the solemn faces above her.

"Is that all?" asked Olive.

"Yes. That is the last entry in the journal, showing that the former Mr.
Presby did not return, as you already have told us that he did not."

"What do you make of it, dear?" questioned Olive thoughtfully.

"It is a clue and a direction to the buried treasure. There can be no
doubt of that."

"Yes, but we don't understand it," spoke up Ruth. "I doubt if we ever
shall."

"It's my opinion that Mr. T. W. P. wasn't in his right mind when he
wrote that," declared Mollie with emphasis. "I think the Indians must
have gone to his head."

"This is no joking matter, Mollie," rebuked Barbara. "Can't you be
serious for once in your life? We must study this."

"What do you say if I send for Mr. Stevens, girls?" cried Olive. "He has
studied this mystery more thoroughly than anyone else and he will no
doubt understand the veiled allusion to the treasure. Suppose we copy it
so we can read it more easily. Wait! I'll get a pencil."

Olive ran downstairs to her room, now not a little excited.

"I've sent Tom after Bob Stevens," she called, as she burst into the
attic on her return. "Now read it to me and I will put it down."

"Perhaps I had better do that," answered Bab, reaching for the pencil.
"I know the writing better than you do and I want to make the copy
exactly like the original. There," she added, after having carefully
copied the extract from the journal.

Olive regarded it perplexedly, Grace, Mollie and Ruth bending over her
shoulder as she read and reread the extract from the old Presby diary.

"I must show this to father and mother," exclaimed Olive suddenly, as
she whisked out of the room with Ruth, Mollie and Grace racing after
her. Barbara, once more absorbed in the journal over which she was
bending with wrinkled forehead, did not seem to realize that she had
been left alone.

"Oh, if it should be true! If it should lead us to the treasure! If we
could save Treasureholme for the Presbys it would be glorious." Barbara
got up and began pacing back and forth. She saw nothing of the dingy
garret room. Her imagination was traveling at express-train speed. Bab
stood leaning back against the heavy wainscoting, with her eyes fixed on
the ceiling, thinking.

"Oh, Barbara!" called Ruth's voice from the foot of the stairway.

"Yes?"

"Come down. Mercy! What was that?" A mighty crash shook the old house to
its foundations. The shock seemed to come from above. Ruth sped up the
stairs on winged feet. Those below stairs heard her utter a frightened
scream.

"Come! Oh, come quickly!" cried Ruth Stuart in a voice of terror.



CHAPTER XIII

THE MYSTERY OF THE ATTIC


THE sound of running feet was heard on the floor below following Ruth's
cry for help. Olive, Mollie and Grace had heard it from the foot of the
stairs on the ground floor. Mr. and Mrs. Presby, sitting in the dining
room, had also heard the cry and started for the stairs. Tom, who was
down in the cellar, heard the girls running, and started up the stairs
three steps at a time, instinctively realizing that something was wrong.
His first thought was that the girls in the garret had set the house on
fire.

The three girls fairly tore up the stairs to the attic in response to
Ruth's cry, getting in each other's way on the narrow stairs as they
ran. Tom was close at their heels, while his father and mother followed
more slowly.

At first they could distinguish nothing but Ruth's figure dimly outlined
in a haze of dust that filled the air.

"Fire!" cried Grace.

"No!" roared Tom. "It's dust. Somebody's been kicking up a fine smudge
here. What's the matter? Have you folks gone crazy?"

"Ruth! Ruth! What is it?" cried Olive.

"It's Bab," moaned Ruth.

"Bab?" cried the girls.

For the first time since reaching the attic their thoughts turned to
Barbara Thurston. But where was she? Nowhere in sight. Mr. Presby came
limping into the room, followed by his wife very much out of breath.

"Wha--wha--what is the cause of all this uproar?" demanded Mr. Presby
testily.

"It's Bab! It's Bab, I tell you," almost screamed Ruth. "Oh, what has
happened?"

"That's what we would like to know," retorted Mr. Presby.

"Where is Bab?" demanded Tom, who had been nosing around the room like a
terrier.

"She--she's gone," moaned Ruth. Her face was pale, her eyes wide with
fright. Tom rushed to the windows, which were tightly closed.

"What fell?" he questioned sharply, halting in front of Ruth.

"I--I don't know. I--I wasn't here. I was at the foot of the garret
stairs when I heard that terrible crash."

The dust, slowly settling, gave them a clearer view of the attic.
Barbara Thurston was not in sight.

"What has become of Bab? Why don't you look behind the chests?"
demanded Mollie, gathering up her skirts, darting here and there,
kicking aside the heaps of old clothing that had been turned out on the
floor.

Mollie paused with a dazed look in her eyes.

"She's gone," whispered the girl.

"Yes, she's gone, all right," answered Tom. "I know what she has done.
She's played a trick on all of you. I know her. She is a sharp one.
She'd catch you napping when you were looking right at her. She must
have gone downstairs after you did, and----"

"No, no," protested Ruth excitedly. "She never left this attic by the
stairway."

"Calm yourself, my dear," begged Mr. Presby in a somewhat more gentle
voice, at the same time laying a hand on Ruth Stuart's shoulder. "Now
let us understand this affair. You say Barbara was up here--she did not
go downstairs with you?"

"No, no!" exclaimed Mollie. "She was reading that old journal when we
went down. We left her sitting right there. Don't you remember, you
asked us to call Barbara downstairs? You wanted to see the diary of old
Mr. Presby, and Ruth went upstairs to call her."

"Yes, yes. Ruth, how do you know that Barbara was here when you called
to her?"

"Because she answered me," replied Ruth.

"What next? Did her voice sound as if she were here in the attic?"

"Yes. I know she was here."

"Was that when you cried out?"

"No. That awful crash came a few seconds after she had answered me. I
ran up here as fast as my feet would carry me. At first the dust was so
thick I was unable to make out anything clearly. I called to Bab but she
did not answer me. I then ran about the room in search of her, thinking
that she had fallen and hurt herself. But she wasn't here," wailed Ruth.
"Oh, what shall I do?"

"Calm yourself. That is the first thing to be done. There is something
mysterious about this. I wish Bob Stevens were here."

"I sent Tom for him. Did you see Mr. Stevens, Tom?"

"No. I sent word by one of the hired hands," admitted Tom sheepishly.
"I--I wanted to do some work in the cellar."

"Then go at once," commanded Mr. Presby sternly.

"Wait!" exclaimed Ruth. "I'll drive the car, storm or no storm. The cold
air will help me to brace up. How far is it to Mr. Stevens' house?"

"Mile and a half," answered Tom.

"Come with me, Tommy. We will be there and back in twenty minutes. Do
you know the way?"

"Yes, he knows the way. He knows too much about everything in these
parts," answered Mr. Presby testily. "I will telephone to Mr. Stuart."

"Oh, don't, please. At least--not un--until I get back. Per--perhaps Mr.
Stevens may find her."

"He will, if anyone can," declared Olive. Everyone in the room was
overwhelmed with the mystery of it all. That a person could disappear so
completely from a room that had only one entrance and with that entrance
guarded at the moment passed all comprehension.

Once more Mollie set herself to examining every nook and corner of the
room. She even raised the lids of the closed trunks and chests, thinking
that possibly Barbara might have hidden in one of them. There was no
trace whatever of the missing girl.

"Has anyone found the diary?" questioned Olive.

"Could it be that she fell through a trap in the floor?" queried Grace.

"There are no traps in the floor," answered Mr. Presby sharply.

"If there were, and Bab had fallen in, she would have dropped into one
of our rooms," explained Olive. "I believe I will go all over the
house," she decided as an afterthought.

"We will go with you," declared Grace. "Oh, Bab, Bab; where are you?"
Grace broke into a paroxysm of heart-breaking sobs. This was too much
for Mollie, who began sobbing also.

"Come, come, girls; this won't do," chided Olive. "We must keep our
heads clear. Something has happened to Bab, but I'll venture to say that
she is all right, no matter where she is."

"But--but if she _is_ all right, why doesn't she call to us?" questioned
Mollie, gazing at Olive through her tears.

Olive was unable to answer that question. The same thought had occurred
to her. Now Mr. Presby began thumping the sides of the room with his
cane. They understood his purpose and waited in breathless silence until
he had gone all the way around the room.

"All sounds alike," he announced. "I didn't know but there might be
another of those secret passages up here. I see, however, that it is not
possible. Come, there is nothing to be gained by remaining here. Come,
Mollie. Do not take it too much to heart," soothed Mr. Presby.

Mollie was now leaning against the wall with head buried in her arms,
crying softly. The others had started for the stairway. A servant came
up the stairs and announced that Ruth had telephoned from the Stevens
place saying that Bob Stevens had gone to Brightwaters, and that she was
going there to find him.

"Good gracious! What was that?" screamed Mrs. Presby, gripping her
husband's arm with both hands as a mighty crash shook the building. A
violent current of air smote them, another cloud of suffocating dust
filled the air.

"Mollie's gone, too!" screamed Grace Carter.



CHAPTER XIV

TOMMY TAKES A WILD RIDE


FOR a moment the little group stood regarding one another in
horror-stricken silence, then by common consent they all made for the
stairway. Mr. Presby was half carrying, half dragging his wife, who was
in a state of collapse. All had lost their heads completely. They did
not know at what moment that terrible mysterious force might whisk them
all out of existence. Instead of remaining calmly to solve the reason
for Mollie's disappearance before their very eyes, all hands were
fleeing from the scene of the double disaster. Mollie had not even cried
out. She had simply gone, followed by that mighty crash. That was all
they knew about it.

They did not halt until they had reached the ground floor, where Mr.
Presby called a servant to summon the neighbors and summon them quickly.
Fifteen minutes later the neighbors began to arrive. With them were two
or three strangers, whose offers to join in the search through the house
Mr. Presby politely declined, as he was suspicious of all strangers.
Those of the neighbors who were friends of long standing were given
free rein to search the house and grounds as thoroughly as they wished.
They took full advantage of the opportunity, delving into every nook and
corner.

In the meantime Ruth Stuart with the shivering Tommy by her side was
driving her automobile across the country. There was no storm curtain in
place now. Even the wind shield had been turned down because the snow
clouded it so Ruth could not get a clear sight ahead. As it was, she
could see no more than a rod or two in advance. She took the storm full
on the right side of her face. The girl's eyes and nerves were steady
now. Her touch on the steering wheel was light, for at that speed a
heavy hand might have ditched the outfit.

Country people on the road were startled by a rush of wind and a shadowy
monster shooting past them with a snort, occasionally sending their
horses off the highway in frightened leaps. But Ruth Stuart's eyes never
wavered from the straight path ahead. Evidently she had forgotten her
promise to herself to drive with her car under more perfect control.
Every ounce of speed that Mr. A. Bubble possessed was being used on the
present run.

Tommy's eyes were full of snow, his lips were blue, his hands were
gripping the cushions until he had no feeling left in them.

"Tell me when we get near to the place," commanded Ruth in a sharp,
incisive tone.

"Ju-s-s-st around the nu-nu-next turn," chattered Thomas. "He's at
Martin's ranch."

Ruth turned the air into her siren. A wild, weird wail rose from the
horn. Tommy shivered more than ever. That sound always did make the hair
rise right up on the crown of his head. Ruth kept the siren going.
Rounding the bend at top speed, her siren wailing, she made enough noise
to be plainly heard above the storm. Taking careful note of her
position, she ran up the drive into the yard, slowing down just as she
saw two men come from the house bare-headed.

"Jump in, quick!" she cried to Bob Stevens. "Trouble!"

Bob was quick-witted. He understood that something was wrong. He caught
one of the canopy braces and swung himself in over the closed door.

The car was still in motion. Without a word of further explanation, Ruth
advanced her spark. When they rounded into the road the snow from the
skidding rear wheels flew up into the air higher than the peak of Jud
Martin's hip-roofed barn. Stevens instinctively gripped the automobile
body.

"Put a blanket over your head," called back Ruth.

"I can stand it bare-headed here, if you can keep your seat in this cold
wind up ahead," answered Stevens calmly. "What is it?"

"I'll tell you when you get there. I haven't time now."

Bob asked no further questions. They were racing back to Treasureholme
at a rate of speed that would have left the Pacific Coast Limited some
distance to the rear in a very short time.

Boom! A report like that of a cannon startled Tommy. Boom! Another
similar report and Tom was on the verge of leaping from the car.

"Tire's gone. Rear tire's down," called Stevens. Ruth nodded, but he
could not see that she reduced the speed of the car in the slightest
degree. Bob Stevens never had had such a ride as that, even on a
railroad train, but he declined to give in to his inclination to warn
her to slow down. If a young woman had the nerve to drive a car at that
speed he surely should have sufficient pluck to ride behind her.

Tommy had tightened his grip on the cushion. His body was swaying from
side to side, now and then humping up into the air as the wheels passed
over a hummock.

"I shall go on as long as the rims hold," flung back Ruth in
acknowledgment of his warning about the tires.

The young man knew very well that the rims were likely to be crunched
in like egg shells at any second. That would mean the complete wreck of
the car and no doubt the instant death of the passengers at the speed
they were now traveling. The soft, springy snow that covered the ground
protected the rims from the hard road somewhat. He observed, however,
that in rounding sharp turns in the road, Ruth steadied the car with her
foot brake. She was driving with great skill, even though the pace was a
reckless one. Bob gazed at the back of her head, a great admiration for
her pluck welling up within him. But he felt sorry for Tommy. It was
plainly to be seen that Thomas Warrington Presby was not having the
happiest ride imaginable.

"Almost there," encouraged Ruth. "If anything happens, never mind me,
but run for the house as fast as you can go."

He did not answer, but he was thinking deeply. Something of a very
serious nature must have occurred at Treasureholme to make necessary all
this haste. He did not know that they had sent for him because of the
great confidence the Presbys reposed in him. It would have made little
difference to the resourceful Bob Stevens if he had known.

The car lurched into the drive, past the scene of Ruth's previous
disaster, where the broken posts and twisted gates still lay at one
side of the drive. None of the occupants of the car heeded these
evidences of a former smash-up. Ruth's eyes were on the drive. Bob's
eyes were on the house, while Tommy's eyes were so full of snow that
they weren't fixed on anything in particular.

The car came to a jolting stop in front of the Presby home. At that
instant the rear of the car settled with a crunching sound.

"There go the rims," said Ruth calmly. "But I don't care now. Please
hurry."

Bob lifted Tommy to the ground, the boy being on the side that Stevens
had leaped from just as the rims were going down. He then assisted Ruth
out. Tommy rubbed the snow from his eyes, blinked rapidly and gazed at
Ruth.

"Never no more for mine," he declared, with ungrammatical force.

Ruth tried to run up the steps. She halted suddenly. Her body swayed
unsteadily. Stevens thought she was going to collapse. He took firm hold
of her arm.

"Let me assist you," he said politely.

"I--I am all right," muttered Ruth. "Just a little dizzy from watching
the road so closely," then she crumpled up on the steps of
Treasureholme.

Bob Stevens picked her up and carried the girl into the house, followed
by Tom, still blinking. Tom was choking a little, too. Everything had
been moving so rapidly that, active as was his mind, he hadn't been able
to follow matters very clearly.

The door swung open. Bob handed his burden over to Mrs. Presby.

"She's played out. Better put her to bed. What's wrong?"

"No, no, no!" protested Ruth. "Give me a drink of something hot. I--I'm
chilled through." She staggered to one side of the hall, waved
assistance aside and leaned against the wall with closed eyes for a few
seconds. Then Ruth straightened up suddenly.

"Bab! Have they found her?" she cried.

Mrs. Presby shook her head. Grace came running down the hall. She threw
herself into Ruth's arms.

"Oh, Ruth! Mollie's gone, too!" she sobbed.

"What's this?" demanded Stevens. "Tell me quickly what has occurred."

Mrs. Presby told him very briefly all that she knew about the series of
disasters that had befallen them. The hall was fairly well filled with
neighbors, all more or less helpless. With bulging eyes and open mouths,
they were listening and gaping without doing anything on their own
account.

Bob dashed toward the stairs without asking another question. Neighbors,
the Presbys and the three girls followed him. Mr. Presby was the last in
line. He thumped up the stairs with the aid of his stick. Bob had halted
near the door of the attic, where he stood surveying the room with
critical eyes.

"Get lights! It's dark here," he directed sharply. "Now tell me just
what occurred as far as you know, please. Who discovered the loss of
Miss Thurston and her sister?"

Ruth told him what she knew of Bab's disappearance. Olive related the
story of how Mollie had suddenly vanished.

"They certainly didn't vanish into thin air. They are still in this
house and I am going to find them, even if I have to tear the house
down, with Mr. Presby's permission, of course."

"Get the girls. Go as far as you like. Tear down the old house if you
must. I shall not have use for it very much longer."

Bob groped about on the floor. His hands found a broken stove poker.
With this he began sounding the walls about waist high, thumping and
listening, listening and thumping. He paused suddenly.

"Where was Miss Mollie standing when you last saw her?" he demanded,
turning to the group.

"There on the south side," answered Olive.

"Something has been there against the wall for some time, hasn't there?
I see a mark on the wall."

"I don't recall whether or not there was anything there," answered Mr.
Presby.

"Yes, there was an old dresser there. I moved it aside to-day to get
some things that had fallen behind it. We were cleaning out the garret.
That's the dresser over yonder," Olive informed him.

The young man did not look at the piece of furniture indicated by Miss
Presby. Instead, he strode over to the point where the dresser had stood
for no one knew how long. It was a dresser belonging to some of the
Presby ancestors. It never had been disturbed during the present owner's
occupancy.

Stevens began thumping over every inch of the wall at that point. He
varied his investigations finally by trying the wainscoting on either
side. The latter to his keen ears gave out a different sound. He turned
sharply.

"Bring me a maul, if you have one."

Mr. Presby directed one of the farm hands to bring one from the
woodshed. In the meantime the others in the attic watched in breathless
silence as Stevens pursued his investigations.

"You haven't heard them call or cry out?"

"No," answered Olive.

Ruth had said scarcely a word. She had appeared to be crushed upon
hearing of Mollie's disappearance. She had answered questions briefly
and with apparent great effort. But now her eyes were following every
movement of Bob Stevens.

A commotion on the stairs caused Bob to stride over to the door. It was
the man with the maul, a heavy tool used for driving fence posts and
other similar work. Bob took it from him and started for the place where
the dresser had formerly stood. He halted just before reaching his
objective point. The others in the chamber were crowding about him.

"I would suggest that you people stand back," he said. "We don't know
what might happen. I might loose my grip on the maul. I don't want to
injure anyone."

The "people" shrank back out of the way.

"I'm going to do some damage, Mr. Presby. At least I think I am."

Richard Presby nodded.

Bob stepped close to the wall, moved back three or four feet, then
slowly swung the maul in a circle and let drive with all the force at
his command against the side of the wall. The maul landed with a
tremendous report.

A most remarkable thing followed, sending the occupants of the room
rushing for the staircase, the women uttering cries of alarm. Bob
staggered backwards and sat down heavily on the floor. His experiment
had been attended with greater success than he had even dreamed were
possible. It had been followed by a terrific crash. A cloud of dust
filled the room, the structure vibrated as if from a slight earthquake
shock, then quiet once more settled over the gloomy attic of
Treasureholme.



CHAPTER XV

AN AMAZING OCCURRENCE


BOB was on his feet again ere the dust had settled in the room.

"Don't be alarmed," he cried. "There is no danger so long as you keep
away from that partition. That is where the trouble lies."

"Where--where is the hammer?" cried Grace.

Stevens stepped forward and looked for the maul on the floor near the
baseboard, but finally glanced up with a perplexed expression in his
eyes.

"The maul has disappeared, too," he said.

There was a gasp following this announcement. But the young man was not
disturbed.

"I understand a little of what all this means," he said. "The maul has
gone. If someone will get me an axe I will chop down this partition near
where I struck it with the maul."

"Is there some secret there?" whispered Mr. Presby over Bob's shoulder.
The young man nodded.

"Yes. I have an idea what it is. However, we shall see."

When the axe was brought he chose his location with some care, then
began chopping away, swinging the axe in a manner that showed him to be
no novice at that sort of work. The axe went through the partition soon
after that. Using the back of the tool, he began smashing in the boards,
here and there employing the blade to cut through a scantling or a
brace. Soon after he had laid open a dark recess behind the partition.

Tom pushed forward and was about to crawl in when the young man stopped
him.

"Better be careful, young man! That may be a pitfall, and I suspect that
it is."

The others were too amazed to speak. Still another secret in the old
house had been revealed. But the sudden disappearance of the maul was
still unexplained, though Stevens had his own idea about this. He began
cutting further. A tremendous crash followed a moment of chopping. He
sprang back to await developments. There were none.

"There, I think I have drawn the monster's teeth," he said, reaching for
a lantern. "One of you will please hold another lantern at the entrance
here. I may need help."

Ruth Stuart snatched a lantern from one of the countrymen and stepped
promptly up beside the young man. He nodded.

"Do not try to follow me in here unless I tell you to. I must first find
out what is in here."

"Do you think they are there?" she asked in a half whisper.

"Yes. Probably below somewhere," he answered, thrusting the lantern
ahead of him and crawling into the opening he had made.

Bob found himself in a narrow chamber formed by a gable that had been
shut off and enclosed by the partition. He did not trouble himself at
that moment to investigate the strangeness of the disappearance of his
maul. Instead, he began going over the little room cautiously. The light
from his lantern soon revealed a hole in the floor about a yard square.

"Don't lean against that partition on your life," he called. Those near
the entrance to the gable apartment drew back a little. They gazed at
the apparently solid wall to the left of the hole, in respectful
silence. Bob lowered his lantern into the hole and peered in. It
appeared to extend down a long distance. A trap door that evidently was
intended to cover the opening, lay to one side of the opening. As he
peered in he saw that the opening revealed a bricked-in shaft.

"A chimney, as I live!" he exclaimed. Then he raised his voice in a
long-drawn shout.

"Hello-o-o down there!" There was no response. Stevens called again. A
faint wail drifted up through the shaft. Ruth, at the panel, hearing it,
uttered a scream of joy.

"They're there! They're there!" she cried.

For the first time since his arrival at the house, Bob Stevens showed
traces of excitement in his face, but his voice was calm when he spoke.

"Get a rope, quickly. A long one," he commanded.

Ruth, Olive and Tommy crowded into the narrow opening, unable to
restrain their impatience longer.

"Be careful," warned Bob. "This floor doesn't seem to be very strong."

The three held their ground, however.

"Hello-o-o down there! Are you hurt?"

They were unable to distinguish the words of the reply, but it evidently
was made by Barbara.

"There's a ladder," exclaimed Tommy, starting to go down it. Stevens
hauled him back.

"Keep out. It looks shaky. I am going down there myself. That's why I
sent for a rope. I don't want to fall in, too. Men, I want you to stand
by to lend a hand on the rope. Keep it fairly taut, but don't hold me
back."

When all the arrangements had been made, Bob started down the ladder. He
had gone not more than four or five feet when he found that the ladder
extended no further. It appeared to have been broken off. He called to
the men to lower away. Finally his feet reached something soft. At first
the horrified thought came to him that it was the body of one of the
girls for whom he was in search. Instead, what he had found proved to be
a piece of an old mattress with a bundle of old clothes heaped on it.
This was something like seven feet from the opening through which he had
descended.

He heard a moan from beneath the heap of old garments. He tore them
feverishly aside. Mollie lay before him, pale and with eyes closed.
Stevens uttered a shout.

"I've got Miss Mollie. She is injured. Stand by to pull her up when I
give you the word," he directed in a tone of excitement. Quickly
securing the rope under her arms, he bade them haul away, he lifting the
girl as high as his arms would reach, then grasping her feet, lending
such assistance as possible in this way. She was quickly in the arms of
her friends, who bore her downstairs to her own room and set to work to
revive her.

Now came the next stage of Bob Stevens' work. He could not imagine where
Barbara could be. Just at this point he discovered a bend in the
supposed chimney. This he decided was in order to avoid some
obstruction on the second floor of the house. He found an opening in the
platform scarcely large enough to admit his own broad shoulders. There,
unmistakably was a ladder, made of thin strips of iron, bolted to the
chimney itself.

"I'm going further down," he shouted to those above. "Don't pull unless
I call upon you to do so. Are you down there, Miss Barbara?"

"Yes," came the answer. It sounded very far away. Bob knew that the
young woman must be a great distance below him, or else there was
another bend in the chimney that shut off the sound of her voice.
Perhaps, too, there was another landing. One might expect to meet with
anything in this house of mysteries.

"The other one is all right," yelled the young man to those above. "Keep
up your courage, Miss Barbara. I will be with you as soon as I can get
down. Can you climb up?"

"No." He did not catch what followed. Bob was climbing down the narrow
ladder, prudently keeping the rope about his waist in case the ladder
should give way. He carried the lantern with him on his descent, which
he made with considerable caution. He feared that were he to dislodge a
brick or a section of the ladder, it might fall on the girl below and
seriously injure her. Why she should be so far below the narrow
platform where he had found Mollie Thurston he did not pause to ask
himself. The urgent work of the moment was to get Barbara out as quickly
as possible.

"Is there no end to this?" muttered the young man. He figured that he
must be somewhere in the vicinity of the cellar. Barbara's voice, now
strong and clear, halted him suddenly.

"Be careful," she warned. "The ladder doesn't reach all the way down.
You will fall if you don't step carefully."

"Where are you?" he cried. "Goodness, I'm glad to hear your voice! I
feared you had been killed."

"I don't know how this happened. I am down here. That is all I can tell
you about it."

Stevens had reached the end of the ladder by this time. He lowered his
lantern, directing her to take it from the rope, then observing that he
was not more than half a dozen feet from the bottom, he dropped lightly
down beside her.

"Did you fall down here?" he asked.

"The last several feet I did," she answered. Bab was pale, but her eyes
were bright.

"Then how did you get down this far? Didn't the landing stop you?"
questioned the young man while looping the rope under Barbara's arms.

"Yes, the landing stopped me. I thought I surely had been killed, but
after a little I pulled myself together and screamed for help. I guess
no one heard me."

"They were excited. The house is in an uproar. Your sister is in the
hands of her friends. I think she will be all right."

"My sister?" questioned Bab, opening her eyes wide.

"Yes. Didn't you know she fell in, too?"

"Tell me--was she--how did it happen?" demanded Bab, all in one voice.
"Oh, it was awful! Mollie fell in, you say?"

"Yes. I got her out with the help of the others. You haven't answered my
question. Why did you come on down here?"

"I thought there might be an opening at the bottom. This chimney was
intended to be used for climbing. Hurry. I want to see Mollie."

Barbara was in a fever of excitement. She could not see why she
shouldn't climb the rope. Stevens advised her to calm herself, saying
that when she reached the ladder she might climb, but not to cast off
the rope.

"When you reach the top tell them to lower the rope again, so I can get
out."

Barbara suddenly collected herself.

"Oh, forgive me for my thoughtlessness. You go on up. I can come
later."

Bob Stevens merely smiled, then raised his voice in a shout to the men
to pull up. He lifted Bab up with apparent ease, for he was a muscular
young man. The rope began to move up slowly. He helped Barbara until she
had reached the ladder, then after seeing her safely on her way, and
when she was no longer visible, the young man picked up his lantern and
began to look about him.

The chimney reached clear to the bottom of the pit in which he was
standing. A short passage underground led off from the pit. He followed
it for about thirty yards, when it ended abruptly against a solid mound
of earth. Investigation showed that this earth had caved in, thus
blocking what had once been a long passage. Little particles of dirt
showered down on his head as he stepped carefully about, indicating that
the rest of the roof might cave in at any moment.

"The silence of the tomb," muttered Bob. "What a place in which to be
buried alive! I can imagine what that poor little girl must have
suffered in here without a light, not knowing whether she ever would be
found again. There's pluck for you. I know I should have been scared
stiff. What a house of mystery this is! If it were mine I would pull it
to pieces to satisfy my curiosity if for no other reason. But the
treasure? Can it be possible that we have stumbled upon the hiding place
of the real treasure? I'm going to investigate this place later on. Mr.
Presby's ancestors must have been regular woodchucks. At least they were
great burrowers. Hold on; there must have been some sort of stream
through here by the looks of the ground. The tunnel was already made.
All it needed was covering and filling. I begin to see. The families
used it for getting away when the Indians got too busy. But I hear the
rope. I want to examine that attic."

Bob held up his lantern to look for the rope when a ray from the lantern
glinted on something bright in a niche in the chimney near the base,
from where a brick had been pried out. He held the lantern closer, his
eyes grew large, then the young man gave a whoop that was heard far
above him in the attic.



CHAPTER XVI

BOB SOLVES ANOTHER MYSTERY


"I'VE got it!" he cried. "I've found the--but it can't be a very big
treasure done up in so small a package," he added in a disappointed
tone.

That which had attracted his attention was a metal box about six inches
in length which had been set into the chimney so skilfully that a person
passing would be unlikely to observe it. The box fitted the niche so
nicely that Stevens was obliged to use his knife to pry it out. The box
was locked. He found no key and was about to attempt to pry open the
cover with his knife when he paused.

"No. I won't do it. That wouldn't be fair. Miss Thurston is the real
discoverer. She shall open the box, or I will open it in her presence
unless Mr. Presby wishes to do so himself." Saying which, Bob Stevens
pocketed his curiosity as well as the little metal box. The rope now
being at hand, he slipped the loop about his waist, reached up and
grasped the lower rung of the ladder, drawing himself up easily until
the lower rung was beneath his feet. From that point on he climbed
rapidly to the platform. From there he was obliged to use the rope in
place of the missing section of the ladder. A few seconds later he was
standing in the garret.

"How is Miss Mollie?" were his first words.

"Just coming to," answered one of the hands. "Miss Ruth was just up here
to see if you had gotten up yet. She wishes to see you."

"Hold up the lantern. I want to look at this wall a moment." Bob had
found the maul lying on the floor in the gable. He returned it to the
garret. He now recalled the crash that had followed his final chopping.
Since then the young man had reasoned out what he thought was the
mechanism that had caused all the trouble.

Stevens pushed gently on the panel against which he had originally
struck so hard a blow. To the amazement of the onlookers, the panel fell
into the gable with a mighty crash.

"I thought so," he nodded. The others had leaped to the far side of the
room. Mr. Presby came hobbling up, fearing that still another disaster
had fallen upon the house.

"Please look here, Mr. Presby," called Bob. "Here is the secret. See
that narrow panel? It is a little wider than a man's body. It is hinged
at the bottom. Attached to it were ropes running over pulleys in wooden
tunnels. At the ends of these ropes are heavy weights. So nicely
balanced were the weights that the pressure of a few pounds from this
side would throw the panel inward. Any person leaning against it on this
side would be dumped into the other room so quickly that unless he
understood the mechanism, he would not know what had occurred."

"Wonderful," breathed the owner.

"It was evidently intended to afford a quick get-away in case the
occupants of the house found it necessary to leave hurriedly. You will
find the remnants of an old mattress in the gable there. I presume that
was originally so placed that the person going through would slide from
the smooth panel to the mattress without the least danger of injury. The
instant his body left the panel the weights would pull the panel into
place with a great bang. When the weights struck their foundation--the
floor--another crash would be heard. Were I an Indian, I think I would
run if I heard all that crashing and smashing. However, I have cut the
ropes. You will have no recurrence of to-day's accident. The trap was
open and both the young women fell into it while groping about in the
dark in there. Is Miss Mollie seriously hurt?"

"One wrist is sprained and she is somewhat bruised. I do not believe it
will prove to be anything serious," answered Mr. Presby. "Bob, I thank
you," he added, giving the young man's hand a hearty grip.

"May I go down there now?" piped Tommy.

"You may not, sir," returned his father sternly. "You will keep away
from that place entirely. I shall have the opening nailed up to-morrow.
By the way, Robert, what did you find at the bottom?" questioned the
master eagerly.

"A caved-in passage. I also found this. I intended to give it to you in
the presence of Miss Thurston. However, it belongs to you."

Mr. Presby turned the metal box over in his hand reflectively.

"Open it, Robert. I decline to become excited."

"May I call Miss Barbara?"

"Certainly."

Tommy fairly flew downstairs for Bab, who returned with him on the run.
Stevens showed her the box. Her eyes glowed.

"How is Miss Mollie?" asked the young man.

"I don't think there is very much the matter with her except the shock
and the fright. She must have been unconscious down there for quite a
time. Please open the box. I am dying of curiosity."

He broke open the box with the stove poker with which he had sounded
the walls. All necks were craned to see what was in the box. To their
wonderment, not unmixed with disappointment, Bob Stevens drew out a
tarnished gold watch, on the back of which had been cut the letters "T.
W. P." It was of English make and very old.

Mr. Presby regarded it solemnly.

"That is my ancestor's watch. It can mean but one thing, finding it as
we have. He left such of his worldly possessions as he could--this
watch. And to think we have dug up half of the estate for a treasure
that did not exist! It was his silent message to us that this was all he
had to leave in case he did not return." Mr. Presby's voice held a note
of keen disappointment. Even up to now he had not fully lost hope that
by some fortunate circumstance the treasure might yet be found.

"He may have returned and taken the rest of it," reflected Bob. "But if
that were so, why should he have gone to all the pains of leading us to
believe there was more?"

"How so?"

"This find means more than appears on the surface, sir."

"May I look at it?" asked Barbara.

[Illustration: A Slip Of Paper Fluttered To the Floor.]

Mr. Presby handed the watch to her. She opened the case and gazed long
at the face of the timepiece. She closed the case with a snap, then
turned to the back, first studying the initials, next trying to open the
back case. Bob Stevens assisted her with his pocket knife. The case came
open suddenly. A slip of paper fluttered to the floor at Bab's feet.

"Oh!" she cried, snatching it up. She started to unfold the paper, then
flushing, handed it to Mr. Presby. He shook his head.

"Look at it, my dear. There need be no secrets here."

Barbara did so, her hands trembling with excitement. A little furrow of
perplexity appeared between the eyebrows. What she saw on the paper was
a crude drawing of a toadstool with a slight point rising from the
centre of the toadstool. In the background was what appeared to be a
forest, but so awkwardly drawn that it was not possible to say
positively that a forest was what the artist had intended. Below the
picture of the toadstool was some writing. Stevens held the lantern
closer, at her suggestion. "'The span of a minute is sixty seconds,'"
read Barbara Thurston. "Now, what in the world does that mean?"

"I think it was your little golden-haired sister who expressed the
opinion that my ancestor was not in his right mind," said Mr. Presby. "I
am inclined to that belief myself. I wash my hands of the whole affair!
Come, let us go below. This air here suffocates me."

Bob Stevens took the paper and, holding the lantern in the crook of his
left arm, studied the bit of paper on his way downstairs, but made
nothing out of it.

"I am not certain that it means anything at all, Miss Thurston," he
said. "Perhaps the girls may discover some meaning. As for myself, I
give it up."

"Thank you," answered Barbara. "I will show it to them. I know it must
mean something, unless--unless the original Mr. Presby were crazy in
fact."

"I am beginning to think we are all crazy," laughed Stevens.

After having again inquired for Mollie, and shaken hands with Barbara
and Ruth, Bob went home. Barbara had stuffed the slip of paper into the
pocket of her blouse on her way to Mollie's room. Mollie now lay wide
awake. Her face was pale. There was a livid mark on her forehead, where
she had come violently in contact with the chimney side on her tumble
into the hole in the gable floor.

"Oh, Mollie, dear," soothed Bab, throwing her arms about her sister. "It
had to be you who got the worst of the bump. Were you leaning against
the wall, too?"

Mollie nodded weakly.

"What happened?" she asked.

Barbara explained as well as she could from the brief description of the
panel mechanism that Mr. Stevens had given to her, to which Mollie
listened wide-eyed.

"You dear 'Automobile Girls,'" cried Ruth. "Will you never stop picking
up horseshoe nails with all four tires?"

"But we manage to wriggle our way through the broken glass, don't we,
Molliekins?"

Mollie nodded and smiled. The wind was still howling without. In the
pause of conversation the girls listened. Suddenly Ruth sprang up.

"I have forgotten two things," she exclaimed. "I must go out and put the
storm curtains on Mr. A. Bubble and telephone father that Bubble must go
to the shop."

"You didn't have another accident?" inquired Barbara anxiously.

"No. I blew up the two rear tires and came in on the rims. Oh, girls, I
wish you might have been along. No, I don't, either. I'm afraid the car
wouldn't have stood up under that additional weight. It was great!"

"Did--did you go some?" questioned Mollie.

"Did we? Ask Tom! I'll wager that young man's head is whirling still. I
never thought we should make it, but I was bound not to set back the
spark a single notch until I either turned turtle in the ditch or got
Mr. Stevens here to help find you, Bab. We made it, didn't we, Tommy
boy?" Tom had just entered the room to see what was going on.

"You bet we did," answered Tom.

"Would you like to ride so fast as that another time?" questioned Ruth
merrily.

"Well, maybe in a railroad train," answered Tommy.

"I'll take you out again when the car is repaired," said Ruth.

"Not when I'm awake you won't."

"You say you came home on the rims?" wondered Barbara. "I should have
thought it would have crushed them. Yours is a heavy car, Ruth."

"It would have crushed them, only the rims didn't touch the ground till
we got in the drive here," observed Thomas wisely, whereat the girls
laughed merrily.

Ruth started to go down and put on her storm curtains. Bab ran after her
to assist.

"Oh!" cried Barbara, as an icy blast smote her in the face the moment
she stepped out into the open.

"You had better run back and put something over your head," advised
Ruth.

For answer, Barbara pulled out her handkerchief, binding this over her
head. The two girls, after no little effort, succeeded in putting the
curtains up, though the wind made their task doubly difficult.
Finishing, they ran into the house with benumbed fingers and cheeks
aflame. They rushed to the nearest fireplace, to which they pressed
closely until the odor of scorching cloth warned them to beware. Olive
and Grace had come downstairs, for dinner was on the table. A tray had
been taken up to Mollie, but she did not care to eat, and had soon after
fallen into a restful doze.

"You haven't told us what you found in that great, deep hole," urged
Olive, after they had been seated for some little time.

"Oh, I forgot," answered Barbara. "Everything has been moving so rapidly
that I haven't had time even to think. I found--I mean Mr. Stevens found
something. But I am afraid it doesn't help us much."

"Bob found something?" cried Olive. "Oh, tell us about it."

"Yes, he found a metal box in the chimney. In it there was a watch that
belonged to your scalped ancestor--I beg your pardon. I shouldn't have
said that. Your father has the watch. Well, inside the back case was a
tiny slip of paper with the funniest picture you ever saw. There was
some writing beneath the picture. I'll show it to you. I believe it
means something, but I can't understand it at all."

"All rubbish," observed Mr. Presby. The master of the house already had
shown the watch to Mrs. Presby, and had explained the manner of its
finding by young Stevens.

Bab was searching through her pocket for the slip of paper. She had her
handkerchief in her hand, together with some other articles that the
pocket had held. Going clear to the bottom, she groped with eager
fingers. Her face grew a shade paler.

"You haven't lost it?" begged Ruth.

"Oh, I am afraid I have!" gasped Barbara, turning her pocket wrong side
out. "I--I must have dropped it in the garret. May I be excused while I
go up to look for it?"

Receiving permission, the girl ran hurriedly up the garret stairs, first
having snatched up one of the lanterns. She searched the garret floor,
paying especial attention to the spot where they had been standing when
discussing the find. She found no trace of the missing slip. Next
Barbara examined every inch of the stairs, then entered Mollie's room on
tip-toe, but with no better success. Every nook and corner where she
could remember to have been on both floors was searched in vain.

"I think I can tell you where you lost it," volunteered Ruth Stuart "You
took out your handkerchief to put over your head when we were outside
covering the car. You must have pulled the paper out with the
handkerchief."

"Then I must go outside and look for it," wailed Bab. "I simply mustn't
lose that paper. It may mean everything to you all. Oh, I must find it."

"Silly! You won't find the paper if it has been dropped out of doors. On
a night like this it has probably blown far away," interposed Olive.
"Don't worry. It isn't worth it. Hunting for the Treasureholme treasure
brings nothing but tears. Forget it all and be your own bright little
self."

Barbara Thurston struggled with her emotions for a few heart-breaking
seconds, then burst into tears.



CHAPTER XVII

A LONG-REMEMBERED CHRISTMAS


THERE had been an air of new mystery about Treasureholme for the last
three or four days. Packages large and small, all addressed to Mrs.
Presby had been delivered from the city. Mysterious conferences were
being held between Mrs. Presby and this and that girl. Each of the
"Automobile Girls" appeared to be bursting with the burden of the secret
she was carrying about with her.

The explanation of all this mystery was that it then lacked but two days
to Christmas. Bab had in a measure recovered from her disappointment and
chagrin at losing the slip of paper found in the chimney, and strange to
say she had wholly forgotten the words that were written on the little
slip. All the information that Robert Stevens could give her was that it
was something about a "minute." The excitement under which all hands
were laboring at the time of the find, perhaps might be blamed for their
short memories. However, there was no help for the disaster now. The
coming holiday served to take their minds from the subject of the buried
treasure, though now and again Tom brought in reports of having seen
strange men in the grounds out near the woods. One evening the girls had
been frightened almost to the verge of hysterics by discovering a man
peering through the window of Olive's sitting room upstairs, while the
girls were chatting after the others below stairs had gone to bed. A
ladder found on the outside explained how the man had gotten to the
window. That his spying had something to do with the mad hunt for the
treasure, they had no doubt. In this instance their screams, aided
perhaps by the bottle of smelling salts that Olive had instantly hurled
through the window upon catching sight of him, had driven him away.

Christmas eve at last was at hand. The air without was crisp and clear,
within all was cheer from the blazing fireplaces, with decorations of
holly festooned with ribbons in all the downstairs rooms. The dining
room had been cleared as soon as possible after dinner, for it was there
that a Christmas tree was to be set up, there that the presents were to
be distributed to the "Automobile Girls" and various members of the
family. Excitement ran high. Bob Stevens had been invited to join in the
festivities, which included a molasses candy pull and games appropriate
to the occasion.

Seven o'clock had just boomed out on the grandfather's clock in the
hall when there came a ring at the door. The girls, with ears alert,
heard a familiar voice greeting Mr. and Mrs. Presby. Down the stairs
rushed the girls, with Ruth in the lead, crying at the top of her voice:

"It's my daddy! Oh, it's my dear daddy!" Ruth flung herself into her
father's arms. She had not seem him in more than two weeks. The rest of
the girls rushed up to Mr. Stuart, each giving him an affectionate hug,
for to them he seemed almost as much a father as he did to Ruth.

Barbara's heart sank as she stepped back to take a good look at Mr.
Stuart. His face was positively haggard. Ruth had observed this in the
first glance and two great tears dropped from her eyes to Mr. Stuart's
shoulder as she clung there.

"Dear daddy. Don't take it so hard. You have me," whispered Ruth. This
brought a momentary relaxation to the tense muscles of the speculator's
face.

Barbara was shocked at his appearance. He seemed to have added years to
his age since last she saw him. Mr. Stuart observed her inquiring gaze
fixed upon his face. He smiled reassuringly, well understanding that she
had noted the change in him. Then, to divert Bab's thoughts, he pinched
Mollie's dimpled chin.

"How is my little Molliekins since her adventure in the lower regions of
Treasureholme?" he questioned.

"My stock went down that day. It hasn't come up yet," answered Mollie
brightly.

"I am afraid you are not alone in that experience," laughed Mr. Stuart.
"Am I right, Richard?" addressing Mr. Presby. Mr. Presby nodded
solemnly. "By the way, Ruth, the chauffeur will drive your car out in
the morning. I heard all about that last drive of yours from the people
of Brightwaters. I expect my little girl will break her neck and at the
same time her dad's heart one of these days."

"I am not afraid for the first, but I shouldn't like to be responsible
for the latter," answered Ruth soberly.

"To-night we won't think of serious subjects. We are to make it a real
holiday, eh, Richard?"

"That is our plan. We want the 'Automobile Girls' to enjoy themselves.
It makes us happy to see them so happy. I've never seen Olive more happy
than she is to-night."

Olive was radiant. She, like her girl guests, was dressed in white, with
a sprig of holly pinned to her waist. Faces were flushed, eyes
sparkling. They were a happy, joyous lot of young women. Olive stole
into the drawing room that at her direction the servants already had
cleared of rugs, moving the furniture to the sides of the room. The only
light there was from the blazing fireplace. Olive sat down at the piano.

"Come on, everybody!" she called, striking up a lively two-step.

The "Automobile Girls" ran for the drawing room. With them went the
older members of the party. Ruth grabbed her father and led him a giddy
dance. Bob Stevens claimed a dance with Bab. Mr. Presby's gouty foot
would not permit his joining in the frolic, so Bob very thoughtfully cut
short his dance with Barbara, dancing a few minutes with each of the
other girls. Thomas Warrington Presby was turning handsprings in a
corner of the room, and, being in the shadow, he was not disturbed in
his antics.

Soon after this Mrs. Presby appeared at the door.

"Children," she called. "You are invited to come to the dining room. I
do not think a second invitation will be necessary."

It was not. There was a grand rush for the dining room, followed by a
chorus of "ahs" and "ohs" as they caught sight of a real, old-fashioned
Christmas tree, all alight with candles, glittering with spangles,
many-hued balls and yards and yards of sparkling frosted fringe. At its
top and hovering over it, floated a cherub, supported by an invisible
wire suspended from the ceiling. At the base of the tree were the
presents. There seemed to be a whole truck load of them. Some very large
packages excited the curiosity of the girls, but what caused the most
merriment was a huge red automobile, made of wire and red paper. The
automobile was filled with red roses, both being the gift to the
"Automobile Girls" from their friend, Mrs. Cartwright.

It fell to the lot of Mr. Stuart to distribute the presents. There was a
rifle for Tom, small gifts for all the girls from Mrs. Thurston, Mrs.
Presby and Miss Sallie, who had come over earlier in the day, having
spent most of her time thus far in getting the gifts ready for the
presentation. Bab and Mollie gave each of their friends drawn-work
handkerchiefs and some small pieces of embroidery, all their own work,
to Miss Sallie and Mrs. Presby. As yet the large packages that held so
much of mystery had not been opened.

Ruth finally slipped over and whispered to her father. He nodded. At
that she hurried to the tree, dragging the largest of the packages out
into the light. Mr. Stuart cut the strings, Ruth being too impatient to
untie them. A great heap of tissue paper, that piled high on the floor,
gave promise of something good. Ruth drew out a long, black object which
she ran over and placed in Barbara's arms.

"There, you dear! That should keep you warm," she said. "This is from
father and myself."

Barbara stared at the object that lay across her arms. It was a
three-quarter length Persian lamb coat. Barbara was too astonished to
catch the meaning of it all.

Aunt Sallie took the coat from Barbara's arms, turned the girl about and
slipped the coat on.

"Oh-h-h!" gasped Bab, catching sight of herself in a mirror. "No, no, I
can't accept it. It is--isn't right, Ruth--Mr. Stuart. Oh, you shouldn't
have done this! I didn't look for anything but some simple little gift.
But this lovely coat. Oh, Mollie, Mollie." Bab's eyes were swimming.

"Never mind, Molliekins," twinkled Mr. Stuart. "There is something in
the other package that I think will please you equally well. Ruth,
aren't you going to give my little golden-haired girl her present?"

Ruth flew to the second large package, the strings of which had been cut
by Mr. Stuart. From this package Ruth drew forth a coat exactly like
Barbara's, for Mollie. Two caps of the same material were placed on the
heads of the Thurston girls. Mollie needed no urging to put her coat on.
She slipped into it, then began dancing about the floor, regardless of
whose toes she stepped on. Fortunately for her, she missed Mr. Presby's
gouty foot.

"Now what do you think of yourselves, you dears?" questioned Ruth.

"Splendid!" cried Mollie.

Barbara shook her head, though her flushed face reflected the happiness
she felt. She glanced questioningly at Grace. The latter was smiling
with no trace of envy in her pleasant face. Then came Grace's turn. She,
too, received a coat and cap, these being of gray squirrel. Olive's
surprise was a set of silver fox furs, with a stole that reached almost
to her feet.

Ruth was last. Mr. Stuart opened a velvet case, then slipped a slender
gold chain about the neck of his daughter. From the chain was suspended
an exquisite pearl pendant. For Bob Stevens there was a handsome scarf
pin from the Presbys. The girls' gifts to the young man were gloves and
ties, a silver-handled pocket knife and other odds and ends that caused
Tommy to sniff disdainfully.

"That's just like girls," he jeered. "Why didn't you get him a rifle or
an automobile or something that he could do something with? I'd rather
have a pair of rubber boots than all of that truck."

But Bob Stevens was well pleased. He was greatly surprised, for he had
not looked for presents. The candy pull had been forgotten. The girls
were too happy in their new possessions, though Barbara Thurston was a
little troubled over the magnificence of the gifts for herself and
Mollie. She did not think Mr. Stuart should have given them such
expensive gifts. In spite of the happiness of the day and evening a
shadow overhung the entire party at Treasureholme. Perhaps Barbara
Thurston felt it more deeply than any of the other girls. And instead of
lightening the shadow was to grow deeper before the night was ended.



CHAPTER XVIII

BAB'S EXCITING DISCOVERY


A CHORUS of "Merry Christmas" was heard as the clock in the hall struck
the hour of midnight. Olive was seated at the piano. As the strokes of
the old clock ceased, she touched the keys softly, then began to sing.
The girls knew the song. They joined with her, raising their sweet,
young voices in the Christmas anthem:

          "Hark the herald angels sing
           Glory to the new-born King!
           Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
           God and sinners reconciled!"

Ere the song ended, Ruth's father had slipped away. He had been
profoundly stirred. Ruth saw him go. She stole away after him. It was
half an hour later that Barbara, on her way to her own room, where
Mollie already had gone, saw Ruth's door slightly ajar. Bab tapped
lightly. Ruth's voice bade her enter. But Bab shrank back when she saw
Mr. Stuart sitting there. His face was drawn and sad. There were tears
in Ruth's eyes. Barbara could scarcely keep back her own tears, so
keenly did she feel for these two whom she loved so well. The girl
stammered an apology and drew back.

"Bab, dear, come in," called Mr. Stuart.

"Yes, do. We need you. Perhaps you may be able to make daddy smile. I
can't, because I have no smiles left in me."

"I--I am afraid I haven't, either," answered Barbara, with trembling
lips. "Hadn't I better go to my own room? Perhaps you wish to talk
undisturbed."

"We want you here," answered Mr. Stuart. "Please close the door and sit
down." Bab walked to the centre of the room, where she stood leaning
against a table gazing down on them questioningly. Ruth nestled on her
father's knee with an arm thrown affectionately about his neck.

"My dear," he said, addressing Barbara, "I have just been telling Ruth
that this may be the last Christmas that she will be able to have all
her heart craves. I mean in the way of luxuries. My business affairs are
in a very bad way. You already know that Mr. Presby has no hopes of
being able to pull through. When he goes, I go. We shall go down
together. We have been speculating in wheat. We have loaded up so
heavily that I see no possibility of getting out." He paused
reflectively while the lines of his face grew haggard.

"You mean you are going to lose all you have?" almost whispered Barbara.

"Yes. Instead of the price of wheat going up, as it should have done at
this season of the year, wheat has been forced down and down by a strong
bear market. Behind it all there is a powerful but mysterious force, a
master brain that is forcing the price down and seeking to ruin us."

"Have you no idea who is doing this--who your enemy is?" asked Barbara.

"Nothing more than a vague suspicion. You see, the trading is done
largely through others. There is no one man, so far as we have been able
to discover, who is crowding us, forcing us to load up and to hold at a
frightful cost to ourselves. We know, however, that there is an
individual force back of this movement. Richard has mortgaged his
property to the last cent. After the first of the year, unless there be
a turn for better in his affairs, Treasureholme will be taken away from
him. After the first of the year I shall be a ruined man financially."

"Mr. Stuart," said Barbara in a steady voice, "I felt that you should
not have spent all that money on those beautiful gifts for us. I feel
even more strongly about it now. Won't--won't you please take them back?
Oh, you understand what I mean," cried Barbara, flushing hotly as she
saw his gaze fixed inquiringly upon her.

"Yes, my dear, I do. And I thank you. You are a noble girl. But even
such a sacrifice on your part would do no good. A few hundred dollars
would make no difference. I wanted Ruth and her friends to have a happy
Christmas; I wanted you all to be remembered as you deserve. As it is, I
have not done all that I had wished to do."

"Oh, you have done too much!" exclaimed Barbara.

"I wanted you as well as Ruth to understand just how matters stand. I
feel better for having unburdened my mind."

"Would it help you in the least if you were to know who this man is who
is driving you and Mr. Presby to failure?" asked Bab.

"It might help somewhat, thought it may be too late. Had I known a month
ago I might have succeeded in turning the tide against him."

"Oh, daddy, give it up! It's a dreadful business," begged Ruth.

"I am afraid I shall have to, whether or not I wish to do so. I agree
with you that it is a dreadful business, and if I get out of the woods
this time, I am through with speculation. Now, children run along. I
wish to talk with Mr. Presby. He awaits me downstairs."

Mr. Stuart kissed both girls, but clung to their hands a moment as he
gazed into their eyes. Then he released the hands and moved toward the
door. Ruth and Barbara stood watching him until Mr. Stuart had passed
from their sight and they heard him descending the stairs.

"Good night, dear. I can't talk any more to-night," said Ruth,
controlling her voice with an effort.

"I--I am afraid I can't either," answered Bab, with averted eyes.

She left the room rather hurriedly, closing the door behind her. For a
long time after Barbara had left Ruth Stuart's room, she lay in her own
bedroom on a lounge staring straight up at the ceiling. Mollie was
asleep, her golden head barely visible above the tops of the covers. "If
I could only do something for these good friends," murmured Bab. "But
what can a girl do? I wonder how much money it would take to save them?
It would take a lot, I know."

After a time Barbara got up to get her handkerchief. She had dropped
hers in Ruth's room. On the dresser lay Barbara's hand bag, the one she
had carried with her on her way from Kingsbridge. She had not used it
since, Ruth having bought her a very handsome bag in Chicago during one
of their shopping expeditions. Bab remembered that there was a
handkerchief in the bag.

Opening the bag, she drew out the handkerchief which lay under some
other articles. As she did so something white fluttered to the floor a
few feet from where she was standing. Barbara wiped her eyes, then stood
regarding herself in the mirror. She saw that her own face was troubled
and that her eyes were red, as though she had been weeping. Then she
stepped over, picking up the handsome coat that Mr. Stuart and Ruth had
given her for Christmas. With a sigh Bab laid the coat down, smoothed it
out and began preparing for bed. She had given no further thought to the
little piece of white cardboard that had slipped from her handkerchief a
few moments before. Bab was in bed, snuggling down by Mollie, very
shortly afterwards, with the lights turned off. The girl lay staring
into the darkness until her weary eyelids closed and she dropped off to
sleep.

When Barbara awoke the following morning Mollie was still sleeping
soundly. Bab, however, rose at once, still rubbing her eyes and trying
to recall something that had been troubling her when she went to sleep.
Suddenly it all came back to Bab in a flood of disagreeable
recollection.

Barbara took her time at making her toilet, thinking deeply as she
brushed her thick, fine hair before the mirror. The girl had half turned
to call Mollie when all at once she caught sight of the bit of
pasteboard lying on the floor.

"I wonder what that is? I remember seeing something fall from the bag
last night."

She picked up the card, glanced at it carelessly and was about to toss
it on the dresser top when suddenly Bab uttered a little gasp. Her hand
trembled. She gazed with staring eyes at the name on the card. "Mr.
Nathan Bonner," she read.

For the moment Bab continued to stare.

"The man in section thirteen," she murmured. Bab tried to recall what
had been said about Nathan Bonner, but she could not remember. She knew
only that what she had heard had left an unpleasant impression on her
mind. It was Nathan Bonner whom she had seen in the Pit at the Board of
Trade. She shuddered as she recalled the almost demoniac expression on
that hard, cruel face. Then all at once the conversation that she had
overheard while lying in her berth in the sleeping car on that eventful
night came before her.

"Oh, oh, oh!" cried Barbara under her breath.

"What ever is the matter with you, Bab?" demanded a voice from the bed.

"Oh, Molliekins, I've made such an exciting discovery. But I can't say a
word about it. I must find Mr. Stuart this very minute. I must hurry. I
haven't a moment to lose. Oh, I do hope I am not too late!"



CHAPTER XIX

A BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT


BARBARA had slipped on a kimono and was starting for the door.

"Aren't you going to kiss me good morning?" pouted Mollie.

Bab ran back, throwing her arms about Mollie, giving her sister a quick
embrace and kiss; then she hurried from the room, going straight to
Ruth's bedroom. To her surprise, she found Ruth Stuart fully dressed.
The girl was sitting before a window staring out at the whitened fields.

"Oh, Ruth, I'm so glad I found you awake. Do you know whether your
father is up yet?"

"Yes. Why, dear?"

"I must see him at once. I have important information for him. You will
excuse me, won't you, if I run down to see him? Is he downstairs?"

Ruth shook her head sorrowfully. There was no laughter in her eyes this
morning. She seemed very different from the bright, carefree Ruth of
old.

"Father is not here, Bab."

"No-ot here?" gasped Bab.

"No; he left on the seven o'clock train for Chicago this morning. After
an all-night conference between him and Mr. Presby, it was decided that
daddy must go into the city early this morning to see that Mr. Thompson
whom you girls met at the wreck of the car on your journey to Chicago. I
don't know what it is all about, but I suspect it is money," concluded
Ruth with a trace of bitterness in her tone. "When I think how happy you
girls are in your little home without wealth, I sometimes wish I had
never known luxury. But what did you want to see father about?" demanded
Ruth suddenly.

"I--I wanted to tell him something. Oh, please don't ask me now, Ruth,
dear. Is--is he at home or at the office?"

"At home, I think. The office will not be open to-day, this being a
holiday."

"Then I am going to Chicago to see him," declared Barbara firmly.

Ruth gazed at her incredulously.

"You can't mean that?"

"But I do."

"Alone?"

"Unless Aunt Sallie will accompany me. I would rather she did not
to-day."

"Bab, I don't know what you have in that little head of yours, but I do
know that is it important. You are not flighty, like myself. You need
not tell me what is it that is troubling you, but if you wish, I will go
to town with you."

"Oh, will you really go with me, Ruth?" cried Bab, her face expressing
her relief at Ruth's declaration. "Then let's get ready at once."

"You forget that we have Aunt Sallie to reckon with first, Bab,"
reminded Ruth.

Miss Sallie for a time gave promise of wholly defeating Barbara's plan
to go into the city to see Mr. Stuart. However, after Bab had taken Miss
Sallie into her confidence, the latter gave a reluctant consent. Ruth
knew her way about so well that there would be no possibility of getting
lost, and then they were going to her home, which made the journey seem
less undesirable than it might have under other circumstances.

The result was that Ruth and Barbara took the nine o'clock train for
Chicago that morning amid loud protests from Olive, Mollie and Grace.
Ruth regretted that the man had not come out with Mr. A. Bubble that
morning. She hoped, however, that they might find the car at home.
Perhaps her father intended to drive out in the car that night. However,
Barbara's mission being so urgent, the best thing to do was to take a
train for Chicago at once.

From the station in Chicago the girls proceeded quickly to the Stuart
home. Mr. Stuart was not at home. He had not been there, but had called
up on the telephone to say that he would try to be home for luncheon.
Ruth went to the telephone and called up her father's office. Mr.
Stuart's secretary, who had been called there to do some important work
that day, said his employer would be in in half an hour. Bab announced
her intention of going to the office, urging Ruth not to trouble to
accompany her, as her friend had several matters to attend to at home.

"Very well," answered Ruth, after a moment's reflection, "I will call a
taxicab. I'll tell the driver exactly where to leave you. You must make
him wait for you, then you can come straight back here. I know you want
to see daddy alone, but I'm not a bit jealous," she added, giving Bab's
pink cheek a loving pinch. "Daddy will be surprised to see you. You
probably will be in time to take luncheon with him down town. I don't
believe he will be home for luncheon now, it's getting so late. It's too
bad that our Christmas dinner at Treasureholme had to be spoiled first
with father's going away, then you making up your mind to rush down to
Chicago. Tell me, dear, have you an idea in that little head of yours
that you can help father in his present difficulty?" questioned Ruth
earnestly.

"Yes, I have," admitted Barbara, "But I would rather not tell you
anything about it. You might make fun of me and convince me that I was
foolish. I might be afraid to go to Mr. Stuart in that event, fearing he
might make fun of me, too, but----"

"Not father! There is the taxicab. I'll go out and tell the driver what
I wish him to do." Ruth hurried out with her friend, giving the driver
such directions as she had decided upon.

The drive to the building in which Mr. Stuart's office was located
occupied not more than fifteen minutes, for, this being a holiday, the
streets were reasonably clear of the heavier vehicles that usually
interfere with the traffic. Barbara knew the building, having been there
before. She therefore found no difficulty in making her way to the
office. The driver, acting upon Ruth's orders, waited below.

But Bab again was fated to be disappointed. Mr. Stuart had not yet
returned, his secretary informed her. Barbara decided to wait awhile.
She inquired as to where she might find Mr. Stuart, but the secretary
could not say. He informed her that there were important business
conferences on for that day, though Mr. Stuart might be looked for at
any moment.

Bab went down and dismissed the taxicab, then returned to the office to
wait. An hour went by, and still Mr. Stuart had not returned. So she
entered into conversation with the not unwilling secretary by asking him
if he knew Mr. Bonner, a Chicago broker.

"Yes, I know him. Is he an acquaintance of yours?" he asked curiously.

"I've met him. Where is his office?"

The secretary told her, then added:

"You're not going to see _him_, are you?"

"I must see Mr. Stuart," replied Barbara evasively. "I'd better go, for
he may go home without returning to the office."

"That may be," said the secretary. "If he comes in, whom shall I tell
him called?"

"Miss Barbara Thurston," she answered, as she hurried away.

Bab had some difficulty in getting past the clerks in the outer room,
but was finally ushered into Mr. Bonner's private office.

Bonner looked pleased when he saw his visitor, but he evidently failed
to recognize her.

"I'm Miss Thurston, the girl who saved your life perhaps in the wreck
some time ago," she announced boldly and according to her plan.

"Of course! How stupid of me! I owe a great deal to you, Miss Thurston."

"You can do a great deal, Mr. Bonner," put in the girl quickly. "I've
come to ask that you keep your promise to me."

"Let me see, was it a box of bon-bons?" questioned Bonner lightly.

Barbara ignored this and asked bluntly:

"Why do you insist on ruining Mr. Stuart and Mr. Presby?"

"Please explain yourself," said Bonner harshly, taken off his guard and
flushing hotly.

Barbara did so, in girlish fashion.

"Young woman, did Robert Stuart send you to intercede for him?"

"Oh, no! He would be displeased if he knew that I had come here to-day."

"Miss Thurston, I admire your pluck. I, not being responsible for Mr.
Stuart's or for Mr. Presby's speculations, can of course do nothing for
you in this. If I could, I think my gratitude to you for saving my life
would take a personal form. This is business, and in that each man
fights for himself. By the way, how did you get the notion that I am in
any way responsible for Mr. Stuart's misjudgment on market conditions?"

"I chanced to overhear your conversation with your friend 'Jim' on the
sleeper."

"So you played eavesdropper! I would not have thought it of you, Miss
Thurston."

"It was impossible not to hear; but when you mentioned Mr. Stuart's
name, I listened, call it what you please."

"I presume you told Robert Stuart what you heard," he responded, again
flushing.

"No, Mr. Bonner--not yet."

With the words, Barbara rose and ran out of the office, slamming the
door behind her. Her face was aflame and she was trembling.

When she reached the street she decided to walk for part of the
distance, so that she would have time to quiet her agitation before she
should reach the Stuarts' home. It was growing dark before she realized
that she would have to take a taxi or the Stuarts would be very much
worried about her.

"Oh, Bab, where have you been? We've been frightfully worried," cried
Ruth. "Dad's home, and he said his secretary told him you'd left the
office about three o'clock."

"I started to walk, and forgot how late it was, Ruth."

Mr. Stuart, who had come into the hall in time to hear the conversation
and noting how tired Bab looked, said:

"Come to dinner now, and Barbara can tell us things later."

When dinner was over and they were seated around the library fire,
Barbara turned to Mr. Stuart and said:

"I can tell you the name of the man who's fighting you and Mr. Presby,
Mr. Stuart. Will the knowledge do you any good?"

"You, Barbara! How can you know this? It would have helped a month ago,
my girl; I fear it is too late now."

Bab's heart sank. Was what she had done--and it had been hard for a girl
to do--in vain?

"Why does Mr. Nathan Bonner hate you?"

"Nathan Bonner started, a green boy, as a clerk in my office. I thought
him worthy and helped him, but finally found it necessary to dismiss
him."

"Yes, he's crooked," said Barbara. Mr. Stuart started and looked at the
girl in amazement; so she settled back and told him the story of the
trip to Chicago in detail. "He mentioned your name, Mr. Stuart. He also
said that because I had saved his life, he would assist me if I ever
needed aid. To-day he refused."

"To-day! Where did you see Bonner?"

"Oh!" Only then did Barbara tell her host how she had spent the
afternoon.

"My dear, you're a very imprudent girl. Nevertheless, you have done me a
service for which I can never give you adequate thanks," said Mr.
Stuart, his voice husky with emotion.



CHAPTER XX

CONCLUSION


THE next morning after breakfast, the girls, bundled in furs, left the
house for their ride to Treasureholme. Mr. Stuart had done what he could
by telephone, but had not yet gone downtown, for there was nothing
further to be accomplished until the opening of the market. Just before
he helped the girls into the car he thrust a finger into his vest pocket
and said:

"I almost forgot. The men at the garage found this in the bottom of the
car. I think it's your lost memorandum, Barbara."

"Oh, thank you! I'm so glad!" cried Bab.

"Ruth," said Barbara, after the girls had reached the outskirts of the
city, "do you think there really is a hidden treasure and if we could
find it your father----"

"I haven't much faith in the treasure, and if one should come to light,
it would be Mr. Presby's and not father's."

"Mr. Presby would use it to help himself, and that would draw your
father out, too."

"Bab, you ought to be on the Exchange; you'd make a good trader,"
laughed Ruth. Then she went on: "No, Bab, I'm afraid we'll lose all we
have. I don't care for myself. I can be poor, just as daddy and my
mother were once. But I grieve for father."

"Ruth, darling," whispered Bab.

On their arrival at Treasureholme the girls found that Mr. Stuart had
telephoned to Miss Sallie about what Bab had tried to do for her two
hosts. The girls tried to make a heroine of her, but she steadfastly
refused to think she had done anything extraordinary.

When Barbara was finally alone in her room she drew out of her pocket
the slip of yellow paper, spread it on her lap and regarded it intently.

"'The span of a minute is sixty seconds,'" she read. "What can that
mean?"

She got up and paced the floor thinking deeply, trying to solve the
meaning. She at last went to a window and spread the paper on the pane
for the purpose of getting a better light on it. Her gaze, at first
careless, suddenly became keen. All at once she whirled about and dashed
from the room.

"Girls, I have it!" she screamed, bursting in on the others, who were in
Ruth's room. "I've solved the mystery! I've found the key! We must get
Mr. Stevens! We mustn't lose a minute! Everything's at stake!"

"What is it, Bab? Are you certain?" demanded Grace, springing to her
feet.

"Oh, I can't tell you now! Let's get Mr. Stevens, can't we?"

"Mr. A. Bubble!" cried Ruth, and flew from the room.

The girls rushed pell-mell for the car, dragging Miss Stuart with them,
none knowing what Bab had in mind, but all eager and excited. Ruth drove
at top speed, and the girls burst in on Bob Stevens whom they found in
his shop.

"See this!" cried Bab, holding the bit of paper out to the young man.
"Put it against the window." He did so wonderingly, then turned and
looked at the girls. "What did you see?" demanded Bab impatiently.

Bob had seen a line drawn from the top of a toadstool extending to the
right. At the end of the line was the sign "60".

"What do those little marks after the sixty mean?" demanded Bab.

"On building plans they would mean inches. Expressing time, they would
indicate seconds."

"You have it! If we face the woods and start to measure from the top of
the 'toadstool,' that undoubtedly represents the mound under which lies
the big chief, and measure off 'sixty seconds' which means sixty inches,
or five feet, we'll find the treasure."

No one stopped to question the probability of Barbara's deductions. Bob
summoned a man who worked for him, sent a boy to get two more from
Treasureholme, and, taking picks, shovels, and a coil of rope, drove off
with the girls in Mr. A. Bubble as fast as they could go to the Indian
burying ground. It was nearly dark when they reached there and sprang
from the car, neither Bab nor Bob waiting for it to come to a full stop.

"William, bring me something I can drive in here for a marker," Bob
called to his man who was hurrying toward them from the direction of the
woods.

"There's a fellow over there in the woods," announced William. "He was
kind of hiding."

"Never mind that. Let's get to work here."

The two hands from Treasureholme arrived, and, the measurements having
been taken, the men set to digging. Lanterns had been brought and when
dark fell these were lighted and held by the girls.

In an hour's time the men had opened a hole six feet deep, as broad at
the top, narrowing toward the bottom.

"It begins to look dubious," said Bob. "Say, Barbara, we'll try another
way!"

Following Bob's directions, Bab placed one end of the steel tape in the
middle of the big mound and again the exact distance was measured. Bob
took the stake that William had brought up to measure with and drove it
with the back of his shovel little by little down in the exact center of
the hole he had dug. He had forced the stake down about three feet when
he uttered an exclamation.

"What is it?" cried the girls in chorus.

"Maybe a stone. I hardly think it is," and he began to dig frantically.
In a few moments came the shout: "I've struck metal! There is something
here!"

The girls danced with impatience, but a half hour went by before the men
unearthed an iron box with bands of the same material about it and the
cover soldered to the box to make it air tight.

Bab put her arms about Ruth and whispered:

"It will be all right now, Ruth. Oh, I'm so glad!" while the other girls
laughed and shouted in their excitement.

It was the work of another half hour before the four men got a rope
around the heavy box and, by the aid of the automobile, drew it out of
the deep hole, after which, with great labor, it was got into the car.

Once at the house, it was left to Mrs. Presby, as the representative of
the family, to say what should be done with the chest.

"Open it," was the command.

This was not easily done, but when the work was finally accomplished,
what a sight met their eyes!

There was at least a bushel of gold coins. There was valuable family
plate. In a sealed receptacle they found a quantity of jewels and a
bundle of papers. The papers Mrs. Presby put away until her husband
should have an opportunity to go over them.

"There's a fortune here. I think Treasureholme need not be lost now,"
said Stevens.

"It comes too late," said Mrs. Presby bitterly. "Mr. Presby telephoned
me after the close of the market that to-morrow would end all, as he and
Robert could not meet their obligations when it opened in the morning."

"To-morrow morning!" exclaimed Bab. "Then we must get this treasure to
them to-night! We must do it some way!"

"Impossible," said Olive.

"No, it's not!" declared Ruth. "I'll take the chest to Chicago in the
car."

"But it's nearly midnight, Ruth. You can't do it," protested Mrs.
Presby.

There was little time for discussion and objection, and in the end the
chest was again loaded into the car and the four "Automobile Girls" and
Bob Stevens set off for Chicago, Miss Sallie promising to telephone to
Mr. Stuart that the girls were on their way.

It was a wild midnight ride into Chicago. The girls became convinced
that they were being followed, but by turning off her lights and driving
into a private lane until the following car had flashed by and then
taking a longer but little-used road into the city, Ruth evaded the
pursuers, if such they were. Nor did they see the car again until they
drew up in front of the Stuart house in the brilliantly light street and
with a policeman in plain sight.

Mr. Stuart and Mr. Presby spent the night in making an inventory and the
morning before the opening of the market in calling up their bankers and
lawyers. They were tired and worn when the opening hour came, but the
day was saved, and while neither made the fortune he had anticipated,
each had added materially to his wealth. For this they gave credit to
Barbara Thurston, but she steadfastly refused the reward they offered
her. The money reward she refused, but she could not refuse the
admiration and love they gave her.

They learned later that Nathan Bonner had had a private detective on the
grounds of Treasureholme, and it was he who had followed Mr. A. Bubble
into the city. Bonner lost heavily in the crash, but still retained
enough of his fortune to be a financial power.

A week of pleasure followed the finding of the treasure. On the evening
before the departure of Bab and Mollie and Grace for Kingsbridge, Ruth
gave a large reception in honor of her guests.

On the evening of the affair the four girls, when they repaired to their
rooms in the Stuart home to dress for the reception, found four
exquisite frocks, the gifts of Mr. Stuart and Mr. Presby, who would not
be denied this method of showing their appreciation. The gowns were
white filmy chiffon over soft white silk. White shoes, white silk
chiffon hose, everything needed to complete their toilet that night lay
ready at hand. None of the three girls from Kingsbridge had dreamed that
they would ever possess such beautiful and exquisitely designed dresses.

But this was not their only surprise. A great box of roses was delivered
to the house while the girls were dressing. It was addressed to Miss
Barbara Thurston. With it there was a note reading:

          "I always did love a fighter. What a trader you
          would make! It was a fair fight, and you won.
                                          NATHAN BONNER."

"No, it wasn't a fair fight. It was distinctly an unfair one," declared
Barbara. "I think I shall send these flowers back."

"I don't believe I would do that," advised Miss Sallie. "The flowers are
plainly intended as a tribute to you as a fighter, Bab, and the
acceptance of flowers is unlike the acceptance of any other gift."

So Barbara kept the roses.

The next day the "Automobile Girls'" party was broken up. The time for
Grace, Bab, and Mollie to return to Kingsbridge had arrived, to the keen
regret of both the young people and their elders. Mr. Stuart, with a
twinkle in his eyes, kept talking vaguely about "Easter," but what his
plans were, he would not say.

The wonderful Easter vacation that these plans developed into may be
read about in a following volume entitled, "THE AUTOMOBILE GIRLS AT PALM
BEACH; or, Proving Their Mettle Under Southern Skies," a vacation never
to be forgotten by the "Automobile Girls."


THE END



_And There Are Others!_

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          or, The Parting of the Ways.=



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          =5. GRACE HARLOWE'S RETURN TO OVERTON CAMPUS.=

          =6. GRACE HARLOWE'S PROBLEM.=

          =7. GRACE HARLOWE'S GOLDEN SUMMER.=



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

Obvious punctuation errors were corrected.

Page 145, "wierd" changed to "weird" (weird wail rose from)

Page 187, "rasing" changed to "raising" (raising their sweet)





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