Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Automobile Girls At Washington by Laura Dent Crane

Part 3 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bab did not return her look or make any answer.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

"I don't know that I quite approve of Mrs. Wilson's method of practical
joking," Harriet went on. "She frightened all of us. But then, if no one
had discovered her, no harm would have been done."

Mollie and Grace gazed at Harriet, without trying to conceal their
surprise, but Ruth and Bab only looked steadfastly at their plates.

"Father is so strict and good all the time, I just wish somebody would
play a trick on him," Harriet went on angrily. She was annoyed at the
attitude of the "Automobile Girls," and she was still smarting under the
hurt of her father's speech the night before. As long as her father had
refused her money before she had even asked him for it, Harriet had
decided that it would be worse than useless to appeal to him again. She
was now waiting for disaster to break over her head.

"Mrs. Wilson rather blames you, Barbara," Harriet continued. "She says
she did not succeed in her joke, after all, because you came down
stairs at the wrong time and foiled the whole thing. She could not find
the silly old paper she needed. But do please be quiet as mice about
the whole affair. Don't mention it before the servants. Father will be
home to-night. Will you girls mind excusing me for the day, and finding
some way of amusing yourselves? I have promised Mrs. Wilson to go home
with her."

"Of course we can get along, Harriet," Grace replied. "I hope you will
have a good time."

Bab made no answer to Harriet's report of Mrs. Wilson's attitude toward
her. But she was convinced that Mrs. Wilson knew she had discovered the
stolen paper and returned it to its rightful place.

The "Automobile Girls" did not see Harriet again that morning.

At noon a message was sent upstairs. Mr. William Hamlin had returned and
wished to see his daughter at once. When he learned that Harriet was not
at home, he immediately sent for Ruth.

"Ruth, I have come home sooner than I had planned," he declared, "And I
wish to have a talk with you. Now, please keep your self-control. Girls
and women have such a fashion of flying into a rage at the first word one
says, that it is perfectly impossible to have any reasonable conversation
with them. I wish to talk with you quite quietly and calmly."

"Very well, Uncle," Ruth replied, meekly enough, though she was far from
feeling meek. She could readily understand why Harriet had found it
impossible to make a confidant of her father.

"I am glad you are so sensible, Ruth," Mr. Hamlin went on. "For I have
reason to believe that your friend, Barbara Thurston, has proved herself
an undesirable guest, since her arrival in Washington, which I very much
deplore. She is dishonorable, for she has secretly entered my study and
been seen handling my papers, and she has contracted a debt; for I saw
the check by means of which she returned the borrowed money to Mrs.
Wilson. I cannot understand how you and your father have managed to be so
deceived by the young woman."

"Stop, Uncle William," Ruth interrupted hotly. "I cannot, of course, tell
you that the things which you say are untrue. But at least I have the
right to say that I positively know you are wrong. I shall ask Barbara to
come down to your study, at once, to deny these charges. Then we shall go
home immediately."

"There, Ruth, I expected it," Mr. Hamlin answered testily. "Just as I
said. You have gone off the handle at once. Of course your young friend
may have some plausible explanation for her actions. But I will not be
guilty of making any accusations against a guest in my own house under
any circumstances. I have only mentioned these facts to you because I
feel that it is my positive duty to warn you against this girl, whom you
have chosen for your most intimate friend. It is impossible that I have
been deceived in regard to her. I have positive proof of what I say, and
I sadly fear she is a very headstrong and misguided girl."

Ruth was already crying from anger, which made it hard for her to answer
her uncle's speech. "You certainly don't object to my telling Barbara of
your accusations, Uncle William?" Ruth demanded. "I think it is only
fair to her."

"Not while she is in my house. You are to tell her nothing," Mr. Hamlin
ordered. "When Miss Thurston leaves you may tell her whatever you wish.
But I will not have a scene with her while she is staying here."

Mr. Hamlin was a cold, selfish and arrogant man. He well deserved the
blow to his pride that he was to receive later.

Ruth controlled herself in order to think deeply and quietly. Her father
was wise in his trust in her. Ruth had excellent judgment and good
sense. She was not particularly impressed by her uncle's command. She
felt that she had a perfect right to tell her friend of what she had
been accused. Yet would it be a good idea? Barbara would be
heart-broken, and nothing would induce her to remain in Mr. Hamlin's
house another hour after she learned his opinion of her. Ruth knew it
would not be well for Bab to rush off home in sudden anger, leaving a
false impression behind her. Barbara must stay in Mr. Hamlin's house
until he himself apologized to her.

Ruth did not dare to go back upstairs to the other girls immediately
after her interview with her uncle. She knew her friends would recognize
at once, from her red eyes and her excitement, that something was the
matter. Yet Ruth longed for a confidant, and she meant to unburden
herself to Grace as soon as she had the opportunity. To go upstairs now
would reveal everything to Mollie and Barbara as well.

Ruth seized her coat and hat from a closet in the hall and rushed out
into the street. She began walking as rapidly as she could, to let the
fresh air cool the tumult of feeling that was surging within her. Ruth
must have walked a mile before she determined what to do. Before she
returned to Mr. Hamlin's house, she found a telegraph office and went
into it. She sent a telegram to her father in Chicago, which read:

"Come to Washington as soon as possible. Bab wrongly suspected. She is
still in ignorance, but we need you.

"Ruth Stuart."

Little did Ruth yet dream why these toils were being wound about
unhappy Barbara. Mollie's one act of weakness had involved her sister in
a number of actions that did look wrong to an outsider. Yet the
explanation of them was so simple, if Bab had only known it were best for
her to tell the whole story! But Barbara was trying to shield Mollie, and
Mollie did not dream that Bab would suffer any consequences from her
foolish deed. So Bab's peculiar proceedings since her arrival in
Washington had indeed played well into the hands of her enemies. Mr.
Hamlin's mind had been poisoned against her. She had been seen to do
several underhanded things, one following directly after the other. If a
big game were being attempted, the reputation of Barbara Thurston was of
little account. Besides Bab had already blocked several of the players in
the game. Revenge could very well enter into the present scheme of
things, and a girl who had no one to defend her might prove a useful
tool. As a last resort she could be made a scapegoat.

In the meanwhile, Barbara was blissfully unconscious of any trouble, and
went singing cheerily about her room that morning. Since the delivery of
her check to Mrs. Wilson it seemed to her that the skies were blue again.
During the rest of her stay in Washington Bab meant just to enjoy the
beautiful sights of the wonderful city and not to trouble about the
disagreeable people. She did intend to ask Harriet to take her to see the
cunning little Chinese girl, Wee Tu, before she went home, but she had no
other very definite desires.

As for Mrs. Wilson? Barbara had just wisely decided that the woman
belonged to a curious type, which she did not understand and wished to
keep away from. Bab did not admire Mrs. Wilson's methods of playing
jokes. On the other hand it was none of Barbara Thurston's business. So
long as she had put the paper back in Mr. Hamlin's strong box no harm had
been done.

Barbara still had in her possession the key to that strong box. She had
neglected to give it to Harriet, because Harriet had left home so soon
after breakfast. And now that very terrifying person, Mr. William
Hamlin, had returned home, and Barbara Thurston still had the key in her
possession. Even Ruth had gone out. What should she do? She decided to
keep the key until Harriet came back in the afternoon. Then Harriet could
make some sort of explanation to her father. Barbara simply did not have
the courage to tell Mr. Hamlin that she had discovered Mrs. Wilson
tampering with his papers, and that it was she who had found the stolen
paper and locked it up again.

However, fate was certainly against Bab at the present time. A
servant knocked at the door of the next room, where Grace and Mollie
were reading.

"Please," the maid said, "Mr. Hamlin wants to know if Miss Harriet
left a key with you? It is a most important key, and Mr. Hamlin needs
it at once."

Grace and Mollie both shook their heads. No; Harriet had mentioned no
such key to them.

Barbara was waiting in the next room with the door open. She knew her
turn would come next.

"Do you know anything of the key, Miss Barbara?" Harriet's maid inquired.

Of course Bab blushed. She always did at the wrong time.

"Yes, I have the key, Mary," she replied. "Wait a minute, I will get
it for you."

"Do the young ladies know anything of my key?" Mr. William Hamlin's
impatient voice was heard just outside Barbara's door.

Innocently the maid opened it. "Wait a minute, Mr. Hamlin, please. Miss
Thurston says she has the key. She is getting it for you now."

And Barbara had to come to the door herself to present the key to this
dreadful old "Bluebeard."

"I presume my daughter left my key in your charge," Mr. Hamlin
asked coldly.

"No," she declared almost under her breath, hoping her stern host would
either not hear her, or at least not heed her. "Harriet did not leave
it with me."

"Then kindly tell me how my key came into your possession?" Mr. Hamlin
inquired, in chilling, even tones. Bab shivered.

"I found it," Bab answered lamely, having it in mind to tell the whole
strange story of last night's experience. But she was too frightened by
Mr. Hamlin's manner and by the fear that she would be regarded as a
telltale by Harriet. If Mr. Hamlin's own daughter had not considered her
guest's actions unusual, it was not exactly Bab's place to report them.
So she remained silent, and her host also turned away in silence.

Harriet did not come home until just before dinner time. She told the
"Automobile Girls" she had spent a delightful day, but her behavior was
unusual. She looked frightened, though at the same time happier than she
had seemed since the hour she had received the first threatening letter
from her dressmaker.

Peter Dillon had walked home with Harriet. Barbara, who happened to be
standing at the front window, saw them stop to talk for a moment at the
door before Peter said good-bye. Peter was making himself very charming
to Harriet. He was talking to her in his half laughing, half earnest
fashion in the very manner that had seemed so attractive to Bab, too,
at first. But it was a manner she had learned later on to distrust and
even to fear.

When Harriet parted from Peter Dillon she nodded her head emphatically
and apparently made him a promise, and Barbara saw Peter look back at her
with a peculiar smile as she ascended the steps.



Harriet Hamlin was restless and nervous all the next day. Even Mr.
Hamlin, noticing his daughter's nervous manner at luncheon, suggested
that she take her friends out to pay some calls. So Bab put forth her
plea that she wished to make another visit to the home of the Chinese
minister. As the girls had not yet paid their luncheon call at the
embassy Harriet agreed to take them to see Wee Tu. Before she left the
house Harriet called up her dressmaker and had a long confidential talk
with her over the telephone. She seemed in better spirits afterwards.

The Chinese minister's wife, Lady Tu, was receiving. As there were no men
in the drawing-room, her daughter, Wee Tu, sat among the young girls as
quiet and demure as a picture on a fan.

Bab managed to persuade the little girl into a corner to have a quiet
chat with her. But Miss Wee Tu was difficult to draw out. Across the
room, Harriet Hamlin chanced to mention the name of Peter Dillon. At
once the little Chinese girl's expression changed. The change was very
slight. Hardly a shade of emotion crossed her unexpressive, Oriental
face, but curious Barbara was watching for that very change. She
remembered the young girl had been affected by Peter's appearance during
their former visit.

"Do you like Mr. Dillon?" inquired Bab. She had no excuse for her
question except her own wilful curiosity.

But Wee Tu was not to be caught napping.

"Lige?" she answered, with a soft rising inflection that made the "k" in
"like" sound as "g." "I do not know what Americans mean by the
word--'Lige.' You 'lige' so many people. A Chinese girl 'liges' only a
few--her parents, her relatives; sometimes she 'liges' her husband, but
not always."

"Don't like your husband!" exclaimed Bab in surprise. "Why, what do
you mean?"

The little Chinese maiden was confused both by the American word and the
American idea.

"The Chinese girl has respect for her husband; she does what he tells her
to do, but she does not all the time 'lige' him, because her father has
chosen him for her husband. I shall marry a prince, when I go back to
China, but he is 'verra' old."

"Oh, I see!" Bab rejoined. "You thought I meant 'love' when I said
'like.' It is quite different to love a person." Bab smiled wisely. "To
love is to like a great deal."

"Then I love this Mr. Peter Dillon," said the Chinese girl sweetly.

Bab gasped in shocked surprise.

"It is most improper that I say so, is it not?" smiled Miss Wee Tu. "But
so many things that American girls do seem improper to Chinese ladies.
And I do like this Mr. Peter very much. He comes always to our house. He
is 'verra' intimate with my father. He talks to him a long, long time and
they have Chinese secrets together. Then he talks with me so that I can
understand him. Many people will not trouble with a Chinese girl, who is
only fifteen, even if her father is a minister."

Barbara was overwhelmed with Wee Tu's confidence, but she knew she
deserved it as a punishment for her curiosity. The strangest thing was
that the young Chinese girl spoke in a low, even voice, without the least
change of expression in her long, almond eyes. Any one watching her would
have thought she was talking of the weather.

"I go back to China when my father's time in the United States is over
and then I get married. It makes no difference. But while I am in your
country I play I am free, like an American girl, and I do what I like
inside my own head."

"It's very wrong," Barbara argued hastily. "It is much better to trust to
your parents."

"Yes?" answered Wee Tu quietly. Bab was vexed that Peter Dillon's
careless Irish manners had also charmed this little Oriental maiden. But
Bab was wise enough to understand that Wee Tu's interest was only that of
a child who was grateful to the young man for his kindness.

Barbara rose to join her friends, who were at this moment saying good-bye
to their hostess.

"It is the Chinese custom," Lady Tu remarked graciously, "to make little
presents to our guests. Will not Mr. Hamlin's daughter and her four
friends receive these poor offerings?"

A servant handed the girls five beautiful, carved tortoise shell boxes,
containing exquisite sets of combs for their hair, the half dozen or more
that Chinese women wear.

"I felt ashamed of my wind-blown hair when Lady Tu presented us with
these combs," Grace exclaimed, just before the little party reached home.
They had paid a dozen more calls since their visit to the Chinese
Embassy. "I suppose Chinese women are shocked at the way American girls
wear their hair."

"Yes, but we can't take three hours to fix ours," laughed Mollie, running
up the steps of the Hamlin house. In the front hall Mollie spied an
immense box of roses. They were for Harriet. Harriet picked up the box
languidly and started upstairs. She had talked very little during the
afternoon, and had seemed unlike herself.

"Aren't you going to open your flowers, Harriet?" Mollie pleaded. "I am
crazy to see them."

"I'll open them if it pleases you, Mollie," Harriet returned gently. The
great box was crowded with long-stemmed American beauties and violets.

"Have some posies, girls?" Harriet said generously, holding out her arms
filled with flowers. For a long time afterwards the "Automobile Girls"
remembered how beautiful Harriet looked as she stood there, her face very
pale, her black hair and hat outlined against the dark oak woodwork with
the great bunch of American beauties in her arms.

"Of course we don't want your posies, Lady Harriet," Mollie answered
affectionately. "Here is the note to tell you who sent them to you." But
Harriet went on to her room without showing enough interest in her gift
to open the letter.

After dinner Harriet complained of a headache, and went immediately to
her room. The "Automobile Girls" were going out to a theater party, which
was being given in their honor by their old friends, Mrs. Post and Hugh.
Harriet sent word she would have to be excused. When Ruth put her head
into Harriet's room to say good-bye, just before she started for the
theater, she thought she heard her cousin crying.

"Harriet, dear, do let me stay with you," Ruth pleaded. "I am afraid you
are feeling worse than you will let us know."

But Harriet insisted that she desired only to be left alone. Feeling
strangely unhappy about her cousin, Ruth, at last joined the
theater party.

Mr. Hamlin did not leave the house immediately after dinner, although he
had an engagement to spend the evening at the home of Mrs. Wilson. She
had asked him, only that morning, to come. Mr. Hamlin was also troubled
about his daughter. He had not been so unobservant that he had not seen
the change in her. She was less animated, less talkative. Mr. Hamlin
feared Harriet was not well. Though he was stern and unsympathetic with
Harriet, he was genuinely frightened if she were in the least ill.

So it was with unusual gentleness that he tapped lightly on
Harriet's door.

"I am all right, Mary, thank you," Harriet replied, believing her maid
to be outside. "Go to bed whenever you please. I shall fall asleep
after a while."

Mr. Hamlin cleared his throat and Harriet started nervously. Why was her
father standing outside her door? Had he learned of her bill to her

"I do not wish to disturb you, Harriet," Mr. Hamlin began awkwardly. "I
only desired to know if I could do anything for you."

"No, Father," poor Harriet replied wearily. As Mr. Hamlin turned away,
she sprang up and started to run after him. At her own door she stopped.
She heard her father's stern voice giving an order to a servant, and her
sudden resolution died within her. A few moments later the front door
closed behind him and her opportunity had passed.

An hour afterwards, when the house was quiet and the servants nowhere
about, Harriet Hamlin slipped cautiously downstairs. She was gone only a
few minutes. But when she came back to her own room, she opened a private
drawer in her bureau and hid something in it. Harriet then threw herself
on her bed and lay for a long time with her eyes wide open, staring
straight ahead of her.

Just before midnight, when she heard the gay voices of her friends
returning from the theater, and when Ruth tripped softly to her bedroom,
Harriet lay with closed eyes, apparently fast asleep.

The next morning Harriet was really ill. Her hand trembled so while she
poured the breakfast coffee that she spilled some of it on the
tablecloth. When Mr. Hamlin spoke to her sharply she burst into tears and
left the room, leaving her father ashamed of himself, and the "Automobile
Girls" so embarrassed that they ate the rest of their breakfast in
painful silence. Ruth did dart one indignant glance at her uncle, which
Mr. Hamlin saw, but did not in his heart resent.

Harriet was willing, that morning, to have Ruth come into her darkened
bedroom and sit by her bed. For Harriet's wakeful night had left her
slightly feverish.

"I don't want to disturb you, Harriet," Bab apologized, coming softly to
the door. "But some one has just telephoned for you. The person at the
telephone has a message for you, but whoever it is refuses to give his
name. What shall I do!"

Harriet sat up in bed, quickly, a hunted expression on her beautiful
face. "Tell Mr. Peter Dillon that I will keep my word," Harriet answered
angrily. "He is not to worry about me again."

"Is that your message?" Bab queried wonderingly. "It was not Mr.
Dillon's voice."

Harriet laughed hysterically. "Of course not!" she returned. "Oh, I know
you girls are wondering why I am behaving so strangely. And I am
breaking my word to tell you. But I must tell some one. I don't care
what Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon say, I know I can trust you. I have
decided to help Mrs. Wilson and Peter play their silly joke on Father
and the State Department! Oh, you needn't look so horrified, girls. It
is only a joke. The papers are about some Chinese business. I have them
hid in my bureau drawer."

Harriet nodded toward her dressing-table, while Ruth and Bab stood
looking at each other, speechless with horror, the same idea growing in
their minds.

"When Father comes to look for his stupid papers he'll find them gone,
and, of course, will think he has misplaced them," Harriet continued. "He
will be dreadfully worried for a little while; then Mrs. Wilson will
return the papers to me and I will slip them back in their old place, and
Father will never know what has happened. Mrs. Wilson and Peter have
vowed they will never betray me, and I have promised not to betray them.
If I were to be caught, I suppose Father would never forgive me. But I'll
take good care that he doesn't find out about it."

"Harriet, do please give up this foolish plan!" Ruth entreated earnestly.
"I know you are doing something wrong. Mrs. Wilson and Mr. Dillon both
know that Uncle William's papers are too valuable to be played with. Why,
they belong to the United States Government, not to him! Harriet, I
implore you, do not touch your father's papers!"

Harriet shook her head obstinately. She was absolutely adamant. Ruth
pleaded, scolded, in vain. Bab did not say a word nor enter a protest.
She was too frightened. All of a sudden a veil had been rent asunder. Now
she believed she understood what Peter Dillon and Mrs. Wilson had planned
from the beginning. They were spies in the service of some higher power.
The papers that Harriet thought were to be used for a joke on her father
were really to be sold! Was not some state secret to be betrayed? Ever
since Bab's arrival in Washington it had looked as though Peter Dillon
and Mrs. Wilson had been working toward this very end. Having failed with
her they had turned their attention to poor Harriet. But Mrs. Wilson and
Peter Dillon must be only hired tools! Shrewdly Barbara Thurston recalled
her recent conversation with innocent Wee Tu: "Mr. Dillon and my father,
they have Chinese secrets together." Could a certain distinguished and
wisely silent Oriental gentleman be responsible for the thrilling drama
about to be enacted? Bab was never to know positively, and she wisely
kept her suspicion to herself.

"I do wish, Ruth, you and Bab would go away and leave me alone," Harriet
protested. "I shall be well enough to get up for luncheon, if you will
let me take a nap. I don't see any harm in playing this joke on Father.
At any rate, I have quite made up my mind to go through with my part in
it and I won't give up my plan. You can tell Father if you choose, of
course. I cannot prevent that. I know I was foolish to have confided in
you. But, unless you are despicable tale bearers, the papers in my bureau
drawer will go out of this house in a few hours! I don't see any harm in
their disappearing for a little while. Father will have them back in a
few days. Please go!"

Yet with all Harriet's air of bravado, however, there was one point in
her story which she did not mention. In return for her delivery of
certain of her father's state papers Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon had
promised to advance to Harriet the five hundred dollars necessary to pay
her dressmaker. Harriet had agreed only to receive it as a loan. And she
tried to comfort herself with the idea that her friends were only doing
her a kindness in exchange for the favor she was to do for them. Still,
the thought of the money worried Harriet. But how else was she to be
saved from the weight of her stern father's displeasure?



At Harriet's request Bab and Ruth went silently out of her room, their
faces white and frightened.

"Ruth, is there any place where we can be alone?" Barbara whispered
faintly. "I must talk with you."

Ruth nodded, and the two friends found their way into the library,
turning the key in the lock. Then they stood facing each other,
speechless, for a moment, from the very intensity of their feelings.

"Ruth, you must do something," Bab entreated. "The papers that Mrs.
Wilson and Mr. Dillon are making Harriet get for them they do not intend
to use for a joke. Oh, Ruth, they are no doubt important state papers!
Harriet may be betraying her country and ruining her father by placing
these papers in their hands."

"I think, too, that Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon are spies," Ruth
returned more quietly. "And, of course, we must do something to prevent
their getting their hands on the papers."

"But what can we do?" Barbara demanded sharply. "We cannot tell Mr.
Hamlin of Harriet's deed. It would be too cruel of us. Nor can we
confront Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon with the accusation. They would
only laugh at us, and declare that we were mad to have imagined any such
thing. Then, again, we would be betraying Harriet's confidence. We do not
know just what state papers Harriet is to give to them, but they must be
very, very valuable. I suppose those dreadful people will have the papers
copied, sell our country's secret, and return the papers to Harriet when
all the mischief has been done. Ruth, I believe, now, that Mrs. Wilson
and Peter Dillon both meant to make me steal Mr. Hamlin's papers. Then
they would have declared I had sold them to some one. And Mr. Hamlin
would never have suspected his friends. Now, they think poor Harriet will
be too much afraid to betray them."

Bab's voice trembled slightly. She realized how nearly she had been the
dupe of these two clever schemers. She felt that she and Ruth must save
Harriet at all events.

"Mrs. Wilson tried to steal Mr. Hamlin's papers the night she masqueraded
as a ghost," Barbara continued. "I picked up the envelope she dropped on
the floor in the hall."

"I know it, Barbara," Ruth answered in her self-controlled fashion,
which always had a calming effect on the more impetuous Bab. "I also
believe Mrs. Wilson meant to fix the guilt of the theft upon you. Uncle
William called me into his study the other day and asked me if I
considered you trustworthy. Of course I was awfully indignant and told
him just what I thought of him for being so suspicious. But I believe
Mrs. Wilson had tried to poison his mind against you. You must be on
your guard now, Bab, dear. If Harriet gives up these papers of Uncle's
the plotters may still try to use you as their scapegoat. When Uncle
finds his papers have disappeared Mrs. Wilson and Mr. Dillon will, of
course, appear to know nothing of them; but they will somehow try to
direct suspicion against you, trusting to Harriet's cowardice. Don't you
worry though, Bab, dear. You shall not suffer for Harriet's fault while
I am here."

"Oh, I am not worrying about myself, Ruth," Bab answered. "It is
Harriet's part in the affair that troubles me. Do, please, go to Harriet
and talk to her again. Surely you can make her see the risk she is
running. Do you suppose it would do any good if I were to call on Mrs.
Wilson? I could just pretend I still thought she meant to play the joke
on Mr. Hamlin. You know she told me she intended to do so. I could beg
her to give it up without mentioning Harriet's name or letting Mrs.
Wilson guess that Harriet had confided in us."

Ruth shook her head. "It would not do any good for you to go to Mrs.
Wilson, Bab. And, somehow, I am afraid for you. We do not know how much
further they intend to involve you in their plot."

"Oh, they won't do me any harm, now," Barbara rejoined. "Anyhow, I am
willing to take the risk, if Harriet will not give in."

"Just wait here, Bab, until I have been to see Harriet again," Ruth
entreated. "I will go down on my knees to her, if I can persuade her to
give up this wicked deed. Oh, why is she so determined to be so reckless
and so foolish?"

Fifteen minutes afterwards Ruth came back from her second interview with
Harriet, looking utterly discouraged. "Harriet simply won't give up,"
Ruth reported to Bab. "She is absolutely determined to go her own way,
and she is angry with me for interfering. Oh, Bab, what will happen?
Uncle is so proud! If his daughter is known to have given Mrs. Wilson and
Peter Dillon state papers, the report will be circulated that she stole
them, and Uncle William will be disgraced. Then, what will become of
Harriet? She does not intend to do wrong. But I simply can't make her
see this thing as we see it. So what can we do?" Unusually
self-contained, Ruth broke down, now, weeping on Bab's shoulder. The
thought of the dreadful disgrace to her uncle and her cousin was more
than she could face.

"I am going to see Mrs. Wilson, Ruth," Bab declared. "You had better
stay here and do your best with Harriet. The papers are not to be
delivered until four this afternoon, when, I believe, Harriet is to meet
Peter Dillon. Of course it was he who telephoned Harriet, only he was
clever enough to disguise his voice. So we have until afternoon to work.
Don't worry yourself sick. We simply must save Harriet in some way. I
don't pretend that I see the way clearly yet, but I have faith that it
will come. I cannot do any harm by going to Mrs. Wilson, and I may do
some good."

"I don't like you to go there alone, Bab," Ruth faltered. "But I don't
dare to leave Harriet by herself. She might find a way to give up the
papers while we were out, and then all would be lost!"

When Bab rang the bell at the door of Mrs. Wilson's home she did not know
that her approach had been watched. She meant to be very careful during
her interview, for she realized that she and Ruth were endeavoring to
foil two brilliant and unscrupulous enemies.

Mrs. Wilson and Peter were in the library, and through the window Mrs.
Wilson had watched Bab approaching the house.

"Here comes that tiresome Thurston girl, whom you were going to use as
your tool, Peter," teased Mrs. Wilson. "She wasn't so easy to manage as
you thought, was she? Never mind; she will still be used as our
scapegoat. But I shall not see her this morning. What's the use?"

"Let her come in, by all means, Mrs. Wilson," Peter Dillon urged. "I
shall hide so that she will not see me. What would fall in with our plans
better than to have this girl come here to-day! Who knows how this visit
may be made to count against her? Of course, if suspicion never points to
us we had best never mention the name of Barbara Thurston. But--if Mr.
Hamlin ever questions you, why not say Miss Thurston came here to-day and
betrayed the fact to you that she had stolen Mr. Hamlin's papers? We have
circumstantial evidence enough against her."

Bab found Mrs. Wilson very much surprised to see her, and looking very
languid and bored.

Straightforward Barbara rushed headlong into her request.

"Really, Miss Thurston, don't you think you are rather impertinent?"
drawled her hostess, when Bab finished. "I don't see what business it is
of yours whether or not I wish to play a joke on my friend, Mr. Hamlin.
Don't try to get out of mischief by reporting to Mr. Hamlin the story of
my poor little joke. You can hardly save yourself by any such method. No
one will believe you. And I have an idea that you came to my house
to-day for a very different purpose than to persuade me to give up my
joke. What was it?"

Bab was mystified. She had no idea how Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon had
planned to use her visit as evidence against her, so it was impossible
for her to understand Mrs. Wilson's insinuation.

Barbara did not stay long. She saw Mrs. Wilson had no intention of being
persuaded from her design. Even though the woman was beginning to see
that Bab and Ruth were a little suspicious of her, she had no idea of
being frightened from her deep-laid scheme by two insignificant

Barbara hurried to her car as fast as she could, anxious to get back to
Ruth and to devise some other move to checkmate the traitors. She even
hoped, against hope, that Harriet had been induced to change her mind and
that all would yet be well. But as Bab jumped aboard her car she saw
another girl, running down the street, waving something in the air and
evidently trying to induce Bab's street car to wait for her. Barbara
begged the conductor to hold the car for a moment, before she recognized
the figure, running toward them. But the next second she beheld the
ever-present newspaper girl, Marjorie Moore, tablet and pencil in hand,
completely out of breath and exhausted. Marjorie Moore could not speak
for some time after she had secured a seat next Bab in the car.

"I have been watching Mrs. Wilson's house since eight o'clock this
morning," she finally gasped. "What on earth made you go in there?"

"I can't tell you," Bab returned coldly. Not for anything in the world
would she have Marjorie Moore suspect what she and Ruth feared.

Miss Moore gave a little, half amused, half sarcastic laugh. "You can't
tell? Oh, never mind, my dear. I know you are all right. You weren't
doing anything wrong. I expect you were trying to help set matters
straight. You don't need to tell me anything. I think I know all that is
necessary. Good-bye now. I must get off this car at the corner. Let me
tell you, however, not to worry, whatever happens. I am in possession of
all the facts, so there will be no trouble in proving them. But if
anything disagreeable happens to you," Marjorie Moore gave Bab a
reassuring smile, "telephone me, will you? My number is 1607, Union."

Marjorie Moore rushed out of the street car as hurriedly as she had
entered it, before Bab could take in what she had said.

Barbara puzzled all the rest of the way home. Could it be possible that
Marjorie Moore had discovered Mrs. Wilson's and Peter's plot? Could she
also have guessed Harriet's part in it? Bab shuddered, for she remembered
the newspaper girl's words to her on the night of their first meeting:
"If ever I have a chance to get even with Harriet Hamlin, won't I take my
revenge?" Did Marjorie Moore also suspect that an effort would be made to
draw Barbara into this whirlpool of disgrace?

No one ate any luncheon at the home of the Assistant Secretary of State,
except Mollie and Grace. Fortunately Mr. Hamlin did not return home. Ruth
and Bab had decided not to tell the other two "Automobile Girls" of their
terrible uneasiness unless they actually needed the help of the younger
girls to save the situation. Ruth and Bab did not wish to prejudice
Mollie and Grace against Harriet if it were possible to spare her. But
Ruth had told Bab that, at four o'clock, Harriet was determined to
deliver the papers to Peter Dillon.

At two o'clock, however, the two friends had found no way to influence
Harriet to give up her mad project. Indeed, Harriet scarcely spoke to
either of them, she was so bitterly angry at what she termed their

At three o'clock, Ruth and Barbara grew desperate. For, at three, Harriet
Hamlin closed the door of her bedroom and commenced to dress for her

"Try once again, Ruth," Bab pleaded. "It is worse even than you know. I
believe Marjorie Moore suspects what Harriet is about to do. Suppose she
publishes the story in the morning papers. Tell Harriet I have a reason
for thinking she knows about the affair."

Bab waited apprehensively for Ruth's return. It seemed to her that, for
the first time in their adventures, the "Automobile Girls" had met with
a situation that no amount of pluck or effort on their part could
control. This was the most important experience of their whole lives,
for their country was about to be betrayed! Once Barbara stamped her
foot in her impatience. How dared Harriet Hamlin be so willful, so
headstrong? Bab's face was white with anxiety and suspense. Her lips
twitched nervously. Then in a flash her whole expression changed. The
color came back to her cheeks, the light to her eyes. At the eleventh
hour the way had been made clear.

Ruth had no such look when she returned to Barbara. She flung herself
despondently into a chair. "It's no use," she declared despairingly.
"Harriet must go her own way. We can do nothing with her!"

"Yes, we can!" Bab whispered. She leaned over and murmured something in
Ruth's ear.

Ruth sprang to her feet. "Barbara Thurston, you are perfectly wonderful!"
she cried. "Yes, I do know where it is. Go to my desk and take that blank
paper. It is just the right size. Fold it up in three parts. There, it
will do, now; give it to me. Now go and command Grace and Mollie, if they
love us, to call Harriet out of her room for a minute. We can explain to
them afterwards."

Mollie and Grace feared Barbara had gone suddenly mad when she rushed in
upon them with her demand. But Mollie did manage to persuade Harriet to
go into the next room. As Harriet slipped out of her bedroom, her cousin,
Ruth Stuart, stole into it, hiding something she held in her hand. She
was alone in Harriet's room for not more than two minutes.

At a quarter to four o'clock, Harriet Hamlin left her father's house
with a large envelope concealed inside her shopping bag. Opposition
had merely strengthened Harriet's original resolution. She was no
longer frightened. Ruth and Bab were absurd to have been so tragic over
a silly joke.

At a little after four o'clock, in a quiet, out-of-the-way street in
Washington, Harriet turned over to Peter Dillon this envelope, which, as
she supposed, contained the much-coveted papers which she had extracted
from the private collection of the Assistant Secretary of State.

Whatever the papers were, Peter Dillon took them carelessly with his
usual charming smile. But inwardly he was chanting a song of victory. He
and Mrs. Wilson would be many-thousands of dollars richer by this time
to-morrow. He glanced into the envelope with his near-sighted eyes. The
papers were folded up inside and all was well! Peter did not dare, before
Harriet, to be too interested in what the envelope contained.

It would not have made him happier to have looked closer; the song of
victory would have died away on his lips. For, instead of certain secret
documents sent to the office of the Secretary of State, from
representatives of the United States Government in China, Harriet Hamlin
had turned over to Peter Dillon an official envelope, which contained
only folded sheets of blank paper!

It had been Barbara's idea and Ruth had carried it out successfully. In
the moment when Harriet left her room in answer to Mollie's call, Ruth
had exchanged the valuable state papers for the worthless ones. Once
Harriet was safely out of the way, she and Bab carried the precious
documents downstairs and shut them up in Mr. Hamlin's desk. Both girls
hoped that all trouble was now averted, and that Mr. Hamlin would never
hear of Harriet's folly!



The members of the Hamlin household went early to their own rooms
that night.

Ruth at once flung herself down on a couch without removing her clothing.
In a few minutes she was fast asleep, for she believed their difficulties
were over. Bab did not feel as secure. She was still thinking of the
speech the newspaper girl had made to her in the car.

At ten o'clock the Assistant Secretary of State, who was sitting alone
in his study, heard a violent ringing of his telephone bell. He did
not know that, at this same instant, his daughter Harriet had crept
down to his study door intending to make a full confession of her
mistakes to him.

Mr. Hamlin picked up the receiver. "'The Washington News?' Yes. You have
something important to say to me? Well, what is it?" Mr. Hamlin listened
quietly for a little while. Then Harriet heard him cry in a hoarse,
unnatural voice: "Impossible! The thing is preposterous! Where did you
ever get hold of such an absurd idea?"

Harriet stopped to listen no longer. She never knew how she got back
upstairs to her room. She half staggered, half fell up the steps.
Suddenly she realized everything! She had been used as a tool by Mrs.
Wilson and Peter Dillon. Ruth and Barbara had been right. She had stolen
her father's state papers. A newspaper had gotten hold of the story and
already her father and she were disgraced.

In the meantime, Mr. Hamlin continued to talk over the telephone, though
his hand shook so he was hardly able to hold the receiver.

"You say you think it best to warn me that the story of the theft of my
papers will be published in the morning paper, that you know that private
state documents entrusted to me keeping have been sold to secret spies?
What evidence have you? I have missed no such papers. Wait a minute." Mr.
Hamlin went to his strong box. Sure enough, certain documents were
missing. Ruth and Bab had put the papers in the desk. "Have you an idea
who stole my papers?" Mr. Hamlin called back over the telephone wire, his
voice shaken with passion.

Evidently the editor who was talking to Mr. Hamlin now lost his courage.
He did not dare to tell Mr. Hamlin that his own daughter was suspected of
having sold her father's papers. Mr. Hamlin repeated the editor's exact
words. "You say a young woman sold my papers? You are right; this is not
a matter to be discussed over the telephone. Send some one up from your
office to see me at once."

Mr. Hamlin reeled over to his bell-rope and gave it a pull, so that the
noise of its ringing sounded like an alarm through the quiet house.

A frightened servant answered the bell.

"Tell Miss Thurston and my niece, Miss Stuart, to come to my study at
once," Mr. Hamlin ordered. The man-servant obeyed.

"Ruth, dear, wake up," Bab entreated, giving her friend a shake.
"Something awful must have happened. Your uncle has sent for us. He must
have missed those papers."

[Illustration: "What Have You Done With My Papers?"]

Ruth and Bab, both of them looking unutterably miserable and shaken,
entered Mr. Hamlin's study. Their host did not speak as they first
approached him. When he did he turned on them such a haggard, wretched
face that they were filled with pity. But the instant Mr. Hamlin caught
sight of Barbara his expression changed. He took her by the arm, and,
before she could guess what was going to happen, he shook her violently.

"What have you done with my state papers?" he demanded. "Tell me quickly.
Don't hesitate. There may yet be time to save us both. Oh, I should never
have let you stay in this house!" he groaned. "I suspected you of
mischief when I learned of your first visit to my office. But I did not
believe such treachery could be found in a young girl. Ruth, can't you
make your friend speak! If she will tell me to whom she sold my papers, I
will forgive her everything! But I must know where they are at once. I
can then force the newspaper to keep silence and force my enemies to
return me the documents, if there is only time!"

Barbara dropped into a chair and covered her face with her hands. She did
not utter a word of reproach to Mr. Hamlin for his cruel suspicion of
her. She could not tell him that his daughter Harriet was the real thief.

"Uncle," Ruth entreated, laying a quiet hand on Mr. Hamlin's arm,
"listen to me for a moment. Yes, you must listen! You are not disgraced;
you are not ruined. Look in your desk. Your papers are still there. Only
the old envelope is gone. I put the papers in this drawer only this
afternoon, because I did not know in what place you kept them. Some
papers were given away, a few hours ago, to two people, whom you believed
to be your friends, to Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon. But they were not
your state papers, they were only blank sheets."

Mr. Hamlin looked into his drawer and saw the lost documents, then he
passed his hand over his forehead. "I don't understand," he muttered. "Do
you mean that, instead of the actual papers, you saved me by substituting
blank papers for these valuable ones? Then your friend did try to sell
her country's secrets, and you saved her and me. I shall never cease to
be grateful to you to the longest day I live. For your sake I will spare
your friend. But she must leave my house in the morning. I do not wish
ever to look upon her again."

"Bab did not sell your papers, Uncle," Ruth protested passionately. "You
shall not make such accusations against her. It was she who saved you. I
did only what she told me to do. I did substitute the papers, but it was
Barbara who thought of it."

"Then who, in Heaven's name, is guilty of this dreadful act?" Mr.
Hamlin cried.

Neither Ruth nor Bab answered. Bab still sat with her face covered with
her hands, in order to hide her hot tears. She cried partly for poor
Harriet, and partly because of her sympathy for Mr. Hamlin. Ruth gazed at
her uncle, white, silent and trembling.

"Who, Ruth? I demand to know!" Mr. Hamlin repeated.

"I shall not tell you," Ruth returned, with a little gasp.

"Send for my daughter, Harriet. She may know something," Mr. Hamlin
ejaculated. Then he rang for a servant.

The two girls and the one man, who had grown old in the last few minutes,
waited in unbroken silence. The girls had a strong desire to scream, to
cry out, to warn Harriet. She must not let her father know of her foolish
deed while his anger was at its height.

It seemed an eternity before the butler returned to Mr. Hamlin's study.

"Miss Hamlin is not in her room," he reported respectfully.

"Not in her room? Then look for her through the house," Mr. Hamlin
repeated more quietly. He had gained greater control of himself. But a
new fear was oppressing him, weighing him down. He would not give the
idea credence even in his own mind.

Three--four--five minutes passed. Still Harriet did not appear.

"Let me look for Harriet, Uncle," Ruth implored, unable to control
herself any longer.

At this moment Mollie came innocently down the stairs. "Is Mr. Hamlin
looking for Harriet?" she inquired. "Harriet left the house ten minutes
ago. She had on her coat and her hat, but she would not stop to say
good-bye. I think her maid went with her. Mary had just a shawl thrown
over her head. I am sure they will be back in a few minutes. Harriet
must have gone out to post a letter. I thought she would have come back
before this."

Imagine poor Mollie's horror and surprise when Mr. Hamlin dropped into
a chair at her news and groaned: "It was Harriet after all. It was _my
own child_!"

"Uncle, rouse yourself!" Ruth implored him. "Harriet thought she was only
playing a harmless trick on you. She did not dream that the papers were
of any importance. Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon deceived her cruelly. You
must go and find out what has become of Harriet." Mr. Hamlin shook his
head drearily.

"You must go!" insisted gentle Ruth, bursting into tears. "Harriet does
not even know that the papers she gave away were worthless. If she has
found out she has been duped she will be doubly desperate."

At this instant the door bell rang loudly. No one in the study appeared
to hear it. Mollie had crept slowly back upstairs to Grace. Ruth, Mr.
Hamlin and Bab were too wretched to stir.

A sound of hasty footsteps came down the hall, followed by a knock at
the study door. The door flew open of its own accord. Like a vision
straight from Heaven appeared the faces of Mr. Robert Stuart and his
sister, Miss Sallie!

Ruth sprang into her father's arms with a cry of joy. And Bab, her eyes
still streaming with tears, was caught up in the comforting arms of
Miss Sallie.



"What does all this mean, William Hamlin?" Mr. Stuart inquired
without ceremony.

With bowed head Mr. Hamlin told the whole story, not attempting to excuse
himself, for Mr. Hamlin was a just man, though a severe one. He declared
that he had been influenced to suspect Barbara ever since her arrival in
his home. His enemies had also made a dupe of him, but his punishment had
come upon him swiftly. He had just discovered that his own daughter had
tried to deliver into the hands of paid spies, state papers of the United
States Government.

Mr. Stuart and Aunt Sallie looked extremely serious while Mr. Hamlin was
telling his story. But when Mr. Hamlin explained how Ruth and Bab had
exchanged the valuable political documents for folded sheets of blank
paper, Mr. Stuart burst into a loud laugh, and his expression changed as
though by a miracle. He patted his daughter's shoulder to express his
approval, while Miss Sallie kissed Bab with a sigh of relief.

Mr. Stuart and his sister had both been extremely uneasy since the
arrival of Ruth's singular telegram, not knowing what troubled waters
might be surrounding their "Automobile Girls." Indeed Miss Sallie had
insisted on accompanying her brother to Washington, as she felt sure her
presence would help to set things right.

Mr. Stuart's laugh cleared the sorrowful atmosphere of the study as
though by magic. Ruth and Barbara smiled through their tears. They were
now so sure that all would soon be well!

"It seems to me, William, that all this is 'much ado about nothing,'" Mr.
Stuart declared. "Of course, I can see that the situation would have been
pretty serious if poor Harriet had been deceived into giving up the real
documents. But Bab and Ruth have saved the day! There is no harm done
now. You even know the names of the spies. There is only one thing for us
to consider at present, and that is--where is Harriet?"

"Yes, Father," Ruth pleaded. "Do find Harriet."

"The child was foolish, and she did wrong, of course," Mr. Stuart went
on. "But, as Ruth tells me Harriet did not know the real papers were
exchanged for false ones, she probably thinks she has disgraced you
and she is too frightened to come home. You must take steps to find
her at once, and to let her know you forgive her. It is a pity to lose
any time."

Mr. Hamlin was silent. "I cannot forgive Harriet," he replied. "But, of
course, she must be brought home at once."

"Nonsense!" Mr. Stuart continued. "Summon your servants and have some one
telephone to Harriet's friends. She has probably gone to one of them.
Tell the child that Sallie and I are here and wish to see her. But where
are my other 'Automobile Girls,' Mollie and Grace?"

"Upstairs, Father," Ruth answered happily. "Come and see them. I want to
telephone for Harriet. I think she will come home for me."

"Show your aunt and father to their rooms, Ruth," Mr. Hamlin begged.
"I must wait here until a messenger arrives from the newspaper, which
in some way has learned the story of our misfortune. And even they do
not know that the stolen papers were valueless. I must explain
matters to them."

"A man of your influence can keep any mention of this affair out of the
newspapers," Mr. Stuart argued heartily. "So the storm will have blown
over by to-morrow. And I believe you will be able to punish the two
schemers who have tried to betray your daughter and disgrace my Barbara,
without having Harriet's name brought into this affair."

For the first time, Mr. Hamlin lifted his head and nodded briefly. "Yes,
I can attend to them," he declared in the quiet fashion that showed him
to be a man of power. "It is best, for the sake of the country, that the
scandal be nipped in the bud. I alone know what was in these state papers
that Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon were hired to steal. So I alone know to
whom they would be valuable. There would be an international difficulty
if I should expose the real promoter of the theft. Peter Dillon shall be
dismissed from his Embassy. Mrs. Wilson will find it wiser to leave
Washington, and never to return here again. I will spare the woman as
much as I can for the sake of her son, Elmer, who is a fine fellow. Ruth,
dear, do telephone to Harriet's friends. Your father is right. We must
find my daughter at once."

Miss Sallie, Mr. Stuart and Ruth started to leave the room. Bab rose to
follow them.

"Miss Thurston, don't go for a minute," Mr. Hamlin said. "I wish to beg
your pardon. Will you forgive a most unhappy man? Of course I see, now,
that I had no right to suspect you without giving you a chance to defend
yourself. I can only say that I was deceived, as well as Harriet. The
whole plot is plain to me now. Harriet was to be terrified into not
betraying her own part in the theft, so she would never dare reveal the
names of Mrs. Wilson or Peter Dillon. I, with my mind poisoned against
you, would have sought blindly to fasten the crime on you. I regard my
office as Assistant Secretary of State as a sacred trust. If the papers
entrusted to my keeping had been delivered into the hands of the enemies
of my country, through my own daughter's folly, I should never have
lifted my head again, I cannot say--I have no words to express--what I
owe to you and Ruth. But how do you think a newspaper man could have
unearthed this plot? It seems incredible, when you consider how
stealthily Peter Dillon and Mrs. Wilson have worked. A man--"

"I don't think a man did unearth it," Bab replied. Just then the bell
rang again.

The next moment the door opened, and the butler announced: "Miss Marjorie
Moore!" The newspaper girl gave Bab a friendly smile; then she turned
coldly to Mr. William Hamlin.

"Miss Moore!" Mr. Hamlin exclaimed in surprise and in anger. "I wish to
see a man from your newspaper. What I have to say cannot possibly
concern you."

"I think it does, Mr. Hamlin," Miss Moore repeated calmly. "One of the
editors from my paper has come here with me. He is waiting in the hall.
But it was I who discovered the theft of your state documents. I have
been expecting mischief for some time. I am sorry for you, of
course--very sorry, but I have all the facts of the case, and as no one
else knows of it, it will be a great scoop for me in the morning."

"Your newspaper will not publish the story at all, Miss Moore," Mr.
Hamlin rejoined, when he had recovered from his astonishment at Miss
Moore's appearance. "The stolen papers were not of the least value. Will
you explain to Miss Moore exactly what occurred, Miss Thurston?" Mr.
Hamlin concluded.

When Bab told the story of how she and Ruth had made their lightning
substitution of the papers, Marjorie Moore gave a gasp of surprise.

"Good for you, Miss Thurston!" she returned. "I knew you were clever, as
well as the right sort, the first time I saw you. So I had gotten hold of
the whole story of the theft except, the most important point--the
exchange of the papers. It spoils my story as sensational political news.
But," Miss Moore laughed, "it makes a perfectly great personal story,
because it has such a funny side to it: 'Foiled by the "Automobile
Girls"!' 'The Assistant Secretary of State's Daughter!'" Miss Moore
stopped, ashamed of her cruelty when she saw Mr. Hamlin's face. But he
did not speak.

It was Bab who exclaimed: "Oh, Miss Moore, you are not going to betray
Harriet, are you? Poor Harriet thought it was all a joke. She did not
know the papers were valuable. It would be too cruel to spread this story
abroad. It might ruin Harriet's reputation."

Marjorie Moore made no answer.

"You heard Miss Thurston," Mr. Hamlin interposed. "Surely you will grant
our request."

"Mr. Hamlin," Marjorie Moore protested, "I am dreadfully sorry for you.
I told you so, but I am going to have this story published in the
morning. It is too good to keep and I have worked dreadfully hard on it.
Indeed, I almost lost my life because of it. I knew it was Peter Dillon
who struck me down on the White House lawn the night of the reception.
But I said nothing because I knew that, if I made trouble, I would have
been put off the scent of the story somehow. I tried to see Miss
Thurston alone, that evening, to warn her that Mrs. Wilson and Peter
Dillon were going to try to fasten their crime on her. I am obliged to
be frank with you, Mr. Hamlin. I will stick to the facts as you have
told them to me, but a full account of the attempted theft will be
published in the morning's 'News.'"

"Call the man who is with you, Miss Moore; I prefer to talk with him,"
Mr. Hamlin commanded. "You do not seem to realize the gravity of what you
intend to do. It will be a mistake for your newspaper to make an enemy of
a man in my official position."

Mr. Hamlin talked for some time to one of the editors of the Washington
"News." He entreated, threatened and finally made an appeal to him to
save his daughter and himself by not making the story public.

"I am afraid we shall have to let the story go, Miss Moore," the editor
remarked regretfully. "It was a fine piece of news, but we don't wish to
make things too hard for Mr. Hamlin." The man turned to go.

"Mr. Hughes," Marjorie Moore announced, speaking to her editor, "if you
do not intend to use this story, which I have worked on so long, in your
paper, I warn you, right now, that I shall simply sell it to some other
newspaper and take the consequences. All the papers will not be so
careful of Mr. Hamlin's feelings."

"Oh, Miss Moore, you would not be so cruel!" Bab cried.

Marjorie Moore turned suddenly on Barbara; "Why shouldn't I?" she
returned. "Both Harriet Hamlin and Peter Dillon have been hateful and
insolent to me ever since I have been making my living in Washington. I
told you I meant to get even with them some day. Well, this is my chance,
and I intend to take it. Good-bye; there is no reason for me to stay here
any longer."

"Mr. Hamlin, if Miss Moore insists on selling her story on the outside, I
cannot see how we would benefit you by failing to print the story," the
editor added.

"Very well," Mr. Hamlin returned coldly. But he sank back into his chair
and covered his face with his hands. Harriet's reputation was ruined,
for no one would believe she had not tried deliberately to sell her
father's honor.

But Bab resolved to appeal once more to the newspaper girl. She ran to
Marjorie Moore and put her arm about the newspaper girl's waist to detain
her. She talked to her in her most winning fashion, with her brown eyes
glowing with feeling and her lips trembling with eagerness.

The tears came to Marjorie Moore's eyes as she listened to Bab's pleading
for Harriet. But she still obstinately shook her head.

Some one came running down the stairs and Ruth entered the study without
heeding the strangers in it.

"Uncle!" she exclaimed in a terrified voice, "Harriet cannot be found! We
have telephoned everywhere for her. No one has seen her or knows anything
about her. What shall we do? It is midnight!"

Mr. Hamlin followed Ruth quickly out of the room, forgetting every other
consideration in his fear for his daughter. He looked broken and old. Was
Harriet in some worse peril?

As Marjorie Moore saw Mr. Hamlin go, she turned swiftly to Barbara and
kissed her. "It's all right, dear," she said. "You were right. Revenge is
too little and too mean. Mr. Hughes has said he will not publish the
story, and I shall not sell it anywhere else. Indeed, I promise that what
I know shall never be spoken of outside this room. Good night." Before
Barbara could thank her she was gone.



All night long diligent search was made for Harriet Hamlin, but no word
was heard of her. The "Automobile Girls" telephoned her dearest friends.
Mr. Hamlin and Mr. Stuart tramped from one hotel to the other. None of
the Hamlin household closed their eyes that night.

"It has been my fault, Robert," Mr. Hamlin admitted, as he and his
brother-in-law returned home in the gray dawn of the morning, hoping
vainly to hear that Harriet had returned. "My child has gotten into debt
and she has been afraid to confess her mistake to me. Her little friend,
Mollie, told me the story. Mollie believes that Mrs. Wilson and Peter
Dillon tempted Harriet by offering to lend her money. And so she agreed
to aid them in what she thought was their 'joke.' I have seen, lately,
that Harriet has been so worried she hardly knew what she was doing. Yet,
when my poor child tried to confess her fault to me, I would not let her
go on. My harshness and lack of sympathy have driven her to--I know not
what. Oh, Robert, what shall I do? She is the one joy of my life!"

Mr. Stuart did not try to deny Mr. Hamlin's judgment of himself. He knew
Mr. Hamlin had been too severe with his daughter. If only Harriet could
be found she and her father would be closer friends after this
experience. Mr. Stuart realized fully what danger Harriet was in with
her unusual beauty, with no mother and with a father who did not
understand her.

"Harriet has done very wrong," Mr. Hamlin added slowly. It was hard,
indeed, for a man of his nature to forgive. "But I shall not reproach her
when she comes back to me," he said quickly. The fear that Harriet might
never return to him at all struck a sudden chill to his soul.

"The child has done wrong, William, I admit it," returned good-natured
Mr. Stuart. "She has been headstrong and foolish. But we have done worse
things in our day, remember."

"I will remember," Mr. Hamlin answered drearily, as he shut himself up
in his room.

Mr. Hamlin would not come down to breakfast. There was still no news of
Harriet. While dear, comfortable Aunt Sallie and the "Automobile Girls"
were seated around the table, making a pretense of eating, there came a
ring at the front door bell.

Ruth jumped up and ran out into the hall. Then followed several moments
of awful suspense. Ruth came back slowly, not with Harriet, but with a
note in her hand. She opened it with shaking fingers, for she recognized
Harriet's handwriting in the address.

The note read: "Dearest Ruth, I shall never come home again. I have
disgraced my father and myself. I would not listen to you and Bab, and
now I know the worst. Mrs. Wilson and Peter Dillon were villains and I
was only a foolish dupe. I spent the night in a boarding house with an
old friend of my mother's." Ruth stopped reading. Her voice sank so low
it was almost impossible to hear her. She had not noticed that her uncle
was standing just outside the door, listening, with white lips.

"I don't know what else to do," Harriet's note continued, when Ruth had
strength to go on. "So early this morning I telegraphed to Charlie
Meyers. When you receive this note, I shall be married to him. Ask my
father to forgive me, for I shall never see him again. Your heart-broken
cousin, Harriet."

"Absurd child!" Miss Sallie ejaculated, trying to hide her tears. But Mr.
Stuart stepped to Mr. Hamlin's side as he entered the room, looking
conscience-stricken and miserable.

Poor Harriet was paying for her folly with a life-time of wretchedness.
She was to marry a man she did not love; and her friends were powerless
to save her.

Mollie slipped quietly away from the table. No one tried to stop her.
Every one thought Mollie was overcome, because she had been especially
devoted to Harriet.

"Won't you try to find Mr. Meyers, Uncle?" Ruth pleaded. "It may not be
too late to prevent Harriet's marriage. Oh, do try to find her. She does
not care for Charlie Meyers in the least. She is only marrying him
because she is so wretched she does not know what to do."

Mr. Stuart was already getting into his coat and hat. Mr. Hamlin was not
far behind him. The two men were just going out the front door, when a
cry from Mollie interrupted them. The three girls rushed into the hall,
not knowing what Mollie's cry meant. But when they saw the little golden
haired girl, who sympathized the most deeply with Harriet in her trouble,
because of her own recent acquaintance with debt, the "Automobile Girls"
knew at once that all was well!

"Oh, Mr. Hamlin! Oh, Mr. Stuart! Do wait until I get my breath," Mollie
begged. "Dear, darling Harriet is all right. She will come home if her
father will come for her. I telephoned to Mr. Meyers and he declares
Harriet is safe with his aunt. He says, of course, he is not such a cad
as to marry Harriet when she is so miserable and frightened. He went to
the boarding house for her, then took her to his aunt's home. Mr. Meyers
was on his way here to see Mr. Hamlin."

Two hours later, Harriet was at home again and in bed, suffering from
nervous shock. But her father's forgiveness, his sympathy, his
reassuring words, and above all, the thought that by the ruse of Bab, she
had been mercifully saved from the deep disgrace that had shadowed her
life, soon restored her to her normal spirits. There was a speedy
investigation by the State Department--the result of which was that Mrs.
Wilson disappeared from Washington society. Her son Elmer reported that
his mother had grown tired of Washington and was living in New England.
As for Peter Dillon, his connection with the Russian Embassy was severed
at once. No one knew where he went.

* * * * *

"The President would like to see the 'Automobile Girls' at the White
House to-day at half past twelve o'clock," Mr. William Hamlin announced a
few mornings later, looking up from his paper to smile first at his
daughter and then at the group of happy faces about his breakfast table,
which included Miss Sallie Stuart and Mr. Robert Stuart.

Harriet was looking very pale. She had been ill for two days after her
unhappy experience.

"What on earth do you mean, Mr. Hamlin?" inquired Grace Carter anxiously,
turning to their host.

The other girls smiled, thinking Mr. Hamlin was joking, he had been in
such different spirits since Harriet's return home.

"I mean what I say," Mr. Hamlin returned gravely. "The President wishes
to see the 'Automobile Girls' in order to thank them for their service to
their country." Mr. Hamlin allowed an earnest note to creep into his
voice. "The story has not been made public. But I myself told the
President of my narrow escape from disgrace, and he desires personally to
thank the young girls who saved us. I told him that he might rely on your
respecting his invitation."

"Oh, but we can't go, Mr. Hamlin," Mollie expostulated. "Grace and I had
nothing to do with saving the papers. It was only Ruth and Bab!"

"It is most unusual to decline an invitation from the President, Mollie,"
Mr. Hamlin continued. "Only a death in the family is regarded as a
reasonable excuse. Now the President most distinctly stated that he
desired a visit from the 'Automobile Girls'!"

"United we stand, divided we fall!" Ruth announced. "Bab and I will not
stir a single step without Grace and Mollie."

"There is one other person who ought to be included in this visit to the
President," Harriet added, shyly.

"Whom do you mean, my child?" Mr. Hamlin queried.

Harriet hung her proud little head. "I mean Marjorie Moore, Father. I
think she did as much as any one by keeping the story out of the papers
when it would have meant so much for her to have published it."

"Good for Harriet!" Ruth murmured under her breath.

"I did not neglect to tell the President of Miss Moore's part in the
affair, Daughter," Mr. Hamlin rejoined. "But I am glad you spoke of it. I
shall certainly see that she is included in the invitation."

Promptly at twelve o'clock the "Automobile Girls" set out for the White
House in the care of their old and faithful friend, Mr. A. Bubble. On
the way there they picked up Marjorie Moore, who had now become their
staunch friend.

The girls were greatly excited over their second visit to the White
House. It was, of course, very unlike their first, since to-day they were
to be the special guests of the President. On the evening of the
Presidential reception they had been merely included among several
hundred callers.

Ruth sent in Mr. Hamlin's card with theirs, in order to explain whose
visitors they were. The five girls were immediately shown into a small
room, which the President used for seeing his friends when he desired a
greater privacy than was possible in the large state reception rooms.

The girls sat waiting the appearance of the President, each one a little
more nervous than the other.

"What shall we say, Bab?" Mollie whispered to her sister.

"Goodness knows, child!" Bab just had time to answer, when a servant
bowed ceremoniously. A man entered the room quickly and walked from one
girl to the other, shaking hands with each one in turn.

"I am very glad to meet you," he declared affably. "Mr. Hamlin tells me
you were able to do him a service, and through him to your country, which
it is also my privilege to serve. I thank you." The President bowed
ceremoniously. "It was a pretty trick you played on our enemies. Strategy
is sometimes better than war, and a woman's wits than a man's fists."
Then the President turned cordially to Marjorie Moore.

"Miss Moore, it gives me pleasure to say a word of appreciation to you.
Your act in withholding this information from the public rather than to
sell it and make a personal gain by it, was a thoroughly patriotic act,
and I wish you to know that I value your service."

"Thank you, Mr. President," replied Miss Moore, blushing deeply.

The President's wife now entered the sitting-room with several other
guests and members of her family. When luncheon was announced, the
President of the United States offered his arm to Barbara Thurston.

The "Automobile Girls" are not likely to forget their luncheon with the
President, his family and a few intimate friends. The girls were
frightened at first; but, being simple and natural, they soon ceased to
think of themselves. They were too much interested in what they saw and
heard around them.

The President talked to Ruth, who sat on his left, about automobiles. He
was interested to hear of the travels of Mr. A. Bubble, and seemed to
know a great deal about motor cars. But, after a while, as the girls
heard him converse with three distinguished men who sat at his table, one
an engineer, the other a judge, and the third an artist, the "Automobile
Girls" decided wisely that the President knew almost everything that was
worth knowing.

* * * * *

"Children," said Mr. Stuart that night, when the girls could tell no
more of their day's experience, "it seems to me that it is about time
for you to be going home." Mr. Stuart and Aunt Sallie were in the Hamlin
drawing-room with the "Automobile Girls." Mr. Hamlin and Harriet had
gone for a short walk. It was now their custom to walk together each
evening after dinner, since it gave them a little opportunity for a
confidential talk.

"You girls have had to-day the very happiest opportunity that falls to
the lot of any visitor in Washington," Mr. Stuart continued. "You have
had a private interview with the President and have been entertained by
him at the Executive Mansion. I have no doubt you have also seen all the
sights of Washington in the last few weeks. So homeward-bound must be our
next forward move!"

"Oh, Father," cried Ruth regretfully, her face clouding as she looked
at her beloved automobile friends. How long before she should see
them again?

The same thought clouded the bright faces of Mollie, Grace and Bab.

"We have hardly seen you at all, Miss Sallie," Grace lamented, taking
Miss Sarah Stuart's plump, white hand in her own. "We have been the
centre of so much excitement ever since you arrived in Washington."

"Must we go, Father?" Ruth entreated.

"I am afraid we must, Daughter," Mr. Stuart answered, with a half
anxious and half cheerful twinkle in his eye.

"Then it's Chicago for me!" sighed Ruth.

"And Kingsbridge for the rest of us!" echoed the other three girls.

"Ruth cannot very well travel home alone," Mr. Stuart remonstrated,
looking first at Barbara, then at Mollie and Grace, and winking solemnly
at Miss Sallie.

"Don't tease the child, Robert," Miss Sallie remonstrated.

"Aren't you and Aunt Sallie going home with me, Father?" Ruth queried,
too much surprised for further questioning.

"No, Ruth," Mr. Stuart declared. "You seem to have concluded to return to
Chicago. But your Aunt Sallie and I are on our way to Kingsbridge, New
Jersey, to pay a visit to Mrs. Mollie Thurston at Laurel Cottage. Mrs.
Thurston wrote inviting us to visit her before we returned to the West.
But, of course, if you do not wish to go with us, Daughter--."

Mr. Stuart had no chance to speak again. For the four girls surrounded
him, plying him with questions, with exclamations. They were all laughing
and talking at once.

"It's too good to be true, Father!" cried Ruth.



Mrs. Thurston stood on the front porch of her little cottage, looking out
in the gathering dusk. Back of her the lights twinkled gayly. A big wood
fire crackled in the sitting-room and shone through the soft muslin
curtains. A small maid was busily setting the table for supper in the
dinning room, and there was a delicious smell of freshly baked rolls
coming through the kitchen door. On the table stood a great dish of
golden honey and a pitcher of rich milk. Mrs. Thurston had not forgotten,
in two years, the favorite supper of her friend, Robert Stuart.

It was a cold night, but she could not wait indoors. She had gathered up
a warm woolen shawl of a delicate lavender shade, and wrapped it about
her head and shoulders, looking not unlike the gracious spirit of an
Autumn twilight as she lingered to welcome the travelers home. She was
thinking of all that had happened since the day that Bab had stopped
Ruth's runaway horses. She was recalling how much Mr. Stuart had done for
her little girls in the past two years. "He could not have been kinder
to Mollie and Barbara, if they had been his own daughters," thought
pretty Mrs. Thurston, with a blush.

But did she not hear the ever-welcome sound of a friendly voice? Was not
Mr. Bubble calling to her out of the darkness? Surely enough his two
great shining eyes now appeared at the well-known turn in the road. A few
moments later Mrs. Thurston was being tempestuously embraced by the
"Automobile Girls."

"Do let me speak to Miss Stuart, children," Mrs. Thurston entreated,
trying to extricate herself from four pairs of girlish arms.

"Come in, Miss Stuart," she laughed. "I hope you are not tired from your
journey. I cannot tell you what pleasure it gives me to see you and Mr.
Stuart once more."

Mr. Stuart gave Mrs. Thurston's hand a little longer pressure than
was absolutely necessary. Mrs. Thurston blushed and finally drew her
hand away.

"Look after Mr. Stuart, dear," she said to Bab. "He is to have the guest
chamber upstairs. I want to show Miss Stuart to her room. I am sorry,
Ruth, our little home is too small to give you a room to yourself. You
will have to be happy with Mollie and Bab. Grace you are to stay to
supper with us. Your father will come for you after supper. I had to beg
awfully hard, but he finally consented to let you remain with us. Our
little reunion would not be complete without you."

Mrs. Thurston took Miss Sallie into a charming room which she had lately
renovated for her guest. It was papered in Miss Stuart's favorite
lavender paper, had lavender curtains at the windows, and a bright wood
fire in the grate.

"I hope you will be comfortable, Miss Stuart," said little Mrs. Thurston,
who stood slightly in awe of stately and elegant Miss Sallie.

For answer Miss Sallie smiled and looked searchingly at Mrs. Thurston.

"Is there any question you wish to ask me?" Mrs. Thurston inquired,
flushing slightly at Miss Stuart's peculiar expression.

"Oh, no," smiled Miss Sallie. "Oh, no, I have no question to ask you!"

It was seven o 'clock when the party sat down to supper, and after nine
when they finally rose. They stopped then only because Squire Carter
arrived and demanded his daughter, Grace, whom he had to carry off, as he
and her mother could bear to be parted from their child no longer.

Miss Sallie asked to be excused, soon after supper, as she was tired
from her trip. "I think the 'Automobile Girls' had better go to bed,
too," she suggested. Then Miss Sallie flushed. For she was so accustomed
to telling her girls what they ought to do that she forgot it was no
longer her privilege to advise Bab and Mollie when they were in their
mother's house.

Bab insisted on running out to their little stable to see if her beloved
horse, "Beauty," were safe and sound. And, of course, Ruth and Mollie
went with her. But not long afterwards, the three girls retired to their
room to talk until they fell asleep, too worn out for further

"I am not tired, Mrs. Thurston, are you?" Mr. Stuart asked. "If you don't
mind, won't you sit and talk to me for a little while before this cozy
open fire? We never have a chance to say much to each other before our
talkative daughters. How charming the little cottage looks to-night! It
is like a second home."

Mrs. Thurston smiled happily. "It makes me very happy to have you and
Ruth feel so. I hope you will always feel at home here. I wish I could
do something in return for all the kindness you have shown to my two
little girls."

Mr. Stuart did not reply at once. He seemed to be thinking so deeply that
Mrs. Thurston did not like to go on talking.

"Mrs. Thurston," Mr. Stuart spoke slowly, "why would you not come to my
house in Chicago to make us a visit when I asked you, nearly a year ago?"

Mrs. Thurston hesitated. "I told you my reasons then, Mr. Stuart. It was
quite impossible. But it has been so long I have almost forgotten why I
had to refuse."

"It was after our trip in the private car with our friends, the fall
before, you remember, Mrs. Thurston. But I know why you would not come to
my home," Mr. Stuart answered, smiling. "You were willing to accept my
hospitality for your daughters, but you would not accept it for yourself.
Am I not right?"

"Yes," Mrs. Thurston faltered. "I thought it would not be best."

"I am sorry," Mr. Stuart said sadly. "Because I want to do a great deal
more than ask you to come to visit me in Chicago. I wish you to come to
live there as my wife."

Mrs. Thurston's reply was so low it could hardly be heard. But Mr. Stuart
evidently understood it and found it satisfactory.

A few moments later Mrs. Thurston murmured, "I don't believe that Ruth
and your sister Sallie will be pleased."

"Ruth will be the happiest girl in the world!" Mr. Stuart retorted. "Poor
child, she has longed for sisters all her life. Now she is going to have
the two she loves best in the world. As for Sallie--." Here Mr. Stuart
hesitated. He thought Miss Sallie did not dream of his affection for the
little widow, and he was not at all sure how she would receive the news.
"As for Sallie," he continued stoutly, "I am sure Sallie wishes my
happiness more than anything else and she will be glad when she hears
that I can find it only through you."

Mrs. Thurston shook her head. "I can only consent to our marriage," she
returned, "if my girls and yours are really happy in our choice and if
your sister is willing to give us her blessing."

* * * * *

"Oh, Aunt Sallie, dear, please are you awake?" Ruth cried at half-past
seven the next morning, tapping gently on Miss Stuart's door.

Ruth had been awakened by her father at a little after six that morning
and carried off to his bedroom in her dressing-gown, to sit curled up on
her father's bed, while he made his confession to her.

Ruth had listened silently at first with her head turned away. Once her
father thought she was crying. But when she turned toward him her eyes
were shining with happy tears. Ruth never thought of being jealous, or
that her adored father would love her any less. She only thought, first,
of his happiness and next of her own.

Mr. Stuart would not let Ruth go until, with her arms about his neck and
her cheek pressed to his, she begged him to let her be the messenger to
Barbara, Mollie and Aunt Sallie.

"You will be careful when you break the news to your aunt," Mr. Stuart
entreated. "I should have given her some warning in regard to my feelings
for Mrs. Thurston. I fear the news will be an entire surprise to her."

Ruth wondered what she should say first.

"Come in, dear," Miss Sallie answered placidly in reply to Ruth's knock.
Miss Stuart was sitting up in bed with a pale lavender silk dressing
sacque over her lace and muslin gown.

"I suppose," Miss Sallie continued calmly, "that you have come to tell me
that your father is going to marry Mrs. Thurston."

"Aunt Sallie," gasped Ruth, "are you a wizard?"

"No," said Miss Stuart, "I am a woman. Why, child, I have seen this thing
coming ever since we first left Robert Stuart here in Kingsbridge when I
took you girls off to Newport. Are you pleased, child?" Miss Sallie
inquired, a little wistfully.

"Gladder than anything, if you are, Aunt Sallie," Ruth replied. "But
Father told me to come to ask you how you felt. He says Mrs. Thurston
won't marry him unless we all consent."

"Nonsense!" returned Miss Stuart in her accustomed fashion. "Of course I
am glad to have Robert happy. Mrs. Thurston is a dear little woman.
Only," dignified Miss Sallie choked with a tiny sob in her voice, "I
can't give you up, Ruth, dear." And Miss Stuart and her beloved niece
shed a few comfortable tears in each other's arms.

"I never, never will care for any one as I do for you, Aunt Sallie," Ruth
protested. "And aren't you Chaperon Extraordinary and Ministering Angel
Plentipotentiary to the 'Automobile Girls'? The other girls care for you
almost as much as I do. I wonder if Mrs. Thurston has told Bab and
Mollie. Do you think they will be glad to have me for a sister?"

"Fix my hair, Ruth, and don't be absurd," Miss Sallie rejoined, returning
to her former severe manner, which no longer alarmed any one of the
"Automobile Girls." "It is wonderful to me how I have learned to do
without a maid while I have been traveling about the world with you

The winter sunshine poured into the breakfast room of Laurel Cottage.
The canary sang rapturously in his golden cage. He rejoiced at the sound
of voices and the cheerful sounds in the house.

Bab and Mollie were helping to set the breakfast table, when Ruth joined
them. Neither girl said anything except to ask Ruth why she had slipped
out of their room so early.

Ruth's heart sank. After all, then, Barbara and Mollie were not
pleased. They did not care for her enough to be happy in this closer
bond between them.

Mrs. Thurston kissed Ruth shyly, but she made no mention of anything
unusual. And when Mr. Stuart came in to breakfast he looked as
embarrassed and uncomfortable as a boy. There was a constraint over the
little party at breakfast that had not been there the night before.

Unexpectedly the door opened. Into the room came Grace Carter with a big
bunch of white roses in her hand. "I just had to come early," she
declared simply. "I wanted to find out." Grace thrust the flowers upon
Mrs. Thurston.

"Come here to me, Grace," Miss Sallie commanded. "You are a girl after my
own heart. Robert, Mrs. Thurston, I congratulate you and I wish you joy
with my whole heart."

Barbara and Mollie gazed at each other in stupefied silence. What did
it all mean?

Mrs. Thurston blushed like a girl over her roses. "Miss Stuart, I
never dreamed you could have heard so soon. I have not yet told
Barbara and Mollie."

"Told us what?" Bab demanded in her emphatic fashion. Then Ruth's heart
was light again.

But Bab did not wait to be answered. She suddenly guessed the truth. Now
she knew why Ruth's manner had changed so quickly a short time before.
She ran round the table, upsetting her chair in her rush. And before she
said a word either to her mother or to Mr. Stuart, she flung her arms
about Ruth and whispered: "Our wish has come true, Ruth, darling! We are
sisters as well as best friends."

Then Bab congratulated her mother and Mr. Stuart in a much more
dignified fashion.

"When is it to be, Father?" Ruth queried.

Mr. Stuart looked at Mrs. Thurston. "In the spring," she faltered.

"Then we will all go away together and have a happy summer, somewhere,"
Mr. Stuart asserted, smiling on the faces of his dear ones.

"We shall do no such thing, Robert Stuart," Miss Sallie interposed
firmly. "You shall have your honeymoon alone. I intend to take my
'Automobile Girls' some place where we have never been before. Will you
go with me, children?"

"Yes," chorused the four girls. "Aunt Sallie and the 'Automobile
Girls' forever."

Book of the day: