The Automobile Girls At Washington
Laura Dent Crane
Part 2 out of 3
herself and for the people who loved her.
"Don't tell Barbara about my buying the frock, Harriet," Mollie
pleaded, as the two girls went up the steps of the Hamlin home, a short
time before luncheon. "I would rather tell Bab about it myself, when I
get a chance."
"Oh, I won't tell. You may count on me," promised Harriet, in sympathetic
tones. "Will Bab be very cross!"
"Oh, not exactly that," Mollie hesitated. "But I am afraid she will be
worried. I am glad we are at home. I want to lie down, I feel so tired."
Not long after Harriet and Mollie had started off on their shopping
expedition, Bab came across from her room into Ruth's.
"Ruth, do you think I could telephone Mr. Dillon?" she asked. "I picked
up a piece of paper that he dropped in the garden yesterday, and I
forgot to return it to him."
"Give it to me, child. I told you yesterday that I did not wish you to
grow to be an intimate friend of that man. But I am writing him a note to
thank him for his kindness to us last night. I can just put your paper in
my letter and explain matters to him."
Bab carelessly tossed the sheet of paper on Ruth's desk. It opened, and
Ruth cried out in astonishment. "Oh, Bab, how queer! This note is written
in Chinese characters. What do you suppose Peter Dillon is doing with a
letter written in Chinese?"
"I don't know I am sure, Ruth," Bab demurred. "It is none of our
"Did you get the yellow ribbon, Mollie?" Barbara asked her sister, two
hours later, when Mollie and Harriet came in from their shopping. "I have
been fixing up your dress all morning. It is awfully pretty. Now I want
to make the sash."
"I did not get any ribbons, Bab." Mollie answered peevishly. "I told you
I would not wear that old yellow dress."
AT THE WHITE HOUSE
Mollie Thurston was not well the next day. She stayed in bed and
explained that her head ached. And Harriet Hamlin behaved very strangely.
She was shut up in the room with Mollie for a long time; when she came
out Mollie's eyes were red, and Harriet looked white as a sheet. But
neither of the girls would say what was the matter.
Just before the hour for starting to the White House reception, Mollie
got out of bed and insisted on dressing.
"I am afraid you are not well enough to go out to-night, Mollie," Bab
protested. "I hope you won't be too disappointed. Shall I stay at home
Mollie shook her head obstinately. "I am quite well now," she insisted.
"Bab, would you mind leaving me alone while I dress? I do feel nervous,
and I know Ruth and Grace won't care if you go into their room."
"All right, Mollie," Barbara agreed cheerfully, wondering what had
come over her little sister. "Call me when you wish me to button your
gown. I have put the yellow one out on the lounge, if you should
decide to wear it."
When Mollie was left alone two large tears rolled down her cheeks. Once
she started to crawl back into bed and to give up the reception
altogether. But, after a while, she walked over to her closet and drew
out a great box. With trembling fingers Mollie opened it and gazed in
upon the exquisite blue frock that had already caused her so much
embarrassment and regret.
Should she wear the frock that night? Mollie Thurston asked herself. And
what would Bab say when she saw it? For Mollie had not yet mustered up
the courage to make her confession. Well, come what might, Mollie decided
to wear her new frock this one time. She had risked everything to own it,
so she might as well have this poor pleasure.
When Mollie joined Mr. Hamlin and the other girls downstairs a long party
cape completely concealed her gown.
Mr. Hamlin did not keep a private carriage; so, as long as Ruth's
automobile was in Washington, he decided to take his party to the White
House in Ruth's car.
The girls were ready early, for Mr. Hamlin explained to them that they
would have to take their position in the line of carriages that slowly
approached the White House door, and that sometimes this procession was
nearly a mile in length.
"I suppose you girls won't mind the waiting as much as we older people
do, because you always have so much to say to each other. And perhaps
this is my best chance to learn to know you better. I have been so busy
that I have seen little of you during your visit to Harriet."
But Mollie and Harriet were strangely silent, and Bab felt absolutely
tongue-tied before Mr. Hamlin. Fortunately, Grace and Ruth sat on each
side of him.
"Mr. Hamlin," Grace asked timidly, "would you mind telling me what are
the duties of the Secretary of State? Washington is like a new, strange
world to us. I have learned the titles of the different members of the
President's Cabinet, but I have not the faintest idea what they do.
Mollie and I looked over the cards of the guests who came to your
reception. Some of the cards just read: 'The Speaker,' 'The Chief of
Staff,' 'L'Ambassadeur de France,' without any personal names at all."
Mr. Hamlin seemed pleased. The stern, half-embarrassed expression, that
he usually wore before the girls relaxed a little at Grace's eager
"I am glad, Miss Carter, to find you take an interest in Washington
affairs," he answered. "It is most unusual in a young girl. I wish
Harriet cared more about them, but she seems devoted only to society."
Mr. Hamlin sighed under his breath. "Yes; it is the custom for the
officials in Washington to put only the titles of their office on their
visiting cards. You are sure you wish to know the duties of the Secretary
of State? I don't want to bore you, my child."
Grace nodded her head eagerly.
"Well, let me see if I can make it plain to you. The Secretary of State
has charge of all the correspondence between the foreign countries and
their representatives in the United States," Mr. Hamlin continued. "Do
"I think I do," Grace answered hesitatingly, while Bab leaned over from
the next seat to see if she could understand what Mr. Hamlin was
"The Secretary of State also receives all kinds of information from the
consuls and diplomatic officers, who represent the United States abroad,"
Mr. Hamlin went on. "Sometimes this information is very important and
very secret. It might bring on serious trouble, perhaps start a war with
another country, if some of these secrets were discovered. The Secretary
of State has other duties; he keeps the Great Seal of the United States.
But my chief business as Assistant Secretary is just to look after the
important private correspondence with all the other countries."
"Father," exclaimed Harriet, "why are you boring the girls to death
with so much information? They don't understand what you mean. I have
been living in Washington for four years, and I have not half an idea
of what your duties are. But thank goodness, we have arrived at the
White House at last!"
Their motor car had finally drawn up before the entrance to the Executive
Mansion at the extremity of the eastern wing. The house was a blaze of
lights; the Marine Band was playing a national air.
Harriet, who was familiar with all the rules that govern the President's
receptions, quickly marshaled her guests into the lobby, where they had
to take off their coats and hats.
Bab was so overcome at the enormous number of people about her, that she
did not see Mollie remove her cape.
Mollie slipped quietly into a corner, and was waiting by Harriet's side,
when Harriet called the other girls to hurry up the broad stairs to the
vestibule above, where the guests were forming in line to enter the
Barbara, Ruth and Grace gave little gasps of astonishment when they
first beheld Mollie. If little Mollie Thurston's heart was heavy within
her on this brilliant occasion, she held her pretty head very high. The
worry and excitement had given her a slight fever; her cheeks were a deep
carmine and her eyes glittered brightly.
"Why, Mollie! What a vision you are!" exclaimed Ruth and Grace together.
"Where did you get that wonderful gown? You have been saving it to
surprise us to-night, haven't you?"
But Bab did not say a single word. She only looked at Mollie, her face
paling a little with surprise and curiosity. How had Mollie come by a
gown that was more beautiful than anything Bab had ever seen her sister
wear? Barbara knew Mollie had not had the gown when they left home
together, for she had packed her sister's trunk for her. But this was not
the time to ask questions. Bab's mind was divided between the wonder and
delight she felt at the scene before her, and amazement at Mollie's
secret. "I do hope," she thought, as she followed Mr. Hamlin up the
steps, "that Mollie has not borrowed that gown of Harriet. But no; it
fits her much too well. Some one must have given it to her as a present
and she has kept the secret until to-night to surprise me."
The "Automobile Girls" stood behind Mr. Hamlin and Harriet in the great
vestibule just outside the famous Blue Room of the White House, where
the President and his wife were waiting to receive their guests. The
line was moving forward so slowly that the girls had a chance to look
about them. Never had any one of them beheld such a beautiful spectacle.
Of course the "Automobile Girls" had been present at a number of
receptions during their brief social careers, but for the first time
to-night they saw men in other than ordinary evening dress. The
diplomats from other countries wore their superb court costumes with the
insignia of their rank. The American Army and Navy officers had on their
bright full dress uniforms.
Bab thought the Russian Ambassador the most superb looking man she had
ever seen, and Mollie blushed when Lieutenant Elmer Wilson bowed
gallantly to her across the length of the hall.
When the girls first took up their positions in the line, they believed
they would never grow weary of looking about them. But by and by, as they
waited and the number of people ahead of them only slowly decreased, they
A girl passed by Barbara and smiled. It was Marjorie Moore. She was
not going to try to shake hands with the President. She had a note
book and a pencil in her hand and was evidently bent on business.
Barbara also caught a glimpse of Peter Dillon, but he did not come up
to speak to them.
Mr. Hamlin's charges at last entered the Blue Room. The President and his
receiving party stood by a pair of great windows hung with heavy silk
It was now almost time for the "Automobile Girls" to shake hands with the
President. They were overcome with nervousness.
Harriet was next to her father; Bab stood just behind Harriet, followed
by Ruth, Grace and Mollie.
"You are just supposed to shake hands with the President, not to talk to
him," Harriet whispered. "Then the President's wife is next and you may
greet the other women in the receiving line as you pass along. The
Vice-President's wife stands next to the President's wife and the ladies
of the Cabinet just after her."
Bab watched Harriet very carefully. She was determined to make no
Finally, Barbara heard her name announced by the Master of Ceremonies.
She felt her heart stop beating for a moment, and the color mount to her
cheeks. The next moment her hand was clasped in that of the President of
the United States.
Barbara said a little prayer of thankfulness when she had finished
speaking to all the receiving ladies. She felt glad, indeed, when Mr.
Hamlin drew her behind a thick blue silk cord, where the President's
special guests were talking in groups together. Bab then watched Ruth,
Grace and Mollie go through the same formality.
Now nobody had ever warned Mollie that it was not good form to speak to
the President before he spoke to her. She thought it was polite to make
some kind of a remark when she was introduced to him. So all the way up
the line she had been wondering what she ought to say.
As the President took Mollie's little hand he bent over slightly. For a
very small voice said, "I like Washington very much, Mr. President."
The President smiled. "I am glad you do," he answered.
A little later, Mr. Hamlin took the girls through all the state
apartments of the White House. One of these rooms was less crowded than
the others. Groups of Mr. Hamlin's friends were standing about laughing
and talking together. Barbara was next Mr. Hamlin when she happened to
glance toward a far corner of the room. There she saw her newspaper
friend. The girl made a mysterious sign to Barbara to come over to her
and to come alone. But Bab shook her head.
Still she felt the girl's eyes on her. Each time she turned, Marjorie
Moore again made her strange signal. Once she pointed significantly
toward a group of people. But Bab only saw the broad back of the little
Chinese Minister and the stately form of the Russian Ambassador. The
two men were talking to a number of Washington officials whose names
Barbara did not even know. Of course, Marjorie Moore's peculiar actions
could not refer to them. But to save her life Bab could not find any
one else nearby.
Womanlike, Barbara's curiosity was aroused. What could the girl want with
her? Evidently, her news was a secret, for Miss Moore did not come near
Mr. Hamlin's party and Bab simply could not get away without offering
some explanation to them.
Barbara was growing tired of the reception. She had been introduced to so
many people that her brain was fairly spinning in an effort to remember
their names. Again Bab looked across at Miss Moore. This time the
newspaper girl pointed with her pencil through a small open door, near
which she was standing. Her actions said as plainly as any words could
speak: "Follow me when you have a chance. There is something I must tell
you!" The next instant Marjorie Moore vanished through this door and was
lost to sight.
A few minutes later Bab managed to slip over to that side of the room.
She intended merely to peep out the open door to see whether Miss Moore
were waiting for her in the hall. Bab carefully watched her opportunity.
Mr. Hamlin and the girls were not looking. Now was her chance. She was
just at the door, when some one intercepted her.
"Ah! Good evening, Miss Thurston," said a suave voice.
Barbara turned, blushing again to confront the Chinese Minister looking
more magnificent than ever in his Imperial robes of state.
The young girl paused and greeted the official. Still the Chinese
Minister regarded her gravely with his inscrutable Oriental eyes that
seemed to look her through and through. He seemed always about to ask her
Of course, Barbara was obliged to give up her effort to follow Marjorie
Moore, though she was still devoured with curiosity to know what the girl
had wished to say to her. The next ten minutes, wherever Bab went, she
felt the Chinese Minister's gaze follow her.
It was not until Barbara Thurston discovered that the Oriental gentleman
had himself withdrawn from the reception room that she mustered up a
sufficient courage to try her venture the second time.
"Miss Moore, of course, is not expecting me now," Barbara thought. "But
as I have a chance, I will see what has become of her."
Bab peeped cautiously out through the still open door. She saw only an
empty corridor with a servant standing idly in the hall. Should she go
forward? No; Barbara did not, of course, dare to wander through the White
House halls alone. She was too likely to find herself in some place to
which visitors were not admitted.
The servant who waited in the hall saw Barbara hesitate, then turn back.
He leaned over and whispered mysteriously: "You are to come to the door
at the west side, which opens on the lawn. The young woman left a message
that she would wait for you there."
"But I don't know the west side," Bab faltered hesitatingly, feeling that
she ought to turn back, yet anxious to go on.
"The young woman said it was most important for her to see you; I can
show you the way to the west door," the man went on.
Barbara now quickly made up her mind. Marjorie Moore was only a girl like
herself. If she needed her or if she wanted to confide in her, Bab meant
to answer the summons.
Bab found the portico deserted. There was no one in sight.
Down on the lawn, some distance ahead, she thought she saw a figure
moving. Barbara drew her chiffon scarf more closely over her shoulders
and ran quickly out into the garden without thinking. It was, of course,
Marjorie Moore ahead of her. But Bab had not gone far, when the figure
disappeared, and she realized her own foolishness. She must get back into
the White House in a hurry before any one found out what she had done.
It was exceedingly dark out on the lawn in contrast with the brilliant
illumination of the house, and Barbara was running swiftly. She had begun
to wonder what explanation she could make if Harriet or Mr. Hamlin asked
where she had been. As usual, Barbara was repenting a rash impulse too
late. She ran obliquely across the yard in order to return in a greater
hurry. Between a clump of bushes set at some distance apart her feet
struck against something soft and heavy and Bab pitched forward across
Then Barbara Thurston's heart turned sick with horror. She recognized, in
the same instant, that she had fallen over a human body. In getting back
on her own feet, Bab was obliged to touch the figure over which she had
fallen. She shuddered with fright. It could not be possible that any one
had been murdered in the grounds of the White House, while a great ball
was being given on the inside. Had Marjorie Moore expected foul play and
called on Bab to help her guard some one from harm?
Barbara did not know what to do--to go on with her search for the
newspaper girl, or go back to the White House and raise an alarm.
Bab was standing up, but she dared not look at the figure at her feet.
She was now more accustomed to the darkness and she did not know what one
glance might reveal.
"What a coward I am!" Bab thought. Trembling, she put out her hand and
touched the body. It was warm, but the figure had fallen forward on its
face. As Bab's hand slipped along over the object that lay so still on
the hard ground, an even greater horror seized her. Her hand had come in
contact with a skirt. The figure was that of a woman!
Barbara dropped on her knees beside the figure. She gently turned
the body over until it was face upward. One long stare at the face
was enough. The woman who lay there was the young newspaper girl who
had summoned Bab to follow her but a short time before. She still
had on her shabby evening dress. The pad and pencil with which she
took down her society items lay at her side. But Marjorie Moore's
face was pale as death.
Bab's tears dropped down on the girl's face. "My dear Miss Moore, what
has happened? Can't you hear me?" Bab faltered. "It is Barbara Thurston!
I tried to come to help you, but I could not get here until now."
The figure lay apparently lifeless, but Bab knew now that the girl was
still alive. Bab did not like to leave her, for what dreadful person
might not stumble over the poor, unconscious girl? Yet how else could
Bab get help?
At this moment Bab looked up and saw a number of lighted cigars in the
garden near the White House. Evidently a group of men had come out on the
lawn to smoke. As Bab ran forward she saw one of the men move away from
the others. He was whistling softly, "Kathleen Mavourneen, the bright
stars are shining."
"Oh, Mr. Dillon!" cried Bab. "Poor Miss Moore has been dreadfully hurt
and is lying unconscious out here on the grass. Won't you please find Mr.
Hamlin, or some one, to come to her aid?"
"Miss Moore!" exclaimed Peter Dillon in a shocked tone. "I wonder whom
the girl could have been spying upon to have gotten herself into such
trouble? But, Miss Thurston, you ought not to be out here. Come back with
me to the reception rooms. I will get some one to look after Miss Moore
at once. It is best to keep this affair as quiet as possible."
"I can't leave the poor girl alone," Bab demurred. "So please find Mr.
Hamlin as soon as you can. I will ask two of these other men to take Miss
Moore up on a side porch, out of the way of the guests."
The rest of the group of men now came forward; their uniforms showed
they were young Army and Navy officers. One of them was Lieutenant
"What a dreadful thing!" he exclaimed, as he and another officer, under
Bab's directions, picked up Marjorie Moore's limp form and carried it
into the light. "Some one has struck Miss Moore over the temple with a
stick. She has a nasty bruise just there. But she is only stunned. She
will come to herself presently."
Mr. Hamlin now hurried out with Peter Dillon, followed by Ruth and
"Find our automobile; have it brought as near as possible. We must put
the poor girl into it," Mr. Hamlin declared authoritatively. "Mr. Dillon
is right. This affair must be kept an entire secret. It is incredible!
Above all things, the newspapers must not get hold of it. It would be a
nine days' wonder! Mr. Dillon, will you go to Miss Moore's paper? Say you
feel sure the President himself would not wish this story to be
published. Then you can find out where Miss Moore's mother lives, and see
that she is told. The girl is not seriously injured, but she must be seen
by a physician."
"But you are not going to take Marjorie Moore to our house, Father,"
Harriet protested. "She is so--" Harriet checked herself just in time.
She realized it would not be well to express her feeling toward the
injured girl before so large a group of listeners.
"I most certainly do intend to take Miss Moore to our house," interrupted
Mr. Hamlin sternly. "Her father was an old friend of mine whom changes in
politics made poor just before his death. His daughter is a brave girl. I
have a great respect for her."
In the excitement of helping their wounded visitor to bed, Barbara
forgot all about Mollie's wonderful gown, and the questions she intended
asking her. Bab and Ruth undressed Marjorie Moore, and stayed with her
until the doctor and a nurse arrived. Then Bab went quickly to her own
room and undressed by a dim light, so as not to disturb her sister.
Mollie's face was turned toward the wall and she seemed to be fast
asleep. There was no sign of the blue gown about to reawaken Bab's
curiosity. Barbara was too weary from the many impressions of the evening
and the fright that succeeded them, and hurriedly undressing she crept
quietly to bed and was soon fast asleep.
It was almost dawn when Barbara began to dream that she heard low,
suppressed sobs. No; she must be wrong, she was not dreaming. The sounds
were too real. The sobs were close beside her, and Bab felt Mollie's
shoulders heaving in an effort to hold them back.
"Why, little sister," cried Bab in a frightened tone, putting out
her hand and taking hold of Mollie, "what is the matter with you!
Are you ill?"
"No," sobbed Mollie. "There is nothing the matter. Please go to sleep
again, Bab, dear. I did not mean to wake you up."
"You would not cry, Mollie, if there was nothing the matter. Tell me at
once what troubles you," pleaded Barbara, who was now wide awake. "If you
are not ill, then something pretty serious is worrying you and you must
tell me what it is."
Mollie only buried her head in her pillow and sobbed harder than ever.
"Tell me," Bab commanded.
"It's the blue gown!" whispered Mollie under her breath.
"The gown?" queried Barbara, suddenly recalling Mollie's wonderful
costume at the President's reception. "Oh, yes. I have not had an
opportunity to ask you where you got such a beautiful frock and how you
happened not to tell me about it."
"I was ashamed," Mollie sobbed.
Barbara did not understand what Mollie meant, but she knew her sister
would tell her everything now.
"I bought the frock," Mollie confessed after a moment's hesitation.
"That is I did not exactly buy it, for I did not have the money to pay
for it. But Harriet was to pay for it and I was to give her back the
money when I could."
"How much did the gown cost, Mollie?" Bab inquired quietly, although her
heart felt as heavy as lead.
"It cost fifty dollars!" Mollie returned in a tired, frightened voice.
"Oh, Mollie!" Bab exclaimed just at first. Then she repented. "Never
mind, Molliekins; it can't be helped now. The dress is a beauty, and I
suppose Harriet won't mind how long we take to pay her back. We must just
save up and do some kind of work when we go home. I can coach some of the
girls at school. So please don't cry your pretty eyes out. There is an
old story about not crying over spilt milk, kitten. Go to sleep. Perhaps
some one will have left us a fortune by morning."
Barbara felt more wretched about her sister's confession than she was
willing to let Mollie know. She thought if Mollie could once get to
sleep, she could then puzzle out some method by which they could meet
this debt. For fifty dollars did look like an immense sum to the two poor
"But, Bab dear, I have not told you the worst," Mollie added in tones
"Mollie, what do you mean?" poor Bab asked, really frightened this time.
"Harriet can't let me owe the money to her. Something perfectly awful
has happened to Harriet, too. Promise me you will never tell, not even
Ruth! Well, Harriet thought she could lend me the money. But, the day
after we got home from the dressmaker's, that deceitful Madame Louise
wrote poor Harriet the most awful note. She said that Harriet owed her
such a dreadfully big bill, that she simply would not wait for her money
any longer. She declared if Harriet did not pay her at once she would
take her bill straight to Mr. Hamlin and demand the money. Now Harriet is
almost frightened to death. She says her father will never forgive her,
if he finds out how deeply in debt she is, and that he would not let her
go out into society again this winter. Of course, Harriet went to see
Madame Louise. She begged her for a little more time, and the dressmaker
consented to let us have a week. But she says that at the end of that
time she must have the money from me and from Harriet. Harriet is
dreadfully distressed. She simply can't advance the money to me for, even
if the dividend she expects comes in time, she will have to pay the money
on her own account. Oh, Bab, what can we do? I just can't have Mr. Hamlin
find out what I have done! He is so stern; he would just send me home in
disgrace, and then what would Mother and Aunt Sallie and Mr. Stuart say?
I shall just die of shame!"
"Mr. Hamlin must not know," Barbara answered, when she could find her
breath. Somehow her own voice sounded unfamiliar, it was so hoarse and
strained. Yet Bab knew she must save Mollie. How was she to do it?
"Do you think, Bab," Mollie asked, "that we could ask Ruth to lend us the
money? I should be horribly ashamed to tell her what I have done. But
Ruth is so sweet, and she could lend us the money without any trouble."
"I have thought of that, Mollie," Barbara answered. "But, oh, we could
not ask Ruth for the money! It is because she has been so awfully good to
us, that I can't ask her. She has already done so much for us and she
would be so pleased to help us now that somehow I would rather do most
anything than ask her. Don't you feel the same way, Mollie?"
"Yes, I do," Mollie agreed. "Only I just can't think what else we can do,
Bab. I have worried and worried until I am nearly desperate. We have only
one week in which to get hold of the money, Bab."
"Yes, I know. But go to sleep now, Mollie. You are too tired to try to
think any more. I will find some way out of the difficulty. Don't worry
any more about it now." Bab kissed her sister's burning cheeks, whereat
Mollie could only throw her arms about Barbara and cry: "Oh, Bab, I am so
sorry and so ashamed! I shall never forget this as long as I live."
Bab never closed her eyes again that night. A little while later she saw
the gray dawn change into rose color, and the rose to the blue of the
day-time sky. She heard several families of sparrows discussing their
affairs while they made their morning toilets on the bare branches of
At last an idea came to Barbara. She could pawn her jewelry and so raise
the money they needed. She had the old-fashioned corals her mother had
given to her on her first trip to Newport. There was also the beautiful
ruby, which had been Mr. Presby's gift to her from the rich stores of his
buried treasure. And the Princess Sophia had made Bab a present of a
beautiful gold star when they were at Palm Beach. Barbara's other jewelry
was marked with her initials.
Now Bab had very little knowledge of the real value of her jewelry, and
she had an equally dim notion of what a pawn shop was. But she did know
that at pawn shops people were able to borrow money at a high rate of
interest on their valuable possessions, and this seemed to be the only
way out of their embarrassment.
But how was Barbara to locate a pawn shop in Washington? And how was she
to find her way there, without being found out either by Mr. Hamlin or
any one of the girls?
Bab was still puzzling over these difficulties when she went down to
"Miss Moore says she would like to see you, Barbara," Harriet Hamlin
explained, when Bab had forced down a cup of coffee and eaten a small
piece of toast. "Miss Moore is much better this morning, and a carriage
is to take her home in a few hours. I have just been up to inquire about
her. Father," continued Harriet, turning to Mr. Hamlin, "Miss Moore wants
me to thank you for your kindness in bringing her here, and to say she
hopes to be able to repay you some day. Marjorie Moore seems to think you
discovered her out on the White House lawn, Barbara. However did you do
it? I suppose you were out there walking with Peter Dillon. But it is
against the rules."
"Does Miss Moore happen to know how she was hurt, Daughter?" Mr. Hamlin
queried. "Lieutenant Wilson declares the girl was struck a glancing blow
on the head with the end of a loaded cane. And the doctor seemed to have
the same idea last night."
"Miss Moore does not understand just what did happen to her," Harriet
replied. "Or at least she won't tell me. She declares she was out in the
grounds looking for some one, when she was knocked down from behind. She
never saw who struck her. How perfectly ridiculous for her to be running
about the White House park alone at night! I wonder the guards permitted
it. What do you suppose she was doing?"
"Attending to her business, perhaps, Daughter," Mr. Hamlin returned
dryly. "Miss Moore works exceedingly hard. It cannot always be pleasant
for a refined young woman to do the work she is sometimes required to do.
I hope you will be kind to her, Harriet, and help her when it is within
But Harriet only shrugged her shoulders and looked obstinate. "I should
think Miss Moore would find the society news for her paper inside the
reception rooms, rather than outside in the dark. It looks to me as
though she went out into the grounds either to meet some one, or to find
out what some one else was doing."
None of the "Automobile Girls" or Mr. Hamlin made response to Harriet's
unkind remark and they were all glad when breakfast was over and the
Barbara at once went upstairs to the room that had been allotted to their
wounded guest the night before. She found Marjorie Moore dressed in a
shabby serge suit, lying on the bed looking pale and weak. A refined,
middle-aged woman, with a sad face, sat by her daughter holding her hand.
She was Marjorie's mother. The two women were waiting for the carriage to
take them home.
"I want to thank you, Miss Thurston," Marjorie Moore spoke weakly. "I
believe it was you who found me. I ought not to have asked you to come
out into the yard, but I did not dream there would be any danger to
either one of us. I want you to believe that I did have a real reason for
persuading you to join me, a reason that I thought important to your
happiness, not to mine. But I cannot tell you what it was, now; perhaps
because I may have made a mistake. I must have been struck by a tramp,
who had managed to hide in the White House grounds. I have no other
explanation of what happened to me. But--" Miss Moore stopped and
hesitated. "I have an explanation of the reason I wanted to talk to you
alone. Yet I cannot tell you what I mean to-day. I want to ask you to
trust me if ever you need a friend in Washington."
Bab thought the only friend she was likely to need was some one who could
lend her fifty dollars. And Marjorie Moore was too poor to do that. She
would have liked to ask the newspaper girl where she could find a pawn
shop, but was ashamed to make her strange request before that gentle,
sad-eyed woman, Marjorie Moore's mother.
So Barbara only pressed the other girl's hand affectionately, and said
she was glad to know she was better, and that she appreciated her
IN MR. HAMLIN'S STUDY
All morning Barbara pondered on how she could find a pawn shop in
Washington, without asking questions and without being discovered. Her
cheeks burned with humiliation and disgust at the very name pawn shop!
Still Mollie must never know how much she dreaded her errand, and her
mother must be spared the knowledge of their debt at any cost.
About noon the Hamlin house was perfectly quiet. Grace and Ruth had gone
out sight-seeing and Harriet and Mollie were both in their rooms. Mr.
Hamlin was over at his office in the State Department.
Bab had taken a book and gone downstairs to the library, pretending she
meant to read, but really only desiring to think. She was feeling almost
desperate. A week seemed such a little time in which to raise fifty
dollars. Bab wished to try the pawn shop venture at once, so that in case
it failed her, she would have time to turn somewhere else to secure the
sum of money she needed.
Barbara was idly turning over the pages of her book, staring straight
ahead of her at nothing in particular, when she unexpectedly leaped to
her feet. Her face flushed, but her lips took on a more determined curve.
When Barbara Thurston undertook to accomplish a thing she usually found a
way. Only weak people are deterred by obstacles.
Bab had remembered that she had heard Mr. Hamlin say that he kept a
Washington directory in his private study. She knew that by searching
diligently through this book she could find the address of a pawn shop.
Now was the time, of all others, to accomplish her purpose. With Bab, to
think, was to do.
Barbara knew that no one was expected to enter Mr. Hamlin's study. She
did not dream, however, that she would be doing any harm just to slip
quietly into it, find the directory and slip quickly out again, without
touching a single other thing in the room.
As has already been explained, Mr. Hamlin's study was a small room
adjoining the drawing-room, and separated from it by a pair of heavy
curtains and folding doors, which were occasionally left open, when Mr.
Hamlin was not in the house, so that the room could be aired and at the
same time shut it off from public view.
Bab went straight through the hall and entered Mr. Hamlin's study through
a small back door.
The room was dark, and Bab thought empty when she entered it. The inside
blinds were closed, but there was sufficient light through the openings
for Barbara to see her way about perfectly. She was bent upon business
and went straight to her task without pausing to open the window, for she
wished to take no liberties with Mr. Hamlin's apartment.
The four walls of the study were lined with books, reports from Congress;
everything pertaining to the business of the government at Washington.
Certainly finding that old-time needle in a haystack was an easy duty
compared with locating the city directory in such a wilderness of books.
First on her hands and knees, then on tip-toe, Bab thoroughly searched
through every shelf. No directory could be found.
"I can hardly see," Bab decided at last. "It will not do any harm for me
to turn on an electric light."
Bab was so intent on her occupation that, even after she had turned on
the light, which hung immediately over Mr. Hamlin's private desk, she
still thought she was alone in the room.
Lying under a heap of magazines and pages of manuscript on Mr. Hamlin's
desk, was a large book, which looked very much as though it might be the
Still Bab wavered. She knew no one was ever allowed to lay a hand on Mr.
Hamlin's desk. Even Harriet herself never dared to touch it. But what
harm could it do Mr. Hamlin for Barbara to pick up the book she desired?
She would not disarrange a single paper.
Bab reached out, intending to secure what she wished. But immediately she
felt her arm seized and held in a tight grip.
A low contralto voice said distinctly: "What do you mean by stealing in
here to search among Mr. Hamlin's papers?" The vise-like hold on Bab's
arm continued. The fingers were slender, but strong as steel, and the
grip hurt Barbara so, she wanted to cry out from the pain.
"Answer me," the soft voice repeated. "What are you doing, prying among
Mr. Hamlin's papers, when he is out of the house? You know he never
allows any one to touch them."
[Illustration: Bab Felt Her Arm Seized In a Tight Grip.]
"I am not prying," cried Bab indignantly. "I only came in here to look
for the city directory. I thought it might be on Mr. Hamlin's desk."
"A likely story," interrupted Bab's accuser scornfully. "If you wished
the directory, why did you not ask Mr. Hamlin to lend it to you? You
wanted something else! What was it? Tell me?" The hold on Barbara's arm
"Let go my arm, Mrs. Wilson," returned Barbara firmly. "I am telling you
the truth. How absurd for you to think anything else! What could I wish
in here? But I needed to look into the directory at once--for a--for a
special purpose," Barbara finished lamely.
Then her eyes flashed indignantly. "I am a guest in Mr. Hamlin's house,"
she said, coldly. "How do you know, Mrs. Wilson, that I have not received
his permission to enter this room? But you! Will you be good enough to
explain to me why you were hiding behind the curtains in Mr. Hamlin's
study when I came in? You, too, knew Mr. Hamlin was not at home. Besides,
Harriet receives her guests in the drawing-room, not in here."
"I came to see Mr. Hamlin on private business," Mrs. Wilson replied
haughtily. "He is an old and intimate friend of mine, so I took the
liberty of coming in here to wait for his return. But seeing you enter,
and suspecting you of mischief, I did conceal myself behind the
curtains. I shall be very glad, however, to remain here with you until
Mr. Hamlin returns from his office. I can readily explain my intrusion
and you will have an equal opportunity to tell Mr. Hamlin what you were
doing in here."
Now Barbara, who had slept very little the night before, and had worried
dreadfully all morning, did a very foolish thing. She blushed crimson at
Mrs. Wilson's request. She might very readily have agreed to stay, and
could simply have explained later to Mr. Hamlin that she had come into
his private room because she needed to see the directory. But would Mr.
Hamlin have inquired of Barbara her reason for desiring the directory?
This is, of course, what Barbara feared, and it caused her to behave most
unwisely. She trembled and fixed on Mrs. Wilson two pleading brown eyes.
"Please do not ask me to wait here until Mr. Hamlin returns," she
entreated. "And, if you don't mind, you will not mention to Mr. Hamlin
that I came into his study without asking his permission. Truly I only
wanted to look at the directory, and I will tell Harriet that I have
been in here."
Mrs. Wilson eyed Bab, with evident suspicion. "Why are you so anxious to
see the directory?" she inquired. "If you wish to know a particular
address why do you not ask your friends, the Hamlins, about it?"
"That is something that I cannot explain to you, Mrs. Wilson," said
Barbara, a look of fear leaping into her eyes that was not lost on her
"Very well, if you cannot explain yourself, I shall lay the whole matter
before Mr. Hamlin the instant he comes home," returned Mrs. Wilson
cruelly. "It looks very suspicious, to say the least, when a guest takes
advantage of his absence to prowl among his private papers."
Tears of humiliation sprang to Barbara's eyes. It was bad enough to have
Mrs. Wilson doubt her integrity, but it would be infinitely worse if
stern Mr. Hamlin were told of her visit to his study. Bab felt that he
would be sure to believe that she was deliberately meddling with matters
that did not concern her. She looked at Mrs. Wilson. The forbidding
expression on her face left no doubt in Bab's mind that the older woman
would carry out her threat. Suddenly it flashed across the young girl
that perhaps if Mrs. Wilson really knew the truth she would agree to drop
the affair without saying anything to Mr. Hamlin.
"Perhaps it will be better after all for me to tell you my reason
for being here," Bab said with a gentle dignity that caused Mrs.
Wilson's stern expression to soften. "What I am about to say,
however, is in strictest confidence, as it involves another person
besides myself. I shall expect you to respect my confidence, Mrs.
Wilson," she added firmly.
Mrs. Wilson made a jesture of acquiescence. Then Barbara poured forth the
story of Mollie's extravagance and her subsequent remorse over the
difficulties into which her love of dress had plunged both of the
Thurston girls. "It is just this way, Mrs. Wilson," Bab concluded. "We
have very little money of our own and we simply can't ask Mother to pay
this debt. I won't ask Ruth to lend it to us because we are too deeply
indebted to her already. I have some jewelry that is valuable; a ring, a
pin and several trinkets, and I intend to take them to a pawn shop and
borrow enough money on them to free Mollie of this debt. Then we will
save our allowance money and redeem the things. I have never been in a
pawn shop and don't know anything about them, so I thought I would find
the address of a pawn broker in the directory and go there this
afternoon. That is why I wanted the directory and why I came into Mr.
Hamlin's study. Now that I have told you, perhaps you will feel
differently about saying anything to Mr. Hamlin. He is so stern and cold
that he would never forgive me if he knew of all this, although I am
doing nothing wrong. It is very humiliating to be placed in this
position, but now that the mischief has been done we shall have to pay
for the gown and set it all down under the head of bitter experience."
Mrs. Wilson regarded Barbara steadily while she was speaking. There was a
look of admiration in the older woman's eyes when Barbara had finished.
"You are a very brave girl, Miss Thurston, to take your sister's trouble
on your own shoulders. I am very glad that you saw fit to tell me what
you have. I hope you will forgive me for my seeming cruelty, but I simply
cannot endure anything dishonorable or underhanded. To show you that I
believe what you have told me, and to prove to you that your confidence
in me is well founded, I propose to help you out of your difficulty."
"You?" queried Bab in surprise. "I--I don't understand."
"I will lend you the money to pay the modiste," exclaimed Mrs. Wilson.
"Then you shall pay it back whenever it is convenient for you to do so,
and no one will ever be the wiser. We need tell no one that we met here
in the study this afternoon."
"But--I--can't," protested Barbara rather weakly. "It wouldn't be right.
It would be asking entirely too much of you and--"
Mrs. Wilson held up her hand authoritatively. "My dear little girl," she
said quickly. "I insist on lending you this money. I am a mother, and if
my son were in any little difficulty and needed help, I should like to
feel that perhaps some one would be ready to do for him the little I am
going to do for you. Come to my house this afternoon and I will have the
money ready for you. Will you do this, Barbara?" she asked extending her
hand to the young girl.
Barbara hesitated for a second, then she placed her hand in that of Mrs.
Wilson's. "I will take the money," she said slowly, "and I thank you for
your kindness. I hope I shall be able to do something for you in return
to show my appreciation."
"Perhaps you may have the opportunity," replied Mrs. Wilson meaningly.
"Who knows. I think I won't wait any longer for Mr. Hamlin. Come to my
house at half past four o'clock this afternoon. I shall expect you.
Good-bye, my dear."
"Good-bye," replied Bab mechanically, as she accompanied Mrs. Wilson to
the vestibule door. "I'll be there at half past four."
BARBARA'S SECRET ERRAND
After the older woman had departed, Bab remained in a brown study. Had
she been wise in accepting Mrs. Wilson's offer? Would it have been better
after all to ask Ruth for the loan of the money? Bab sighed heavily. She
had been so happy and so interested in Washington, and now Mollie's
ill-advised purchase had changed everything. For a moment Barbara felt a
little resentment toward Mollie, then she shook off the feeling as
unworthy. Mollie had experienced bitter remorse for her folly, and Bab
knew that her little sister had learned a lesson she would never forget.
As for the money, it should be paid back at the earliest opportunity.
Barbara turned and went slowly upstairs to prepare for luncheon. She
found Mollie sitting by the window in their room. Her pretty mouth
drooped at the corners and her eyes were red with weeping.
"Cheer up, Molliekins!" exclaimed Bab. "I've found a way out of the
"Oh, Bab," said Mollie in a shamed voice. "Did you have to tell Ruth?"
"No, dear," responded Bab. "Ruth knows nothing about it. Bathe your face
at once. It is almost time to go down to luncheon, and your eyes are
awfully red. While you are fixing up I'll tell you about it."
"Oh, Bab!" Mollie said contritely when her sister had finished her
account of what had happened in the study. "You're the best sister a girl
ever had. I don't believe I'll ever be so silly about my clothes again.
This has cured me. I'm so sorry."
"Of course you are, little Sister," soothed Bab. "Don't say another word.
Here comes Ruth and Grace."
The two girls entered the room at that moment and a little later the four
descended to luncheon.
"I am going to do some shopping this afternoon," announced Ruth. "Would
you girls like to do the stores with me?"
"I'll go," replied Grace. "I want to buy a pair of white gloves and I
need a number of small things."
"I have an engagement this afternoon," said Harriet enigmatically. "I
must ask you to excuse me, Ruth."
"Certainly, Harriet," returned Ruth. "How about you and Mollie, Bab?"
"Mollie can go with you," answered Bab, coloring slightly. "But would
you be disappointed if I do not go? I have something else that I am
obliged to see to this afternoon."
"Of course, I'd love to have you with me, Bab, but you know your own
Suspecting that Bab wished to spend the afternoon in going over her own
and Mollie's rather limited wardrobe, Ruth made no attempt to persuade
Bab to make one of the shopping party, and when a little later A. Bubble
carried the three girls away, she went directly upstairs to prepare for
her call on Mrs. Wilson. It was a beautiful afternoon, and Bab decided
that she would walk to her destination. As she swung along through the
crisp December air the feeling of depression that had clung to her ever
since Mollie had made her tearful confession vanished, and Bab became
almost cheerful. She would save every penny, she reflected hopefully, and
when she and Mollie received their next month's pocket money, she would
send that to Mrs. Wilson. It would take some time to pay back the fifty
dollars, but Mrs. Wilson had assured her that she could return it at her
own convenience. Bab felt that her vague distrust of this whole-souled,
generous woman had been groundless, and in her impulsive, girlish fashion
she was ready to do everything in her power to make amends for even
doubting this fascinating stranger who had so nobly come to her rescue.
By following carefully the directions given her by Mrs. Wilson for
finding her house, Bab arrived at her destination with very little
confusion. She looked at her watch as she ascended the steps and saw that
it was just half past four o'clock. "I'm on time at any rate," she
murmured as she rang the bell.
"Is Mrs. Wilson here?" she inquired of the maid who answered the bell.
"Come this way, please," said the maid, and Bab followed her across the
square hall and through a door hung with heavy portieres. She found
herself in what appeared to be half library, half living room, and seemed
especially designed for comfort. A bright fire burned in the open fire
place at one side of the room, and before the fire stood a young man, who
turned abruptly as Bab entered.
"How do you do, Miss Thurston," said Peter Dillon, coming forward and
taking her hand.
"Why--I thought--" stammered Barbara, a look of keen disappointment
leaping into her brown eyes, "that Mrs. Wilson--was--"
"To be here," finished Peter Dillon, smiling almost tantalizingly at her
evident embarrassment. "So she was, but she received a telephone message
half an hour ago and was obliged to go out for a little while. I
happened to be here when the message came and she told me that she
expected you to call at half past four o'clock and asked me if I would
wait and receive you. She left a note for you in my care. Here it is."
Peter Dillon handed Bab an envelope addressed to "Miss Barbara Thurston,"
looking at her searchingly as he did so. Bab colored hotly under his
almost impertinent scrutiny as she reached out her hand for the envelope.
She had an uncomfortable feeling at that moment that perhaps Peter Dillon
knew as much about the contents of the envelope as she did.
"Thank you, Mr. Dillon," she said in a low voice. "I think I won't wait
for Mrs. Wilson. Please tell her that I thank her and that I'll write."
"Very well," replied the young man. "I will deliver your message." He
held the heavy portieres back for Bab as she stepped into the hall and
accompanied her to the vestibule door. "Good-bye, Miss Thurston," he said
with a peculiar, meaning flash of his blue eyes that completed Bab's
discomfiture. "I shall hope to see you in a day or two."
Bab hurried down the steps and into the street. The shadows were
beginning to fall and in another hour it would be dark. When she reached
the corner she looked about her in bewilderment, then with a little
impatient exclamation she wheeled and retraced her steps. She had been
going in the wrong direction. She had passed Mrs. Wilson's house, when a
murmur of familiar voices caused her to start and look back at it in
amazement. Stepping off the walk and behind the trunk of a great tree,
Barbara stared from her place of concealment, hardly able to believe the
evidence of her own eyes. Peter Dillon was standing just outside the
vestibule door, his hat in his hand and just inside stood Mrs. Wilson.
The two were deep in conversation and Bab heard the young man's musical
laugh ring out as though something had greatly amused him. Filled with a
sickening apprehension that she was the cause of his laughter, Bab
stepped from behind the tree unobserved by the two on the step above and
walked on down the street assailed by the disquieting suspicion that Mrs.
Wilson had had a motive far from disinterested in lending her the fifty
dollars. She glanced down at the envelope in her hand. She felt positive
that it contained the money, and her woman's intuition told her that
Peter Dillon's presence in the house had not been a matter of chance. She
experienced a strong desire to run back to the house and return the
envelope unopened, and at the same time ask Mrs. Wilson why Peter had
untruthfully declared that she was not at home. Bab paused irresolutely.
Then a vision of Mollie's tearful face rose before her, and squaring her
shoulders, she marched along through the gathering twilight, determined
to use the borrowed money to pay Mollie's debt and face the consequences
whatever they might be.
When Bab reached home she found that Harriet had come in and gone to her
room, while the other girls had not yet returned. Barbara was glad that
no one had discovered her absence, and divesting herself of her hat and
coat she hurried up to her room. Closing and locking the door, she sat
down and tore open the envelope and with hands that trembled, drew out a
folded paper. Inside the folded paper was a crisp fifty dollar bill. Mrs.
Wilson had kept her word.
While she sat fingering the bill, she heard voices downstairs and a
moment later Mollie tried the door, then knocked. Bab rose and unlocked
the door for her sister.
"Did you get it, Bab?" asked Mollie eagerly, a deep flush rising
to her face.
"Yes, Molliekins, here it is," answered Barbara quietly, holding up the
money. "To-morrow you and I will go to Madame Louise and pay the bill."
"Oh, Bab," said Mollie, her lips quivering. "I'm so sorry. I've been so
much trouble, but I'll save every cent of my pocket money and pay Mrs.
Wilson as soon as I can. It was so good of her to lend us the money
Barbara merely nodded. Her early gratitude toward Mrs. Wilson had
vanished, in spite of her efforts to believe in Mrs. Wilson, her first
feeling of distrust had returned. She thought gloomily, as she listened
to Mollie's praise of Mrs. Wilson's generosity, that perhaps after all it
would have been better to pay a visit to the pawn broker.
A FOOLISH GIRL
In the meantime Harriet Hamlin was equally as unhappy as Bab and Mollie.
For, instead of owing Madame Louise a mere fifty dollars, she owed her
almost five hundred and she dared not ask her father for the money to pay
the bill. The dividend, with which she had tempted Mollie to make her
ill-advised purchase, amounted to only twenty-five dollars. It had seemed
a sufficient sum to Harriet to pay down on her friend's investment, but
she knew the amount was not large enough to stay the wrath of her
dressmaker, as far as her own account was concerned.
Now, Harriet had never intended to let her bill mount up to such a
dreadful sum. She was horrified when she found out how large it really
was. Yet month by month Harriet had been tempted to add to her stock of
pretty clothes, without inquiring about prices, and she now found herself
in this painful predicament.
Harriet, also, thought of every possible scheme by which she might raise
the money she needed. On one thing she was determined. Her father should
never learn of her indebtedness. She would take any desperate measure
before this should happen; for Harriet stood very much in awe of her
father, and knew that he had a special horror of debt.
Since Charlie Meyers had behaved so rudely to Barbara, on the night of
their automobile ride to Mt. Vernon, Harriet had had nothing to do with
him. But now, in her anxiety, she decided to appeal to him. She could
think of no other plan. Charlie Meyers was immensely rich and a very old
friend. Five hundred dollars could mean very little to him, and Harriet
could, of course, pay him back later on. She fully intended to live
within her allowance in the future and save her money until she had paid
every dollar that she owed.
But how was Harriet to see Charlie Meyers? After all she had said about
him to the "Automobile Girls," she was really ashamed to invite him to
her house. So Harriet dispatched a note to the young man, making an
appointment with him to meet her on a corner some distance from the
house on the same afternoon that Bab made her uncomfortable visit to
Charlie Meyers was highly elated when he read Harriet Hamlin's note. He
had known her since she was a little girl in short frocks and was very
fond of her. He had been deeply hurt by her coldness to him since their
automobile party, but he was such an ill-bred fellow that he simply had
not understood how badly he had behaved. He did know that Mr. Hamlin
disliked him and did not enjoy his attentions to his daughter; so he
hated Mr. Hamlin in consequence.
When Harriet's note arrived, he interpreted it to mean that she was sorry
she had treated him unkindly, and that she did care for him in spite of
her father's opposition. So he drove down to the designated corner in his
car, feeling very well pleased with himself.
Harriet, however, started out to meet the young man feeling ashamed of
herself. She knew that she was behaving very indiscreetly, but she
believed that Charlie Meyers would be ready to help her and that she
could make him do anything she wished. She accepted his invitation to
take a ride, but she put off the evil moment of voicing her request as
long as possible, and as they glided along in Meyers' car, she made
herself as agreeable to her escort as she knew how to be.
After they had driven some distance out from Washington in the direction
of Arlington, the old home of General Robert E. Lee, Charlie Meyers said
bluntly to Harriet:
"Now, Harriet, what's the matter? You said in your note that you wanted
to see me about something important. What is it?"
Harriet stopped abruptly and looked rather timidly at Meyers. She had
been trying in vain to lead up to the point of asking her favor, and here
her companion had given her the very opportunity she required.
Yet Harriet hesitated, and the laughter died away on her lips. She knew
she was doing a very wrong thing in asking this young man to lend her
money. But Harriet had been spoiled by too much admiration and she had
had no mother's influence in the four years of her life when she most
needed it. She was determined not to ask her father's help, and she knew
of no one else to whom she could appeal.
"I am not feeling very well, Charlie," Harriet answered queerly, turning
a little pale and trying to summon her courage.
"You've been entertaining too much company!" Charlie Meyers exclaimed. "I
don't think much of that set of 'Automobile Girls' you have staying with
you. They are good-looking enough, but they are kind of standoffish and
"No, indeed; I am not having too much company," Harriet returned
indignantly, forgetting she must not let herself grow angry with her
ill-bred friend. "I am perfectly devoted to every one of the 'Automobile
Girls,' and Ruth Stuart is my first cousin."
Harriet and Charlie were both silent for a little while after this
unfortunate beginning to their conversation, for Harriet did not know
exactly how to go on.
"I am worried," she began again, after a slight pause in which she
counted the trees along the road to see how fast their car was running.
"I am worried because I am in a great deal of trouble."
"You haven't been getting engaged, have you, Harriet?" asked the young
man anxiously. "If you want to break it off, just leave matters to me."
Harriet laughed in spite of herself. It seemed so perfectly absurd to
her to be expected to leave a matter as important to her happiness as her
engagement to a person like Charlie Meyers to settle.
Charlie Meyers was twenty-two years of age. He had refused to go to
college and had never even finished high school. His father had died when
he was a child, leaving him to the care of a stepmother who had little
affection for him. At the age of twenty-one the boy came into control of
his immense fortune. So it was not remarkable that Charlie Meyers, who
had almost no education, no home influence and a vast sum of money at his
disposal, thought himself of tremendous importance without making any
effort to prove himself so.
"No, I am not engaged, Charlie," Harriet answered frankly. "But I do want
you to do me a favor, and I wonder if you will do it?"
The young man flushed. His red face grew redder still. What was Harriet
going to ask him? He began to feel suspicious.
Now this rich young man had a peculiarity of which Harriet had not
dreamed, or she would never have dared to ask him for a loan. He was very
stingy, and he had an abnormal fear that people were going to try to make
use of him.
Harriet had started with her request, so she went bravely on:
"I'll just tell you the whole story, Charlie," she declared, "so you
will see what an awful predicament I am in. I know you won't tell Father,
and you may be able to help me out. I owe Madame Louise, my dressmaker,
five hundred dollars! She has threatened to bring suit against me at the
end of a week unless I pay her what I owe before that time. Would you
lend me the money, Charlie? I am awfully ashamed to ask you. But I could
pay you back in a little while."
Harriet's voice dropped almost to a whisper, she was so embarrassed. Her
companion must have heard her, for he was sitting beside her in the
automobile, but he made no answer.
Poor Harriet sat very still for a moment overcome with humiliation. She
had trampled upon her pride and self-respect in making her request, and
she had begun to realize more fully how very unwise she had been in
asking such a favor of this young man. Yet it had really never dawned on
the girl that Charlie Meyers could refuse her request. When he did not
answer, she began to feel afraid. Harriet could not have spoken again for
the world. Her usually haughty head was bent low, and her lids dropped
over her eyes in which the tears of humiliation were beginning to gather.
"Look here, Harriet," protested the young man at last. "Five hundred
dollars is a good deal of money even for me to lend. What arrangements do
you want to make about paying it back?"
"Why, Charlie!" Harriet exclaimed. "You can have the interest on the
money, if you like. I never thought of that."
"You can pay me back the interest if you wish," Charlie replied sullenly.
"But you know, Harriet, that I like you an awful lot, and for a long time
I've been wanting you to marry me. But you've always refused me. Now if
you'll promise to marry me, I'll let you have the money. But if you
won't, why you can't have it--that's all! I am not going to lend my good
money to you, and then have you go your way and perhaps not have anything
more to do with me for weeks. I tell you, Harriet, I like you an awful
lot and you know it; but I am not going to be made a fool of, and you
might as well find it out right now."
Harriet was so angry she simply could not speak for a few minutes. The
enormity of her mistake swept over her. But silence was her best weapon,
for Charlie Meyers began to feel ashamed. He was dimly aware that he had
insulted Harriet, and he really did care for her as much as he was
capable of caring for any one.
"I didn't mean to make you angry, Harriet," he apologized in a half
frightened voice. "I don't see why you can't care for me anyhow. I've
asked you to marry me over and over again. And I can just tell you, you
won't have to worry over debts to dressmakers ever again, if you marry
me. I've got an awful lot of money."
"I am very glad you have, Mr. Meyers," Harriet answered coldly, with a
slight catch in her voice. "But I am certainly sorry I asked you to lend
any of it to me. Will you never refer to this conversation again, and
take me home as soon as you can? I don't think it is worth while for me
even to refuse your offer. But please remember that my affection is
something that mere money cannot buy." Harriet's tone was so scornful
that the young man winced. He could think of nothing to reply, and turned
his car around in shame-faced silence.
Harriet too was very quiet. She would have liked to tell her companion
what she truly thought of him, how coarse and ill-bred he was, but she
set her lips and remained silent. She did not wish to make an enemy of
Charlie Meyers. After that day's experience, she would simply drop him
from her list of acquaintances and have nothing more to do with him.
Stupid though he was, the discomfited young man felt Harriet's silent
contempt. He wanted to apologize to her, to explain, to say a thousand
things. But he was too dense to know just what he should say. It was
better for him that he did wait to make his apology until a later day,
when Harriet's anger had in a measure cooled and she was even more
miserable and confused than she was at that time.
"I am awfully sorry, Harriet," Charlie Meyers stumbled over his words as
he helped her out of his machine. "You know I didn't exactly mean to
refuse your request. I'll be awfully glad to--"
But Harriet's curt good-bye checked his apologetic speech, and he turned
and drove swiftly away.
"GRANT NO FAVORS!"
"Mrs. Wilson's tea is at four o'clock, girls, remember," Harriet
announced a day or so later, looking up from the note she was writing.
"Are you actually going sight-seeing again to-day before the reception?
Truly, I never imagined such energy!"
"Oh, come, Harriet Hamlin, don't be sarcastic," Ruth rejoined. "If you
had not lived so long in Washington you would be just as much interested
in everything as the 'Automobile Girls' are. But Bab and I are the only
ones to go sight-seeing to-day. Mollie isn't feeling well, and Grace is
staying to console her. We shall be back in plenty of time. Why don't you
lie down for a while! You look so tired."
"Oh, I am all right," Harriet answered gently. "Good-bye, children. Be
good and remember you have promised not to be late."
Ruth and Bab were highly anxious for a walk and talk together, and they
had a special enterprise on hand for this afternoon. Bab had received a
mysterious summons from her newspaper friend, Marjorie Moore. The note
had asked Bab to bring Ruth, and to come to the Visitors' Gallery in the
Senate Chamber at an appointed time. Marjorie Moore chose this strange
meeting place because she had a "special story" of the Senate to write
for her paper and was obliged to be in the gallery.
Barbara was not particularly surprised at the request. She knew that
Marjorie Moore had been wishing to make her a confidant ever since the
reception at the White House. And she knew that the girl could not come
to Mr. Hamlin's house because of Harriet's hostile attitude toward her.
So Bab confided the whole story to Ruth, and feeling much mystified and
excited, the two girls set out for the Capitol.
During the long walk Barbara thought of her own secret, which she longed
to confide to Ruth, but she dared not tell Ruth of the borrowed money for
fear Ruth would at once insist on paying her debt. The money had to be
paid, of course, and Bab hoped to pay it back at an early date, but she
had not yet come to the point where she could bear to ask Ruth for it.
When Ruth and Bab finally reached the Capitol building, and made their
way to the Visitors' Gallery in the Senate Chamber, Marjorie Moore was
not there. She had failed to keep her appointment.
"I am not so very sorry Miss Moore has not come," Barbara remarked to
Ruth. "She seems to be such a mysterious kind of person, always
suggesting something and never really telling you what it is."
Ruth laughed. "The 'Automobile Girls' hate mysteries, don't they, Bab?
But goodness knows, we are always being involved in them!"
The two visitors sat down to listen to the speeches of United States
Senators. There was some excitement in the Chamber, Bab decided, but
neither she nor Ruth could exactly understand what was going on.
Both girls listened and watched the proceedings below them with
such intensity that they forgot all about Marjorie Moore and her
A few moments later she dropped down into the vacant seat next to
Barbara. She looked more hurried and agitated than ever. Her hat was on
one side, and her coat collar was half doubled under. She was a little
paler from her trying experience of a few nights before, and an ugly
bruise showed over her temple. But she made no reference to her accident.
"I am sorry I am late," she whispered. "But come back here in the far
corner of the gallery with me. I want to talk with you just half a
minute. I am so busy I can't stay with you any longer. I just felt I must
see you, Miss Thurston, before you go to tea with Mrs. Wilson this
"Tea with Mrs. Wilson!" Bab ejaculated. "How did you know we were going
to Mrs. Wilson's tea? And has that anything to do with your message to
me?" Barbara did not speak in her usual friendly tones. She was getting
decidedly cross. It seemed to her that she had been under some one's
supervision ever since her arrival in Washington.
"Yes, it has, Miss Thurston," the newspaper girl replied quickly. "I want
to ask you something. Promise me you will grant no one a favor, no matter
who asks it of you to-day?"
Barbara flushed. "Why how absurd, Miss Moore. I really cannot make you
any such promise. It is too foolish."
"Foolish or not, you must promise me," Marjorie Moore insisted. Then she
turned earnestly to Ruth. "I know you have a great deal of influence with
your friend. If she will not agree to what I ask her, won't you make her
promise you this: She is not to consent to do a favor for any one this
afternoon, no matter how simple the favor seems to be. Do you
Ruth looked at Marjorie Moore blankly, but something in the newspaper
girl's earnest expression arrested her attention.
"I don't see why you won't make Miss Moore the promise she begs of you,
Bab," Ruth argued. "It seems a simple thing she has asked you. And I
don't think it is very nice of you, dear, to refuse her, even though her
request does seem a little absurd to you."
"But won't you tell me why you ask me to be so exceedingly
unaccommodating, Miss Moore?" Bab retorted.
Marjorie Moore shook her head. "That's just the trouble. Again I can't
tell you why I ask this of you. But I want to assure you of one thing. It
would mean a great deal more to me, personally, to have you agree to do
the favor that may or may not be asked of you this afternoon. I am the
only outside person in Washington who knows of a certain game that is to
be played. It would mean a big scoop for my paper and a lot of money for
me if I would just let things drift. But I like you too well to hold my
tongue, though I am not going to tell you anything more. And I certainly
won't beg you to do what I ask of you. Of course you may do just as you
please. Good-bye; I am too busy to talk any more to-day." Before Barbara
could make up her mind what to answer, the newspaper woman hurried away.
Ruth looked decidedly worried after Marjorie Moore's departure. But
Barbara was still incredulous and a little bored at being kept so
completely in the dark.
"Look here, Bab," Ruth advised, as the two girls walked slowly home
together, "you did not promise Miss Moore to do what she asked of you.
But you must promise me. Oh, I know it seems absurd! And I am not exactly
blaming you for refusing to make that promise to Miss Moore. But, Bab, we
cannot always judge the importance of little things. So I, at least,
shall be much happier at this particular tea if you will promise me not
to do a single thing that any one asks you to do."
Both girls laughed gayly at Ruth's request.
"Won't I be an agreeable guest, Ruth?" Bab mimicked. "If any one asks
me to sit down, I must say, 'No; I insist on standing up. Because I
have promised my friend Miss Stuart not to do a single thing I am
requested to do all afternoon.' I wish I did not have to go to Mrs.
Wilson's tea to-day."
"You need not joke, Bab," Ruth persisted. "And you need not pretend you
would have to behave so foolishly. I only ask you to promise me what you
would not agree to, when Marjorie Moore asked it of you: 'Don't do any
favor for any one, no matter who asks it of you this afternoon!'"
Bab gave up. "All right, Ruth, dear; I promise," she conceded. "You know
very well that I can't refuse you anything, though I do think you and
Miss Moore are asking me to be ridiculous. I do hereby solemnly swear to
be, for the rest of this day, the most unaccommodating young person in
the whole world. But beware, Ruth Stuart! The boomerang may return and
strike you. Don't dare request me to do you a favor until after the bells
chime midnight, when I shall be released from my present idiotic vow."
Mrs. Wilson's afternoon teas were not like any others in Washington. They
were not crowded affairs, where no one had a chance to talk, but small
companies of guests especially selected by Mrs. Wilson for their
congeniality. So Mrs. Wilson was regarded as one of the most popular
hostesses at the Capital and distinguished people came to her
entertainments who could not be persuaded to go anywhere else.
Harriet and the four "Automobile Girls" were delighted to see a number of
service uniforms when they entered the charming French drawing-room of
their hostess, which was decorated in old rose draperies against ivory
Lieutenant Elmer Wilson's friends, young Army and Navy officers, were out
in full force. They were among the most agreeable young men in Washington
society. Lieutenant Elmer at once attached himself to Mollie; and his
attentions might have turned the head of that young woman if she had not
been feeling unusually sobered by her recent experience with debt.
Barbara soon recognized the two young men who had helped her carry
Marjorie Moore from the lawn to the White House veranda. But neither one
of them referred to the incident while there were other people
surrounding them. Finally an opportunity came to one of the two men to
speak to Barbara. He leaned over and whispered softly: "How is the young
woman we rescued the other night? I almost thought she had been killed.
We have been sworn to secrecy. But one of my friends has an idea that he
saw the man who may have attacked Miss Moore. He was out on a porch
before the rest of us joined him, and he swears he saw two figures at
some distance across the lawn."
Bab shuddered. "I was on the lawn. Perhaps he saw me."
"No," her companion argued, unconvinced. "My friend is sure he saw two
men; one of them was rather heavily built--"
Peter Dillon's approach cut short the conversation and the young Army
officer turned away, as Peter joined Bab.
Barbara hardly turned around to greet the newcomer. She did not like
Peter Dillon and she was very anxious to hear what her previous companion
had to say. So Bab only gave Mr. Dillon her haughtiest bow. Peter did not
appear discouraged; he stood for a moment smiling at Bab good humoredly,
the boyish look shining in his near-sighted dark blue eyes.
Barbara was forced to speak to him. "How do you do, Mr. Dillon?" she
asked at last.
"Very well indeed," replied the young man cheerfully. "Did you arrive
home safely the other day?"
Barbara colored hotly. She felt certain now that despite her promise of
secrecy Mrs. Wilson had betrayed her confidence and told Peter Dillon
about the borrowed money. Why she had done so was a mystery and why he
had lied to Bab in saying Mrs. Wilson was out was also a problem Bab
could not solve.
While all this was passing through her mind Peter stood regarding her
with a quizzical smile. Then he said smoothly: "Miss Thurston, will you
do me a favor?"
Bab flashed a peculiar glance at him. "No," she replied abruptly.
The young man looked surprised. "I am sorry," he declared. "I was only
going to ask you to go in the other room to look at a picture with me."
A little later in the afternoon, Harriet managed to get the four
"Automobile Girls" together. "Mrs. Wilson wishes us to stay to dinner
with her," Harriet explained. "She has asked eight or ten other
people and Father has telephoned that he will come in after dinner to
take us home."
BAB REFUSES TO GRANT A FAVOR
The dinner party was delightful. The "Automobile Girls" had not had such
a good time since their arrival in Washington. Mrs. Wilson was a charming
hostess. She was particularly gracious to Bab, and the young girl decided
to forget the disquieting suspicions she had harbored against this
fascinating woman and enjoy herself.
It was almost ten o'clock. Mr. Hamlin had not yet arrived at Mrs.
Wilson's. Bab was sitting in one corner of the drawing-room talking gayly
with a young Annapolis graduate, who was telling her all about his first
cruise, when Elmer Wilson interrupted them.
"I am terribly sorry to break into your conversation like this, Miss
Thurston," he apologized. "But Mother wishes to have a little talk with
you in the library before you leave here. I am sure I don't know what she
wishes to see you about; she told me to give you her message and ask no
questions. May I show you the way to her!"
Bab's gay laughter died on her lips. She rose at once and signified her
willingness to accompany Elmer to the library, but both young men
noticed that her face had grown grave and she seemed almost embarrassed.
Elmer Wilson wondered why Miss Thurston had taken his mother's simple
message so seriously. He was almost as embarrassed as Bab appeared to be.
When Barbara entered the room where she had received the envelope
from Peter Dillon the room was but dimly lighted. Two rose-colored
shades covered the low lamps, and great bunches of pink roses
ornamented the mantel.
Mrs. Wilson wore a black and white chiffon gown over white silk and had a
little band of black velvet about her throat from which hung a small
diamond star. Her beautiful white hair looked like a silver crown on her
head. She was leaning back in her chair with closed eyes when Bab entered
the room, and she did not open them at once. She let the young girl stand
and look at her, expecting her unusual beauty to influence Bab, as it had
many other older people. Mrs. Wilson looked tired and in a softened mood.
Her head rested against a pile of dark silken cushions. Her hands were
folded, in her lap.
She opened her dark eyes finally and smiled at Barbara. "Come here,
Barbara," she commanded, pointing to a chair opposite her.
Bab looked at her beautiful hostess timidly, but her brown eyes were
honest and clear. "You sent for me?" Bab queried, sitting down very stiff
and straight among the soft cushions.
"Of course I did," Mrs. Wilson smiled. "And I should have done so
before, only you and I have both been too busy. I am so glad you came to
my tea to-day." Mrs. Wilson reached out her slender white hand and took
hold of Barbara's firm brown one. "I want to make you a very humble
apology," she continued. "I am very sorry that I was obliged to be away
the other day when you called. I left the envelope with Mr. Dillon. I
received your note yesterday, so I know that it was delivered into your
hands. I did not return until after seven o'clock the other night, so it
was just as well you didn't wait for me. I knew I could trust Mr. Dillon
to give it to you."
The girl made no reply. She did not dare raise her eyes to the other
woman's face for fear Mrs. Wilson would divine from their expression that
Bab knew she had lied. At the same time a thrill of consternation swept
over her. What had been Mrs. Wilson's object in lending her the money?
Bab was now sure that the loan had not been made disinterestedly. But
what had Peter Dillon to do with it? It looked very much as though Mrs.
Wilson and the attache were playing a game, and were seeking to draw her
into it. She resolved at that moment that she would write to her mother
for the money, or ask Ruth for it. She would do anything rather than
remain in Mrs. Wilson's debt. There was something about the intent way in
which her hostess looked at her that aroused fresh suspicion in her mind.
Bab braced herself to hear what she knew instinctively was to follow.
"I am so glad I was able to help you," Mrs. Wilson purred, continuing to
watch the young girl intently. "I know that you meant what you said when
you declared that you hoped to some day be able to do some favor for me.
I did not think then that I should ever wish to take you at your word,
but strange as it may seem, you are the very person I have been looking
for to help me with a joke that I wish to play upon Mr. Hamlin. You know,
Mr. Hamlin is a very methodical man. Well, I wagered him a dozen pairs of
gloves, the other day, that he would misplace one of his beloved papers.
And I hope to win the wager. What I wish you to do is to secure a certain
paper from his desk and give it to me. He will never know how I obtained
it. Of course I shall return it to him in a day or so, after he
acknowledges his defeat and pays his wager."
Barbara shook her head. "I don't think I can take any part in any such
joke, Mrs. Wilson," she said, looking appealingly at her hostess. "You
don't really mean that you wish me to take one of Mr. Hamlin's papers
without his knowledge, and then give the paper to you?"
"Certainly, child, I do mean just that thing," Mrs. Wilson said, laughing
lightly. "You need not take my request so seriously. Mr. Hamlin will
appreciate the joke more than any one else when I have explained it to
him. Won't you keep your word and grant me this favor?"
"I can't do what you ask, Mrs. Wilson," Bab said slowly. "I'm awfully
sorry, but it wouldn't be honorable."
Mrs. Wilson turned away her head, so that Barbara could not see the
expression of her face. "Very well, Miss Thurston," she said sharply.
"Don't trouble about it, if you think you will be committing one of the
cardinal sins in doing me this favor. But don't you think you are rather
ungrateful? You were perfectly willing to accept my offer the other day
when you were in need of money to pay your sister's debt, but now you are
in no hurry to cancel your obligation. I consider you an extremely
disobliging young woman."
Barbara sat silent and ashamed. Yet she made no effort to propitiate her
The butler came to the library door to announce the arrival of
Barbara rose quickly. "I am so sorry not to be able to do you the favor
you asked of me, Mrs. Wilson," she said in a low tone.
Mrs. Wilson did not reply. Then in a flash Barbara Thurston remembered
something! It was the promise Marjorie Moore had asked of her, and which
Ruth Stuart had insisted upon her making. Without recalling that promise
at the time, Bab had still kept her word. She had been asked to do some
one a favor--and she had refused. But of course Marjorie Moore must have
had some other thing in mind when she made her curious demand. Now that
Barbara thought again of her vow, she determined to be wary for the rest
of the evening and to keep as far away from Peter Dillon as possible.
"I am going to play chaperon at your house in the near future, Harriet,"
Mrs. Wilson announced, as her guests were saying good night. "Your father
says he is to be out of town on business and that I may look after you."
"We shall be delighted to have you, Mrs. Wilson," Harriet returned
politely, though she wondered why her father had suddenly requested Mrs.
Wilson to act as chaperon. Harriet had often stayed at home alone with
only their faithful old servants to look after her, when her father went
away for a short time. And now that she had the four "Automobile Girls"
as her guests, she did not feel in need of a chaperon.
Peter Dillon had not spoken to Bab again during the evening, but had
studiously avoided her, and Bab was exceedingly glad that he had kept his
distance. But as she put on her coat to go home, she heard the rustle of
a small piece of paper.
Barbara glanced down at it, of course, and found that some one had pinned
a folded square of paper to the inner lining of her coat.
She blushed furiously, for fear one of the other guests would discover
what had happened. Bab hated sentimentality and secrecy more than
anything in the world. Inside the folded square of paper she found the
tiny faded rose-bud, Peter Dillon had placed in his pocket that day when
he had picked the two buds in the old Washington garden at Mt. Vernon.
On the way downstairs, Barbara still kept the flower in her hand. But
when she found Peter's eyes were upon her she deliberately crushed the
little rose-bud, then defiantly tossed it away.
BARBABA'S UNEXPECTED GOOD LUCK
It was the second day after Mrs. Wilson's dinner when Barbara made up her
mind to tell Ruth of her debt to Mrs. Wilson and to ask her friend to
lend her the money to relieve her of her obligation. Bab could endure the
situation no longer. She simply determined to tell Ruth everything,
except the part that poor Mollie had played in the original difficulty.
She meant to explain to Ruth that she had needed fifty dollars, that she
had intended going to a pawn shop to secure the money, her interview with
Mrs. Wilson and her acceptance of the loan offered by the beautiful
woman. She would not tell Ruth, however, why she had suddenly required
this sum of money. Now, Bab knew Ruth would ask her no questions and
would grant her request without a moment's hesitation or loss of faith.
The sympathy between Ruth and Barbara was very deep and real.
It was one thing for Barbara Thurston to decide to appeal to Ruth's
ever-ready generosity, but another thing actually to make her demand.
The two girls lay on Ruth's bed, resting. They had been to a dance at the
British Embassy the night before. Mollie and Grace were together in the
next room and Harriet was alone.
"Barbara!" exclaimed Ruth suddenly. "If you could have one wish, that
would surely be granted, what would you wish?"
"I would like to have some money in a hurry," flashed through Bab's mind,
but she was ashamed to make such a speech to Ruth, so she said rather
soberly. "I have so many wishes its hard to single out one."
"Well what are some of them?" persisted Ruth. "Do you wish to be rich, or
famous, or to write a great book or a play?"
"Oh, yes; I wish all those things, Ruth," Bab agreed. "But you were not
thinking of such big things. What little private wish of your own did you
have in your mind? Please don't wish for things that will take you far
away from me," Bab entreated.
Ruth's blue eyes were misty when she replied: "Oh, no, Bab! I was just
going to wish that something would happen so that you and I need never be
separated again. I love you just as though you were my sister, and I am
so lonely at home without you and Mollie. Yet, as soon as our visit to
Harriet is over, you must go back to school in Kingsbridge and I have to
go home to Chicago. Who knows when we shall see each other again? I don't
suppose that our motor trips can go on happening forever."
Bab pressed Ruth's hand silently, her own thoughts flying toward the
future, when she would perhaps be working her way through college, and
teaching school later on, and Ruth would be in society, a beauty and a
belle in her Western home.
"Why don't you say something, Bab?" queried Ruth, feeling slightly
offended at Bab's silence. "Can't you say you wish the same thing that I
do, and that you believe our motor trips will last forever?"
A knock at the door interrupted Bab's answer. When she went to open
it a maid handed her three letters. Two of them were for Ruth and one
Ruth opened her letters quickly. The handwriting on one of them was her
Aunt Sallie's. The other was from Ruth's father.
The postmark on Bab's letter was unfamiliar, however, so she did not
trouble to open it, until she heard what Ruth had to say.
"Oh, I am so sorry!" Ruth ejaculated. "See here, Bab, Aunt Sallie writes
us that she cannot come on to Washington. She has rheumatism, or
something, in her shoulder and does not want to make the long trip. She
says I had better come home in a week or ten days, and that Father will
probably come for me. Of course, Aunt Sallie sends love and kisses all
around to her 'Automobile Girls.' She ends by declaring I must bring you
home with me."
Bab gave a deep sigh. "I do wish Miss Sallie had been here with us,"
Ruth looked reflective. "Have you any special reason for needing Aunt
Sallie, Bab? I have an idea you have something on your mind. Won't I do
for your confidant!"
"Yes, you will, Ruth!" Bab said slowly, turning her face to hide her
painful embarrassment. "Ruth will you--"
Bab had picked up her own letter. More to gain time than for any other
reason, she opened it idly. A piece of paper fluttered out on the bed,
which Ruth picked up.
"Why, Bab!" she cried. "Look! Here is a check for fifty dollars! And
there is some strange name on it that I never heard of before."
But Ruth could not speak again, for Bab had thrown her arms about her and
was embracing her excitedly.
"Oh, Ruth, I am so glad, I am so glad!" Bab exclaimed, half laughing,
half crying. "Just think of it--fifty dollars! And just now of all times.
I never dreamed of such luck coming to me. It is just too wonderful!"
"Barbara Thurston, will you be quiet and tell me what has happened to
you?" Ruth insisted. "You haven't lost your wits, have you, child?"
"No, I have found them," Bab declared. "More wits than I ever dreamed I
had. Now, Ruth, don't be cross with me because I never confided this to
you before. But I have not told a single person until to-day, not even
Mother or Mollie. Months before I came to Washington, just before school
commenced, I saw a notice in a newspaper, saying that a prize would be
given for a short story written by a schoolgirl between the ages of
sixteen and eighteen. So, up in the little attic at Laurel Cottage, I
wrote a story. I worked on it for days and days, and then I sent it off
to the publisher. I was ashamed to tell any one that I had written it,
and never dreamed I should hear of it again. But now I have won the prize
of fifty dollars,"
Bab stood up on the bed waving her check in one hand and, holding
the skirt of her blue kimono in the other, executed a few jubilant
"Oh, Barbara, I am so proud!" Ruth rejoined, looking fully as happy as
Bab. "Just think how clever you are! The fame of being an author is more
desirable than the money. I must tell Mollie and Grace all about it."
[Illustration: "Oh, Ruth, I Am So Glad!"]
But Mollie and Grace had been attracted by the excitement in the next
room, and now rushed in to hear the news.
Mollie's eyes filled with tears as she embraced her sister. She knew how
Bab's fifty dollars must be used, and why her sister was so delighted
with her success.
"What are you going to do with the fifty dollars, Bab?" Grace inquired.
"I suppose you will put it away for your college money."
Bab did not reply. She was already longing for a little time to herself,
a pen, and ink and note paper.
Harriet came in now with a message:
"Children," she said, "it is time to dress for dinner. I have just had a
telephone call from Father. He is going out of town to-night, but Mrs.
Wilson is to stay with us. Father is not going until after dinner, and
Mrs. Wilson and Elmer and Peter Dillon will be here to dine with us. So
we shall have rather a jolly party. You girls had better dress."
Harriet's was at once informed of Bab's good luck, and in offering
Barbara her congratulations she forgot to tell the rest of her story.
Harriet had asked her father to come home half an hour before his guests
arrived. She had almost persuaded herself to make a full confession of
her fault. But the tangle of circumstance was not to be so easily
Before Bab went down to dinner she slipped over to her desk and indorsed
the check, put it in an envelope, and hid the envelope inside her dress.
Her heart was lighter than it had been in weeks, for she believed her own
and Mollie's share in the Washington trouble was over.
Mr. William Hamlin was late to dinner and his guests were compelled to
hurry through the meal on his account, as he wished to catch a special
train out of the city. But they had a gay dinner party nevertheless and
Harriet did not know whether she was sorry or glad that her confession
had been delayed.
After Mr. Hamlin had said good-bye to his visitors Harriet followed her
father out into the hall. She thought if she told him of her fault just
before he went away his anger would have time to cool before he could
have opportunity to do more than reproach her for her extravagance.
"Father," Harriet whispered timidly, "can't you wait a few minutes
longer? I told you there was something I had to tell you."
Mr. Hamlin shook his head impatiently. "No, Harriet, this is not the time
nor the place for confidences. I am in far too much of a hurry. If you
want to ask me for money I positively haven't any to give you. Now run
on back to your guests."
Harriet turned slowly away, and so Mr. Hamlin lost his chance to set
Just before he went out the door, he called back to his daughter:
"Oh, Harriet, I have left the key to my strong box on my study table.
Don't forget to put it away for me; it is most important that you do so,
for I really have not time to turn back."
During the entire evening Peter Dillon devoted himself exclusively to
Harriet, and Bab was vastly relieved that he did not approach her. She
decided that he fully understood that she did not consider the pledge of
the faded rose-bud, binding. Mrs. Wilson had apparently forgotten Bab's
refusal of her request. She was as cordial to Barbara as she was to
Harriet, or to any of the "Automobile Girls."
It was after midnight when Mrs. Wilson told Elmer and Peter that they
must both go home. Bab's envelope was still tucked inside her dress. She
had had no chance so far to give it to Mrs. Wilson. After Peter and Elmer
had gone, however, and the girls trooped upstairs to bed, laughing and
chatting gayly, Bab found a chance to slip the troublesome envelope into
Mrs. Wilson's hand. With a whispered, "In the envelope is a check for the
money I borrowed. I thank you so much for your kindness," Bab ran down
the hall to her own room, feeling more at ease in her mind than she had
since Mollie's confession.
As for Harriet, she was so fully occupied with her guests that her
father's command to secure the key of his strong box, which he had left
on his study table, slipped from her mind and she retired without giving
the matter a second thought.
THE WHITE VEIL
Long after every one had retired Ruth Stuart lay wide awake. Try as she
might, sleep refused to visit her eyelids. At last, after she had counted
innumerable sheep and was wider awake than ever, she resolved to go and
waken Bab. Ruth moved about in the dark carefully, in order not to arouse
Grace, with whom she roomed, found her dressing-gown and slippers, and
tip-toed softly into Barbara's room. She knew that Barbara would not
resent being awakened even at that unseasonable hour.
"Barbara, are you awake?" she whispered, coming up to Bab's bed and
laying a gentle hand on her friend's face. "I want to talk with you
and I am so thirsty. Won't you come downstairs with me to get a drink
Bab turned over sleepily and yawned: "Isn't there always some water in
the hall, Ruth? I am so tired I can't wake up," she declared.
But Ruth gave her another shake. Barbara crawled slowly out of bed, while
Ruth found her bedroom slippers and wrapped her in her warm bathrobe.
Then both girls stole softly out into the dark hall.
At the head of the stairs there was a broad landing. On this landing,
just under a stained glass window, there was a leather couch and a table,
which always held a pitcher of drinking water. On the window ledge the
servants were required to keep a candle, so that anyone who wished to do
so might find his way downstairs at night, without difficulty.
The two girls made their way slowly to this spot, and Bab felt along the
sill for the candle. It was not in its accustomed place.
"I can't find the candle, Ruth," Bab whispered. "But you know where to
find the water. Just fumble until you get hold of the pitcher."
"Won't you have a glass of water?" Ruth invited, pushing the tumbler
under Bab's very nose. Then the two girls began to giggle softly.
"No, thank you," Bab answered decidedly. "Come, thirsty maiden! Who took
me from my nice warm bed? Ruth Stuart! Let's go back upstairs and get to
sleep again in a hurry."
But for answer, Ruth drew Barbara down on the old leather couch in the
complete darkness and put her arms about her.
"Don't go back to bed, Bab. I'm not a bit sleepy. That's why I dragged
you out of bed. I couldn't go to sleep and I just had to have company. Be
a nice Bab and let's sit here and exchange conversation."
"All right," Bab replied amiably, snuggling up closer to her friend.
"Dear me, isn't it cold and dark and quiet out here!"
Ruth gave a faint shiver. Then both girls sat absolutely still without
speaking or moving--they had heard an unmistakable sound in the hall
below them. The noise was so slight it could hardly be called a sound.
Yet even this slight movement did not belong to the night and the silence
of the sleeping household.
The sound was repeated. Then a stillness followed, more absolute
"Is it a burglar, Bab?" Ruth breathed.
Barbara's hand pressure meant they must listen and wait. "It may be
possible," Bab thought, "that a dog or cat has somehow gotten into the
At this, the girls left the sofa and, going over to the banister, peered
cautiously down into the darkness.
This time the two girls saw a light that shone like a flame in the
darkness below. Quietly there floated into their line of vision something
white, ethereal--perchance a spirit from another world. It vanished and
the blackness was again unbroken. The figure had seemed strangely tall.
It appeared to swim along, rather than to walk, draperies as fine as mist
hanging about it.
"What on earth was that, Barbara?" Ruth queried, more curious than
frightened by the apparition. "If I believed in spirits I might think we
had just seen the ghost of Harriet's mother. Harriet's old black Mammy
has always said that Aunt Hattie comes back at night to guard Harriet, if
she is in any special trouble or danger."
"I suppose we had better go downstairs and find out what we have seen,"
whispered more matter-of-fact Bab. "Mr. Hamlin is not here. I don't think
there is any sense in our arousing the family until we know something
more. I should not like to frighten Mrs. Wilson and Harriet for nothing."
The two girls slipped downstairs without making a sound. Everything on
the lower floor seemed dark and quiet. Ruth and Bab both began to think
they had been haunted by a dream. They were on their way upstairs again,
when Ruth suddenly turned and glanced behind her.
"Bab," she whispered, clutching at Barbara's bathrobe until that young
woman nearly tumbled backwards down the steps, "there is a light in
Uncle's study! I suppose it is Harriet who is down there."
It flashed across Bab's mind to wonder, oddly, if Harriet's visit to her
father's study at night could have anything to do with her debt to her
dressmaker of five hundred dollars! For Mollie had reported to her sister
that Harriet was feeling desperate over her unpleasant situation.
"If it is Harriet downstairs I don't think we ought to go down," Bab
objected. "We would frighten her if we walked in on her so unexpectedly."
"Harriet ought not to be alone downstairs," Ruth insisted. "Uncle would
not like it. I am going to peep in on her, and then make her come on
upstairs to bed."
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