Read CHAPTER XI - IN MR. HAMLIN’S STUDY of The Automobile Girls At Washington, free online book, by Laura Dent Crane, on ReadCentral.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You?” queried Bab in surprise. “I ­I don’t understand.”

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

“But ­I ­can’t,” protested Barbara rather weakly. “It wouldn’t be right. It would be asking entirely too much of you and ­”

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

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

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

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