Read CHAPTER XIII - A FOOLISH GIRL of The Automobile Girls At Washington, free online book, by Laura Dent Crane, on ReadCentral.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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