Read CHAPTER XVI - BARBABA’S UNEXPECTED GOOD LUCK of The Automobile Girls At Washington, free online book, by Laura Dent Crane, on ReadCentral.com.

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 for Barbara.

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,” she murmured.

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 dance steps.

“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.”

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 unraveled.

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 matters straight.

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.