Read CHAPTER XIX of The Automobile Girls at Chicago, free online book, by Laura Dent Crane, on ReadCentral.com.

A BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT

Barbara had slipped on a kimono and was starting for the door.

“Aren’t you going to kiss me good morning?” pouted Mollie.

Bab ran back, throwing her arms about Mollie, giving her sister a quick embrace and kiss; then she hurried from the room, going straight to Ruth’s bedroom. To her surprise, she found Ruth Stuart fully dressed. The girl was sitting before a window staring out at the whitened fields.

“Oh, Ruth, I’m so glad I found you awake. Do you know whether your father is up yet?”

“Yes. Why, dear?”

“I must see him at once. I have important information for him. You will excuse me, won’t you, if I run down to see him? Is he downstairs?”

Ruth shook her head sorrowfully. There was no laughter in her eyes this morning. She seemed very different from the bright, carefree Ruth of old.

“Father is not here, Bab.”

“No-ot here?” gasped Bab.

“No; he left on the seven o’clock train for Chicago this morning. After an all-night conference between him and Mr. Presby, it was decided that daddy must go into the city early this morning to see that Mr. Thompson whom you girls met at the wreck of the car on your journey to Chicago. I don’t know what it is all about, but I suspect it is money,” concluded Ruth with a trace of bitterness in her tone. “When I think how happy you girls are in your little home without wealth, I sometimes wish I had never known luxury. But what did you want to see father about?” demanded Ruth suddenly.

“I I wanted to tell him something. Oh, please don’t ask me now, Ruth, dear. Is is he at home or at the office?”

“At home, I think. The office will not be open to-day, this being a holiday.”

“Then I am going to Chicago to see him,” declared Barbara firmly.

Ruth gazed at her incredulously.

“You can’t mean that?”

“But I do.”

“Alone?”

“Unless Aunt Sallie will accompany me. I would rather she did not to-day.”

“Bab, I don’t know what you have in that little head of yours, but I do know that is it important. You are not flighty, like myself. You need not tell me what is it that is troubling you, but if you wish, I will go to town with you.”

“Oh, will you really go with me, Ruth?” cried Bab, her face expressing her relief at Ruth’s declaration. “Then let’s get ready at once.”

“You forget that we have Aunt Sallie to reckon with first, Bab,” reminded Ruth.

Miss Sallie for a time gave promise of wholly defeating Barbara’s plan to go into the city to see Mr. Stuart. However, after Bab had taken Miss Sallie into her confidence, the latter gave a reluctant consent. Ruth knew her way about so well that there would be no possibility of getting lost, and then they were going to her home, which made the journey seem less undesirable than it might have under other circumstances.

The result was that Ruth and Barbara took the nine o’clock train for Chicago that morning amid loud protests from Olive, Mollie and Grace. Ruth regretted that the man had not come out with Mr. A. Bubble that morning. She hoped, however, that they might find the car at home. Perhaps her father intended to drive out in the car that night. However, Barbara’s mission being so urgent, the best thing to do was to take a train for Chicago at once.

From the station in Chicago the girls proceeded quickly to the Stuart home. Mr. Stuart was not at home. He had not been there, but had called up on the telephone to say that he would try to be home for luncheon. Ruth went to the telephone and called up her father’s office. Mr. Stuart’s secretary, who had been called there to do some important work that day, said his employer would be in in half an hour. Bab announced her intention of going to the office, urging Ruth not to trouble to accompany her, as her friend had several matters to attend to at home.

“Very well,” answered Ruth, after a moment’s reflection, “I will call a taxicab. I’ll tell the driver exactly where to leave you. You must make him wait for you, then you can come straight back here. I know you want to see daddy alone, but I’m not a bit jealous,” she added, giving Bab’s pink cheek a loving pinch. “Daddy will be surprised to see you. You probably will be in time to take luncheon with him down town. I don’t believe he will be home for luncheon now, it’s getting so late. It’s too bad that our Christmas dinner at Treasureholme had to be spoiled first with father’s going away, then you making up your mind to rush down to Chicago. Tell me, dear, have you an idea in that little head of yours that you can help father in his present difficulty?” questioned Ruth earnestly.

“Yes, I have,” admitted Barbara, “But I would rather not tell you anything about it. You might make fun of me and convince me that I was foolish. I might be afraid to go to Mr. Stuart in that event, fearing he might make fun of me, too, but

“Not father! There is the taxicab. I’ll go out and tell the driver what I wish him to do.” Ruth hurried out with her friend, giving the driver such directions as she had decided upon.

The drive to the building in which Mr. Stuart’s office was located occupied not more than fifteen minutes, for, this being a holiday, the streets were reasonably clear of the heavier vehicles that usually interfere with the traffic. Barbara knew the building, having been there before. She therefore found no difficulty in making her way to the office. The driver, acting upon Ruth’s orders, waited below.

But Bab again was fated to be disappointed. Mr. Stuart had not yet returned, his secretary informed her. Barbara decided to wait awhile. She inquired as to where she might find Mr. Stuart, but the secretary could not say. He informed her that there were important business conferences on for that day, though Mr. Stuart might be looked for at any moment.

Bab went down and dismissed the taxicab, then returned to the office to wait. An hour went by, and still Mr. Stuart had not returned. So she entered into conversation with the not unwilling secretary by asking him if he knew Mr. Bonner, a Chicago broker.

“Yes, I know him. Is he an acquaintance of yours?” he asked curiously.

“I’ve met him. Where is his office?”

The secretary told her, then added:

“You’re not going to see him, are you?”

“I must see Mr. Stuart,” replied Barbara evasively. “I’d better go, for he may go home without returning to the office.”

“That may be,” said the secretary. “If he comes in, whom shall I tell him called?”

“Miss Barbara Thurston,” she answered, as she hurried away.

Bab had some difficulty in getting past the clerks in the outer room, but was finally ushered into Mr. Bonner’s private office.

Bonner looked pleased when he saw his visitor, but he evidently failed to recognize her.

“I’m Miss Thurston, the girl who saved your life perhaps in the wreck some time ago,” she announced boldly and according to her plan.

“Of course! How stupid of me! I owe a great deal to you, Miss Thurston.”

“You can do a great deal, Mr. Bonner,” put in the girl quickly. “I’ve come to ask that you keep your promise to me.”

“Let me see, was it a box of bon-bons?” questioned Bonner lightly.

Barbara ignored this and asked bluntly:

“Why do you insist on ruining Mr. Stuart and Mr. Presby?”

“Please explain yourself,” said Bonner harshly, taken off his guard and flushing hotly.

Barbara did so, in girlish fashion.

“Young woman, did Robert Stuart send you to intercede for him?”

“Oh, no! He would be displeased if he knew that I had come here to-day.”

“Miss Thurston, I admire your pluck. I, not being responsible for Mr. Stuart’s or for Mr. Presby’s speculations, can of course do nothing for you in this. If I could, I think my gratitude to you for saving my life would take a personal form. This is business, and in that each man fights for himself. By the way, how did you get the notion that I am in any way responsible for Mr. Stuart’s misjudgment on market conditions?”

“I chanced to overhear your conversation with your friend ‘Jim’ on the sleeper.”

“So you played eavesdropper! I would not have thought it of you, Miss Thurston.”

“It was impossible not to hear; but when you mentioned Mr. Stuart’s name, I listened, call it what you please.”

“I presume you told Robert Stuart what you heard,” he responded, again flushing.

“No, Mr. Bonner not yet.”

With the words, Barbara rose and ran out of the office, slamming the door behind her. Her face was aflame and she was trembling.

When she reached the street she decided to walk for part of the distance, so that she would have time to quiet her agitation before she should reach the Stuarts’ home. It was growing dark before she realized that she would have to take a taxi or the Stuarts would be very much worried about her.

“Oh, Bab, where have you been? We’ve been frightfully worried,” cried Ruth. “Dad’s home, and he said his secretary told him you’d left the office about three o’clock.”

“I started to walk, and forgot how late it was, Ruth.”

Mr. Stuart, who had come into the hall in time to hear the conversation and noting how tired Bab looked, said:

“Come to dinner now, and Barbara can tell us things later.”

When dinner was over and they were seated around the library fire, Barbara turned to Mr. Stuart and said:

“I can tell you the name of the man who’s fighting you and Mr. Presby, Mr. Stuart. Will the knowledge do you any good?”

“You, Barbara! How can you know this? It would have helped a month ago, my girl; I fear it is too late now.”

Bab’s heart sank. Was what she had done and it had been hard for a girl to do in vain?

“Why does Mr. Nathan Bonner hate you?”

“Nathan Bonner started, a green boy, as a clerk in my office. I thought him worthy and helped him, but finally found it necessary to dismiss him.”

“Yes, he’s crooked,” said Barbara. Mr. Stuart started and looked at the girl in amazement; so she settled back and told him the story of the trip to Chicago in detail. “He mentioned your name, Mr. Stuart. He also said that because I had saved his life, he would assist me if I ever needed aid. To-day he refused.”

“To-day! Where did you see Bonner?”

“Oh!” Only then did Barbara tell her host how she had spent the afternoon.

“My dear, you’re a very imprudent girl. Nevertheless, you have done me a service for which I can never give you adequate thanks,” said Mr. Stuart, his voice husky with emotion.