Laura Crane.

The Automobile Girls at Palm Beach: or, Proving Their Mettle Under Southern Skies





CHAPTER I
THE LAND OF DREAMS

I dont believe anything could be more lovely than this, exclaimed Mollie Thurston, leaning back in a wicker chair on the piazza of one of the largest hotels at Palm Beach.

Right you are! replied her friend, Ruth Stuart, as she gazed across the still blue waters of Lake Worth dotted with pleasure boats. I cant decide whether I should like to ride in the automobile, or sail, or just sit in the cocoanut grove and listen to the music. Life seems so easy under a blue sky like this, and there are so many things to do that it is hard to make a choice.

What do people usually do at this hour? Grace Carter asked. A woman I talked with on the train told me there was a programme of amusements for every hour at Palm Beach.

Well, my dear, you have only to gaze about you and see for yourself. It is now high noon, answered Ruth, consulting her watch.

Grace glanced quickly about her. All along the broad piazza, and under awnings on the lawn, a gay company of men, women and young people were sipping delicious iced fruit drinks in tall, thin glasses.

It is undoubtedly the witching hour for pineapple lemonades, said Ruth. And we must be in the fashion immediately. Papa, she called to her father, who was immersed in the pages of a New York newspaper several days old, you are not doing your duty by us. We are getting awfully thirsty.

Mr. Stuart, clad in white, and looking the picture of comfort, smiled lazily over his paper at his daughter. Order what you like, my dear. Am I not always at the command of the Automobile Girls? What do you wish, little lady? he asked, turning to Barbara Thurston, who had been lost in a day-dream and had heard nothing of the conversation.

I havent any wish, responded Barbara. I am too happy to be troubled with wishes.

Then suppose I wish for you, Bab? suggested Ruth. Go back to your own sweet dreams. Ill wake you when the wish comes true.

Presently the four girls were sipping their fruit lemonades like the rest of the world at Palm Beach. On the breeze the sound of music was wafted to them from a morning concert in the distance.

Where is Aunt Sallie? Ruth suddenly asked, again interrupting her fathers reading. This place has bewitched me so that I have forgotten even my beloved aunt. This is the land of dreams, I do believe. We are all spirits from some happy world.

Here comes your spirit aunt, returned Mr. Stuart, smiling. She has evidently been spirited away by some other friendly spirits.

The girls laughed as they saw the substantial figure of Miss Sallie Stuart strolling down the piazza. She was walking between two other persons, one a tall, middle-aged man with dark hair slightly tinged with gray, the other a young woman. They were all three talking animatedly.

Girls, look! exclaimed Ruth, in suppressed excitement.

Aunt Sallie is with that Maud Warren. You remember we met her at Lenox, Bab, and she tried to ride you down in the famous race. Delightful creature to keep away from. Ruth gave a contemptuous sniff, then added. That nice looking man must be her father.

She looks as haughty as ever, and then some more, said Mollie aggressively.

The girls giggled softly, then straightened their faces for the trio was almost upon them, and it was not safe to indulge in further conversation.

After seeing that his charges were supplied with lemonade, Mr. Stuart had returned to his paper.

Robert, broke in Miss Sallies dignified voice, this is Mr. Warren and his daughter Miss Warren. They

But at the first word Mr. Stuart had risen and the two men were enthusiastically shaking hands.

Why, Warren, exclaimed Mr. Stuart, I had no idea that you were in this part of the world. The last time I saw you, you were ranching out in Idaho.

Quite true, replied Mr. Warren, smiling, but that was ten years ago. A great many things have happened since then. He sighed and looked out over the blue lake. Mrs. Warren died the next year, he said slowly. Maud and I are alone.

I am deeply sorry to hear of your great loss, sympathized Mr. Stuart and his fine face saddened. He too had known that loss.

Turning to Maud who had been exchanging rather distant greetings with the four girls, he said pleasantly. So this is Maud. She was a little girl in short dresses when last I saw her. How these children do grow up.

Maud smiled frigidly and for the fraction of a second allowed her hand to touch that of Mr. Stuart. One must grow up some time, you know, she murmured.

I should like to stay eighteen forever, exclaimed Ruth, with enthusiasm.

Would you indeed? remarked Maud Warren, raising her eyebrows. How odd!

There was a brief silence. The four girls stared straight ahead and tried to control their desire to laugh. During their stay at Lenox the year before the circumstances of which having been fully told in the Automobile Girls in the Berkshires, they had not been impressed with Maud Warren, on account of her disagreeable and overbearing manner. But the blas? air that she now affected, was in their candid eyes extremely ridiculous, and her remark to Ruth had filled them all with unseemly mirth.

Maud Warren, however, serenely unconscious of what was passing through their minds, sank into a wicker chair, and deliberately turning her back upon the Automobile Girls, began a conversation with Miss Sallie.

The Automobile Girls dated their organization back to almost two years before, when Barbara Thurston had bravely stopped a runaway team of horses driven by Ruth Stuart, a rich western girl, summering in Kingsbridge, the home town of the Thurstons.

A warm friendship had sprung up between Ruth Stuart, Barbara and Mollie Thurston, that resulted in a journey to Newport in Ruths red motor car, familiarly known as Mr. A. Bubble. Grace Carter, a Kingsbridge girl, had been asked to complete the quartette of adventurous damsels, while Miss Sallie Stuart, Ruths aunt had gone along as chaperon.

After a series of remarkable events their trip ended with the capture of a society cracksman, known to the police as the Boy Raffles. The Automobile Girls then returned to Kingsbridge, where several weeks later, Mr. A. Bubble once more bore them away to the heart of the Berkshires. There they spent a delightful month, in a little log cabin, roughing it. In The Automobile Girls in the Berkshires, the story of the little Indian ghost that haunted Lost Mans Trail, and who afterwards turned out to be an Indian princess is charmingly related.

After a winter of hard study, the Automobile Girls were again reunited, and in The Automobile Girls Along the Hudson, their journey through the beautiful Sleepy Hollow Country is narrated. The eventful weeks spent in the ancestral home of Major Ten Eyck, an old friend of Miss Sallie Stuarts, ending with their brave fight to save the beautiful old house from destruction by forest fires, made the Automobile Girls stand out as true heroines.

The best work since their initial adventure, however, had been done in Chicago, and the record of it, set down in The Automobile Girls at Chicago, was not yet three months old. While on a holiday visit to Ruth, at her Chicago home, they had been the guests of the Presbys, relatives of the Stuarts, at their country place Treasureholme. Owing to imprudent speculation in wheat, both Mr. Stuart and Mr. Presby had become heavily involved and were facing financial ruin. Through the efforts of Barbara Thurston, aided by the other Automobile Girls the rich treasure, buried by one of the ancestors, was discovered in time to save the Presby estate.

Before leaving Chicago, Mr. Stuart had promised his daughter and her friends a sojourn at Palm Beach during the month of March. Now the Automobile Girls had actually arrived in the Land of Flowers eager for any pleasure that sunny Florida might yield them.

The four young girls were unusually quiet as they sat idly looking out over the water. Maud Warrens arrival had cast a chill over them.

It had been an enchanted land, Barbara reflected rather resentfully, now the enchantment was broken.

Ruth sat covertly taking stock of Miss Warrens elaborate white lace gown and wondering why young girls ever insisted on aping so called society fashions. While Mollie and Grace speculated as to how long a call the Warrens were going to make.

Maud, totally oblivious that she had been weighed in the balance by four stern young judges, and found wanting, languidly conversed with Miss Stuart, in her most grown-up manner.

Have you met the De Lancey Smythes, Miss Stuart? she drawled. They are too utterly charming. Mrs. De Lancey Smythe belongs to an old, old Southern family. She is a widow, with one daughter, Marian, a most delightful young woman. It was only through them that I was persuaded to come here.

Indeed, replied Miss Sallie. We arrived yesterday. Therefore we have met no one, as yet.

Of course not, agreed Maud. You really must meet them!

I should be pleased to meet any friends of yours, Miss Warren, replied Miss Stuart courteously.

By the way, Stuart, said Mr. Warren, what do you say to a sail in my launch, this afternoon? I should like to entertain some one besides the De Lancey Smythes. They are too fine for me. I am just a plain blunt man, and cant stand too many extra frills. Maud, see to it that you dont invite them. I absolutely refuse to be bothered with them, to-day.

Maud flushed hotly at her fathers contemptuous allusion to the De Lancey Smythes. But restraining her feelings she turned to Miss Stuart with a forced attempt at graciousness.

Wont you come for a sail? It will be awfully good of you.

We should be delighted, I am sure, replied Mr. Stuart, looking gravely at Maud. He then turned a compassionate gaze toward his friend, Mr. Warren. That is, I mean we shall go with you, provided my sister has made no other plans.

Are you sure your launch wont pitch, Mr. Warren? inquired Miss Stuart.

I am perfectly certain, Miss Stuart, replied the millionaire. The lake is like a mill pond to-day. There is not a ripple on it.

While they had been making their plans for the afternoon, a man had been leaning idly against the railing of the piazza. He now strolled quietly away, without having appeared to notice any one of them, or to have overheard any of their conversation.

But Barbara had observed him. She had an unquenchable curiosity concerning faces. And this man appeared indefinably interesting.

Was it the foreign cut of his dark suit, conspicuous among the crowds of white ones worn by most of the men at Palm Beach? Or was it his strong, clean-shaven face with its rather heavy bull-dog jaw, its square chin, and keen gray eyes, a little too narrow for Babs taste? Bab did not know, then. But she took in the mans whole expression, and the adverse opinion she silently formed, at that time, she never had occasion to change.

As the party was about to separate for luncheon two women appeared in a nearby doorway and stood looking up and down the piazza.

Oh, there are dear Marian and her mother! cried Maud, hurrying over to greet her friends.

Dear Mrs. De Lancey Smythe, exclaimed Maud, with a defiant look toward her father, I do so want you to go out with us in our launch this afternoon. Wont you let me introduce some new friends to you, who are going to sail with us?

Mr. Warren turned red. A look of disappointment, verging on anger crept into his good-natured brown eyes as his daughter deliberately defied him.

The De Lancey Smythes glanced toward the Stuart party, with bored indifference.

Mrs. De Lancey Smythe made some low-voiced remark to Maud who nodded her head slightly. Whereupon mother and daughter moved toward Miss Stuart with an air of haughty condescension.

Mrs. De Lancey Smythe might have been anywhere from thirty-five to forty-five. She was tall, well-proportioned and a decided brunette. At a glance one would have decided her to be very handsome, but close observers would have noted a hard expression about the eyes and mouth that completely destroyed the effect of beauty. As for her daughter, Marian, she was a small, slender insignificant young woman who seemed entirely overshadowed by her mothers personality.

Both mother and daughter were dressed perhaps a shade too elaborately for good taste, and there was something about them that immediately aroused a sense of vague disapproval in the minds of the Stuart party.

Maud is always so thoughtful of her friends, murmured Mrs. De Lancey Smythe, turning to Miss Sallie with well simulated appreciation. She knows how fond we are of sailing.

Miss Sallie looked sharply at the speaker. The De Lancey Smythes were evidently unaware of Mr. Warrens animosity toward them. She was about to frame some polite excuse for not going on the launch, hoping to thus nip in the bud the proposed sail, when suddenly meeting Mr. Warrens eyes, she saw an expression of entreaty in them that made her hesitate.

I hope you and your Automobile Girls will not disappoint me, he said pleadingly.

Thank you, responded Miss Stuart. We shall be pleased to go.

With a formal bow to Mrs. De Lancey Smythe and her daughter, Miss Sallie marshaled her little force and left the piazza.

Very charming people, remarked Mrs. De Lancey Smythe, to Maud Warren, after they had disappeared. But there was an unpleasant light in her eyes, and a certain tightening of her lips that showed resentment at the manner of her reception by the Stuart party.

We shall be obliged to play our cards very carefully, she warned Marian, when in the privacy of their own apartment. That Miss Stuart seems already inclined to be hostile. As for those girls

I think theyre the nicest looking girls Ive seen for a long time. Ever so much nicer than Maud Warren, exclaimed Marian.

Hold your tongue, commanded her mother angrily. Dont let me hear any more remarks of that kind, or youll have cause to regret them.

Marian relapsed into sulky silence. She knew her mother only too well. Nevertheless she made up her mind to try honestly to make a good impression upon the first girls with whom she had ever wished to be friends.

Mr. Stuart and Mr. Warren did not at once follow their respective charges in to luncheon, but sat down on a wide settee in one corner of the piazza for a long talk. One topic of conversation followed another, until at last Mr. Warren lowered his voice and said:

Stuart, I am going to ask a favor of you because I need your help more than I can say. You see, he went on, his face flushing painfully with embarrassment, I have tried to give my daughter the proper sort of care. I have certainly spared no money in the effort. But what can money, alone, do for a motherless girl? His voice choked a little. Perhaps I should have married again, if only on Mauds account. But I tell you, Bob, I couldnt. My wifes memory is still too dear to me. No other woman has ever interested me. He paused a moment, then looked away, while Mr. Stuart patted his shoulder sympathetically.

And now, went on poor Mr. Warren, shaking his head sadly, my girl has fallen in with a lot of society people who are doing her more harm than good for instance, these people you have just seen are among the number. You wonder, perhaps, why I dont like the De Lancey Smythes. No one can deny that they make a good appearance but theres something about the mother that I distrust. Shes not genuine, and although she tries to conceal it shes not well-bred. Maud wont believe it, and cant be made to see it. But I can. Now I believe, if she goes about with your four nice, wholesome girls and a fine woman like Miss Stuart, shell open her eyes a trifle. And I want to ask you, old man, to stand by me and help me out. Ask your girls to help me save my girl from her own foolishness and the influence of just such people as these De Lancey Smythes. Will you help me Stuart, for auld lang syne?

Why of course I will, Tom, replied good-natured Mr. Stuart warmly, grasping Mr. Warrens hand. Ill tell my sister, Sallie, too. Shell know just what to do with Maud.

But you understand, Bob, we shall be obliged to go at this business tactfully, protested poor Mr. Warren. I am afraid my daughter is a difficult proposition at times, poor child. But shell come through all right. She is only nineteen. Theres a lot of time yet.

Oh, Sallie will manage. Trust Maud to her, my friend. And now, lets go in to luncheon, returned Mr. Stuart.

At luncheon, Mr. Stuart repeated his conversation with Mr. Warren to Miss Sallie and the Automobile Girls.

I am afraid Maud will be exceedingly difficult to manage, Miss Sallie demurred. She is a law unto herself. As for those De Lancey Smythes, I shall endeavor to find out something about their social position. Miss Sallie looked about her with the air of a duchess. But, since you have given your promise to your friend, we will do what we can for Maud.

The girls also promised their aid. And so, for the time being, the matter was settled.

CHAPTER II
A WEST INDIAN SQUALL

By half past two that afternoon Mr. Warrens launch with its party of pleasure seekers was well under way.

The Automobile Girls had gathered in one end, and were enthusiastically commenting on the beauty of the scenery. Miss Sallie had been conscientiously trying to cultivate Maud Warren, and rather than antagonize her in the beginning had exerted herself to be agreeable to the De Lancey Smythes. Mrs. De Lancey Smythe, however, had other views afoot than the cultivation of Miss Sallie, and had immediately engaged in conversation with Mr. Stuart. Hardly had the launch put out from shore, before she beckoned him to one side of the little deck, and complacently kept him there until Ruth, far from pleased with this turn of affairs, called to her father to join them. But Mrs. De Lancey Smythe proved equal to the occasion, for rising gracefully, she calmly strolled by Mr. Stuarts side to the end of the launch where the four girls were seated. Here they were joined by Miss Sallie, who had been watching the man?uvres of the other woman with well-veiled contempt, and the conversation became general.

Do you know many people here, Mrs. Smythe? asked Miss Sallie, turning to the other woman.

Only a few, replied Mrs. De Lancey Smythe indifferently. Most of the people I know have been abroad all winter. Many of my dearest friends are among the peerage. Two people I know well, arrived to-day, however. The young Count de Sonde and his friend, Monsieur Duval.

She pronounced the two names with a faultless accent that was not lost upon the practised ears of Ruth, who had spoken French fluently since she was a child and had had a French nursery governess for years. Whatever were her shortcomings, Mrs. De Lancey Smythe could at least speak French.

A real count! exclaimed Mollie. How interesting!

Oh, we know lots of titled people, Marian interposed. There were two countesses and a marquis at our hotel in Newport last summer.

Isnt all this lovely? cried Barbara. She was not interested in counts and titles. She was keenly alive to the beauty of the scenery about them. I cant decide which out-blues the other, the lake or the sky.

But arent there a great many clouds in the sky? questioned Ruth. See how they have piled up over there? Do you suppose, by any chance, that we shall have rain? We were told that it never rained down here. It simply isnt tolerated.

The launch was now running far out from the shore, which was lined with pretty villas, set here and there in the midst of cocoanut palms and oleander trees. Following the boats path of rippling waves came another launch much smaller than Mr. Warrens. It was manned by two men who had apparently not observed them. The men were deep in earnest conversation.

Oh, Marian, there is the Count de Sonde with his friend! exclaimed her mother. How fortunate that we should run across them, just now.

Which one is the count? asked Maud Warren. She had taken very little interest in anything before. I hope he is not the older man.

No; he is the slender, dark-haired one, returned Mrs. Smythe. He is dressed in white.

In the meantime Mr. Stuart had changed his seat. He had come to Palm Beach to enjoy his four Automobile Girls. No fascinating widow should swerve him from his original plans. Like most hard-working successful men he loved a holiday like a schoolboy and resented deeply any interference with his pleasure.

Are my girls having a good time? he queried, smiling into four charming faces.

Yes, indeed! exclaimed four voices in chorus.

We thought the scenery beautiful in the Berkshires and along the Hudson river, Mr. Stuart. But this is the most beautiful of all! cried Mollie, clasping her small hands ecstatically.

Do you suppose people ever really work here? inquired Grace. It is like fairy land. Everything happens by magic.





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