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       The Automobile Girls at Palm Beach; Or, Proving Their Mettle Under Southern Skies, p.1
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           Laura Dent Crane
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The Automobile Girls at Palm Beach; Or, Proving Their Mettle Under Southern Skies

  Produced by Roger Frank and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at

  The Girls Sat On the Broad Piazza.]






  Author of The Automobile Girls at Newport, The Automobile Girls in the Berkshires, The Automobile Girls Along the Hudson, The Automobile Girls at Chicago, etc.




  Copyright, 1913, by

  Howard E. Altemius



  I. The Land of Dreams 7 II. A West Indian Squall 21 III. The Fair Unknown 32 IV. The Compact 43 V. The Daughter of Mrs. De Lancey Smythe 51 VI. The Countess Sophia 64 VII. Tea in the Cocoanut Grove 75 VIII. The Warning 87 IX. A Case of Mistaken Identity 95 X. The Secret Signals 105 XI. Wheels Within Wheels 113 XII. Maud Refuses to Be Rescued 123 XIII. A Surprise Party 132 XIV. The Plot Thickens 147 XV. Caught Napping 154 XVI. Welcome and Unwelcome Guests 166 XVII. The Midnight Intruder 179 XVIII. The Water Fete 189 XIX. Red Dominos 200 XX. Conclusion 204

  The Automobile Girls at Palm Beach



  "I don't believe anything could be more lovely than this," exclaimedMollie Thurston, leaning back in a wicker chair on the piazza of one ofthe largest hotels at Palm Beach.

  "Right you are!" replied her friend, Ruth Stuart, as she gazed acrossthe still blue waters of Lake Worth dotted with pleasure boats. "I can'tdecide whether I should like to ride in the automobile, or sail, or justsit in the cocoanut grove and listen to the music. Life seems so easyunder a blue sky like this, and there are so many things to do that itis hard to make a choice."

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

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

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

  "It is undoubtedly the witching hour for pineapple lemonades," saidRuth. "And we must be in the fashion immediately. Papa," she called toher father, who was immersed in the pages of a New York newspaperseveral days old, "you are not doing your duty by us. We are gettingawfully thirsty."

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

  "I haven't any wish," responded Barbara. "I am too happy to be troubledwith wishes."

  "Then suppose I wish for you, Bab?" suggested Ruth. "Go back to your ownsweet dreams. I'll wake you when the wish comes true."

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

  "Where is Aunt Sallie?" Ruth suddenly asked, again interrupting herfather's reading. "This place has bewitched me so that I have forgotteneven my beloved aunt. This is the land of dreams, I do believe. We areall spirits from some happy world."

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

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

  "Girls, look!" exclaimed Ruth, in suppressed excitement. "Aunt Sallie iswith that Maud Warren. You remember we met her at Lenox, Bab, and shetried to ride you down in the famous race. Delightful creature--to keepaway from." Ruth gave a contemptuous sniff, then added. "That nicelooking man must be her father."

  "She looks as haughty as ever, and then some more," said Mollieaggressively.

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

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

  "Robert," broke in Miss Sallie's dignified voice, "this is Mr. Warrenand his daughter Miss Warren. They----"

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

  "Why, Warren," exclaimed Mr. Stuart, "I had no idea that you were inthis part of the world. The last time I saw you, you were ranching outin 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 outover 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. Stuartand his fine face saddened. He too had known that loss.

  Turning to Maud who had been exchanging rather distant greetings withthe four girls, he said pleasantly. "So this is Maud. She was a littlegirl in short dresses when last I saw her. How these children do growup."

  Maud smiled frigidly and for the fraction of a second allowed her handto touch that of Mr. Stuart. "One must grow up some time, you know," shemurmured.

  "I should like to stay eighteen forever," exclaimed Ruth, withenthusiasm.

  "Would you indeed?" remarked Maud Warren, raising her eyebrows. "Howodd!"

  There was a brief silence. The four girls stared straight ahead andtried to control their desire to laugh. During their stay at Lenox theyear before the circumstances of which having been fully told in the"Automobile Girls in the Berkshires," they had not been impressed withMaud Warren, on account of her disagreeable and overbearing manner. Butthe blase air that she now affected, was in their candid eyes extremelyridiculous, and her remark to Ruth had filled them all with unseemlymirth.

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

  The "Automobile Girls" dated their organization back to almost two yearsbefore, when Barbara Thurston had bravely stopped a runaway team ofhorses driven by Ruth Stuart, a rich western girl, summering inKingsbridge, the home town of the Thurstons.

  A warm friendship had sprung up between Ruth Stuart, Barbara and MollieThurston, that resulted in a journey to Newport in Ruth's red motor car,familiarly known as Mr. A. Bubble. Grace Carter, a Kingsbridge girl, hadbeen asked to complete the quartette of adventurous damsel
s, while MissSallie Stuart, Ruth's aunt had gone along as chaperon.

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

  After a winter of hard study, the "Automobile Girls" were againreunited, and in "The Automobile Girls Along the Hudson," their journeythrough the beautiful Sleepy Hollow Country is narrated. The eventfulweeks spent in the ancestral home of Major Ten Eyck, an old friend ofMiss Sallie Stuart's, ending with their brave fight to save thebeautiful 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 inChicago, and the record of it, set down in "The Automobile Girls atChicago," was not yet three months old. While on a holiday visit toRuth, at her Chicago home, they had been the guests of the Presbys,relatives of the Stuarts, at their country place "Treasureholme." Owingto imprudent speculation in wheat, both Mr. Stuart and Mr. Presby hadbecome heavily involved and were facing financial ruin. Through theefforts of Barbara Thurston, aided by the other "Automobile Girls" therich treasure, buried by one of the ancestors, was discovered in time tosave the Presby estate.

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

  The four young girls were unusually quiet as they sat idly looking outover the water. Maud Warren's arrival had cast a chill over them.

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

  Ruth sat covertly taking stock of Miss Warren's elaborate white lacegown and wondering why young girls ever insisted on aping so called"society" fashions. While Mollie and Grace speculated as to how long acall the Warrens were going to make.

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

  "Have you met the De Lancey Smythes, Miss Stuart?" she drawled. "Theyare too utterly charming. Mrs. De Lancey Smythe belongs to an old, oldSouthern family. She is a widow, with one daughter, Marian, a mostdelightful young woman. It was only through them that I was persuaded tocome here."

  "Indeed," replied Miss Sallie. "We arrived yesterday. Therefore we havemet 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," repliedMiss Stuart courteously.

  "By the way, Stuart," said Mr. Warren, "what do you say to a sail in mylaunch, this afternoon? I should like to entertain some one besides theDe Lancey Smythes. They are too fine for me. I am just a plain bluntman, and can't stand too many extra frills. Maud, see to it that youdon't invite them. I absolutely refuse to be bothered with them,to-day."

  Maud flushed hotly at her father's contemptuous allusion to the DeLancey Smythes. But restraining her feelings she turned to Miss Stuartwith a forced attempt at graciousness.

  "Won't you come for a sail? It will be awfully good of you."

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

  "Are you sure your launch won't pitch, Mr. Warren?" inquired MissStuart.

  "I am perfectly certain, Miss Stuart," replied the millionaire. "Thelake 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 beenleaning idly against the railing of the piazza. He now strolled quietlyaway, without having appeared to notice any one of them, or to haveoverheard any of their conversation.

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

  Was it the foreign cut of his dark suit, conspicuous among the crowds ofwhite 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 Bab's taste? Bab did notknow, then. But she took in the man's whole expression, and the adverseopinion she silently formed, at that time, she never had occasion tochange.

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

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

  "Dear Mrs. De Lancey Smythe," exclaimed Maud, with a defiant look towardher father, "I do so want you to go out with us in our launch thisafternoon. Won't you let me introduce some new friends to you, who aregoing to sail with us?"

  Mr. Warren turned red. A look of disappointment, verging on anger creptinto his good-natured brown eyes as his daughter deliberately defiedhim.

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

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

  Mrs. De Lancey Smythe might have been anywhere from thirty-five toforty-five. She was tall, well-proportioned and a decided brunette. At aglance one would have decided her to be very handsome, but closeobservers would have noted a hard expression about the eyes and mouththat completely destroyed the effect of beauty. As for her daughter,Marian, she was a small, slender insignificant young woman who seemedentirely overshadowed by her mother's personality.

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

  "Maud is always so thoughtful of her friends," murmured Mrs. De LanceySmythe, turning to Miss Sallie with well simulated appreciation. "Sheknows how fond we are of sailing."

  Miss Sallie looked sharply at the speaker. The De Lancey Smythes wereevidently unaware of Mr. Warren's animosity toward them. She was aboutto frame some polite excuse for not going on the launch, hoping to thusnip in the bud the proposed sail, when suddenly meeting Mr. Warren'seyes, she saw an expression of entreaty in them that made her hesitate.

  "I hope you and your 'Automobile Girls' will not disappoint me," he saidpleadingly.

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

  With a formal bow to Mrs. De Lancey Smythe and her daughter, Miss Salliemarshaled 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 hereyes, and a certain tightening of her lips that showed resentment at themanner of her reception by the Stuart party.

  "We shall be obliged to play our cards very carefully," she warnedMarian, when in the privacy of their own apartment. "That Miss Stuartseems already inclined to be hostile. As for those girls----"

  "I think they're the nicest looking girls I've seen for a long time.Ever so much nicer than Maud Warren," exclaimed Marian.

  "Hold your tongue," commanded her mother angrily. "Don't let me hear anymore remarks of that kind, or you'll 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 goodimpression upon the first girls with whom she had ever wished to befriends.

  Mr. Stuart and Mr. Warre
n did not at once follow their respectivecharges in to luncheon, but sat down on a wide settee in one corner ofthe 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 morethan I can say. You see," he went on, his face flushing painfully withembarrassment, "I have tried to give my daughter the proper sort ofcare. I have certainly spared no money in the effort. But what canmoney, alone, do for a motherless girl?" His voice choked a little."Perhaps I should have married again, if only on Maud's account. But Itell you, Bob, I couldn't. My wife's memory is still too dear to me. Noother woman has ever interested me." He paused a moment, then lookedaway, while Mr. Stuart patted his shoulder sympathetically.

  "And now," went on poor Mr. Warren, shaking his head sadly, "my girl hasfallen in with a lot of society people who are doing her more harm thangood--for instance, these people you have just seen are among thenumber. You wonder, perhaps, why I don't like the De Lancey Smythes. Noone can deny that they make a good appearance but there's somethingabout the mother that I distrust. She's not genuine, and although shetries to conceal it she's not well-bred. Maud won't believe it, andcan't be made to see it. But I can. Now I believe, if she goes aboutwith your four nice, wholesome girls and a fine woman like Miss Stuart,she'll open her eyes a trifle. And I want to ask you, old man, to standby me and help me out. Ask your girls to help me save my girl from herown foolishness and the influence of just such people as these De LanceySmythes. Will you help me Stuart, for 'auld lang syne'?"

  "Why of course I will, Tom," replied good-natured Mr. Stuart warmly,grasping Mr. Warren's hand. "I'll tell my sister, Sallie, too. She'llknow just what to do with Maud."

  "But you understand, Bob, we shall be obliged to go at this businesstactfully," protested poor Mr. Warren. "I am afraid my daughter is adifficult proposition at times, poor child. But she'll come through allright. She is only nineteen. There's a lot of time yet."

  "Oh, Sallie will manage. Trust Maud to her, my friend. And now, let's goin to luncheon," returned Mr. Stuart.

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

  "I am afraid Maud will be exceedingly difficult to manage," Miss Salliedemurred. "She is a law unto herself. As for those De Lancey Smythes, Ishall endeavor to find out something about their social position." MissSallie looked about her with the air of a duchess. "But, since you havegiven 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, thematter was settled.

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