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CHAPTER XIX


AN UNEXPECTED MEETING


"That's twice you've made a wrong play, Betty," observed Mr. Littell. "What lies heavy on your mind this evening?"

Betty blushed, and attempted to put her mind more on the game. She was playing checkers with Mr. Littell, whose injured foot still kept him a prisoner most of the time, and she had played badly all the evening, she knew. Truth to tell, she was thinking about her uncle and wondering over and over why she did not hear from him.

After the rubber was played and the other girls who had been around the piano, singing, had gone out to get something to eat, for the maids had the evening off, Betty spoke to her host.

"I suppose you think I'm foolish," she ventured; "but I am really worried about Uncle Dick now. He has never answered the telegram and the two letters I've written. His Philadelphia lawyer writes that he is waiting to hear from him. He seems to have dropped out of the world. Do you think he may be sick in some hospital and not able to communicate with us?"

"That's a possibility," admitted Mr. Littell soberly. "But I tell you honestly, Betty, and not simply to relieve your mind, that I consider it a very remote one. Business men, especially men who travel a great deal, as you tell me your uncle does, seldom are without somewhere on their person, their names and addresses, and directions about what is to be done in case of sickness or accident. I never travel without such a card. Ten to one, if your uncle were ill or injured, his lawyer would have been notified immediately."

A weight of anxiety slipped from Betty's heart, for she immediately recognized the sound common sense in this argument. Still, something else was troubling her.

"Don't you think," she began again bravely, "that I had better go to Pineville? The quarantine is lifted, I hear, and the Bensingers will take me in till I can hear from Uncle Dick. You and Mrs. Littell and the girls have been so lovely to me, but—but—" her voice trailed off.

Mr. Littell leaned back in his chair and lit a fresh cigar.

"Well, now of course," he said slowly, "if you feel that you want to go to Pineville, we really have no right to say anything. But if I were you, I'd stay right here. Your uncle may be intending to come back to Washington. In any case, he will address his letter to you here. Of that much we are certain. You'll hear more quickly if you don't move about. Besides, there is that Henderson lad. I'm counting on making his acquaintance. He's likely to bob up any day—though I didn't mean to pun. If you want my advice, Betty, it is to stay here quietly with us and wait as patiently as you can. We like to have you, you know that. You're not a stranger, but a friend."

He went on to explain to her in his quiet, even, matter-of-fact way, that to the disturbed girl was inexpressibly soothing, his belief that her uncle was on an exploration trip for oil and might easily find a month's accumulation of mail awaiting him on his return.

"It's only here, in the heart of civilization, that we think we can't live without four mails a day," Mr. Littell concluded. "I've been out of touch with a post-office for three weeks at a time myself, and our sailors, you know, often go much longer without letters."

On one particularly lovely morning the four girls, with Mrs. Littell, started off on the pleasant mission of seeing the White House. Betty's and Libbie's acquaintance with it was confined solely to the glimpses they had had from the street, but Louise and Bobby had attended several New Year's receptions and had shaken hands with the President.

The party spent a delightful morning, visiting the famous East Room, admiring the full length portraits of George and Martha Washington, about which latter the story is told that Mrs. Dolly Madison cut it from its frame to save it from the approaching enemy in 1814. They were also fortunate to find a custodian taking sightseers through the other official apartments so that they saw more than the casual visitor does in one visit. They visited in turn, the Green Room, the Red Room, and the Blue Room, saw the state dining-room with its magnificent shining table about which it was easy to imagine famous guests seated, and enjoyed a peep into the conservatory at the end of the corridor. They did not go up to the executive offices on the second floor, knowing that probably a crowd was before them and that an opportunity to see the President on the streets of the city was likely to present itself.

"Well, I shouldn't want to live there," sighed Betty, as they came down the steps. "It is very grand and very stately, but not much like a home. I suppose, though, the private rooms of the President and his family are cozy, if one could see them."

"Beyond a doubt," agreed Mrs. Littell.

They lunched at one of the large hotels, and afterward Mrs. Littell had a club engagement. The girls, she announced, might spend the afternoon as they chose, and she would pick them all up at five o'clock with Carter and the car.

"Esther and I want to see 'The Heart of June,'" announced Libbie, who found romance enough to satisfy her in the motion-pictures.

Louise was interested, too; but Betty had promised to take some papers for Mr. Littell and see that they reached an architect in one of the nearby office buildings. Bobby elected to go with her, and they decided that, that errand accomplished, they might do a little shopping and meet the others at the theater door at five o'clock.

"Mr. Waters won't be in till three o'clock," announced the freckle-faced office boy who met them in the outer office of the architect's suite.

"Then we'll have to come back," decided Betty, glancing at her watch. "It is just two now."

"You can leave anything with me," said the boy politely. "I'll see that he gets it as soon as he comes in."

"Yes, do, Betty," urged Bobby. "Dad would say it was all right to leave that envelope of papers. They're not terribly important."

"We can do our shopping and then come back," insisted Betty, to the evident disgust of Bobby and the hardly less concealed impatience of the office boy.

"Why wouldn't you leave 'em?" demanded Bobby, when they were once more in the street. "Dad hasn't any secret service stuff, I'm sure of that. Now we have to come all the way back here again, and that means hurrying through our shopping."

"You needn't come," said Betty mildly. "Your father asked me to give those papers personally to Mr. Waters. He didn't say they were important; I don't know that they are. But if I say I am going to give an envelope personally to any one, I don't intend to give that envelope to a third person if there's nothing in it more valuable than—hair nets!"

The window they were passing suggested the comparison, and Bobby laughed good-naturedly and forebore to argue further. Promptly at three o'clock she and Betty entered the elevator in the office building and were whirled up to the fifth floor to find Mr. Waters in his private office.

"Mr. Littell telephoned half an hour ago," he told them, taking the envelope and running over the papers with a practised eye as he talked. "He hoped to catch you before you left here. I believe he wants to speak to his daughter. There's a booth right there, Miss Bobby."

Bobby had a brief conversation with her father and came out in a few minutes in evident haste.

"He wants us to do a couple more errands, Betty," she announced. "We'll have to hurry, for it's after three."

The architect had written a receipt for the papers, and Bobby now hurried Betty off, explaining as they went that they must take a car to Octagon House.

Octagon House proved to be the headquarters for the American Institute of Architects, and Bobby's errand had to do with one of the offices. Betty admired the fine woodwork and the handsome design of the house while waiting for her companion, and in less than fifteen minutes they were back on the street car bound for "the tallest office building in Washington," as Bobby described it.

"Dad wants an architectural magazine that's out of print, and he thinks I can get it there," she said. "Afterward, if we have time we'll go to the top of the building. The roof is arranged so that you can step out, and they say the view is really splendid. Not so extensive as from the Monument, of course, but not so reduced, either. I've always wanted to get up on the roof and see what I could see."

Finding the office her father had specified did not prove as easy a task as Bobby had anticipated, and she said frankly that if she had been alone she would have given up and taken another day for the search.

"But if you can keep a promise down to the last dot of the last letter, far be it from me to fall short," she remarked. "Oh, Betty, do you see any office that looks like Sherwood and David on this board?"

At last they found it under another name, which, as Bobby rather tactlessly told the elevator boy, was not her idea of efficiency. The copy of the magazine Mr. Littell especially wanted was wrapped up and placed safely in Bobby's hands.

"And now," declared that young person gaily, "as the reward of virtue, let's go up on the roof. It is after four, but we'll have time if we don't dawdle. We can get from here to the theater in fifteen minutes."

They started for the elevator, and as a car came up and the gates opened a boy got off. He would have brushed by without looking up, but Betty saw him at once.

"Bob!" she cried in amazement. "Why, Bob Henderson!"