Ruth had listened silently at first with her head turned away. Once her father thought she was crying. But when she turned toward him her eyes were shining with happy tears. Ruth never thought of being jealous, or that her adored father would love her any less. She only thought, first, of his happiness and next of her own.
Mr. Stuart would not let Ruth go until, with her arms about his neck and her cheek pressed to his, she begged him to let her be the messenger to Barbara, Mollie and Aunt Sallie.
"You will be careful when you break the news to your aunt," Mr. Stuart entreated. "I should have given her some warning in regard to my feelings for Mrs. Thurston. I fear the news will be an entire surprise to her."
Ruth wondered what she should say first.
"Come in, dear," Miss Sallie answered placidly in reply to Ruth's knock. Miss Stuart was sitting up in bed with a pale lavender silk dressing sacque over her lace and muslin gown.
"I suppose," Miss Sallie continued calmly, "that you have come to tell me that your father is going to marry Mrs. Thurston."
"Aunt Sallie," gasped Ruth, "are you a wizard?"
"No," said Miss Stuart, "I am a woman. Why, child, I have seen this thing coming ever since we first left Robert Stuart here in Kingsbridge when I took you girls off to Newport. Are you pleased, child?" Miss Sallie inquired, a little wistfully.
"Gladder than anything, if you are, Aunt Sallie," Ruth replied. "But Father told me to come to ask you how you felt. He says Mrs. Thurston won't marry him unless we all consent."
"Nonsense!" returned Miss Stuart in her accustomed fashion. "Of course I am glad to have Robert happy. Mrs. Thurston is a dear little woman. Only," dignified Miss Sallie choked with a tiny sob in her voice, "I can't give you up, Ruth, dear." And Miss Stuart and her beloved niece shed a few comfortable tears in each other's arms.
"I never, never will care for any one as I do for you, Aunt Sallie," Ruth protested. "And aren't you Chaperon Extraordinary and Ministering Angel Plentipotentiary to the 'Automobile Girls'? The other girls care for you almost as much as I do. I wonder if Mrs. Thurston has told Bab and Mollie. Do you think they will be glad to have me for a sister?"
"Fix my hair, Ruth, and don't be absurd," Miss Sallie rejoined, returning to her former severe manner, which no longer alarmed any one of the "Automobile Girls." "It is wonderful to me how I have learned to do without a maid while I have been traveling about the world with you children."
The winter sunshine poured into the breakfast room of Laurel Cottage. The canary sang rapturously in his golden cage. He rejoiced at the sound of voices and the cheerful sounds in the house.
Bab and Mollie were helping to set the breakfast table, when Ruth joined them. Neither girl said anything except to ask Ruth why she had slipped out of their room so early.
Ruth's heart sank. After all, then, Barbara and Mollie were not pleased. They did not care for her enough to be happy in this closer bond between them.
Mrs. Thurston kissed Ruth shyly, but she made no mention of anything unusual. And when Mr. Stuart came in to breakfast he looked as embarrassed and uncomfortable as a boy. There was a constraint over the little party at breakfast that had not been there the night before.
Unexpectedly the door opened. Into the room came Grace Carter with a big bunch of white roses in her hand. "I just had to come early," she declared simply. "I wanted to find out." Grace thrust the flowers upon Mrs. Thurston.
"Come here to me, Grace," Miss Sallie commanded. "You are a girl after my own heart. Robert, Mrs. Thurston, I congratulate you and I wish you joy with my whole heart."
Barbara and Mollie gazed at each other in stupefied silence. What did it all mean?
Mrs. Thurston blushed like a girl over her roses. "Miss Stuart, I never dreamed you could have heard so soon. I have not yet told Barbara and Mollie."
"Told us what?" Bab demanded in her emphatic fashion. Then Ruth's heart was light again.
But Bab did not wait to be answered. She suddenly guessed the truth. Now she knew why Ruth's manner had changed so quickly a short time before. She ran round the table, upsetting her chair in her rush. And before she said a word either to her mother or to Mr. Stuart, she flung her arms about Ruth and whispered: "Our wish has come true, Ruth, darling! We are sisters as well as best friends."
Then Bab congratulated her mother and Mr. Stuart in a much more dignified fashion.
"When is it to be, Father?" Ruth queried.
Mr. Stuart looked at Mrs. Thurston. "In the spring," she faltered.
"Then we will all go away together and have a happy summer, somewhere," Mr. Stuart asserted, smiling on the faces of his dear ones.
"We shall do no such thing, Robert Stuart," Miss Sallie interposed firmly. "You shall have your honeymoon alone. I intend to take my 'Automobile Girls' some place where we have never been before. Will you go with me, children?"
"Yes," chorused the four girls. "Aunt Sallie and the 'Automobile Girls' forever."