Infomotions, Inc.The Camp Fire Girls on the Farm Or, Bessie King's New Chum / Stewart, Jane L.



Author: Stewart, Jane L.
Title: The Camp Fire Girls on the Farm Or, Bessie King's New Chum
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): bessie; dolly; zara; jamieson; eleanor; holmes; jake hoover; miss eleanor; miss mercer; car; charlie jamieson; maw hoover; eleanor mercer; farmer weeks; zara's father; camp fire; cream soda
Contributor(s): Brooks, Louise [Translator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 41,749 words (really short) Grade range: 6-8 (grade school) Readability score: 77 (easy)
Identifier: etext15726
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Title: The Camp Fire Girls on the Farm
       Or, Bessie King's New Chum

Author: Jane L. Stewart

Release Date: April 28, 2005 [EBook #15726]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

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[Illustration: She turned--and looked up into the evil eyes of Farmer
Weeks.]






CAMP FIRE GIRLS SERIES, VOLUME II


The Camp Fire Girls On the Farm

or

Bessie King's New Chum

by

JANE L. STEWART


       *       *       *       *       *

        THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
        Chicago   AKRON, OHIO   New York
                 MADE IN U.S.A.


               COPYRIGHT, MCMXIV
                       BY
          THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING CO.

       *       *       *       *       *


The Camp Fire Girls On the Farm




CHAPTER I

IN THE CITY


"I never dreamed of such a lovely room, Zara, did you?"

Bessie King, her eyes open with admiration and wonder, asked her chum
the question in a room in the home of Eleanor Mercer, Guardian of the
Manasquan Camp Fire, of the Camp Fire Girls. Both the girls were new
members of the organization, and Bessie, who had lived all her life in
the country, and had known nothing of the luxuries and comforts that
girls in the city, or the luckier ones of them, at least, take almost as
a matter of course, had found something new to astonish her in almost
every hour since they had come to the city.

"I've dreamed of it--yes," said Zara. "You see I've been in the city
before, Bessie; and I've seen houses like this, and I've guessed that
the rooms inside must be something like this, though I never lived in
one. It's beautiful."

"I almost wish we were going to stay here, Zara. But I suppose it will
be nice when we go to the farm."

Eleanor Mercer, who had been standing for a moment in the doorway, came
in then, laughing merrily. She had overheard the remark, and Bessie was
greatly distressed when she discovered it.

"Oh, Miss Eleanor!" she exclaimed. "Please, please don't think I'm
ungrateful. I want to do whatever you think is right--"

"I know that, Bessie, and I know just what you were thinking, too. Well,
you're going to have a surprise--I can promise you that. This farm isn't
a bit like the farm you know about. I guess you know too much about one
sort of farm to want ever to see another, don't you?"

"Maybe there are different sorts of farms," admitted Bessie. "I don't
like Paw Hoover's kind."

Eleanor laughed again. She was a fresh, bright-cheeked girl, not so many
years older than Bessie herself. One might guess, indeed, that she, as
Guardian of her Camp Fire, didn't much more than manage to fulfill the
requirement that Guardians, like Scoutmasters among the Boy Scouts, must
be over twenty-one years of age.

"Indeed there are different sorts of farms from that one, Bessie," she
said. "You'll see a farm where everything is done the way it should be,
and, while I think Paw Hoover's a mighty nice man, I've got an idea that
on his farm everything is done just about opposite to the proper
fashion."

"When are we going, Miss Eleanor?"

Zara asked that question. In the last few days a hunted look had left
Zara's eyes, for with relief from certain worries she had begun to be
happier, and she was always asking questions now.

"I don't know exactly, Zara, but not right away. We want all the girls
to go out together. We're going to have our next Council Fire at the
farm. And some of them can't get away just now. But it will be fairly
soon, I can promise you that. You like the country, don't you, Zara?"

"Indeed I do, Miss Eleanor! Until they took my father away I was ever so
happy there."

"And just think, you're going to see him tomorrow, Zara! He's well, and
as soon as he heard that you were here and safe, he stopped worrying.
That was his chief trouble--he seemed to think more about what would
happen to you than that he was in trouble himself."

"I knew he'd be thinking about me," said Zara, "He always did, even when
he had most to bother him."

"I was sure he was a good father, Zara, when I heard you talk about
him--and I've been surer of it than ever since I've had a chance to find
out about him. My cousin, who's a lawyer, you know, is going to see that
he is properly treated, and be says that Mr. Weeks, who tried so hard to
make you stay behind and work for him, is at the bottom of all the
trouble."

Zara shuddered at the name.

"How I hate that Farmer Weeks!" she exclaimed.

Eleanor Mercer sighed and shook her head. She couldn't blame Zara for
hating the man, and yet, as she well knew, the spirit in the little
foreign girl that cherished hatred and ideas of revenge was bad--bad for
her. But how to eradicate it, and to make Zara feel more charitable,
was something that puzzled the Guardian mightily, was, as she foresaw,
likely to puzzle her still more. She left the two girls together, then,
to answer a call from outside the room.

"I don't exactly _like_ Farmer Weeks myself," said Bessie,
thoughtfully, when they were alone. "But what's the use of hating him,
Zara?"

"Why, Bessie! He made us run away from Hedgeville--he made me anyhow.
And if he'd had his way, he'd have taken me back, and had me bound over
to work for him just for board until I was twenty-one, if I hadn't
starved to death first. You know what a miser he is."

"Yes, that's true enough, Zara. But, after all, if it hadn't happened
that way, we'd never have met Miss Eleanor and the Camp Fire Girls,
would we? And you're not sorry for that, are you?"

Zara's face, which had grown hard, softened.

"No, indeed, Bessie! They're the nicest people I ever did know, except
you. But, even after we were with them, and had started to come to the
city with them, he caught me, and if it hadn't been for you following us
and guessing where he'd put me, I'd be with him now."

"Well, you're not, Zara. And you want to try to think of the good things
that happen. Then you won't have time to remember all the bad things,
and they won't bother you any more than if they'd never happened at all.
Don't you see!"

"Well, I'll try, Bessie. I guess they can't hurt us here, anyhow, or on
the farm. I think we're going to have lots of fun on the farm."

"I hope so, Zara. But I've often read about how jolly farms are--in
books. In the books, you don't have to get up at four o'clock on the
cold winter mornings to do chores, and you don't have to work all the
time, the way I had to do for Maw Hoover."

"I guess that was just because it was Maw Hoover, Bessie, and not
because it was on a farm. She'd have been mean to you, and made you work
all the time, just the same, if it had been a farm or wherever it was. I
think it's people that make you happy or unhappy, not other things."

"I guess that's about right, Zara. I'm awfully glad you're going to see
your father in the morning. I bet he'll be glad to see you."

"Bessie! Zara!" Miss Eleanor was calling from downstairs, and they ran
to answer the call.

"Come into the parlor," she said, as she heard them approaching.

They obeyed, and found her talking to a tall, good looking young man,
who smiled cheerfully at them.

"This is my cousin, Charlie Jamieson, the lawyer, girls," said Miss
Eleanor. "I've told him all about you, of course, and now he wants to
talk to you."

"I'm going to be your lawyer, you know," Charlie Jamieson explained.
"Girls like you don't have much use for a lawyer, as a rule, but I guess
you need one about as badly as anyone I can think of. So I'm going to
take the job, unless you know someone better."

"No, indeed," they chorused in answer, and both laughed when they saw
that he was joking.

"I wish about a thousand other people were as anxious as that to be my
clients. Then maybe I'd make enough money to pay my office rent."

"Don't you believe him, girls," said Eleanor, laughing, too. "He's one
of the smartest young lawyers in this town, and he's busy most of the
time, too. He always is, lately, when I want him to come to one of my
parties or anything like that."

"Well, let's be serious for a while," said Jamieson. "I'm going to try
to help your father out of his trouble, Zara, and I'm finding it pretty
hard, because he doesn't want to trust me, or tell me much of anything.
Perhaps you'll be able to do better."

Zara looked grave.

"I don't know much," she said. "But I do know this. My father used to
trust people, but they've treated him so badly that he's afraid to do it
any more. Like Farmer Weeks--I think' he trusted him."

"That's more than I'd do," said the lawyer, with a grin, "From all I've
heard of him I wouldn't trust him around the corner with a counterfeit
nickel--if I wanted it back. And--well, that sort of helps to get us
started, doesn't it? You know why your father's in trouble? It's because
they say he's been making bad money at that little house where you lived
in Hedgeville."

"He didn't!" said Zara. "I know he didn't!"

"Well, the district attorney--he's the one who has to be against your
father, you know--says that everyone in Hedgeville seems to think he
did. And he says that where there's so much smoke there must be some
fire; that if so many people think your father was crooked, they must be
right. I told him that was unfair, but he just laughed at me."

"You may have to be a witness, Zara," said Eleanor.

"A witness?" said Zara, puzzled.

"Yes. You may have to go to court, and tell them what you know. They'll
ask you questions, though, and you'll just have to answer them, and tell
the truth just as you know it."

"Yes, that's why I'm here," said Jamieson, nodding his head. "You see, I
may need you very badly and I want to make sure that they can't take you
back to Hedgeville. You never saw anyone who told you that as long as
your father couldn't look after you any more, you would have to stay
with this Weeks, did you? A judge, I mean?"

"No. But when Farmer Weeks caught me that time, and carried me away in
his buggy, he said he was going to take me to Zebulon--that's the county
seat, you know--and have everything fixed up. But Bessie got me away
from him before that could happen, so it was all right."

"And when he came after you at Pine Bridge--after you'd crossed the line
into this state--the policeman there wouldn't let him touch you, would
he?"

"No. Farmer Weeks showed him a paper, with a big red seal on it, but the
policeman said it was no good in this state."

"That sounds all right. I guess they can't touch you. I had to make sure
of that, you see. But, young lady, you want to be mighty careful. If
they can get you over the state line, no matter how, they've got you.
And I shouldn't be surprised if they tried just to kidnap you."

Eleanor Mercer looked frightened.

"Do you think there is any real danger, Charlie?" she asked.

"I certainly do. And it's because I don't know just what it is they're
after. There's something funny here, something we don't know about at
all yet. Maybe her father could tell us, but he isn't ready to do it.
And I don't blame him much. I guess, from all I've heard, that he's had
about as bad a time here with spies and enemies as he could have had
anywhere in Europe."

"You hear that, Zara? You must be very careful. Don't go out alone, and
if anyone tries to speak to you, no matter what they tell you, you pay
no attention to them. If they keep on bothering you, speak to a
policeman, if there's one around, and say that you want him to stop them
from bothering you."

"Good idea," said Charlie Jamieson. "And if you do have to speak to a
policeman, you mention my name. They all know me, and I guess most of
them like me well enough to do any little favor for a friend of mine."

Then Jamieson turned to Bessie.

"We've got to think about your case, too," he said. "Miss Mercer tells
me that you don't know what's become of your father and mother. Just
what do you know about them?"

"Not very much," said Bessie, bravely, although the disappearance of her
parents always weighed heavily on her mind. "When I was a little bit of
a girl they left me with the Hoovers, at Hedgeville, and I lived with
them after that. Maw Hoover said they promised to come back for me, and
to pay her board for looking after me until they came, and that they did
pay the board for a while. But then they stopped writing altogether, and
no one has heard from them for years."

"H'm! Where did the last letter they wrote come from?"

"San Francisco. I've heard Maw Hoover say that, often. But that was
years and years ago."

"Well, that's better than nothing, anyhow. You see, the Hoovers wouldn't
have known how to start looking for them, even if they'd been
particularly anxious to do it."

"And I don't believe they were," said Eleanor Mercer, indignantly. "They
treated her shamefully, Charlie--made her work like a hired girl, and
never paid her for it, at all. Instead, they acted, or the woman did,
anyhow, just as if they were giving her charity in letting her stay
there. Wasn't that an outrage?"

"Lots of people act as if they were being charitable when they get a
good deal more than they give," said the lawyer dryly.

"Maw Hoover was always calling me lazy, and saying she'd send me to the
poor-farm," said Bessie. "But it was she and Jake that made things so
hard. Paw Hoover was always good to me, and he helped me to get away,
too."

"That's what I'm driving at," said Jamieson. "You had a right to go
whenever you liked, if they hadn't adopted you, or anything like that.
Really, all you were in their place was a servant who wasn't getting
paid."

"I knew she had a right to go," said Eleanor. "That's why I helped her,
of course."

"Then we're all right. If she'd really run away from someone who had
a right to keep her, it would be harder. I might be able to prove that
they weren't fit guardians, but that's always hard, and it's a good
thing we don't need to do it. Hullo, what's the matter now?"

"Look!" said Zara, who had risen, and was looking keenly at a figure
across the street. "See, Bessie, don't you know who that is, even in
those clothes?"

Bessie followed her eyes, and started to her feet.

"It's Jake Hoover!" she cried. "What can he want here?"




CHAPTER II

AN OLD ENEMY TURNS UP


Startled and frightened by Bessie's cry, Eleanor jumped up and followed
her to the window.

"Well," said Eleanor, "I never saw him before, but I can't say I'm sorry
for that. He looks mean enough to do all the things you've told us about
him, Bessie."

"Who is this Hoover? One of the people Bessie lived with, in
Hedgeville?" asked Jamieson.

"Yes; he's the son of the old farmer and his wife."

"H'm!" said the lawyer. "Then evidently he knows where she has come.
That looks bad."

"Yes. You see, he was always his mother's pet," said Eleanor, "and I
suppose he'll tell her all about the girls."

"Let him! I guess it can't do any harm. I don't see how it can now,
anyhow, unless he's in with this Weeks or someone we don't know anything
about, who has some interest in this affair. That's one of the things
that's going to give me trouble, I'm afraid."

"What do you mean, Charlie?"

"Just that there's so much I don't know. You see, there's something
mighty queer loose here. I can see that. There's a mystery and we
haven't the key. The chances are that the people we've got to fight know
everything there is to be known, while we don't even know who they are,
except this Weeks. And I'm not a bit sure about him."

"I am, Charlie. If you'd seen him, and heard all about the way he acted,
you'd know he was an enemy all right."

"That's not just what I mean, Eleanor. I'm thinking that perhaps he
isn't just making this fight on his own account; that maybe he's working
for someone else."

"I hadn't thought of that at all--"

"No reason why you should! But it's my business to think of every little
thing that may happen to have an influence on any case that I'm mixed up
in, you see. And, as I understand it, this Weeks is pretty close--pretty
fond of money, isn't he?"

"He's a regular old miser, that's what he is!" said Zara, her eyes
flashing.

"There's a motive for him, you see. Someone might have a reason for
wanting to keep Zara where they could get her easily, and if they
offered Weeks a little money to get hold of her, I judge he'd do it fast
enough."

"But why shouldn't they try to get hold of her themselves, if that's
what they want?"

"There might be lots of reasons for that. They might want to keep out of
it, so that no one would know they were doing it, you see. That would be
one reason. And then this Weeks is a bit of a politician. He's got a
good, strong pull in that county, I guess. Lots of men who have a little
money saved up can get a pull. They lend money, and then they can make
the men to whom they lend it do about as they like, by threatening to
take their land away from them if they don't pay up their mortgages as
soon as they're due. It's pretty bad business, but that's the way things
are. I'm afraid we're going to have a lot of trouble, and until I know
just what's what, I've got to do a lot of my work in the dark. But I'm
going to do my best."

"I know how Jake Hoover found I was here, I bet," said Bessie, who had
been thinking hard.

"How, Bessie?"

"Well, you know General Seeley thought I'd frightened his pheasants and
taken the eggs. And then, later, I found Jake was the one. General
Seeley didn't punish him, but let him go with a warning."

"He's too soft-hearted," commented Jamieson, angrily. "A lad like that
ought to be sent to the reformatory--proper place for him!"

"Well, anyhow," Bessie resumed, smiling at the young lawyer's vehemence,
and at the look of approval that Zara shot at him, since she had felt
just the same way about Jake, "he was turned away, and I guess he just
hung around to see what I'd do, and where I'd go. I think he'd like to
get even with me, if he could."

"He'd better behave himself if he's going to stay around here," said
Jamieson. "His mother won't be around to make people believe that he
hasn't done anything wrong, and he won't find everyone as lenient and
forgiving as General Seeley when he's caught in the act of doing
something he can be sent to jail for. Not if I've got anything to say
about it, he won't!"

"I don't believe he'll be able to stay around here very long," said
Bessie, pacifically. "It must cost him a lot of money to stay here in
the city, and I don't know how he can manage that. Maw Hoover always
gave him money whenever he wanted it, if she had it, but she never had
very much."

"That's good," said the lawyer. "We'll hope that he'll be starved out
pretty soon, and have to go home. But I guess we'd better not count very
much on that. He may find someone who's anxious enough to make trouble
for you two to pay him to stay here for a while. He'd be pretty useful,
I imagine."

"I think we're foolish to do so much guessing," said Eleanor, suddenly.
"You can know much better what to do when you've really found something
out, Charlie. Now, listen. I was thinking of letting these two go to
work for a little while before we went to the farm, so that they could
earn some money for themselves."

"Yes," said Bessie and Zara, in one breath, eagerly. "We're so anxious
to do that. We mustn't keep on living here and taking charity--"

But the lawyer shook his head vigorously.

"Not right away," he said. "It's just because I'm doing so much guessing
that we mustn't take any chances, Eleanor. You want to keep them close
to you for a while. I spoke about that before Bessie saw our young
friend Hoover, and I think so more than ever now. Don't you see that
they're being spied on already?"

"I certainly do," said Eleanor. "And I just want to do whatever is best
for them. Bessie, you mustn't think you're getting charity when you stay
here. You're here as my guests, and we love to have you--both of you."

"That's right, Bessie," said Jamieson, smiling. "She means that, or she
wouldn't say it. I can tell you you were mighty lucky when you ran into
Eleanor the way you did."

"We know that, Mr. Jamieson; we do, indeed!"

"Nonsense!" said Eleanor, flushing, but not really displeased by the
compliment, which was evidently sincere. "I believe anyone would have
done just what I did."

"I wish I had your faith in human nature, Eleanor, but I haven't and I
know that mighty few people would have been willing to do it, even if
they'd been able. You've got to remember that, too. Lots of people
couldn't have done what you did. Well, I've got to be going."

"You'll call for us tomorrow, though, won't you, Charlie, to take Zara
to see her father?"

"Yes, indeed. I won't fail you. He's looking forward to it, and I've got
an idea, or I hope, at least, that when he finds I've kept my promise
and brought Zara to see him, he'll feel more like trusting me."

"I'm sure he will when I tell him how good you've been to us, Mr.
Jamieson," said Zara.

"Better not tell him about my goodness until I've done something beside
talk, Zara. But I'm going to do my best anyhow, and I'm sure things will
come out right in the end. Just keep smiling, be cheerful, and don't
worry any more than you can help."

From the porch they watched him walk off down the street. He carried
himself like the athlete he was, and his broad shoulders and fine, free
stride were those of a man who inspires confidence and trust, even in
those who only see his back.

"Look!" said Zara, suddenly. "Why is Jake Hoover going down that way?
And isn't he acting queerly?"

"Why, I believe he's following Mr. Jamieson!" said Bessie. "See, he
keeps getting behind trees and things, and he's staying on the other
side of the street. Whenever Mr. Jamieson turns, Jake hides himself."

Eleanor frowned thoughtfully.

"I think you're right, Bessie," she said. "And I know what I'm going to
do. I'm going to telephone to his office and tell his clerk to slip out
and meet him, so that he can warn him. He ought to know about that."

She went in hurriedly to use the telephone.

"I'm going upstairs to get my handkerchief," said Zara. "My, isn't it
warm?"

So Bessie was left alone on the piazza. She was afraid of Jake Hoover;
afraid of the mischief he might do, that is. No longer was she afraid of
him as she had been in the old days on the farm, when he had bullied her
and made her the scapegoat for all the offences he could possibly load
on her slim shoulders. One night in the woods, when Bessie, wrapped in a
sheet and playing ghost, had frightened Jake and his mischievous friends
away before they could terrify the Camp Fire Girls as they lay asleep,
had taught Bessie that Jake was a coward.

"It's Zara they're after--not me," Bessie thought to herself. "I've been
out alone ever and ever so often, and there's no one here to hurt me.
I'm going to go after Jake myself, and try to see what he's up to."

At first Bessie's pursuit led her along the pleasant, tree-shaded
streets of the suburb where the Mercers lived. Bessie had never been
in the city before and all was strange to her. But here it seemed to
her that the stories she had read of crowded streets must have been
exaggerated, for she saw few people. Sometimes automobiles passed her,
and delivery wagons, and a few children were playing here and there. But
there were no high buildings, and it seemed almost as peaceful as it had
around Hedgeville.

But then gradually, as she went on, conditions changed. She crossed a
street on which there ran a street car line, and there many people were
passing. Still she managed to keep Jake Hoover in sight, and, though she
could not always see Charlie Jamieson, she supposed that Jake could, and
it was Jake she was following, after all.

More than once Jake turned and looked behind him, and Bessie had to be
constantly on her guard lest he discover her. At first it was easy
enough to escape his eye--she had only to dodge behind a tree. But as
she drew nearer and nearer to the business part of town the trees began
to disappear. There was no more green grass between the pavement and the
street itself; the pavements were narrower, and they were needed for the
crowds that passed quickly along. But in those very crowds Bessie found
a substitute for the trees. She felt that they would protect her and
cover her movements, and she increased her pace, so that she could get
nearer to Jake, and so run less risk of losing him in the crowd.

No one paid any attention to her, and that seemed strange to Bessie,
used to the curiosity of country folk regarding any stranger, although
Zara, who knew more about city life, had told her that it would be so.
She was grateful, anyhow; she wanted to be let alone. And evidently Jake
was profiting by the same indifference.

Her chase led her before long into the most thickly settled part of the
city. Trolley cars clanged past her all the time now; the center of the
street was full of vehicles of all sorts, and, as she hurried along, she
was hard put to it to keep her feet, so great was the rush and the hurry
of those with whom she shared the pavement.

Then she came to a sort of central square, where all the business of
the town seemed to be concentrated. On one side was a great building.
Outside were cabs and newsboys, and Bessie recognized it as the station
through which, with Eleanor Mercer and the rest of the Camp Fire Girls,
she had come to the city. Bessie stopped at the curb, dazed and
confused. Here she lost sight of Jake.

After her long chase, that seemed bitterly hard. Had she only known what
was coming, she would have been closer to him, but, as it was, she could
only stand on the corner, looking helplessly about, on the off chance
that she would again catch sight of his well-known figure.

But luck was not with her. Even someone far better used to the bustle
and confusion of the city might well have been at a loss. It was the
luncheon hour, and from all the buildings hundreds of people were
pouring out, making the streets seem fuller than ever. And it was not
long before Bessie decided with a sigh that she must give up, and find
her way home. She was afraid Eleanor Mercer would be worried and alarmed
by her absence, and she determined to return as she had come, and as
fast as she could.

Still, on the way, surely she could peep into one of the beautiful store
windows--and she did. For a moment she stood there, and then, suddenly,
she felt a hand in her pocket. She turned to see whose it was--and
looked up into the evil eyes of Farmer Weeks!

"Stop her!" he cried. "She picked my pocket!"




CHAPTER III

AND AN OLD FRIEND HELPS


Bessie gasped in sheer terror, and for a moment she couldn't open her
mouth. Farmer Weeks, his weather-beaten face twisted into a grin of
malice and dislike, stood looking down at her, his bony hand gripping
her wrist. Even had it been in Bessie's mind to run away, she could not
have done it. And, as a matter of fact, the shock of hearing his voice,
of seeing him, and, above all, of being accused of such a thing, had
deprived her for the moment of the use of her legs as well as of the
power of speech.

Then, while Farmer Weeks lifted his voice again, calling for a
policeman, Bessie got a vivid and sharp lesson in the interest a city
crowd can be induced to take in anything out of the ordinary, no matter
how trifling. The pavement where they stood was densely crowded already.
Now more people seemed to spring up from nowhere at all, and they were
surrounded by a ring of people who pressed against one another, calling
curious questions, all trying to get into the front rank to see whatever
was to be seen.

"Gosh all hemlock!" Farmer Weeks confided to the crowd. "They told me to
look out fer them scalawags when I come to town, but I swan I didn't
expect to see a gal like that tryin' to lift my wallet. No, sir! But
they got to get up pretty early in the mornin' to fool me--they have
that!"

Even in her fright, Bessie divined at once what the old rascal was
trying to do. He was playing the part of the green and unsuspicious
countryman, the farmer on a trip, usually the easy prey of sharpers of
all sorts, and he was doing it for a purpose--to win the sympathy of the
crowd. In her new clothes Bessie looked enough like a city girl to pass
for one easily, while Farmer Weeks wore old-fashioned clothes of rusty
black, a slouch hat, and a colored handkerchief knotted about his neck
in place of a scarf. He carried an old-fashioned cotton umbrella; too,
a huge affair--a regular "bumbleshoot," and he was dressed to play the
part.

"Hey, mister, gimme a nickel an' I'll call a cop for you!" volunteered a
small, sharp-faced boy, with a bundle of papers under his arm. Somehow
he had managed to squirm through the crowd.

Weeks looked at him reproachfully.

"You call a constable--an' I'll give you the nickel when you come back
with him," he said.

In spite of her deplorable situation, Bessie wanted to laugh. It was so
like Farmer Weeks, the miser, to be unwilling to risk even five cents
without being sure that he would get value for his money! The boy darted
off, and Bessie heard half a dozen of the crowd make remarks applauding
the good sense of her supposed victim.

"Ain't it too bad?" said Weeks tolerantly to the crowd, as he waited for
a policeman, still clutching Bessie's hand tightly. "Who'd ever think a
pretty young gal like her would try to rob an old man--hey?"

"Never can tell, Pop," said a keen-eyed youth, who was standing near.
His eyes darted nervously about from one face to another. "Them as you
wouldn't suspect naturally is the worst, as a rule--it's so easy for
them to make a get-away."

Then the crowd gave way suddenly for a man in a blue uniform, but
Bessie, still unable to say anything, saw at once it was not a
policeman. But it was not until he was quite close to her that she
recognized him with a little thrill of joy. And at the same moment he
recognized her, too, as well as Farmer Weeks. It was Tom Norris, the
friendly train conductor who had helped Zara and herself to escape to
Pine Bridge, and out of the state in which Hedgeville was situated.

"Come, come; what's this?" asked the train conductor sharply. "Let go of
that girl's arm, you Weeks!"

"What business is it of your'n!" asked Weeks, angrily.

"You let her go," said Norris, with determination, "or I'll pretty soon
show you what business it is of mine--I'll knock you down, white hair
and all! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, pickin' on the girl this
way!"

He advanced, threateningly, and none of the crowd undertook to protect
Weeks from his obvious anger. Norris was a big, strong man, and, for all
his kindly ways, it was evident that he could fight well if he saw any
reason for doing it. And now, it was plain, he thought the reason was
excellent, and he was entirely ready to back up what he had to say with
his sturdy fists. Weeks saw that plainly, and he had reason to fear the
burly conductor. Quickly he released Bessie's wrist, and a moment later
Norris would have had her out of the crush had not the arrival of
another man in uniform created a diversion. This time it really was a
policeman, and he came at the heels of the newsboy who had run after
him.

"Here's yer cop, mister! Now gimme the nickel!" said the boy shrilly to
the farmer.

"Run along! I never promised you no nickel," said Farmer Weeks, looking
nervously at Norris. But at that the crowd, which had been disposed to
side with him, transferred its sympathies suddenly to the cheated
newsboy, who was pouring out a stream of angry words, the while he clung
to Weeks' arm, demanding his money.

Weeks soon saw that he had better not try to save a nickel, much as he
valued it, and, reluctantly enough, he drew a purse from his trousers
pocket and gave the boy his money, counting out five pennies.

"Here, here; what's all this fuss about?" asked the policeman. He was
responsible for keeping order on his post, and before Weeks could answer
his question he drove the crowd away with sharp orders to move on and be
quick about it. Then he turned back to the farmer, Bessie, and the
conductor, who had taken Bessie's hand.

"Now then, whose pocket was picked? Yours, young lady?"

"No, consarn ye, mine!" said Farmer Weeks, angrily, as he heard the
question. "And she done it, too--she's a slick one, she is! An' this
fresh railroad man here was tryin' to help her get away. Like as not
they work together, an' he was fixin' to have her give him half of what
she got."

Norris smiled at the policeman.

"You know me, Mike," he said. "Think I'm in that sort of business?"

"Begorra, an' I know ye're not!" said the policeman, indignantly. "Talk
straight, now, you old rube, an' tell me what it is you're tryin' to
say. What sort of a charge ye're after makin'?"

"She put her hand in my pocket--an' she stole my wallet," said Farmer
Weeks. "She's got it in her pocket now--her right-hand pocket!"

"How do you know that?" asked the policeman, sharply.

"How--why shouldn't I know? Look and see for yourself--"

But there was no need. Bessie herself, tears in her eyes, plunged her
hand into the pocket Weeks had named--and, to her consternation, the
wallet came out in her hand. She stared at it in stupefaction.

"I don't know how it got there! I never saw it before!" she exclaimed.

"H'm! This looks pretty bad, Tom," said the policeman. "Is this young
lady a friend of yours?"

"She is that," said Tom, stoutly. "And I'll go bail for her anywhere.
She never picked that old scalawag's pocket. I know him well, Mike, and
I've never known any good of him. He never rides on my train without
tryin' to beat the company out of the fare--uses every old trick you
ever heard of. Many's the time I've had to threaten to put him off
between stations before he'd fork over the money."

But Mike, the policeman, looked doubtful, as well he might, and there
was a gleam of evil triumph in the farmer's eyes.

"Listen here!" said Tom, suddenly. "He says that's his wallet, and he's
makin' enough fuss for it to have a thousand dollars inside. But when he
paid the boy he took a purse from his pocket to get the money."

"That's right. I seen him myself," said Mike, still scratching his head.
"I'll just have a look inside that pocket-book."

"Ye will not--that's my property!" said Farmer Weeks, reaching quickly
for the wallet.

But Mike was too quick for him, and in a moment he had opened the
wallet, and could see that it was empty, except for a few torn pieces of
paper, evidently put in it to stuff it out, and deceive people into
thinking that it contained a wad of bills.

"What sort of game are yez tryin' to put up on us here?" demanded the
policeman, angrily. "Here, take yer book--"

"She's as much guilty of theft as if there had been a hundred dollars in
it," said Farmer Weeks, recovering from his dismay at the exposure of
the trick. "You arrest her or I'll--"

"What will yez do, ye spalpeen?" said the policeman. "If ye get gay wid
me I'll run yez in--and don't be afther forgettin' that, either!"

As he spoke he turned, angrily, to observe a small boy who was tugging
at his sleeve.

"Say, mister, say," begged the boy, "listen here a minute, will yer? I
seen the old guy slip his purse into her pocket. She never took it."

Tom's eyes, as he heard, lighted up.

"By Gad, Mike, that's what he did!" he exclaimed. "Did you hear how
ready he was to tell just which pocket she had it in? How'd he have
known that--unless he put it there, eh?"

"It's a lie!" stormed Farmer Weeks. "Here, are you going to lock that
girl up as a thief or not?"

"Indade and I'm not," said the officer, warmly. "Drop her wrist--quick!"

He stepped forward as he spoke, and Weeks, seeing by the gleam in the
Irishman's eye that he had gone too far, quickly released Bessie. As she
moved away from him he stood still, red-eyed and trembling with rage.

"An' what's more, you old scalawag," said the policeman, "I'm going to
run _you_ in. Maybe you never heard tell of perjury, but it's worse
than pickin' pockets, let me tell you."

His heavy hand dropped to Weeks' shoulder, but he was too slow. With a
yell of fright the old farmer, displaying an agility with which no one
would have been ready to credit him, turned and dove headlong through
the crowd.

The policeman started to give chase, but Tom Norris restrained him. He
was laughing heartily.

"What's the use? Let him be, Mike," he said. "My, but it was as good as
a play to see you handle him. Gosh! Watch the old beggar run, will you?"

Indeed, Weeks was running as fast as he could, and, even as they watched
him, he disappeared inside the station.

"That's a good riddance. Maybe he'll go home and stay there," said the
conductor. "He won't try his dirty tricks on you again," he added,
turning to Bessie. "If he does, you'll have a friend in Mike, here."

"True for you, Tom Norris!" said the policeman. "I'm glad ye turned up,
boy. Ye saved me from makin' a fool of meself, I'm thinkin'. The old
omadhoun! To think he'd put up a job like that on a slip of a girl, and
him ould enough to be her father--or her grandfather!"

"Well, I've helped you out again, haven't I?" said Tom Norris. "Are you
living here in the city now? Suppose you tell me why old Weeks is so
mean to you, now that we've the time."

"I will, and gladly," said Bessie. "But I haven't so very much time. Can
you walk with me as I go home?"

So, with Tom Norris to look after her, Bessie began her trip back to the
Mercer house, and, on the way, she told him the story of her flight from
Hedgeville, and the adventures that had happened since its beginning.

"I suppose I was foolish to go after Jake Hoover that way," she
concluded, "but I thought I might be able to help. I didn't like to see
him following Mr. Jamieson that way, when he was trying to be so nice
to us."

"Maybe you were foolish," said Tom. "But don't let it worry you too
much. You meant well, and I guess there's lots of us are foolish without
having as good an excuse as that."

"Oh, there's Mr. Jamieson now!" cried Bessie, suddenly spying the young
lawyer on the other side of the street. "I think I'd better tell him
what's happened, don't you, Mr. Norris?"

"I do indeed. Stay here, I'll run over. The young fellow with the brown
suit, is it?"

Bessie nodded, and Tom Norris ran across the street and was back in a
moment with Jamieson, who was mightily surprised to see Bessie, whom he
had left only a short time before at the Mercer house. He frowned very
thoughtfully as he heard her story.

"I'm not going to scold you for taking such a risk," he said. "I really
didn't think, either, that it was you they would try to harm. I thought
your friend Zara was the only one who was in danger."

"I suppose they'd try to get hold of Miss Bessie here, though," said the
conductor, "because they'd think she'd be a good witness, perhaps, if
there was any business in court. I don't know much about the law, except
I think it's a good thing to keep clear of."

"You bet it is," said Jamieson, with a laugh.

"That's fine talk, from a lawyer!" smiled Tom Norris. "Ain't it your
business to get people into lawsuits?"

"Not a bit of it!" said Jamieson. "A good lawyer keeps his clients out
of court. He saves money for them that way, and they run less risk of
being beaten. The biggest cases I have never get into court at all.
It's only the shyster lawyers, like Isaac Brack, who are always going
to court, whether there's any real reason for it or not."

"Brack!" said Tom. "Why, say, I know him! And, what's more, this man
Weeks does, too. Brack's his lawyer. I heard that a long time ago. Brack
gets about half the cases against the railroad, too. Whenever there's a
little accident, Brack hunts up the people who might have been hurt, and
tries to get damages for them. Only, if he wins a case for them, he
keeps most of the money--and if they lose he charges them enough so that
he comes out ahead, anyhow."

"That's the fellow," Jamieson said. "We'll get him disbarred sooner or
later, too. He's a bad egg. I'm glad to know I've got to fight him in
this case. If this young Hoover was following me, I'll bet Brack had
something to do with it."

"He was certainly following you," said Bessie. "Whenever you turned
around he got behind a tree or something, so that you wouldn't see him."

"He needn't have been so careful. He might have walked right next to me
all the way into town, and I'd never have suspected him. As it happened,
I wasn't going anywhere this morning--anywhere in particular, I mean.
It wouldn't have made any difference if Brack had known just what I was
doing. But I'm mighty glad to know that he is trying to spy on me,
Bessie. In the next few days I'm apt to do some things I wouldn't want
him to know about at all, and now that I'm warned I'll be able to keep
my eyes and my ears open, and I guess Brack and his spies will have some
trouble in getting on to anything I choose to keep hidden from them."

"That's the stuff!" approved Tom. "I told Miss Bessie here she'd done
all right. She meant well, even if she did run a foolish risk. And
there's no harm done."

"Well, we'd better hurry home," said Jamieson. "I don't want them to be
worried about you, Bessie, so I'll take you home in a taxicab."

The cab took them swiftly toward the Mercer house. When they were still
two or three blocks away Jamieson started and pointed out a man on the
sidewalk to Bessie.

"There's Brack now!" he exclaimed. "See, Bessie? That little man, with
the eyeglasses. He's up to some mischief. I wonder what he's doing out
this way?"

When they arrived, Eleanor Mercer, her eyes showing that she was
worried, was waiting for them on the porch.

"Oh, I'm so glad you're here!" she exclaimed.

"I'm so sorry if you were worried about me, Miss Eleanor," said Bessie,
remorsefully.

"I wasn't, though," said Eleanor. "It's Zara! She's upstairs, crying her
eyes out and she won't answer me when I try to get her to tell me what's
wrong. You'd better see her, Bessie."




CHAPTER IV

A NEW DANGER


Alarmed at this news of Zara, Bessie hurried upstairs at once to the
room the two girls shared. She found her chum on the bed, crying as if
her heart would break.

"Why, Zara, what's the matter? Why are you crying?" she asked.

But try as she might, Bessie could get no answer at all from Zara for a
long time.

"Have I done anything to make you feel bad? Has anything gone wrong
here?" urged Bessie. "If you'll only tell us what's the matter, dear,
we'll straighten it out. Can't you trust me?"

"N--nothing's happened--you haven't done anything," Zara managed to say
at last.

"Surely nothing Miss Eleanor has said has hurt you, Zara? I'm certain
she'd feel terrible if she thought you were crying because of anything
she had done!"

Zara shook her head vehemently at that, but her sobs only seemed to come
harder than before.

Bessie was thoroughly puzzled. She knew that Zara, brought up in a
foreign country, did not always understand American ways. Sometimes,
when Bessie had first known her, little jesting remarks, which couldn't
have been taken amiss by any American girl, had reduced her to tears.
And Bessie thought it entirely possible that someone, either Miss
Eleanor, or her mother, or one of the Mercer servants, might have
offended Zara without in the least meaning to do so.

But Zara seemed determined to keep the cause of her woe to herself. Not
all of Bessie's pleading could make her answer the simplest questions.
Finally, seeming to feel a little better, she managed to speak more
coherently.

"Leave me alone for a little while, please, Bessie," she begged. "I'll
be all right then--really I will!"

So Bessie, reluctantly enough, had to go downstairs, since she
understood thoroughly that to keep on pressing Zara for an explanation
while she was in such a nervous state would do more harm than good.

"Could you find out what was wrong?" asked Eleanor anxiously when Bessie
came down. Charlie Jamieson was still with her on the porch, smoking a
cigar and frowning as if he were thinking of something very
unpleasant. He was, as a matter of fact. He was changing all his ideas
of the case in which Eleanor's encounter with the two girls had involved
him, since, with Brack for an opponent, he knew only too well that he was
in for a hard fight, and if, as he supposed, the opposition was entirely
without a reasonable case, a fight in which dirty and unfair methods
were sure to be employed.

Bessie shook her head.

"She wouldn't tell me anything--just begged me to leave her alone and
said she'd be all right presently," she answered. "I've seen her this
way before and, really, there's nothing to do but wait until she feels
better."

"You've seen her this way before, you say?" said Jamieson, quickly.
"What was the matter then? What made her act so? If we know why she did
it before, perhaps it will give us a clue to why she is behaving in such
a queer fashion now."

Bessie hesitated.

"She's awfully sensitive," she said. "Sometimes, when people have just
joked with her a little bit, without meaning to say anything nasty at
all, she's thought they were angry at her, or laughing at her for being
a foreigner, and she's gone off just like this. I thought at first--"

"Yes?" said Eleanor, encouragingly, when Bessie stopped. "Don't be
afraid to tell us what you think, Bessie. We just want to get to the
bottom of this strange fit of hers, you know."

"Well, it seems awfully mean to say it," said poor Bessie, "when you've
been so lovely to us, but I thought maybe someone had joked about her
in some way. You know she sometimes pronounces words in a funny fashion,
as if she'd only read them, and had never heard anyone speak them. In
Hedgeville lots of people used to laugh at her for that. I think that's
why she stopped going to school. And I thought, perhaps, that was what
was the matter--"

"It might have happened, of course," said Eleanor, "and without anyone
meaning to hurt her feelings. I'd be very careful myself, but some of
the other people around the house wouldn't know, of course. But, no,
that won't explain it, Bessie. Not this time."

"Are you sure, Eleanor!" asked Jamieson.

"Positively," she answered. "Because, after you went off, she was out
here with me for quite a long time. Then I was called inside, and I'm
quite sure no one from the house saw her at all after that until I found
her crying. She'd been outside on the porch all the time--"

"Aha!" cried Jamieson, then. "If no one in the house here talked to her,
someone from outside must have done it. Listen, Bessie. She wouldn't go
off that way just from brooding, would she, just from thinking about
things?"

"No, I'm quite sure she wouldn't, Mr. Jamieson. She's felt bad two or
three times since we left Hedgeville, when she got to thinking about her
father's troubles, and everything of that sort. But she's always told me
about it and it hasn't made her feel just as she seems to now, anyhow."

"Well, then, can't you see? No one here said anything to her, so it must
have been someone who isn't in the house--someone who spoke to her after
you left her out here alone, Eleanor. And I know who it was, too!"

"That nasty looking man you pointed out to me as we were coming along
with Mr. Norris?" cried Bessie.

"Yes, indeed--Brack!" said Jamieson. "He's just the one who would do it,
too! Oh, I tell you, one has to look out for him! He's as mean as a man
could be and still live, I guess. I've heard of more harsh, miserable
things he's done than I could tell you in a week. Whenever he's around
it's a warning to look out for trouble. Suppose you go up to her,
Bessie, and see if mentioning his name will loosen her tongue."

But just as she was entering the house Zara, with only her reddened eyes
to show that she had been crying at all, came out on the porch.

"I'm ever so ashamed of myself, Miss Eleanor," she said, smiling
pluckily. "I suppose you think I'm an awful cry-baby, but I was just
feeling bad about my father and everything, and I couldn't seem to help
it."

Bessie looked at Zara in astonishment. To the eyes of those who didn't
know her as well as Bessie, Zara might seem to be all right, but Bessie
could see that her chum was still frightened and weak. She wondered
why Zara was acting, for acting she was. She meant that Miss Mercer
and everyone should think that her fit of depression had been only
temporary, and that now everything was all right. And Bessie, loyal
as ever, decided to help her.

But when Charlie Jamieson took his leave again to go back to his office
and his interrupted work, he looked at her keenly and when he started to
go he took Bessie by the hand playfully and pulled her off the porch,
and out of sight of the others.

"Listen," he said, earnestly, "there's something more than we know about
or can guess very easily the matter with your friend, Bessie. She's been
frightened--badly frightened. And it's dollars to doughnuts that it's
that scoundrel Brack who's frightened her, too. Keep your eyes on
her--see that she doesn't get a chance to speak to him or anyone else
alone."

"Do you think there's any danger of his coming back?" asked Bessie,
alarmed by his serious tone.

"I don't know, Bessie, but I do know Brack. And I've found out this much
about him. He's like a rabbit--he'll fight when he's driven into a
corner. And the time he's most dangerous is when he seems to be beaten,
when it looks as if he hadn't a leg to stand on."

"Do you think he's beaten now, Mr. Jamieson?"

"No, I don't! And just because he's the man he is. If it were anyone
else, I'd say yes, because I don't see what they can expect to do. But
you can depend upon it that Brack has some dirty trick up his sleeve,
and from all you tell me of this man Weeks, he's the same sort of an
ugly customer. So you keep your eyes open, and if anything happens to
worry you, call me up right away. Get me at my office if it's before
five o'clock; after that, call up this number." He wrote down a
telephone number on a slip of paper and handed it to Bessie.

"That's the telephone at my home, and if I'm not there myself ask for my
servant, Farrell. He'll be there, and he'll manage to get word to me
somehow, no matter where I am."

"Oh, I do hope I shan't have to bother you, Mr. Jamieson."

"Don't you worry about that. That's what I'm here for, to be bothered,
as you call it, if there's any need of me. Remember that you can't do
everything yourself--and you may only get into trouble yourself without
really helping if you try to do it all. So call on me if there's any
need. And, whatever you do, don't let Zara go out of the house alone on
any pretence. Remember that, will you?"

"I certainly will, Mr. Jamieson. You're awfully good to us, and I know
Zara would be grateful, too, if she were herself. She will be as soon as
all this trouble is over."

"I know that, Bessie. Don't you fuss around being grateful to me until
I've really done something for you. You know, you're the sort of girl I
like. You've got pluck, and you don't get discouraged, like so many
girls--though Heaven knows you've had enough trouble to make you as
nervous as any of them."

"I get awfully frightened. Indeed, I do!"

"Of course you do, but you've got pluck enough to admit it. Remember
this: the real hero is the man who does what's right, and what he knows
he ought to do, even if he's scared so that he's shaking like a leaf.
Any fool can do a thing if it doesn't frighten him to do it, and he
doesn't deserve any special credit for that. The real bravery is the
sort a man shows when he goes into battle, for instance, and wants to
turn around and run as soon as he hears the bullets singing over his
head."

"I'm sure I would want to do just that--"

"But you wouldn't! That's the point, you see. And you always think
things are going to be all right. That's fine--because about half the
time we can control the things that happen to us. If we think everything
will come right in the end, we can usually make them work out our way.
But if we start in thinking that nothing is going to be right, why, then
we're licked before we begin, and there's not much use trying at all.
Now, you didn't say Zara would feel differently _if_ things came
out right. You said she would _when_ everything was straightened
out. And that's the spirit that wins. Try to put some more of it into
her, and try to make her tell you what happened, too."

But all of Bessie's efforts to win Zara's confidence that day were in
vain. Zara, however, seemed to be all right. She was brighter and
livelier than she had been since Bessie had known her. All day long she
laughed and burst into little snatches of song, and Miss Mercer was
delighted.

Nevertheless Bessie wasn't satisfied, and she kept a close watch on Zara
all day. It seemed time wasted, however. Zara made no attempt to keep
away from her; seemed anxious, indeed, to be with her chum, that they
might talk over their plans for winning enough honors as Camp Fire Girls
to become Fire-Makers.

Had Bessie's eyes and her perceptions been less keen she would have
thought her first idea, the one she shared with Charlie Jamieson, a
mistaken one. But more than once, when Zara thought she was unobserved,
and was therefore off her guard, Bessie saw the corners of her mouth
droop and a wistful look come into her eyes. There was fear in those
eyes, too, though of what, Bessie could not imagine.

It was long after midnight that night when Bessie was aroused, she
scarcely knew how. Some instinct led her to turn on the light--and she
could scarcely repress a scream when she saw that Zara's bed was empty!




CHAPTER V

STRANGE SUSPICIONS


For a moment she stood in the middle of the room, dazed, wondering what
could have happened. The door was closed. Bessie rushed to it, and
looked out, but there was no sign of Zara in the hall. She listened
intently. The house was silent, with the silence that broods over a well
regulated house at night, when everyone is or ought to be asleep. But
then there was a noise from outside--a noise that came through the
windows, from the street.

Bessie rushed back into the room and over to the window. She knew now
that the noise she heard was the same one that had awakened her.

And, looking out of the window, Bessie saw what had made the noise--a
big, green automobile, that, even as she looked, was gliding slowly but
with increasing speed away from the Mercer house. She stood rooted to
the spot, unable to cry out, or to make a move. But somehow, though she
could never explain afterward how it happened, since the importance of
it did not strike her at all at the time, Bessie managed to get a mental
photograph of one thing that was to prove important in the extreme--the
number of the automobile, plainly visible in the light of the tail lamp
that shone full upon it. The figures were registered in her brain as if
she had studied them for an hour in the effort to memorize them--4587.

Then, when the car was out of sight around the corner, Bessie's power
of movement seemed to be restored to her as mysteriously as it had been
taken away. Her first impulse was to cry out and arouse the household.
But the futility of that soon struck her, and she remembered what
Charlie Jamieson had said. If anything happened, if she was frightened,
she was to call on him. And certainly something _had_ happened. Of
her alarm there could be no doubt. She was shaking like a leaf, as if
she were exposed to a cold wind, although the night was hot and even
sultry.

Swiftly she sought for and found the telephone number the lawyer had
written down for her. Then, in her bare feet, lest she make a noise and
arouse the whole household, she crept downstairs to reach the telephone.

"Oh, I do hope they won't see me or hear me," she breathed to herself.
"There's nothing they can do, and maybe, if I get hold of Mr. Jamieson
at once, we can have Zara back before they know she's gone."

At that hour of the night it was hard work to get the connection she
wanted, and Bessie chafed at the delay, knowing that every moment might
be precious, were Zara in real danger. But she got the number at last,
after Central had tried to convince her no one would answer at such a
time.

"What's happened? Has something gone wrong?" Jamieson asked anxiously as
soon as he recognized her voice.

"Oh, I'm terribly afraid it has--and it was all my fault! I was asleep,
Mr. Jamieson--and Zara's gone!"

"By herself, or don't you know?"

"I don't know positively, but I think she was taken off in a big
automobile. But, Mr. Jamieson, I think she wanted to go!"

"Why, what makes you think that?"

"She's taken all the things that were given to her. And then, she got
out so quietly that I didn't hear her. If anyone had carried her away,
they'd have waked me up, I'm sure."

"That's bad--if she went away of her own accord. Makes it harder to find
her, harder to get her back."

"What shall we do, Mr. Jamieson? You will try to get her back, won't
you, even if she did go with them willingly?"

"Yes, yes, of course! I'll come out right away. Better not tell the
others yet, if you haven't done it already."

Then Bessie told him about the automobile, and the number she had seen.

"Oh, that's different!" he exclaimed. "There's no use my coming to the
house then--not right away, at least. I'll find out whose car that is
right away--and then perhaps we'll be able to get a clue more quickly.
Someone is almost sure to have noticed that number, you see. Policemen
have a way of keeping their eyes on car numbers as late as this, just
on the chance that there may be something wrong about people who are
chasing around in this town when they ought to be in bed. You go back to
sleep, if you can. I'll let you know as soon as there's something new."

"I don't see how I can sleep, Mr. Jamieson. Isn't there something I can
do, please? That would make me feel ever so much better, I'm sure."

"I know, I know! But there isn't a thing you can do to-night. There's
precious little I can do, for that matter, myself. You get some rest, so
that you'll be fresh and strong in the morning. No telling what may turn
up then; and we may need you to do a whole lot. Got to keep yourself
in condition, you know. Remember that, always. That's the way to help.
Good-night! I'm going to hurry out now and see what I can find out about
that car."

So Bessie went back to her room, and, knowing that the lawyer had
given her good advice when he had urged her to rest, she tried hard to
go to sleep again. But trying to sleep and actually doing it are very
different, and Bessie tossed restlessly for the remainder of the night.
The sun, shining through her window in the early morning, was the most
welcome of all possible sights, and she got up and dressed, glad that
the night of inactivity was over, and that the time for action, if
action there was to be, was at hand.

Eleanor was shocked and frightened when she heard what had happened.

"I'm sorry you didn't wake me, Bessie," she said. "It must have been
dreadful for you, waiting for morning all alone up there. We could have
talked, anyhow, and sometimes that helps a good deal."

"Well, I didn't see any use in spoiling the night for you and I'd have
stayed awake anyhow, I think, even if I hadn't been alone. So there was
no use keeping you up and awake, too."

"I'll telephone at once and see if anything has been found out, Bessie.
Then we'll know better what to do. But I'm afraid there's not much that
we can do--not just now."

Jamieson was not in his office, or at his home, when Eleanor telephoned.
But when she stopped to think she realized that he was almost certain to
be busy in his search for some clue to the missing girl.

"Come with me. Let's go down town," she said to Bessie. "I want to get
some things for you, anyhow, and anything is better than sitting around
the house here, just waiting for news. That's terrible. Don't you think
so?"

"Yes, indeed. But suppose some news came when we were out?"

"Oh, we can easily telephone to the house and then, if there should be a
message, we can get it right away, you see. I'll tell them here to write
down any message that comes, and we'll telephone every fifteen minutes
or so."

"Shall we see Mr. Jamieson while we're down town?"

"Yes, we will. That's a good idea. It will save his time, too, and there
may be something he wants us to do."

So they started. Eleanor wanted to walk. But before they had gone very
far a big automobile drew up along the sidewalk, and a cheery, pleasant
man, middle aged, with a smiling face, and white hair, though he seemed
too young for that, hailed them.

"Hello, Miss Mercer!" he said: "Jump in, won't you? I'll take you
wherever you want to go. I've got lots of time--nothing in the world to
do, and I'm lonely."

"Why, thank you very much, Mr. Holmes," said Eleanor, smiling at him.
"This is my new friend, Bessie King, Mr. Holmes. Mr. Holmes is one of
our family's oldest and best friends."

"Well, well, this is very nice!" he said. "I'd better be careful,
though, or I'll have all the young fellows in town down on me, when they
see an old codger like me driving two pretty young ladies around. Where
shall we go, eh?"

"If you're really not in a hurry, Mr. Holmes," said Eleanor, "I wish you
would take us down town by the long way around. I'd like Bessie to see
the river and the Kent Bridge."

"Splendid!" said Mr. Holmes. "That's fine! You see, they say I'm a back
number, now that I don't know how to run my store any more. I guess
they're right, too. I just seem to be in the way when I go down there.
So I stay away as long as I can find anything else to do."

Eleanor laughed, but Bessie somehow felt that the jovial words didn't
ring true. There was a strange look in the eyes of their kindly host,
and despite her attempts to convince herself that she was foolish, she
didn't like him. But she enjoyed the ride thoroughly. He took them
out of the town, and then, skirting the suburbs by a beautiful road,
approached the heart of the business section by a new road that Bessie
had not seen before. But then, though he had said, and, indeed, proved,
that he was in no hurry, Mr. Holmes began to increase the speed of his
car.

"He's going very fast if he's not in a hurry," suggested Bessie, sure
that the driver could not hear in the rush of the wind made by the car's
speed.

Eleanor laughed merrily.

"He always does everything in a hurry," she said. "This is the fastest
car in town, and before automobiles got so popular, Mr. Holmes had the
fastest horses. He just likes to go quickly. That's why his business was
so successful, they say."

Just then the car stopped, and Holmes, laughing, turned to them.

"I heard that," he said. "After all, what's the harm? It would have
taken you an hour to get down town if you'd walked all the way, wouldn't
it, Miss Eleanor?"

She nodded.

"All right, then, I'll get you there as soon as that, and have time for
a bit of a spin in the country, as well. We'll go pretty fast, so just
put on these goggles, young ladies, and you'll have no trouble getting
specks in your eyes. I'll do the same. I really intended to drive slowly
today--that's why I haven't got mine on. But somehow, when I get a wheel
between my hands, I can't drive slowly; it isn't in me, somehow!"

He handed them their goggles, and then put on his own, and changed his
soft hat, which had two or three times threatened to blow off, for a cap
that would stay on in any wind. And, as he faced them, Bessie had all
she could do to suppress a sharp cry of amazement, and she was more than
thankful for the goggles that partly concealed her start of surprise and
dismay. For the sight of Holmes, thus equipped, had recalled something
that seemed in a way, at least, to explain her feeling of distrust and
dislike.

Eleanor saw that Bessie was troubled, even though Holmes was ignorant of
the sensation he had caused, and, as soon as the car was moving at high
speed again, she leaned over close.

"What is it, Bessie! What startled you so?"

"I'll tell you later, Miss Eleanor," whispered Bessie. "I'm not sure
enough yet--really I'm not! But as soon as I am, I'll tell you all I
know."

Mr. Holmes was as good as his word. He brought them into the central
part of the town just at the time he had promised, and sprang out to
open the door of the tonneau for them.

"Must you really go now?" he said, dejectedly. "You'll be leaving me all
alone, you know. Can't you finish your shopping, and then let me run you
out to Arkville for luncheon?"

"You speak as if it were just across the street," laughed Eleanor.
"And you know, Bessie, it's really fifty miles or more away, and it's
actually over the state line. It's in your old state--the same one
Hedgeville is in. But it's in a different direction, and it's even
further from Hedgeville than we are here, I guess. Isn't it, Mr.
Holmes?"

"I'd have to know just where Hedgeville is to answer that, Miss Mercer.
And I've never been there nor even traveled through it, so far as I can
remember. I'll look it up on my road map, though, if you like--"

"Oh, no, please don't bother to do that. It's not of the slightest
importance."

"Then we shall have to put off Arkville to another day, you think, Miss
Mercer?"

"I'm afraid so, really. We've a good deal to do today, and there are
reasons that I won't bother you with for our having to be in town. Thank
you ever so much for the ride."

"Yes, thank you ever so much," echoed Bessie.

They were near Charlie Jamieson's office, and, as the car turned and
disappeared in the mass of traffic, Bessie clutched Eleanor's arm.

"Oh, do come quickly, Miss Eleanor, please! Look at this. Don't you
think we ought to tell Mr. Jamieson about it right away?"

She held out a piece of ribbon, torn and stained. It was not large, but
there was enough of it to identify it easily. And, as Eleanor looked at
it, she remembered faintly having seen it before.

"What is that? Where did you find it?" she asked, puzzled.

"It's the ribbon Zara wore in her hair, and I found it in the car. It
fell on the floor when he opened the door for us to get out--it must
have been caught there. And do you remember, we got in on the other
side, so that that door wasn't opened then?"

Eleanor looked more puzzled than ever.

"I don't see how that can be Zara's ribbon," she protested. "What would
she have been doing in Mr. Holmes' car? It's just an accident, Bessie.
It's just a coincidence that that ribbon should be there. It might have
belonged to someone else--I'm sure it did, in fact."

"Oh, please, please, I know!" said Bessie. "Won't you let me tell Mr.
Jamieson about it!"

"Oh, yes, course, but he'll say just what I do, Bessie. You mustn't let
this affect you so that you get nervous and hysterical, Bessie. That's
not the way to help Zara."

They were walking toward the building in which Jamieson's offices were
located, and Bessie was hurrying their progress as much as she could.

"I don't like Mr. Holmes. I'm afraid of him," she said. "I know that
sounds dreadful, but it's true--"

"Why, Bessie, how absurd!" she exclaimed. "I've known him for years and
years, and he's one of the nicest, kindest men in town."

"But, Miss Eleanor, do you remember when you asked him about Hedgeville,
he said he'd never been there?"

"Yes, and I thought, as soon as I asked him, that he would probably have
to tell me just that. Hedgeville's out of the way. You never saw
automobile parties on trips going through, did you?"

"No, we didn't. About the only people who came there in automobiles came
to see someone--and usually Farmer Weeks."

"There, you see!"

"But, Miss Eleanor, Mr. Holmes knows all about Hedgeville! He's been
there ever so many times! I thought this morning, as soon as he stopped
to talk to you, that I'd seen him before somewhere, but I wasn't sure."

"Why, what do you mean? Are you sure now?"

"Yes, I was sure the minute he put on those goggles and his cap. He's
driven to Hedgeville a lot in the last year. The last time wasn't more
than three weeks ago, and he was in that same car, and wore the same cap
and goggles."

Eleanor stopped, looking very thoughtful.

"I think you must be mistaken, Bessie," she said. "There's no reason why
he shouldn't tell us if he'd ever been there, and he certainly couldn't
have forgotten it if he's been there as often as you say. Can't you see
that! What object could he have in trying to deceive us?"

"I don't know. I can't guess that unless--well, I can tell you who it
was he saw when he was there--every time. It was Farmer Weeks. And I
think he was there the day before they took Zara's father away. I'm not
sure, but I think so."

"If you could be certain," said Eleanor, doubtfully, "that would make it
different, Bessie. We'll tell Mr. Jamieson, and see what he thinks. But
I'm sure you must be mistaken."




CHAPTER VI

A SUDDEN TURN


Jamieson was in his office when they entered.

"Well, I wondered where you two were!" he exclaimed, by way of greeting.
"I tried to get you on the telephone a couple of times, but I supposed
you were probably on your way here."

"We telephoned before we left the house, but we understood that you
would be busy," said Eleanor. "So we started to walk into town, and Mr.
Holmes saw us, and took us for a ride in his car. I hope it hasn't made
any difference--that you didn't want us? Have you found out anything,
Charlie?"

"No, it didn't make any difference," said the lawyer, gloomily. "As for
finding out things, well, I have, and I haven't! There's no trace of
Zara, but there's other news."

"What is it?"

"Well, it's mighty queer, I'll say that for it. When I went to see
Zara's father this morning, he refused to see me--sent out word that he
didn't want me to act as his lawyer any more. He's got another lawyer,
and who do you suppose it is?"

The two girls stared at him, surprised and puzzled.

"Brack!" exclaimed Jamieson. "What do you know about that for a mess,
eh? If half of what I believe is right, Brack's his worst enemy. He's
hand in glove with the people who are responsible for all his trouble,
and yet here he goes and gets the scoundrel to act as his lawyer!"

"Oh, what a shame!" said Eleanor, indignantly. "And he wouldn't even see
you to explain?"

"Absolutely not! I tried to get them to let me in, and I sent him an
urgent message, telling him it was of the utmost importance for us to
have a talk, but I couldn't budge him."

Eleanor was flushed with resentment.

"Well, that settles it!" she said, indignantly. "If people don't want to
be helped, one can't help them. He and Zara will just have to look out
for themselves, I guess. Bessie, don't you think Zara must have gone
with those people in the car willingly?"

"Yes, I do," said Bessie. "But--"

"Then I think she and her father are an ungrateful pair, and they
deserve anything that happens to them! I'm certainly not going to worry
myself about them any more, and I should think you would drop the whole
thing, Charlie Jamieson, and attend to your own affairs!"

"Hold on! You're going a bit too fast, Eleanor," he said, laughing
lightly. "Let's see what Bessie thinks about it."

Bessie, who had flushed too, but not with anger, when Eleanor thus gave
her resentment full play, was glad of the chance to speak.

"I do think Zara went off willingly and of her own accord," she said.
"I'm sure of that, because she couldn't have been taken away without my
hearing something."

"Well, then," began Eleanor, "doesn't that prove--"

"But if Zara was willing to go off that way, I believe it's because she
thought she was doing the right thing," Bessie went on, determinedly.
"Someone must have seen her and told her something she believed, though
perhaps it wasn't true."

"Of course!" said Jamieson, heartily, "That's what I've thought from the
start, and don't you see who it probably was? Why, Brack! He was in the
neighborhood yesterday morning and he must have seen her. He might have
told her anything--any wild story. You see, we are pretty much in the
dark about this affair yet. We don't know why these people are so keen
after Zara's father, or why they've put up this job on him. So I don't
think I'll get mad and drop it just because Zara and her father have
probably been fooled into acting in a way that would seem likely to
irritate me."

Eleanor was regretful at once.

"Oh, you're ever so much more sensible than I am, Charlie," she said.
"It made me angry to think they were acting so when all we wanted was to
help them, and I lost my temper."

"I suspect that that is just what Brack hoped I would do, Eleanor.
And it makes me all the more determined to stick to the case. You see,
I'm actually lawyer for Zara's father still, and unless I consent to a
change of lawyers, he'll have trouble putting Brack in my place. Brack
knows that, too, if he doesn't--and he knows, also, that I know one or
two things about him that make it a good idea for him to be careful,
unless he wants to be disbarred."

"Then you'll keep on working and you'll try to find out what's become of
Zara, too?"

"Yes. I looked up the number that Bessie saw--the number of that car.
And it's just as I thought. They were careful enough to use a false
number. There's no such number recorded as the one that was on the car."

"But don't you suppose you can find anyone who saw it before they had a
chance to change the numbers?"

"I'm working on that line now, but we haven't got any reports yet.
I've gone to see the district attorney--the one who looks after the
counterfeiting cases as well as the other, who's just in charge of local
affairs. And I've convinced them that there's something very queer afoot
here. Judge Bailey, who will prosecute Zara's father for counterfeiting,
agrees with me that it looks as if a case had been worked up against him
by someone who wants to make trouble for him, and he's pretty mad at the
idea that anyone would dare to use him in such a crooked game. So we'll
have a friend there, if I can get any evidence to back our suspicions."

Suddenly Eleanor remembered what Bessie had thought of Mr. Holmes, her
suspicion that she had seen him in Hedgeville, and the incident of
finding Zara's ribbon. And she made Bessie tell the lawyer her story.

He laughed when he heard it, much to Bessie's distress.

"I don't think very much of that idea," he said. "Mr. Holmes is one of
our wealthiest and most respected citizens. He'd never let himself or
his car be mixed up in such a business. And I'm sure he doesn't know
Brack, and has never had anything to do with him."

"But it is Zara's ribbon! I'm positive of that," insisted Bessie. "And
he's the same man I saw at Farmer Weeks' place in Hedgeville, too."

"No, no; I'm afraid you're mistaken, Bessie."

"But the ribbon--why should that be in his car?"

"Let me see it."

She handed him the ribbon, and he looked at it carefully.

"Why, that doesn't seem to be very promising evidence, Bessie," he said.
"I suppose you could find ribbon like that in any dry goods store almost
anywhere. Thousands of girls must have pieces just like it. Even if it
is just the same as the one Zara wore, that doesn't prove anything.
You'd have to have more evidence than that. However, I'll keep it in
mind. You never can tell what's going to turn up, and I suppose it's
easily possible to imagine stranger things than Mr. Holmes being mixed
up in this affair. Well, you can depend upon it that everything possible
is being done, and no one could do more than that. I wish I knew more,
that's all."

So did Bessie, and she was thinking hard as they left his office and
made their way toward some of the shops in which, the day before, she
had so longed to be. Feminine instinct has more than once proved itself
superior to masculine logic, and although both Jamieson and Eleanor
seemed inclined to laugh at her, Bessie felt that she was right--that
Mr. Holmes, in some queer way, was intimately concerned in the web in
which she and Zara seemed to be caught.

She couldn't pretend to explain, even to herself, the manner in which he
might be affected, but of the main fact she was sure. She knew that her
memory had not deceived her; she had seen the man in Hedgeville. And the
fact that he had deliberately lied about that seemed to her good
evidence that he had something to conceal.

He knew Farmer Weeks. And in some fashion Farmer Weeks was intimately
bound up with the affairs of Zara and her father. Everything that had
happened since their flight from Hedgeville proved that beyond the
shadow of a doubt. He had run great risks to get Zara back; although he
was such a notorious miser, he had spent a good deal of money. And he
was mixed up with Brack.

Suddenly a thought came to Bessie. Zara's father! He must know. And if
he did, wasn't there a chance that he might be willing to talk to her,
if she could only manage to see him? He distrusted Charlie Jamieson
evidently, since he had refused to talk to him just when the lawyer had
been sure that he was going to get some facts that would throw light on
the mystery. But with Bessie he might well take a different stand. He
had seen her in the country; he knew that she was a friend of Zara.

"Miss Eleanor," said Bessie, quickly, "I've got an idea and I wish you
would let me talk to Mr. Jamieson about it. Will you, please--and by
myself? You're angry still at Zara and her father, and perhaps you'd
think I was all wrong."

"I'm not exactly angry, Bessie," said Eleanor. "I was hurt, but I'm
beginning to see that very likely I am wrong, and that they were
honestly mistaken, not deliberately ungrateful. At any rate, if Charlie
Jamieson can stand the way Zara's father treats him, I guess I don't
need to worry about it."

"Then may I go?"

"Yes, and hurry, or you'll find that he's left his office. You won't be
long, will you?"

"No, indeed; only a few minutes. Will you be here in this store, Miss
Eleanor, when I come back?"

"Yes, I'll meet you at the ribbon counter."

"Thank you, thank you ever so much, Miss Eleanor! I'll hurry just as
much as I can, and I certainly won't be long."

Then she was off, and luckily enough she found that the lawyer had not
yet gone. He listened to her suggestion with a smile.

"By George," he said, when she had finished, "maybe you've hit the right
idea, Bessie, at that! I'm afraid I can't manage it today, but I'll take
you to the jail myself in the morning, and see that you get a chance to
talk to him. I doubt if he'll say anything, he's either obstinate or
badly frightened. But it's worth the chance, if you don't mind going to
the jail to see him. It's not a very nice place, you know."

Bessie laughed.

"I'd do worse than that if I thought I could help Zara, Mr. Jamieson,"
she said. "Do you know I've got the strangest feeling that she's in
trouble? It's just as if I could hear her calling me and as if she were
sorry for leaving us, and wanted to be back."

Jamieson smiled grimly.

"I think the chances are that she's feeling just about that way," he
said. "She certainly ought to be--if we're at all near to guessing the
people she's gone with. They won't treat her as well as the Mercers,
I'll be bound."

"That's what I'm afraid of, too," said Bessie.

Then thanking him for his promise she made her way to the street, and
started to go back to the store where she had left Eleanor. But she was
intercepted. And, to her amazement, the person who checked her, as she
was walking swiftly along the crowded street, was Jake Hoover.

"'Lo, Bessie," he said shamefacedly, as she started with surprise at the
sight of him. "Say, you're pretty in them new clothes of your'n. I'd
never 'a' known you."

"I wish you hadn't, then," said Bessie, with spirit. "I'm through with
you, Jake Hoover! You won't have me around home any more, to take the
blame for all your wickedness. When things happen now they'll know whose
fault it is--and maybe they'll begin to think that you may have done
some of the things I used to get punished for, too."

"Aw, now, don't get mad, Bessie," he said, trying to pacify her. "This
here's the city--'tain't Hedgeville! Maybe I was mean to you sometimes
back home, Bessie, but I was jest jokin'. Say, Bess, here's a gentleman
wants to talk to you. He's a lawyer an' a mighty smart man. An' he
thinks he knows somethin' about your father and mother."

Another figure had loomed up beside that of Jake, and Bessie was hardly
surprised to find that it was Brack who was leering at her.

"He's right. I know something about them," he said. "There's precious
little old Brack don't know, my dear--an' that's a fact you can bet your
last dollar on."

He chuckled, and made a movement as if he intended to take Bessie's
hand, but she brushed his claw-like hand away with a motion of disgust.

"I haven't got time to be talking to you now," she said, decisively. "If
you know anything you think I ought to be told, tell it to Mr.
Jamieson."

"Oh, ho, tell it to him, eh!" he said. "Maybe you'd better be careful,
girl! Maybe you wouldn't like everyone to know why your parents had to
run away and leave you in such a hurry. Maybe they're in prison, and
deserve to be. How'd you like to have people hear that, eh!"

"I wouldn't like it, but I don't believe it's true!" said Bessie,
scornfully. "Not for a minute!" And she pressed on, but Brack followed
and walked close beside her.

"Remember this--you'll never see them again, except through me," he
said, malevolently.




CHAPTER VII

OFF TO THE FARM


The next morning Bessie was doomed to be disappointed. She had looked
forward confidently to seeing Zara's father, and had come to believe
that there was a good chance for her to clear away some of the mystery
that hung so heavily over Zara's affairs, even though she made no great
progress toward straightening out her own confused ideas regarding
herself and the reason for the disappearance of her parents. But,
instead of the telephone call to Jamieson's office, for which she had
waited with poorly concealed impatience from breakfast until nearly
noon, she had a visit from Jamieson himself. The lawyer looked
discouraged.

"Bad news, Bessie," he said, as soon as he saw her. She was waiting for
him on the porch, and her eyes lighted with eagerness as soon as she saw
him coming. "They've stolen a march on me."

"Why, how do you mean? Won't I be able to see Zara's father, after all?"

"Not just yet. Brack is cleverer than I thought. He's got a lot of
political pull, and he got hold of a judge I thought was above stooping
to anything wrong. So he was able to get this judge to sign an order
putting him in my place as lawyer for Zara's father. The only way you
can see the prisoner now is for Brack to give you permission, and if
I know Brack, that's the last thing he'll do."

Bessie showed her discouragement.

"I'm afraid you're right there," she said. "I saw him yesterday, after
I left you."

"You did? Whew! There's something queer here, Bessie. Now, try to
remember just what was said and tell me all about it."

It was not hard for Bessie, guided by a few questions from Jamieson,
to do that, and in a few moments she had supplied him with a complete
review of her interview with the shyster, Brack, He nodded approvingly
when she had finished.

"You did just right," he said, cheerfully. "I guess Mr. Brack won't get
much change out of you, Bessie. There's one thing sure, you managed to
acquire a lot of sense while you lived in Hedgeville. The sort we call
common sense, though I don't know why, because it's the rarest sort of
sense there is. Keep on acting just like that when people ask you
questions and try to get you to tell them things."

"Do you think anyone else is likely to do that, Mr. Jamieson?"

"You can't tell. I'm all in the dark, you see. This thing acts just like
a Chinese puzzle. They're simple enough when you know how to fit the
pieces together, and you wonder why they ever stumped you. But until you
do guess them--" He stopped, with a comical shrug of his shoulders to
indicate his helplessness and his bewilderment, and Bessie laughed.

Then Eleanor came out, and the story of Brack's shrewdness had to be
told to her.

"What are you going to do now?" she asked.

Jamieson threw up his hands with a laugh.

"Wait--and keep my eyes open," he said. "I'm going to act as if I'd lost
all interest in the case. That may fool Brack. Our best chance now, you
see, is to wait for the other side to make a mistake. They've made some
already; the chances are they'll do it again. Then we can nab them. What
I want to do is to make them think they're quite safe, that they needn't
be afraid of us any more."

"You won't need Bessie, then, right away?"

"No. Really, she worries me. I feel as if she weren't safe here. They
seem to be afraid of her, and I wouldn't put it past them to try to get
hold of her and keep her where she can't do any talking until they've
done what they want to do."

"But, Charlie, they must know that she's told us everything she knows
already. Why should they want to take her away now?"

"If I knew that I could answer a lot of other questions, too. But here's
a guess. Suppose she knows something without knowing at all what it
means, or how important it is? That might easily be. She might be able
to clear up the whole mystery with some single, seemingly unimportant
remark. They may have good reason to know she hasn't done it yet, but
they may also be afraid that, at any time, she will entirely by accident
give away their whole game. And I've got an idea that if their game ever
is exposed, someone will be in danger of going to jail. See? I'd like to
figure out some good safe place for Bessie, where she'd be out of the
way of all their tricks."

Eleanor clapped her hands.

"Then I've got the very place!" she said. "This business has upset the
plans I'd made, but now I'm going to take my Camp Fire Girls down to
dad's farm in Cheney County. You laughed at me when I was made a Camp
Fire Guardian, Charlie, but you're going to see now what a fine thing
the movement is."

"I didn't mean to laugh at you, Eleanor," he said, contritely. "And I
got over doing it long ago, anyhow. I used to think this Camp Fire thing
was a joke--just something got up to please a lot of girls who wanted to
wear khaki skirts and camp out because their brothers had joined the Boy
Scouts and told them what a good time they were having."

"That's just like a man," said Eleanor, quietly triumphant. "None of you
think girls can do anything worth while on their own account. The Camp
Fire Girls didn't imitate the Boy Scouts, and they're not a bit like
them, really. We haven't anything against the Boy Scouts, but we think
we're going to do better work among girls than even the Scout movement
does among boys. Well, anyhow, we're going down to the farm, and Bessie
shall go along. If anyone tries to kidnap her while she's with the
girls, they'll have a hard time. We stick together, let me tell you, and
Wohelo means something."

"You needn't preach to me, Eleanor," said the lawyer, laughing. "You
converted me long ago. I'll stand for anything you do, anyhow. You're
all right--you've got more sense than most men. It's a pity there aren't
more girls like you."

"That's rank flattery, and it isn't true, anyhow," laughed Eleanor. "But
if I am any better than I used to be, it's because I've learned not to
think of myself first all the time. That's what the Camp Fire teaches
us, you see. Work, and Health, and Love, that's what Wohelo means. And
it means to work for others, and to love others, and to bring health to
others as well as to yourself. Come down to the farm while we're there,
and you'll see how it works out."

Jamieson got up.

"I probably will," he said, smiling as he held out his hand in farewell.
"I'll have to come down to consult my client, you see."

"And you'll let us know if there's any news of Zara, Mr. Jamieson, won't
you?" said Bessie. "I love the idea of going to the farm, but I rather
hate to leave the city when I don't know what may be happening to Zara."

"You can't help her by staying here," said the lawyer, earnestly. "I'm
quite sure of that. And I really think she's all right, and that she's
being properly treated. After all, it's pretty hard to carry a girl like
Zara off and keep her a prisoner against her will. It would be much
better policy to treat her well, and keep her contented. It's quite
plain that she thought she was going with friends when she went, or she
would have made some sort of a row. And their best policy is to keep her
quiet."

"But they didn't act that way before we got away from Hedgeville--clear
away, I mean," said Bessie. "Farmer Weeks caught her in the road, you
know, and locked her in that room the time that I followed her and
helped her to get away through the woods."

"Yes, but that was a very different matter, Bessie. In that state
Weeks had the law on his side. The court was ready to name him as her
guardian, and to bind her over to him until she was twenty-one. In this
state neither he nor anyone else, except her father, has any more right
to keep her from going where she likes than they have to tell me what I
must do--as long as we obey the law and don't do anything that is
wrong."

"Then you think she's well and happy?"

"I'm quite sure of it," said Jamieson heartily. "This isn't some foreign
country. It's America, where there are plenty of people to notice
anything that seems wrong or out of the ordinary; And if they were
treating Zara badly, she'd be pretty sure to find someone who would help
her to get away."

"Yes, this is America," said Bessie, thoughtfully. "But you see, Zara
has lived in countries where things are very different. And maybe she
doesn't know her rights. After all, you know, she thinks her father
hasn't done anything wrong, and still she's seen him put in prison and
kept there. What I'm afraid of is that she'll get to think that this is
just like the countries she knows best, and be afraid to do anything, or
try to get help, no matter what they do."

"Well, we mustn't borrow trouble," said Jamieson, frowning slightly at
the thoughts Bessie's words suggested to him. "We can't do anything more
now, that's sure. Have a good time, and stop worrying. That's the best
legal advice I can give you right now."

Once her mind was made up, Eleanor acted quickly. The outing at her
father's farm, which was not at all like the Hoover farm in Hedgeville
of which Bessie King had such unpleasant memories, was one that had long
been promised to her girls, and she herself had been looking forward to
going there. The troubles of Bessie and Zara had almost led her to
abandon the idea of going there herself, and she had arranged for a
friend to take her place as Guardian for a time. Now, however, she sent
word to all her girls, and that very evening they met at the station and
took the train for Deer Crossing, the little station that was nearest to
the farm.

"They'll meet us in the farm wagons," said Eleanor, when the girls were
all aboard. "So we'll have a ride through the moonlight to the farm--the
moon rises early to-night, you know."

It was a jolly, happy ride in the train, and Bessie, renewing her
acquaintance with the Camp Fire Girls, who had seemed to her and Zara,
when they had first seen them, like creatures from another world, felt
her depression wearing off. They had a car to themselves, thanks to the
conductor, who had known Eleanor Mercer since she was a little girl, and
as the train sped through the country scenes that were so familiar to
Bessie, the girls laughed and talked and sang songs of the Camp Fire,
and made happy plans for walks and tramps in the country about the farm.

"It's just like the country around Hedgeville, Miss Eleanor," said
Bessie, as the Guardian stopped beside the seat she shared with her
first chum among the Camp Fire Girls, Minnehaha. "The houses look the
same, and the stone fences, and--oh, everything!"

"I wonder if you aren't a little bit homesick, down in your heart,
Bessie?" laughed Miss Mercer. "Come, now, confess!"

"Perhaps I am," said Bessie, wonderingly. "I never thought of that. But
it's just for the country, and the cows and the animals, and all the
things I'm used to seeing. I wouldn't go back to Maw Hoover's for
anything."

"You shan't, Bessie. I was only joking," said Eleanor, quickly. "I know
just how you feel. I've been that way myself. When you get away from a
place you begin very quickly to forget everything that was disagreeable
that happened there, and you only remember the good times you had.
That's why you're homesick."

"We'll be able to take walks and go for straw rides here, won't we,
Wanaka?" asked Minnehaha. She used Eleanor's fire name, Wanaka, just as
Minnehaha was her fire name; her own was Margery Burton.

"You'll have to, if you expect to be in fashion," laughed the Guardian.
"And you shall learn to milk cows and find eggs and do all sorts of farm
work, too. I expect Bessie will want to laugh often at you girls. You
see, she knows all about that sort of thing, and you'll all be terrible
greenhorns, I think."

"I ought to know about a farm," said Bessie. "I lived on one long
enough. And I don't see why I should laugh at the rest of the girls.
They know more about the city now than I ever will know. I've been there
long enough to find that out, anyhow."

Just then the conductor put his head inside the door, and called "Deer
Crossing!"

As the train slowed up, all the girls made a rush for their bags and
bundles, and five minutes later they were standing and watching the
disappearing train, waving to the amused conductor and trainmen, who
were all on the platform of the last car. Then the train disappeared
around a curve, and they had a chance to devote their attention to the
two big farm wagons that were waiting near the station, each with its
team of big Percherons and its smiling driver. The drivers were country
boys, with fair, tousled hair, and both wore neat black suits. At the
sight of them Eleanor burst into a laugh.

"Why, Sid Harris--and you, too, Walter Stubbs!" she cried. "This isn't
Sunday! What are you doing in your store clothes, just as if you were on
your way to church?"

Both the boys flushed and neither of them had a word to say.

"Did you get mixed up on the days of the week!" Eleanor went on,
pitilessly.

All the girls were enjoying their confusion, and black-eyed Dolly
Ransom, the tease of the party, laughed aloud.

"I bet they never saw so many girls together before, Miss Eleanor," she
said, with a toss of her pretty head. "That's why they're so quiet! They
probably don't have girls in the country."

"Don't they, just!" said Eleanor, laughing back at her. "Wait until you
see them, Dolly. They'll put your nose out of joint, the girls around
here. If you think you're going to have it all your own way with the
boys out here, the way you do so much at home, you're mistaken."

Dolly tossed her head again. She looked at the confused, blushing boys
on the wagons, who could hardly be expected to understand that Dolly was
only teasing them, and wanted nothing better than a perfectly harmless
flirtation.

"They're welcome to boys like those," she said airily. "I'll wait until
I get home, Miss Eleanor."

Then she turned away, and Eleanor, her face serious for a moment, turned
to Bessie.

"She'll wait until she's grown up, too, if I've got anything to say
about it," she said. "Bessie, when Zara comes back, of course you'll be
with her mostly. But I wish you'd make a friend of Dolly Ransom,--a real
friend. Her mother's dead, and she has no sisters."

"I hope I can," said Bessie, simply. "I like her ever so much."




CHAPTER VIII

A NEW CHUM


The farm was nearly five miles from the station, and the two big wagons
made slow time with the heavy loads, especially as the roads were still
muddy from a recent downpour. But none of the Camp Fire Girls seemed to
mind the length of the trip.

Now that she was actually out in the heart of it, Bessie found that the
country was not as much like that around Hedgeville as it had seemed to
be from the train windows. The fields were better kept; there were no
unpainted, dilapidated looking houses, such as those of Farmer Weeks and
some of the other neighbors of the Hoovers in Hedgeville whom she
remembered so well.

Neat fences, well kept up, marked off the fields, and, even to Bessie's
eyes, although she was far from being an agricultural expert, the crops
themselves looked better. She spoke of this to Eleanor.

"These aren't just ordinary farms," Eleanor explained. "My father and
some other men who have plenty of money have bought up a lot of land
around here, and they are working the farms, and making them pay just as
much as possible. My father thinks it's a shame for so many boys and
young men, whose fathers own farms, to go rushing off to the city and
work in stores and factories. And they started out to find out why it
was that way. They're business men, you see and as soon as they really
began to think about it they found out what was wrong."

"Why the boys went to the city?" asked Bessie. "I should think that
would be easy to see! It was around Hedgeville. Why, on a farm, the work
never is done. It's work all day, and then get up before daylight to
start again. And even Paw Hoover, who had a good farm, was always saying
how poor he was, and how he wished he could make more money."

"I'll bet he was always buying new land, though," said Eleanor, looking
wise.

"Yes, he was," admitted Bessie. "He always said that if he could get
enough land he'd be rich."

"He probably had too much as it was, Bessie. The trouble with most
farmers is that they don't know how to use the land they have, instead
of that they haven't enough. They don't treat the soil right, and they
won't spend money for good farm machinery and for rich fertilizers. If
they did that, and studied farming, the way men study to be doctors or
lawyers, they'd be better off. How many acres did Paw Hoover have? Well,
it doesn't matter, but I'll bet that my father gets more out of one acre
on his farm than Paw Hoover does out of two on his. You see, the man
who's in charge of the farm went to college to study the business, and
he knows all sorts of things that make a farm pay better."

"Paw Hoover was talking about that once, saying he wished he could send
Jake to college to study farming. But Maw laughed at him, and Jake
couldn't have gone, anyhow. He was so stupid that he never even got
through school there in Hedgeville."

"I suppose he is stupid," said Eleanor. "But after all, Bessie, when a
boy doesn't get along well in school it doesn't always mean that it's
his fault. He may not be properly taught. Sometimes it's the school's
fault, and not the pupil's."

"Other people got along all right," said Bessie. She wasn't quite
prepared to say a good word for Jake Hoover yet. He had caused her too
much trouble in the past.

"Why," she went on, "I used to have to do his lessons for him all the
time. He just wouldn't study at home, Miss Eleanor, and in school he was
so big, and such a bully, that most of the teachers were afraid of him."

"That just shows they weren't good teachers, Bessie. No good teacher is
ever afraid of a bully. She has plenty of people to back her up if she
really needs help. I don't say Jake Hoover is any better than he ought
to be, but from all you tell me, part of his trouble may be because he
hasn't been properly handled. But let's forget him, anyhow. Look over
there. Do you see that white house on top of the hill?"

"Against the sun, so that it's sort of pink where the sun strikes it?"
said Bessie. "Yes, what a lovely place!"

"Well, that's where we're going," said Eleanor.

"But--but that doesn't look a bit like a farmhouse!" said Bessie,
surprised. "I thought--"

"You thought it would be more like the Hoover farm, didn't you?" laughed
Eleanor. "Well, of course that's only our house, and Dad built a nice
one, on the finest piece of land he could find, because we were going to
spend a good deal of time there. There's electric light and running
water in all the rooms and we're just as comfortable there as we would
be in the city."

"It's beautiful, but really, Miss Eleanor, I don't believe most farmers
could afford a place like that, even if they were a lot better off than
Paw Hoover--"

"They could afford a lot of the comforts, Bessie, because they don't
cost half as much as you'd think. The electric light, for instance, and
the running water. The light comes from power that we get from the brook
right on the farm, and it costs less than it does to light the house
in the city. And the water is pumped from the well by a windmill that
cost very little to put up. You see, there's a big tank on the roof,
and whenever there's a wind, the mill is started to running and the
tank is filled. Then there's enough water on hand to last even if there
shouldn't be enough wind to turn the mill for two or three days, though
that's something that very seldom happens. If all the farmers knew how
easily they could have these little comforts, and how cheap they are,
I believe more of them would put in those conveniences."

"Oh, how much easier it would have been at Hoover's if we'd had them!"
sighed Bessie. "There we had to fill the lamps every day, and every bit
of water we used in the house had to be drawn at the well and carried in
pails. It was awfully hard work."

"You see, Maw Hoover didn't have such an easy time, Bessie," said
Eleanor. "She had all that work about the house to do for years and
years. She didn't need to be so mean to you, but, after all, she might
have been nicer if she'd had a pleasanter life. It's easy to be nice and
agreeable when everything is easy, and everything goes right, but when
you have to work hard all the time, if you're a little bit inclined to
be mean, the grind of doing the same thing day after day, year after
year, seems to bring the meanness right out. I've seen lots of instances
of that, and I'm perfectly sure that if I were a farmer's wife, and had
to work like a slave I'd be a perfect shrew and there'd be no living
with me at all."

They turned in from the road now, the wagon in which Bessie and Eleanor
rode in the lead, and came into a pretty avenue that led up a gentle
grade to the ridge on which the house was built. There were trees at
each side to provide shade in the hot part of the day, and for a long
distance on each side of the trees there were well kept lawns.

"My father likes a place to be beautiful as well as useful," said
Eleanor, "so he had those lawns made when we built the house. All the
farmers in the neighborhood thought it was an awful waste of good land,
but since then some of them have come to see that if they ever wanted to
sell their places people would like them better if they were pretty, and
they've copied this place a good deal in the neighborhood.

"We're very glad, because right now Cheney County is the prettiest
farming section anywhere around, and the crops are about the best in the
state, too. So, you see, we seem to have shown them that they can have
pretty places and still make money. And sometimes those lawns are used
for grazing sheep, so they're useful as well as ornamental."

Then in a few minutes they were at the house, and the smiling
housekeeper, whom Eleanor introduced to the girls as Mrs. Farnham,
greeted them.

"Come right in," she said, heartily. "There's supper ready and
waiting--fried chicken, and corn bread, and honey, and creamed potatoes,
and fresh milk, and apple pie and--"

"Stop, stop, do, Mrs. Farnham!" pleaded Eleanor. "You'll make me so
hungry that I won't want to wash my hands!"

And the supper, when they came to it, was just as good to taste as it
was to hear about. Everything they ate, it seemed, came from the farm.
No store goods were ever used on the table in that house. And Bessie,
used to a farm where chickens, except when they were old and tough, were
never eaten, but kept for sale, wondered at the goodness of everything.

That night, although it was not part of the plan, there was an informal
camp fire, held about a blazing pyre of logs. But it did not last long,
for everyone was tired and ready indeed for the signal that Eleanor gave
early by lifting her voice in the notes of the good-night song, _Lay
Me to Sleep in Sheltering Flame_.

Bessie, rather to her surprise, found that she was not to room with
Margery Burton, or Minnehaha, as she had expected, but was to share a
big room, under the roof, with Dolly Ransom, the merry, mischievous
Kiama, as she was known to her comrades of the fire.

"Do you mind if I snore?" asked Dolly promptly, when they were alone
together. "Because I probably shall, and everyone makes such a fuss, and
acts as if it was my fault."

"I'm so tired I shan't even hear you," said Bessie, with a laugh. "Snore
all you like, I won't mind!"

Dolly looked surprised, and pouted a little.

"If you don't mind, there's no use doing it," she said, after a moment,
and Bessie laughed again at this unconscious confession.

"I thought you couldn't help it," she said with a smile.

Dolly looked a little confused.

"I can't sometimes, when I've got a cold," she said. "But they go on so
about it then that I have sometimes tried to do it, just to get even."

"You're a tease, Kiama," said Bessie, merrily, "and I guess it's that
that you can't help. But go ahead and try to tease me as much as you
like. I won't mind."

"Then I won't do it," decided Dolly, suddenly. "It's fun teasing people
when they get mad, but what's the use when they think it's a joke?"

Bessie had seen little of Dolly in the first days of her acquaintance
with the Manasquan Camp Fire, but now, as they appraised one another,
knowing that they were to be very intimate during their stay on the
farm, Bessie decided that she was going to like her new friend very
much.

Not as much as Zara, probably--that would be natural, for Zara was
Bessie's first chum, and her best, and Bessie's loyalty was one of her
chief traits. But she was not the sort of a girl who can have only one
friend. Usually girls who say that mean that they can have only one
close friend at a time, and what happens is that they have innumerable
chums, each of whom seems to be the best while the friendship lasts.
Bessie wanted to be friendly with everyone, and what Eleanor had begun
to tell her about Dolly made her think that perhaps the mischief maker
of the Camp Fire was lonely like herself.

"You're just like me--you haven't any mother or sister, have you?" said
Dolly, after they were both in bed.

Bessie was glad of the darkness that hid the quick flush that stained
her cheeks. Since she had talked with Brack she was beginning to feel
that there was something shameful about her position, although, had she
stopped to think, she would have known that no one who knew the facts
would blame her, even if her parents had behaved badly in deserting her.
And, as a matter of fact, Bessie clung to the belief that her parents
had not acted of their own free will in leaving her so long with the
Hoovers. She thought, and meant to keep on thinking, that they had been
unable to help themselves, and that some time, when good fortune came
to them again, she would see them and that they would make up to her in
love for all the empty, unhappy years in Hedgeville.

"Yes, I'm like you, Dolly," she answered, finally. "I don't know what's
become of my parents. I wish I did."

"I know what's become of mine," said Dolly, her voice suddenly hard--too
hard for so young a girl. "My mother's dead. She died when I was a baby.
And my father doesn't care what becomes of me. He lives in Europe, and
once in a while he sends me money but he doesn't seem to want to see me,
ever."

"Where do you live, Dolly?" asked Bessie.

"Oh, with my Aunt Mabel," said Dolly. "You'll see her when we go back to
town for I'm going to have you come and visit me if you will. She's an
old maid, and she's terribly proper, and if ever I start to have any fun
she thinks it must be wicked, and tries to make me stop. But I fool
her--you just bet I do!"

They were quiet for a minute, and then Dolly broke out again.

"I don't believe Aunt Mabel ever was young!" she said fiercely. "She
doesn't act as if she'd ever been a girl. And she seems to think I ought
to be just as sober and quiet as if I were her age--and she's fifty!
Isn't that dreadful, Bessie!"

"I think you'd have a hard time acting as if you were fifty, Dolly,"
said Bessie, honestly, and trying to suppress a laugh but in vain.
"You don't, do you?"

"Of course not!" said Dolly, giggling frankly, and seemingly not at all
hurt because Bessie did not take the recital of her troubles more
seriously. "Aunt Mabel would like you, I don't mean that you're stiff
and priggish like her, but you seem quieter than most of the girls, and
more serious minded. I bet you like school."

"I do," laughed Bessie. "But I like vacations too, don't you? This is
the first time I ever really had one, though. I've always had to work
harder in summer than in winter before this."

"I think that's dreadful, Bessie. Listen! You know all about farms,
don't you? Let's go off by ourselves to-morrow and explore, shall we?"

"Maybe," said Bessie. "We'll see what we're supposed to do."

"All right! I'm sleepy, too. Bother what we're supposed to do, Bessie!
Let's do what we like. This is vacation, and you're supposed to do what
you like in vacation time. So you see it's all right, anyhow. We can do
what we like and what we're supposed to do both. That's the way it ought
always to be, I think."

"They'd say we ought to want to do what we're supposed to do, you know,
Dolly. That's the safe way. Then you can't go wrong."

"Well--but do you always want to do what you're supposed to do?"

"I'm afraid not. Good-night!"

"Good-night!"




CHAPTER IX

A STRANGE MEETING


Breakfast on the farm was just such another meal as supper had been.
Again Bessie wondered at the profusion of good things that, at the
Hoovers, had always been kept for sale instead of being used on the
table. There was rich, thick cream, for instance, fresh fruit and all
sorts of good things, so that anyone whose whole acquaintance with
country fare was confined to what the Mercer farm provided might well
have believed all the tales of the good food of the farm. Bessie knew,
of course, without ever having thought much about it, that on many
American farms, despite the ease with which fresh fruits and vegetables
are to be had, a great deal of canned stuff is used.

"Bessie," said Eleanor, after breakfast, "this is rather different from
the Hoovers, isn't it?"

"It certainly is," agreed Bessie.

"Well, of course it isn't possible right now, Bessie, but I've been
thinking that some time, when Maw Hoover has gotten over her dislike for
you, you may be able to teach her and some of the other farm women in
Hedgeville how much more pleasant their lives could be."

Bessie looked surprised.

"Why, I don't believe I'll ever dare go back there," she said. "I
believe Maw Hoover would be willing to put me in prison if she could for
setting that barn on fire. I'm sure she thinks I did it. She wouldn't
believe it was Jake, with his silly trick of trying to frighten me with
those burning sticks."

"She'll find out the truth some time, Bessie, never fear. And think
about what I said. One of the great things this Camp Fire movement is
trying to do is to make women's lives healthier and happier all over the
country. And I don't believe that we've thought half enough of the women
on the farms so far. You've made me realize that."

"But there are lots and lots of Camp Fires in country places, aren't
there, Miss Eleanor? I read about ever so many of them."

"Yes, but not in the sort of country places I mean. There are Camp
Fires, and plenty of them, in the towns in the country, and even in the
bigger villages. But the places I'm thinking of are those like
Hedgeville, where all the village there is is just a post office and two
or three stores, where the people come in from the farms for miles
around to get their mail and buy a few things. You know how much good a
Camp Fire would do in Hedgeville, but it would be pretty hard to get one
started."

Bessie's eyes shone.

"Oh, I wish there was one!" she cried. "I know lots of the girls on the
farms there would love to do the things we do. They're nice girls, lots
of them, though they didn't like me much. You see, Jake Hoover used to
tell his maw lies about me, and she told them to her friends, and they
told their girls--and they believed them, of course. I think that was
one reason why I couldn't get along very well with the other girls."

"I think that's probably the real reason, Bessie, just as you say.
But if you go back you can make it different, I'm sure. You needn't be
afraid of Jake Hoover any more, I think, especially after what he did
at General Seeley's."

"Killing that poor pheasant? Wasn't that a mean thing for him to do?
They used to say he did some poaching, sometimes, around Hedgeville, but
then about everyone did there, I guess. But I didn't think he'd ever try
to catch such beautiful birds as the ones General Seeley had."

"I could forgive him for killing the bird much more easily than for
trying to get you blamed for doing it, Bessie. But let's change the
subject. How did you and Dolly Ransom get along?"

Bessie smiled at the recollection of the stream of questions she had had
to answer from her new roommate.

"She's great!" she said, enthusiastically. "I think we're going to be
fine friends, Miss Eleanor."

"I hope so. There isn't a bit of real harm in Dolly, but she's
mischievous and loves to tease, and I'm afraid that some time she'll go
too far and get herself into trouble without meaning to at all."

"She doesn't like her aunt, Miss Eleanor--the one she lives with now
that her father's away so much."

Miss Mercer made a wry face.

"Miss Ransom's lovely in many ways," she said, "but she doesn't
understand young girls, and she seems to think that Dolly ought to be
just as wise and staid and sober as if she were grown up. I think that
is the chief reason for Dolly's mischief. It has to have some way to
escape, and she's pretty well tied down at home. So I overlook a lot
of her tricks, when, if one of the other girls was guilty, I'd have to
speak pretty severely about it. Well, here she is now! Go off with her
if you like, Bessie."

"Oh, Miss Mercer, what do we have to do this morning?" shouted Dolly as
soon as she saw Bessie and the Guardian.

"What you like until after lunch, Dolly. Then perhaps we may want to
arrange to do something all together--have a cooking lesson, or learn
something about the farm. We'll see. But you and Bessie might as well go
over the place now and get acquainted with it. Bessie can probably find
her way about easier than you city girls."

"Oh, I'm so glad!" cried Dolly. "Come on, Bessie! I bet we can have lots
of sport."

So they went off, and, though Bessie wanted to see the great barn in
which the horses were kept, Dolly wanted to go toward the road at the
entrance of the place, and Bessie yielded, since the choice of direction
didn't seem a bit important then.

"I saw one of those boys who drove us up last night going off this way,"
Dolly explained, guilelessly, "and, Bessie, he looked ever so much nicer
in his blue overalls than he did in that horrible, stiff, black suit he
was wearing last night."

"You shouldn't laugh at his clothes. They're his very best, Dolly. The
overalls are just his working clothes, and you'd hurt his feelings
terribly if he knew that you were laughing at the store clothes. He
probably had to save up his money for a long time to buy them."

"Oh, well, I don't care! I wonder if there's any place around here where
you can buy ice-cream soda? I'm just dying to have some."

"I thought you were going without soda and candy for a month to get an
honor bead, Dolly."

"Oh, bother! I was, but it was too hard. I got a soda when I'd gone
without for two weeks, and I never thought of the old honor bead until
I'd begun to drink it. So that discouraged me, and I gave it up."

"But don't you feel much better when you don't eat candy and drink sodas
between meals?"

"I don't know--maybe I do. Yes, I guess I do. But they taste so good,
Bessie!"

"Well, I'm afraid you'll have to do without the soda here."

Dolly was still really leading the way, and now, her eyes on a blue clad
figure, she decided to leave the avenue of trees that led to the road
and cut across a field.

"Don't you love the smell of hay, Bessie?" asked Dolly. "I think it's
fine. That's one of the things I like best about the country, and being
on a farm."

"I guess I know it too well to get excited about it, Dolly. You see,
I've lived on a farm almost all my life, and so things like that aren't
new to me. But it is lovely and, yes, I do believe I've missed it, there
in the city."

"Wouldn't you rather live in the city, though?"

"Yes, because I wasn't happy where I was in the country, and in the city
I've had everything to make me happy. I suppose you'd rather live in the
country, though?"

"No, indeed! I like to hear the city noises at night, and to see all the
people. And I like to go to the theatre, when my aunt lets me go to a
matinee, and to the moving picture shows, and everything like that.
Don't you love the movies?"

"I never went, so I don't know."

"Not really? You don't mean they haven't even got a moving picture place
In Hedgeville? I never heard of such a thing!"

Bessie laughed.

"Moving pictures are pretty new, Dolly. No one could go to them until
a little while ago, no matter where they lived, or how much money they
had. And I guess people got along all right without them."

"Yes, but they had to get along without lots of things until they were
invented--telephones and electric lights, and lots and lots of useful
things like that. But you wouldn't expect us to get along without them
now, would you?"

"I guess it's only the things we know about that we really need, Dolly.
If we don't know about a lot of these modern things, we keep right along
getting on without them. Like Hedgeville--the only man there who has a
telephone is Farmer Weeks."

"Yes," said Dolly triumphantly, "and he's got more money than all the
rest of the people in the place put together, hasn't he!"

Bessie laughed.

"And all this just because you want an ice-cream soda! What will you do
if you really can't have one, Dolly?"

"I don't know! I'm just hankering for one--my mouth is watering from
thinking about it!"

"We might ask this boy. Miss Eleanor said his name was Stubbs, Walter
Stubbs."

Bessie smiled to herself as she saw how surprised Dolly was trying to
seem at the discovery that they had come to the part of the field where
Walter was working. He was red to the ears, but Bessie could tell from
the way he was looking at Dolly that the city girl, with her smart
clothes and her pretty face, had already made a deep impression on the
farm boy. Now as the two girls approached, he looked at them sheepishly,
standing first on one foot, and then on the other.

"Do you work all the time?" Dolly asked him, impishly, darting a look at
Bessie.

"Cal'late to--most of the time," said Walter.

"Don't you ever have any fun? Don't you ever meet a couple of girls and
treat them to ice-cream soda, for instance?"

"Oh, sure!" said Walter. "Year ago come October Si Hinkle an' I, we went
to the city for the day with the gals we was buzzin' then an' we bought
'em each an ice-cream sody."

"Did you have to go to the city to do that?" said Dolly.

"Sure! Ain't no place nigher'n that. Over to Deer Crossin' there's a man
has lemon pop in bottles sometimes, but he ain't got no founting like we
saw in the city, nor no ice-cream, neither."

Dolly was a picture of woe and disappointment.

"Tell yer what, though," said Walter, bashfully. "Saturday night there's
a goin' to be an ice-cream festival over to the Methodist Church at the
Crossing, an' I'm aimin' ter go, though my folks is Baptists. I'll treat
yer to a plate of ice-cream over there."

"Will you, really?" said Dolly, brightening up and looking as pleased as
if the ice-cream soda she wanted so much had suddenly been set down
before her in the field.

"I sure will," said Walter, hugely pleased. "Say, they play all sorts of
games over there--forfeits an' post office an'--"

Bessie had to laugh at Dolly's look of mystification.

"Come on, Dolly," she said. "We mustn't keep Walter from his work or
he'll be getting into trouble. We can see him again some time when he
isn't so busy." And as they walked off she told Dolly about the country
games the boy had spoken of--games in which kissing played a large part.

"The country isn't as nice as I thought," said Dolly dolefully. "I'm so
thirsty, and there's no place to buy even sarsaparilla!"

"Maybe not, but I can show you something better than that for your
thirst, Dolly. See that rocky place over there, under the trees! I'll
bet there's a spring there. Let's find out."

Sure enough, there was a spring, carefully covered, and a cup, so that
anyone working in the fields could get water, and even Dolly had to
admit that no ice-cream soda had ever quenched her thirst as well.

"What delicious water!" she exclaimed. "Where's the ice?"

"There isn't any, silly!" laughed Bessie. "It's cold like that because
it comes bubbling right up out of the ground."

"I bet that's just the sort of water they sell in bottles in the city,
because it's so much purer than the city water," said Dolly. "But that's
an awfully little spring, Bessie."

"The basin isn't very big, but that doesn't mean that there isn't always
plenty of water. You see, no matter how much you take out, there's
always more coming. See that little brook? Well, this spring feeds that,
and it runs off and joins other brooks, but there's always water here
just the same. Of course, in a drought, if there was no rain for a long
time, it might dry up, but it doesn't look as if that ever happened
here."

"Well, it is good water, and that's a lot better than nothing," said
Dolly. "Come on! We started for the road. Let's go down and sit on the
fence and watch the people go by."

So they made their way on through the field until they came to the road,
and there they sat on the fence, enjoying some apples that Bessie had
pronounced eatable, after several attempts by Dolly to consume some from
half a dozen trees that would have caused her a good deal of pain later.
Two or three automobiles passed as they sat there, and Dolly looked at
their occupants enviously.

"If we had a car, Bessie," she said, "we could get to some place where
they sell ice-cream soda in no time, and be back in plenty of time for
lunch, too. I wish some friend of mine would come along in one of those
motors!"

None did, but, vastly to Bessie's surprise, they had not been there
long before a big green touring car that had shot by them a few minutes
before so fast that they could not see its occupants at all, came back,
doubling on its course, and stopped in the road just before them. And on
the driver's seat, discarding his goggles so that Bessie could recognize
him, was Mr. Holmes--the man who had taken her and Miss Mercer for a
ride, and whom she felt she had so much reason to distrust!

"This is good fortune! I'm very glad indeed to see you," he said,
cordially, to Bessie. "Miss King, is it not--Miss Bessie King, Miss
Mercer's friend? Won't you introduce me to the other young lady!"




CHAPTER X

A FOOLISH PROCEEDING


Reluctantly enough, Bessie yielded to his request. If she had known how
to avoid introducing Holmes to Dolly, she would have done it. But she
was not old enough, and not experienced enough, to understand how to
manage such an affair. Had there been occasion, Miss Eleanor, of course,
could have snubbed a man and still been perfectly polite while she was
doing it. But Bessie had not reached that point yet.

"Are you staying down here together? How very pleasant!" said Holmes.
"This seems to be a beautiful place from the road, but of course one
can't see very much from an automobile."

"We're down here with our Camp Fire--a lot of the girls," explained
Dolly, hurriedly. "Miss Mercer is Guardian of the Camp Fire, and this is
her father's farm. It is a nice place, but it's dreadfully slow. Just
fancy, there isn't a place anywhere around where we can even get an
ice-cream soda!"

"Dolly!" said Bessie, in a low voice, reproachfully. "You mustn't--"

"What a tragedy!" said Holmes, laughing.

"Oh, of course, you don't know what it is to have a craving for soda and
not be able to get it!" said Dolly, pouting. "So you laugh at me--"

Holmes was all regret in a moment.

"My dear Miss Dolly!" he protested. "I wasn't laughing at you at
all--really I wasn't! I was smiling at the idea of there being such a
primitive place in a civilized country. Really, I was! And I'm sure it
is a tragedy. I believe I'm as fond of ice-cream soda as you, if I am
such an old fellow. And, after all, though it seems so tragic, it's
easily mended, you know. I happen to remember passing a most attractive
looking drug store in a town about five miles back, and that's no ride
at all in this car. Jump in, both of you, and I'll run you there and
back in no time!"

"Oh, that's awfully kind of you, but I really think we shouldn't,"
stammered Dolly, who had meant, as soon as she saw that Holmes knew
Bessie, to get that invitation.

"Of course we shouldn't, Dolly," said Bessie, irritated, since she saw
through Dolly's rather transparent little scheme at once. "It's very
kind of you, Mr. Holmes, but we mustn't think of troubling you so much.
Dolly doesn't really want an ice-cream soda at all; she just thinks she
does, and she's much better off without it."

"Oh, come, that's very unkind, Miss Bessie! I can see that your friend
is really suffering for a strawberry ice-cream soda. And you mustn't
talk as if I would be taking any trouble. I'm just riding around the
country aimlessly, for want of something better to do. I'm not going
anywhere in particular, and it doesn't matter when I get there or if
I never get there at all. I'm just a useless man, too old to work any
longer. Surely you won't refuse to let me make myself useful to a young
lady in distress?"

"Oh," said Dolly. "Really, is that so, Mr. Holmes? Wouldn't it be a
dreadful amount of trouble to you? Of course, if that's so, and you
really want us to come--"

"Nonsense, Dolly!" said Bessie, severely. "We can't go, and we must be
getting back to the house. Thank you ever so much, Mr. Holmes--and
good-morning!"

But Dolly was not to be deprived of her treat so easily.

"I think you're very rude, Bessie!" she said, bridling. "That may be the
proper way to act in the country where you came from, but it's not the
way we do things in the city at all. Thank you very much, Mr. Holmes,
and I shall be very pleased to accept your kind invitation, if you're
sure it's not troubling you."

"There you are, Miss Bessie!" said Holmes, heartily. "Now, you won't be
so unkind as to let Miss Dolly come with me alone, will you? She's
coming, and I think you'd better change your mind and come, too."

Poor Bessie was in a quandary. She knew that Miss Mercer, even though
she had laughed at her suspicions of Mr. Holmes, would not approve of
such a prank as this; but she knew, also, that Dolly, inclined to be
defiant and to resent the exercise of any authority, would not be moved
by that argument. And, in the presence of Holmes, she could hardly
tell Dolly the story of Zara's disappearance and her own suspicions
concerning the part that Holmes, or, at least, his car, had played in
it. Neither, she felt, could she let Dolly go alone. The chances were
that Holmes meant no harm, but she knew that Miss Eleanor had put Dolly
in her charge in a measure, and she felt responsible for her new chum.

So, displeased as she was, Bessie climbed into the car after Dolly, who
had already taken her place in the tonneau, and in a moment they were
off, taking the road that led away from Deer Crossing. Holmes only
smiled as she got in the car, but before he put on his dust glasses
Bessie was sure that she saw a look of triumph in his eyes, as if he had
succeeded beyond his hopes in some plan he had formed. Bessie did not at
all relish the prospect of the little adventure upon which Dolly's whim
had launched her, but she decided to take it with a good grace, since,
now that she was in the car, she had to see it through.

Once the car was under way, going fast, Mr. Holmes had to devote all his
attention to driving, and, as it was a large one, there was so much
noise the two girls could talk without being heard.

"I suppose you're awfully mad at me," said Dolly, in a whisper, looking
at Bessie's stern face. "Oh, Bessie, I couldn't help it! He was so nice
about it, and it was such a lovely chance to tease you! I do try to be
good, but every time I see a chance to do anything like that I just
can't seem to help it."

"I asked you not to. You could see I didn't want to go, Dolly. And if
we're going to be friends, you oughtn't to force me into doing things I
don't want to do."

"Oh Bessie, you're not going to be mean about it, and keep on being
angry? You won't tell Miss Eleanor, will you? She'd send me home--I know
she would!"

"I won't tell her, and I'm not going to be angry, either, Dolly. But I'm
very much afraid you'll be sorry yourself before we get back to the
farm, and I don't see how Miss Eleanor can help finding out, because I'm
pretty sure Mr. Holmes isn't going to get us back in time for lunch."

"Why, Bessie, he said he would--he promised! Don't you think he means to
keep his word?"

"I hope so, Dolly, but he told me something once that wasn't so,
and--oh, well, let's not worry about it now, anyhow. I can't explain
everything to you now, there isn't time. It's a lovely ride, isn't it?
We might as well enjoy ourselves, now that we're in for it."

"That's what I say, Bessie. There's no use crying over spilt milk, is
there? And I guess it will be all right. I think he's awfully nice, I
don't see why you don't like him."

"You will when you know as much as I do, Dolly, I'm afraid. But we won't
talk any more about that. Oh, look, there is a town, right here! We're
coming into it now, do you see? Probably this is the place Mr. Holmes
meant he was going to bring us to."

But Bessie's fears were redoubled a minute or so later, when the car,
without slackening speed at all, shot through a street that was lined
with shops, two or three of which, as they could see, were drug stores
with ice-cream soda signs that they could easily read even from the fast
moving car.

Looking at Bessie as if she were already a little frightened and sorry,
Dolly leaned over and touched Mr. Holmes on the shoulder.

"Aren't you going to stop here?" she asked, "I'm sure those are awfully
nice looking stores Mr. Holmes."

He slowed up the car at once, and turned to them with a pleasant smile.

"Oh, this isn't the place I meant at all," he said. "I don't know
anything about the stores here. The place I was thinking of is much
better, and it's not very far away. Besides, it's early yet, and I think
we ought to have as much of a ride as we can, don't you?"

Dolly looked dubious. One glance at Bessie had show her that her chum
was not prepared to accept this explanation. But they had no choice, for
Holmes, seeming to take their assent to his plan for granted, had turned
on full power, and the car was roaring out into open country again, but
now in a direction almost at right angles to its former course. They
were traveling due west, and Bessie, without anything definite to alarm
her, felt herself growing more and more nervous with the passing
minutes. She felt that something was wrong.

Her distrust of Holmes, save for so much of it as was due to his
statement that he had never been in Hedgeville, when she herself had
seen him there, was almost wholly instinctive, but Bessie knew that
instinct is sometimes a better guide than reason, and she began to
regret Dolly's impulsive action in getting into the car more and more.
Still, as matters stood, there was nothing to do but wait and see what
was to happen.

After all, no matter what might come, she would not be utterly
unprepared. She was expecting trouble of some sort, and she knew that
the worst blows are those that are unexpected, just as the worst
lightning is that which flashes from a clear sky.

Suddenly, as the car approached a little country store, at a crossroads,
and looking as though no one ever went there to buy anything, Holmes
slowed up again.

"This isn't the place you mean, is it?" asked Dolly, smartly. "If it is,
I must say I think those stores you wouldn't stop at are much nicer!"

Holmes laughed back at her. He seemed to have taken a great fancy to
her, spoiled and pert though she was.

"No, indeed," he said, "but I happened to see by that blue sign that
they have a telephone inside, and I just remembered, after we passed
through that last village, that I ought to telephone a message to a
friend of mine in the city. So, if you don't mind, I'll leave you in the
car while I run in and telephone. It won't take me a minute, then we'll
be on our way again."

Then he got out, and cutting off the motor, stepped into the store. In a
moment Bessie was ready to take advantage of the opportunity that chance
and his carelessness offered her.

"You keep perfectly still, Dolly," she said, earnestly. "I know it isn't
supposed to be nice to listen to what you're not meant to hear, but I
think this is a time when I've got a right to try to find out what I
can. I may not be able to do it at all, but I'm going to do my best to
listen to Mr. Holmes while he's sending that message and find out all
I can about it. Do you see that window at the side of the store? Well,
there's just a chance, I believe, that the telephone inside may be near
the window. If it is, I may be able to find out what he's doing."

And, without giving Dolly a chance to protest, or even to voice her
surprise, Bessie slipped from the car and ran lightly to the side of the
ramshackle old building that served as a store. Crouching down there,
she was able to hear what Holmes, inside, was saying, as she had hoped.
And the very first words she heard sent a thrill through her, and
banished any lingering regrets she might have had at playing the part,
usually so dishonorable, of eavesdropper.

"Hello! Hello!" she heard him saying. "What's the matter, Central? I
want Hedgeville--number eight, ring five. Can't you get that!"

Bessie did not know the number, but very few people in Hedgeville had a
telephone, and that in itself was suspicious. She waited while Holmes,
expressing his impatience volubly, amid sympathetic chuckles from the
audience inside the store, got his connection.

"Hello! Hello! Is that you, Weeks?" she heard him say, at last, and it
was all she could do, when she heard the name of the man who had proved
himself such a determined enemy to Zara and herself, to keep from
betraying herself with a cry. "Yes, yes, this is Holmes! Where am I? Oh,
ten miles from nowhere! You wouldn't know the place if I were to tell
you. What you want to know is where I'm going to be an hour from now.
What? Tell you! Well, that's what I'm trying to do! Listen a little and
don't ask so many questions. I'm going to be in an automobile at
Jericho. Know where that is?"

He waited, evidently listening to Weeks.

"Yes, that's right. You'll be there, eh? You've got the papers? Well,
don't leave them at home. We don't want any mistake about this. I had a
lot of luck, didn't expect to be able to do it so soon, or so easily.
I'll tell you about that later. Jericho, then. You won't be late? And an
hour from now. This is risky work, Weeks. If you make any of your fool
breaks this time, you'll hear from me. Well, good-bye!"

As he said good-bye Bessie slipped back to the automobile, and when
Holmes came out, all bluff good-nature, only Bessie's heightened color
showed that anything out of the ordinary had happened to her. As soon as
she returned, Dolly began to hurl question after question at her, but
Bessie refused to answer.

"Keep quiet, Dolly!" she urged. "I'll tell you all about it when I can,
but this isn't the time to talk. You don't want to let Mr. Holmes know
what I was doing, do you? Well, please keep quiet, then!"

Of course, if Holmes planned to do anything wrong, he would not have
revealed his plans boldly to the loafers in the store who had been
listening to his telephone conversation. Bessie understood that what he
had said probably meant more to Farmer Weeks than it could to her or any
casual listener. But, even so, there was plenty to disturb her in what
she had heard. Evidently the danger point was Jericho, and she tried
hard to remember what she had ever heard about that place. It was a
little town, she thought, not far from Hedgeville--and, then, suddenly,
she got a clue to the whole plot. She realized why the change in their
direction had worried her. They were going toward Hedgeville, back
toward the section of the country from which she and Zara had escaped
with so much difficulty on account of Farmer Weeks's vindictive pursuit.

And she remembered, too, Charlie Jamieson's warning about crossing the
state line. That, then, was what Holmes meant to do--get her into the
state where, although she did not understand exactly how, she was in
danger of being deprived of her liberty for a time at least. It would be
easy enough, in the automobile. State lines are not well marked along
country roads. Even now she might have crossed that imaginary boundary
that spelled the difference between safety and peril for her.

"Listen to me, Dolly," she whispered, when she had finished revolving
her thoughts. "I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm sure that
Mr. Holmes is trying to get me back to the people I had to run away from
in Hedgeville. You remember--you know what happened when we were on our
way to General Seeley's place, when that man caught Zara and carried her
off?"

Dolly nodded, greatly excited.

"So you can see that I may get into a lot of trouble, Dolly. You'll help
me, won't you?"

"Of course I will! And I'm awfully sorry for getting you into it in the
first place, Bessie."

"Don't worry about that! I'm going to forget about it. But now remember
that you must do just as I say for the next hour or so, even if you
don't understand why. I don't know yet what Mr. Holmes is going to do,
and so I can't make any plans ahead. I'll just have to try to do the
best I can to fool him when he shows his hand, and it may be that the
only way I can do it is with your help."

"I'll help you, Bessie. I won't be silly again."




CHAPTER XI

A DARING MOVE


For some time, then, Holmes drove the car in what Bessie soon saw to be
an aimless fashion. The morning was nearly done, and Bessie, used to
guessing at the time from the sun, knew that it was very near noon.
Holmes seemed to be doubling on his tracks, and to be driving in what
resembled a circle, as if he were chasing his own tail, and at last
Bessie determined to speak to him and try to make him show his hand. The
suspense of waiting for something to happen was making her nervous. She
felt that even the realization of her fears would be welcome, since
then, at least, she could do something.

"Mr. Holmes," she said, "I really think you'd better be taking us back.
It's very late, and I'm afraid Miss Mercer will be worried about us."

"Not she!" said Holmes, cheerfully. "The fact is, I've rather lost my
way, and those stupid men at that store where we stopped did not seem to
be able to do much toward setting me right. So, knowing that we might be
late, I took the liberty of telephoning to Miss Mercer and said that, if
she didn't mind, I'd take you two to luncheon somewhere and bring you
back in the afternoon."

Bessie gasped at the cool daring of the way in which he told the lie.
But then she reflected, just in time to keep her from taxing him with
having told an untruth, that he knew nothing of her eavesdropping, and
therefore thought it was safe to tell her anything he liked.

"Oh!" she said. "I--I didn't know you'd done that. You said you were
going to send a message to a friend--"

"Well, I flatter myself that Miss Mercer and I are friends," said
Holmes, smiling. "Why don't you cheer up, Miss Bessie? It's all
right--really it is! You ought to know that I wouldn't get you into
trouble with Miss Mercer for the world. Why, I'm old enough to be your
father!"

"But if you're lost, how do you know where you're going?" asked Bessie,
sticking to her guns.

"I don't know, of course--not exactly, that is. But I know that if I
keep on going this way I'll come to some place here we can get a nice
luncheon. This is pretty thickly settled country around here, you know,
and it's used a lot by automobile parties. So we're sure to find some
sort of a place soon. They have them wherever they think they can
persuade motorists to stop and spend their money."

"If Miss Mercer knows where we are and said it was all right for us to
stay it must be all right, Bessie, mustn't it?" asked Dolly, who had
overheard what they were saying. "Oh, I'm so glad, Bessie! That shows
you were mistaken, doesn't it, and that it wasn't so wicked of me to get
you to come?"

"Hush, Dolly!" said Bessie, in a whisper. "I can't let Mr. Holmes know
it now, of course, but don't you remember that I heard him while he was
telephoning, when he thought I was safe here in the car, and out of
sight and sound of him? He didn't telephone to Miss Mercer at all. He's
just saying he did, because he thinks he can fool me and make me believe
anything he says. I heard what he telephoned, and he never even called
up the farm!"

Even Dolly was a little scared at that. It never occurred to her to
doubt what Bessie said. Somehow, people seemed always to be ready to
believe her. And, remembering the way Holmes had declared that he had
spoken with Miss Mercer, Dolly began to realize that Bessie was right,
and that there must be something underhanded about Holmes. Bessie,
although she was sorry that Dolly had to be frightened in such a
fashion, was glad of the fact just the same, because it meant that she
could depend upon Dolly now to obey her, no matter what she told her
to do.

As a matter of fact, it seemed to Bessie that fear was about the only
thing that did drive Dolly, who, if she thought the consequence would
not be too unpleasant, usually managed to have her own way as decidedly
as she had done in regard to accepting the offer of Holmes to take them
to a place where they could get her much coveted ice-cream soda.

Bessie, remembering what she had heard Holmes say about meeting
Farmer Weeks in an hour, began now to keep her eyes open, and she soon
discovered that they had ceased their aimless driving about, and were
traveling along what was evidently a highroad, since it showed the marks
of many wheels and hoofs. And a glance at the sun was enough, too, to
let her know that the crisis of this silly adventure was approaching,
since nearly an hour had elapsed since she had overheard the
conversation.

And, sure enough, just as she had expected, it was not long before
Bessie saw that the houses along the road were closer and closer to one
another, and a few moments later the tall, white steeple of a church and
the smoke from the chimneys of a small town made it plain that they were
approaching a town--most likely Jericho.

"Well, well, I know this place," said Holmes, turning to speak to them.
"It's Jericho, and it's in your own state, Miss Bessie. Didn't you tell
me that you used to live in Hedgeville? That's not so very far from
here."

There was a strange look in his eyes as he looked fixedly at Bessie,
and now she no longer had any doubt that he meant mischief, and that it
behooved her, if she wanted to escape from the trap into which she was
being led, to have all her wits about her. As they entered the town she
kept her eyes open, but there was no sign of Farmer Weeks. He was late,
and Bessie was glad of that, since, now that she could guess what she
must face, every added minute of safety and freedom from interference
was so much clear gain. A plan was forming in her head, a wild, reckless
sort of plan, but still one that offered some chance, at least, of
getting out of a very disagreeable position.

"Hungry!" asked Holmes, turning to them as he slowed the car near the
railroad station. "Well, we'll have some lunch in just a minute. I'm
just going in here to make some inquiries about the roads and I'll be
right back."

Bessie's eyes followed him into the station, and then, just as she
had done before, she slipped from the car as soon as he was inside,
following him cautiously, but feeling that there was less danger than
there had been at the store, since here, if she were surprised, she
could explain that she felt cramped from the long ride, and had gotten
out of the car to restore her circulation. Then, peeping inside, she saw
Holmes talking eagerly, and, as she thought, angrily, to Jake Hoover!

"He'll be here soon--jes' as soon as he can get here," she heard Jake
say. And she heard Holmes's angry reply, and nothing more, since that
was enough, and more than enough, to confirm her fears and make her
understand that if she was to get out of this trap she must make a move
at once. And now, knowing perfectly well the risk she was running, she
sped back to the car, and climbed aboard, but in the front seat, where
Holmes had been sitting, and not next to Dolly, in her own proper place.
For her plan was nothing more nor less than to get away in Holmes's own
car!

Bessie had never driven an automobile in her life, and she knew as
little, almost, as it was possible for anyone to know about them. But
she felt that all the sacrifices she had endured so far would be made
useless unless she got away, and, moreover, she was sure now that Zara
would need her help more than ever. And if she could only get a little
distance away from Holmes, she was sure that she and Dolly would be able
to elude him. So, doing exactly what she had seen Holmes do, she threw
in the clutch, and, with nervous, trembling hands on the wheel of the
big car, guided it as it gathered speed and moved across the railroad
tracks.

From the moment when the idea of making her escape in this fashion had
first entered her mind, Bessie had watched Holmes and every move he made
like a cat, determined to be able to do as he did if the emergency
arose. And now her remarkable ability to do things that required, the
skilled use of her hands stood her in good stead.

The car was a silent one at low speed, and it had gone nearly a hundred
feet before Holmes realized that something was wrong, and came running
out of the station, followed by the wide-eyed Jake Hoover. And Bessie
increased her start while he stood there, too stunned with amazement
even to cry out.

By the time he had gathered his wits enough to begin shouting and
running after his car, pursuit was hopeless, and Bessie, afraid any
minute of having an accident, was running the car, still slowly, but too
fast for anything but another car to overtake it, out along the road
that led out of Jericho.

Dolly had screamed when she saw what Bessie meant to do, but after that
she had been too frightened even to speak. But when they were out of
range of Holmes's shouts and angry cries she regained her courage enough
to lean over and speak to Bessie.

"Oh, Bessie, do stop!" she begged. "We might run into someone, or be run
into ourselves. This is awfully dangerous, I know!"

"So do I know that," said Bessie. "But we had to do something, Dolly,
and this was the only thing I could think of to do, though I didn't want
to. But we're not going to stay in the car, don't worry! Do you see that
lane that comes into the road just beyond that big oak tree? Well, I'm
going to turn up there, and leave the car so that they can find it. I
don't want to steal the car, you know."

Bessie managed the turn successfully, and, frightened as she was, even
the few minutes that she had spent in driving the car had thrilled and
exhilarated her. She ran slowly up the lane, and when the main road was
hidden by a curve, she stopped the car and got out.

"There!" she said. "Dolly, if I only knew more about running it, I'd
like to go back to the farm in the car. It would serve Mr. Holmes right
if we did, you know, for he was trying to play a mighty mean trick on
me. I wonder if I'll ever be able to learn to drive a car like that? I'd
love to be able to, and to have one of my own to drive!"

"How are we going to get home?" wailed poor Dolly. "Oh, Bessie, what an
awful fool I've been! And now I'm hungry and tired, and we're lost, and
miles from the farm, and Miss Eleanor will be furious at me!"

"Cheer up, Dolly! We'll get home all right. And I'll see that Miss
Eleanor understands all right. She won't be angry. She'll probably tell
you that you've been punished enough when we get back. I don't know
about getting anything to eat, though. We can't do that around here. All
we want to do now is to get away from here."

Then suddenly she had an idea.

"I'm not going to steal his nasty old car," said Bessie, "but I am going
to borrow something that ought to be in it, and that's a map! Anyone
who travels around as much as he does must have maps that show the
roads, and, as long as he has got us into this mess, I don't see why we
shouldn't take something from his car to help us out of it. I'll send it
back to him as soon as we get to the farm. Here--let's see--yes, here's
a whole lot of little maps."

"Let me see, Bessie. I've seen those maps before. I bet I can find the
right one that we want in a jiffy. Yes, here it is!"

"All right. Let's get off in the woods here and look at it, Dolly. We
don't want to stay near the car, because they'll soon find that we
turned up this lane, and they'll come looking for the machine and for
us. So we want to be off where they can't see us. I'd hate to be caught
again right now after taking such a chance with that automobile!"

"But you didn't act as if you were taking a chance, Bessie. I thought
you were the bravest girl I'd ever seen--"

"Nonsense, Dolly! I was just as frightened as you were--more frightened,
I guess. I didn't know whether what I was doing was right or not, and I
was afraid every second I'd push the wrong thing, or touch something
with my foot, and start it going as fast as it could."

"Well, when I'm frightened, I show it, and I don't do things that I'm
afraid of. Someone told me once that to do something you were really
afraid to do was really the bravest thing--braver than if you're not
afraid when other people would be."

"Well, I was afraid, and the only reason I started that car was because
I was more afraid to stay there than to run the car, Dolly. So I guess
we needn't worry much about my having been brave. It was simply a
question of which I was the most afraid of--the car or Mr. Holmes. Here,
this is a nice spot. We can sit down on this old log, and there's enough
sunlight coming down through the trees for us to see the map."

They sat down together on the trunk of a fallen tree, and put their
heads together over the map.

"Here's Jericho, and here, see, Dolly, that's the railroad we crossed.
Here's the road--and, yes, here's the lane we came up. It's a good thing
we didn't try to go much further, isn't it? That star at the end means
that it stops and just runs into the woods. I expect they use it for
bringing out the trees after they're cut in the winter."

"Well, I'm glad we know just where we are, but how are we going to get
back, Bessie? That's the chief thing, it seems to me. Don't you think
so?"

"I've got a little money with me," said Bessie, thoughtfully. "If we can
walk until we get to a railroad station--not the one at Jericho, of
course,--I think we ought to be able to get back that way very easily.
Let's look up Deer Crossing and see if that railroad doesn't run near
somewhere."

Bessie took the map then, and she found that Jericho was in the same
state as Hedgeville, just as she had suspected. She did not know what
the Hoovers had done, and whether they had obtained any papers giving
them control of her, as Farmer Weeks had done in the case of Zara, but
she was pretty sure that if she were caught in their state Farmer Weeks
would find some way of keeping her there, and of preventing her from
getting back to Miss Mercer and her friends of the Camp Fire Girls.

"Mr. Holmes took an awful roundabout way to get here, Dolly," said
Bessie, when she had finished looking at the map. "But he didn't really
bring us so very far away. If we were riding in an automobile, I don't
think it would take us more than an hour to get back. But, as we haven't
got a car, here's the best thing for us to do. We can follow this lane,
except that we'd better walk through the woods instead of going back to
the lane, and come out on another main road about two miles away. That
will take us over here"--she pointed to a place on the map--"and there
we can get a trolley car to this station. There'll be a train to take us
to Deer Crossing from there, and then we can get home easily. Of course,
we don't know how the trains run, and we may have to wait a long time
for one, but it's the best thing to do, I'm sure."

"Well, we'd better start right away, I guess," said Dolly, stoutly. "I'm
an awfully slow walker in the woods, Bessie. I'm not used to them. But
I'll hurry as much as ever I can for I've given you trouble enough
already today."

The woods were very quiet, and Bessie was rather surprised at the
absence of signs of life--human life, that is. Of squirrels and
chipmunks and birds there were plenty, but it seemed strange to her that
in so thickly settled a part of the country so much land should be left
covered with woods. But it was good for their purpose, since she was
sure that Holmes would have complained that his car was stolen, and he
would not, of course, have told people the reason Bessie's seemingly mad
action. Nor would their word be likely to be taken against his. So the
thing for them to do was to escape observation. And until just before
the woods began to clear, they seemed likely to do so. But then there
was a shock for Bessie, for, right in front, she suddenly heard Jake
Hoover's voice.




CHAPTER XII

FRIENDS IN NEED


Bessie clutched Dolly's arm and drew her back just in time, for Dolly,
growing enthusiastic at the sight of the road, had been about to spring
forward with a cry of joy.

"That's Jake Hoover, the boy who used to bully me and tried to frighten
us when we were all in camp. Do you remember, Dolly? We mustn't let him
see us! He's in with Mr. Holmes and Farmer Weeks, and I'm really more
afraid of him than I am of Mr. Holmes. He hates me, anyhow, and he'd do
anything he could to hurt me, I believe."

They crouched down behind some bushes then, and worked their way forward
cautiously, making as little noise as possible, until they could see
the road and so have a chance to find out what Jake was doing in that
neighborhood. At first Bessie, who was in the van, did not see Jake,
and, looking hastily up and down, she found that there were no houses in
sight and that they had struck a lonely and solitary part of the road.
Then she heard Jake's voice again, and, answering him, Mr. Holmes's.

"It's like looking for a needle in a haystack," growled Holmes. "If old
Weeks had got to Jericho on time, we'd have saved all this trouble."

"He was doing his best, mister," said Jake. "But he had to take the
train. He can't ride a bicycle, like me, and a horse and buggy would
have taken him a long time. The old man done his best. 'Tweren't his
fault he was late."

"Well, no use crying over spilt milk," said Holmes. "You'd better walk
down this road until you come to the trolley line. Watch that. I think
they'll try to get aboard the car there and get to the railroad that
way. That would get them back to Deer Crossing, you see. Once they're
out of this state, we can't touch Bessie, and the little baggage knows
it. She's too clever for her own good. If they had been coming out this
way they would be here by now, I think. But I had an idea they'd strike
through the woods. They wouldn't follow the lane where they left my car,
because they would know very well that we'd be watching that."

"An' Bessie can find her way through any woods you ever seen," said Jake
Hoover, gloomily. "Used ter run away from maw at home that-away, an' we
never could find her till she got good an' ready to come home an' take
her lickin'."

Dolly grinned at Bessie.

"Good for you!" she whispered. "Did you really do that, Bessie? You're a
good sport, after all! I never thought you'd be disobedient."

Bessie smiled.

"Listen!" she whispered. "We mustn't talk yet."

"What'll I do if they come to the trolley line?" asked Jake.

"Catch Bessie and hold her," said Holmes. "Don't pay any attention to
the other one, of course. We've nothing to do with her, and we don't
want to be bothered by her. She's a silly, brainless little thing,
anyway."

Bessie's hand sought Dolly's and held it tight. And Bessie, looking at
her chum's face, saw that it was red with anger and mortification. It
was a harsh blow to Dolly's pride in herself, and her belief in her own
power to charm everyone she saw.

"Never mind, Dolly! You're not what he calls you, and we both know it,"
whispered Bessie. "Don't get angry! Remember that he's furious because
we slipped out of his hands, that's all. I don't believe he really means
that at all. He isn't silly enough to believe it, I'm sure of that."

"I bet I'll make him feel sorry he ever said that, just the same," vowed
Dolly, clenching her fist. "I'd like to pull his hair out for him, the
nasty, mean liar!"

"Well, we've got to think of getting away from them before we can do
that," said Bessie. "And it's not going to be as easy as I thought,
either, Dolly, because if they watch that trolley line, I don't see how
we're going to get aboard without being seen. Jake Hoover is going down
this road, you see."

"Well, why don't we just strike the trolley at another place?"

"That isn't so easy, either, Dolly, because that trolley doesn't run
along the road there. It goes through the fields, like a regular
railroad, and it only stops at certain places. There isn't a trolley
station marked for a mile or so either side of the one on this road, and
I don't see how we can get to the nearest ones, either. I don't know the
country around here well enough to do much wandering in the woods. You
have to know your way about to do that, especially if you're in a hurry
to get anywhere."

"Sh--listen!" said Dolly, holding up her finger.

"Well, you understand, then?" said Holmes, in the road below. "Take this
road until you come to the trolley line, and wait there for the girls to
come along. If Bessie comes, grab her, and don't let her get away from
you. I'll go to the railroad station where they'll have to change for
the train to Deer Crossing, in case they manage to reach it in some
other fashion, and old Weeks will stay on guard in Jericho. Now, don't
make any mistakes. Remember, I know some things about you that you don't
want others to find out, young man, and I've got a habit of punishing
people who fail when they are working for me."

"I ain't noticed that you reward them much when they do things,"
grumbled Jake. "It's a poor rule that don't work both ways, mister. You
say you'll punish me if I don't make good; how about payin' me if I do?"

"We'll talk about that when you've accomplished something, my young
friend," said Holmes, with an ugly laugh. "It seems to me that you ought
to be pretty grateful to me for not having split on you before this,
though. If I told all I know about you, I guess you'd be in the state
reformatory now--and I'm not sure that it wouldn't be a good place for
you. Eh?"

"Stow that, you!" snarled Jake. "I could tell a few things about you if
I wanted to. This stunt you pulled off this morning is pretty nigh to
bein' kidnappin'--know that?"

Bessie touched Dolly on the arm.

"Oh, I do hope they keep on quarreling," she whispered. "That is our
very best chance to escape from them, Dolly. If they get to fighting
between themselves, it's going to be much harder for them to do anything
to us. They'll distrust one another, and we may be able to fool them."

But Holmes evidently saw that, too. When he spoke again, his voice was
good-natured, and he had resumed his chaffing, easy tone.

"Don't go up in the air that way, Jake," he said. "I was only trying to
string you a little, trying to make you mad. I wouldn't give you away;
never fear that. You'll do your best, I know. And you'll find that
you'll get your reward, all right, too, if you make a good job of this.
We've got one of them. Now we want the other, and I'll feel safe. So go
ahead now and don't waste any more time. Take your bicycle and make the
best time you can to that trolley station."

"I got a right to hold her, haven't I?" asked Jake, a little dubiously,
as Bessie thought.

"Sure you have!" said Holmes, impatiently. "I've told you that, haven't
I? Weeks has got papers from the court making him her guardian, just as
he did in the case of that other girl."

"All right," said Jake.

And he got on his bicycle and rode off, while Holmes walked back
along the road, and they heard him, a minute later, cranking up his
automobile, which he had evidently found and taken around by another
road.

The information, unintentionally given to her by Holmes, that Weeks
was her legal guardian, made Bessie shiver. She was more afraid of the
miserly old farmer than of anyone she had ever seen, and the idea of
being subject to his authority for any length of time filled Bessie with
dread. He hated her already; she knew that she would be far less happy
in his care than she had ever been at the Hoovers', where, sometimes, it
had seemed to her that the limit of discomfort and severe treatment had
been reached.

So, if Bessie had needed anything to spur her determination to escape
from the trap into which poor Dolly had so innocently led her, this
accidental discovery of what her fate was to be would have been enough.
But as she pondered, she could not, for the time, see what was to be
done.

"Bessie," said Dolly, when they had been quiet for several minutes, "is
that Jake Hoover as stupid as he looks!"

"He's not very bright, Dolly. He's cunning, like some animals, and that
makes him seem cleverer than he is. But I think that he really just acts
by instinct most of the time, and that that's one reason he's so mean."

"Well, have you thought of any way of getting back to the farm except by
the trolley?"

"No--o. The only thing I did think of was that you might go ahead. They
wouldn't bother you, I guess. They'd be afraid to, you see, because
you've got a lot of friends and relatives who'd make an awful fuss if
they tried to bother you. Then I could stay here, and you could tell
Miss Eleanor, and she'd get Charlie Jamieson, or someone to come after
me here in an automobile--"

"I think that's too risky, Bessie. They'd guess that I knew where you
were, and if they're ready to take such big chances to get hold of you,
they might carry me off and keep me somewhere for a few days--long
enough to keep me from taking word to Miss Eleanor and bringing help to
you. And you see you wouldn't know why they didn't come, and, oh, no, I
think we'd better not try anything like that!"

"It would be risky, Dolly, and I know it as well as you do. But I don't
see what else we're going to do. I hate to see you mixed up with my
troubles--it isn't fair. I think I'd better just let them catch me, and
take a chance of getting away afterward--"

"Bessie King, do you think I'd let you anything like that? Whose fault
is it that you're in this trouble? Mine, isn't it? Well, we're going to
stick together! I'm certainly not going to let you get into more trouble
just for the sake of saving me from sharing it. And I've got an idea,
anyhow. Jake Hoover looks to me as if one could fool him pretty easily.
He doesn't know what I look like, does he?"

"I don't suppose he does, Dolly. I don't see how he could. But what's
that got to do with it?"

"Just you wait and see! If you had any plan, Bessie, I wouldn't want to
suggest anything, because I think you're a lot cleverer than I am. But I
have fooled boys before now, just for fun, and I think maybe I can do it
this time, when I've really got a good reason for doing it. These woods
along the road here aren't very thick so let's walk along, and follow
the road, until we come in sight of the trolley. Then we'll see what
it's like where the trolley comes along, and maybe we'll he able to fool
Mr. Jake Hoover, the horrid thing! I think he must be a dreadful coward
to persecute a girl the way he does you. You never did anything to him,
did you?"

"No, but he never liked me from the time he was a little boy. He was
always trying to get me into trouble with Maw Hoover. I don't know why
he hates me so, but he certainly does."

"Well, he doesn't hate you half as much as I hate him, I promise you
that, Bessie! And I've usually managed to get even with the people I
hate, if it wasn't too much trouble. I'm hungry now, and thirsty, and
it's his fault--partly. I'm going to get even with him for that."

Bessie was surprised to find that Dolly seemed to have conquered her
nervousness and her fear of the strange situation in which she was
placed. A little while before she had seemed almost on the verge of a
collapse, and Bessie had been afraid that her chum, unused to hardships
of any sort, and to roughing it, as country girls almost all learn to do
from the time they are very small, was going to break down. But now
Dolly seemed to be as resolute and as unafraid as Bessie herself, and
the knowledge naturally cheered Bessie, since it assured her that she
would not have to bear the burden alone.

So they started, as Dolly had suggested, walking along through the
woods, perhaps a hundred feet back from the road. They could not be seen
themselves, but, by moving to the side of the little rise or bank along
the road from time to time, they were able to see what was going on. For
most of the distance they were unable to see anything at all. The road
seemed to be little used, and they passed only one house on the way to
the trolley station.

They had warning of their approach to the trolley some time before it
was in sight, too, when they heard the wires singing as a car passed
along.

"Now we're getting near the place," said Dolly, happily. "Oh, but it's
going to be fun, Bessie! You're just going to let me run things now for
a little while, for a change. I've got a splendid plan--and I'll tell
you about it in good time."

As they neared the trolley line the woods began to get somewhat thinner,
and Dolly grew nervous.

"I hope the ground isn't too clear around the track, Bessie," she said.
"That wouldn't be good for my plan at all."

But her fears were groundless, for, as it turned out, the trolley line
ran right through the woods on their side of the road, although on the
other side the trees had all been cleared away. Soon they saw a little
shed, and a bench outside. And on the bench, watching the road in the
direction from which they had come, sat Jake Hoover.

"Now, listen," said Dolly. "Jake doesn't know me, you see, and I'm going
right out there and talk to him. I bet he'll be glad to talk to me, too,
and I'll keep him busy, so that you can sneak over the tracks and get
to the other side. Then you wait there until you hear a car coming.
See? And when it comes, get on from the other side. I'll be holding
Jake's attention, and I don't believe he'll ever see you at all. I'll
get aboard, too, and you can manage so that he won't be able to see you
on the car. Even if he does, I don't believe the men would let him touch
you, but he won't, until the car begins to move, and then it will be
too late."

"But, Dolly, do you think you can keep Jake Hoover quiet? Suppose he
knows you, he'd suspect right away that I was in the neighborhood. And
then there's another thing. Mr. Holmes may have told him what sort of
clothes you are wearing."

"I never thought of that, Bessie. That's so. Oh, I know! You change
dresses with me, right here. He's so stupid that he'd never think of our
doing that, I know."

"That's a good idea, Dolly. I do think it may work."

So, in the shadow of the trees they changed dresses, and then, while
Bessie advanced toward the track cautiously and as quietly as possible,
with her training in the woods, Dolly went back, and appeared presently
walking carelessly along toward the trolley station.

Jake looked at her suspiciously, and she smiled at him.

"Oh, hello!" she said, cheerily. "You waiting for a car, too? How soon
does the next one come along?"

"About two minutes," said Jake. He was eyeing her clothes, and evidently
suspected nothing after that scrutiny.

"That's good! I was afraid I'd miss that car. Oh, you're not going, are
you? That's your bicycle, isn't it?"

"Naw, I'm not goin'--got to stay here. Say, why don't you wait here and
talk to a feller?"

"I might," smiled Dolly. The car was really coming--it rounded a curve
just then, and came in, slowing up. Dolly saw Bessie get aboard, but
Jake was looking at her. "No, I guess I can't," she said then. And she
sprang aboard, just as the car moved off.




CHAPTER XIII

AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR


The two girls fell into one another's arms on the car, laughing almost
hysterically as it moved away. Looking back, Dolly saw Jake Hoover, a
stupid look in his round eyes, staring after them.

"Bessie! Let him see you!" she begged. "I want him to know how he was
fooled! I bet he's just the sort of boy to go around saying what poor
things girls are, and how little use he has for them!"

Bessie stood up on the back platform, and Jake saw her. The sight seemed
to drive him frantic. They saw him waving his arms, and faintly heard
his shrieks of anger as he saw his prey slipping away. But he was
helpless, of course; there was no way in which he could chase the car,
and he had sense enough, at least, to realize that.

"You're quite right about him, Dolly," said Bessie, laughing so hard
that there were tears in her eyes. "He always did go around saying that
girls were no good and that he couldn't see why any of the fellows
wanted to have anything to do with them!"

"He's the sort that always does, Bessie, and it's because the girls
won't have anything to do with them. He was pleased enough when I
started talking to him, and awfully bashful, too, just like a silly
calf. That's all he really is, anyhow, Bessie. But it's a good thing
he's as silly as he is, because he's so mean that if he were clever,
he could make a frightful nuisance of himself."

"I think he'll have a bad time when Mr. Holmes and Farmer Weeks find out
that he let us get away, Dolly. I don't know what sort of a hold they've
got on him, but it was easy to tell there was something, from the way
Mr. Holmes spoke."

"Yes, indeed! And Mr. Holmes meant just what he said when he threatened
him, too. The only reason he pretended afterwards that he was joking was
so that Jake wouldn't be too frightened to do anything, don't you think
so?"

"Yes, I do, Dolly. I wonder if Miss Eleanor and Mr. Jamieson will
believe that I was right about Mr. Holmes now? They laughed at me before
when I said that I wouldn't trust him, and was so sure that he had
something to do with Zara's being carried off--"

"Why, what's that, Bessie? I hadn't heard of that at all."

"Oh, I forgot! You don't know about that, do you? Well, this is a good
chance to tell you."

So Bessie told Dolly something of the strange and involved affair of
Zara and her father, and of Zara's mysterious disappearance from the
Mercer house in the middle of the night.

"I'll bet they fooled her, just the way Mr. Holmes fooled me," said
Dolly, excitedly. "He looks so nice, and he's so smooth and clever, and
he talks to you as if he wanted to be your best friend. I don't believe
they carried her off. I think they fooled her, so that she was willing
to go with them."

"That's just what I think, Dolly, and this business today makes me worry
about her more than ever. I think we ought to try to get her away from
them and back with us just as soon as we can."

"I suppose they wanted you because you know too much," said Dolly,
thoughtfully. "They probably thought that you would try to get Zara away
from them."

"I think there's more than that, though, Dolly," said Bessie, her eyes
shining with excitement. "I don't know what it is, but I've just got a
sort of funny feeling that they know something about me that I don't
know, and that they don't want me or my real friends to find out. I'm
going to be just as careful as I can be, anyhow. Have you got that map
we took from the car? I want to see just where this car will take us."

Dolly produced the map, and they bent their heads over it. No one on the
car seemed to be paying much attention to them. There were only two or
three passengers, and Bessie thought they had not seen the manner in
which they had boarded the car. But the conductor, coming around for
fares, had noticed that there was something out of the ordinary about
their presence. He was smiling when he held out his hands for the fare.

"Gave that young feller the slip pretty neatly back there where you got
aboard," he remarked. "Which of you was he after? Don't blame him
much--pretty young ladies like you!"

"Oh, he's just a stupid boy! We didn't want him riding with us," said
Dolly, "so we tried to make him think we weren't coming on this car,
and then jumped aboard when it was too late for him to follow us."

"I saw you--I saw you," chuckled the conductor. "So did Hank. He's my
motorman, and the best one on the line. That's why he started the car
to goin' so quickly. Lots of excitement around this way this morning."

"How's that?" asked Bessie.

"Oh, there was a city feller over to Jericho kickin' that a couple of
girls had stolen his automobile. Me, I don't believe it--didn't like his
looks. Serves him right, I say, if they did."

Bessie was afraid that Dolly would betray them by a laugh, but nothing
of the sort happened. It was quite plain that the conductor never
thought of connecting them with the two girls Holmes had charged with
the theft of the car. But, even so, the knowledge that he had made such
an accusation publicly worried Bessie. She did not know much of the law,
and she was afraid that she and Dolly might possibly have rendered
themselves liable to arrest by taking the car, even though they had
abandoned it almost at once, and Holmes had recovered it undamaged.

In that case, she feared getting out of the state might not save them.
They might, for all she knew, be arrested and taken back to Jericho,
where she would be in the power of Weeks. However, she decided not to
worry much about that, and when she mentioned her fears, Dolly laughed
at them.

"People in glass houses can't afford to throw stones," she said, sagely.
"Look here, Bessie, he might be able to make people believe that he had
a right to catch you, if he was acting for this nasty old Farmer Weeks.
But they haven't any right to touch me, and I believe they could make a
lot of trouble for Mr. Holmes for carrying me off. I remember that they
sent a man to prison for a long time not long ago for carrying off a
child that lived near us. I guess Mr. Holmes won't be very anxious to go
to law about his old car."

"Well, look here, Dolly, we're not quite out of the woods yet, you know.
Here's the station where we have to get out to catch the train for Deer
Crossing. It's marked Tecumseh. And it's a funny thing, but the railroad
is in the other state, and the trolley car stops in this one. Do you
see? When we get off the car we'll still be in this state, but it won't
take more than a minute to cross the line. Mr. Holmes told Jake he'd be
waiting there, so we must look out."

"Oh, Bessie, are you sure? Wouldn't it be dreadful to have escaped this
far, and then be caught just when everything seemed to be all right?
I'd rather have been held up by Jake Hoover, I do believe! And I thought
everything was all right now."

"Well, there's no use getting discouraged. We're much better off than we
were when we were in the car, Dolly, and we got out of that mess. So we
might as well try to think that we'll be all right, anyhow. Oh, I just
thought of something! Is there a station on this trolley line before we
come to Tecumseh?"

They looked eagerly at the map, but disappointment was their lot. There
was no station between the one where they had boarded the car and
Tecumseh. But Dolly had an idea again, just as they had about decided
that they would have to take their chances with Holmes at Tecumseh.

"Doesn't this car ever slow down at all between stations?" she asked the
conductor, smiling and looking as attractive as she could.

"Well, that depends," said the conductor, returning the smile. "If a
passenger's got a pull with me or the motorman, it might. Why?"

"Because if we go to Tecumseh, we'll only have to walk back nearly half
a mile to that road that crosses the track. Couldn't you let us off
there, Mr. Conductor?"

"Well, I don't run the car," he said, with a smile. "But I'll talk to
Hank, the motorman. Never knew him to refuse anything a lady asked yet."

He walked to the front of the car, and returned a moment later.

"Hank says he's got to stop at that road today," he reported, with
a grin. "It's against the rules, you know, to make stops except at
stations, or to let passengers off. But the car has to stop sometimes,
just the same, and if you should happen to drop off, I won't see you--I
won't be looking. You move back to the door, and be ready, and I'll stay
up in front with Hank. Then I won't be to blame, you see, if you should
happen to get off when the car stops."

"Thank you ever so much," said the two girls, together. "It's awfully
good of you--"

"Don't be thanking me," grinned the conductor. "The car'll be stopping
by accident like, and how should I know what you're going to do? Well,
good luck to you!"

They had not long to wait before the grinding of the brakes warned them
that the time was at hand, and in a few moments they stood beside the
track and waved their hands cheerily to the conductor, who, with an
expression of mock surprise on his face, had come out on the back
platform, and pretended to wonder how they had got off the car.

"Now I think it ought to be easy," said Bessie, greatly relieved. "You
see, Mr. Holmes will be watching the car. He probably knows all about
this line, and wouldn't think of our being able to get off and walk. So
what we want to do is to follow this road here and then turn east at the
first crossroads. That will bring us to the railroad track, and we can
cross it, and work down to the station at Tecumseh, and be safe all the
way. We'll cross the state line this side of the railroad, and then
we'll be all right."

Dolly began to sing for sheer happiness.

"We're awfully lucky, Bessie," she cried. "I'm ever so glad that things
seem to be coming out all right. If they'd caught you, I would always
have blamed myself and thought it was all my fault."

"Well, even if it was partly your fault in the beginning, Dolly, I never
would have got away from Jake Hoover without you, I'm sure of that. So
you needn't worry any more."

"It's awfully good of you to say so, Bessie. There's one thing--I'm not
going to be silly any more, the way I was about those ice-cream sodas
this morning. And I think--yes, I will--I'll promise you right now not
to have any soda or any candy between meals for a month. You think
they're bad for me, don't you?"

"I think they must be, Dolly, or the Camp Fire Girls wouldn't give honor
beads for doing without them. I've never had much of anything like that
myself, you see, so I don't really know."

"Well, I won't take them, anyhow. Oh, Bessie, but I'm hungry! I'd give
all the ice-cream sodas I ever ate for a big piece of beefsteak right
now! Aren't you hungry, too? I should think you'd be starved."

"I am pretty hungry, but I was so excited I'd forgotten about it, I
guess. Why did you remind me?"

"Well, maybe there'll be a store at Tecumseh, so that we can get
something to eat."

"Here's the crossroad, Dolly. Now we want to turn east. I don't think
we'll need to walk very far--three-quarters of a mile, maybe, and about
as much more back toward Tecumseh when we're once beyond the railroad."

"I suppose it's safe to walk along the road here?"

"I think so, and the fields are open on both sides, anyhow, so it's a
case of Hobson's choice. We'd be seen just as easily if we walked in the
fields, and perhaps the people who own them would get after us, too. And
I think we've got troubles enough on our hands without looking for any
more."

"That's certainly true, Bessie. Yes, we'll have to stick to the road.
Anyhow, we left Jake back at the trolley station, and he's probably
still there, trying to puzzle out how we got away. And Mr. Holmes ought
to be at Tecumseh. Farmer Weeks was to stay in Jericho, so I think we've
really found a safe road at last!"

It seemed so, certainly. They met a few people and they were mostly
driving, and Bessie was hoping for a ride. But everyone they met seemed
to be going in the opposite direction, and they had crossed the railroad
tracks before a cart finally overtook them. By that time, of course,
they were ready to turn and follow the tracks to Tecumseh, so the
cheerful offer of a ride from the farmer who was driving had to be
declined.

"Oh, Dolly, we're really safe at last!" exclaimed Bessie. "They can't
touch me in this state so we can sit down and rest if we want to."

"But I don't want to, Bessie. I'd rather hurry along to Tecumseh and get
a train just as soon as we can. Wouldn't you? I think Miss Eleanor must
be awfully worried about us by this time."

"Bessie!" said Dolly, suddenly. "Look, isn't that cloud of dust on the
road there coming this way? It looks like someone on a bicycle."

It was. It was Jake Hoover, scorching along toward them, and as he
approached them they could see a look of triumph on his face. He was up
with them in a moment, and, jumping off his wheel, seized Bessie, who
was too terrified to move.

"Got yer, ain't I?" he shouted, savagely exultant. "Thought you was
mighty smart, foolin' me, didn't yer? Well, we'll see!"

"Don't you dare touch her! She's not in your state any more," stormed
Dolly, stamping her foot.

"She soon will be," he said, and picked Bessie, who was no match for
him, though she struggled, up in his arms. He started to walk back in
the direction he had come, leaving his bicycle in the road where it had
fallen.

But now Dolly, seeing Bessie treated so roughly, seemed to turn into a
little wildcat. With a furious cry she sprang at Jake, and began hitting
him with her fists, scratching him, pulling his hair and attacking him
so vigorously that he cried out with surprise and pain. He dropped
Bessie and turned to protect himself, and Dolly drew off at once.

"Run, Bessie, run! He'll never catch you!" she cried. And as Jake darted
off in pursuit of Bessie, who seized the chance to escape, Dolly picked
up a stone and smashed the bicycle with it.

"There, now! He'll never catch us on foot, and he can't ride any more,"
she cried. "Come on, Bessie!"




CHAPTER XIV

THE ENEMY CHECKMATED


Bessie had eluded the furious Jake easily enough. Amazed by Dolly's
onslaught, he had been too surprised to move quickly in any case, and,
when he saw her trying to ruin his bicycle, he was diverted from Bessie
and, shouting furiously, ran toward her with the idea of saving his
wheel. So it was no trick at all for the two girls, light on their feet
and graceful in their movements, to avoid the shambling, ungainly,
overgrown boy, who, smarting from the pain of the scratches Dolly had
inflicted, ran after them blindly.

Moreover, they had not gone very far when a farmer's boy came along,
driving a surrey. He was laughing at the antics of Jake, and when he saw
the two girls, he stopped his horses.

"Say, is that big lout trying to catch you two?" he asked.

"He certainly is!" said Dolly. "Are you going to let him do it?"

"You bet your life I'm not!" said the boy, getting down from the surrey
quickly. "Just you watch those horses, and you'll see what I do to him.
We don't think much of fellers who hit girls in these parts."

Jake was coming along puffing and blowing, and when he saw the two girls
he gave a cry of triumph. But the farmer's boy checked that quickly, and
gave him something else to shout about.

"Here, you big bully, what are you trying to do?" he demanded, setting
himself squarely in Jake's path.

"Get outer my way!" stormed Jake. "That young one there smashed my
wheel, and the other one is wanted--she's wanted by the officers--she
stole a automobile and set my pop's barn on fire--"

"That's a likely story--I don't think!" sneered the farmer's boy. "Get
back now! Leave them alone, do you hear? If you try to touch them again,
I'll knock you into the middle of next week--"

But Jake was too enraged to be afraid, as in his sober senses he
certainly would have been. And rashly he made a quick leap forward, and
tried to get out of the way of the big young fellow who was between him
and the girls. There wasn't any fight; it would not be fair to dignify
what followed with such a name. Jake was knocked down by the first blow;
he tried to get up, and was promptly knocked down again. That brought
him to his senses.

"Had enough?" asked his conqueror, simply.

And Jake, lying in the dust at his feet, sobbing, and trying to pull
himself together, stammered out, "Yes!"

"All right! Get up, and go over there by the side of the road and sit
down. And if you know what's good for you, you'll stay there, too, or
else turn around and go where you came from. If you follow us you'll get
into trouble--more than you're in now, and that seems to be about all
you can handle, judging from the looks of you."

Then he turned away contemptuously, and went back to Dolly and Bessie,
who were watching him admiringly.

"Isn't he splendid--so brave and strong?" cried Dolly.

"It's a good thing for us he came along," said Bessie. "Jake is strong
enough to hurt us or do anything he likes to us, but I always knew that
he couldn't do anything against a boy his own size. I wish they hadn't
had to fight, but in a case like this it's all right, because it's the
only thing to do."

"Well, I like a boy who can fight when he has to," said Dolly, stoutly.
"I haven't any use for sissies, and I think that's all Jake really is,
for all his bluster."

"Well, I guess he won't bother you much more," said their champion, when
he returned to the surrey. "I'm only going as far as Tecumseh, but I'll
be glad to give you a ride that far if you want to go."

"We do indeed," said Bessie. "And we're ever so much obliged to you for
saving us from that fellow and for offering us the ride too. Do you know
when we can get a train at Tecumseh for Deer Crossing?"

"Right soon now," said the boy. "It's due most any minute but I'll get
you there in time. That's the train I'm going to meet--got to take some
summer boarders from the city out to pop's place. My name's Bill Burns.
My pop's got a farm over that way"--he pointed with his whip--"about two
miles."

Bessie and Dolly told him their names then, and he asked where they were
staying at Deer Crossing.

"Mercer Farm, huh?" he said, when they had told him. "I got a cousin
works over there--fellow by the name of Walter Stubbs. Do you know him?"

"Yes, indeed," said Bessie, with a smiling look at Dolly. "We saw him
this morning. Dolly thinks a lot of him."

"Oh, is that so?" said Bill Burns. He looked at Dolly, then bent over
and whispered to Bessie, "He's welcome to her." Then he spoke aloud
again. "I may be running over to see Walt one of these days. He and I
are pretty good friends--for cousins. Seems to me he told me somethin'
about an ice-cream festival over there at the Methodist Church. I might
run over to that."

"I wish you would," said Bessie, laughing. "All the girls are going, I'm
sure--all our Camp Fire Girls."

"What, more of you girls!" said Bill, seeming to be surprised.

"Yes, indeed. There are a whole lot over at the farm. They'll be glad to
see you, especially when we tell them how good you were to us, and how
you saved us from that nasty Jake Hoover."

"Oh, I just enjoyed beating him," said Burns. "Wish he'd put up more of
a fight, though. I'd have licked him just the same, but it would have
been more like a real fight. Well, I don't hear that train yet, and the
station's just around that next bend. Not much of a place--Tecumseh.
Hasn't any right to such a fine name, I think."

The prospect when they rounded the turn in the road bore out his slur on
the village of Tecumseh. It wasn't much of a place--scarcely more than
the village part of Hedgeville, as Bessie saw. The station was there,
and two or three stores and a post office. But Bessie and Dolly were
more interested in the man who was sitting gloomily, watch in hand, on
the station steps. It was Holmes, and his face, when he saw them, was a
picture.

"Well, how in the world did you get here?" he asked, angrily. "That was
a fine trick you played on me, running off, and leaving me to worry
about you! You might have been killed."

"I like your nerve!" exclaimed Dolly, before Bessie could answer,
surprised by the cool way in which Holmes tried to shift the blame to
their shoulders. "Look here, Mr. Holmes, we know all about you, and why
you took us on that ride. You wanted to get Bessie into the state where
she came from, so that Farmer Weeks could keep her there!"

A look of black anger swept across his face, handsome enough when he did
not let his real character stand revealed.

"Yes, there's no use trying to deceive us any more with your smooth
talk, Mr. Holmes," said Bessie. "I listened to what you said over the
telephone, and we heard you telling Jake Hoover how to catch us when we
went to take the trolley, too."

"Yes," countered Dolly. "If you had been as smart as you thought you
were, you could have caught us then--we were within a few feet of you
while you were talking to him."

"Well, I'm near enough to catch you now!" said Holmes, and he made a
grab for Bessie, and caught her just as she started to run away. He
began dragging her across the tracks and toward the state line, but Bill
Burns came out of the post office at that moment.

"Here, you let her alone!" he shouted, springing forward, and Holmes
dropped Bessie's arm to ward off the blow that Burns aimed at him.

"What are you butting in for?" he snarled, "Want to get yourself in
jail?"

"Never you mind what I want to do," said Burns. "Don't you try to touch
either of those girls again! If you do, you'll find that I can hit you
as hard as you ever was hit in your life. And if I ever get into jail,
you won't be the one to put me there, either--I'll bet money on that!"

There might have been more argument, but just then the whistle of the
approaching train sounded, and a moment later it had drawn into the
station, separating the two girls and Burns from Holmes very
effectually.

Bessie and Dolly sprang up the steps at once, and turned to wave
good-bye to Bill Burns, who had helped them so splendidly. He stood
below, grinning at them, and waving his hand, and as they began to move
out of range he called out cheerily to them: "Well, I'll be over to see
Walt pretty soon. Don't forget what I look like!"

"We certainly won't," Bessie answered.

Then they went inside, and sank gratefully and happily into the first
empty seat they saw. They were still hungry, but at least they were
safe now from the pursuit of Holmes and Jake Hoover, and they were so
grateful for that that they were entirely willing to let their hunger
be forgotten.

And they had not been seated more than a minute, when Bessie, at least,
had new cause for feeling happy, for a man's voice sounded in her ear,
and she looked up in surprise to see Charlie Jamieson, the lawyer,
bending over them.

"Well, what are you doing here?" he exclaimed.

They told him as quickly as they could, both girls joining in the story,
and his eyes grew grave as he listened.

"Well, I owe you an apology, Bessie," he said, when they had finished
their tale. "I certainly thought you were all off about Holmes, and I'm
still puzzled to account for his being mixed up in this. But there's no
doubt that he is, from what you tell me--none at all! He's a hard man
to have to fight, too. You did mighty well to get rid of him as well as
you did. You left him back there at Tecumseh, eh? Well, I'll just have a
look, in case he got on the train when you weren't looking."

He walked through the train, and in a few minutes he was back, looking
more serious than ever.

"That's just what he did," he said. "He's up there in the smoking car,
looking as if he'd lost his last friend this morning. He's a hard man to
shake off, and a bad man to have against you. That's always been his
reputation, and I guess you two will be ready to believe that after what
you've seen of him today. I'm going to sit down and do some thinking
now, before we get to Deer Crossing. It's a lucky thing I happened to
decide to run out this afternoon, and it was just accident. I found I
had a little time to myself, and I wired to Miss Mercer that I would
come out and spend the night and see how the Camp Fire Girls were
getting along."

"I thought maybe she'd sent word to you when Dolly and I weren't at the
farm for lunch," said Bessie. "I'm afraid she's worried about us."

"She probably is, and if she hadn't known I was coming anyhow she would
probably have sent for me. Well, you'd better rest up a bit now, Bessie.
We may not be through with Mr. Holmes yet."

"He wouldn't dare try to do anything to me now, when you're here, Mr.
Jamieson!"

"No, I don't believe he would. But that's not exactly what I meant,
He's through with us--for the day. But we're not through with him.
We may have a chance to get even and do something to him, just by way of
a change. I think he needs a lesson to show him that we're a match for
him, after all." Then he went off, explaining that he had to be alone
to think out a problem.

But they hadn't figured out what his plan might be when he returned to
them, chuckling mightily.

"I've got it, I believe," he said. "Holmes acted as if you had treated
him badly, didn't he, when you took his car? As if he was hurt by your
thinking that he didn't mean to do just what he said?"

"Yes," said Bessie.

"Then we'll pretend to believe it, Miss Mercer and I. You needn't, of
course. That wouldn't fool him for a minute. But he'll probably try to
make us think he's all right, and that's just what I want. Oh, we've got
him now, I think! I hope Miss Mercer will be at the station. I can't
explain my plan now, but you'll be in it, and then you'll see. I'm going
up to talk to him now."

So Bessie and Dolly, sadly puzzled, and unable to see what the lawyer
was driving at, saw the two men get off the train at Deer Crossing.
Jamieson rushed over to Miss Mercer and spoke to her for a minute, and
then Eleanor, laughing, held out her hand to Holmes, and turned to the
two girls with a smile.

"Why, how silly you were," she said, "to think that Mr. Holmes meant
to be anything but kind! You mustn't get such nonsensical ideas. Mr.
Holmes, just to prove that you don't bear any malice, you must let me
drive you out to the farm for dinner. No, I really won't let you refuse.
I insist. There's plenty of room in the car--the chauffeur will go back
in one of the farm wagons, and Charlie will drive."

Holmes glanced once at Bessie triumphantly but he was careful not to
betray himself.

"I'm afraid I oughtn't to impose on you, Miss Mercer," he said. "But
really, since you're so pressing--well, I shall be most happy to come."




CHAPTER XV

THE TABLES TURNED


When they arrived at the farm, after the swift run in the Mercer car,
Miss Mercer took Holmes out on the big back piazza, and Bessie and
Dolly, under the watchful eyes of Jamieson, made up for their long fast.
It was nearly five o'clock in the afternoon when they reached the
dining-room, and Jamieson laughed as he saw them eat.

"You'll spoil your appetites for dinner," he said, as he saw Dolly
making away with the cold meat and bread and milk that had been provided
for them.

"I don't care!" she answered. "It couldn't taste half as good as this,
no matter what it was. But now you're not going to keep on being mean?
You'll tell us why you and Miss Eleanor are being so nice to Mr.
Holmes?"

"Not yet," he said. "But you'll know soon enough. It isn't just because
we like the pleasure of his company, I can tell you that. Mr. Holmes is
in for one of the worst surprises of his life before I get through with
him, unless I fall down pretty hard. And I don't expect to. I'll tell
you one thing, though. All you girls are going for a straw ride tonight,
and Mr. Holmes is going to be along, too. He doesn't know it yet, and he
won't know, even after we start, just where we're going."

"It's a lucky thing Miss Eleanor has taken part in amateur theatricals
sometimes," he continued. "She was half wild with anxiety about you two,
and she was ready to give you the worst scolding you ever listened to.
But I told her what I wanted her to do just in that one minute there
at the station, and she played up splendidly, so that I don't believe
Holmes suspects that we're on to him at all. She's mad with curiosity,
too, and I bet she's dying to get hold of me and make me tell her all
about it.

"Well, I've got to get ready for what's coming after dinner. Run along
upstairs, you two, and try to sleep for an hour or so."

"You won't leave us behind?" said Dolly, anxiously.

"I'd leave you in a minute, you minx, but I couldn't get Bessie without
waking you up too, I suppose, and I need her, so you'll have to come
along. If you see the other girls don't tell them what's happened. Make
them wait until tomorrow."

"All right," said Bessie. "Come along, Dolly! I _am_ tired. It will
feel good to get a little nap."

The reaction from the strain of their experiences made it easy for them
to get to sleep as soon as they were lying down, and both were still
sleepy when a knock at the door awakened them, It was quite dark, and
the moon was shining. Outside they found two wagons, one much larger
than the other, filled with straw.

"This is fine fun," said Holmes, who was standing with Miss Mercer and
Jamieson: "A regular old-fashioned straw ride, eh?"

"Well, pile in!" said Jamieson, who was acting as master of ceremonies.
"Holmes, get in there beside Miss Mercer. Bessie, you and Dolly get in
there, too. We want to keep an eye on you, so that you don't get into
any more mischief. Come on, now, all you girls get aboard the other
wagon--and off you go!"

Then he climbed aboard himself, and began to take up the song that had
already been started in the other wagon, one of the favorites of the
Camp Fire Girls. So it was a jolly party that soon passed out of the
tree-lined avenue of the Mercer farm and began driving along the road,
away from Deer Crossing.

The smaller and lighter wagon took the lead and they passed along
quietly for some time--quietly as far as incident is concerned, that
is, for there was nothing quiet about the merry, happy girls in the big
wagon. They made the night resound with their songs and laughter, and
Bessie wondered a little why she and Dolly were kept where they were,
instead of being sent with the other girls. But she said nothing, and
she knew that she would find out presently. For her and Dolly there was
a peculiar thrill in the ride, and a delightful one, too, for they knew
from what the lawyer had told them that there was a surprise preparing
for Holmes, and it was exciting to try to guess what it might turn out
to be.

Nor was the explanation very long delayed. They had driven for a mile,
perhaps, when the driver, obeying a quiet order from the lawyer, who
had taken a seat beside him, turned off the main road, and they found
themselves in a narrow lane, where there would not be room to pass
should they meet any sort of a vehicle.

"Pretty narrow quarters, Jamieson," said Holmes. "Are you sure you know
where you're going?"

"Yes, I know," said Jamieson, with a laugh. "Don't you? I thought you
knew this part of the country so well, Holmes."

"I? No, I scarcely know it at all, as a matter of fact. That's how I got
lost this morning when I took these young ladies for a drive and got
myself into their bad graces."

"My mistake! I thought you did know it."

Jamieson bent over then and spoke again to the driver, and in a moment
they made another turn, but this time into a private road. Bessie
thought she heard a startled exclamation from Holmes, but she was not
sure. Then she looked around.

"What a horrid place!" exclaimed Miss Mercer. "Look how it's been
allowed to run down. Oh, I know where we are! This is the old Tisdall
place. No one has lived here for years. That's why it looks so
neglected."

"Right!" said Jamieson. "Doesn't that house look creepy, through the
trees, with the moonlight on it? I thought this would be a fine place to
come and tell ghost stories."

This time there was no mistake about Holmes's angry exclamation.

"Look here, what do you think you're doing? What right have you to bring
this crowd in here, Jamieson?"

Charlie looked at him in surprise--a surprise that Bessie knew
instinctively was assumed.

"Oh, strictly speaking, I suppose we're trespassing," he said. "But this
has always been common property--for years, at least. The owners don't
pay any attention to the place. They won't mind our coming here, even if
they find out."

"Well, I object--"

But Holmes stifled the remark before anyone save Bessie and Jamieson
heard it. And Bessie began to understand, and to thrill with a new,
scarcely formed idea. She began to have a glimmering of Jamieson's plan,
and she saw how cleverly Holmes had been induced to walk into the trap
that had been set for him. No matter how much he knew about this
mysterious place, and how unwilling he might be to let them explore it,
whatever his reason, he could not protest now without revealing plainly
that he had been lying before. And, moreover, he could not be at all
sure that it was not pure accident that had led Jamieson to select it as
their destination.

Holmes was between two fires. If he let the ride go on, he faced
discovery of something he was trying to keep secret; if he tried to stop
it short, or to divert it to some other spot, he was sure to arouse
suspicions that, by the merest luck, as he supposed, his treatment of
Bessie and Dolly had not aroused. So he did what most people would do in
the same circumstances; he kept still, and trusted to his luck to carry
him through.

"Oh, I see," he said, finally. "You're going to stop in the grounds and
have a picnic, or something like that, eh? That's fine--that will be
great sport."

"That's what I thought," said Charlie Jamieson, innocently, but Bessie
was sure that he had winked at her.

The wagons drove up, however, to the very front of the crumbling old
house.

"Everybody out!" called Jamieson. "Here Holmes, where are you going?
Stay with us, man! The fun is just going to begin." For he had seen
Holmes trying to slip off to the back of the house, and, smiling, he had
seized the retired merchant's arm.

"Here's something I want you to hear," he said. "Eleanor, start the
girls to singing that song I like so much--that 'Wohelo for Aye' song,
you know."

In a moment the clear voices were raised in the most famous of all the
Camp Fire Songs, and Holmes, with a savage wrench, got himself free. But
it was too late. For, as the first notes rose, a window above was flung
open, and a voice that Bessie knew as well as she did her own joined in
the chorus. In a moment the singing stopped, and every pair of eyes was
turned up, to see Zara leaning from a window!

"Oh, Bessie--Miss Mercer--please take me away from here! I'm so
frightened!"

"The game's up, Holmes," said Jamieson, in a changed voice. "Did you
really think we'd take your word against those two girls you treated so
shamefully today? Come on, now, I'm not going to stand for any nonsense!
Will you take me upstairs to where you've got Zara hidden? You played a
cool game, and you thought you could get away with it because you were
so respectable. But we've got a complete case against you. It was in
your automobile that Zara was taken from Miss Mercer's house, and as
soon as you played that trick today I was sure that you had had a hand
in the game."

Holmes looked at him darkly. His face was working with anger, but he
evidently saw that the game was up, as Jamieson said.

"I guess you win--this time," he said at last, coolly enough. "But
remember, I haven't been beaten very often. And you don't know what's
back of this. If you knew when you were well off, you'd keep out of
this, Jamieson. There'd be something in it for you--"

"Don't try to bribe me," said Jamieson, with a gesture of disgust. "It's
no use. I win, as you say. There may be a next time--but I'm not afraid
of you, Holmes. Take me up there right now."

"Oh, all right," said Holmes.

And three minutes later Zara was in Bessie's arms, while Holmes looked
on, sneering.

"I'll not deny that you did a pretty clever job here," he said. "How did
you find out about this house?"

"I happened to be searching some records yesterday, and I saw, quite by
accident, the deed recording your purchase of this property," Jamieson
answered. "That didn't mean much--until I heard of the way you acted
to-day. Then, of course, I put two and two together, and decided you got
hold of this place to keep Zara hidden.

"You knew there was a good chance that we could upset that order making
old Weeks her guardian, and I knew, of course, that she hadn't been
produced in court in the other state. Pretty risky work, Holmes. Now get
out. You can stay here, of course, or you can walk to the station. There
won't be room for you with us, I'm sorry to say."

"Oh, I'm so glad to get away," Zara sobbed. "I thought it was best to
go. They told me that I wouldn't be taken back to Farmer Weeks, and that
my father wanted me to go with them. They had a note from him, and he
said he didn't quite understand but that he was sure Mr. Holmes was his
friend, and would look after me properly. And they said Bessie would be
in danger as long as I stayed with her. That is really why I went."

"But it's all right now, Zara," Eleanor Mercer said, soothingly. "We'll
look after you now, Didn't they treat you well here?"

"Oh, it was horrid, Miss Eleanor! They kept me locked up in that room,
and I never saw anyone at all, except one old woman, who was deaf, and
couldn't understand me. She brought my meals, but of course I couldn't
talk to her."

"He was afraid to trust anyone she could talk to, of course, or who
could answer questions if anyone happened to come here. That explains
why the people inside didn't pay any attention to all the noise we made
as we drove up. That was the one thing I was afraid of, and I couldn't
figure out any way to avoid that risk."

"But why did you bring Mr. Holmes along?"

"So that he wouldn't get here before we did and get her away, Eleanor.
That was why I had to make him think we swallowed that ridiculous story
of his, too. Well, Dolly, will you forgive me now for not telling you
before? Wasn't the surprise worth waiting for?"

"That--and getting Zara back. Of course it was," said Dolly happily.
"Oh, Zara, we're going to have such good times on the farm now!"

"On the farm, yes," said Jamieson, dryly. "But no straying into the
road! And you'd better see that half a dozen of them are always
together, Eleanor. Mr. Holmes isn't the sort to be content with one
licking. He'll come back for more, or else I'm mightily mistaken in
my man."

Then they all climbed into the wagons again, and how they did laugh at
the disconsolate figure of Mr. Holmes, whom they passed, trudging slowly
and unhappily toward Deer Crossing.

Jamieson looked at his watch. Then he laughed merrily.

"He'll have to wait until half past five in the morning for the milk
train to take him back to the city," he said. "I don't envy him. There
isn't much to do at Deer Crossing."








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