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´╗┐Title: A Campfire Girl's Test of Friendship
Author: Stewart, Jane L.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Campfire Girl's Test of Friendship" ***

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THE CAMPFIRE GIRLS SERIES

    A CAMPFIRE GIRL'S FIRST COUNCIL FIRE
    A CAMPFIRE GIRL'S CHUM
    A CAMPFIRE GIRL IN SUMMER CAMP
    A CAMPFIRE GIRL'S ADVENTURE
    A CAMPFIRE GIRL'S TEST OF FRIENDSHIP
    A CAMPFIRE GIRL'S HAPPINESS



[Illustration: "Keep still, and you won't be hurt," commanded the man.]



    A Campfire Girl's
    Test of Friendship


    By
    JANE L. STEWART


    CAMPFIRE GIRLS SERIES
    VOLUME V


    THE
    SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
    AKRON, OHIO     NEW YORK

    Made in U.S.A.



    COPYRIGHT, MCMXIV
    BY
    THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING CO.



The Camp Fire Girls On the March



CHAPTER I

AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR


"Oh, what a glorious day!" cried Bessie King, the first of the members
of the Manasquan Camp Fire Girls of America to emerge from the sleeping
house of Camp Sunset, on Lake Dean, and to see the sun sparkling on the
water of the lake. She was not long alone in her enjoyment of the scene,
however.

"Oh, it's lovely!" said Dolly Ransom, as, rubbing her eyes sleepily,
since it was only a little after six, she joined her friend on the
porch. "This is really the first time we've had a chance to see what the
lake looks like. It's been covered with that dense smoke ever since
we've been here."

"Well, the smoke has nearly all gone, Dolly. The change in the wind not
only helped to put out the fire, but it's driving the smoke away from
us."

"The smoke isn't all gone, though, Bessie. Look over there. It's still
rising from the other end of the woods on the other side of the lake,
but it isn't bothering us over here any more."

"What a pity it is that we've got to go away just as the weather gives
us a chance to enjoy it here! But then I guess we'll have a good time
when we do go away, anyhow. We thought we weren't going to enjoy it
here, but it hasn't been so bad, after all, has it?"

"No, because it ended well, Bessie. But if those girls in the camp next
door had had their way, we wouldn't have had a single pleasant thing to
remember about staying here, would we?"

"They've had their lesson, I think, Dolly. Perhaps they won't be so
ready to look down on the Camp Fire Girls after this--and I'm sure they
would be nice and friendly if we stayed."

"I wouldn't want any of their friendliness. All I'd ask would be for
them to let us alone. That's all I ever did want them to do, anyhow. If
they had just minded their own affairs, there wouldn't have been any
trouble."

"Well, I feel sort of sorry for them, Dolly. When they finally got into
real trouble they had to come to us for help, and if they are the sort
of girls they seem to be, they couldn't have liked doing that very
well."

"You bet they didn't, Bessie! It was just the hardest thing they could
have done. You see, the reason they were so mean to us is that they are
awfully proud, and they think they're better than any other people."

"Then what's the use of still being angry at them? I thought you weren't
last night--not at Gladys Cooper, at least."

"Why, I thought then that she was in danger because of what I'd done,
and that made me feel bad. But you and I helped to get her back to their
camp safely, so I feel as if we were square. I suppose I ought to be
willing to forgive them for the way they acted, but I just can't seem to
do it, Bessie."

"Well, as long as we're going away from here to-day anyhow, it doesn't
make much difference. We're not likely to see them again, are we?"

"I don't know why not--those who live in the same town, anyhow. Marcia
Bates and Gladys Cooper--the two who were lost on the mountain last
night, you know--live very close to me at home."

"You were always good friends with Gladys until you met her up here,
weren't you?"

"Oh, yes, good friends enough. I don't think we either of us cared
particularly about the other. Each of us had a lot of friends we liked
better, but we got along well enough."

"Well, don't you think she just made a mistake, and then was afraid to
admit it, and try to make up for it? I think lots of people are like
that. They do something wrong, and then, just because it frightens them
a little and they think it would be hard to set matters right, they
make a bad thing much worse."

"Oh, you can't make me feel charitable about them, and there's no use
trying, Bessie! Let's try not to talk about them, for it makes me angry
every time I think of the way they behaved. They were just plain snobs,
that's all!"

"I thought Gladys Cooper was pretty mean, after all the trouble we had
taken last night to help her and her chum, but I do think the rest were
sorry, and felt that they'd been all wrong. They really said so, if you
remember."

"Well, they ought to have been, certainly! What a lot of lazy girls they
must be! Do look, Bessie. There isn't a sign of life over at their camp.
I bet not one of them is up yet!"

"You're a fine one to criticise anyone else for being lazy, Dolly
Ransom! How long did it take me to wake you up this morning? And how
many times have you nearly missed breakfast by going back to bed after
you'd pretended to get up?"

"Oh, well," said Dolly, defiantly, "it's just because I'm lazy myself
and know what a fault it is that I'm the proper one to call other people
down for it. It's always the one who knows all about some sin who can
preach the best sermon against it, you know."

"Turning preacher, Dolly?" asked Eleanor Mercer. Both the girls spun
around and rushed toward her as soon as they heard her voice, and
realized that she had stepped noiselessly out on the porch. They
embraced her happily. She was Guardian of the Camp Fire, and no more
popular Guardian could have been found in the whole State.

"Dolly's got something more against the girls from Halsted Camp!"
explained Bessie, with a peal of laughter. "She says they're lazy
because they're not up yet, and I said she was a fine one to say
anything about that! Don't you think so too, Miss Eleanor?"

"Well, she's up early enough this morning, Bessie. But, well, I'm afraid
you're right. Dolly's got a lot of good qualities, but getting up early
in the morning unless someone pulls her out of bed and keeps her from
climbing in again, isn't one of them."

"What time are we going to start, Miss Eleanor?" asked Dolly, who felt
that it was time to change the topic of conversation. Dolly was usually
willing enough to talk about herself, but she preferred to choose the
subject herself.

"After we've had breakfast and cleaned things up here. It was very nice
of the Worcesters to let us use their camp, and we must leave it looking
just as nice as when we came."

"Are they coming back here this summer?"

"The Worcesters? No, I don't think so. I'm pretty sure, though, that
they have invited some friends of theirs to use the camp next week and
stay as long as they like."

"I hope their friends will please the Halsted Camp crowd better than we
did," said Dolly, sarcastically. "The Worcesters ought to be very
careful only to let people come here who are a little better socially
than those girls. Then they'd probably be satisfied."

"Now, don't hold a grudge against all those girls, Dolly," said
Eleanor, smiling. "Gladys Cooper was really the ringleader in all the
trouble they tried to make for us, and you've had your revenge on her.
On all of them, for that matter."

"Oh, Miss Eleanor, if you could only have seen them when I threw that
basket full of mice among them! I never saw such a scared lot of girls
in my life!"

"That was a pretty mean trick," said Eleanor. "I don't think what they
did to bother us deserved such a revenge as that, even if I believed in
revenge, anyhow. I don't because it usually hurts the people who get it
more than the victims."

Bessie looked at Dolly sharply, but, if she meant to say anything,
Eleanor herself anticipated her remark.

"Now come on, Dolly, own up!" she said. "Didn't you feel pretty bad when
you heard Gladys and Marcia were lost in the woods last night? Didn't
you think that it was because you'd got the best of the girls that they
turned against Gladys, and so drove her into taking that foolish night
walk in the woods?"

"Oh, I did--I did!" cried Dolly. "And I told Bessie so last night, too.
I never would have forgiven myself if anything really serious had
happened to those two girls."

"That's just it, Dolly. You may think that revenge is a joke, perhaps,
as you meant yours to be, but you never can tell how far it's going, nor
what the final effect is going to be."

"I'm beginning to see that, Miss Mercer."

"I know you are, Dolly. You were lucky--as lucky as Gladys and Marcia.
You were particularly lucky, because, after all, it was your pluck in
going into that cave, when you didn't know what sort of danger you might
run into, that found them. So you had a salve for your conscience right
then. But often and often it wouldn't have happened that way. You might
very well have had to remember always that your revenge, though you
thought it was such a trifling thing, had had a whole lot of pretty
serious results."

"Well, I really am beginning to feel a little sorry," admitted Dolly,
"though Gladys acted just as if she was insulted because we found them.
She said she and Marcia would have been all right in that cave if they'd
stayed there until morning."

"I think she'll have reason to change her mind," said Eleanor. "She'd
have found herself pretty uncomfortable this morning with nothing to
eat. And she's in for a bad cold, unless I'm mistaken, and it might very
well have been pneumonia if they'd had to stay out all night."

"She's a softy!" declared Dolly, scornfully. "I'll bet Bessie and I
could have spent the night there and been all right, too, after it was
all over."

"You and Bessie are both unusually strong and healthy, Dolly. It may not
be her fault that she's a softy, as you call her. The Camp Fire pays a
whole lot of attention to health. That's why Health is one of the words
that we use to make up Wo-he-lo. Work, and Health, and Love. Because
you can't work properly, and love properly, unless you are healthy."

"I suppose what happened to Gladys last night was one of the things you
were talking about when you wanted us to be patient, wasn't it?"

"What do you mean, Dolly?"

"Why, when you said that pride went before a fall, and that she'd be
sure to have something unpleasant happen if we only let her alone, and
didn't try to get even ourselves?"

"Well, it looks like it, doesn't it?"

"I don't get much satisfaction out of seeing people punished that way,
though," admitted Dolly, after a moment's thought. "It seems to
me--well, listen, Miss Eleanor. Suppose someone did something awfully
nice for me. It wouldn't be right, would it, for me just to say to
myself, 'Oh, well, something nice will happen to her.' She might have
some piece of good fortune, but I wouldn't have anything to do with it.
I'd want to do something nice myself to show that I was grateful."

"Of course you would," said Eleanor, who saw the point Dolly was trying
to make and admired her power of working out a logical proposition.

"Well, then, if that's true, why shouldn't it be true if someone does
something hateful to me? I don't take any credit for the pleasant things
that happen to people who are nice to me, so why should I feel satisfied
because the hateful ones have some piece of bad luck that I didn't have
anything to do with, either?"

"That's a perfectly good argument as far as it goes, Dolly. But the
trouble is that it doesn't go far enough. You've got a false step in it.
Can't you see where she goes wrong, Bessie?"

"I think I can, Miss Eleanor," said Bessie. "It's that we ought not to
be glad when people are in trouble, even if they are mean to us, isn't
it? But we are glad, and ought to be, when nice people have good luck.
So the two cases aren't the same a bit, are they?"

"Right!" said Eleanor, heartily. "Think that over a bit, Dolly. You'll
see the point pretty soon, and then maybe you'll understand the whole
business better."

Just then the girls whose turn it had been to prepare breakfast came to
the door of the Living Camp, which contained the dining-room and the
kitchen, and a blast on a horn announced that breakfast was ready.

"Come on! We'll eat our next meal sitting around a camp fire in the
woods, if that forest fire has left any woods where we're going,"
announced Eleanor. "So we want to make this meal a good one. No telling
what sort of places we'll find on our tramp."

"I bet it will be good fun, no matter what they're like," said Margery
Burton, one of the other members of the Camp Fire. She was a Fire-Maker,
the second rank of the Camp Fire. First are the Wood-Gatherers, to which
Bessie and Dolly belonged; then the Fire-Makers, and finally, and next
to the Guardian, whom they serve as assistants, the Torch-Bearers.
Margery hoped soon to be made a Torch-Bearer, and had an ambition to
become a Guardian herself as soon as Miss Eleanor and the local council
of the National Camp Fire decided that she was qualified for the work.

"Oh, you'd like any old thing just because you had to stand for it,
Margery, whether it was any good or not," said Dolly.

"Well, isn't that a good idea? Why, I even manage to get along with you,
Dolly! Sometimes I like you quite well. And anyone who could stand for
you!"

Dolly laughed as loudly as the rest. She had been pretty thoroughly
spoiled, but her association with the other girls in the Camp Fire had
taught her to take a joke when at was aimed at her, unlike most people
who are fond of making jokes at the expense of others, and of teasing
them. She recognized that she had fairly invited Margery's sharp reply.

"We'll have to hurry and get ready when breakfast is over," said Eleanor
as they were finishing the meal. "You girls whose turn it is to wash up
had better get through as quickly as you can. Then we'll all get the
packs ready. We have to take the boat that leaves at half past nine for
the other end of Lake Dean."

"Why, there's someone coming! It's those girls from the other camp!"
announced Dolly, suddenly. She had left the table, and was looking out
of the window.

And, sure enough, when the Camp Fire Girls went out on the porch in a
minute, they saw advancing the private school girls, whose snobbishness
had nearly ruined their stay at Camp Sunset. Marcia Bates, who had been
rescued with her friend, Gladys Cooper, acted as spokesman for them.

"We've come to tell you that we've all decided we were nasty and acted
like horrid snobs," she said. "We have found out that you're nice
girls--nicer than we are. And we're very grateful--of course I am,
especially--for you helping us. And so we want you to accept these
little presents we've brought for you."



CHAPTER II

TROUBLE SMOOTHED AWAY


Probably none of the Camp Fire Girls had ever been so surprised in their
lives as when they heard the object of this utterly unexpected visit.
Marcia's eyes were rather blurred while she was speaking, and anyone
could see that it was a hard task she had assumed.

It is never easy to confess that one has been in the wrong, and it was
particularly hard for these girls, whose whole campaign against the Camp
Fire party had been based on pride and a false sense of their own
superiority, which, of course, had existed only in their imaginations.

For a moment no one seemed to know what to do or say. Strangely enough,
it was Dolly, who had resented the previous attitude of the rich girls
more than any of her companions, who found by instinct the true
solution.

She didn't say a word; she simply ran forward impulsively and threw her
arms about Marcia's neck. Then, and not till then, as she kissed the
friend with whom she had quarreled, did she find words.

"You're an old dear, Marcia!" she cried. "I knew you wouldn't keep on
hating us when you knew us better--and you'll forgive me, won't you, for
playing that horrid trick with the mice?"

Dolly had broken the ice, and in a moment the stiffness of the two
groups of girls was gone, and they mingled, talking and laughing
naturally.

"I don't know what the presents you brought are--you haven't shown them
to us yet," said Dolly, with a laugh. "But I'm sure they must be lovely,
and as for accepting them, why, you just bet we will!"

"You know," said Marcia a little apologetically, "there aren't any real
stores up here, and we couldn't get what we would really have liked, but
we just did the best we could. Girls, get those things out!"

And then a dozen blankets were unrolled, beautifully woven Indian
blankets, such as girls love to use for their dens, as couch covers and
for hangings on the walls. Dolly exclaimed with delight as she saw hers.

"Heavens! And you act as if they weren't perfectly lovely!" she cried.
"Why, Marcia, how can you talk as if they weren't the prettiest things!
If that's what you call just doing the best you can, I'm afraid to think
of what you'd have got for us if you'd been able to pick out whatever
you wanted. It would have been something so fine that we'd have been
afraid to take it, I'm sure."

"Well, we thought perhaps you'd find them useful if you're going on this
tramp of yours," said Marcia, blushing with pleasure. "And I'm ever so
glad you like them, if you really do, because I helped to pick them out.
There's one for each of you, and then we've got a big Mackinaw jacket
for Miss Mercer, so that she'd have something different."

"I can't tell you how happy this makes me!" said Eleanor, swallowing a
little hard, for she was evidently deeply touched. "I don't mean the
presents, Marcia, though they're lovely, but the spirit in which you all
bring them."

"We--we wanted to show you we were sorry, and that we understood how
mean we'd been," said Marcia.

"Oh, my dear, do let's forget all that!" said Eleanor, heartily. "We
don't want to remember anything unpleasant. Let's bury all that, and
just have the memory that we're all good friends now, and that we'd
never have been anything else if we'd only understood one another in the
beginning as well as we do now.

"That's the reason for most of the quarrels in this world; people don't
understand one another, that's all. And when they do, it's just as it is
with us--they wonder how they ever could have hated one another!"

"Why, where's Gladys Cooper?" asked Dolly, suddenly. She had been
looking around for the girl who had been chiefly responsible for all the
trouble, and who had been, before this meeting, one of Dolly's friends
in the city from which she and Marcia, as well as the Camp Fire Girls,
came. And Gladys was missing.

"She--why--she--she isn't feeling very well," stammered Marcia
unhappily. But a look at Dolly's face convinced her that she might as
well tell the truth. "I'm awfully sorry," she went on shamefacedly, "but
Gladys was awfully silly."

"You mean she hasn't forgiven us?" said Eleanor gently.

"She's just stupid," flashed Marcia. "What has she got to forgive? She
ought to be here, thanking Dolly and Bessie King for finding us, just as
I am. And she's sulking in her room, instead!"

"She'll change her mind, Marcia," said Eleanor, "just as the rest of you
have done. I'm dreadfully sorry that she feels that way, because it must
make her unhappy. But please don't be angry with her if you really want
to please us. We're just as ready and just as anxious to be friends
with her as with all the rest of you, and some time we will be, too.
I'm sure of that."

"We'll make her see what a fool she is!" said Marcia, hotly. "If she'd
only come with us, she'd have seen it for herself. She said all the
girls here would crow over us, and act as if we were backing down, and
had done this because someone made us."

Eleanor laughed heartily.

"Well, that is a silly idea!" she said. "Just explain to her that we
were just as pleased and as surprised to see you as we could be, Marcia.
You didn't need to come here this way at all, and we know it perfectly
well. You did it just because you are nice girls and wanted to be
friendly, and we appreciate the way you've come a good deal more than we
do the lovely presents, even."

"Well, I hope we'll see you again," said Marcia. "If you're going on
that half past nine boat we'll go back now, and let you pack, unless we
can help you?"

"No, you can't help us. We've really got very little to do. But don't
go. Stay around, if you will, and we'll all talk and visit with you
while we do what there is to be done."

"I'm awfully sorry Gladys is cutting up so. It makes me feel ashamed,
Dolly," said Marcia, when she and Dolly were alone. "But you know how
she is. I think she's really just as sorry as the rest of us, but--"

"But she's awfully proud, and she won't show it, Marcia. I know, for I'm
that way myself, though I really do think I've been behaving myself a
little better since I've belonged to the Camp Fire. I wish you'd join,
Marcia."

"Maybe I will, Dolly."

"Oh, that would be fine! Shall I speak to Miss Eleanor? She'd be
perfectly delighted, I know."

"No, don't speak to her yet. I've got a plan, or some of us have,
rather, but it's still a secret so I can't tell you anything about it.
But maybe I'll have a great surprise for you the next time I see you."

The time passed quickly and pleasantly, and all too soon Miss Eleanor
had to give the word that it was time to start for the landing if they
were to catch the little steamer that was to take them to the other end
of the lake.

"I tell you what! We'll all go with you as far as you go on the boat,
and come back on her," said Marcia. "That will be good fun, won't it?
I've got plenty of money for the fares, and those who haven't their
money with them can pay me when we get back to camp."

All the girls from Camp Halsted fell in with her suggestion, delighted
by the idea of such an unplanned excursion. It was easy enough to
arrange it, too, for the little steamer would be back on her return trip
early in the afternoon, even though she did not make very good speed and
had numerous stops to make, since Lake Dean's shores were lined with
little settlements, where camps and cottages and hotels had been built
at convenient spots.

"We've heard you singing a lot of songs we never heard before," said
Marcia to Bessie, as they took their places on the boat. "Won't you
teach us some of them? They were awfully pretty, we thought."

"You must mean the Camp Fire songs," said Bessie, happily. "We'll be
glad to teach them to you--and they're all easy to learn, too. I think
Dolly's got an extra copy of one of the song books and I know she'll be
glad to let you have it."

And so, as soon as Bessie explained what Marcia wanted, the deck of the
steamer was turned into an impromptu concert hall, and she made her
journey to the strains of the favorite songs of the Camp Fire, the
Wo-he-lo cheer with its lovely music being, of course, sung more often
than any of the others.

"We were wondering so much about that," said Marcia. "We could make out
the word Wo-he-lo, but we couldn't understand it. It sounded like an
Indian word, but the others didn't seem to fit in with that idea."

"It's just made up from the first syllables of work and health and love,
you see," said Eleanor. "We make up a lot of the words we use. A good
many of the ceremonial names that the girls choose are made that way."

"Then they have a real meaning, haven't they?"

"Yes. You see, one of the things that we preach and try to teach in the
Camp Fire is that things ought to be useful as well as beautiful. And
it's very easy to be both."

"But tell me about the Indian sound of Wo-he-lo. Was that just an
accident, or was it chosen that way on purpose?"

"Both, I think, Marcia. You see, the Indians in this country had a lot
of good qualities that a great many people have forgotten or overlooked
completely. Of course they were savages, in a way, but they had a
civilization of their own, and a great many of their practices are
particularly well adapted to this country."

"Oh, I see! You don't want them to be forgotten."

"That's just it. It's a good way to keep the memory of earlier times
alive, and there seems to be something romantic and picturesque about
the Indian names and the Indian things."

"That's one of the things I like best that I've found out about the Camp
Fire since you came to Camp Sunset. We used to think the Camp Fire meant
being goody-goody and learning to sew and cook and all sorts of things
like that. But you have a lot of fun and good times, too, don't you?"

"Yes, and there really isn't anything goody-goody about us, Marcia.
You'd soon find that out if you were with us."

"Well, I'm very glad that so many people have been led to know the truth
about us," said Eleanor, with a smile. "If everyone knew the truth about
the Camp Fire, it would soon be as big and as influential as even the
most enthusiastic of us hope it will be. And I'm sure that we'll grow
very fast now, because when girls understand us they see that we simply
help them to have the sort of good times they enjoy most. Having a good
time is a pretty important thing in this life."

"I--I rather thought you would think that we spent too much time just
having a good time," said Marcia, plainly rather surprised by this
statement.

"I don't say anything about you girls in particular, because I don't
know enough about you," replied Eleanor. "Of course, it's easy to get to
be so bound up in enjoying yourself that you don't think of anything
else. But people who do that soon get tired of just amusing themselves,
so, as a rule, there's no great harm done. They get so that everything
they do bores them, and they turn to something serious and useful, for a
change."

"But you just said having a good time was important--"

"And I meant it," said Eleanor, with a smile. "Because it's just as bad
to go to one extreme as to the other, and that's true in about
everything. People who never work, but spend all their time playing
aren't happy, as a rule, or healthy, either. And people who reverse
that, and work all the time without ever playing, are in just about the
same boat, only they're really worse off than the others, because it's
harder for them to change."

"I think I'm beginning to see what you mean, Miss Mercer."

"Why, of course you are, Marcia! It's in the middle ground that the
right answer lies. Work a little, and play a little, that's the way to
get on and be happy. When you've worked hard, you need some sort of
relaxation, and it's pretty important to know how to enjoy yourself, and
have a good time."

"And you certainly can have bully good times in the Camp Fire," said
Dolly, enthusiastically. "I've never enjoyed myself half so much as I
have since I've belonged. Why, we have bacon bats, and picnics, and all
sorts of things that are the best fun you ever dreamed of, Marcia. Much
nicer than those stiff old parties you and I used to go to all the time,
when we always did the same things, and could tell before we went just
what was going to happen."

"And the regular camp fires, the ceremonial ones, Dolly," reminded
Bessie. "Don't you think Marcia would enjoy that?"

"Oh, I know she would! Couldn't I bring her to one some time?" Dolly
asked Eleanor.

"She'll be very welcome, any time," said Eleanor with a smile. "There's
nothing secret about the Camp Fire meetings," she went on. "They're not
a bit like high school and private school fraternities or
sororities--whichever you call them."

"Why, look where we are!" said Marcia suddenly. "We'll be at the dock
pretty soon."

"Why, so we will!" Eleanor said. "That's Cranford, sure enough, girls!
We get off here, and begin our real tramp."

"I wish we were going with you," said Marcia, with a sigh of regret.
"But we can't, of course. Well, I told Dolly we might have a surprise
for her pretty soon, and we will if I've got anything to say about it,
too. This has been awfully jolly! I guess I know a lot more about your
Camp Fire now than I ever expected to. And I've enjoyed hearing every
word, too."

Soon the little steamer was made fast to the dock, and the Camp Fire
Girls streamed off, lining up on the dock. On the steamer the girls from
Camp Halsted--all but Gladys Cooper, who had not made the trip--lined
up, leaning over the rail.

"We'll see them off as the boat goes right back again," said Eleanor.
"And let's give them the Wo-he-lo cheer for good-bye, girls."

So their voices rose on the quiet air as the steamer's whistle shrieked,
and she began to pull out.

"Good-bye! Good luck!" cried Marcia and all the Halsted girls. "And come
back whenever you can! We'll have a mighty different sort of welcome for
you next time!"

"Good-bye! And thank you ever so much for the blankets!" called the Camp
Fire Girls.



CHAPTER III

THE WORK OF THE FIRE


At Cranford began the road which the Camp Fire Girls were to follow
through Indian Notch, the gap between the two big mountains, Mount Grant
and Mount Sherman. Then they were to travel easily toward the seashore,
since the Manasquan Camp Fire, ever since it had been organized, had
spent a certain length of time each summer by the sea.

The Village of Cranford had been saved from the fire only by a shift of
the wind. The woods to the west and the north had been burning briskly
for several days, and every able-bodied man in the village had been out,
day and night, with little food and less rest, trying to turn off the
fire. In spite of all their efforts, however, they would have failed in
their task if the change in the weather had not come to their aid. As a
consequence, everyone in the village, naturally enough, was still
talking about the fire.

"It isn't often that a village in this part of the country has such a
narrow escape," said Eleanor, looking around. "See, girls, you can see
for yourselves how close they were to having to turn and run from the
fire."

"It looks as if some of the houses here had actually been on fire," said
Dolly, as they passed into the outskirts of the village.

"I expect they were. You see, the wind was very high just before the
shift came, and it would carry sparks and blazing branches. It's been a
very hot, dry summer, too, and so all the wooden houses were ready to
catch fire. The paint was dry and blistered. They probably had to watch
these houses very carefully, to be ready to put out a fire the minute it
started."

"It didn't look so bad from our side of the lake, though, did it?"

"The smoke hid the things that were really dangerous from us, but here
they could see all right. I'll bet that before another summer comes
around they'll be in a position to laugh at a fire."

"How do you mean? Is there anything they can do to protect
themselves--before a fire starts, I mean?"

"That's the time to protect themselves. When people wait until the fire
has actually begun to burn, it's almost impossible for them to check it.
It would have been this time, if the wind had blown for a few hours
longer the way it was doing when the fire started."

"But what can they do?"

"They can have a cleared space between the town and the forest, for one
thing, with a lot of brush growing there, if they want to keep that.
Then, if a fire starts, they can set the brush afire, and make a back
fire, so that the big fire will be checked by the little one. The fire
has to have something to feed on, you see, and if it comes to a cleared
space that's fairly wide, it can't get any further.

"Oh, a cleared space like that doesn't mean that the village could go
to sleep and feel safe! But it's a lot easier to fight the fire then.
All the men in town could line up, with beaters and plenty of water, and
as soon as sparks started a fire on their side of the clearing, they
could put it out before it could get beyond control."

"Oh, I see! And being able to see the fire as soon as it started, they
wouldn't have half so much trouble fighting it as if they had to be
after the really big blaze."

"Yes. The fire problem in places like this seems very dreadful, but when
the conditions are as good as they are here, with plenty of water, all
that's needed is a little forethought. It's different in some of the
lumber towns out west, because there the fires get such a terrific start
that they would jump any sort of a clearing, and the only thing to do
when a fire gets within a certain distance of a town is for the people
who live in the town to run."

Soon the road began to pass between desolate stretches of woods, where
the fire had raged at its hottest. Here the ground on each side of the
road was covered with smoking ashes, and blackened stumps stood up from
the barren, burnt ground.

"It looks like a big graveyard, with those stumps for headstones," said
Dolly, with a shudder.

"It is a little like that," said Eleanor, with a sigh. "But if you came
here next year you wouldn't know the place. All that ash will fertilize
the ground, and it will all be green. The stumps will still be there,
but a great new growth will be beginning to push out. Of course it will
be years and years before it's real forest again, but nature isn't dead,
though it looks so. There's life underneath all that waste and
desolation, and it will soon spring up again."

"I hope we'll get out of this burned country soon," said Dolly. "I think
it's as gloomy and depressing as it can be. I'd like to have seen this
road before the fire--it must have been beautiful."

"It certainly was, Dolly. And all this won't last for many miles. We
really ought to stop pretty soon to eat our dinner. What do you say,
girls? Would you like to wait, and press on until we come to a more
cheerful spot, where the trees aren't all burnt?"

"Yes, oh, yes!" cried Margery Burton. "I think that would be ever so
much nicer! Suppose we are a little hungry before we get our dinner? We
can stand that for once."

"I think we'll enjoy our meal more. So we'll keep on, then, if the rest
of you feel the same way."

Not a voice dissented from that proposition, either. Dolly was not the
only one who was saddened by the picture of desolation through which
they were passing. The road, of course, was deep in dust and ashes, and
the air, still filled with the smoke that rose from the smouldering
woods, was heavy and pungent, so that eyes were watery, and there was a
good deal of coughing and sneezing.

"It's a lucky thing there weren't any houses along here, isn't it?"
said Margery. "I don't see how they could possibly have been saved, do
you, Miss Eleanor?"

"There's no way that they could have saved them, unless, perhaps, by
having a lot of city fire engines, and keeping them completely covered
with water on all sides while the fire was burning. They call that a
water blanket, but of course there's no way that they could manage that
up here."

"What do you suppose started this fire, Miss Eleanor?"

"No one will ever know. Perhaps someone was walking in the woods, and
threw a lighted cigar or cigarette in a pile of dry leaves. Perhaps some
party of campers left their camp without being sure that their fire was
out."

"Just think of it--that all the trouble could be started by a little
thing like that! It makes you realize what a good thing it is that we
have to be careful never to leave a single spark behind when we're
leaving a fire, doesn't it?"

"Yes. It's a dreadful thing that people should be so careless with
fire. Fire, and the heat we get from it, is responsible for the whole
progress of the race. It was the discovery that fire could be used by
man that was back of every invention that has ever been made."

"That's why it's the symbol of the Camp Fire, isn't it?"

"Yes. And in this country people ought to think more of fire than they
do. We lose more by fire every year than any other country in the world,
because we're so terribly careless."

"What is that there, ahead of us, in the road?" asked Bessie, suddenly.
They had just come to a bend in the road, and about a hundred yards away
a group of people stood in the road.

Eleanor looked grave. She shaded her eyes with her hand, and stared
ahead of her.

"Oh," she cried, "what a shame! I remember now. There was a farm house
there! I'm afraid we were wrong when we spoke of there being no houses
in the path of this fire!"

They pressed on steadily, and, as they approached the group forlorn,
distressed and unhappy, they saw that their fears were only too well
grounded. The people in the road were staring, with drawn faces, at a
scene of ruin and desolation that far outdid the burnt wastes beside the
road, since what they were looking at represented human work and the
toil of hands.

The foundations of a farm house were plainly to be seen, the cellar
filled with the charred wood of the house itself, and in what had
evidently been the yard there were heaps of ashes that showed where the
barns and other buildings had stood.

In the road, staring dully at the girls as they came up, were two women
and a boy about seventeen years old, as well as several young children.

Eleanor looked at them pityingly, and then spoke to the older of the two
women.

"You seem to be in great trouble," she said. "Is this your house?"

"It was!" said the woman, bitterly. "You can see what's left of it!
What are you--picnickers? Be off with you! Don't come around here
gloating over the misfortunes of hard working people!"

"How can you think we'd do that?" said Eleanor, with tears in her eyes.
"We can see that things look very bad for you. Have you any place to
go--any home?"

"You can see it!" said the woman, ungraciously.

Eleanor looked at her and at the ruined farm for a minute very
thoughtfully. Then she made up her mind.

"Well, if you've got to start all over again," she said, "you are going
to need a lot of help, and I don't see why we can't be the first to help
you! Girls, we won't go any further now. We'll stay here and help these
poor people to get started!"

"What can people like you do to help us?" asked the woman, scornfully.
"This isn't a joke--'t ain't like a quiltin' party!"

"Just you watch us, and see if we can't help," said Eleanor, sturdily.
"We're not as useless as we look, I can tell you that! And the first
thing we're going to do is to cook a fine dinner, and you are all going
to sit right down on the ground and help us eat it. You'll be glad of a
meal you don't have to cook yourselves, I'm sure. Where is your well, or
your spring for drinking water? Show us that, and we'll do the rest!"

Only half convinced of Eleanor's really friendly intentions, the woman
sullenly pointed out the well, and in a few moments Eleanor had set the
girls to work.

"The poor things!" she said to Margery, sympathetically. "What they need
most of all is courage to pick up again, now that everything seems to
have come to an end for them, and make a new start. And I can't imagine
anything harder than that!"

"Why, it's dreadful!" said Margery. "She seems to have lost all
ambition--to be ready to let things go."

"That's just the worst of it," said Eleanor. "And it's in making them
see that there's still hope and cheer and good friendship in the world
that we can help them most. I do think we can be of some practical use
to them, too, but the main thing is to brace them up, and make them want
to be busy helping themselves. It would be so easy for me to give them
the money to start over again or I could get my friends to come in with
me, and make up the money, if I couldn't do it all myself."

"But they ought to do it for themselves, you mean?"

"Yes. They'll really be ever so much better off in the long run if it's
managed that way. Often and often, in the city, I've heard the people
who work in the charity organizations tell about families that were
quite ruined because they were helped too much."

"I can see how that would be," said Margery. "They would get into the
habit of thinking they couldn't do anything for themselves--that they
could turn to someone else whenever they got into trouble."

"Yes. You see these poor people are in the most awful sort of trouble
now. They're discouraged and hopeless. Well, the thing to do is to make
them understand that they can rise superior to their troubles, that they
can build a new home on the ashes of their old one."

"Oh, I think it will be splendid if we can help them to do that!"

"They'll feel better, physically, as soon as they have had a good
dinner, Margery. Often and often people don't think enough about that.
It's when people feel worst that they ought to be fed best. It's
impossible to be cheerful on an empty stomach. When people are well
nourished their troubles never seem so great. They look on the bright
side and they tell themselves that maybe things aren't as bad as they
look."

"How can we help them otherwise, though?"

"Oh, we'll fix up a place where they can sleep to-night, for one thing.
And we'll help them to start clearing away all the rubbish. They've got
to have a new house, of course, and they can't even start work on that
until all this wreckage is cleared away."

"I wonder if they didn't save some of their animals--their cows and
horses," said Bessie. "It seems to me they might have been able to do
that."

"I hope so, Bessie. But we'll find out when we have dinner. I didn't
want to bother them with a lot of questions at first. Look, they seem to
be a little brighter already."

The children of the family were already much brighter. It was natural
enough for them to respond more quickly than their elders to the
stimulus of the presence of these kind and helpful strangers, and they
were running around, talking to the girls who were preparing dinner, and
trying to find some way in which they could help.

And their mother began to forget herself and her troubles, and to watch
them with brightening eyes. When she saw that the girls seemed to be
fond of her children and to be anxious to make them happy, the maternal
instinct in her responded, and was grateful.

"Oh, we're going to be able to bring a lot of cheer and new happiness to
these poor people," said Eleanor, confidently. "And it will be splendid,
won't it, girls? Could anything be better fun than doing good this way?
It's something we'll always be able to remember, and look back at
happily. And the strange part of it is that, no matter how much we do
for them, we'll be doing more for ourselves."

"Isn't it fine that we've got those blankets?" said Dolly. "If we camp
out here to-night they'll be very useful."

"They certainly will. And we shall camp here, though not in tents. Later
on this afternoon, we'll have to fix up some sort of shelter. But that
will be easy. I'll show you how to do it when the time comes. Now we
want to hurry with the dinner--that's the main thing, because I think
everyone is hungry."



CHAPTER IV

GETTING A START


Often people who have been visited by great misfortunes become soured
and suspect the motives of even those who are trying to help them.
Eleanor understood this trait of human nature very well, thanks to the
fact that as a volunteer she had helped out the charity workers in her
own city more than once. And as a consequence she did not at all resent
the dark looks that were cast at her by the poor woman whose every
glance brought home to her more sharply the disaster that the fire had
brought.

"We've got to be patient if we want to be really helpful," she explained
to Dolly Ransom, who was disposed to resent the woman's unfriendly
aspect.

"But I don't see why she has to act as if we were trying to annoy her,
Miss Eleanor!"

"She doesn't mean that at all, Dolly. You've never known what it is to
face the sort of trouble and anxiety she has had for the last few days.
She'll soon change her mind about us when she sees that we are really
trying to help. And there's another thing. Don't you think she's a
little softer already?"

"Oh, she is!" said Bessie, with shining eyes. "And I think I know why--"

"So will Dolly--if she will look at her now. See, Dolly, she's looking
at her children. And when she sees how nice the girls are to them, she
is going to be grateful--far more grateful than for anything we did for
her. Because, after all, it's probably her fear for her children, and of
what this will mean to them, that is her greatest trouble."

Dinner was soon ready, and when it was prepared, Eleanor called the
homeless family together and made them sit down.

"We haven't so very much," she said. "We intended to eat just this way,
but we were going on a little way. Still, I think there's plenty of
everything, and there's lots of milk for the children."

"Why are you so good to us?" asked the woman, suddenly. It was her first
admission that she appreciated what was being done, and Eleanor secretly
hailed it as a prelude to real friendliness.

"Why, you don't think anyone could see you in so much trouble and not
stop to try to help you, do you?" she said.

"Ain't noticed none of the neighbors comin' here to help," said the
woman, sullenly.

"I think they're simply forgetful," said Eleanor. "And you know this
fire was pretty bad. They had a great fight to save Cranford from
burning up."

"Is that so?" said the woman, showing a little interest in the news. "My
land, I didn't think the fire would get that far!"

"They were fighting night and day for most of three days," said Eleanor.
"And now they're pretty tired, and I have an idea they're making up for
lost sleep and rest. But I'm sure you'll find some of them driving out
this way pretty soon to see how you are getting on."

"Well, they won't see much!" said the woman, with a despairing laugh.
"We came back here, 'cause we thought some of the buildings might be
saved. But there ain't a thing left exceptin' that one barn a little way
over there. You can't see it from here. It's over the hill. We did save
our cattle and a good many chickens and ducks. But all our crops is
ruined--and how we are ever goin' to get through the winter I declare I
can't tell!"

"Have you a husband? And, by the way, hadn't you better tell me your
name?" said Eleanor.

"My husband's dead--been dead nearly two years," said the woman. "I'm
Sarah Pratt. This here's my husband's sister, Ann."

"Well, Mrs. Pratt, we'll have to see if we can't think of some way of
making up for all this loss," said Eleanor, after she had told the woman
her own name, and introduced the girls of the Camp Fire. "Why--just a
minute, now! You have cows, haven't you? Plenty of them? Do they give
good milk?"

"Best there is," said the woman. "My husband, he was a crank for buyin'
fine cattle. I used to tell him he was wastin' his money, but he would
do it. Same way with the chickens."

"Then you sold the milk, I suppose?"

"Yes, ma'am, and we didn't get no more for it from the creamery than the
farmers who had just the ornery cows."

"Well, I've got an idea already. I'm going back to Cranford as soon as
we've had dinner to see if it will work out. I suppose that's your son?"

She looked with a smile at the awkward, embarrassed boy who had so
little to say for himself.

"Well, while the girls fix you up some shelters where you can sleep
to-night, if you stay here, I'm going to ask you to let him drive me
into Cranford. I want to do some telephoning--and I think I'll have
good news for you when I come back."

Strangely enough, Mrs. Pratt made no objection to this plan. Once she
had begun to yield to the charm of Eleanor's manner, and to believe that
the Camp Fire Girls meant really to help and were not merely stopping
out of idle curiosity, she recovered her natural manner, which turned
out to be sweet and cheerful enough, and she also began to look on
things with brighter eyes.

"Makes no difference whether you have good news or not, my dear," she
said to Eleanor. "You've done us a sight of good already. Waked me up
an' made me see that it's wrong to sit down and cry when it's a time to
be up an' doin'."

"Oh, you wouldn't have stayed in the dumps very long," said Eleanor,
cheerfully. "Perhaps we got you started a little bit sooner, but I can
see that you're not the sort to stay discouraged very long."

Then, while a few of the girls, with the aid of the Pratt children,
washed dishes and cleared up after the meal, Eleanor took aside Margery
and some of the stronger girls, like Bessie and Dolly, to show them what
she wanted done while she was away.

"There's plenty of wood around here," she said. "A whole lot of the
boards are only a little bit scorched, and some of them really aren't
burned at all. Now, if you take those and lay them against the side of
that steep bank there, near where the big barn stood, you'll have one
side of a shelter. Then take saplings, and put them up about seven feet
away from your boards."

She held a sapling in place, to show what she meant.

"Cut a fork in the top of each sapling, and dig holes so that they will
stand up. Then lay strips of wood from the saplings to the tops of your
boards, and cover the space you've got that way with branches. If you go
about half a mile beyond here, you'll be able to get all the branches
you want from spots where the fire hasn't burned at all."

"Why, they'll be like the Indian lean-tos I've read about, won't they?"
exclaimed Margery.

"They're on that principle," said Eleanor. "Probably we could get along
very well without laying any boards at all against that bank, but it
might be damp, and there's no use in taking chances. And--"

"Oh, Miss Eleanor," Dolly interrupted, "excuse me, but if it rained or
there were water above, wouldn't it leak right down and run through from
the top of the bank?"

"That's a good idea, Dolly. I'll tell you how to avoid that. Dig a
trench at the top of the bank, just as long as the shelter you have
underneath, and the water will all be caught in that. And if you give
the trench a little slope, one way or the other, or both ways from the
centre, not much, just an inch in ten feet--the water will all be
carried off."

"Oh, yes!" said Dolly. "That would fix that up all right."

"Get plenty of branches of evergreens for the floor, and we'll cover
those with our rubber blankets," Eleanor went on. "Then we'll be snug
and dry for to-night, anyhow, and for as long as the weather holds
fine."

"You mean it will be a place where the Pratts can sleep?" said Margery.
"Of course, it would be all right in this weather, but do you think it
will stay like this very long?"

"Of course it won't, Margery, but I don't expect them to have to live
this way all winter. If it serves to-night and to-morrow night I think
it will be all that's needed. Now you understand just what is to be
done, don't you? If you want to ask any questions, go ahead."

"No. We understand, don't we, girls?" said Margery.

"All right, then," said Eleanor. "Girls, Margery is Acting Guardian
while I'm gone. You're all to do just as she tells you, and obey her
just as if she were I. I see that Tom's got the buggy all harnessed up.
It's lucky they were able to save their wagons and their horses, isn't
it?"

"What are you going to do in Cranford?" asked Dolly. "Won't you tell us,
Miss Eleanor?"

"No, I won't, Dolly," said Eleanor, laughing. "If I come back with good
news--and I certainly hope I shall--you'll enjoy it all the more if it's
a surprise, and if I don't succeed, why, no one will be disappointed
except me."

And then with a wave of her hand, she sprang into the waiting buggy and
drove off with Tom Pratt holding the reins, and looking very proud of
his pretty passenger.

"Well, I don't know what it's all about, but we know just what we're
supposed to do, girls," said Margery. "So let's get to work. Bessie, you
and Dolly might start picking out the boards that aren't too badly
burned."

"All right," said Dolly. "Come on, Bessie!"

"I'll pace off the distance to see how big a place we need to make,"
said Margery. "Mrs. Pratt, how far is it to a part of the woods that
wasn't burned? Miss Mercer thought we could get some green branches
there for bedding."

"Not very far," said Mrs. Pratt, with a sigh. "That's what seemed so
hard! When we drove along this morning we came quite suddenly to a patch
along the road on both sides where the fire hadn't reached, and it made
us ever so happy."

"Oh, what a shame!" said Margery. "I suppose you thought you'd come to
the end of the burned part?"

"I hoped so--oh, how I did hope so!" said poor Mrs. Pratt. "But then,
just before we came in sight of the place, we saw that the fire had
changed its direction again, and then we knew that our place must have
gone."

"That's very strange, isn't it?" said Margery. "I wonder why the fire
should spare some places and not others?"

"It seems as if it were always that way in a big fire," said Mrs. Pratt.
"I suppose there'd been some cutting around that patch of woods that
wasn't burned. And only last year a man was going to buy the wood in
that wood lot of ours on the other side of the road, and clear it. If he
had, maybe the fire wouldn't ever have come near us, at all."

"Well, we'll have to think about what did happen, not what we wish had
happened, Mrs. Pratt," said Margery, cheerfully. "The thing to do now is
to make the best of a bad business. I'm going to send four or five of
the girls to get branches. Perhaps you'll let one of the children go
along to show them the way?"

"You go, Sally," said Mrs. Pratt to the oldest girl, a child of
fourteen, who had been listening, wide-eyed, to the conversation. "Now,
ain't there somethin' Ann an' I can do to help?"

"Why, yes, there is, Mrs. Pratt. I think it's going to be dreadfully
hot. Over there, where we unpacked our stores, you'll find a lot of
lemons. I think if you'd make a couple of big pails full of lemonade
we'd all enjoy them while we were working, and they'd make the work go
faster, too."

"The water won't be very cold," suggested Ann.

"Pshaw, Ann! Why not use the ice?" said Mrs. Pratt, whose interest in
small things had been wonderfully revived. "The ice-house wasn't burned.
Do you go and get a pailful of ice, and we'll have plenty for the girls
to drink. They surely will be hot and tired with all they're doing for
us."

"I'm sorry I ever said Mrs. Pratt wasn't nice," said Dolly to Bessie,
when they happened to overhear this, and saw how Mrs. Pratt began
hustling to get the lemonade ready.

"I knew she'd be all right as soon as she began to be waked up a
little," said Bessie. "This is more fun than one of our silly
adventures, isn't it, Dolly? Because it's just as exciting, but there
isn't the chance of things going wrong, and we're doing something to
make other people happy."

"You're certainly right about that, Bessie. And it makes you think of
how much hard luck people have, and how easy it would be for people who
are better off to help them, doesn't it?"

"It _is_ easy, Dolly. You know, I think Miss Eleanor must help an awful
lot of people. It seems to be the first thing she thinks of when she
sees any trouble."

"She makes one understand what Wo-he-lo really means," said Dolly.
"She's often explained that work means service--doing things for other
people, and not just working for yourself."

"That's one of the things I like best about the Camp Fire," said Bessie,
thoughtfully. "Everyone in it seems to be unselfish and to think about
helping others, and yet there isn't someone to preach to you all the
time--they just do it themselves, and make you see that it's the way to
be really happy."

"I wouldn't have believed that I could enjoy this sort of work if anyone
had told me so a year ago. But I do. I haven't had such a good time
since I can remember. Of course, I feel awfully sorry for the Pratts,
but I'm glad that, if it had to happen to them, we came along in time to
help them."

They hadn't stopped working while they talked, and now they had brought
as many boards as Margery wanted.

"There are lots more boards, Margery," said Dolly. "Why shouldn't we
make a sort of floor for the lean-to? If we put up a couple of planks
for them to rest on, every so often, we could have a real floor, and
then, even if the ground got damp, it would be dry inside."

"Good idea! We'll do that," said Margery, who was busy herself, flying
here, there, and everywhere to direct the work. "Go ahead!"

And so, when the sound of wheels in the road heralded the return of Miss
Eleanor in the buggy, the work was done, and the lean-to was completed,
a rough-and-ready shelter that was practical in the extreme, though
perhaps it was not ornamental.

"Splendid!" cried Eleanor. "But I knew you girls would do well. And
I've got the good news I hoped to bring, too!"



CHAPTER V

GOOD NEWS FROM TOWN


Everyone rushed eagerly forward, and crowded around Miss Mercer as she
descended from the buggy, smiling pleasantly at the bashful Tom Pratt,
who did his best to help her in her descent. And not the least eager, by
any means, was Tom Pratt's mother, whose early indifference to the
interest of these good Samaritans in her misfortunes seemed utterly to
have vanished.

"Oh, these girls of yours!" cried Mrs. Pratt. "You've no idea of how
much they've done--or how much they've heartened us all up, Miss Mercer!
I don't believe there were ever so many kind, nice people brought
together before!"

Eleanor laughed, as if she were keeping a secret to herself. And her
words, when she spoke, proved that that was indeed the case.

"Just you wait till you know how many friends you really have around
here, Mrs. Pratt!" she said. "Well, I told you I hoped to bring back
good news, and I have, and if you'll all give me a chance, I'll tell you
what it is."

"You've found a place for all the Pratts to go!" said Dolly.

"You've arranged something so that they won't have to stay here!" agreed
Margery.

"I don't know whether Mrs. Pratt would agree that that was such good
news," she said. "Tell me, Mrs. Pratt--you are still fond of this place,
aren't you?"

"Indeed, and I am, Miss Mercer!" she said, choking back a sob. "When I
first saw how it looked this morning, I thought I only wanted to go away
and never see it again, if I only knew where to go. But I feel so
different now. Why, all the time we've been working around here, it's
made me think of how Tom--I mean my poor husband--and I came here when
we were first married. Tom had the land, you see, and he'd built a
little cabin for us with his own hands."

"And all the farm grew from that?"

"Yes. We worked hard, you see, and the children came, but we had a
better place for each one to be born in, Miss Mercer--we really did! It
was our place. We've earned it all, with the help from the place itself,
and before the fire--"

She broke down then, and for a moment she couldn't go on.

"Of course you love it!" said Eleanor, heartily. "And I don't think it
would be very good news for you to know that you had a chance to go
somewhere else and make a fresh start, though I could have managed that
for you."

"I'd be grateful, though, Miss Mercer," said Mrs. Pratt. "I don't want
you to think I wouldn't. It'll be a wrench, though--I'm not saying it
wouldn't. When you've lived anywhere as long as I've lived here, and
seen all the changes, and had your children born in it, and--"

"I know--I know," interrupted Eleanor, sympathetically. "And I could see
how much you loved the place. So I never had any idea at all of
suggesting anything that would take you away."

"Do you really think we can get a new start here?" asked Mrs. Pratt,
looking up hopefully.

"I don't only believe it, I know it, Mrs. Pratt," said Eleanor,
enthusiastically. "And what's more, you're going to be happier and more
prosperous than you ever were before the fire. Not just at first,
perhaps, but you're going to see the way clear ahead, and it won't be
long before you'll be doing so well that you'll be able to let my friend
Tom here go to college."

Mrs. Pratt's face fell. It seemed to her that Eleanor was promising too
much.

"I don't see how that could be," she said. "Why, his paw and I used to
talk that over. We wanted him to have a fine education, but we didn't
see how we could manage it, even when his paw was alive."

"Well, you listen to me, and see if you don't think there's a good
chance of it, anyhow," said Eleanor. "In the first place, none of the
people in Cranford knew that you'd had all this trouble. It was just as
I thought. Their own danger had been so great that they simply hadn't
had time to think of anything else. They were shocked and sorry when I
told them."

"There's a lot of good, kind people there," said Mrs. Pratt, brightening
again. "I'm sure I didn't think anything of their not having come out
here to see how we were getting along."

"Some of them would have been out in a day or two, even if I hadn't told
them, Mrs. Pratt. As it is--but I think that part of my story had better
wait. Tell me, you've been selling all your milk and cream to the big
creamery that supplies the milkmen in the city, haven't you?"

"Yes, and I guess that we can keep their trade, if we can get on our
feet pretty soon so that they can get it regular again."

"I've no doubt you could," said Eleanor, dryly. "They make so much money
buying from you at cheap prices and selling at high prices that they
wouldn't let the chance to keep on slip by in a hurry, I can tell you.
But I've got a better idea than that."

Mrs. Pratt looked puzzled, but Tom Pratt, who seemed to be in Eleanor's
secret, only smiled and returned Eleanor's wise look.

"When you make butter you salt it and keep it to use here, don't you?"
Eleanor asked next.

"Yes, ma'am, we do."

"Well, if you made fresh, sweet butter, and didn't salt it at all, do
you know that you could sell it to people in the city for fifty cents a
pound?"

Mrs. Pratt gasped.

"Why, no one in the world ever paid that much for butter!" she said,
amazed. "And, anyhow, butter without salt's no good."

"Lots of people don't agree with you, and they're willing to pay pretty
well to have their own way, too," she said, with a laugh. "In the city
rich families think fresh butter is a great luxury, and they can't get
enough of it that's really good. And it's the same way, all summer
long, at Lake Dean.

"The hotel there will take fifty pounds a week from you all summer long,
as long as it's open, that is. And I have got orders for another fifty
pounds a week from the people who own camps and cottages. And what's
more, the manager of the hotel has another house, in Lakewood, in the
winter time, and when he closes up the house at Cranford, he wants you
to send him fifty pounds a week for that house, too."

"Why, however did you manage to get all those orders?" asked Margery,
amazed.

"I telephoned to the manager of the hotel," said Eleanor. "And then I
remembered the girls at Camp Halsted, and I called up Marcia Bates and
told her the whole story, and what I wanted them to do. So she and two
or three of the others went out in that fast motor boat of theirs and
visited a lot of families around the lake, and when they told them about
it, it was easy to get the orders."

"Well, I never!" gasped Mrs. Pratt. "I wouldn't ever have thought of
doin' anythin' like that, Miss Mercer, and folks around here seem to
think I'm a pretty good business woman, too, since my husband died. Why,
we can make more out of the butter than we ever did out of a whole
season's crops, sellin' at such prices!"

"You won't get fifty cents a pound from the hotel," said Eleanor.
"That's because they'll take such a lot, and they'll pay you every week.
So I told them they could have all they wanted for forty cents a pound.
But, you see, at fifty pounds a week, that's twenty dollars a week, all
the year round, and with the other fifty pounds you'll sell to private
families, that will make forty-five dollars a week. And you haven't even
started yet. You'll have lots more orders than you can fill."

"I'm wonderin' right now, ma'am, how we'll be able to make a hundred
pounds of butter a week."

"I thought of that, too," said Eleanor, "and I bought half a dozen more
cows for you, right there in Cranford. They're pretty good cows, and if
they're well fed, and properly taken care of, they'll be just what you
want."

"But I haven't got the money to pay for them now, ma'am!" said Mrs.
Pratt, dismayed.

"Oh, I've paid for them," said Eleanor, "and you're going to pay me when
you begin to get the profits from this new butter business. I'd be glad
to give them to you, but you won't need anyone to give you things;
you're going to be able to afford to pay for them yourself."

Mrs. Pratt broke into tears.

"That's the nicest thing you've said or done yet, Miss Mercer," she
sobbed. "I just couldn't bear to take charity--"

"Charity? You don't need it, you only need friendly help, Mrs. Pratt,
and if I didn't give you that someone else would!"

"And eggs! They'll be able to sell eggs, too, won't they?" said Dolly,
jumping up and down in her excitement.

"They certainly will! I was coming to that," said Eleanor. "You know,
this new parcel post is just the thing for you, Mrs. Pratt! Just as soon
as a letter I wrote is answered, you'll get a couple of cases of new
boxes that are meant especially for mailing butter and eggs and things
like that from farmers to people in the city.

"You'll be able to sell eggs and butter cheaper than people in the city
can buy things that are anything like as good from the stores, because
you won't have to pay rent and lighting bills and all the other
expensive things about a city store. I'm going to be your agent, and I
do believe I'll make some extra pocket money, too, because I'm going to
charge you a commission."

Mrs. Pratt just laughed at that idea.

"Well, you wait and see!" said Eleanor. "I'm glad to be able to help,
Mrs. Pratt, but I know you'll feel better if you think I'm getting
something out of it, and I'm going to. I think my running across you
when you were in trouble is going to be a fine thing for both of us.
Why, before you get done with us, you'll have to get more land, and a
lot more cows and chickens, because we're going to make it the
fashionable thing to buy eggs and butter from you!"

Mrs. Pratt seemed to be overwhelmed, and Eleanor, in order to create a
diversion, went over to inspect the lean-to.

"It's just right," she said. "Having a floor made of those boards is a
fine idea; I didn't think of that at all. Good for you, Margery!"

"That was Dolly's idea, not mine," said Margery.

"You were perfectly right, too. Well, it's getting a little late and I
think it's time we were thinking about dinner. Margery, if you'll go
over to the buggy you'll find quite a lot of things I bought in
Cranford. We don't want to use up the stores we brought with us before
we get away from here. And--here's a secret!"

"What?" said Margery, leaning toward her and smiling. And Eleanor
laughed as she whispered in Margery's ear.

"There are going to be some extra people--at least seven or eight, and
perhaps more--for dinner, so we want to have plenty, because I think
they're going to be good and hungry when they sit down to eat!"

"Oh, do tell me who they are," cried Margery, eagerly. "I never saw you
act so mysteriously before!"

"No, it's a surprise. But you'll enjoy it all the more when it comes for
not knowing ahead of time. Don't breathe a word, except to those who
help you cook if they ask too many questions."

Dinner was soon under way, and those who were not called upon by Margery
busied themselves about the lean-to, arranging blankets and making
everything snug for the night.

The busy hands of the Camp Fire Girls had done much to rid the place of
its look of desolation, and now everything spoke of hope and renewed
activity instead of despair and inaction. A healthier spirit prevailed,
and now the Pratts, encouraged as to their future, were able to join
heartily in the laughter and singing with which the Camp Fire Girls made
the work seem like play.

"Why, what's this?" cried Bessie, suddenly. She had gone toward the
road, and now she came running back.

"There are four or five big wagons, loaded with wood and shingles and
all sorts of things like that coming in here from the road," she cried.
"Whatever are they doing here?"

"That's my second surprise," laughed Eleanor. "It's your neighbors from
Cranford, Mrs. Pratt. Don't you recognize Jud Harkness driving the first
team there?"

"Hello, folks!" bellowed Jud, from his seat. "How be you, Mis' Pratt?
Think we'd clean forgot you? We didn't know you was in such an all-fired
lot of trouble, or we'd ha' been here before. We're come now, though,
and we ain't goin' away till you've got a new house. Brought it with
us, by heck!"

He laughed as he descended, and stood before them, a huge, black-bearded
man, but as gentle as a child. And soon everyone could see what he
meant, for the wagons were loaded with timber, and one contained all the
tools that would be needed.

"There'll be twenty of us here to-morrow," he said, "and I guess we'll
show you how to build a house! Won't be as grand as the hotel at
Cranford, mebbe, but you can live in it, and we'll come out when we get
the time and put on the finishing touches. To-night we'll clear away all
this rubbish, and with sun-up in the morning we'll be at work."

Eleanor's eyes shone as she turned to Mrs. Pratt.

"Now you see what I meant when I told you there were plenty of good
friends for you not far from here!" she cried. "As soon as I told Jud
what trouble you were in he thought of this, and in half an hour he'd
got promises from all the men to put in a day's work fixing up a new
house for you."

Mrs. Pratt seemed too dazed to speak.

"But they can't finish a whole house in one day!" declared Margery.

"They can't paint it, and put up wall paper and do everything, Margery,"
said Eleanor. "That's true enough. But they can do a whole lot. You're
used to thinking of city buildings, and that's different. In the country
one or two men usually build a house, and build it well, and when there
are twenty or thirty, why, the work just flies, especially when they're
doing the work for friendship, instead of because they're hired to do
it. Oh, just you wait!"

"Have you ever seen this before?"

"I certainly have! And you're going to see sights to-morrow that will
open your eyes, I can promise you. You know what it's like, Bessie,
don't you? You've seen house raisings before?"

"I certainly have," said Bessie. "And it's fine. Everyone helps and
does the best he can, and it seems no time at all before it's all done."

"Well, we'll do our share," said Eleanor. "The men will be hungry, and
I've promised that we'll feed them."



CHAPTER VI

THE GOOD SAMARITANS


"Well, I certainly have got a better opinion of country people than I
ever used to have, Bessie," said Dolly Ransom. "After the way those
people in Hedgeville treated you and Zara, I'd made up my mind that they
were a nasty lot, and I was glad I'd always lived in the city."

"Well, aren't you still glad of it, Dolly? I really do think you're
better off in the city. There wouldn't be enough excitement about living
in the country for you, I'm afraid."

"Of course there wouldn't! But I think maybe I was sort of unfair to all
country people because the crowd at Hedgeville was so mean to you. And I
like the country well enough, for a little while. I couldn't bear living
there all the time, though. I think that would drive me wild."

"The trouble was that Zara and I didn't exactly belong, Dolly. They
thought her father was doing something wrong because he was a foreigner
and they couldn't understand his ways."

"I suppose he didn't like them much, either, Bessie."

"He didn't. He thought they were stupid. And, of course, in a way, they
were. But not as stupid as he thought they were. He was used to entirely
different things, and--oh, well, I suppose in some places what he did
wouldn't have been talked about, even.

"But in the country everyone knows the business of everyone else, and
when there is a mystery no one is happy until it's solved. That's why
Zara and her father got themselves so disliked. There was a mystery
about them, and the people in Hedgeville just made up their minds that
something was wrong."

"I feel awfully sorry for Zara, Bessie. It must be dreadful for her to
know that her father is in prison, and that they are saying that he was
making bad money. You don't think he did, do you?"

"I certainly do not! There's something very strange about that whole
business, and Miss Eleanor's cousin, the lawyer, Mr. Jamieson, thinks so
too. You know that Mr. Holmes is mighty interested in Zara and her
father."

"He tried to help to get Zara back to that Farmer Weeks who would have
been her guardian if she hadn't come to join the Camp Fire, didn't he?"

"Yes. You see, in the state where Hedgeville is, Farmer Weeks is her
legal guardian, and he could make her work for him until she was
twenty-one. He's an old miser, and as mean as he can be. But once she is
out of that state, he can't touch her, and Mr. Jamieson has had Miss
Eleanor appointed her guardian, and mine too, for that state. The state
where Miss Eleanor and all of us live, I mean."

"Well, Mr. Holmes is trying to get hold of you, too, isn't he?"

"Yes, he is. You ought to know, Dolly, after the way he tried to get us
both to go off with him in his automobile that day, and the way he set
those gypsies on to kidnapping us. And that's the strangest thing of
all."

"Perhaps he wants to know something about Zara, and thinks you can tell
him, or perhaps he's afraid you'll tell someone else something he
doesn't want them to know."

"Yes, it may be that. But that lawyer of his, Isaac Brack, who is so
mean and crooked that no one in the city will have anything to do with
him except the criminals, Mr. Jamieson says, told me once that unless I
went with him I'd never find out the truth about my father and mother
and what became of them."

"Oh, Bessie, how exciting! You never told me that before. Have you told
Mr. Jamieson?"

"Yes, and he just looked at me queerly, and said nothing more about it."

"Bessie, do you know what I think?"

"No. I'm not a mind reader, Dolly!"

"Well, I believe Mr. Jamieson knows more than he has told you yet, or
that he guesses something, anyway. And he won't tell you what it is
because he's afraid he may be wrong, and doesn't want to raise your
hopes unless he's sure that you won't be disappointed."

"I think that would be just like him, Dolly. He's been awfully good to
me. I suppose it's because he thinks it will please Miss Eleanor, and he
knows that she likes us, and wants to do things for us."

"Oh, I know he likes you, too, Bessie. He certainly ought to, after the
way you brought him help back there in Hamilton, when we were there for
the trial of those gypsies who kidnapped us. If it hadn't been for you,
there's no telling what that thief might have done to him."

"Oh, anyone would have done the same thing, Dolly. It was for my sake
that he was in trouble, and when I had a chance to help him, it was
certainly the least that I could do. Don't you think so?"

"Well, maybe that's so, but there aren't many girls who would have known
how to do what you did or who would have had the pluck to do it, even
if they did. I'm quite sure I wouldn't, and yet I'd have wanted to, just
as much as anyone."

"I wish I did know something about my father and mother, Dolly. You've
no idea how much that worries me. Sometimes I feel as if I never would
find out anything."

"Oh, you mustn't get discouraged, Bessie. Try to be as cheerful as you
are when it's someone else who is in trouble. You're the best little
cheerer-up I know when I feel blue."

"Oh, Dolly, I do try to be cheerful, but it's such a long time since
they left me with the Hoovers!"

"Well, there must be some perfectly good reason for it all, Bessie, I
feel perfectly sure of that. They would never have gone off that way
unless they had to."

"Oh, it isn't that that bothers me. It's feeling that unless something
dreadful had happened to them, I'd have heard of them long ago. And
then, Maw Hoover and Jake Hoover were always picking at me about them.
When I did something Maw Hoover didn't like, she'd say she didn't
wonder, that she couldn't expect me to be any good, being the child of
parents who'd gone off and left me on her hands that way."

"That's all right for her to talk that way, but she didn't have you on
her hands. She made you work like a slave, and never paid you for it at
all. You certainly earned whatever they spent for keeping you, Miss
Eleanor says so, and I'll take her word any time against Maw Hoover or
anyone else."

"I've sometimes thought it was pretty mean for me to run off the way I
did, Dolly. If it hadn't been for Zara, I don't believe I'd have done
it."

"It's a good thing for Zara that you did. Poor Zara! They'd taken her
father to jail, and she was going to have to stay with Farmer Weeks.
She'd never have been able to get along without you, you know."

"Well, that's one thing that makes me feel that perhaps it was right
for me to go, Dolly. That, and the way Miss Eleanor spoke of it. She
seemed to think it was the right thing for me to do, and she knows
better than I do, I'm sure."

"Certainly she does. And look here, Bessie! It's all coming out right,
sometime, I know. I'm just sure of that! You'll find out all about your
father and mother, and you'll see that there was some good reason for
their not turning up before."

"Oh, Dolly dear, I'm sure of that now! And it's just that that makes me
feel so bad, sometimes. If something dreadful hadn't happened to them,
they would have come for me long ago. At least they would have kept on
sending the money for my board."

"How do you know they didn't, Bessie? Didn't Maw Hoover get most of the
letters on the farm?"

"Yes, she did, Dolly. Paw Hoover couldn't read, so they all went to her,
no matter to whom they were addressed."

"Why, then," said Dolly, triumphantly, "maybe your father and mother
were writing and sending the money all the time!"

"But wouldn't she have told me so, Dolly?"

"Suppose she just kept the money, and pretended she never got it at all,
Bessie? I've heard of people doing even worse things than that when they
wanted money. It's possible, isn't it, now? Come on, own up!"

"I suppose it is," said Bessie, doubtfully. "Only it doesn't seem very
probable. Maw Hoover was pretty mean to me, but I don't think she'd ever
have done anything like that."

"Well, I wouldn't put it above her! She treated you badly enough about
other things, heaven knows!"

"I'd hate to think she had done anything quite as mean as that, though,
Dolly. I do think she had a pretty hard time herself, and I'm quite sure
that if it hadn't been for Jake she wouldn't have been so mean to me."

"Oh, I know just the sort he is. I've seen him, remember, Bessie! He's a
regular spoiled mother's boy. I don't know why it is, but the boys
whose mothers coddle them and act as if they were the best boys on earth
always seem to be the meanest."

"Yes, you did see him, Dolly. Still, Jake's very young, and he wouldn't
be so bad, either, if he'd been punished for the things he did at home.
As long as I was there, you see, they could blame everything that was
done onto me. He did, at least, and Maw believed him."

"Didn't his father ever see what a worthless scamp he was?"

"Oh, how could he, Dolly? He was his own son, you see, and then there
was Maw Hoover. She wouldn't let him believe anything against Jake, any
more than she would believe it herself."

"I'm sorry for Paw Hoover, Bessie. He seemed like a very nice old man."

"He certainly was. Do you remember how he found me with you girls the
day after Zara and I ran away? He could have told them where we were
then, but he didn't do it. Instead of that, he was mighty nice to me,
and he gave me ten dollars."

"He said you'd earned it, Bessie, and he was certainly right about that.
Why, in the city they can't get servants to do all the things you did,
even when they're well paid, and you never were paid at all!"

"Well, that doesn't make what he did any the less nice of him, Dolly.
And I'll be grateful to him, because he might have made an awful lot of
trouble."

"Oh, I'll always like him for that, too. And I guess from what I saw of
him, and all I've heard about his wife, that he doesn't have a very
happy time at home, either. Maw Hoover must make him do just about what
she wants, whether he thinks she's right or not."

"She certainly does, Dolly, unless she's changed an awful lot since I
was there."

"Well, I suppose the point is that there really must be more people like
him in the country than like his wife and Farmer Weeks. These people
around here are certainly being as nice as they can be to the poor
Pratts. Just think of their coming here to-morrow to build a new house
for them!"

"There are more nice, good-hearted people than bad ones all over, Dolly.
That's true of every place, city or country."

"But it seems to me we always hear more of the bad ones, and those who
do nasty things, than we do of the others, in the newspapers."

"I think that's because the things that the bad people do are more
likely to be exciting and interesting, Dolly. You see, when people do
nice things, it's just taken as a matter of course, because that's what
they ought to do. And when they do something wicked, it gets everyone
excited and makes a lot of talk. That's the reason for that."

"Still, this work that the men from Cranford are going to do for the
Pratts is interesting, Bessie. I think a whole lot of people would like
to know about that, if there was any way of telling them."

"Yes, that's so. This isn't an ordinary case, by any means. And I guess
you'll find that we'll do plenty of talking about it. Miss Eleanor will,
I know, because she thinks they ought to get credit for doing it."

"So will Mrs. Pratt and the children, too. Oh, yes, I was wrong about
it, Bessie. Lots of people will know about this, because the Pratts will
always have the house to remind them of it, and people who go by, if
they've heard of it, will remember the story when they see the place. I
do wonder what sort of a house they will put up?"

"It'll have to be very plain, of course. And it will look rough at
first, because it won't be painted, and there won't be any plaster on
the ceilings and there won't be any wall paper, either."

"Oh, but that will be easy to fix later. They'll have a comfortable
house for the winter, anyhow, I'm sure. And if they can make as much
money out of selling butter and eggs as Miss Eleanor thinks, they'll
soon be able to pay to have it fixed up nicely."

"Dolly, I believe we'll be able to help, too. If those girls at Camp
Halsted could go around and get so many orders just in an hour or so,
why shouldn't we be able to do a lot of it when we get back to the
city?"

"Why, that's so, Bessie! I hadn't thought of that. My aunt would buy her
butter and eggs there, I know. She's always saying that she can't get
really fresh eggs in the city. And they are delicious. That was one of
the things I liked best at Miss Eleanor's farm. The eggs there were
delicious; not a bit like the musty ones we get at home, no matter how
much we pay for them."

"I think it's time we were going to bed ourselves, Dolly. This is going
to be like camping out, isn't it?"

"Yes, and we'll be just as comfortable as we would be in tents, too. The
Boy Scouts use these lean-tos very often when they are in the woods,
you know. They just build them up against the side of a tree."

"I never saw one before, but they certainly are splendid, and they're
awfully easy to make."

"We'll have to get up very early in the morning, Bessie. I heard Miss
Eleanor say so. So I guess it's a good idea to go to bed, just as you
say."

"Yes. The others are all going. We certainly are going to have a busy
day to-morrow."

"I don't see that we can do much, Bessie. I know I wouldn't be any good
at building a house. I'd be more trouble than help, I'm afraid."

"That's all you know about it! There are ever so many things we can do."

"What, for instance?"

"Well, we'll have to get the meals for the men, and you haven't any idea
what a lot of men can eat when they're working hard! They have appetites
just like wolves."

"Well, I'll certainly do my best to see that they get enough. They'll
have earned it. What else?"

"They'll want people to hand them their tools, and run little errands
for them. And if the weather is very hot, they'll be terribly thirsty,
too, and we'll be able to keep busy seeing that they have plenty of
cooling drinks. Oh, we'll be busy, all right! Come on, let's go to bed."



CHAPTER VII

THE HOUSE RAISING


The sun was scarcely up in the morning when Eleanor turned out and
aroused the girls.

"We've got to get our own breakfast out of the way in a hurry, girls,"
she said. "When country people say early, they mean early--EARLY! And we
want to have coffee and cakes ready for these good friends of ours when
they do come. A good many of them will come from a long way off and I
think they'll all be glad to have a little something extra before they
start work. It won't hurt us a bit to think so, and act accordingly
anyhow."

So within half an hour the Pratts and the Camp Fire Girls had had their
own breakfasts, the dishes were washed, and great pots of coffee were
boiling on the fires that had been built. And, just as the fragrant
aroma arose on the cool air, the first of the teams that brought the
workers came in sight, with jovial Jud Harkness driving.

"My, but that coffee smells good, Miss Mercer!" he roared. "Say, I'm not
strong for all these city fixin's in the way of food. Plain home cookin'
serves me well enough, but there's one thing where you sure do lay all
over us, and that's in makin' coffee. Give me a mug of that, Mis' Pratt,
an' I'll start work."

And from the way in which the coffee and the cakes, the latter spread
with good maple syrup from trees that grew near Cranford, began to
disappear, it was soon evident that Eleanor had made no mistake, and
that the breakfast that she had had prepared for the workers would by no
means be wasted.

"It does me good to see you men eat this way," she said, laughing.
"That's one thing we don't do properly in the city--eat. We peck at a
lot of things, instead of eating a few plain ones, and a lot of them.
And I'll bet that you men will work all the harder for this extra
breakfast."

"Just you watch and see!" bellowed Jud. "I'm boss here to-day, ma'am,
and I tell you I'm some nigger driver. Ain't I, boys?"

But he accompanied the threat with a jovial wink, and it was easy to see
that these men liked and respected him, and were only too willing to
look up to him as a leader in the work of kindness in which they were
about to engage.

"I don't know why all you boys are so good to me, Jud," said Mrs. Pratt,
brokenly. "I can't begin to find words to thank you, even."

"Don't try, Mis' Pratt," said Jud, looking remarkably fierce, though he
was winking back something that looked suspiciously like a tear. "I
guess we ain't none of us forgot Tom Pratt--as good a friend as men ever
had! Many's the time he's done kind things for all of us! I guess it'd
be pretty poor work if some of his friends couldn't turn out to help his
wife and kids when they're in trouble."

"He knows what you're doing, I'm sure of that," she answered. "And God
will reward you, Jud Harkness!"

Heartily as the men ate, however, they spent little enough time at the
task. Jud Harkness allowed them what he thought was a reasonable time,
and then he arose, stretched his great arms, and roared out his
commands.

"Come on, now, all hands to work!" he bellowed. "We've got to get all
this rubbish cleared out, then we'll have clean decks for building."

And they fell to with a will. In a surprisingly short space of time the
men who had plunged into the ruined foundations of the house had torn
out the remaining beams and rafters, and had flung the heap of rubbish
that filled the cellar on to the level ground. While some of the men did
this, others piled the rubbish on to wagons, and it was carted away and
dumped. The fire, however, had really lightened their task for them.

"That fire was so hot and so fierce," said Eleanor, as she watched them
working, "that there's less rubbish than if the things had been only
half burned."

"I've seen fires in the city," said Margery, "or, at least, houses after
a fire. And it really looked worse than this, because there'd be a whole
lot of things that had started to burn. Then the firemen came along, to
put out the fire, and though the things weren't really any good, they
had to be carted away."

"Yes, but this fire made a clean sweep wherever it started at all. Ashes
are easier to handle than sticks and half ruined pieces of furniture. As
long as it had to come, I guess it's a good thing that it was such a hot
blaze."

The work of clearing away, therefore, which had to be done, of course,
before any actual building could be begun, was soon accomplished.

"We're going to build just the way Tom Pratt did," said Jud Harkness. He
was the principal carpenter and builder of Lake Dean, and a master
workman. Many of the camps and cottages on the lake had been built by
him, and he was, therefore, accustomed to such work.

"You mean you're going to put up a square house?" said Eleanor.

"Yes, ma'am, just a square house, with a hall running right through from
the front to the back, and an extension in the rear for a kitchen--just
a shack, that will be. Two floors--two rooms on each side of the hall on
each floor. That'll give them eight rooms to start with, beside the
kitchen."

"That'll be fine, and it will really be the easiest thing to do, too."

"That's what we're figuring, ma'am. You see, it'll be just as it was
when Tom Pratt first built here, except that he only put up one story at
first. Then, as Mis' Pratt gets things going again, she can add to it,
and if she don't get along as fast as she expects, why, we'll lend her a
hand whenever she needs it."

"How on earth could you get all the lumber you need ready so quickly?
That's one thing I couldn't understand. The work is not so difficult to
manage, of course. But the wood--that's what's been puzzling me."

Jud grinned.

"Well, the truth is, ma'am, I expect to have a little argument about
that yet with a city chap that's building a house on the lake. I've got
the job of putting it up for him, and if it hadn't been for this fire
coming along, I'd have started work day before yesterday."

"Oh, and this is the lumber for his house?"

"You guessed it right, ma'am! He'll be wild, I do believe, because
there's no telling when I'll get the next lot of lumber through."

"You say the fire stopped you from going ahead with his house?"

"Yes. You see all of us had to turn out when it got so near to Cranford.
My house is safe, I do believe. I'm mighty scared of fire, ma'am, and
I've always figured on having things fixed so's a fire would have a
pretty hard time reaching my property. But of course I had to jump in to
help my neighbors--wouldn't be much profit about having the only house
left standing in town, would there?"

Eleanor laughed.

"I guess not!" she said. "But what a lucky thing for Mrs. Pratt that you
happened to have just the sort of wood she needed!"

"Oh, well, we'd have managed somehow. Of course, it makes it easier, but
we'd have juggled things around some way, even if this chap's plans
didn't fit her foundations. As it happens, though, they do. Old Tom
Pratt had a mighty well-built house here."

"Well, I'm quite sure that just as good a one is going up in its place."

Jud Harkness watched the work of getting out the last of the rubbish.
Then he went over to the cleared foundations, and in a moment he was
putting up the first of the four corner posts, great beams that looked
stout enough to hold up a far bigger house than the one they were to
support.

All morning the work went on merrily. As Eleanor had predicted, and
Bessie, too, there was plenty for the girls to do. The sun grew hotter
and hotter, and the men were glad of the cooling drinks that were so
liberally provided for them.

"This is fine!" said Jud Harkness, as he quaffed a great drink of
lemonade, well iced. "My, but it's a pleasure to work when it's made so
nice for you! I tell you, having these cool drinks here is worth an
extra hour's work, morning and afternoon. And what's that--just the
nails I want? I'll give you a job as helper, young woman!"

That remark was addressed to Bessie, who flushed with pleasure at the
thought that she was playing a part, however small, in the building of
the house. And, indeed, the girls all did their part, and their help was
royally welcomed by the men.

Quickly the skeleton of the house took form, and by noon, when work was
to be knocked off for an hour, the whole framework was up.

"I simply wouldn't have believed it, if I hadn't seen it with, my own
eyes!" said Eleanor. "It's the most wonderful thing I ever saw!"

"Oh, shucks!" said Jud, embarrassed by such praise. "There's lots of
us--I don't think we've done so awful well. But it does look kind of
nice, don't it?"

"It's going to be a beautiful house," said Mrs. Pratt. "And to think of
what the place looked like yesterday! Well, Jud Harkness, I haven't any
words to tell you what I really think, and that's all there is to it!"

For an hour or more Margery and her helpers had been busy at the big
fire. At Eleanor's suggestion two of the men had stopped work on the
house long enough to put up a rough, long table with benches at the
sides, and now the table was groaning with the fine dinner that Margery
had prepared.

"Good solid food--no fancy fixings!" Eleanor had decreed. "These men
burn up a tremendous lot of energy in work, and we've got to give them
good food to replace it. So we don't want a lot of trumpery things,
such as we like!"

She had enforced a literal obedience, too. There were great joints of
corned beef, red and savory; pots of cabbage, and huge mounds of boiled
potatoes. Pots of mustard were scattered along the table, and each man
had a pitcher of fine, fresh milk, and a loaf of bread, with plenty of
butter. And for dessert there was a luxury--the only fancy part of the
meal.

Eleanor had had a whispered conference with Tom Pratt early in the day,
as the result of which he had hitched up and driven into Cranford, to
return with two huge tubs of ice-cream. He had brought a couple of boxes
of cigars, too, and when the meal was over, and the men were getting out
their pipes, Eleanor had gone around among them.

"Try one of these!" she had urged. "I know they're good--and I know that
when men are working hard they enjoy a first-class smoke."

The cigars made a great hit.

"By Golly! There's nothing she don't think of, that Miss Mercer!" said
Jud Harkness appreciatively, as he lit up, and sent great clouds of blue
smoke in the air. "Boys, if we don't do a tiptop job on that house to
finish it off this afternoon we ought to be hung for a lot of ungrateful
skunks. Eh?"

There was a deep-throated shout of approval for that sentiment, and,
after a few minutes of rest, during which the cigars were enjoyed to the
utmost, Jud rose and once more sounded the call to work.

"I've heard men in the city say that after a heavy meal in the middle of
the day, they couldn't work properly in the afternoon," said Eleanor, as
she watched the men go about their work, each seeming to know his part
exactly. "It doesn't seem to be so with these men, though, does it? I
guess that in the city men who work in offices don't use their bodies
enough--they don't get enough exercise, and they eat as much as if they
did."

"I love cooking for men who enjoy their food the way these do," said
Margery happily. "They don't have to say it's good--they show they think
so by the way they eat. It's fine to think that people really enjoy what
you do. I don't care how hard I work if I think that."

"Well, you certainly had an appreciative lot of eaters to-day, Margery."

As the shadows lengthened and the sun began to go down toward the west
the house rapidly assumed the look it would have when it was finished. A
good deal of the work, of course, was roughly done. There was no
smoothing off of rough edges, but all that could be done later.

And then, as the end of the task drew near, so that the watchers on the
ground could see what the finished house would be like, Mrs. Pratt,
already overwhelmed by delight at the kindness of her neighbors, had a
new surprise that pleased and touched her, if possible, even more than
what had gone before. A new procession of wagons came into sight in the
road, and this time each was driven by a woman.

And what a motley collection of stuff they did bring, to be sure! Beds
and mattresses, bedding, chairs, tables, a big cook stove for the
kitchen, pots and pans, china and glass, knives and forks--everything
that was needed for the house.

"We just made a collection of all the things we could spare, Sarah
Pratt," said sprightly little Mrs. Harkness, a contrast indeed to her
huge husband, who could easily lift her with one hand, so small was she.
"They ain't much on looks, but they're all whole and clean, and you can
use them until you have a chance to stock up again. Now, don't you go
trying to thank us--it's nothing to do!"

"Nothing?" exclaimed Mrs. Pratt. "Sue Harkness, don't you dare say that!
Why, it means that I'll have a real home to-night for my children--we'll
be jest as comfortable as we were before the fire! I don't believe any
woman ever had such good neighbors before!"

Long before dark the house was finished, as far as it was to be finished
that day. And, as soon as the men had done their work, their wives and
the Camp Fire Girls descended on the new house with brooms and pails,
and soon all the shavings and the traces of the work had been banished.
Then all hands set to work arranging the furniture, and by the time
supper was ready the house was completely furnished.

"Well," said Eleanor, standing happily in the parlor, "this certainly
does look homelike!"

There was even an old parlor organ. Pictures were on the wall; a good
rag carpet was on the floor, and, while the furniture was not new, and
had seen plenty of hard service, it was still good enough to use. The
Pratt home had certainly risen like a Phoenix from its ashes. And
tired but happy, all those who had contributed to the good work sat down
to a bountiful supper.



CHAPTER VIII

ON THE MARCH AGAIN


After supper, when the others who had done the good work of rebuilding
were ready to go, all the girls of the Camp Fire lined up in front of
the new house and sped them on their way with a cheer and the singing of
the Wo-he-lo cry.

"Listen to that echo!" said Dolly, as their song was brought back to
them. "I didn't notice that last night. Is it always that way?"

"Always," said Tom Pratt. "Folks come here sometimes to yell and hear
the echo shout back at them."

"Good!" cried Eleanor. "That supplies a need I've been thinking of all
day!"

"What's that, Miss Mercer?" asked Mrs. Pratt.

"Why, if you are going into the business of supplying eggs and butter to
the summer folk at the lake and to others in the city, you'll need a
name for your farm. Why not call it Echo Farm? That's a good name, and
in your case it means something, you see."

"Whatever you say, Miss Mercer! Though I'd never thought of having a
name for the place before."

"Lots of things are going to be different for you now, Mrs. Pratt.
You're going to be a business woman, and to make a lot of money, you
know. Yes, that will look well on your boxes. When I get back to the
city I'll have a friend of mine make a drawing and put that name with
it, to be put on your boxes, and on all the paper you will use for
writing letters."

"Dear me, it's going to be splendid, Miss Mercer! Why, that fire is
going to turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to us, I'm
sure!"

"I think we can often turn our misfortunes into blessings if we take
them the right way, Mrs. Pratt. The thing to do is always to try to look
on the bright side, and, no matter how black things seem, to try to see
if there isn't some way that we can turn everything to account."

"Well, I would never have done it if you hadn't come along, Miss Mercer.
You gave us all courage in the first place, and then you got Jud
Harkness and all the others to come and help me this way."

"Oh, they'd have done it themselves, as soon as they heard. I didn't
suggest a thing--I just told them the news, and they thought of
everything else all by themselves. The only thing I thought of was using
your farm so that it would really pay you."

"Now that you've told us how, it seems so easy that I wonder I never
thought of it myself."

"Well, lots and lots of farmers just waste their land and themselves,
Mrs. Pratt. You're not the only one. My father has a farm, and in his
section he's done his level best to make the regular farmers see that
there are new ways of farming, just as there are new ways of doing
everything else."

"That's what my poor husband always said. He had all sorts of
new-fangled ideas, as I used to call them. Maybe he was right, too. But
he didn't have money enough to try them and see how they'd do, though we
always made a good living off this place."

"Well, the advantage of my idea is that you don't need much money to
give it a trial, and if you don't succeed, you won't lose much."

"I think we'd be pretty stupid if we didn't succeed, after the fine
start you've given us, and the way you've told me what to do."

"Well, I think so myself," said Eleanor, with a frank laugh. "And I know
you're not stupid--not a bit of it! It's going to be hard work, but I'm
sure you'll succeed. You'll be able to hire someone to do most of the
work for you before long, I think, and then you'll have to have a rest,
and come down to visit me in the city."

"Well, well, I do hope so, Miss Mercer! I ain't been in the city since I
don't know when. Tom--my husband--took me once, but that was years and
years ago, and I expect there's been a lot of changes since then."

"I'm going to keep an eye on you, Mrs. Pratt. And I feel as if I were a
sort of partner in this business, so if you don't make as much money as
I think you ought to, why, you'll hear from me. I can promise you that!
Girls, we'll sleep in the lean-to to-night, and in the morning we'll be
off, bright and early."

"Oh," said Mrs. Pratt, "have you really got to go? And you'll not sleep
out to-night! You'll take the house, and we'll be the ones to sleep
outside."

"Nonsense, Mrs. Pratt! Who should be the ones to sleep in this fine new
house the first night but you? We love to sleep in the open air, really
we do! It's no hardship, I can tell you."

And, despite all of Mrs. Pratt's protests, it was so arranged.

"I'll hate to go away from here--really I will!" said Dolly, to Bessie.
"It's been perfectly fine, helping these people. And I feel as if we'd
really done something."

"Well, we certainly have, Dolly," said Bessie.

"I do hope that butter and egg business will do well."

"I _know_ it's going to do well," said Eleanor, who had overheard. "And
one reason is that you girls are going to help. Now we must all get to
sleep, or we'll never get started in the morning. I think we'll have to
ride part of the way to the seashore in the train, after all. We don't
want to be too late in getting there, you know."

And in a few minutes silence reigned over the place. It was a picture of
peace and content--a vast contrast to the scene of the previous night,
when desolation and gloom seemed to dominate everything.

Parting in the morning brought tears alike to the eyes of those who
stayed behind and those who were going on. The experience of the last
two days had brought the Pratts and the girls of the Camp Fire very
close together, and the Pratt children--the younger ones at least--wept
and refused to be comforted when they learned that their new friends
were going away.

"Cheer up," said Eleanor. "We'll see you again, you know. Maybe we'll
all come up next summer. And we've had a good time, haven't we?"

"We certainly have!" said Mrs. Pratt, and there was sincerity, as well
as pleasure, in her tone. "I've often heard that good came out of evil,
and joy out of sorrow, but I never had any such reason to believe it
before this!"

Before the final parting, Eleanor had shown Mrs. Pratt exactly what she
meant about the new way in which the butter was to be made.

"Of course, as your business grows, you will want to get better
machinery," she had said. "That will make the work much easier, and you
will be able to do it more quickly too, and with less help than if you
stuck to the old-fashioned way."

"I'm going to take your advice in everything about running this farm,
Miss Mercer," Mrs. Pratt had replied. "You've certainly shown that you
know what you're talking about so far."

"Take a trip down to my father's farm some time, Mrs. Pratt, and they'll
be glad to show you everything they have there, I know. My father is
very anxious for all the farmers in his neighborhood to profit by any
help they can get. The only trouble is that a good many of them seem to
feel that he is interfering with them."

"Well, if they're as stupid as that, it serves them right to keep on
losing money, Miss Mercer."

"But it's natural, after all. You see they've run their farms their own
way all their lives, and it's the way they learned from their fathers.
So it isn't very strange that they're apt to feel that they know more,
from all that practice and experiment, than city people who are farming
scientifically."

"Does your father enjoy farming?"

"He says he does--and it's a curious thing that he makes that farm pay
its way, even allowing for a whole lot of things he does that aren't
really necessary. That's what proves, you see, that his theories are
right--they pay.

"Of course, he could afford to lose money on it, and you can't make a
whole lot of those farmers in our neighborhood believe that he doesn't.
So now he is having the books of the farm fixed up so that any of the
farmers around can see them, and find out for themselves how things are
run."

Tired as the girls of the Camp Fire had been, the night before, they
were wonderfully refreshed by their night's sleep. The weather was much
more pleasant than it had been, and a brisk wind had driven off much of
the smoke that still remained when they reached the Pratt farm as a
reminder of the scourge of fire. So the conditions for walking were
good, and Eleanor Mercer set a round, swinging pace as they started off.

"I'll really be glad to get out of this burned district. It's awfully
gloomy, isn't it, Bessie?" said Dolly.

"Yes, especially when you realize what it means to the people who live
in the path of the fire," answered Bessie. "Seeing the Pratts as they
were when we came up has given me an altogether new idea of these forest
fires."

"Yes. That's what I mean. It's bad enough to see the forest ruined, but
when you think of the houses, and all the other things that are burned,
too, why, it seems particularly dreadful."

"Tom Pratt told me that a whole lot of animals were caught in the fire,
too--chipmunks, and squirrels, and deer. That seems dreadful."

"Oh, what a shame! I should think they could manage to get away, Bessie.
Don't you suppose they try?"

"Oh, yes, but you see they can't reason the way human beings do, and a
lot of these fires burn around in a circle, so that while they were
running away from one part of the fire they might very easily be heading
straight for another, and get caught right between two fires."

Soon, however, they passed a section where the land had been cleared of
trees for a space of nearly a mile, and, once they had travelled through
it, they came to the deep green woods again, where no marring traces of
the fire spoiled the beauty of their trip.

"Ah, don't the woods smell good!" said Dolly. "So much nicer than that
old smoky smell! I never smelt anything like that! It got so that
everything I ate tasted of smoke. I'm certainly glad to get to where the
fire didn't come."

Now the ground began to rise, and before long they found themselves in
the beginning of Indian Gap. The ground rose gradually, and when they
stopped for their midday meal, in a wild part of the gap, none of the
girls were feeling more than normally and healthfully tired.

"Do many people come through here, Miss Eleanor?" asked Margery.

"At certain times, yes. But, you, see, the forest fires have probably
made a lot of people who intended to take this trip change their minds.
In a way it's a good thing, because we will be sure to find plenty of
room at the Gap House. That's where we are to spend the night. Sometimes
when there's a lot of travel, it's very crowded there, and
uncomfortable."

"Is it a regular hotel?"

"No, it's just a place for people to sleep. It's where the trail starts
up Mount Sherman, and it's the station of the railroad that runs to the
top of the mountain, too, for people who are too lazy to climb. There's
a gorgeous view there in the mornings, when the sun rises. You can see
clear to the sea."

"Oh, can't we stop and see that?"

"We haven't time to climb the mountain. If you want to go up on the
incline railway, though, we can manage it. You get up at three o'clock
in the morning, and get to the top while it's still dark, so that you
can see the very beginning of the sunrise."

There was not a dissenting voice to the plan to make the trip, and it
was decided to take the little extra time that would be required.

"After all," said Eleanor, "we can get such an early start afterward
that it won't take very much time. And to-morrow we'll finish our tramp
through the gap, and stop at Windsor for the night. Then the next day
we'll take the train straight through to the seashore. I think really
we'll have more fun, and get more good out of it if we spend the time
there than if we go through with our original plan of doing more walking
before getting on the train."

"Yes. We've lost quite a little time already, haven't we?" said Margery.

"Two whole days at Lake Dean, and two days more staying with the
Pratts," said Eleanor. "That's four days, and one can walk quite a long
distance in four days if one sets one's mind and one's feet to it."

"Well, we certainly couldn't help the delay," said Margery. "At Lake
Dean the fire held us--and I wouldn't think very much of any crowd that
could see the trouble those poor people were in and not stay to help
them."

They slept well in the early part of that night in the rough quarters
at the Gap House, and, while it was still dark, they were routed out to
catch the funicular railway on its first trip of the day up Mount
Sherman.

At first, when they were at the top of the mountain, there was nothing
to be seen. But soon the sky in the east began to lighten and grow pink,
then the fog that lay below them began to melt away, and, as the sun
rose, they saw the full wonder of the spectacle.

"I never saw anything so beautiful in all my life!" exclaimed Bessie
with a sigh of delight. "See how it seems to gild everything as the
light rises, Dolly!"

"Yes, and you can see the sea, way off in the distance! How tiny all the
towns and villages look from here! It's just like looking at a map,
isn't it?"

"Well, it was certainly worth getting up in the middle of the night to
see it, Bessie. And I do love to sleep, too!"

"I'd stay up all night to see this, any time. I never even dreamed of
anything so lovely."

"We were very fortunate," said Eleanor, with a smile. "I've been up here
when the fog was so thick that you couldn't see a thing, and only knew
the sun had risen because it got a little lighter. I've known it to be
that way for a week at a time, and some people would stay, and come up
here morning after morning, and be disappointed each time!"

"That's awfully mean," said Dolly. "I suppose, though, if they had never
seen it, they wouldn't mind so much, because they wouldn't know what
they were missing."

"They never seemed very happy about it, though," laughed Eleanor. "Well,
it's time to go down again, and be off for Windsor. And then to-morrow
morning we'll be off for the seashore. We're to camp there, right on the
beach, instead of living in a house. That will be much better, I
think."



CHAPTER IX

A STARTLING DISCOVERY


"Bessie, why are you looking so glum?" asked Dolly, as they started on
the last part of their walk, taking the Windsor road.

"Am I? I didn't realize I was, Dolly. But--well, I suppose it's because
I'm rather sorry we're leaving the mountains."

"I think the seashore is every bit as nice as the mountains. There are
ever so many things to do, and I know you'll like Plum Beach, where
we're going. It's the dandiest place--"

"It couldn't be as nice as this, Dolly."

"Oh, that seems funny to me, Bessie. I've always loved the seashore,
ever since I can remember. And, of course, since I've learned to swim,
I've enjoyed it even more than I used to."

"You can't swim much in the sea, can you? Isn't the surf too heavy?"

"The surf's good fun, even if you don't do any swimming in it, Bessie.
It picks you up and throws you around, and it's splendid sport. But down
at Plum Beach you can have either still water or surf. You see, there's
a beach and a big cove--and on that beach the water is perfectly calm,
unless there's a tremendous storm, and we're not likely to run into one
of those."

"How is that, Dolly? I thought there was always surf at the seashore."

"There's a sand bar outside the cove, and it's grown so that it really
makes another beach, outside. And on that there is real surf. So we can
have whichever sort of bathing we like best, or both kinds on the same
day, if we want."

"Maybe I'll like it better when I see it, then. Because I do love to
swim, and I don't believe I'd enjoy just letting the surf bang me
around."

"Why, Bessie, you say you may like it better when you see it? Haven't
you ever been to the seashore?"

"I certainly never have, Dolly! You seem to forget that I've spent all
the time I can remember in Hedgeville."

"I do forget it, all the time. And do you know why? It's because you
seem to know such an awful lot about other places and things you never
saw there. I suppose they made you read books."

"Made me! That was one of the things Maw Hoover used to get mad at me
for doing. Whenever she saw me reading a book it seemed to make her mad,
and she'd say I was loafing, and find something for me to do, even if
I'd hurried through all the chores I had so that I could get at the book
sooner."

"Then you used to like to read?"

"Oh, yes, I always did. The Sunday School had a sort of library, and I
used to be able to get books from there. I love to read, and you would,
too, Dolly, if you only knew how much fun you have out of books."

Dolly made a face.

"Not the sort of books my Aunt Mabel wants me to read," she said
decidedly. "Stupid old things they are! It's just like going to school
all over again. I get enough studying at school, thanks!"

"But you like to know about people and places you've never seen, don't
you?"

"Yes, but all the books I've ever seen that tell you about things like
that are just like geographies. They give you a lot of things you have
to remember, and there's no fun to that."

"You haven't read the right sort of books, that's all that's the matter
with you, Dolly. I tell you what--when we get back to the city, we'll
get hold of some good books, and take turns reading them aloud to one
another. I think that would be good fun."

"Well, maybe if they taught me as much as you seem to know about places
you've never seen I wouldn't mind reading them. Anyhow, books or no
books, you're going to love the seashore. Oh, it is such a delightful
place--Plum Beach."

"Tell me about it, Dolly."

"Well, in the first place, it isn't a regular seaside place at all. I
mean there aren't any hotels and boardwalks and things like that. It's
about ten miles from Bay City, and there they do have everything like
that. But Plum Beach is just wild, the way it always has been. And I
don't see why, because it's the best beach I ever saw--ever so much
finer than at Bay City."

"I'll like the beach."

"Yes, I know you will. And because it's sort of wild and desolate, and
off by itself that way, you can have the best time there you ever
dreamed of. Last year we put on our bathing suits when we got up, and
kept them on all day. You go in the water, you see, and then, if you lie
down on the beach for half an hour, you're dry. The sun shines right
down on the sand, and it's as warm as it can be."

"I suppose that's why you like it so much--because you don't have the
trouble of dressing and undressing."

"It's one reason," said Dolly, who never pretended about anything, and
was perfectly willing to admit that she was lazy. "But it's nice to have
the beach to yourselves, too, the way we do. You see, when we get there
we'll find tents all set up and ready for us."

"Is there any fishing?"

Dolly smacked her lips.

"You bet there is!" she said. "Best sea bass you ever tasted, and about
all you can catch, too! And it tastes delicious, because the fish down
there get cooked almost as soon as they're caught. And there are
lobsters and crabs--and it's good fun to go crabbing. Then at low tide
we dig for clams, and they're good, too--I'll bet you never dreamed how
good a clam could be!"

"How about the other things--milk, and eggs, and all those?"

"Oh, that's easy! There are a lot of farms a little way inland, and we
get all sorts of fine things from them."

"I wonder if Mr. Holmes will try to play any tricks on us down there,
Dolly. He has about everywhere we've been since Zara and I joined the
Camp Fire Girls, you know."

"I'm hoping he won't find out, Bessie. That would be fine. I certainly
would like to know why he is so anxious to get hold of you and Zara. I
bet it's money, and that there's some secret about you."

"Money? Why, he's got more than he can spend now! Even if there is a
secret, I don't see how money can have anything to do with it."

"Well, you remember this, Bessie: the more money people have, the more
they seem to want. They're never content. It's the people who only have
a little who seem to be happy, and willing to get along with what they
have. How about your old Farmer Weeks?"

"That's so, Dolly. He certainly was that way. He had more money than
anyone in Hedgeville or anywhere near it, and yet he was the stingiest,
closest fisted old man in town."

"There you are!"

"Still I think Mr. Holmes must be a whole lot richer than Farmer Weeks,
or than all the other people in Hedgeville put together. And it doesn't
seem as if there was any money he could make out of Zara or me that
would tempt him to do what he's done."

"Do you know what I've noticed most, Bessie, about the way he's gone to
work?"

"No. What?"

"The way he has spent money. He's acted as if he didn't care a bit how
much it cost him, if only he got what he wanted. And people in the city
never spend money unless they expect to get it back."

"Who's the detective now? You called me one a little while ago, but it
seems to me that you're doing pretty well in that line yourself."

"Oh, it's all right to laugh, but, just the same, I'll bet that when we
get at the bottom of all this mystery, we'll find that the chief reason
Mr. Holmes was in it was that he wanted to get hold of some information
that would make it easy for him to get a whole lot more than it cost
him."

"Well, maybe you're right, Dolly. But I'd certainly like to know just
what he has got up his sleeve."

"I think he'll be careful for a little while now, Bessie. He never knew
that Miss Eleanor had that letter he'd written to the gypsy. And it must
have damaged him a lot to have as much come out about that as did."

"I expect a lot of people who heard it didn't believe it."

"Even if that's so, I guess there were plenty who did believe it, and
who think now that Mr. Holmes is a pretty good man to leave alone. You
see, that proved absolutely that he had really hired that gypsy to carry
you off, and that is a pretty mean thing to do. And people must know by
this time that if there was any legal way of getting you and Zara away
from the Camp Fire and Miss Mercer, he would do it."

"But he didn't get into any trouble for doing it, Dolly."

"He's got so much money that he could hire lawyers to get him out of
almost any scrape he got in, Bessie. That's the trouble. Those people at
Hamilton were afraid of him. They know how rich he is, and they didn't
want to take any chance of making him angry at them."

"Yes, that's just it. And I'm afraid he's got so much money that a whole
lot of people who would say what they really thought if they weren't
afraid of him, are on his side. You see, he says that I'm a runaway,
just because I didn't stay any longer with the Hoovers. And probably he
can make a whole lot of people think that I was very ungrateful, and
that he is quite right in trying to get me back into the same state as
Hedgeville."

"They'd better talk to Miss Eleanor, if he makes them think that.
They'll soon find out which is right and which is wrong in that
business. And if she doesn't tell them, I guess Mr. Jamieson will--and
he'd be glad of the chance, too!"

"Let's not worry about him, anyhow. I hope he won't find out where we
are, too. We haven't seen or heard anything of him since we went back to
Long Lake from Hamilton, so I don't see why there isn't a good chance of
his letting us alone for a while now."

They reached Windsor, the little town at the other end of Indian Gap,
late in the afternoon, having cooked their midday meal in the gap.

"I know the people in a big boarding-house here," said Eleanor, "and
we'll be very comfortable. In the morning we'll take an early train, so
that we can get to Plum Beach before it's too late to get comfortably
settled. I've sent word on ahead to have the tents ready for us, but,
even so, there will be a good many things to do."

"There always are," sighed Dolly. "That's the one thing I don't like
about camping out."

"I expect really, if you only knew the truth, Dolly, it's the one thing
you like best of all," smiled Eleanor. "That's one of the great
differences between being at home, where everything is done for you,
and camping out, where you have to look after yourself."

"Well, I don't like work, anyhow, and I don't believe I ever shall, Miss
Eleanor, no matter what it's called. Some of it isn't as bad as some
other kinds, that's all."

Eleanor laughed to herself, because she knew Dolly well enough not to
take such declarations too seriously.

"I've got some work for you to-night," she said. "I want you and Bessie
to go to a meeting of the girls that belong to one of the churches here,
and tell them about the Camp Fire. They found out we were coming, and
they would like to know if they can't start a Camp Fire of their own.

"And I think they'll get a better idea of things, and be less timid and
shy about asking questions if two of you girls go than if I try to
explain. I will come in later, after they've had a chance to talk to you
two, but by that time they ought to have a pretty clear idea."

"That's not work, that's fun," declared Dolly.

"I'm glad you think so, because you will be more likely to be
successful."

And so after supper Bessie and Dolly went, with two girls who called for
them, to the Sunday School room of one of the Windsor churches, ready to
do all they could to induce the local girls to form a Camp Fire of their
own. And, being thoroughly enthusiastic, they soon fired the desire of
the Windsor girls.

"They won't have just one Camp Fire; they'll have two or three,"
predicted Dolly, when she and Bessie were walking back to the
boarding-house later with Eleanor Mercer. "They asked plenty of
questions, all right. Nothing shy about them, was there, Bessie?"

Bessie laughed.

"Not if asking questions proves people aren't shy," she admitted. "I
thought they'd never stop thinking of things to ask."

"That's splendid," said Eleanor. "The Camp Fire is the best thing these
girls could have. It will do them a great deal of good, and I was sure
that the way to make them see how much they would enjoy it was to let
them understand how enthusiastic you two were. That meant more to them
than anything I could have said, I'm sure."

"I don't see why," said Dolly.

"Because they're girls like you, Dolly, and it's what you like, and show
you like, that would appeal to them. I'm older, you see, and they might
think that things that I would expect them to like wouldn't really
please them at all."

"What's the matter with you, Bessie?" asked Dolly suddenly, as they
reached the house. She was plainly concerned and surprised, and Eleanor,
rather startled, since she had seen nothing in Bessie to provoke such a
question, looked at her keenly.

"Nothing, except that I'm a little tired, I think."

But Dolly wasn't satisfied. She knew her chum too well.

"You've got something on your mind, but you don't want to worry us," she
said. "Better own up, Bessie!"

Bessie, however, would not answer. And in the morning she seemed to be
her old self. Just as they were starting for the train, though, Bessie
suddenly hung back at the door of the boarding-house.

"Wait for me a minute, Dolly," she said. "I left a handkerchief in our
room. I'll be right down. Go on, the rest of you; we'll soon catch up."

She ran upstairs for the handkerchief.

"I left it behind on purpose, Dolly," she explained, when she came down.
"I wanted them to go ahead. Ah, look!"

As they went along, with most of the girls fully a hundred yards ahead
of them, a lurking figure was plainly to be seen following the girls.

"It's Jake Hoover!" said Dolly excitedly.

"I thought I saw him last night. That was why you thought something was
wrong, Dolly," said Bessie. "But I wanted to make sure before I said
anything."

"That means trouble," said Dolly.



CHAPTER X

A MEETING--AND A CONVERSION


"Trouble--he's always meant that every time we've seen him!" said Bessie
bitterly.

"How do you suppose he has managed to be away from home so much,
Bessie?"

"I don't know, Dolly, but I'm afraid he's got into some sort of trouble.
I'm quite sure that Mr. Holmes and that lawyer, Mr. Brack, have got
something against him--that they know something he's afraid they will
tell."

"Say, I'll bet you're right! You know, he must be an awful coward--and
yet, the way he goes after you, he takes a lot of chances, doesn't he?
It does look as if, no matter how much it may frighten him to do what he
does, he's still more afraid not to do it."

"Look out--get behind this tree! I don't want him to see us here if we
can help it. It would be better if he thought he hadn't been noticed at
all, don't you think?"

"Yes. And it's a very good thing we saw him, Bessie. Now we know that we
must look out for squalls at Plum Beach, and they don't know we're
warned at all. So maybe it will be easier to beat them."

"Look here, Dolly, isn't there another train to Plum Beach? A later one,
that would get us there an hour or so after the other girls, if they go
on this one?"

"There certainly is, Bessie; but how can we wait for it? Miss Eleanor
would be worried."

"Oh, we'll have to let her know what we're going to do, of course. How
soon does that train go?"

"Not for half an hour yet. Miss Mercer wanted to be at the station very
early so that all the baggage would surely be checked in time to go on
the same train with us."

"Well, that makes it easy, Dolly. I tell you what. I'll stay here, and
follow very slowly, when Jake gets out of sight, so that he won't see
me. And if you go right across the street, and cut across the lots
there, you can get to the railroad station from the other side."

"I know the way--I saw that last night, though not because I expected to
do it."

"All right, then. You take that way, and get hold of Miss Eleanor
quietly. Better not let the others hear what you're saying, and keep
your eyes open for Jake, too. But I don't believe he'll show himself in
the station."

"Do you think she'll let us do it?"

"I don't see why not. We'll be perfectly safe. I'm sure Jake is here
alone, and he wouldn't dare try to do anything to stop us here. He knows
that he'd get into trouble if he did, and I don't think he's very brave,
even in this new fashion of his unless some of the people he's afraid of
are right around to spur him on. You remember how Will Burns thrashed
him? He didn't look very brave then, did he?"

"I should say not! All right, I'll tell her and see what she says. Then
I'll get back to the boarding-house. You'll go there, won't you?"

"No, I don't think that would be a good idea at all. The best thing for
you to do is to wait for me right there in the station. The ticket agent
is a woman, and I'm sure she'll let you stay with her until I come, if
you get Miss Eleanor to speak to her. Miss Eleanor knows all the people
here, and they all like her, and would do anything she asked them to do,
if they could.

"And it's easier for me to get to the station without being seen than to
the boarding-house. Besides, I think it's right around the station that
we'll have the best chance of finding out what they mean to do."

"All right! I'll obey orders," said Dolly. "You're right, too, I think,
Bessie."

Jake Hoover, creeping along, was out of sight when Dolly made a swift
dash across the street, and in a minute she had disappeared. Bessie knew
that Dolly's movements, always rapid, were likely to prove altogether
too elusive for Jake's rather slow mind to follow, and, moreover, she
was not much afraid of detection, even should Jake catch a glimpse of
her chum. Jake was sure that all the Camp Fire Girls were in front of
him; he would not, therefore, be looking in the rear for any of them,
especially for those he wanted to track down.

Bessie had the harder task. She had to keep herself from Jake's
observation until after the train had gone, in any case, and as much
longer as possible. As she had told Dolly, she was not very much afraid
of anything he might attempt against them, but she saw no use in running
any avoidable risks.

Once Jake was out of sight, she made her way slowly toward the station,
prepared to make an instant dash for cover should she see Jake
returning.

The one thing that was likely to cause him to come back toward her, she
figured, was the presence of Holmes or one of the other men who were
behind him in the conspiracy, and she was taking the chance, of course,
that one of these men was behind her, and a spectator of her movements.

But she could not avoid that. If one of them was there he was, that was
all, and she felt that by acting as she had decided to do, she had, at
all events, everything to gain and nothing to lose.

The road from the boarding-house to the station was perfectly straight
for about three-quarters of a mile, and parallel with the railroad
tracks. Then, when the road came to a point opposite the station, it
came also to a crossroad, and, about a hundred yards down this crossroad
was the station itself.

Bessie reached that point without anything to alarm her or upset her
plans, and there she was lucky enough to find a big billboard at the
corner, which happened to be a vacant lot. Behind this billboard she
took shelter thankfully, feeling sure that it would enable her to see
what Jake was doing without any danger of being discovered by him.

As she had expected, Jake did not enter the station. She had no sooner
taken up her position in the shelter of the billboard than she was able
to single him out from the men who were lounging about, waiting for the
train. His movements were still furtive and sly, and Bessie had to
repress a shudder of disgust. Such work seemed to bring out everything
small and mean and sly in Jake's nature, and Bessie's thoughts were full
of sympathy for his father. After all, Paw Hoover had always been good
to her, and when she and Zara had run away from Hedgeville, he had
helped them instead of turning them back, as he might so easily have
done. It seemed strange to Bessie that so good and kind a man should
have such a worthless son.

Twice, as Bessie looked, she saw Jake approach one of the windows of the
station building furtively, but each time he was scared away from it
before he had a chance to look in.

"Trying to make sure that I'm in there, and afraid of being seen at his
spying," decided Bessie. "That's great! If he doesn't see me, he'll
just decide that I must be there anyhow, and take a chance. It's a good
thing he's such a coward. But I wonder what he thinks we'd do to him,
even if we did see him?"

She laughed at the thought. Never having had a really guilty conscience
herself, Bessie had no means of knowing what a torturing, weakening
thing it is. She could not properly imagine Jake's mental state, in
which everything that happened alarmed him. Having done wrong, he
fancied all the time that he was about to be haled up, and made to pay
for his wrongdoing. And that, of course, was the explanation of his
actions, when, as a matter of fact, he could have walked with entire
safety into the station and the midst of the Camp Fire Girls.

Soon the whistle of the train that was to carry the Camp Fire Girls to
Plum Beach was heard in the distance, and a minute later it roared into
the station, stopped, and was off again. Seeing a great waving of
handkerchiefs from the last car, Bessie guessed what they meant. Miss
Eleanor had agreed to her plan, and this was the way the girls took of
bidding her good-bye and good luck.

As soon as the train had gone Jake rushed into the station, and Bessie
walked boldly toward it, a new idea in her mind. She had made up her
mind that to be afraid of Jake Hoover was a poor policy. If the guess
she and Dolly had made concerning his relations with those who were
persecuting her was correct, Jake must be a good deal more afraid of
them, or of what he had done, than she could possibly be of him, and
Bessie knew that there should be no great difficulty in dealing very
much as she liked with a coward.

Moreover, the presence of a policeman at the station gave her assurance
that she need fear no physical danger from Jake, and she felt that was
the only thing that need check her at all.

When she reached the station she looked in the window first, and saw
Jake standing by the ticket agent's window. The ticket agent was also
the telegraph operator, and Bessie saw that she was writing something
on a yellow telegraph blank. Evidently Jake was sending a message, and
Bessie knew that, while he could read a very little, Jake had always
been so stupid and so lazy that he had never learned to write properly.
The sight made her smile, because, unless her plans had miscarried
completely, Dolly was inside the little ticket office, and must be
hearing every word of that message!

So she waited until Jake, satisfied, turned from the window, and then
she walked boldly in. For a minute Jake, who was looking out of one of
the windows in front toward the track, did not see her at all. In that
moment Bessie got in line with the ticket window and, seeing Dolly,
waved to her to come out. Then she walked over to Jake, smiled at his
amazed face as he turned to her, and saluted him cheerfully.

"Hello, Jake Hoover," she said. "Were you looking for me?"

Jake's face fell, and he stared at her in comical dismay.

"Well, I snum!" he said. "How in tarnation did you come to git off that
there train, hey?"

"I never was on it, Jake," said Bessie, pleasantly. "You just thought I
was, you see. You don't want to jump to a conclusion so quickly."

Jake was petrified. When he saw Dolly come out of the ticket office,
puzzled by Bessie's action, but entirely willing to back her up, his
face turned white.

"You're a pretty poor spy, Jake," said Dolly, contemptuously. "I guess
Mr. Holmes won't be very pleased when he gets your message at Canton,
telling him Bessie went on that train and then doesn't find her aboard
at all."

"What's that?" asked Bessie, suddenly. "Is that the message he sent,
Dolly?"

"It certainly is," said Dolly. "Why, what's the matter, Bessie?"

But Bessie didn't answer her. Instead she had raced toward a big
railroad map that hung on the wall of the station, and was looking for
Canton on it.

"I thought so!" she gasped. Then she ran over to the ticket window, and
spoke to the agent.

"If I send a telegram right now, can it be delivered to Miss Mercer, on
that train that just went out, before she gets to Canton?" she asked.

The agent looked at her time-table.

"Oh, yes," she said, cheerfully. "That's easy. I'll send it right out
for you, and it will reach her at Whitemarsh which is only twenty-five
miles away."

"Good!" said Bessie, and wrote out a long telegram. In a minute she
returned to Jake and Dolly, and the sound of the ticking telegraph
instrument filled the station with its chatter.

"He wanted to run away, Bessie," said Dolly. "But I told him it wasn't
polite to do that when a young lady wanted to talk to him, so he stayed.
That was nice of him, wasn't it?"

"Very," said Bessie, her tone as sarcastic as Dolly's own. "Now, look
here, Jake, what have you done that makes you so afraid of Mr. Holmes
and these other wicked men?"

Jake's jaw fell again, but he was speechless. He just stared at her.

"There's no use standing there like a dying calf, Jake Hoover!" said
Bessie, angrily. "I know perfectly well you've been up to some dreadful
mischief, and these men have told you that if you don't do just as they
tell you they'll see that you're punished. Isn't that true?"

"How--how in time did you ever find that out?" stammered Jake.

"I've known you a long time, Jake Hoover," said Bessie, crisply. "And
now tell me this. Haven't I always been willing to be your friend?
Didn't I forgive you for all the mean things you did, and help you every
way I could? Did I ever tell on you when you'd done anything wrong, and
your father would have licked you?"

Bessie's tone grew more kindly as she spoke to him, and Jake seemed to
be astonished. He hung his head, and his look at her was sheepish.

"No, I guess you're a pretty good sort, Bessie," he said. "Mebbe I've
been pretty mean to you--"

"It's about time you found it out!" said Dolly, furiously. "Oh, I'd like
to--"

"Let him alone, Dolly," said Bessie. "I'm running this. Now, Jake, look
here. I want to be your friend. I'm very fond of your father, and I'd
hate to see him have a lot of sorrow on your account. Don't you know
that these men would sacrifice you and throw you over in a minute if
they thought they couldn't get anything more out of you? Don't you see
that they're just using you, and that when they've got all they can,
they'll let you get into any sort of trouble, without lifting a finger
to save you?"

"Do you think they'd do that, Bessie? They promised--"

"What are their promises worth, Jake? You ought to know them well enough
to understand that they don't care what they do. If you're in trouble, I
know someone who will help you. Mr. Jamieson, in the city."

"He--why, he would like to get me into trouble--"

"No, he wouldn't. And if I ask him to help you, I know he'll do it. He
can do more for you than they can, too. You go to him, and tell him the
whole story, and you'll find he will be a good friend, if you make up
your mind to behave yourself after this. We'll forget all the things
you've done, and you shall, too, and start over again. Don't you want to
be friends, Jake?"

"Sure--sure I do, Bessie!" said Jake, looking really repentant. "Do you
mean you'd be willing--that you'd be friends with me, after all the mean
things I've done to you?"

Bessie held out her hand.

"I certainly do, Jake," she said. "Now, you go to Mr. Jamieson, and tell
him everything you know. Everything, do you hear? I can guess what this
latest plot was, but you tell him all you know about it. And you'll find
that they've told you a great many things that aren't so at all. Very
likely they've just tried to frighten you into thinking you were in
danger so that they could make you do what they wanted."

"I'll do it, Bessie!" said Jake.



CHAPTER XI

A NARROW ESCAPE


Despite Dolly's frantic curiosity, Bessie drew Jake aside where there
was no danger of their being overheard by any of the others in the
station, and talked to him earnestly for a long time. Jake seemed to
have changed his whole attitude. He was plainly nervous and frightened,
but Dolly could see that he was listening to Bessie with respect. And
finally he threw up his head with a gesture entirely strange to him,
and, when Bessie held out her hand, shook it happily.

"Here's Mr. Jamieson's address," said Bessie, writing on a piece of
paper which she handed to him. "Now you go straight to him, and do
whatever he tells you. You'll be all right. How soon will you start?"

"There's a train due right now," said Jake, excitedly. "I'll get aboard,
and as soon as I get to town I'll do just as you say, Bessie.
Good-bye."

"Good-bye, Jake--and good luck!" said Bessie warmly. "We're going to be
good friends, now."

"Well, I never!" gasped Dolly. She stared at Jake's retreating form, and
then back to Bessie, as if she were paralyzed with astonishment.
"Whatever does this mean, Bessie? I should think you would be pretty
hard up for friends before you'd make one of Jake Hoover!"

"Jake's been more stupid than mean, Dolly. And he's found out that he's
been wrong, I'm sure. From this time he's going to do a whole lot for
us, unless I'm badly mistaken. I'm sure it's better to have him on our
side than against us."

"I'm not sure of anything of the sort, Bessie. But do tell me what
happened. Why did you send that telegram to Miss Eleanor? And what was
in it?"

"I sent it because if I hadn't she would have walked right into a
trap--she and Zara. Maybe it was too late, but I hope not. And our
staying behind here was a mighty lucky thing. If we hadn't had some
warning of what Mr. Holmes and the others were planning, I don't know
what would have happened! Zara and I would have been caught, I'm quite
sure."

"Don't be so mysterious, Bessie," begged Dolly. "Tell me what you found
out, can't you? I'm just as excited and interested as you are, and I
should think you would know it, too."

"You'll see it all soon enough, Dolly. Let's find out how soon the next
train comes."

"In twenty minutes," said the ticket agent, in answer to the question.

"And is it a through train--an express?" asked Bessie. "Have you a
time-table? I'd like to see just where it stops."

She got the time-table, and, after she had examined it carefully, heaved
a sigh of relief.

"The train doesn't stop at any place that isn't marked down for it on
the time-table, does it?" she said, as she bought the tickets.

"No, indeed. That's a limited train, and it's almost always on time.
They wouldn't stop that except at the regular places for anyone."

"That's all right, then," said Bessie. "Dolly, can't you see the point
yet for yourself? Go and look at the map, and if you can't see then,
why, I'm not going to tell you! If you're as stupid as all that, you
deserve to wait!"

Bessie laughed, but Dolly understood that the laugh was not one of
amusement alone, but that Bessie was undergoing a reaction after some
strain that had worried her more than she was willing to admit or to
show.

"I guess I'm stupid all right," she said, after she had looked at the
map. "I don't know what you're driving at, but I suppose you do, and
that makes it all right. I'm willing to do whatever you say, but I do
like to know why and how things like that are necessary. And I don't
think I'm unreasonable, either."

"You're not," said Bessie, suddenly contrite. "But, Dolly dear, I don't
want everyone here to know all about us, and the things that are
happening to us. You won't mind waiting a little for an explanation,
will you?"

"Not when you ask that way," said Dolly, loyally. "But I don't like to
have you act as if it were stupid of me not to be able to guess what it
is. You wouldn't have known yourself, would you, if Jake Hoover hadn't
told you when you two were whispering together?"

"I knew it before that. That's one reason I was able to make Jake tell
me what he did, Dolly. I suppose you don't like my making up with him,
either, do you?"

"Oh, no, I don't like it. But that doesn't make any difference. I
daresay you've got some very good reason."

"I certainly have, Dolly, and you shall know it soon, too. Listen,
there's our train whistling now! We'll start in a minute or two."

"Well, that's good. I hate mysteries. Do you know, Bessie, that if this
train only makes one or two stops, we shall be at Plum Beach very soon
after Miss Eleanor and the other girls get there?"

"I'm glad of it, Dolly. Tell me, there isn't any station at Plum Beach,
is there?"

"No, we'll go to Bay City, and then go back on another train to a little
station called Green Cove, and that's within a mile of the beach. It's
on a branch railroad that runs along the coast from Bay City."

Then the train came along, and they climbed aboard, happy in having
outwitted the enemies of Bessie and Zara. Dolly did not share Bessie's
enthusiasm over the conversion of Jake Hoover, though.

"I don't trust him, Bessie," she said. "He may have really meant to turn
around and be friends with us, but I don't think he can stick to a
promise. I don't know that he means to break them, but he just seems to
be helpless. You think he's afraid of Mr. Holmes and those men, don't
you?"

"Yes, and he as good as admitted it, too, Dolly."

"Well, what I'm afraid of is that he will see them again, and that he'll
do whatever the people he happens to be with tell him."

"I suppose we've got to take that much of a chance, Dolly. We really
haven't much choice. My, how this train does go!"

"Why are you looking at your map and your time-table so carefully,
Bessie?"

"I want to be sure to know when we're getting near Canton, Dolly. When
we do, you must keep your eyes open. You'll see something there that may
explain a whole lot of things to you, and make you understand how silly
you were not to see through this plot."

Canton was a town of considerable size, and, though the train did not
stop there, it slowed down, and ran through the streets and the station
at greatly reduced speed. And as the car in which they were sitting went
through the station Bessie clutched Dolly's arm, and spoke in her ear.

"Look!" she said. "There on the platform! Did you ever see those men
before?"

Dolly gave a startled cry as her eyes followed Bessie's pointing finger.

"Mr. Holmes!" she exclaimed. "And that's that little lawyer, Mr. Brack.
And the old man with the whiskers--"

"Is Farmer Weeks, of course! Do you see the fourth man standing with
them? See how he pushes his coat back! He's a constable and he's so
proud of it he wants everyone to see his badge!"

"Bessie! Do you mean they were waiting here for you?"

"For me and Zara, Dolly! If I had been on a train that stopped here--but
I wasn't! And I guess Miss Eleanor must have got my telegram in time to
hide Zara so that they didn't find her on the other train, too, or else
we'd see something of her."

Dolly laughed happily. Then she did a reckless thing, showing herself at
the window, and shaking her fist defiantly as the car, with rapidly
gathering speed, passed the disconsolate group on the station platform.
Holmes was the first to see her, and his face darkened with a swift
scowl. Then he caught sight of Bessie, and, seizing Brack's arm, pointed
the two girls out to him, too. But there was nothing whatever to be
done.

The train, after slowing down, was already beginning to move fast again,
and there was no way in which it could be stopped, or in which the group
of angry men on the platform could board it. They could only stand in
powerless rage, and look after it. Bessie and Dolly, of course, could
not hear the furious comments that Holmes was making as he turned
angrily to old Weeks. But they could make a guess, and Dolly turned an
elfin face, full of mischievous delight, to Bessie.

"That's one time they got fooled," she exclaimed.

"I'm sorry they found out we were on this train, though," said Bessie,
gravely. "It means that we'll have trouble with them after we get to
Plum Beach, I'm afraid."

"Who cares?" said Dolly. "If they can't do any better there than they've
done so far on this trip, we needn't worry much, I guess."

"Well, do you see what they were up to, now, Dolly?"

Dolly wrinkled her brows.

"I guess so," she said. "They meant to come aboard the train at Canton
and try to get hold of you and Zara. But I don't see why--"

"Why they should pick out Canton rather than any other station where the
trains stop along the line?"

"That's just it, Bessie. Why should they?"

"That's the whole point, Dolly. Look at this map. Do you see the state
boundaries? For just a little way this line is in the state Canton is
in--and Canton is in the same state as Hedgeville!"

"Oh!" gasped Dolly. "You were right, Bessie, I _was stupid_! I might
have thought of that! That's why they had Jake there, and what his
telegram was. But how clever of you to think of it! How did you ever
guess it?"

"I just happened to think that if we did go into that state, it would be
easy for them to get hold of Zara and me, if they only knew about it
beforehand. Because, you see, in that state Farmer Weeks is legal
guardian for both of us, and he could make us come with him if he caught
us there."

"Well, I think it was mighty clever of you. Of course, when you had the
idea, it was easy to see it, once you had the map so that you could make
sure. But I never would have thought of it, so I couldn't have looked it
up to make sure, because I wouldn't have thought there was anything to
look up."

"What I'm wondering," said Bessie, "is what Miss Eleanor did to keep
them from getting Zara. If you ask me, that's the really clever thing
that's been done to-day. I was dreadfully frightened when I decided that
was what they were up to."

"Well, your telegram helped," said Dolly. "If it hadn't been for that,
they'd have been taken completely by surprise. Just imagine how they
would have felt, if they'd looked up when their train stopped at Canton,
and had seen Farmer Weeks coming down the aisle."

"It would have been dreadful, wouldn't it, Bessie? Do you know, Miss
Eleanor wasn't a bit anxious to have us stay behind? She was afraid
something would happen, I believe. But it's certainly a good thing that
you thought of doing it, and had your way."

"I was afraid they'd try to play some sort of a trick, Dolly. That's why
I wanted to wait. I couldn't tell what it would be, but I knew that if
Jake was there it wouldn't do any harm to watch him and see what he did.
I didn't expect to get him on our side, though. Before I talked to him,
of course, I was really only guessing, but he told me all he knew about
the plan. They hadn't told him everything, but with what I had guessed
it was enough."

"No one trusts him, you see, Bessie. It's just as I said."

"Well, do you know, I shouldn't wonder if that was one reason for his
being so untrustworthy, Dolly. Maybe if he finds that we are going to
trust him, it will change him, and make him act very differently."

"I certainly hope so, Bessie, but I'm afraid of him. I'm afraid that
they will find out what we've done, and try to use him to trick us, now
that we think he's on our side."

"We'll have to look out for that, Dolly, of course. But I don't believe
he's as black as he's painted. He must have some good qualities. Perhaps
they'll begin to come out now."

At Bay City, where they arrived comparatively early in the afternoon,
they had a surprise, for Miss Eleanor and all the girls were at the
station to meet them, including Zara, who looked nervous and frightened.

"Oh, I'm so glad you've come here safely, Bessie," said Eleanor,
flinging her arms about Bessie's neck. "Your train came right through,
didn't it?"

"Yes, and we saw Mr. Holmes and the rest of them on the platform at
Canton," said Bessie, laughing. "Did they get aboard your train?"

"Did they?" cried Eleanor. "They most certainly did, and when they
couldn't find either you or Zara, they were so angry that I was afraid
they were going to burst! I don't believe I ever saw men so dreadfully
disappointed in my life."

"How did you manage to hide Zara?"

"That was awfully funny, Bessie. I found some friends of mine were on
the train, travelling in a private car. As soon as I got your telegram,
I went back to see them. They had a boy with them, who is just about
Zara's size. So Zara dressed up in a suit of his clothes, and she was
sitting in their car, with him, when they came aboard to look for her."

"Did they look in that car?"

"Yes. They had a warrant, or something, so they had a right to go
everywhere on the train--and they did!"

"I should think the people who didn't have anything to do with us must
have been furious."

"Oh, they were, but it didn't do them any good. They searched through
the whole train, but Zara looked so different in boy's clothes that they
never even seemed to suspect her at all. She kept perfectly still, you
see, and after they had held us up for nearly an hour, we came on."

"Oh, how mad they must have been!"

"You ought to have seen them! It made us very late getting here, of
course, and we missed the train we were to take to Green Cove. But I
think we would have waited here, anyhow, until you came. I was very
anxious about you, Bessie. What a clever trick that was! If it hadn't
been for you, we would have been caught without a chance to do anything
at all."

"Bessie's made friends with Jake Hoover, too," said Dolly, disgustedly.
"Tell Miss Eleanor about that, Bessie."

"You did exactly the right thing," said Eleanor, when she had heard the
story, much to Dolly's disgust. "I agree with Dolly that we will have to
look out for him, just the same, but there is a chance that he may do
what he promised. Anyhow, there's a lot to gain and very little to
lose."



CHAPTER XII

PLUM BEACH


On the way to Plum Beach, on the little branch line that carried the
girls from Bay City to Green Cove, Eleanor was very thoughtful, and
Bessie and Dolly were kept busy in telling the other girls of their
experiences. They wanted to hear from Zara, too, just how she had
escaped.

"I don't see how you kept your face straight," said Dolly. "I know I
would have burst right out laughing, Zara."

"You wouldn't think so if you knew Farmer Weeks," said Zara, making a
wry face. "I can tell you I didn't want to laugh, Dolly. Why, he was
within a few feet of me, and looking straight at me! I was sure he'd
guess that it was I."

"He always looks at everyone that way--just as if they owed him money,"
said Bessie. "Nasty old man! I don't blame you for being nervous,
Zara."

"Oh, neither do I," said Dolly. "But it was funny to think of his being
so near you and having no idea of it. That's what would have made me
laugh."

"It seems funny enough, now," admitted Zara, with a smile. "But, you
see, I was perfectly certain that he did have a very good idea of where
I was. I was expecting him to take hold of me any moment, and tell the
constable to take me off the train."

"I wonder how long this sort of thing is going to keep up," said Margery
Burton, angrily. "Until you two girls are twenty-one?"

"I hope not," laughed Bessie, and then she went on, more seriously, "I
really do think that if Jake Hoover sticks to what he said, and takes
our side, Mr. Jamieson is likely to find out something that will give
him a chance to settle matters. You see, we've been fighting in the dark
so far."

"I don't see that we've been fighting at all, yet," said Margery. "They
keep on trying to do something, and we manage to keep them from doing
it. That's not my idea of a fight. I wish we could do some of the
hitting ourselves."

"So do I, Margery. And that's just what I think we may be able to do
now, if we have Jake on our side. He must know something about what
they've been doing. They couldn't keep him from finding out, it seems to
me."

"But will he tell? That seems to be the question."

"Yes, that's it, exactly. Well, if he does, then we'll know why they're
doing all this. You see, Mr. Jamieson can't figure on what they're going
to do next, or how to beat them at their own game, simply because he
doesn't know what their game is. They know just what they want to do,
while we haven't any idea, except that they're anxious to have Zara and
myself back where Farmer Weeks can do as he likes with us."

"Well, it would be fine to be able to beat them, Bessie, but right now
I'm more worried about what they will try to do next. This is a pretty
lonely place we're going to, and they're so bold that there's no telling
what they may try next."

"That's so--and they know we're coming here, too. Jake told them that."

"They would probably have found it out anyhow," said Dolly. "And there's
one thing--he didn't try to warn them that you knew about what they
meant to do at Canton, Bessie."

"No, he didn't. And he could have done it very easily, too. Oh, I think
we can count on Jake now, all right. He's pretty badly frightened, and
he's worried about himself. He'll stick to the side that seems the most
likely to help him. All I hope is that he will go to see Mr. Jamieson."

"Do you think he will?"

"Why not? Even if they get hold of him again, I think there will be time
enough for him to see Mr. Jamieson first. And I've got an idea that Mr.
Jamieson will be able to scare him pretty badly."

"All out for Green Cove," called the conductor just then, appearing in
the doorway, and there was a rush for the end of the car.

"Well, here we are," said Eleanor. "This isn't much of a city, is it?"

It was not. Two or three bungalows and seashore cottages were in sight,
but most of the traffic for the Green Cove station came from scattered
settlements along the coast. It was a region where people liked to live
alone, and they were willing to be some distance from the railroad to
secure the isolation that appealed to them. A little pier poked its nose
out into the waters of the cove, and beside this pier was a gasoline
launch, battered and worn, but amply able, as was soon proved, to carry
all the girls and their belongings at a single load.

"Thought you wasn't coming," said the old sailor who owned the launch,
as he helped them to get settled aboard.

"We missed the first connecting train and had to wait, Mr. Salters,"
said Eleanor. "I hope you didn't sell the fish and clams you promised
us to someone else?"

"No, indeed," said old Salters. "They're waitin' for you at the camp,
ma'am, and I fixed up the place, too, all shipshape. The tents is all
ready, though why anyone should sleep in such contraptions when they can
have a comfortable house is more'n I can guess."

"Each to his taste, you know," laughed Eleanor. "I suppose we'll be able
to get you to take us out in the launch sometimes while we're here?"

"Right, ma'am! As often as you like," he answered. "My old boat here
ain't fashionable enough for some of the folk, but she's seaworthy, and
she won't get stuck a mile an' a half from nowhere, the way Harry Semmes
and that new fangled boat of his done the other day when he had a load
of young ladies aboard."

He chuckled at the recollection. But while he had been talking he had
not been idle, and the _Sally S._, as his launch was called, had been
making slow but steady progress until she was outside the cove and
headed north. Soon, too, he ran her inside the protecting spot of land
of which Dolly had spoken to Bessie, and they were in such smooth water
that, even had any of them had any tendency toward seasickness, there
would have been no excuse for it.

In half an hour he stopped the engine, and cast his anchor overboard. He
wore no shoes and stockings, and now, rolling up his trousers, he jumped
overboard.

"Hand me the dunnage first," he said. "I'll get that ashore, and then
I'll take the rest of you, one at a time."

"Indeed you won't," laughed Eleanor. "We're not afraid of getting our
feet wet. Come on, girls, it's only two feet deep! Roll up your skirts
and take off your shoes and stockings, and we'll wade ashore."

She set the example, and in a very short time they were all safely
ashore, with much laughter at the splashing that was involved.

"Mr. Salters could run the _Sally S._ ashore, but it would be a lot of
trouble to get her afloat again, and this is the way we always do here.
It's lots of fun really," Eleanor explained.

Soon they were all ashore, and inspecting the camp which had been laid
out in preparation for them.

"Real army tents, with regular floors and cots, these are," said
Eleanor. "Sleeping on the ground wouldn't be very wise here. And there's
no use taking chances. I'm responsible to the mothers and fathers of all
you girls, after all, and I'm bound to see that you go home better than
when you started, instead of worse."

"I think they're fine," said Margery. "Oh, I do love the seashore! How
long shall we stay, Miss Eleanor?"

"I don't know," said the Guardian, a shade of doubt darkening her eyes.
"You know, Margery"--she spoke in a low tone--"that seems to depend
partly on things we can't really control. There seems to me to be
something really quite desperate about the way Mr. Holmes and his
friends are going for Bessie and Zara.

"Maybe they will make trouble for us here. It is rather isolated, you
know, and I can't help remembering that we're on the coast, and that a
few miles away the coast is that of Bessie's state--the state she
mustn't be in."

"That's so," said Margery, gravely. "You mean that if they managed to
get hold of Bessie or Zara, and took them out to sea and then landed
them in that state they'd be able to hold them there?"

"It worries me, Margery. The trouble is, you see, that once they're in
that state, it doesn't matter how they were taken there, but they can be
held. If Zara's father gets free, why, he would be able to get her back,
I suppose. Mr. Jamieson says so. But there's no one with a better right
to Bessie, so far as we know. I'm really more worried about her than
about Zara."

"We'll all be careful," promised Margery, with fire in her eye. "And I
guess they'll have to be pretty smart to find any way of getting her
away from us. I'll talk to the girls, and I'll try to be watching myself
all the time."

"I'm hungry," announced Dolly. "Just as hungry as a bear! Can't we have
supper pretty soon, Miss Eleanor?"

"Supper?" scoffed Miss Eleanor. "Why, we haven't had our dinner yet! But
we'll have that just as soon as it's cooked. I've just been waiting for
someone to say they were hungry. Dolly, you're elected cook. Since
you're the hungry one, you can cook the dinner."

"I certainly will! I'll get it all the sooner that way. May I pick out
who's to help me, Miss Eleanor?"

"That's the rule. You certainly can."

"Then I pick out all the girls," announced Dolly. "Every one of you--and
no shirking, mind!"

She laughed merrily, and in a moment she had set every girl to some
task. Even Margery obeyed her orders cheerfully, for the rule was
there, and, even though Dolly had twisted it a bit, it was recognized
as a good joke. Moreover, everyone was hungry and wanted the meal to be
ready as soon as possible.

"There's good water at the top of that path," said Eleanor, pointing to
a path that led up a bluff that backed against the tents. "I think maybe
we'll build a wooden pipe-line to bring the water right down here, but
for to-day we'll have to carry it from the spring there."

"Is there driftwood here for a camp fire, do you suppose, the way there
was last year, Miss Eleanor?" asked one of the other girls. "I'll never
forget the lovely fires we had then!"

"There's lots of it, I'm afraid," said Eleanor, gravely.

"Why are you 'afraid'?" asked Bessie, wonderingly.

"Because all the driftwood, or most of it, comes from wrecked ships,
Bessie. This beach looks calm and peaceful now, but in the winter, when
the great northeast storms blow, this is a terrible coast, and lots and
lots of ships are wrecked. Men are drowned very often, too."

"Oh, I never thought of that!"

"Still, some of the wood is just lost from lumber schooners that are
loaded too heavily," said Eleanor. "And it certainly does make a
beautiful fire, all red and green and blue, and oh, all sorts of colors
and shades you never even dreamed of! We'll have a ceremonial camp fire
while we're here, and it is certainly true that there is no fire half so
beautiful as that we get when we use the wood that the sea casts up."

"Don't they often find lots of other things beside wood along the coast
after a great storm, Miss Eleanor?"

"Yes, indeed! There are people who make their living that way. Wreckers,
they call them, you know. Of course, it isn't as common to find really
valuable things now as it was in the old days."

"Why not? I thought more things were carried at sea than ever," said
Dolly.

"There aren't so many wrecks, Dolly, for one thing. And then, in the
old days, before steam, and the great big ships they have now, even the
most valuable cargoes were carried in wooden ships that were at the
mercy of these great storms."

"Oh, and now they send those things in the big ships that are safer, I
suppose?"

"Yes. You very seldom hear of an Atlantic liner being wrecked, you know.
It does happen once in a great while, of course, but they are much more
likely to reach the port they sail for than the old wooden ships. In the
old days many and many a ship sailed that was never heard of, but you
could count the ships that have done that in the last few years on the
fingers of one hand."

"But there was a frightful wreck not so very long ago, wasn't there? The
Titanic?"

"Yes. That was the most terrible disaster since men have gone to sea at
all. You see, she was so much bigger, and could carry so many more
people than the old ships, that, when she did go down, it was naturally
much worse. But the wreckers never made any profit out of her. She went
down in the middle of the ocean, and no one will ever see her again."

"Couldn't divers go down after her?"

"No. She was too deep for that. Divers can only go down a certain
distance, because, below that, the pressure is too great, and they
wouldn't live."

"Stop talking and attend to your dinner, Dolly," said Margery, suddenly.
"You pretended you were hungry, and now you're so busy talking that
you're forgetting about the rest of us. We're hungry, too. Just remember
that!"

"I can talk and work at the same time," said Dolly. "Is everything
ready? Because, if it is, so is dinner. Come on, girls! The clams first.
I've cooked it--I'm not going to put it on the table, too."

"No, we ought to be glad to get any work out of her at all," laughed
Margery, as she carried the steaming, savory clams to the table. "I
suppose every time we want her to do some work the rest of the time
we're here, she'll tell us about this dinner."

"I won't have to," boasted Dolly. "You'll all remember it. All I'm
afraid of is that you won't be satisfied with the way anyone else cooks
after this. I've let myself out this time!"

It _was_ a good dinner--a better dinner than anyone had thought Dolly
could cook. But, despite her jesting ways, Dolly was a close observer,
and she had not watched Margery, a real genius in the art of cooking, in
vain. Everyone enjoyed it, and, when they had eaten all they could,
Dolly lay back in the sand with Bessie.

"Well, wasn't I right? Don't you love this place?" she asked.

"I certainly think I do," said Bessie. "It's so peaceful and quiet. I
didn't believe any place could be as calm as the mountains, but I really
think this is."

"I love to hear the surf outside, too," said Dolly. "It's as if it were
singing a lullaby. I think the surf, and the sighing of the wind in the
trees is the best music there is."

"Those noises were the real beginning of music, Dolly," said Eleanor.
"Did you know that? The very first music that was ever written was an
attempt to imitate those songs of nature."

After the dishes were washed and put away, everyone sat on the beach,
watching the sky darken. First one star and then another came out, and
the scene was one of idyllic beauty. And then, as if to complete it, a
yacht appeared, small, but beautiful and graceful, steaming toward them.
Its sides were lighted, and from its deck came the music of a violin,
beautifully played.

"Oh, how lovely that is!" said Eleanor. "Why, look! I do believe it is
going to anchor!"

And, sure enough, the noise of the anchor chains came over the water.



CHAPTER XIII

THE MYSTERIOUS YACHT


But, beautiful as the yacht undoubtedly was, the sight of it and the
sound of the slipping anchor chains brought a look of perplexity and
even of distress to Eleanor's eyes.

"That's very curious," she said, thoughtfully. "There are no cottages or
bungalows near here. Those people can't be coming here just for a visit,
or they would take another anchorage. And it's a strange thing for them
to choose this cove if they are just cruising along the coast."

"There weren't any yachts here last year when we were camping," said
Margery. "But it is a lovely spot, and it's public land along here,
isn't it?"

"No, not exactly. It won't be used for a long time, I expect, but it has
an owner. An old gentleman in Bay City owns all the shore front along
here for half a mile, and he has been holding on to it with the idea
that it would get more valuable as time went on. Probably it will, too."

"Well, he lets people come here to camp, doesn't he?"

"Oh, yes. He's glad to have people here, I think, because he thinks that
if they see how lovely it is, they will want to buy the land. I suppose
perhaps these people on the yacht have permission from him to come here,
just as we have. But I do wish they had waited until we had gone, or
else that they had come and gone before we got here at all."

"Perhaps they will just stay for the night," said Margery. "I should
think that a small boat like that would be very likely to put in
overnight, and do its sailing in the daytime. Probably the people on
board of her aren't in a hurry, and like to take things easily."

"Well, we won't find out anything about her to-night, I imagine," said
Eleanor. "In the morning we'll probably learn what their plans are, and
then it will be time to make any changes that are necessary in our own
arrangements."

"Do you mean you wouldn't stay here if they did, Miss Eleanor?"

"I won't say that, Margery. We don't know who they are yet. They may be
very nice people--there's no way of telling to-night. But if they turn
out to be undesirable, we can move quite easily, I think. There are
plenty of other beaches nearby where we'll be just as comfortable as we
are here."

"Oh, but I don't believe any of them are as beautiful as this one, Miss
Eleanor."

"Neither do I, Margery. Still, we can't always pick and choose the
things we do, or always do what pleases us best."

On the yacht everything seemed to be quiet. When the anchor had gone
down, the violin playing ceased, and, though the girls strained their
ears to listen, there was no sound of conversation, such as might
reasonably have been expected to come across the quiet water. Still
there was nothing strange about that. It might well be that everyone on
board was below, eating supper, and in that case voices would probably
not come to them.

"I'd like to own that yacht," said Dolly, gazing at her enviously. "What
a lot of fun you could have with her, Bessie! Think of all the places
one could see. And you wouldn't have to leave a place until you got
ready. Steamers leave port just as railroad trains pull out of a
station, and you may have to go away when you haven't half finished
seeing all the things you want to look at."

"Maybe they'll send a boat ashore soon," said Margery, hopefully. "I
certainly would like to see the sort of people who are on board."

"So would I," said Eleanor, but with a different and a more anxious
meaning in her tone.

"I wish that man with the violin would start playing again," said Dolly.
"I love to hear him, and it seems to me it's especially beautiful when
the sound comes to you over the water that way."

"Music always sounds best over the water," said Eleanor. "He does play
well. I've been to concerts, and heard famous violin players who didn't
play a bit better--or as well, some of them."

And just at that moment the music came to them again, wailing, mournful,
as if the strings of the violin were sobbing under the touch of the bow,
held in the fingers of a real master. The music blended with the night,
and the listening girls seemed to lose all desire to talk, so completely
did they fall under the spell of the player.

But after a little while a harsh voice on the deck of the yacht
interrupted the musician. They could not distinguish the words, but the
speaker was evidently annoyed by the music, for it stopped, and then,
for a few minutes, there was an argument in which the voices of two men
rose shrilly.

"Well, I guess the concert is over," said Dolly, getting up. "Who wants
a drink? I'm thirsty."

"So am I!" came in chorus from half a dozen of those who were sitting on
the sands.

"Serve you right if you all had to go after your own water," said
Dolly. "But I'm feeling nice to-night. I guess it's the music. Come on,
Bessie--feel like taking a little walk with me?"

"I don't mind," said Bessie, rising, and stretching her arms
luxuriously. "Where are you going?"

"Up the bluff first, to get a pail of water from that spring. After
that--well, we'll see."

"Just like Jack and Jill," said Bessie, as they trudged up the path,
carrying a pail between them.

"I hope we won't be like them and fall down," said Dolly. "I suppose I'd
be Jack--and I don't want to break my crown."

"It's an easy path. I guess we're safe enough," said Bessie. "It really
hardly seems worth while to fix up that pipe-line Miss Eleanor spoke
about."

"Oh, you'll find it's worth while, Bessie. The salt air makes everyone
terribly thirsty, and after you've climbed this path a few times it
won't seem so easy to be running up and down all the time. There are so
many other things to do here that it's a pity to waste time doing the
same thing over and over again when you don't really need to."

"I suppose that's so, too. It's always foolish to do work that you don't
need to do--I mean that can be done in some easier way. If your time's
worth anything at all, you can find some better use for it."

"That's what I say! It would be foolish and wasteful to set a hundred
men to digging when one steam shovel will do the work better and quicker
than they can. And it's the same way with this water here. If we can put
up a pipe in about an hour that will save two or three hours of chasing
every day, whenever water is needed, it must be sensible to do it."

They got the water down without any mishap, however, and it was eagerly
welcomed.

"It's good water," said Margery. "But not as good as the water at Long
Lake and in the mountains."

"That's the best water in the world, Margery," said Eleanor. "This is
cold, though, and it's perfectly healthy. And, after all, that is as
much as we can expect. Are you and Bessie going for a walk, Dolly?"

"We thought we would, if you don't mind."

"I don't mind, of course. But don't go very far. Stay near enough so
that you can hear if we call, or for us to hear you if you should happen
to call to us."

Dolly looked startled.

"Why should we want to call you?" she asked.

"No reason that I can think of now, Dolly. But--well, I suppose I'm
nervous. The way they tried to get hold of Bessie and Zara at Canton
to-day makes me feel that we've got to be very careful. And there is no
use taking unnecessary chances."

"All right," said Dolly, with a laugh. "But I guess we're safe enough
to-night, anyhow. They haven't had time to find out yet how Bessie
fooled them. My, but they'll be mad when they do find out what
happened!"

"They certainly will," laughed Margery. "I wouldn't want to be in Jake
Hoover's shoes."

"I hope nothing will happen to him," said Eleanor, anxiously. "It would
be a great pity for him to get into trouble now."

"I think he deserves to get into some sort of trouble," said Dolly,
stoutly. "He's made enough for other people."

"That's true enough, Dolly. But it wouldn't do us any good if he got
into trouble now, you know."

"No, but it might do him some good--the brute! You haven't seen him when
he was cutting up, the way I have, Miss Eleanor."

"No, and I'm glad I didn't. But you say it might do him some good.
That's just what I think it would not do. He has just made up his mind
to be better, and suppose he sees that, as a reward, he gets himself
into trouble. What is he likely to do, do you think?"

"That's so," said Margery. "You're going off without thinking again,
Dolly, as usual. He'd cut loose altogether, and think there wasn't any
sort of use in being decent."

"Well, I haven't much faith in his having reformed," said Dolly. "It may
be that he has, but it seems too good to be true to me. I bet you'll
find that he'll be on their side, after all, and that he'll just spend
his time thinking up some excuse for having put them on the wrong track
to-day."

"I think that's likely to keep him pretty busy, Dolly," said Eleanor,
dryly. "And that's one reason I really am inclined to believe that he'll
change sides, and go to Charlie Jamieson, as Bessie advised him to do."

"Well, if he does, it won't be because he's sorry, but because he's
afraid," said Dolly. "If he can be of any use to us, why, I hope he's
all right. I don't like him, and I never will like him, and there isn't
any use in pretending about it!"

Everyone laughed at that.

"You're quite right, Dolly," said Margery. "When you dislike a person
anyone who can see you or hear you knows about it. I'll say that for
you--you don't pretend to be friends with people when you really hate
them."

"Why should I? Come on, Bessie, if we're going for a walk. If we stay
here much longer Margery'll get so dry from talking that we'll have to
go and get her some more water."

"Let's go up the path and get on the bluff again," said Bessie. "I like
it up there, because you seem to be able to see further out to sea than
you can here."

"All right. I don't care where we go, anyhow, and it is more interesting
up there than on the beach, I think."

The night was a beautiful one, and walking was really delightful. Below
them the beach stretched, white and smooth, as far as the cove itself.
At each end of the cove the bluff on which they were walking curved and
turned toward the sea, stretching out to form two points of land that
enclosed the cove.

"They say this would be a perfect harbor if there was a bigger channel
dredged in," said Dolly. "Of course it's very small, but I guess it was
used in the old days. There are all sorts of stories about buried
treasure being hidden around here."

"Do you believe those stories, Dolly?"

"Not I! If there was any treasure around here it would have been found
ever so long ago. They're just stories. I guess those pirates spent most
of the money they stole, and I guess they didn't get half as much as
people like to pretend, anyhow."

"It would be fun to find something like that, though, Dolly."

"Well, Bessie King, you're the last person I would ever have expected
even to think of anything so silly! You'd better get any nonsense of
that sort out of your head right away. There's nothing in those old
stories."

"I suppose not," said Bessie, and sighed. "But in a place like this it
doesn't seem half so hard to believe that it's possible, somehow. It
looks like just the sort of place for romance and adventure. But--oh,
well, I guess I'm just moonstruck. Dolly, look at that!"

Her eyes had wandered suddenly toward the yacht, and now, from their
higher elevation, they were able to see a small boat drawing away from
her, on the seaward side, and so out of sight of the girls on the beach.

"That's funny," said Dolly, puzzled. "I should think that if they were
going to send a boat ashore she'd come straight in."

"Let's watch and see what happens, Dolly."

"You bet we will! I wouldn't go now until I knew what they were up to
for anything!"

"It's going straight out to sea, Dolly, and it's keeping so that the
yacht is between it and the shore. It does look as if they didn't want
to be seen, doesn't it?"

"It certainly does! Look, there it goes through the little gap in the
bar! See? Now it will be hidden from the people on shore--and it's going
toward West Point, too. See, I'll bet they're going to make a landing
there!"

They hurried along the bluff, and in a few minutes they saw the boat
graze the beach at the end of West Point. Three men jumped out and
hauled the little craft up on the shore, and then they began to move
inland, toward Bessie and Dolly.

"We'd better work back toward the camp," said Dolly, excitedly. "It
wouldn't do to have them see us--not until we know more about them."

"I wonder if they'll come back this way, toward the camp? And why do you
suppose they're acting that way? It seems very funny to me."

"It does to me, too. I'm beginning to think Miss Eleanor had a good
reason for being nervous, Bessie. I don't believe that yacht is here for
any good purpose."

"It's a good thing we came up this way, isn't it?"

"It certainly is, if we can manage to find out something about them. I
say, do you remember where the spring is? Well, right by it there's a
mound, with a whole lot of bushes. I believe we could hide there, and be
waiting as they come along."

"Let's try it, anyhow. Maybe there's something we ought to know."

They found it easy to hide themselves, and when, a few minutes later,
the three men came along, they were secure from observation.

"Do you think it's Mr. Holmes?" whispered Bessie, voicing the thought
both of them had had.

"It's just as likely as not! It's the sneaky way he would act," said
Dolly, viciously. "They're pretty careful about the way they walk--see?"

But then the men came into the range of their eyes, and the sigh of
disappointment that rose from them was explained by Dolly's disgusted,
"It's not Mr. Holmes, or anyone else I ever saw before."

The men came nearer, and seemed to be looking down at the camp.

"They're the ones! That's the outfit, all right," said one of them.
"Well, it's easy to keep an eye on them."



CHAPTER XIV

A NIGHT ALARM


Bessie and Dolly looked at one another. Holmes wasn't there, but who but
Holmes or someone working for him could have any such sinister interest
in keeping an eye on the camp as was implied by that sly remark?
Evidently luck had favored them once more, and they had stumbled again
on early evidence of another coming attack.

But they took little time--could take little time, indeed--to think of
the meaning of what they had heard. It was too important for them to
find out as much as possible from these men. They dared not speak to one
another; the men were so close that they were almost afraid that the
sound of their own breathing would betray them.

And, dark as it was, they could see that these were men of a type who
would stop at little if they felt they were in danger of failure. They
were big, burly, ugly-looking men, rough in speech and manner, and,
though they masked their movements, and went about their business,
whatever it might be, as quietly as possible, their quietness was
furtive and assumed and by no means natural to them.

"They won't run away to-night, Jeff," grumbled one of the men. "You
ain't a-goin' to stay here and watch them, are you?"

"No, I'm not--but you are," growled the one addressed as Jeff. "See
here, my buck, the boss don't want any slip-up on this job--see? He's
been stung once too often. I'm goin' back to the boat, but you and Tim
will stay here till daylight--right here, mind you!"

"Aw, shucks, that's a fine job to give us!" growled Tim. "Larry's got
the right dope, Jeff. They won't run away to-night."

"Listen here--who's giving orders here? What I say goes--do you get
that? If you don't, I'll find a way to make you, and pretty quick, too.
I don't want none of your lip, Tim."

"What's the game, Jeff?" asked the man Larry, in milder tones. "We'll
do as you say, all right, all right, but can't you tell a guy what's
doin'?"

"I don't know myself, boys, and that's a fact," said Jeff, seemingly
mollified by this submission to his orders. "But the boss wants them two
gals--and what he wants he gits, sooner or later."

"Guess he does!" laughed Tim. "You said something that time, Jeff!"

"There's money in it, I know that," Jeff went on. "Big money--though I'm
blowed if I see where! But we'll get our share if we do our part."

"I can use any that comes my way, all right," said Larry, with a
smothered laugh. "Always broke--that's what I am!"

"How about the morning, Jeff?" asked Tim. "We can't stay here when it
gets to be light. They'd spot us in a minute."

"Won't be any need then, Tim. We can keep an eye on them from the
yacht. And the boss is apt to turn up here himself most any time."

"Why not pull it off to-night, Jeff?" asked Larry. "It's a good chance,
I'd say."

"Ain't got my orders yet, Larry. As soon as the boss turns up there'll
be plenty doing. Keep an eye out for a red light from the deck. That'll
be a sign to watch out for anything that comes along. We may show it--we
may not. But if we do, be lively."

"All right," growled Tim. "But let's quit this nursemaid job as soon as
we can, Jeff. We're good pals of yours--and this ain't no game for a
grown man, you know that."

"'Twon't be so bad," said Jeff, comfortingly. "Nights ain't so long--and
you can take turns sleeping. It's all right as long as one of you stays
awake."

"So long, Jeff," said both the men who were to stay behind, then, in
unison.

"Good-night," answered Jeff. "I'll have a boat at the point for you at
daylight. Good luck!"

And he went off, quietly, walking easily, so that the noise of his
footsteps would not reach those on the beach below.

From the beach the voices of the girls rose faintly. Words could not be
distinguished, but Bessie and Dolly could both guess that their
prolonged absence must be beginning to give Miss Eleanor and the others
some uneasiness.

They were trapped, however, although they were in no real danger. The
men who had been left on guard were between them and the path; they
could not possibly pass them without arousing them, and they did not
care to take the chance of making a wild dash for freedom unless it
became absolutely necessary.

Bessie weighed the chances. It seemed likely to her that she and Dolly,
taking the two men by surprise, could slip by them and reach the beach
safely. But if they did that, the men would know that their plans were
known, and that their talk had been overheard, and that would be to
throw away half of the advantage they had gained. It would be better a
thousand times, Bessie felt, to wait, and take the faint chance that
both men might go to sleep together, and so give them the chance to
escape unseen.

For some minutes the silence was unbroken save for the faint murmur of
the voices from the beach. Then Larry spoke to his companion.

"Say, Tim, don't think much of this game, do you?" he said.

"Sure don't!" grunted Tim. "Just like Jeff, though. Takes the easy lay
himself and don't care what he puts up to us."

"Got any money?"

"About five dollars. Why? Want to borrow it? Just as soon you had it as
me! Can't spend it here, anyhow."

"No. Wouldn't do me any good. Got lots of my own out on the yacht."

"Wish there was a place near here where I could get a drink. Seems like
I was choking to death."

"Lots of water right by you," said Larry, with a hoarse laugh. "Help
yourself--it's free!"

"Water--pah!" snorted Tim. "That's not what I want, and you know it,
Larry."

"Say, come to think of it, there's an elegant little roadhouse a ways
back in the country here, Tim. About half an hour there and back, I
judge."

Tim grunted uneasily.

"Think it's safe?" he queried. "If Jeff got on to us--"

"Shucks! What could he do? We ain't his hired hands."

"The boss, though--suppose Jeff told him?"

"He wouldn't, and how's he goin' to find out, anyhow? Nothin's goin' to
happen to-night, you can bet on that. Come on, be a sport, Tim! We've
got as much on Jeff as he's got on us, if it comes down to that, ain't
we?"

"I dunno. I'm kind of leery, when he told us to stick, Larry."

"I thought you had more nerve, Tim. Didn't ever think you'd stand for
no game like this. But, if you're afraid--"

"Come on!" said Tim, angrily. "I'll show you if I'm afraid! I guess it's
safe enough."

"That's more like my old pal Tim. I knew you had nerve enough. Let's be
movin'. The sooner we go, the sooner we'll be back. And we'll show who's
afraid--eh, old sport?"

"That's the stuff, Larry! Guess there ain't no one big enough to tell us
what to do."

And, with linked arms, they moved off. Bessie and Dolly, hardly able to
believe in the good luck that left the way to the beach clear, held
their breath for a moment. Then Bessie, seeing that Dolly was about to
rise, whispered to her.

"Not yet, Dolly," she said, tensely. "Wait till we're sure they can't
see us. No use taking chances now."

"All right, Bessie, but what luck! I was afraid we'd have to stay here
until daylight, and I was wondering what Miss Eleanor and the girls
would think!"

"So was I. I'm afraid they're worried about us already. But it wasn't
our fault, and it really is a good thing we heard them, isn't it? The
'boss' they're talking about must be Mr. Holmes, don't you think?"

"I don't see who else it could possibly be. Come on, Bessie. I think
it's time now, they're out of sight."

Slowly and carefully, to take into account the off chance that Jeff, the
other man, might have come back to see if his sentinels were faithful,
they slipped across the path and made their way down. And at the bottom,
as they reached the beach, Eleanor Mercer spied them, with a glad cry.

"Oh, whatever kept you so long?" she exclaimed. "How glad I am to see
you back safely! We couldn't imagine what on earth was keeping you."

"You shouldn't have stayed so long," said Margery Burton. "We were just
going to start out to look for you."

"You wouldn't have had very far to go. We've been right at the top of
the path for three-quarters of an hour," said Dolly, excitedly.

"It wasn't our fault, really! We couldn't get here any sooner," said
Bessie. "You see--"

And, quietly, being less excited and hysterical than Dolly, she
explained what they had discovered, and the trap in which they had
allowed themselves to be caught.

"We thought it was better to wait there than to let them know we had
heard them," she ended. "You see, they think now that we haven't any
suspicions at all, and that we'll be off our guard. Don't you suppose
Mr. Holmes must be coming on board that yacht, Miss Eleanor?"

"I certainly do," said Eleanor, her lips firmly set, and an angry gleam
in her eyes. "You did exactly the right thing. It was better for us to
be worried for a few minutes than to take any chance of spoiling all
you'd found out."

"What do you suppose they'll try to do now?" wondered Margery. "Oh, I'd
like to find some way to beat them, so that they'd have to stop this
altogether."

"They'll go too far, some time," said Eleanor, indignantly. "Mr. Holmes
seems to forget there is such a thing as the law, but if he doesn't look
out he'll find that all his money won't save him from it. And I think
the time is coming very soon. My father has some money, too, and I'm
pretty sure he'll spend as much as he needs to to beat these criminals."

"Can't we go away from here to-night, Miss Eleanor?" asked Dolly. "They
said we'd never do that, and it might fool them."

Everyone looked at Dolly in astonishment. It was a strange proposition
to come from her, since she usually was the one who wanted to fight if
there seemed to be any possibility of success. Now, however, she looked
nervous.

"I don't see how we can, Dolly," said Eleanor. "And, really, I don't
believe there's any danger here. Mr. Holmes isn't on the yacht, and
these men won't do anything until he is there to direct them. I shall
telegraph to Mr. Jamieson in the morning, and he will probably come
here. He can reach here by noon, and I think we will be all right here
until then."

Dolly said nothing more to her, but when she was alone with Bessie she
expressed herself more freely.

"I'm afraid of those men," she said, with a shiver. "I think they're far
more dangerous than the gypsies were. Didn't you think, from the way
they talked, that they would do anything if they thought they would get
well paid for it?"

"Yes, but we're warned, Dolly. It isn't as if we didn't have any idea,
as they believe, that there is danger here. So I don't think we need to
be afraid."

On the beach, between the sea and the tents, the blaze of the camp fire
flickered in the darkness, casting an uneven light on the beach. On the
yacht all was still and peaceful. One by one her lights had gone out,
until only the anchor lights, which she was required by law to show,
remained.

"They've gone to sleep on board the yacht," whispered Bessie. "That
looks as if they didn't mean to do anything to-night, doesn't it,
Dolly?"

"I suppose so, Bessie. But I'm not satisfied."

Neither, wholly, in spite of her reassuring words, was Eleanor. Had
there been any way of moving from the camp that night, she would
probably have taken it. But there seemed to be nothing for it but to
wait there until morning, at least.

"We'll stay here," she said, as good-nights were being exchanged, "but
we'll set a guard for the night. Margery, I wish you and Mary King would
take the first watch. You'll be relieved at one o'clock. You're not too
tired, are you?"

"No, indeed," said both girls.

"I think I ought to take the watch. This is partly on my account," said
Bessie.

"Sleep first, and perhaps you can take the second spell, with Dolly,"
said Eleanor. "You've had a harder day than the rest of us, and you must
be tired now."

Bessie and Dolly were, indeed, very tired. The fact that the camp was
not to be left unguarded while they slept seemed to reassure Dolly, and
she and Bessie were soon sound asleep. Only the noise of the light surf
disturbed the intense stillness, and that had a soothing, musical
quality that made it far from a disturbance to those who slept.

But that peace was to be rudely shattered before the first watch was
over. It was just after midnight when a wild tumult aroused the camp,
and Bessie and Dolly, springing to their feet, saw that the beach was as
light as day--and that the light did not come from the camp fire.
Confused and sleepy as they were, they saw the cause in a moment--the
big living tent, in which meals were to be eaten in case of rainy
weather, was all ablaze, and the wind that had sprung up during the
night was blowing the sparks to the other tents, which caught fire as
the girls, frightened and almost panic stricken, rushed out.

For a moment there was no concerted effort, but then Eleanor took
command of the situation, and in a moment a line had been formed, and
pails full of water from the sea were being handed from one girl to
another.

The yacht had sprung into life at the first sign of the fire, and now,
as the girls worked, they heard the sound of oars, as boats were
hurriedly pushed ashore. In a minute a dozen men had joined them in
their fight against the fire, and, thanks to this unexpected aid, one or
two of the tents, which had been furthest from the one in which the
blaze had started, were saved.

The men from the yacht worked heroically, but their presence and their
shouts created a new confusion. And in the midst of it Bessie, a pail of
water in her hand, saw a man seize Zara and carry her, struggling,
toward a boat. She was just about to cry out when a hand covered her
mouth, and the next instant she was lifted in strong arms, carried to
the boat, and pushed in. Then two men sprang aboard, and one held the
girls, while the other pulled quickly toward the yacht. They were
prisoners!



CHAPTER XV

DOLLY RANSOM MAKES GOOD


"Keep still, and you won't be hurt!" commanded the man who held them.
Bessie had no choice in the matter for his hand covered her mouth, and,
even had she wished to do so, she could not have cried out.

In a moment, too, looking toward Zara, she saw that she had fainted, and
her own predicament was made worse than ever, since the ruffian who held
her could now devote all his attention to her. So, utterly helpless, and
almost ready to despair, Bessie had to submit to being carried up the
little companion ladder that ran to the yacht's deck.

As soon as she was on deck a handkerchief was slipped over her eyes,
and, though she could hear the low murmur of voices, and was almost sure
that one was that of Mr. Holmes, her arch enemy, she could not be
positive. Her one hope now was that Dolly or some one of the others on
the beach would have seen her abduction. But, even if they had, what
could they do?

"Suppose they did see," poor Bessie thought to herself; "they couldn't
do anything. It would take a lot of strong men to come on board this
yacht and get us off, and the girls wouldn't be able to do anything at
all."

She was not left long on the yacht's deck. Almost at once she was
carried below, and in a few minutes she found herself in a cabin, where
the handkerchief was taken from her eyes. The cabin was a pretty one,
but Bessie was in no mood to appreciate that. She hated the sight of its
luxury; all she wanted was to be back with the girls on the beach, no
matter how great the discomfort after the fire might be.

Zara, who had not yet revived, was brought down after her and laid on a
sofa. Then she and Bessie were left alone with the big man who had
carried Bessie from the beach. She thought that he was Jeff, the man who
had left the two faithless sentinels to watch the path from the cliff.
And she noticed, to her surprise, that, though his speech and manners
were rough, there was a look about him that was not unkindly.

"Now, see here, sis," he said, gently enough, "we don't aim to treat you
badly here. You've run away from home, and that's not right. We're going
to see that you get back to them as has the best right to look after
you, but we don't want you to be uncomfortable."

"How can I help it?" asked Bessie, indignantly.

"Just you behave yourself and keep quiet, and you'll be all right," said
Jeff. Bessie was sure of his identity now. "You'll have this pretty room
here to yourselves, and you'll have lots to eat. It'll be better food
than you got with that pack of chattering girls, too. We'll up anchor
and be off pretty soon, and then you can come up on deck and have a good
time. But as long as we're here, why, you'll have to stay below."

Bessie got her first gleam of hope from that speech. If they stayed in
Green Cove a little while, there was always the chance that something
might happen.

"You see, sis," said Jeff, with a grin, "after a while your folks there
will find you're missing, and, like enough, they'll suspicion that we
done it; took you off, I mean. 'Twouldn't make no great difference if
they did know it," Jeff went on. "But the boss thinks it's just as well
if we throw them off a bit--guess he wants to have some fun with them."

"Who is your 'boss'?" asked Bessie, quickly. "I should think you would
be ashamed of yourself, treating girls who can't fight back this way! Do
you call yourself a man?"

"Easy there, sis!" said Jeff, with a roar of laughter. "You can't make
me mad. Orders is orders, you know, and you did wrong when you run away
like you did. And I ain't tellin' you who the boss is. What you don't
know won't hurt you--and that goes for your friends, too."

He left them alone then, and a faint hope was left behind him. Now that
she had the chance, Bessie turned her attention to Zara. There was
water in the cabin, and in a few minutes she had revived her chum, and
was able to tell her what had happened. Poor Zara seemed to be
completely overcome.

"Oh, Bessie, we haven't got a chance this time!" she said. "I'll have to
go back and work for Farmer Weeks, and you--will they make you go back
to Maw Hoover?"

"Never say die, Zara! As long as the yacht stays in the cove there is a
chance that we'll be rescued. That man didn't know it, but he'll never
be able to make Miss Eleanor believe we're not on this yacht.
Listen--what's that?"

There was a sound of hasty footsteps outside, and Jeff came in
hurriedly. He slipped back a panel at one side of the cabin, and
revealed a little closet.

"In there with you--both of you!" he said. "And I'm sorry, but you'll
have to be quiet, and there's only one way."

In a trice their hands and feet were bound, and handkerchiefs were
stuffed into their mouths. Then they were pushed into the closet and the
panel was slipped back into place. They were helpless. Unable to speak,
or to beat hands or feet against the thin wood, there was no way in
which they could make their presence known. And in a moment they knew
the reason for this precaution. For, through the wood of the panel,
wafer thin, they heard Miss Eleanor's voice.

"You can't deceive me, sir!" they heard her say. "Those girls must be on
this yacht, and I warn you that you had better give them up. Kidnapping
is a serious offence in this state."

"You can see for yourself they're not here, ma'am," said Jeff. "And I
don't take this kindly at all, ma'am. Why, when I saw the fire in your
camp, I went ashore with my men to try to help you--and now you make
this charge against us."

"I certainly do!" said Eleanor, with spirit. "I am quite sure that this
is the only place where my girls can be, and I mean to have them back.
As to the fire, you helped us, it is true. But I am as certain as I can
be of anything that you had something to do with starting it before you
tried to put it out!"

"There's no use talking to you, ma'am, and I won't try it," said Jeff.
"If you're crazy enough to believe anything like that, I could talk all
day and you'd still believe it. Here's the yacht--you're welcome to go
over her and see for yourself. You won't find the girls, because they're
not aboard. That's a good reason, I guess."

"Then let me see Mr. Holmes."

"There you go again, ma'am! Didn't I tell you on deck that there's no
such party aboard, and that I never even heard of him? If you're
satisfied now, we'll be glad to have you go ashore, because I want to
sail. I've got business down the coast."

"I shall not go ashore until I have found my girls," said Eleanor. There
were tears of baffled anger in her voice, and Bessie thrilled with
indignant sympathy at the idea that she was within a few feet of her
best friend without being able to let her know that she was there.

"Then you'll be put ashore--gently, but firmly, as the books say," said
Jeff. "You're dead right, ma'am, kidnappin' is a bad sort of business in
this state, and I don't aim to give you a chance to say we carried you
off with us against your will. Sail we will--and you'll stay behind.
This is my boat, and I've got a right to put off anyone that is
trespassin'."

"You brute!" gasped Eleanor. "Don't you dare to touch me!"

"Will you go of your own accord, then?"

"I suppose I must," gasped Eleanor tearfully. "But you shall pay for
this, you scoundrel! You're tricking me in some fashion, but you can't
deceive me, and you can't keep the truth quiet forever."

Then there was the sound of retreating footsteps, and a few minutes
later Bessie and Zara were released by Jeff, who was grinning as if it
had been a great joke.

"Well, sis, we're off now!" he said. "Come on! I don't want to be hard
on you. Come out here in the passageway, and you can have a look at the
shore as we go off."

He led them to the stern, and to the little cabin, in which was a
porthole. Looking out, Bessie saw the beach indistinctly. The ruined
tents were there, and several of the girls, in bathing suits. And,
swimming slowly to the shore she saw a girl in a red cap, which, as she
knew, belonged to Dolly. How she longed to be able to call to her! But
Jeff was at her side, and she knew that the attempt would be useless,
since he was watching her as if he had been a cat and she a mouse.

A bell clanged somewhere below them, and the next moment there was a
rumbling sound as the machinery was started. At the same moment there
came the grinding of the anchor chains as they were raised. But the
yacht did not move! Even after the anchor was up there was no movement
except the throbbing of the whole vessel as the engines raced in the
hold! Jeff's face grew black, and he turned toward the passage with a
scowl.

"What's wrong here?" he shouted, going to the door. At the same moment,
seizing her brief chance, Bessie gave a wild scream, and saw, to her
delight, that those on shore had heard it. In a moment she was pulled
roughly from the porthole, and Jeff, his face savage and all the
kindness gone out of it, scowled down at her.

"Keep quiet, you little vixen!" he shouted. "Here, come with me!"

At the foot of some steps that led up to the deck he left the two girls
in the care of Larry, one of the two men she had seen the night before.

"Keep them quiet," he commanded, as he sprang up the steps. "What's
wrong, Larry; do you know?"

"Something the matter with the propeller. Can't tell what," said Larry.

And above, on the deck, there was a wild rushing about now. Orders were
shouted to the engineers below; hoarse answers came back. The engines
were stopped and started again. But still the yacht did not move. A
grimy engineer came up and stood beside her.

"Propeller's fouled," he said to Jeff. "We'll have to send a man
overboard to clear it."

"How long will that take?" roared Jeff.

"Maybe an hour--if we're lucky."

"You're a fine engineer, not to have the boat ready to start!" screamed
Jeff, mad with rage. "You'll lose your berth for this!"

"Guess I can get another," replied the engineer calmly. "It's been done
on purpose and it's the business of the deck watch to keep the stern
clear, not mine."

With frantic haste a man was sent overboard. He dived and found the
propeller. Bessie heard his report. The screw was twisted around with
rope--knotted and tied so that, even with a knife he would have to make
many descents to clear it. Without a diving suit it was impossible for
the man to stay under water more than half a minute at a time, and, as
it turned out, he was the only man on board who could dive at all.

Jeff raged in vain. The work of clearing the propeller could not be
hastened for all his bellowing, and the precious minutes slipped by
while the diver worked. Each time that he came up for rest and air he
reported a little more progress, but each time, too, as he grew tired,
his period of rest was lengthened, while his time below the water was
cut shorter.

And then, when he had reported that two more trips would mend the
trouble, there was a sudden bumping of boats against the yacht, on the
shoreward side, which had been left without watchers, it seemed, and
there was a rush of feet overhead. Bessie cried out in joy, and the next
instant a dozen men tumbled down the steps and overpowered Larry.

"Are you Bessie King?" asked their leader. "I've got a search warrant
empowering me to search this yacht for you and one Zara Doe and take you
ashore."

"We're the ones! Take us!" pleaded Bessie.

And, sobbing with joy, she went up the steps to the deck. There Jeff,
furious but powerless in the grip of two men, watched her go over the
side and into a small boat in which sat Eleanor, who threw her arms
joyously about the recovered captives. Dolly was there, too, and she
kissed and hugged Bessie as soon as Eleanor was done.

"The men got here in time from Bay City," said Eleanor. "Thank Heaven! A
few minutes more, and they would have been too late. I telephoned as
soon as I could, and I knew the district attorney there was a friend of
Charlie Jamieson. He came at once with his men."

"The propeller was fouled. That's why they couldn't get away," said
Bessie. "Wasn't that lucky?"

Dolly snorted.

"Luck nothing!" she said, perkily. "I swam out with a rope, and they
never saw me! I was there, diving up and down, for half an hour. I
thought they'd have a lovely time getting it clear when the knots I
made had swollen up!"

"Yes, it was Dolly who saved the day," said Eleanor.

"Shall we row you ashore, ma'am, or do you want to see the rest of the
fun on board?" asked one of the oarsmen.

"Take us ashore, please. I'll hear all about it later," said Eleanor.

And in five minutes the Camp Fire Girls were reunited.


+---------------------------------------------------+
| Transcriber's Note                                |
|                                                   |
| Campfire as one word appears in the list of books |
| and title page, whereas two words have been used  |
| throughout the rest of the book. Similar usage    |
| has been retained in this e-book.                 |
+---------------------------------------------------+





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