Transcriber's Note: This edition had a cover and title page entitled A Campfire Girl's First Council Fire. The title on the first page of the story and the remainder of the book, however, is The Camp Fire Girls In the Woods.
A Campfire Girl's First Council Fire
By JANE L. STEWART
CAMPFIRE GIRLS SERIES
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY AKRON, OHIO NEW YORK
Made in U. S. A.
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING CO.
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
The Camp Fire Girls In the Woods
"Now then, you, Bessie, quit your loafin' and get them dishes washed! An' then you can go out and chop me some wood for the kitchen fire!"
The voice was that of a slatternly woman of middle age, thin and complaining. She had come suddenly into the kitchen of the Hoover farmhouse and surprised Bessie King as the girl sat resting for a moment and reading.
Bessie jumped up alertly at the sound of the voice she knew so well, and started nervously toward the sink.
"Yes, ma'am," she said. "I was awful tired—an' I wanted to rest for a few minutes."
"Tired!" scolded the woman. "Land knows you ain't got nothin' to carry on so about! Ain't you got a good home? Don't we board you and give you a good bed to sleep in? Didn't Paw Hoover give you a nickel for yourself only last week?"
"Yes—an' you took it away from me soon's you found it out," Bessie flashed back. There were tears in her eyes, but she went at her dishes, and Mrs. Hoover, after a minute in which she glared at Bessie, turned and left the kitchen, muttering something about ingratitude as she went.
As she worked, Bessie wondered why it was that she must always do the work about the house when other girls were at school or free to play. But it had been that way for a long time, and she could think of no way of escaping to happier conditions. Mrs. Hoover was no relation to her at all. Bessie had a father and mother, but they had left her with Mrs. Hoover a long time before, and she could scarcely remember them, but she heard about them, her father especially, whenever she did something that Mrs. Hoover didn't like.
"Take after your paw—that's what you do, good-for-nothin' little hussy!" the farmer's wife would say. "Leavin' you here on our hands when he went away—an' promisin' to send board money for you. Did, too, for 'bout a year—an' since then never a cent! I've a mind to send you to the county farm, that I have!"
"Now, maw," Paw Hoover, a kindly, toil-hardened farmer, would say when he happened to overhear one of these outbursts, "Bessie's a good girl, an' I reckon she earns her keep, don't she, helpin' you like, round the place?"
"Earn her keep?" Mrs. Hoover would shrill. "She's so lazy she'd never do anythin' at all if I didn't stand over her. All she's good fer is to eat an' sleep—an' to hide off som'ere's so's she can read them trashy books when she ought to be reddin' up or doin' her chores!"
And Paw Hoover would sigh and retire, beaten in the argument. He knew his wife too well to argue with her. But he liked Bessie, and he did his best to comfort her when he had the chance, and thought there was no danger of starting a dispute with his wife.
Bessie finished her dishes, and then she went out obediently to the wood pile, and set to work to chop kindling. She had been up since daylight—and the sun rose early on those summer mornings. Every bone and muscle in her tired little body ached, but she knew well that Mrs. Hoover had been listening to the work of washing the dishes, and she dared not rest lest her taskmistress descend upon her again when the noise ceased.
Mrs. Hoover came out after she had been chopping wood for a few minutes and eyed her crossly.
"'Pears to me like you're mighty slow," she said, complainingly. "When you get that done there's butter to be made. So don't be all day about it."
But the wood was hard, and though Bessie worked diligently enough, her progress was slow. She was still at it when Mrs. Hoover, dressed in her black silk dress and with her best bonnet on her head, appeared again.
"I'm goin' to drive into town," she said. "An' if that butter ain't done when I get back, I'll—"
She didn't finish her threat in words, but Bessie had plenty of memories of former punishments. She made no answer, and Mrs. Hoover, still scowling, finally went off.
As if that had been a signal, another girl appeared suddenly from the back of the woodshed. She was as dark as Bessie was fair, a mischievous, black-eyed girl, who danced like a sprite as she approached Bessie. Her brown legs were bare, her dress was even more worn and far dingier than Bessie's, which was clean and neat. She was smiling as Bessie saw her.
"Oh, Zara, aren't you afraid to come here?" said Bessie, alarmed, although Zara was her best and almost her only friend. "You know what she said she'd do if she ever caught you around here again?"
"Yes, I know," said Zara, seating herself on a stump and swinging her legs to and fro, after she had kissed Bessie, still laughing. "I'm not afraid of her, though, Bessie. She'd never catch me—she can't run fast enough! And if she ever touched me—"
The smile vanished suddenly from Zara's olive skinned face. Her eyes gleamed.
"She'd better look out for herself!" she said. "She wouldn't do it again!"
"Oh, Zara, it's wrong to talk that way," said Bessie. "She's been good to me. She's looked after me all this time—and when I was sick she was ever so nice to me—"
"Pooh!" said Zara. "Oh, I know I'm not good and sweet like you, Bessie! The teacher says that's why the nice girls won't play with me. But it isn't. I know—and it's the same way with you. If we had lots of money and pretty clothes and things like the rest of them, they wouldn't care. Look at you! You're nicer than any of them, but they don't have any more to do with you than with me. It's because we're poor."
"I don't believe it's that, Zara. They know that I haven't got time to play with them, and that I can't ask them here, or go to their houses if they ask me. Some time—"
"You're too good, Bessie. You never get angry at all. You act as if you ought to be grateful to Maw Hoover for looking after you. Don't she make you work like a hired girl, and pay you nothin' for it? You work all the time—she'd have to pay a hired girl good wages for what you do, and treat her decently, beside. You're so nice that everyone picks on you, just 'cause they know they can do it and you won't hit back."
Glad of a chance to rest a little, Bessie had stopped her work to talk to Zara, and neither of the two girls heard a stealthy rustling among the leaves back of the woodshed, nor saw a grinning face that appeared around the corner. The first warning that they had that they were not alone came when a long arm reached out suddenly and a skinny, powerful hand grasped Zara's arm and dragged her from her perch.
"Caught ye this time, ain't I?" said the owner of the hand and arm, appearing from around the corner of the shed. "My, but Maw'll pickle yer when she gits hold of yer!"
"Jake Hoover!" exclaimed Bessie, indignantly. "You big sneak, you! Let her go this instant! Aren't you ashamed of yourself, hurtin' her like that?"
Zara, caught off her guard, had soon collected herself, and begun to struggle in his grasp like the wild thing she was. But Jake Hoover only laughed, leering at the two girls. He was a tall, lanky, overgrown boy of seventeen, and he was enjoying himself thoroughly. He seemed to have inherited all his mother's meanness of disposition and readiness to find fault and to take delight in the unhappiness of others. Now, as Zara struggled, he twisted her wrist to make her stop, and only laughed at her cries of pain.
"Let her go! She isn't hurting you!" begged Bessie. "Please, Jake, if you do, I'll help you do your chores to-night—I will, indeed!"
"You'll have to do 'em anyhow," said Jake, still holding poor Zara. "I've got a dreadful headache. I'm too sick to do any work to-night."
He made a face that he thought was comical. Zara, realizing that she was helpless against his greater strength, had stopped struggling, and he turned on her suddenly with a vicious glare.
"I know why you're hangin' 'round here," he said. "They took that worthless critter you call your paw off to jail jest now—and you're tryin' to steal chickens till he comes out."
"That ain't true!" she exclaimed. "My father never stole anything. They're just picking on him because he's a foreigner and can't talk as well as some of them—"
"They've locked him up, anyhow," said Jake. "An' now I'm goin' to lock you up, too, an' keep you here till maw comes home—right here in the woodshed, where you'll be safe!"
And despite her renewed struggling and Bessie's tearful protests, he kept his word, thrusting her into the woodshed and locking the great padlock on the door, while she screamed in futile rage, and kicked wildly at the door.
Then, with a parting sneer for Bessie, he went off, carrying the key with him.
"Listen, Zara," said Bessie, sobbing. "Can you hear me?"
"Yes. I'm all right, Bessie. Don't you cry! He didn't hurt me any."
"I'll try and get a key so I can let you out before she comes home. If she finds you in there, she'll give you a beating, just like she said. I've got to go churn some milk into butter now, but I'll be back as soon as ever I can. Don't you worry! I'll get you out of there all right."
"Please try, Bessie! I'm so worried about what he said about my father. It can't be true—but how would he ever think of such a story? I want to get home and find out."
"You keep quiet. I'll find some way to get you out," promised Bessie, loyally.
And, stirred to a greater anger than she had ever felt by Jake Hoover's bullying of poor Zara, she went off to attend to her churning.
Jake, as a matter of fact, was responsible for a good deal of Bessie's unhappiness. As a child he had been sickly, and he had continued, long after he had outgrown his weakness, and sprouted up into a lanky, raw-boned boy, to trade upon the fears his parents had once felt for him. Among boys of his own age he was unpopular. He had early become a bully, abusing smaller and weaker boys.
Bessie he had long made a mark for his sallies of wit. He taunted her interminably about the way her father and mother had left her; he pulled her hair, and practiced countless other little tricks that she could not resent. His father tried to reprove him at times, but his mother always rushed to his defence, and in her eyes he could do no wrong. She upheld him against anyone who had a bad word to say concerning him—and, of course, Bessie got undeserved rebukes for many of his misdeeds.
He soon learned that he could escape punishment by making it seem that she had done things of which he was accused, and, as his word was always taken against hers, no matter what the evidence was, he had only increased his mother's dislike for the orphaned girl.
The whole village shared Maw Hoover's dislike of Zara and her father. He had settled down two or three years before in an abandoned house, but no one seemed to understand how he lived. He disappeared for days at a time, but he seemed always to have money enough to pay his way, although never any more. And in the village there were dark rumors concerning him.
Gossip accused him of being a counterfeiter, who made bad money in the abandoned house he had taken for his own, and that seemed to be the favorite theory. And whenever chickens were missed, dark looks were cast at Zara and her father. He looked like a gypsy, and he would never answer questions about himself. That was enough to condemn him.
Bessie finished her churning quickly, and then went back, hoping either to make Jake relent or find some way of releasing the prisoner in the woodshed. But she could see no sign of Jake. The summer afternoon had become dark. In the west heavy black clouds were forming, and as Bessie looked about it grew darker and darker. Evidently a thunder shower was approaching. That meant that Maw Hoover would hurry home. If she was to help Zara she must make haste.
Jake, it seemed, had the only key that would open the padlock and Bessie, though she knew that she would be punished for it, determined to try to break the lock with a stone. She told Zara what she meant to do, and set to work. It was hard work, but her fingers were willing, and Zara's frightened pleading, as the thunder began to roar, and flashes of lightning came to her through the cracks in the woodshed, urged her on. And then, just as she was on the verge of success, she heard Jake's coarse laugh in her ear. "Look out!" he shouted.
He stood in the kitchen door, and, as she turned, something fell, hissing, at her feet. She started back, terrified. Jake laughed, and threw another burning stick at her. He had taken a shovelful of embers from the fire, and now he tossed them at her so that she had to dance about to escape the sparks. It was a dangerous game, but one that Jake loved to play. He knew that Bessie was afraid of fire, and he had often teased her in that fashion. But suddenly Bessie shrieked in real terror. As yet, though the approaching storm blackened the sky, there was no rain. But the wind was blowing almost a gale, and Bessie saw a little streamer of flame run up the side of the woodshed.
"The shed's on fire! You've set it on fire!" she shrieked. "Quick—give me that key!"
Jake, really frightened then, ran toward her with the key in his hand.
"Get some water!" Bessie called to him. "Quick!"
And she unlocked the padlock and let Zara, terrified by the fire, out. But Jake stood there stupidly, and, fanned by the wind, the flames spread rapidly.
"Gosh, now you have done it!" he said. "Maw'll just about skin you alive for that when I tell her you set the shed afire!"
Bessie turned a white face toward him.
"You wouldn't say that!" she exclaimed.
But she saw in his scared face that he would tell any lie that would save him from the consequences of his recklessness. And with a sob of fright she turned to Zara.
"Come, Zara!" she cried. "Get away!"
"Come with me!" said Zara. "She'll believe you did it! Come with me!"
And Bessie, too frightened and tired to think much, suddenly yielded to her fright, and ran with Zara out into the woods.
AN UNJUST ACCUSATION
They had not gone far when the rain burst upon them. They stuck to the woods to avoid meeting Maw Hoover on her way home, and as the first big drops pattered down among the trees Zara called a halt.
"It's going to rain mighty hard," she said. "We'd better wait here and give it a chance to stop a little before we cross the clearing. We'll get awful wet if we go on now."
Bessie, shivering with fright, and half minded, even now, to turn back and take any punishment Maw Hoover chose to give her, looked up through the trees. The lightning was flashing. She turned back—and the glare of the burning woodshed helped her to make up her mind to stay with Zara. As they looked the fire, against the black background of the storm, was terrifying in the extreme.
"You'd never think that shed would make such a blaze, would you?" said Zara, trembling. "I'd like to kill that Jake Hoover! How did he set it on fire?"
"He must have been watching me all the time when I was trying to help you to get out," said Bessie. "Then, when I was nearly done, he called to me, and then he began throwing the burning wood at me. He knows I hate that—he's done it before. I can always get out of the way. He doesn't throw them very near me, really. But two or three times the sparks have burned holes in my dress and Maw Hoover's been as mad as she could be. So she thinks anyhow that I play around the fire, and she'd never believe I didn't do it."
"The rain ought to put the fire out," said Zara presently, after they had remained in silence for a few moments. "But I think it's beginning to stop a little now."
"It is, and the fire's still burning, Zara. It seems to me it's brighter than ever. And listen—when it isn't thundering. Don't you hear a noise as if someone was shouting back there?"
Zara listened intently.
"Yes," she said. "And it sounds as if they were chopping with axes, too. I hope the fire hasn't spread and reached the house, Bessie."
"I hope so, too, Zara. But it's not my fault, anyhow. You and I know that, even if no one believes us. It was Jake Hoover who did it, and he'll be punished for it some time, I guess, whether his maw ever finds it out or not."
They waited a few minutes longer for the rain to stop, and then, as it grew lighter, they began to move on. They could see a heavy cloud of smoke from the direction of the farmhouse, but no more flames, and now, as the thunder grew more and more distant, they could hear shouting more plainly. Evidently help had come—Paw Hoover, probably, seeing the fire, and rushing up from the fields with his hired men and the neighbors to put it out.
"Zara," said Bessie, suddenly, "suppose Jake was telling the truth? Suppose they have taken your father away? You know they have said things about him, and lots of people believe he is a bad man. I never did. But suppose they really have taken him, what will you do?"
"I don't know. Stay there, I suppose. But, Bessie, it can't be true!"
"Maybe they wouldn't let you stay. When Mary Morton's mother died last year and left her alone, they took her to the poorhouse. Maybe they'd make you go there, too."
"They shan't!" cried Zara, her eyes flashing through her tears. "I—I'll run away—I'll do anything—"
"I'm going to run away, myself," said Bessie, quietly. She had been doing a lot of thinking. "No one could make me work harder than Maw Hoover, and they'd pay me for doing it. I'm going to get as far away as I can and get a real job."
Zara looked at Bessie, usually so quiet and meek, in surprise. There was a determined note in Bessie's voice that she had never heard there before.
"We'll stick together, you and I, Zara," said Bessie. "I'm afraid something has happened to your father. And if that's so, we'd better not go right up to your house. We'd better wait until it's dark, and go there quietly, so that we can listen, and see if there's anyone around looking for you."
"But we won't get any supper!" said poor Zara. "And I'm hungry already!"
"We'll find berries and nuts, and we can easily find a spring where we can drink all we want," said Bessie. "I guess we've got to look out for ourselves now, Zara. There's no one else to do it for us."
And Bessie, the meek, the quiet, the subdued, from that moment took command. Always before Zara had seemed the plucky one of the two. She had often urged Bessie to rebel against Maw Hoover's harshness, and it had been always Bessie who had hung back and refused to do anything that might make trouble. But now, when the time for real action had come, and Bessie recognized it, it was she who made the plans and decided what was to be done.
Bessie knew the woods well, far better than Zara. Unerringly she led the way to a spot she knew, where a farm had been allowed to drift back to wild country, and pointed out some cherry trees.
"Some berries aren't good to eat, but I know those cherries," said Bessie. "They used to be the best trees in the whole county years ago—Paw Hoover's told me that. Some believe that they're no good now, because no one has looked after the trees, but I know they're fine. I ate some only the other day, and they're ripe and delicious. So we'll have supper off these trees."
Zara, as active as a little cat, climbed the tree at once, and in a moment she was throwing down the luscious fruit to Bessie, who gathered it in her apron and called to Zara when she had picked enough of the big, round cherries.
"Aren't they good, Zara? Eat as many as you want. They're not like a real supper of meat and potatoes and things like that, you know, but they'll keep us from feeling hungry."
"They certainly will, Bessie. I'd never have known about them. But then I haven't lived long enough in the country to know it the way you do. I've been in cities all my life."
"Yes, and if we get to the city, Zara, you'll know lots of things and be able to tell me all about them. It must be wonderful."
"I suppose it is, Bessie, but I never thought of it that way. It must have been because I was used to everything of that sort. When you see things every day you get so that you don't think anything about them. I used to laugh at people from the country when I'd see them staring up at the high buildings, and jumping when an automobile horn tooted anywhere near them."
"I suppose it must have seemed funny to you."
"Yes, but I was sorry when I came out here and saw that everyone was laughing at me. There were all sorts of things I'd never seen or thought about. I'm really only just beginning to get used to them now. Bessie, it's getting pretty dark. Won't the moon be up soon?"
"Not for an hour or two yet, Zara. But it is dark now—we'd better begin walking toward your house. We want to get there while it stays dark, and before the old moon does get up. It'll be just as bright as daylight then, and they'd be able to see us. I tell you what—we want to keep off the road. We'll go through the woods till we get a chance to cut through Farmer Weeks' cornfield. That'll bring us out behind your place, and we can steal up quietly."
"You'd think we'd been doing something wrong, Bessie. It seems mighty mean for us to have to sneak around that way."
"It's all right as long as we know we haven't done anything that isn't right, Zara. That's the chief thing. If you do right, people will find it out sooner or later, even if they think at first that you're bad. Sometimes it takes a long time, but Paw Hoover says he's never known it to fail that a bad man gets found out sooner or later."
"Then Jake Hoover'd better look out," said Zara, viciously. "He's lied so much, and done so many mean things that you've got the blame for, that he'll have an awful lot to make up for when he starts in. What would Paw Hoover do to him if he knew he'd set the woodshed on fire, Bessie?"
"I don't know. He'd be awful mad. He hasn't got so awful much money, you know, and he needs it all for the farm. But Maw Hoover thinks Jake's all right. She'd find some excuse for him. She always does when he does get found out. That happens sometimes, you know. He can't always make them think I've done it."
"I guess maybe that's why he's so mean, Bessie. Don't you think so?"
"Shouldn't wonder, Zara. I don't believe he stops to think half the time. Here we are! We'll cut through the fence. Careful as we go through—keep to the lanes between the stalks. We mustn't hurt the corn, you know."
"I'd like to pull up every stalk! These people 'round here have been mean and ugly to my father ever since we came here."
"That isn't right, though, Zara. It won't do you any good to hurt them in return. If you do wrong, too, just because they have, you'll be just as bad as they are."
"Oh, I know, but they've said all sorts of awful things, and if they've put him in prison now—" She stopped, with a sob, and Bessie took her hand.
"Cheer up, Zara. We don't know that anything of that sort has happened yet, and, even if it has, it will come out all right. If your father hasn't done anything wrong, they can't punish him. He'll get a fair trial if he's been arrested, and they can't prove he's done anything unless he has, you know."
"But if they lied about him around here, mightn't they lie the same afterward—at the trial, Bessie? I'm frightened; really I am!"
"Hush, Zara! There's your house, and there's a light! That means there's someone there. I hope it's your father, but it might be someone else, and we mustn't let them hear us."
The two girls were out of the cornfield now, and, crossing a little patch of swampy land, came to the little garden around Zara's house, where her father had planted a few vegetables that helped to feed him and Zara.
The house was little better than a cabin, a rough affair, tumbled down in spots, with a sagging roof, and stained and weather-worn boards. It had no second floor at all, and it was a poor, cheap apology for a dwelling, all around. But, after all, it was Zara's home, the only home she knew, and she was so tired and discouraged that all she wanted was to get safely inside and throw herself down on her hard bed to sleep.
"Listen!" whispered Bessie, suddenly.
From the room into which the kitchen led there came a murmur of voices. At first, though they strained their ears, they could make nothing out of the confused sounds of talk. But gradually they recognized voices, and Bessie turned pale as she heard Paw Hoover's, easy for her to know, since his deep tones rumbled out in the quiet night. Zara recognized them, too, and clutched Bessie's arm.
"My father isn't there!" she whispered. "If he was, I'd hear him."
"There's Farmer Weeks—and I believe that's Jake Hoover's voice, too," said Bessie, also in a whisper.
Then the door was opened, and the two girls huddled closer together, shivering, afraid that they would be discovered. But it seemed that Paw Hoover had only opened the door to get a little air, since the night was very hot after the storm. About them the insects were making their accustomed din, and a little breeze rustled among the treetops. But, with the door open, they could hear what was being said plainly enough.
"I ain't goin' to wait here all night, Brother Weeks," said Paw Hoover. "Got troubles enough of my own, what with the woodshed settin' fire to the house!"
"Oh!" whispered Bessie. "Did you hear that, Zara? It was worse than we thought."
"Huh!" said Weeks, a rough, hard man, who found it hard to get men to work when he needed them for the harvest every summer, on account of his reputation for treating his men badly.
"I allus told you you'd have trouble with that baggage afore you got rid of her, Paw! Lucky that she didn't burn you out when you was all asleep—I say," said Jake.
Bessie listened, every nerve and muscle in her body tense. They blamed her for the fire, then! Her instinct when she had run away had been right.
"I swan, I dunno what all possessed her," said Paw Hoover. "We give her a good home—but Jake here seen her do it, though he was too late to stop her—hey, Jake?"
"That's right, Pop," said Jake. "She didn't know I was aroun' anywhere. Say, you ought to have her pinched for doin' it, too."
"I dunno—she's only a youngster," said Paw. "I guess they wouldn't hold her responsible, somehow. But say, Brother Weeks, I hate to think of that little Zara runnin' roun' the woods to-night. She ain't done nothin' wrong, even if her paw's a crook. An' now they took him off, who's a-goin' to look out for her?"
"I'll drive her over to the poor-farm when she turns up," said Weeks. "Then they'll take her, an' apprentice her to someone as wants a girl to work aroun' his place, like. Bind her over till she's twenty-one, and let her work for her keep. I might take her myself—guess 'twouldn't cost such a lot to feed her. She's thin—reckon she ain't ever had much to eat here."
Bessie, feeling the tremor in Zara's rigid body at this confirmation of her worst fears, put her hand quickly over her friend's mouth, just in time to check a cry that was rising to her lips.
"Come, Zara," she whispered, gently. "We'll have to look out for ourselves. Come, we'll get away. We mustn't stay around here."
And, holding Zara's arm, she led her away. For a long time, until Bessie judged that it was safe to return to the road, they kept on through the woods. And, when they came out on the road, the moon was up.
"The world's a beautiful place after all, Zara," said Bessie. "It can't be so bad when everything's so lovely. Come on, we'll walk a little further, and then we'll come to a place I know where we can sleep to-night—a place where wood cutters used to stay. No one's there now, and we'll be dry and safe."
"I'm not afraid if I'm with you, Bessie," said Zara.
Two or three miles further along the road, Bessie spied the landmark she had been looking for.
"We'll turn off here," she said, "Cheer up, Zara. It won't be long now before we can go to sleep."
The full moon made it easy to pick their way along the wood path that Bessie followed, and before long they came to a small lake. On its far side, among the trees near the shore, a fire was burning, flickering up from time to time, and sending dancing shadows on the beach.
"There's someone over there, Bessie," said Zara, frightened at the sign of human habitation.
"They won't hurt us, Zara," said Bessie, stoutly. "Probably they won't even know that we're around, if we don't make any noise, or any fire of our own. Here we are—here's the hut! See? Isn't it nice and comfortable? Hurry now and help me to pick up some of these branches of pine trees. They'll make a comfortable bed for us, and well sleep just as well as if we were at home—or a lot better, because there'll be no one to be cross and make trouble for us in the morning."
Bessie arranged the branches, and in a few moments they were asleep, lying close together. Pine branches make an ideal bed, but, even had their couch been uncomfortable, the two girls would have slept well that night; they were too tired to do anything else. It was long after midnight, and both had been through enough to exhaust them. The sense of peace and safety that they found in this refuge in the woods more than made up for the strangeness of their surroundings, and when they awoke the sun was high. It was the sound of singing in the sweet, fresh voices of girls that aroused them in the end. And Bessie, the first to wake up, aroused Zara, and then peeped from the door of the cabin.
There on the beach, their hair spread out in the sun, were half a dozen girls in bathing dresses. Beside them were a couple of canoes, drawn up on the beach, and they were laughing and singing merrily as they dried their hair. Looking over across the lake, in the direction of the fire she had seen the night before, Bessie saw that it was still burning. A pillar of smoke rose straight in the still air, and beyond it, gleaming among the trees, Bessie saw the white sides of three or four tents. Astonished, she called Zara.
"They're not from around here, Zara," she whispered, not ready yet for the strangers to discover her. "Girls around here don't swim—it's only the boys who do that."
"I'll bet they're from the city and here on a vacation," said Zara.
"They look awful happy, Zara. Isn't that lady with the brown hair pretty? And she's older than the rest, too. You can see that, can't you?"
"Listen, Bessie! She just called one of the girls. And did you hear what she called her? Minnehaha—that's a funny name, isn't it?"
"It's an Indian name, Zara. It means Laughing Water. That's the name of the girl that Hiawatha loved, in the poem. I've read that, haven't you?"
"I've never been able to read very much, Bessie. But that girl isn't an Indian. She's ever so much lighter than I am—she's as fair as you. And Indians are red, aren't they?"
"She's not an Indian, Zara. That's right enough. It must be some sort of a game. Oh, listen!"
For the older girl, the one Zara had pointed out, had spied Bessie's peeping face suddenly.
"Look, girls!" she cried, pointing.
And then, without a word of signal all the girls suddenly broke out into a song—a song Bessie had never heard before.
"Wohelo for aye, Wohelo for aye, Wohelo, Wohelo, Wohelo for aye; Wohelo for work, Wohelo for health, Wohelo, Wohelo, Wohelo for love!"
As they ended the song, all the girls, with laughing faces, followed the eyes of their leader and looked at Bessie, who, frightened at first when she saw that she had been discovered, now returned the look shyly. There was something so kind, so friendly, about the manner of these strange girls that her fear had vanished.
"Won't you come out and talk to us?" asked the leader of the crowd.
She came forward alone toward the door of the cabin, looking at Bessie with interest.
"My name is Wanaka—that is, my Camp Fire name," said the stranger. "We are Manasquan Camp Fire Girls, you know, and we've been camping out by this lake. Do you live here?"
"No—not exactly, ma'am," said Bessie, still a little shy.
"Then you must be camping out, too? It's fun, isn't it? But you're not alone, are you? Didn't I see another head peeping out?"
"That's Zara. She's my friend, and she's with me," said Bessie. "And my name's Bessie King."
She looked curiously at Wanaka. Bessie had never heard of the Camp Fire Girls, and the great movement they had begun, meant to do for American girls what the Boy Scout movement had begun so well for their brothers.
"Well, won't you and Zara spend the day with us, if you are by yourselves?" asked Wanaka. "We'll take you over to camp in the canoes, and you can have dinner with us. We're going back now to cook it. The other girls have begun to prepare it already."
"Oh, we'd like to!" cried Bessie. "I'm awfully hungry—and I'm sure Zara is, too."
Bessie hadn't meant to say that. But the thought of a real meal had been too much for her.
"Hungry!" cried Wanaka. "Why, haven't you had breakfast? Did you oversleep?"
She looked about curiously. And Bessie saw that she could not deceive this tall, slim girl, with the wise eyes that seemed to see everything.
"We—we haven't anything to eat," she said. And suddenly she was overcome with the thought of how hard things were going to be, especially for Zara, and tears filled her eyes.
"You shall tell me all about it afterwards," said Wanaka, with decision. "Just now you've got to come over with us and have something to eat, right away. Girls, launch the canoes! We have two guests here who haven't had any breakfast, and they're simply starving to death."
Any girls Bessie had ever known would have rushed toward her at once, overwhelming her with questions, fussing around, and getting nothing done. But these girls were different. They didn't talk; they did things. In a moment, as it seemed, the canoes were in the water, and Bessie and Zara had been taken into different boats. Then, at a word from Wanaka, the paddles rose and dipped into the water, and with two girls paddling each canoe, one at the stern and one at the bow, they were soon speeding across the lake, which, at this point, was not more than a quarter of a mile wide.
Once ashore, Wanaka said a few words to other girls who were busy about the fire, and in less than a minute the savory odor of frying bacon and steaming coffee rose from the fire. Zara gave a little sigh of perfect content.
"Oh, doesn't that smell good?" she said.
"It certainly does, and it's going to taste even better than it smells," she answered, happily.
They sat down, cross-legged, near the fire, and the girls of the camp, quiet and competent, and asking them no questions, waited on them. Bessie and Zara weren't used to that. They had always had to wait on others, and do things for other people; no one had ever done much for them. It was a new experience, and a delightful one. But Bessie, seeing Wanaka's quiet eyes fixed upon her, realized that the time for explanations would come when their meal was over.
And, sure enough, after Bessie and Zara had eaten until they could eat no more, Wanaka came to her, gently, and took her by the hand. She seemed to recognize that Bessie must speak for Zara as well as for herself.
"Now suppose we go off by ourselves and have a little talk, Bessie," she suggested. "I'm sure you have something to tell me, haven't you?"
"Yea, indeed, Miss Wanaka," said Bessie. She knew that in Wanaka she had found, by a lucky chance, a friend she could trust and one who could give her good advice.
Wanaka smiled at her as she led the way to the largest of the tents.
"Just call me Wanaka, not Miss Wanaka," she said. "My name is Eleanor Mercer, but here in the camp and wherever the Camp Fire Girls meet we often call one another by our ceremonial names. Some of us—most of us—like the old Indian names, and take them, but not always."
"Now," she said, when they were alone together in the tent, "tell me all about it, Bessie. Haven't you any parents? Or did they let you go out to spend the night all alone in the woods that way?"
Then Bessie told her the whole story. Wanaka watched her closely as Bessie told of her life with the Hoovers, of her hard work and drudgery, and of Jake's persecution. Her eyes narrowed slightly as Bessie described the scene at the woodshed, and told of how Jake had locked Zara in to wait for her mother's return, and of his cruel and dangerous trick with the burning embers.
"Did he really tell his father that you had set the shed on fire—and on purpose?" asked Wanaka, rather sternly.
"He was afraid of what would happen to him if they knew he'd done it," said Bessie. "I guess he didn't stop to think about what they'd do to me. He was just frightened, and wanted to save himself."
Wanaka looked at her very kindly.
"These people aren't related to you at all, are they?" she asked. "You weren't bound to them—they didn't agree to keep you any length of time and have you work for them in return for your board?"
"No," said Bessie.
"Then, if that's so, you had a right to leave them whenever you liked," said Wanaka, thoughtfully. "And tell me about Zara. Who is her father? What does he do for a living?"
"I don't believe she even knows that herself. They used to live in the city, but they came out here two or three years ago, and he's never gone around with the other men, because he can't speak English very well. He's some sort of a foreigner, you see. And when they took him off to prison Zara was left all alone. He used to stay around the cabin all the time, and Zara says he would work late at night and most of the day, too, making things she never saw. Then he'd go off for two or three days at a time, and Zara thought he went to the city, because when he came back he always had money—not very much, but enough to buy food and clothes for them. And she said he always seemed to be disappointed and unhappy when he came back."
"And the people in the village thought he was a counterfeiter—that he made bad money?"
"That's what Maw Hoover and Jake said. They thought so, I know."
"People think they know a lot when they're only guessing, sometimes, Bessie. A man has a right to keep his business to himself if he wants to, as long as he doesn't do anything that's wrong. But why didn't Zara stay? If her father was cleared and came back, they couldn't keep her at the poor-farm or make her go to work for this Farmer Weeks you speak of."
"I don't know. She was afraid, and so was I. They call her a gypsy because she's so dark. And people say she steals chickens. I know she doesn't, because once or twice when they said she'd done that, she'd been in the woods with me, walking about. And another time I saw a hawk swoop down and take one of Maw Hoover's hens, and she was always sure that Zara'd done that."
Wanaka had watched Bessie very closely while she told her story. Bessie's clear, frank eyes that never fell, no matter how Wanaka stared into them, seemed to the older girl a sure sign that Bessie was telling the truth.
"It sounds as if you'd had a pretty hard time, and as if you hadn't had much chance," she said, gravely. "It's strange about your parents."
Bessie's eyes filled with tears.
"Oh, something must have happened to them—something dreadful," she said. "Or else I'm sure they would never have left me that way. And I don't believe what Maw Hoover was always saying—that they were glad to get rid of me, and didn't care anything about me."
"Neither do I," said Wanaka. "Bessie, I want to help you and Zara. And I think I can—that we all can, we Camp Fire Girls. You know that's what we live for—to help people, and to love them and serve them. You heard us singing the Wohelo cheer when we first saw you. Wohelo means work, and health, and love. You see, it's a word we made up by taking the first two letters of each of those words. I tell you what I'm going to do. You and Zara must stay with us here to-day. The girls will look after you. And I'm going into the village and while I'm there I'll see how things are."
"You won't tell Maw Hoover where we are; or Farmer Weeks?" cried Bessie.
"I'll do the right thing, Bessie," said Wanaka, smiling. "You may be sure of that. I believe what you've told me—I believe every word of it. But you'd rather have me find out from others, too, I'm sure. You see, it would be very wrong for us to help girls to run away from home. But neither you nor Zara have done that, if your story is right. And I think it is our duty to help you both, just as it is our pleasure."
AN UNEXPECTED FRIEND
Bessie wasn't afraid of what Wanaka would find out in Hedgeville. Wanaka wouldn't take Jake Hoover's word against hers, that much was sure. And she guessed that Wanaka would have her own ways of discovering the truth. So, as Wanaka changed from her bathing suit to a costume better suited to the trip to the village, Bessie went out with a light heart to find Zara. Already she thought that she saw the way clear before them. With friends, there was no reason why they should not reach the city and make their own way there, as plenty of other girls had done. And it seemed to Bessie that Wanaka meant to be a good friend.
"Oh, Bessie, have you been hearing all about the Camp Fire, too?" asked Zara, when she espied her friend, "It's wonderful! They do all sorts of things. And Minnehaha is going to teach me to swim this afternoon. She'll teach you, too, if you like."
But Bessie only smiled in answer. She could swim already, but she said nothing about it, since no one asked her, seeming to take it for granted that, like Zara, she was unused to the water. Moreover, while she could swim well enough, she was afraid that she would look clumsy and awkward in comparison to the Camp Fire Girls. Most of them had changed their clothes now, before dinner.
Some wore short skirts and white blouses; one or two were in a costume that Bessie recognized at once as that of Indian maidens, from the pictures she had seen in the books she had managed to get at the Hoover farmhouse. She noticed, too, that many of them now wore strings of beads, and that all wore rings. Two or three of the girls, too, wore bracelets, strangely marked, and all had curious badges on their right sleeves.
"We've got to wash the dishes, now," said Minnehaha, who bore out her name by laughing and smiling most of the time. She had already told Zara that her real name was Margery Burton. "You sit down and rest, and when we've done, we'll talk to you and tell you more about the Camp Fire Girls and all the things we do."
"No, indeed," said Bessie, laughing back. "That won't do at all. You cooked our meal; now we'll certainly help to clean up. That's something I can do, and I'm going to help."
Zara, too, insisted on doing her share, and the time passed quickly as the girls worked. Then, when the things were cleaned and put away, and some preparations had been made for the evening meal, Zara begged to have her first swimming lesson at once.
"No, we'll have to wait a little while for that," said Minnehaha. "We must wait until Wanaka comes back. She's our Guardian, you see, and it's a rule that we mustn't go into the water unless she's here, no matter how well we swim, unless, of course, we have to, to help someone who is drowning. And it's too soon after dinner, too. It's bad for you to go into the water less than two hours after a meal. We're always careful about that, because we have to be healthy. That's one of the chief reasons we have the Camp Fire."
"Tell us about it," begged Zara, sitting down.
"You see this ring?" said Minnehaha, proudly.
She pointed to her ring, a silver band with an emblem,—seven fagots.
"We get a ring like that when we join," she explained. "That's the Wood-Gatherer's ring, and the National Council gives it to us. Those seven fagots each stand for one of the seven points of the law of the fire."
"What are they, Minnehaha?"
"They're easy to remember: 'Seek Beauty; Give Service; Pursue Knowledge; Be Trustworthy; Hold on to Health; Glorify Work; Be Happy.' If you want to do all those things—and I guess everyone does—you can be a Wood-Gatherer. Then, later on, you get to be a Fire-Maker, and, after that, a Torch-Bearer. And when you get older, if you do well, you can be a Guardian, and be in charge of a Camp Fire yourself. You see, there are Camp Fires all over. There are a lot of them in our city, and in every city. And there are more and more all the time. The movement hasn't been going on very long, but it's getting stronger all the time."
"Are you a Fire-Maker?"
"Not yet. If I were, I'd wear a bracelet, like Ayu. And instead of just having a bunch of fagots on my sleeve, there'd be a flame coming from them. And then, when I get to be a Torch-Bearer, I'll have a pin, as well as the ring and the bracelet, and there'll be smoke on my badge, as well as fire and wood. But you have to work hard before you can stop being a Wood-Gatherer and get to the higher ranks. We all have to work all the time, you see."
"I've had to work, too," said Bessie. "But this seems different because you enjoy your work."
"That's because we like to work. We work because we want to do it, not because someone makes us."
"Yes, I was thinking of that. I always worked because I had to—Maw Hoover made me."
"Who's Maw Hoover, Bessie?"
So Bessie told her story, or most of it, all over again, and the other girls, seeing that she was telling a story, crowded around and listened.
"I think it's a shame you were treated so badly," said Minnehaha. "But don't you worry—Miss Eleanor will know what to do. She won't let them treat you unfairly. Is she going to find out about things in the village?"
"Well, you needn't worry any more, then. Why, one of the first things she did in the city, when she started this Camp Fire, was to get us all to work to get better milk for the babies in the poor parts, where the tenement houses are. We all helped, but she did most of it. And now all the milk is good and pure, and the babies don't die any more in the hot weather in summer."
"That's fine. I'd like to be a Camp Fire Girl."
"Why shouldn't you be one, then?"
After all, why not? Maw Hoover would never have let her do anything like that—but Maw Hoover couldn't stop her from doing anything she liked now. Wanaka had told her what Zara had always said, that Maw Hoover couldn't make her stay, couldn't make her keep on working hard every day for nothing but her board. She had read about girls who had gone to the city and earned money, lots of money, without working any harder than she had always done. Perhaps could do that, too.
"You talk to Wanaka about that when she comes back," said Minnehaha, who guessed what Bessie was thinking. "You see her. She'll explain it to you. And you're going to be happy, Bessie. I'm sure of that. When people do right, and still aren't happy for a while, it's always made up to them some way. And usually when they do wrong they have to pay for it, some way or another. That's one of the things we learn in the Camp Fire."
"Here comes Wanaka now," said one of the other girls. "There's someone with her."
Bessie looked frightened.
"I don't want anyone from Hedgeville to see me," she said. "Do you suppose they're coming here?"
"Wanaka will come first. See, she's staying on the other side of the lake. It's a man. He's carrying her things. I'll paddle over for her in a canoe. I don't think the man will come with her, but you and Zara go into the tent there. Then you'll be all right. No one would ever think of your being here, or asking any questions."
But Bessie watched anxiously. She couldn't make out the face of the man with Wanaka, as she peered from the door of the tent, but if he was from Hedgeville he would know her. Everyone knew the girl at Hoovers', whose father and mother had deserted her. Bessie had long been one of the most interesting people in town to the farmers and the villagers, who had little to distract or amuse them.
"Stay quiet, Bessie," warned Minnehaha, as she stepped into the canoe. "You'll be all right if you're not seen. I'll bring Wanaka back right away."
With swift, sure strokes, Minnehaha sent the canoe skimming over the water. The other girls were busy in various ways. Some were in the tents, changing their clothes for bathing suits; some had gone into the woods to get fresh water from a spring. For the moment no one was in sight. And suddenly, out of a clear sky, as it seemed, disaster threatened. Clouds had been gathering for some time but the sun was still out, and there seemed no reason to fear any storm.
But now there was a sudden roughening of the smooth surface of the water; white caps were lashed up by a squall that broke with no warning at all. And Bessie, filled with horror, saw the canoe overturned by the wind. She saw, too, what eyes less quick would have missed—that the paddle, released from Minnehaha's grasp as the boat upset, struck her on the head.
For a moment Bessie stood rooted to the spot in terror. And then, when Minnehaha did not appear, swimming, Bessie acted. Forgotten was the danger that she would be discovered—her fear of the man on the other side of the lake. Wanaka might not have seen, and there was no time to lose. The accident had occurred in the middle of the lake, and Bessie, rushing to the beach, pushed off a canoe and began to drive it toward the other canoe, floating quietly now, bottom up. The squall had passed already.
Bessie had never been in a canoe before that day. She made clumsy work of the paddling. But fear for Minnehaha and the need of reaching her at once made up for any lack of skill. Somehow she reached the spot. By that time the other girls had seen what was going on, and help was coming quickly. Some swam and some were in one of the other canoes. But Bessie, catching a one of the most interesting people in town to the farmers and the villagers, who had little to distract or amuse them.
"Stay quiet, Bessie," warned Minnehaha, as she stepped into the canoe. "You'll be all right if you're not seen. I'll bring Wanaka back right away."
With swift, sure strokes, Minnehaha sent the canoe skimming over the water. The other girls were busy in various ways. Some were in the tents, changing their clothes for bathing suits; some had gone into the woods to get fresh water from a spring. For the moment no one was in sight. And suddenly, out of a clear sky, as it seemed, disaster threatened. Clouds had been gathering for some time but the sun was still out, and there seemed no reason to fear any storm.
But now there was a sudden roughening of the smooth surface of the water; white caps were lashed up by a squall that broke with no warning at all. And Bessie, filled with horror, saw the canoe overturned by the wind. She saw, too, what busy with Minnehaha, who soon showed signs of returning consciousness. So Bessie did not see or hear what was going on outside.
For the man who had been standing with Wanaka on the other shore had seen Bessie, and he had known her. No wonder, since it was Paw Hoover himself, from whom Wanaka had bought fresh vegetables for the camp. He had insisted on helping her to carry them out, although Wanaka, thinking of Bessie and Zara, had told him she needed no help. But she could not shake him off, and on the way he had told her about the exciting happenings of the previous day, of which, she told him, she had already heard in the village.
"By Godfrey!" said Paw Hoover, as he saw the rescue of Minnehaha, "that young one's got pluck, so she has! And, what's more, Miss, I've a suspicion I've seen her before!"
Wanaka said nothing, but smiled. What Paw Hoover had told her had done more to confirm the truth of Bessie's story than all the talk she had heard in Hedgeville. She liked the old farmer—and she wondered what he meant to do. He didn't leave her long in doubt.
"I'll just go over with you," he said, "if you'll make out to ferry me back here again."
And Wanaka dared not refuse.
"Had an idea you was askin' a lot of questions," said Paw Hoover, with a chuckle. "Got lots of ideas I keep to myself—'specially at home. An' say, if that's Bessie, I want to see her."
Wanaka saw that there was some plan in his mind, and she knew that to try to ward him off would be dangerous. There was nothing to prevent him from returning, later, with Weeks or anyone else.
"Bessie!" she called. "Can you come out here a minute?"
And Bessie, coming out, came face to face with Paw Hoover! She stared at him, frightened and astonished, but she held her ground. And Paw Hoover's astonishment was as great as her own. This was a new Bessie he had never seen before. She was neatly dressed now in one of Ayu's blue skirts and white blouses, and one of the girls had done up her hair in a new way.
"Well, I swan!" he said. "You've struck it rich, ain't you, Bessie? Aimin' to run away and leave us?"
Bessie couldn't answer, but Wanaka spoke up.
"You haven't any real hold on her, Mr. Hoover," she said.
"That's right, that's right!" said Paw Hoover. "I cal'late you've had a hard time once in a while, Bessie. An' I don't believe you ever set that shed afire on purpose. If you hadn't jumped into the water after that other girl I'd never have suspicioned you was here, Bessie. You stay right with these young ladies, if they'll have you. I'll not say a word. An' if you ever get into trouble, you write to me—see?"
He looked at her, and sighed. Then he beckoned to her, and took her aside.
"Maw's right set on havin' her own way, Bessie," he said. "But she's my wife, an' she's a good one, an' if she makes mistakes, I've got to let her have her way. Reckon I've made enough on 'em myself. Here, you take this. I guess you've earned it, right enough. That fire didn't do no real damage—nothin' we can't fix up in a day or two."
Bessie's eyes filled with tears. Paw Hoover was simply proving again what she had always known—that he was a really good and kindly man. She longed to tell him that she hadn't set the barn on fire, that it had been Jake. But she knew he would find it hard to believe that of his son, and that, even if he took her word for it, the knowledge would be a blow. And it would do her no good, so she said nothing of that.
"Thank you, Paw," she said. "You always were good to me. I'll never forget you, and sometime I'll come back to see you and all the others. Good-bye!"
"Good-bye, Bessie," he said. "You be a good girl and you'll get along all right. And you stick to Miss Mercer there. She'll see that you get along."
Not until he had gone did Bessie open her hand and look at the crumpled bill that Paw Hoover had left in it. And then, to her amazed delight, she saw that it was a five-dollar note—more money than she had ever had. She showed it to Wanaka.
"I oughtn't to take it," she said. "He thinks I burned his woodshed and—"
"But you know you didn't, and I think maybe he knows it, too," said Wanaka, "You needn't think anything of taking that money. You've worked hard enough to earn a lot more than that. Now I've found out that what you told me was just right. I knew it all the time, but I made sure. Bessie, how would you and Zara like to stay with us, and come back to the city when we go? I'll be able to find some way to look after you. You can find work to do that won't be so hard, and you can study, too."
"Oh, I'd love that, Wanaka," For the first time Bessie used the name freely. "And can we be Camp Fire Girls?"
"You certainly can," said Wanaka.
AN ALARM IN THE NIGHT
Bessie, overjoyed by Paw Hoover's kindness and his promise to do nothing toward having her taken back to Hedgeville, spent the rest of the afternoon happily. Indeed, she was happier than she could ever remember having been before. But her joy was dashed when, a little while before supper, she came upon Zara, crying bitterly. Zara had gone off by herself, and Bessie, going to the spring for water, came upon her.
"Why, Zara, whatever is the matter? We're all right now," cried Bessie.
"I—I know that, Bessie! But I'm so worried about my father!"
"Oh, Zara, what a selfish little beast I am! I was so glad to think that I wasn't going to be taken back that I forgot all about him. But cheer up! I'm sure he's done nothing wrong, and I'll talk to Wanaka, and see if there isn't something I can do or that she can do. I believe she can do anything if she makes up her mind she will."
"Did she hear anything about him in Hedgeville?"
"Only what we knew before, Zara, that they'd come for him and taken him to the city. But Wanaka said she was sure that it is only gossip, and that he needn't be afraid. And we're going to the city, too, you know, so you'll be able to see him."
"Will I, Bessie? Then that won't be so bad. If I could only talk to him I'm sure it would seem better. And you must be right—they can't punish a man when he hasn't done anything wrong, can they?"
"Of course not," said Bessie, laughing.
"In the country where we came from they do, sometimes," said Zara, thoughtfully. "My father has told me about things like that."
"In Italy, Zara?"
"Yes. We're not Italians, really, but that's where we lived."
"But you don't remember anything about that, do you?"
"No, but I've been told all about it. We used to live in a white house, on a hillside. And there were lemon trees and olive trees growing there, and all sorts of beautiful things. And you could look out over the blue sea, and see the boats sailing, and away off there was a great mountain."
"I should think you'd want to go back there, Zara. It must have been beautiful."
"Oh, I've always wanted to see that place, Bessie. Sometimes, my father says, the mountain, would smoke, and fire would come out of it, and the ground would shake. But it never hurt the place where we lived."
"That must have been a volcano, Zara."
"Yes, that's what he used to call it."
"Why did you come over here?"
"Because my father was always afraid over there. There were some bad men who hated him, and he said that if he stayed there they would hurt him. And he heard that over here everyone was welcome, and one man was as good as another. But he wasn't, or they never seemed to think so, if he was."
Bessie looked very thoughtful.
"This is the finest country in the world, Zara," she said. "I've heard that, and I've read it in books, too. But I guess that things go wrong here sometimes. You see, it's this way. Just think of Jake Hoover."
"But I don't want to think about him! I want to forget him!"
"Well, Jake Hoover explains what I'm thinking about. He's an American, but that isn't the reason he was so mean to us. He'd be mean anywhere, no matter whether he was an American or what. He just can't help it. And I think he'll get over it, anyhow."
"There you go, Bessie! He's made all this trouble for you, and you're standing up for him already."
"No, I'm not. But what trouble has he made for me, Zara? I'm going to be happier than I ever was back there in Hedgeville—and if it hadn't been for him I'd still be there, and I'd be chopping wood or something right now."
"But he didn't mean to make you happier, Bessie. He thought he could get you punished for something he'd done."
"Well, I wasn't, so why should I be angry at him, Zara? Even if he did mean to be nasty, he wasn't."
"But suppose he'd hurt you some way, without meaning to at all? Would you be angry at him then for hurting you, when he didn't mean to do it?"
"Of course not—just because he didn't mean to."
"Well, then," said Zara, triumphantly, "you ought to be angry now, if it's what one means to do, and not what one does that counts. I would be."
Bessie laughed. For once Zara seemed to have trapped her and beaten her in an argument.
"But I don't like to be angry, and to feel revengeful," she said. "It hurts me more than it does the other person. When anything happens that isn't nice it only bothers you as long as you keep on thinking about it, Zara. Suppose someone threw a stone at you, and hit you?"
"It would hurt me—and I'd want to throw it back."
"But then suppose the stone was thrown, and it didn't hit you, and you didn't even know it had been thrown, you wouldn't be angry then, would you?"
"Why, how could I be, Bessie, if I didn't know anything about it?"
"Well, don't you see how it worked out, Zara? If you refuse to notice the mean things people do when they don't succeed in hurting you, it's just as if you didn't know anything about it, isn't it? And if the stone was thrown, and you saw it, and knew who'd thrown it, you'd be angry—but you could get over it by just making up your mind to forget it, and acting as if they'd never done it at all."
Zara didn't answer for a minute. She was thinking that over.
"I guess you're right, Bessie," she said, finally. "That is the best way to do. When I get angry I get all hot inside, and I feel dreadful. I'm going to try not to lose my temper any more."
"You'll be a lot happier if you do that," said Bessie. "Now, let's get back to the fire. I've got this water, and they must be waiting for it."
So Zara, happy again, and laughing now, helped Bessie with the pail of water, and they went back to the fire together. Everyone was busy, each with some appointed task. Two of the girls were spreading knives and forks, and laying out cups and dishes in a great circle near the water, since all the meals were eaten Indian fashion, sitting on the ground. Others, who had been fishing, were displaying their catch, and cleaning the gleaming trout, soon to be cooked with crisp bacon, and to form the chief dish of the evening meal.
Wanaka smiled at them as the two girls appeared with the water.
"You're making a good start as Camp Fire Girls," she told them. "We all try to help. Later on, if you like, I'll give you a lesson in cooking."
Bessie smiled, but said nothing. And presently she called to Zara and disappeared with her in the woods.
"I want to give them a surprise, Zara," she said. "There's quite a long time yet before supper. And I saw an apple tree when I was walking through the woods. Let's go and get some of them."
Zara was quite willing, and in half an hour or less the two girls were back in camp with a good load of apples. Then Bessie spoke to Wanaka when the Guardian was alone for the moment.
"May I have some flour and sugar?" she said.
Wanaka looked at her curiously, but gave her what she wanted. And Bessie, finding a smooth white board, was soon busy rolling pastry. Then when she had made a great deep dish pie, and filled it with the apples, which Zara, meanwhile, had pared and cut, Bessie set to work on what was the most difficult part of her task. First she dug out a hole in the ground and made a fire, small, but very hot, and, in a short time, with the aid of two flat stones, she had constructed a practicable outdoor oven, in which the heat of the embers and cinders was retained by shutting out the air with earth. Then the pie was put in and covered at once, so that no heat could escape, and Bessie, saying nothing about what she had done, went back to help the others.
Obeying the unwritten rule of the Camp Fire, which allows the girls to work out their ideas unaided if they possibly can, so as to encourage self-reliance and independence, Wanaka did not ask her what she had done. But when the meal was over Bessie slipped away, while Wanaka was serving out some preserves, and returned in a moment, bearing her pie—nobly browned, with crisp, flaky crust.
"I've only made one pie like this before and I never used that sort of an oven," she said, shyly. "So I don't know if it's very good. But I thought I would try it."
Bessie, however, need not have worried about the quality of that pie. The rapidity with which it disappeared was the best possible evidence of its goodness, and Wanaka commended her before all the girls, who were willing enough to join the leader in singing Bessie's praises.
"My, but that was good!" said Minnehaha. "I wish I could make a pie like that! My pastry is always heavy. Will you show me how when we get home, Bessie?"
"Indeed I will!" promised Bessie.
And that night, after a spell of singing and story telling about the great fire on the beach, Bessie and Zara went to bed with thoughts very different from those they had had the night before.
"Aren't they good to us, Zara?" said Bessie.
"They're simply wonderful," said Zara, with shining eyes. "And Wanaka talked to me about my father. She says she has a friend in the city who's a lawyer, and that as soon as we get back she'll speak to him, and get him to see that he is fairly treated. I feel ever so much better."
The voices of the girls all about them, laughing and singing as they made ready for the night, and the kindly words of Wanaka, made a great contrast to their loneliness of the night before. Then everything had seemed black and dismal. They hadn't known what they were going to do, or what was to happen to them; they had been hungry and tired, and with no prospect of breakfast when they got up. But now they had more friends, gained in one wonderful day, than they had made before in all their lives, and Wanaka had promised to see that in the future there should always be someone to guide them and see that no one abused them any more. No wonder that they looked on the bright camp fire, symbol of all the happiness that had come to them, with happy eyes. And they listened in delight as the girls gathered, just before they went to bed, and sang the good-night song:
"Lay me to sleep in sheltering flame, Oh, Master of the Hidden Fire. Wash pure my heart and cleanse for me My soul's desire. In flame of sunrise bathe my mind, Oh, Master of the Hidden Fire, That when I wake, clear eyed may be My soul's desire."
And so, with the flames' light flickering before them, Bessie and Zara went to sleep sure of happiness and companionship when they awoke in the morning, with the first rays of the rising sun shining into the tents.
But Bessie was to awake before that. She lay near the door of one of the tents, which she shared with Zara, Minnehaha, and two other girls, and she awoke suddenly, coming at once to full consciousness, as anyone who had been brought up with Maw Hoover to wake her every morning was pretty certain to do at any unusual sound. For a moment, so deep was the silence, she thought that she had been deceived. In the distance an owl called; much nearer, there was an answer. A light wind rustled in the trees, stirring the leaves gently as it moved. Looking out, she saw that a faint, silvery sheen still bathed the ground outside, showing that the moon, which had risen late, was not yet set.
And then the sound that had awakened her came again—a curious, hoarse call, given in imitation of a whip-poor-will, but badly done. No bird had uttered that cry, and Bessie, country bred, listening intently, knew it. Silently she rose and slipped on moccasins that belonged to Minnehaha, and a dress. And then, making no more noise than a cat would have done, she crept to the opening in the front of the tent and peeped out. For Bessie had recognized the author of that imitation of the bird's call, and she knew that there was mischief afoot.
Still intent on keeping the alarm she felt from the others, until she knew whether there was a real cause for it, Bessie slipped out of the tent and into the shadow of the trees. The camp fire still burned, flickering in the darkness, and making great, weird shadows, as the light fell upon the trees. It had been built up and banked before the camp went to sleep, and in the morning it would still be burning, although faintly, ready for the first careful attentions of the appointed Wood-Gatherers, whose duty it was to see that the fire did not die.
Bessie, fearing that she might be spied upon, had to keep in the darkness, and she twisted and turned from the trunk of one tree to the next, bending over close to the ground when she had to cross an open space where firelight or moonbeams might reveal her to watching eyes.
And now and again, crudely given, as crudely answered, from further down the lake, the call of the mock whip-poor-will guided her in her quest. And Bessie, plucking up all the courage she could muster, still trembled slightly, more from nervousness than from actual fear, for she knew whose voice it was that was imitating the plaintive bird—Jake Hoover's!
All Hedgeville, as she well knew, must know that this camp of girls was at the lake—and it would be just like Jake and some of the bullying, reckless crowd of boys that he made his chief friends, to think that it would be a fine joke to play some tricks on the sleeping camp, and alarm these girls who were trying to enjoy themselves with outdoor life, just as if they had been boys. Bessie, setting her teeth, determined that they shouldn't succeed, that in some fashion she would turn the joke on them.
Gradually she drew nearer to the sound, and she made up her mind, thankfully, that she had waked in time, before all the jokers had arrived. She had snatched up a sheet as she left the camp, without a clear idea of what she meant to do with it, but now, as she stole among the trees, a dim figure, flitting from one dark place to the next, a wild idea formed in her mind.
It was risky—but Bessie was not timid. If Jake Hoover caught her—well, she knew what that would mean. He would not spare her, as his father had done, and there would be trouble for her, and for Zara and, worst of all, for Wanaka and her other new friends. And there was another danger. It might not, after all, be Jake Hoover that she heard.
At the Hoovers' she had heard stories of tramps and wandering gypsies, and she had been warned, whenever there was a report that any such vagrants were about, to keep off the roads and stay near the house. Jake, after all, could only betray her to his mother and the others who were after her, but a tramp or a gypsy might do far worse than that. But, though the solitude and the darkness were enough to frighten people older and stronger than Bessie, she kept on. And at last, before her, she heard footsteps tramping down the dry leaves and branches, and she heard a murmur of voices, too.
At once part of her fears fled, for it was Jake Hoover's voice that came to her ears.
"Ha-ha!" he was laughing. "Gee, it took you fellers long enough to git here. But, say, boys, won't we have some fun with them girls? Actin' up just like they was boys, sleepin' out in the woods an' pretendin' they're as brave as anythin'. I saw that one that bought a lot of truck from Paw to-day. Bet she'll scream as loud as any of them."
"Bet she will," said another voice. "Say, Jake, we won't hurt 'em none, will we? Jest throw a scare into them, like?"
"Sure, that's all!"
"'Cause I wouldn't want to hurt 'em none. They're jest girls, after all."
"All we'll do will be just to get around them tents an' start yellin' all at once—an' I'll bet they'll come a-runnin'. Ha-ha!"
But the laugh was frozen on his lips. As he spoke he looked behind him, warned by a faint sound—and his hair rose. For waving its arms wildly, a figure, all in white, was running toward him. As it came it made strange, unearthly sounds—horrid noises, such as Jake had never heard.
For a moment Jake and the two boys with him stood rooted to the spot, paralyzed with fear. Then they yelled together, and, the sound of their own voices seeming to release their imprisoned feet, turned and ran wildly, not knowing where they were going.
They tripped over roots, fell, then stumbled to their feet again, and continued their flight, shrieking. And behind them the ghost, weak with laughter, collapsed on a fallen tree trunk and laughed silently as they fled—for the ghost that had frightened these bold raiders was only Bessie, wrapped in the sheet she had so luckily snatched up when they had given her the alarm.
A PIECE OF BAD LUCK
Bessie laughed until she cried as the bold raiders who had been so sure that they could scare the camp of girls dashed madly off. She could hear them long after they had vanished from sight, crying out in their fear, plunging among the trees, but gradually the sounds grew fainter, and Bessie, sure that they need fear no more disturbance from Jake Hoover and his brave companions, set out on her return to the camp. This time she had no need of the precautions she had taken as she crept in the direction of the disturbing sounds, and she made no effort to conceal herself.
Wanaka was outside, looking about anxiously, when Bessie came again into the firelight. Always a light sleeper, and especially so when she was responsible for the safety of the girls who were in her charge, Eleanor Mercer had waked at first of Bessie's terrifying shrieks, almost as frightened, for the moment, as Jake himself. She had risen at once, and a glance in the various tents, where the girls still lay sound asleep, showed her that Bessie alone was missing.
Naturally enough, she could not guess the meaning of the outcry. The cries of the frightened jokers puzzled her, and there was nothing about the din that Bessie made to enable the Guardian to recognize the voice of her newest recruit. But she had realized, too, that to go out in the woods in search of Bessie and of an explanation, was not likely to do much good. Her duty, too, was with the girls who remained, and she could only wait, wondering. She greeted Bessie with a glad cry when she saw her.
"Oh, I'm so glad!" she exclaimed. "But what are you doing with that sheet? And—why, you're crying!"
"I'm not—really," said Bessie. "But I laughed so hard that it made the tears come—that's all, Wanaka."
Then she told her story, and Wanaka had to laugh, too. She was greatly relieved.
"But you ought to have called me, Bessie," she said. "That's why I'm here, you know—to look out for things when there seems to be any danger, or anything you girls don't quite understand."
"But I wasn't quite sure, you see," said Bessie. "And if it had really been a bird, it would have been awfully foolish to wake everyone up just because I thought I heard something."
"You'll be able to win a lot of honors easily, Bessie, when you come into the Camp Fire. That's one of the things the girls do—they learn the calls of the birds, and to describe them and all sorts of things about the trees and the flowers. You must know a lot of them already."
"I guess everyone does who's lived in the country. Some people can imitate a bird so it would almost fool another bird—but not Jake. He's stupid."
"Yes, and like most people who try to frighten others, he's a coward, too, Bessie. He showed that to-night."
"I'm not afraid of him any more. If I'd known before how easy it was to frighten him I'd have done it. Then he'd have let me alone, probably."
"Well, you go to bed now, and get to sleep again. And try to forget about Jake and all the other people who have been unkind to you. Remember that you're safe with us now. We'll look after you."
"I know that, and I can't tell you how good it makes me feel."
Wanaka laughed then, to herself.
"I say we'll look after you," she said, still smiling. "But so far it looks more as if you were going to look after us. You saved Minnehaha in the lake—and to-night you saved all the girls from being frightened. But we'll have to begin doing our share before long."
"As if you hadn't done a lot more for me already than I'll ever be able to repay!" said Bessie. "And I know it, too. Please be sure of that. Good-night."
In the morning Bessie and Zara woke with the sun shining in their faces, and for a long minute they lay quiet, staring out at the dancing water, and trying to realize all that happened since they had said good-bye to Hedgeville.
"Just think, Zara, it's only the day before yesterday that all those things happened, and it seems like ever so long to me."
"It does to me, too, Bessie. But I'll be glad when we get away from here. It's awfully close."
"And, Zara, Jake Hoover was around here last night!"
"Does he know you're here? Was that why he came?"
"No," said Bessie, laughing again at the memory of the ghost. And she told Zara what had happened.
"He won't come around again at night, but it would be just like him to snoop around here in the daytime, Bessie."
"I hadn't thought of that, Zara. But he might. If he stops to think and realizes that someone turned his own trick against him, or if he tells someone, and they laugh at him, he'll want to get even. I'd certainly hate to have him see one of us."
But their fears were groundless. For, as soon as breakfast was over, Wanaka called all the girls together.
"We're going to move," she said. "I know we meant to stay here longer, but Bessie and Zara will be happier if we're somewhere else. So we will go on to-day, instead of waiting. And I've a pleasant surprise for you, too, I think. No, I won't tell you about it now. You'll have to wait until you see it. Hurry up and clean camp now, and begin packing. We want to start as soon as we can."
Bessie was amazed to see how complete the arrangements for packing were. Everything seemed to have its place, and to be so made that it could go into the smallest space imaginable. The tents were taken down, divided into single sections that were not at all heavy, and everything else had been made on the same plan.
"But how about the canoes?" asked Bessie. "We can't carry those with us, can we?"
"I've often carried one over a portage—a short walk from one lake to the next in the woods," said Minnehaha, laughing. "It's a lot easier than it looks. Once you get it on your back, it balances so easily that it isn't hard at all. And up in the woods the guides have boats that they carry that way for miles, and they say they're easier to handle than a heavy pack. But those boats are very light."
"But we'll leave them here, anyhow," said another girl. "They don't belong to us. They were just lent to us by some people from the city who come here to camp every summer. They own this land, too, and they let us use it."
And then Bessie saw, as the first canoe was brought in, the clever hiding-place that had been devised for the boats. They were dragged up, and carried into the woods a little way, and there a couple of fallen trees had been so arranged that they made a shelter for the canoes. A few boards were spread between the trunks, and covered with earth and branches so it seemed that shrubbery had grown up over the place where the canoes lay.
"In the winter, of course, the people that own them take them away where they'll be safe. But they leave them out like that most of the summer. Some of them come here quite often, and it would be a great nuisance to have to drag the canoes along every time they come and go."
Long before noon everything was ready, and Wanaka, who had gone away for a time, returned.
"You and Zara look so different that I don't believe anyone would recognize either of you," she told Bessie. "You look just like the rest of the girls. So, even if we should meet anyone who knows you, I think you'd be safe enough."
"Not if it was Maw Hoover," said Zara so earnestly that Wanaka laughed, although she felt that there was something pathetic about Zara's fear of the farmer's wife, too.
"Well, we're not going to meet her, anyhow, Zara. And she'd never expect to find you and Bessie among us, anyhow. We aren't going across the lake and over to the main road. We're going right through the woods to the next valley. It's going to be a long day's trip, but it's cool, and I think a good long tramp will do us all good."
"That's fine," said Bessie. "No one over there will know anything about us. Is that why we made so many sandwiches and things like that—so that we could eat our lunch on the way?"
"Yes, and we'll build a fire and have something hot, too. Now you can watch us put out the fire."
"I hate to see it go out," said Zara. "I love the fire."
"We all do, but we must never leave a fire without someone to tend it. Fire is a great servant, but we must use it properly. And a little fire, even this one of ours, might start a bad blaze in the woods here if we left it behind us."
Bessie nodded wisely.
"We had an awful bad fire here two or three years ago. It was just before Zara came out here. Someone was out in the woods hunting, or something like that, and they left a fire, and the wind came up and set the trees on fire. It burned for three or four days, and all the men in the town had to turn out to save some of the places near the woods."
"Almost all the big fires in the forests start because someone is careless just like that, Bessie. They don't mean any harm—but they don't stop to think."
Then all the girls gathered about the fire, and each in turn did her part in stamping out the glowing embers. They sang as they did this duty, and Bessie felt again the curious thrill that had stirred her when she had heard the good-night song the evening before.
"I know what it is that is so splendid about the Camp Fire Girls, Zara," she said, suddenly. "They belong to one another, and they do things together. That's what counts—that's why they look so happy. We've never had anything to belong to, you and I, anything like this. Don't you see what I mean?"
"Yes, I do, Bessie. And that's what makes it seem so easy when they work. They're doing things together, and each of them has something to do at the same time that all the others are working, too."
"Why, I just loved washing the dishes this morning," said Bessie, smiling at the thought. "I never felt like that before, when Maw Hoover was always at me to do them, so that I could hurry up and do something else when I got through. And I did them faster here, too—much faster. Just because I enjoyed it, and it seemed like the most natural thing to do."
"I always did feel that way, but then I only worked for myself and my father," said Zara.
Then the walk through the cool, green woods began. The girls started out in Indian file, but presently the trail broadened, so that they could walk two or three abreast. It was not long before they came into country that Bessie had never seen, well as she knew the woods near the Hoover farmhouse.
Wanaka, careful lest too steady a walk should tire the girls, called a halt at least once an hour, and, when the trail led up hill, oftener. And at each halt one girl or another, who had been detailed at the last stop, reported on the birds and wild animals she had seen since the last check, and, when she had done, all the others were called on to tell if they had seen any that she had missed.
"It's just like a game, isn't it?" said Zara. "I think it's great fun!"
The halt for lunch was made after they had come out of the woods, by the side of a clear spring. They were on a bluff, high above a winding country road, with a path worn by the feet of thirsty passersby who knew of the spring, and some thoughtful person had piped the water down to a big trough where horses could drink. But they could not, from the place where the fire had been made, see the road or the carriages.
"I don't think anyone will come along looking for you," Wanaka told Bessie, "but if we stay out of sight we'll surely be on the safe side."
Suddenly, as they were about to sit down, Zara cried out.
"My handkerchief!" she said. "It's gone—and I had it just before we crossed the road. I must have dropped it there. I'll go back and see."
"I'll go with you," cried Bessie, jumping up. But before she could move, Zara, laughing, had dashed off, and Bessie dropped back to her place with a smile.
"She's as quick as a flash," she said. "She always could beat me in a race. There's no use in my going after her."
But, even as she spoke, a wild cry of terror reached their ears—that and the sound of a man's coarse laughter. Bessie started to her feet, her eyes staring in fright. And she led the rush of the whole party to the edge of the bluff.
Driving swiftly down the road away from Hedgeville was a runabout. And in it Bessie saw Zara, held fast by a big man whose back she recognized at once. It was Farmer Weeks!
"Oh, that's Farmer Weeks!" she cried "He'll get them to give Zara to him, and he'll beat her and treat her terribly."
Despairingly she made to run after the disappearing horse. But Wanaka checked her, gently.
"We must be careful—and slow," she said.
A FRIEND IN NEED
"But we must do something, really we must, Miss Eleanor!" cried Bessie. "I must, I mean. Zara trusted me, and if I don't help her now, just think of what will happen."
"You must keep calm, Bessie, that's the first thing to think of. If you let yourself get excited and worked up you won't help Zara, and you'll only get into trouble yourself. You say she trusted you—now you must trust me a little. Tell me, first, just what this man will do and if he has any right at all to touch her."
"Why, he's the meanest man in town, Wanaka! He really is—everyone says so! None of the men would work for him in harvest time. They said he worked them to death and wouldn't give them enough to eat."
"Yes, but why should he pick Zara up that way and carry her off?"
"Because he wants to make her work for him. He's awfully rich, and Paw Hoover said he'd lent money to so many men in the village and all around that they had to do just what he told them, or he'd sell their land and their horses and cattle. And he said he'd make the people at the poor-farm bind Zara over to him and then she'd have to work for him until she was twenty-one, just for her board."
"That's pretty serious, Bessie. I'm sure he wouldn't be a good guardian, but if he had such influence over the men, maybe they wouldn't stop to think about that."
She was silent for a minute, thinking hard.
"Where was he going with her, Bessie? He seemed to be driving away from Hedgeville."
"Yes, he was. I suppose he was going over to Zebulon. That's the county seat, and he goes over there quite often. Almost every time they hold court, I guess. Paw Hoover said he was a mighty bad neighbor, always getting into lawsuits."
"Well, I think I'd better go to Zebulon. If I talk to him, perhaps I can make him give Zara up. How far is it, Bessie?"
"Only about two miles. But if you go, can't I go with you?"
"I think I'd better go alone, Bessie. If he saw you, he might try to take you back to the Hoovers, you know. No, I'll go alone. If it's only two miles, it won't take me long to walk there, and I can get someone to drive me back. Girls!"
They crowded about her.
"I'm going away for a little while. You are to stay here and wait for me. And keep close together. I'll get back as soon as I can. And while I'm gone you can clear up the mess we made with luncheon—when you've finished it, I mean. Now, you'd better hurry up and eat it. I won't wait."
And the guardian hurried off, determined to rescue Zara from the clutches of the old miser who was so anxious to make her work for him, because he saw a chance to get a good deal for nothing, or almost nothing. If the general opinion about Silas Weeks was anywhere near true, it would cost him mighty little to satisfy himself that he was keeping faith with the county and giving Zara, in return for her services, good board, lodging, and clothing.
Bessie watched Wanaka go off, and she tried to convince herself that everything would be all right. But, strong as was the faith she already had in Miss Mercer, she knew the ways of Silas Weeks too well to be really confident. And she couldn't get rid of the feeling that she, and no one else, was responsible for Zara. It was because of her that Zara had come away, and Bessie felt that she should make sure, herself, that Zara didn't have cause to regret the decision.
And then, suddenly, too, another thought struck her. What if she had, without intention, misled Miss Eleanor? Suppose Farmer Weeks didn't go to Zebulon at all? It was possible, for Bessie remembered now that three-quarters of a mile or so along the road was a crossroad that would lead him, should he turn there, back to Hedgeville.
With the thought Bessie could no longer remain still. She knew the roads, and she determined that she must at least find out where Zara had been taken. She might not be able to help her herself, but she could get the news, the true news, for those who could. And, saying nothing to any of the other girls, lest they should want to come with her, she slipped off silently.
She did not descend to the road. If one farmer from Hedgeville had passed already, others might follow in his wake, and Bessie was fiercely determined not to let anything check her or interfere with her until she knew what had become of Zara.
So, although she might have been able to travel faster by the road, Bessie stayed above, and hurried along, making the best progress she could, although the going was rough. She could see, without being seen. If anyone who threatened her liberty came along, she could hide easily enough behind a tree or a clump of bushes.
At the crossroad she hesitated. She wasn't sure that Farmer Weeks had turned off. He might very well, as she had thought at first, have been on his way to Zebulon.
"What a stupid I am!" she thought in a moment, however. "Of course I ought to take the crossroad! If he's gone to Zebulon Wanaka will find him, and if he hasn't, he must have gone this way. If I turn off here, there'll be someone after him, no matter which way he's gone."
So, still keeping to the side of the road, she followed the pointer on the signboard which said, "Hedgeville, six miles."
About a mile and a half from the crossroads the road Bessie was now following crossed a railroad, and as she neared that spot she moved as carefully as she could, for a suspicion that gave her a ray of hope was rising in her mind. At the railroad crossing there was a little settlement and an inn that was very popular with automobilists. And Bessie thought it was possible that Farmer Weeks might have stopped there. Miser as he was, he was fond of good food, and, since he was his own cook most of the time when he was at home, he didn't get much of it except when he was away, as he was now. Bessie had heard Maw Hoover sneer at him more than once for the way he hinted for an invitation to dinner or supper.
"Old skinflint!" Bessie had heard Maw say. "I notice he has a way of forgettin' anythin' he wants to tell Paw till jest before meal time. Then he comes over post haste, and nothin'll do but Paw's got to stand out there listenin' to him, when all he wants, really, is to have me ring the bell, so's Paw'll have to ask him to stay."
Even in her sorrow at Zara's plight, Bessie couldn't help laughing at the remembrance of those times. But then the smoke of the inn came in sight, and Bessie forgot everything but the need of caution. If Farmer Weeks were there, he must on no account see her. That would end any chance she had of helping Zara.