CAMP FIRE GIRLS SERIES, VOLUME III
The Camp Fire Girls at Long Lake
Bessie King in Summer Camp
JANE L. STEWART
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
Chicago AKRON, OHIO New York
MADE IN U.S.A.
The Saalfield Publishing Co.
The Camp Fire Girls at Long Lake
A GROUNDLESS JEALOUSY
"I told you we were going to be happy here, didn't I, Zara?"
The speaker was Dolly Ransom, a black-haired, mischievous Wood Gatherer of the Camp Fire Girls, a member of the Manasquan Camp Fire, the Guardian of which was Miss Eleanor Mercer, or Wanaka, as she was known in the ceremonial camp fires that were held each month. The girls were staying with her at her father's farm, and only a few days before Zara, who had enemies determined to keep her from her friends of the Camp Fire, had been restored to them, through the shrewd suspicions that a faithless friend had aroused in Bessie King, Zara's best chum.
Zara and Dolly were on top of a big wagon, half filled with new-mown hay, the sweet smell of which delighted Dolly, although Zara, who had lived in the country, knew it too well to become wildly enthusiastic over anything that was so commonplace to her. Below them, on the ground, two other Camp Fire Girls in the regular working costume of the Camp Fire—middy blouses and wide blue bloomers—were tossing up the hay, under the amused direction of Walter Stubbs, one of the boys who worked on the farm.
"I'm awfully glad to be here with the girls again, Dolly," said Zara. "No, that's not the way! Here, use your rake like this. The way you're doing it the wagon won't hold half as much hay as it should."
"Is Bessie acting as if she was your teacher, Margery?" Dolly called down laughingly to Margery Burton, who, because she was always laughing, was called Minnehaha by the Camp Fire Girls. "Zara acts just as if we were in school, and she's as superior and tiresome as she can be."
"She's a regular farm girl, that Zara," said Walt, with a grin. "Knows as much about packin' hay as I do—'most. Bessie, thought you'd lived on a farm all yer life. Zara there can beat yer all hollow at this. You're only gettin' half a pickful every time you toss the hay up. Here—let me show you!"
"I'd be a pretty good teacher if I tried to show Margery, Dolly," laughed Bessie King. "You hear how Walter is scolding me!"
"He's quite right, too," said Dolly, with a little pout. "You know too much, Bessie—I'm glad to find there's something you don't do right. You must she stupid about some things, just like the rest of us, if you lived on a farm and don't know how to pitch hay properly after all these years!"
Bessie laughed. Dolly's smile was ample proof that there was nothing ill-natured about her little gibe.
"Girls on farms in this country don't work in the fields—the men wouldn't let them," said Bessie. "They'd rather have them stay in a hot kitchen all day, cooking and washing dishes. And when they want a change, the men let them chop wood, and fetch water, and run around to collect the eggs, and milk the cows, and churn butter and fix the garden truck! Oh, it's easy for girls and women on a farm—all they have to do is a few little things like that. The men do all the hard work. You wouldn't let your wife do more than that, would you, Walter?"
The boy flushed.
"When I get married, I'm aimin' to have a hired gal to do all them chores," he said. "They's some farmers seem to think when they marry they're just gettin' an extra lot of hired help they don't have to pay fer, but we don't figger that way in these parts. No, ma'am."
He looked shyly at Dolly as he spoke, and Dolly, who was an accomplished little flirt, saw the look and understood it very well. She tossed her pretty head.
"You needn't look at me that way, Walt Stubbs," she said. "I'm never going to marry any farmer—so there! I'm going to marry a rich man, and live in the city, and have my own automobile and all the servants I want, and never do anything at all unless I like. So you needn't waste your breath telling me what a good time your wife is going to have."
Walter, already as brown as a berry from the hot sun under which he worked every day, turned redder than he had been before, if that was possible. But, wisely, he made no attempt to answer Dolly. He had already been inveigled into two or three arguments with the sharp witted girl from the city, and he had no mind for any more of the cutting sarcasm with which she had withered him up each time just as he thought he had got the best of her.
Still, in spite of her sharp tongue and her fondness for teasing him, Walt liked Dolly better than any of the girls from the city who were staying on the farm, and he was always glad to welcome her when she appeared where he was working, even though she interrupted his work, and made it necessary for him to stick to his job after the others were through in order to make up for lost time. But Dolly had little use for him, in spite of his obvious devotion, which all the other girls had noticed. And this time his silence didn't save him from another sharp thrust.
"Goin' to that ice-cream festival over to the Methodist Church at Deer Crossin' to-night?" she asked him, trying to imitate his peculiar country accent.
"I'm aimin' to," he said uncomfortably. "You said you was goin' to let me take you. Isn't that so?"
"Oh, yes—I suppose so," she said, tossing her head again. "But I never said I'd let you bring me home, did I? Maybe I'll find some one over there I like better to come home with."
Walter didn't answer, which proved that, young as he was, and inexperienced in the ways of city girls like Dolly, he was learning fast. But just then a bell sounded from the farm, and the girls dropped their pitchforks quickly.
"Dinner time!" cried Margery Burton, happily. "Come on down, you two, and we'll go over to that big tree and eat our dinner in the shade. Walter, if you'll go and fetch us a pail of water from the spring, we'll have dinner ready when you get back. And I bet you'll be surprised when you see what we've got, too—something awfully good. We got Mrs. Farnham to let us put up the best lunch you ever saw!"
"Yes you did!" gibed Walter. He wasn't half as much afraid of Margery and the other girls who never teased him, as he was of Dolly Ransom, and he didn't like them as well, either. Perhaps it was just because Dolly made a point of teasing him that he was so fond of her. But he picked up the pail, obediently enough, and went off. When he was out of hearing Bessie shook her finger reproachfully at Dolly.
"I thought you were going to be good and not tease Walter any more!" she said, half smiling.
"Oh, he's so stupid—it's just fun to tease him, and he's so easy that I just can't help it," said Dolly.
"I don't think he's stupid—I think he's a very nice boy," said Bessie. "Don't you, Margery!"
"I certainly do, Bessie—much too nice for a little flirt like Dolly to torment him the way she does."
"Well, if you two like him so much you can have him, and welcome!" cried Dolly, tossing her head. "I'm sure I don't want him tagging around after me all the time the way he does."
"Better be careful, Dolly," advised Margery, who knew her of old. "They say pride goes before a fall, and if you're not nice to him you may have to come home from the festival tonight without a beau—and you know you wouldn't like that."
"I'd just as soon not have a beau at all as have some of these boys around here," declared Dolly, pugnaciously. "I like the country, but I don't see why the people have to be so stupid. They're not half as bright as the ones we know in the city."
"I don't know about that, Dolly. Bessie's from the country, but I think she's as bright as most of the people in the city. They haven't been able to fool her very much since she left Hedgeville, you know."
"Oh, I didn't mean Bessie!" cried Dolly, throwing her arms around Bessie's neck affectionately. "You know I didn't, don't you, dear? And I'm only joking about half the time anyhow, when I say things like that."
"Here comes Walter now—we'll see whether he doesn't admit that this is the best dinner he ever ate in the fields!" said Margery.
It was, too. There was no doubt at all about that. There were cold chicken, and rolls, and plenty of fresh butter, and new milk, and hard boiled eggs, that the girls had stuffed, and a luscious blueberry pie that Bessie herself had been allowed to bake in the big farm kitchen. They made a great dinner of it, and Walter was loud in his praises.
"That certainly beats what we have out here most days!" he said. "We have plenty—but it's just bread and cold meat and water, as a rule, and no dessert. It's better than they get at most farms, though, at that."
When the meal was finished the girls quickly made neat parcels of the dishes that were to be taken back, and all the litter that remained under the tree was gathered up into a neat heap and burned.
"My, but you're neat!" exclaimed Walter, as he watched them.
"It's one of our Camp Fire rules," explained Margery. "We're used to camping out and eating in the open air, you know, and it isn't fair to leave a place so that the next people who camp out there have to do a lot of work to clean up after you before they can begin having a good time themselves. We wouldn't like it if we had to do it after others, so we try always to leave things just as we'd like to find them ourselves. And it wouldn't be good for the Camp Fire Girls if people thought we were careless and untidy."
Then they got back to work again, and the long summer afternoon passed happily, with all four of the girls doing their share of the work. The sun was still high when they had finished their work, and Walter gave the word to stop happily, since he wanted time to put on his best clothes for the trip to Deer Crossing, where the ice-cream festival was to be held. Such festivities were rare enough in the country to be made mightily welcome when they came, especially when the date chosen was a Saturday, since on Sunday those who worked in the fields every other day of the week could take things easily and lie abed late.
"Well, I'll see all you girls again to-night," he said. "I'll be along after supper, Dolly—don't forget. We're goin' to ride over together in the first wagon."
"All right," said Dolly, smiling at him, and winking shamelessly at Bessie. "Don't forget to put on that new blue necktie and to wear those pink socks, Walter."
"I sure won't," he said, not having seen her wink, and, as he turned away, Dolly looked at Bessie with a gesture of comic despair.
"I think it's very mean to laugh at Walter's clothes, Dolly," said Bessie. "They're not a bit sillier than some of the things the boys in the city wear, are they, Margery?"
"I should say not—not half as foolish. I've seen some of your pet boys wearing the sort of clothes one would expect men at the racetrack to wear, and nobody else, Dolly. You want to get over thinking you're so much better than everyone else—if you don't, it's going to make; you unhappy."
Once they were at the ice-cream festival, where all the girls and young fellows from miles around seemed to have gathered, Dolly seemed prepared to have a very good time, however. She entered into the spirit of the occasion, and, though she, like Bessie and most of the Camp Fire Girls, would not take part in the kissing games that were popular, she wasn't a bit stiff or superior.
"I wonder where that nice boy that thrashed Jake Hoover is?" she asked Bessie, after they had been there for a while.
"Oh, that's whom you're looking for!" exclaimed Bessie, with a laugh. "Will Burns, you mean? That's so, Dolly—he said he was coming here, didn't he?"
"He certainly did. I'd like to see him again, Bessie. He wasn't as stupid as most of country boys."
"He was splendid," said Bessie, warmly. "If it hadn't been for him, I might not be here now, Dolly. Jake would have got me back into the other state—he was strong enough to make me go where he wanted. And if I'd been caught there, they'd have made me stay."
"There he is now!" exclaimed Dolly, as a tall, sunburned boy appeared in the doorway. "I was beginning to be afraid he wasn't coming at all."
Will Burns, who was a cousin of Walter Stubbs, seemed to be well known to the young people of the neighborhood, though his home was near Jericho, some twenty miles away. He was greeted on all sides as he made his way through the Sunday School room, where the festival was being held, and it was some minutes before the girls from the farm saw that he was nearing them.
"Well—well, so you got home all right?" he said, smiling at Bessie. "I thought you wouldn't have any more trouble, once you got on the train. I'm glad to see you again."
And then Dolly's vanity got a rude shock. For Will Burns began to devote himself at once, after he had greeted Dolly and been introduced to Zara and some of the other girls, to Bessie. Everyone in the room soon noticed this, and since most of the girls there had tried to make him pay attention to them, at one time or another, his evident fondness for Bessie caused a little sensation. Dolly, so surprised to find a boy she fancied willing to talk to anyone else that she didn't know what to do, stood it as long as she could, and then went in search of Walter Stubbs, whom she had snubbed unmercifully all evening.
But Walter had at last plucked up courage enough to resent the way she treated him, and she found that he had bought two plates of ice-cream for Margery Burton and himself, and that they were sitting in a corner, eating their ice-cream, and talking away as merrily as if they had known one another all their lives!
Eleanor Mercer, who had come over to have an eye on the girls, saw the little comedy. She was sorry for Dolly, who was sensitive, but she knew that the lesson would be a wholesome one for the little flirt, who had been flattered so much by the boys in the city that she had come to believe that she could make any boy do just what she desired. So she said nothing, even when Dolly, without a single boy to keep her in countenance, was reduced to sitting with one or two other girls who were in the same predicament, since there were more girls there than boys.
Walter did not even come to get her to ride home with him. Instead, he found a place with Margery Burton, and Dolly had to climb into her wagon alone. There she found Bessie.
"You're a mean old thing, Bessie King!" she said, half crying.
GOOD-BYE TO THE FARM
Dolly had spoken in a low tone, her sobs seeming to strangle her speech, and only Bessie, who was amazed by this outburst, heard her. Grieved and astonished, she put her arm about Dolly, but the other girl threw it off, roughly.
"Don't you pretend you love me—I know the mean sort of a cat you are now!" she said bitterly.
"Why, Dolly! Whatever is the matter with, you? What have I done to make you angry?"
"If you were so mad at me the other day getting you into that automobile ride with Mr. Holmes you might have said so—instead of tending that you'd forgiven me, and then turning around and making everyone laugh at me to-night! You're prettier than I—and clever—but I think it's pretty mean to make that Burns boy spend the whole evening with you!"
Gradually, and very faintly, Bessie began to have a glimmering of what was wrong with her friend. She found it hard work not to smile, or even to laugh outright, but she resisted the temptation nobly, for she knew only too well that to Dolly, sensitive and nervous, laughter would be just the one thing needed to make it harder than ever to patch up this senseless and silly quarrel, which, so far, was only one sided.
To Bessie, who thought little of boys, and to whom jealousy was alien, the idea that Dolly was really jealous of her seemed absurd, since she knew how little cause there was for such a feeling. But, very wisely, she determined to proceed slowly, and not to do anything that could possibly give Dolly any fresh cause of offence.
"Dolly," she said, "you mustn't feel that way. Really, dear, I didn't do that at all. I talked to him when he came to sit down by me, but that was all. I couldn't very well tell him to go away, or not answer him when he spoke to me, could I?"
"Oh, I know what you're going to say—that it was all his fault. But if you hadn't tried to make him come he wouldn't have done it."
"I didn't try to make him come. Did you?"
Dolly stared at her a moment. The question seemed to force her to give attention to a new idea, to something she had not thought of before. But when she spoke her voice was still defiant.
"Suppose I did!" she said angrily. "I wanted to have a good time—and he was the nicest boy there—"
"Maybe he saw that you were waiting for him too plainly, Dolly. Maybe he wanted to pick out someone for himself—and if you'd pretended that you didn't care whether he talked to you or not he would have been more anxious to be with you."
Dolly blushed slightly at that, though it was too dark for Bessie to see the color in her cheeks. She knew very well that Bessie was right, but she wondered how Bessie knew it. That feigned indifference had brought her the attentions of more than one boy who had boasted that he was not going to pay any attention to her just because everyone else did.
But the gradually dawning suspicion that she might, after all, have only herself to blame for the spoiling of her evening's fun, and that she had acted in rather a silly fashion, didn't soften Dolly particularly. Very few people are able to recover a lost temper just because they find out, at the height of their anger, that they are themselves to blame for what made them angry, and Dolly was not yet one of them.
"I suppose you'll tell all the other girls about this," she said. She wasn't crying any more, but her voice was as hard as ever. "I think you're horrid—and I thought I was going to like you so much. I think I'll ask Miss Eleanor to let me share a room with someone else."
Bessie didn't answer, though Dolly waited while the wagon drove on for quite a hundred yards. Bessie was thinking hard. She liked Dolly; she was sure that this was only a show of Dolly's temper, which, despite the restrictions that surrounded her in her home, and had a good deal to do with her mischievous ways, had never been properly curbed.
But, though Bessie was not angry in her turn, she understood thoroughly that if she and Dolly were to continue the friendship that had begun so promisingly, this trouble between them must be settled, and settled in the proper fashion. If Dolly were allowed to sleep on her anger, it would be infinitely harder to restore their relations to a friendly basis.
"I suppose you don't care!" said Dolly, finally, when she decided that Bessie was not going to answer her.
And now Bessie decided on a change of tactics. She had tried arguing with Dolly, and it had seemed to do no good at all. It was time to see if a little ridicule would not be more useful.
"I didn't say so, Dolly," she answered, very quietly. And she smiled at her friend. "What's the use of my saying anything? I told you the truth about what happened this evening, and you didn't believe me. So there's not much use talking, is there?"
"You know I'm right, or you'd have plenty to talk about," said Dolly, unhappily. "Oh, I wish we'd never seen Will Burns!"
"I wish we hadn't seen him until to-night, Dolly," said Bessie, gravely. "You know, that trip in the automobile with Mr. Holmes the other day wasn't very nice for me, Dolly. If they had caught me, as Mr. Holmes had planned to do, I'd have been taken back to Hedgeville, and bound over to Farmer Weeks—and he's a miser, who hates me, and would have been as mean to me as he could possibly be. That's how we met Will Burns, you know—because you insisted on going with Mr. Holmes in his car to get an ice-cream soda."
"That's just what I said—you pretended to forgive me for that, and you haven't at all—you're still angry, and you humiliated me before all those people just to get even! I didn't think you were like that, Bessie—I thought you were nicer than I. But—"
"Dolly, stop talking a little, and just think it over. You say you didn't have a good time, and you mean that you didn't have a boy waiting around to do what you told him all evening. Isn't that so?"
"All the other girls had boys around them all the time—"
"You went with Walter Stubbs, didn't you? And you told him that maybe you'd come home with him and maybe you wouldn't—and that if anyone you liked better came along you were going to stay with them. You didn't know Will Burns was coming, did you?"
"No, but—I thought if he did come—"
"That's just it. You didn't think about Walter at all, did you. You wanted to have a good time yourself—and you didn't care what sort of a time he had! You just thought that if Will Burns did come he was sure to want to be with you, and so, as soon as you saw him come in you sent Walter off. Oh, you were silly, Dolly—and it was all your own fault. Don't you think it's rather mean to blame me? We were together when Will Burns was coming toward us, and I wanted to go away and let you stay there—but you said I must stay. Don't you remember that?"
Dolly, as a matter of fact, had quite forgotten it. But she remembered well enough, now that Bessie had reminded her of it. And, though she had a hot temper, and was fond of mischief, Dolly was not sly. She admitted it at once.
"I do remember it now, Bessie."
"Well, don't you see how absurd it is to say that I took Will away from you? We were both there together—I couldn't tell when we saw him coming that he was going to talk to me, could I? And listen, Dolly—he asked me to go home with him in his buggy, and I said I wouldn't."
With some girls that would have made the chance of mending things very remote. But Dolly, although her jealousy had been so quickly aroused, was not the sort to get still angrier at this fresh proof that she had been mistaken in thinking that Will Burns had liked her better than Bessie.
"Why, Bessie—why did you do that?"
"We're not going to be here very much longer, are we, Dolly?" she said. "Well—if we're not going to be here, we're not going to see much of Will Burns. You're not the only girl who—was—who thought that he ought to be paying more attention to her than to me. There was a pretty girl from Jericho, and he's known her a long time. Walter told me about them.
"And I could see that she wanted him to drive her home, so I asked him why he didn't do it. And he got very much confused, but he went over to her, finally, and she looked just as happy as she could be when he handed her up into his buggy, and they all went off along the road together, Will and she and two or three other fellows who had driven over together from Jericho."
Dolly's expression had changed two or three times, very swiftly, as she listened. Now she sighed, and her hand crept out to find Bessie's.
"Oh, Bessie," she said, softly, "won't you forgive me, dear? I've made a fool of myself again—I'm always doing that, it seems to me. And every time I promise myself or you or someone not to do it again. But the trouble is there are so many different ways of being foolish. I seem to find new ones all the time, and every one is so different from the others that I never know about it until it's too late."
"It's never too late to find out one's been in the wrong, Dolly, if one admits it. There aren't many girls like you, who are ready to say they've been wrong, no matter how well they know it. I haven't anything to forgive you for—so don't let's talk any more about that. Everyone makes mistakes. If I thought anyone had treated me as you thought I had treated you to-night I'd have been angry, too."
Poor Dolly sighed disconsolately.
"You're the best friend I ever had, Bessie," she said. "I make everyone angry with me, and when I say I'm sorry, they pretend that they've forgiven me, but they haven't, really, at all. That's why I said that about your still being angry with me. I thought you must be. I really am going to try to be more sensible."
And so the little misunderstanding, which might easily, had Bessie been less patient and tactful, have grown into a quarrel that would have ended their friendship before it was well begun, was smoothed over, and Dolly and Bessie, tired but happy, went upstairs to their room together, and were asleep so quickly that they didn't even take the time to talk matters over.
Eleanor Mercer, standing in the big hall of the farm house as the girls went upstairs, smiled after Dolly and Bessie.
"I think you thought I was foolish to put those two in a room together," she said to Mrs. Farnham, the motherly housekeeper, whom Eleanor had known since, as a little girl, she had played about the farm.
"I wouldn't say that, Miss Eleanor," said Mrs. Farnham. "I didn't see how they were going to get along together, because they were so different. But it's not for me to say that you're foolish, no matter what you do."
"Oh, yes, it is," laughed Eleanor. "You used to have to tell me I was foolish in the old days, when I wanted to eat green apples, and all sorts of other things that would have made me sick, and just because I'm grown up doesn't keep me from wanting to do lots of things that are just as foolish now. But I do think I was right in that"
"They do seem to get on well," agreed Mrs. Farnham.
"It's just because they are so different," said Eleanor. "Dolly does everything on impulse—she doesn't stop to think. With Bessie it's just the opposite. She's almost too old—she isn't impulsive enough. And I think each of them will work a little on the other, so that they'll both benefit by being together. Bessie likes looking after people, and she may make Dolly think a little more.
"There isn't a nicer, sweeter girl in the whole Camp Fire than Dolly, but lots of people don't like her, because they don't understand her. Oh, I'm sure it's going to be splendid for both of them. Dolly was awfully angry at Bessie before they started from the church—but you saw how they were when they got here to-night?"
"I did, indeed, Miss Eleanor. And I'd say; Dolly has a high temper, too, just to look at her."
"Oh, she has—and Bessie never seems to get; angry. I don't understand that—it's my worst fault, I think. Losing my temper, I mean. Though I'm better than I used to be. Well—good-night."
The next day was Sunday, and, of course, there was none of the work about the farm that the girls of the Camp Fire enjoyed so much. They went to church in the morning, and when they returned Bessie was surprised to see Charlie Jamieson, the lawyer, Eleanor Mercer's cousin, sitting on the front piazza. Eleanor took Bessie with her when she went to greet him.
"No bad news, Charlie?" she said, anxiously. He was looking after the interests of Bessie and of Zara, whose father, unjustly accused as Charlie and the girls believed, of counterfeiting, was in prison in the city from which the Camp Fire Girls came. Charlie Jamieson had about decided that his imprisonment was the result of a conspiracy in which Farmer Weeks, from Bessie's home town, Hedgeville, was mixed up with a Mr. Holmes, a rich merchant of the city. The reason for the persecution of the two girls and of Zara's father was a mystery, but Jamieson had made up his mind to solve it.
"No—not bad news, exactly," he said. "But I've had a talk with Holmes, and I'm worried, Eleanor. You know, that was a pretty bold thing he did the other day, when he trapped Bessie into going with him for an automobile ride and tried to kidnap her. That's a serious offense, and a man in Holmes's position in the city wouldn't be mixed up in it unless there was a very important reason. And from the way he talked to me I'm more convinced than ever that he will just be waiting for a chance to try it again."
"What did he say to you, Charlie?"
"Oh, nothing very definite. He advised me to drop this case. He reminded me that he had a good deal of influence—and that he could bring me a lot of business, or keep it away. And he said that if I didn't quit meddling with this business I'd have reason to feel sorry."
"What did you tell him?"
"To get out of my office before I kicked him out! He didn't like that, I can tell you. But I noticed that he got out. But here's the point. Are you still planning that camping trip to Lake?"
"Yes—I think it would be splendid there."
"Well, why don't you start pretty soon?" Holmes knows this country very well, and he's got so much money that, if he spends it, he can probably find people to do what he wants. Up there it's lonely country, and pretty wild, and you could keep an eye on Bessie and Zara even better than you can here. I don't know why he wants to have them in his power, but it's quite evident that their plans depend on that for success, and our best plan, as long as we're in the dark this way, and don't know the answer to all these puzzling things, is to keep things as they are. I'm convinced that they can't do anything that need worry us much as long as we have Bessie and Zara safe and sound."
"We can start to-morrow," said Eleanor. "Bessie—will you tell the girls to get ready? I'll go and make arrangements, Charlie."
And so, the next day, after lunch, the Camp Fire Girls, waving their hands to kindly Mrs. Farnham, and making a great fuss over Walter, who drove them to the station, said good-bye for the time, at least, to the farm. And Dolly Ransom, Bessie noticed, took pains to be particularly nice to Walter Stubbs.
"I love traveling," said Dolly, when they were settled in their places in the train that was to take them up into the hills and on the first stage of the journey to Long Lake. "I like to see new places and new people."
"Dolly's never content for very long in one place," said Eleanor Mercer, who overheard her remark, smiling. "If she had her way she'd be flying all over the country all the time. Wouldn't you, Dolly?"
"I don't like to know what's going to happen next all the time," said Dolly.
"I know just how you feel," Bessie surprised her by saying. "I used to think, sometimes, when I was on Paw Hoover's farm in Hedgeville, that if only I could go to sleep some night without knowing just what was going to happen the next day I'd be happy. It was always the same, too—just the same things to do, and the same places to see—"
"I should think Jake Hoover would have kept you guessing what he was going to do next," said Dolly, spitefully. "The great big bully! Oh, how glad I was when Will Burns knocked him down the other day!"
"Yes," admitted Bessie. "I didn't know just what Jake was going to tell Maw Hoover about me next—but then, you see, I always knew it was something that would get me into trouble, and that I'd either get beaten or get a scolding and have to do without my supper. So even about that it wasn't very difficult to know what was going to happen."
"Heavens—I'd have run away long before you did," said Dolly, with a shudder. "I don't see how you ever stood it as long as you did, Bessie. It must have been awful."
"It was, Dolly," said Eleanor, gravely. "I was there, and I made a point of looking into things, so that if anyone ever blamed me for helping Bessie and Zara to get away, I could explain that I hadn't just taken Bessie's word for things. But running away was a pretty hard thing to do. It's easy to talk about—but where was Bessie to go? She isn't like you—or she wasn't.
"She didn't have a lot of friends, who would have thought it was just a fine joke for her to have to run off that way. If you did it, you'd have a good time, and when you got tired of it, you'd go back to your Aunt Mabel, and she'd scold you a little, and that would be the end of it. You must have thought of trying to get away, Bessie, didn't you?"
"Oh, I did, Miss Eleanor, often and often. When Jake was very bad, or Maw Hoover was meaner than usual. But it's just as you say. I was afraid that wherever I went it would be, worse than it was there. I didn't know where to go or what to do."
"Well—that's so," said Dolly. "It has been awfully hard. But then, how did you ever get the nerve to do it at all, Bessie? That's what I don't understand. The way you act now, it seems as if you always wanted to do just as you are told."
"I thought you'd heard all about that, Dolly. You see, when we really did run away, we couldn't help it, Zara and I. And I don't believe we really meant to go quite away, the way we did—not at first. You remember when we saw you girls first—when you were in camp in the woods?"
"Oh, yes; I remember seeing you, with your head just poking out Of the door of that funny old hut by the lake. I thought it was awfully funny, but I didn't know you then, of course."
"I expect you'd have thought it was funny whether you knew us or not, Dolly. Well, you see, Zara had come over to see me the day it all happened, and Jake caught her talking with me, and locked her in the woodshed. Maw Hoover didn't like Zara, because she was a foreigner, and Maw thought she stole eggs and chickens—but never did such a thing in her life. So Jake locked her in the woodshed, and said that he was going to keep her there till Maw Hoover came home. She'd gone to town."
"Why did he want to do that?"
"Because Maw had said that if she ever caught Zara around, their place again she was going to take a stick to her and beat her until she was black and blue—and I guess she meant it, too. She liked to give people beatings—me, I mean. She never touched Jake, though, and she never believed he did anything wrong."
"If she knew him the way I do, she would," she said. "And I've only seen him twice—but that's two times too many!"
"Well, after he'd locked her in, Jake went off, and I tried to let her out. I couldn't find the key, and I was trying to break the lock on the door with a stone. I'd nearly got it done, when Jake came along and found me doing it. So he stood off and threw bits of burning wood from the fire near me, to frighten me. That was an old trick of his.
"But that time the woodshed caught fire, and he was scared. He got the key, and we let Zara out, and then he said he was going to tell Maw Hoover that we'd set the place on fire on purpose. I knew she'd believe him, and we were frightened, and ran off."
"Well, I should say so! Who wouldn't? Why, he's worse than I thought he was, even, and I knew he was pretty bad."
"We were going to Zara's place first, but that was the day they arrested Zara's father. They said he'd been making bad money, but I don't believe it. But anyhow, we heard them talking in their place—Zara's and her father's—and they said that I'd set the barn on fire, and they were going to have me arrested, and that Zara would have to go and live with old Farmer Weeks, who's the meanest man in that state. And so we kept on running away, because we knew that it couldn't be any worse for us if we went than if we stayed. So that's how we finally came away."
"Oh, how exciting! I wish I ever had adventures like that!"
"Don't be silly, Dolly," said Eleanor, severely. "Bessie and Zara were very lucky—they might have had a very hard time. And you had all the adventure you need the other day when you made Bessie go off looking for ice-cream sodas with you. You be content to go along the way you ought to and you'll have plenty of fun without the danger of adventures. They sound very nice, after they're all over, but when they're happening they're not very pleasant."
"That's so," admitted Dolly, becoming grave.
It was late in the afternoon before they reached the station at which they had to change from the main line. There they waited for a time before the little two-car train on the branch line was ready to start Short and light as it was, that train had to be drawn by two puffing, snorting engines, for the rest of the trip was a climb, and a stiff one, since Long Lake was fairly high, up, though the train, after it passed the station nearest to the lake, would climb a good deal higher.
Even after they left the train finally, they were still some distance from their destination.
"You needn't look at that buckboard as if you were going to ride in it, girls," said Eleanor, laughing, as they surveyed the single vehicle that was waiting near the track. "That's just for the baggage. Now you can see, maybe, why you were told you couldn't bring many things with you. And if that isn't enough, wait until you see the trail!"
Soon all the baggage was stowed away on the back of the buckboard and securely tied up, and then the driver whipped up the stocky horses, and drove off, while the girls gave him the Wohelo cheer.
"But how are we going to get to Long Lake?" asked Dolly, apprehensively.
"We're going to walk!" laughed Eleanor. "Come on now or we won't get there in time for supper—and I'll bet we'll all have a fine appetite for supper to-night!"
Then she took the van, and led the way across a field and into the woods that grew thickly near the track.
"This isn't the way the buckboard went!" said Dolly.
"No—We'll strike the road pretty soon, though," said Eleanor. "We save a little time by taking this trail. In the old days there wasn't any way to get to the lake, or to carry anything there, except by walking. And when they built the corduroy road they couldn't make it as short as the trail, although, wherever they could they followed the old trail. So this is a sort of short cut."
"What's a corduroy road?" asked Dolly.
"Don't you know that? I thought you knew something about the woods, Dolly. My, what a lot you've got to learn. It's made of logs and they're built in woods and places where it's hard to make a regular road, or would cost too much. All that's needed, you see, is to chop down trees enough to make a clear path, and then to put down the logs, close together. It's rough going, and no wagon with springs can be driven over it, but it's all right for a buckboard."
"Ugh!" said Dolly. "I should think it would shake you to pieces."
"It does, pretty nearly," said Eleanor, with a smile. "One usually only rides over one once—after that one walks, and is glad of the chance."
When, after a three-mile tramp, Eleanor, who was in front, stopped suddenly at a point where the trees thinned out, on top of a ridge, and called out, "Here's the lake, girls!" there was a wild rush to reach her side. And the view, when they got the first glimpse of it, was certainly worth all the trouble it had caused them.
Before them stretched a long body of water, sapphire blue in the twilight, with pink shadows where the setting sun was reflected. Perhaps two miles long, the lake was, at its widest point, not more than a quarter of a mile across, whence, of course, came its name. About it the land sloped down on all sides, into a cup-like depression that formed the lake, so that there was, on all four sides, a tree crowned ridge. From a point about half way to the far end of the lake smoke rose in the calm evening air.
"Oh, how beautiful!" cried Bessie. "It's the loveliest place I ever saw. And how wonderful the smell is."
"That's from the pine trees," said Eleanor. She sighed, as if overcome by the calm beauty of the scene, as, indeed, she was. "It's always beautiful here—but Sometimes I think it's most beautiful in winter, when the lake is covered with ice, and the trees are all weighed down with snow. Then, of course, you can walk or skate all over the lake—it's frozen four and five feet deep, as a rule, by January."
"But isn't it awfully cold here?" she inquired "Oh, yes; but it's so dry that one doesn't mind the cold half as much as we do at home when it's really ten or fifteen degrees warmer, Dolly. One dresses for it, too, you see, in thick, woolen things, and furs, and there's such glorious sport. You can break holes through the ice and fish, and then there are ice boats, and skating races, and all sorts of things. Oh, it's glorious. I've been up here in winter a lot, and I really do think that's best of all."
Then she looked at the rising smoke.
"Well, we mustn't stay here and talk any more," she said. "Come along, girls, it's getting near to supper time."
"Have we got to cook supper?" asked Dolly, anxiously.
"No, not to-night," said Eleanor, with a laugh. "The guides have done it for us, because I knew we'd all be tired and ready for a good rest, without any work to do. But with breakfast tomorrow we'll start in and do all our own work, just as we've done when we've been in camp before."
Half an hour's brisk walk took them to the site of the camp. There there was a little sandy beach, and the tents had been pitched on ground was slightly higher. Behind each tent a trench had been dug, so that, in case of rain, the water flowing down from the high ground in the rear would be diverted and carried down into the lake.
Before the tents a great fire was burning, and the girls cried out happily at the sight of plates, with knives and forks and tin pannikins set by them, all spread out in a great circle near the fire. At the fire itself two or three men were busy with frying pans and great coffee pots, and the savory smell of frying bacon, that never tastes half as good as when it is eaten in the woods, rose and mingled with the sweet, spicy smell of the balsams and the firs, the pines and the spruces.
"Oh, but I'm glad we're here!" cried Dolly, with a huge sigh of content. "And I'm glad to see supper—and smell it!"
And what a supper that was! For many the girls, like Bessie, and Zara, and Dolly, it the first woods meal. How good the bacon was, and the raised biscuit, as light and flaky as snowflakes, cooked as only woods guides know how to cook them! And then, afterward, the great plates heaped high with flapjacks, that were to be eaten with butter and maple syrup that came from the trees all about them. Not the adulterated, wishy-washy maple syrup that is sold, as a rule, even in the best grocery stores of the cities, but the real, luscious maple syrup that is taken from the running sap in the first warm days of February, and refined in great kettles, right under the trees that yielded the sap.
And then, when it was time to turn in, how they did sleep! The air seemed to have some mysterious qualities of making one want to sleep. And the peace of the great out-of-doors brooded over the camp that night.
A RECKLESS EXCURSION
In the morning, when the girls awoke, there was no sign of the guides who had cooked that tempting and delicious supper the night before.
"Well, we're on our own resources now, girls," said the Guardian. "This may be a sort of Eden—I hope we'll find it so. But it's going to be a manless one. There'll be no men here until we get ready to go away, if I can help it—except as visitors."
"Well, I guess we can get along without them all right, for a change," said Dolly, blushing a little.
"Some of the men I know who are interested in the Boy Scouts think the Camp Fire Girls are a good deal of a joke," said Eleanore, with a light in her eyes that might have made some of the scoffers she referred to anxious to eat their words. "They say we get along all right because we always have some man ready to help us out if we get into any trouble. So I planned this camp just to show them that we can do just as well as any troop of Boy Scouts ever did."
"I bet we can, too," said Dolly, eagerly. "Why, with such a lot of us to do the work, it won't be very hard for any one of us."
"Not if we all do our share, Dolly," said Eleanor, looking at her rather pointedly. "But if some of us are always managing to disappear just when there's work to be done, someone will have to do double duty—and that's not fair."
"I won't—really I won't, Miss Eleanor," said Dolly. "I know I've shirked sometimes, but I'm not going to this time. I'm going to work hard now to be a Fire Maker. I think I've been a Wood Gatherer long enough, don't, you?"
"You've served more time than is needed for promotion, Dolly. It's all up to you, as the boys say. As soon as you win the honors you need you can be a Fire Maker. You can have your new rank just as soon as you earn it."
"Bessie and I are going to be made Fire Makers together, if we can, Miss Eleanor. We talked that over the other day, at the farm, and I think well be ready at the first camp fire we have after we get home."
"Well, you'll please me very much if you do. It's time the other girls were getting up now—we've got to cook breakfast now. I'll call them while you two build a fire—there's plenty of wood for to-day, piled up over there."
AS Dolly had said, with each girl doing her share, the work of the camp was light. While some of the girls did the cooking, others prepared the "dining table"—a smooth place on the ground—and others pinned up the bottom flaps of; the tents, after turning out the bedding, so that the floors of the tents might be well aired. And then they all sat down, happily and hungrily, to a breakfast that tasted just as good as had supper the night before.
"Can we swim in the lake, Miss Eleanor?" asked Margery Burton.
"If you want to," said Eleanor, with a smile. "It's pretty cold water, though; a good deal colder than it was at the sea shore last year. You see, this lake is fed by springs, and in the spring the ice melts, and the water in April and May is just like ice water. But you'll get used to it, if you only stay in a couple of minutes at first, and get accustomed to the chill gradually. But remember the rule: no one is ever to go unless I'm right at hand, and there must always be someone in a boat, ready to help if a girl gets a cramp or any other sort of trouble."
"Oh, are there boats?" cried Dolly. "That's fine! Where are they, Miss Eleanor?"
"You shall see them after we've cleared away the breakfast things and washed up. But there's a rule about the boats, too: no one is to go out in them except in bathing suits. And remember this, when you're out on the lake. It's very narrow, and it looks very calm and safe, now.
"But at this time of the year there are often severe squalls up here, and they come over the hills so quickly that it's easy to get caught unless you're very careful. I think there had better always be two girls in each boat. We don't want any accidents."
"Can we go for walks through the woods, Miss Eleanor?"
"Oh, yes; that's the most beautiful part of being up here. But it's easy to get lost. When you start on a trail always stick to it. Don't be tempted to go off exploring. I'm going to give you all some lessons in finding your way in the woods. You know, the moss is always on the south side of a tree, and there are other ways of telling direction, by the leaves. I expect you all to be regular woodsmen when we go away from here, and I'm sure you'll learn things about the woods that will give you a good many pleasant times in the future"
"Isn't there anyone else at all up here, Miss Eleanor? I should think there'd be a hotel or something like that here."
"No, not yet; not right near here. This lake is part of a big preserve that is owned by a lot of men in the city. My father is one of them, and they have tried to keep all this part of the woods just as nature left it. There are a lot of deer here, and in the fall, when hunters come into the woods, they have to keep out of this part of them. A few deer are shot here, because if only a few are taken each year, it's all right. But there will be no hotels in this tract. Hotels mean the end of the real woods life. There are half a dozen lakes in the preserve, and each of the families that owns a share in it has a camp at one of the lakes. I mean a regular camp, with wooden buildings, where one can stay in the winter, even. But this lake was set apart for trips like this, where people can get right back to nature, and sleep in tents."
"Then we can go over and see some of the other lakes?"
"Yes; I don't know whether we'll find anyone at home in any of the camps or not, but they'll be glad to see us if they are there. A lot of people wait until later in the year to come up here—until the hunting season begins. But we can do some hunting even now, though it's against the law to do any shooting."
"Oh, I know what you mean, Miss Eleanor—with a camera?"
It was Margery Burton who thought of that.
"Yes. And that's really the best sort of hunting, I think. If you've ever seen a deer, and had it look at you with its big, soft eyes, I don't see how you can kill it. It's almost as hard to get a good picture of e deer as it is to kill it—in fact, I think it's harder, because you have to get so much closer to it And it's awfully good fun at night.
"You go to one of their runways, and settle down with your camera and a flashlight powder, and then when the deer comes, if you're very quick, you can get a really beautiful picture. The deer may be a little frightened, but he isn't hurt, and you have a picture that you can keep for years and show to people. And an experienced hunter will tell you that any time you can get close enough to a deer to get a good flashlight picture of him you could easily have killed him."
"Why is it so very hard to do that?"
"Well, for lots of reasons. You have to figure on the wind—because if the wind is blowing away from you and toward the deer he can smell you long before he's in sight, and off he goes, afraid to come any nearer."
"But how can you tell where a deer will be?"
"They have regular runways—just as we have trails. And at night they come down to the lake to drink. So you can station yourself on one of those runways, and be pretty sure that sooner or later a deer will come along."
The morning passed quickly and happily. To the girls who had never before been in that country, there seemed to be an unending number of new discoveries. Timid as the deer might be, there was nothing nervous about the squirrels and chipmunks which abounded in the woods near the lake, and as soon as they saw the girls they came running about, so that there were often half a dozen or more begging noisily for dainties to afford them a change from their diet of nuts, sitting up, and chattering prettily as they got the morsels that were tossed to them.
"I never saw them so tame, even at home," said Bessie, surprised. "We had plenty of them there, but I suppose they were wilder because the boys used to shoot them. They don't do that here, I suppose?"
"No; the people who hunt around here go in for bigger game. They would think they were wasting their time if they bothered to shoot chipmunks and squirrels."
"I've seen them tame before, but that was in the park, at home, and it isn't the same thing at all," said Dolly.
"No; though they're very cute, and I'm glad there are so many of them there. But here, of course, they're in their real home, and it's different, and much nicer, I think."
Then, after luncheon, Miss Eleanor divided the girls into watches.
"I think we'll have more fun if a certain number stay home every afternoon to prepare dinner and cook it," she said. "Then the rest of you can go for walks, or do anything you like, so long as you are back in time for dinner. In that way, some of you will be free every afternoon, and those who have to work won't mind, because they will know that the next day they will be free, and so on."
Zara was one of those who drew a piece of paper marked "work" from the big hat in which Miss Eleanor put a slip of paper for every girl, while Bessie and Dolly each drew a slip marked "play."
"To-morrow the girls who work to-day will play," said Miss Eleanor, "and those who play to-day will draw again. Four of them will play again to-morrow, and the other four will work, and then, on the third day, those who play tomorrow will work, and on the fourth day to-day's four will work again. That will give everyone two days off and one day to work while we're in camp. And I think that's fair."
So did everyone else, and Dolly, always willing to put off work as long as she could, was delighted.
"Let's take a long walk this afternoon, Bessie," she said. "The air up here makes me feel more like walking than I ever do when I'm at home. There I usually take a car whenever I can, though I've been trying to walk more lately, so as to get an honor bead."
"I'll be glad to take a walk, Dolly," said Bessie, laughing. "I think you ought to be encouraged any time you really want to do something that's good for you."
"Oh, if I stay with you long enough I'll be too good to keep on living," said Dolly. "Don't you see the difference between us, Bessie? You're good because you like to do the things you ought to do. And when anyone tells me something's good for me, I always get so that I don't want to do it. We'll start right after lunch, shall we?"
"All right," said Bessie.
But before it was time to make a start she sought out Miss Eleanor.
"I'm not really afraid, Wanaka," she said, using the Indian name, since, here in the woods, it seemed natural to do it. "But I thought I ought to ask you if you think it's all right for me to go off with Dolly? I suppose none of those people who were trying to get hold of me would do anything up here, would they?"
"Oh, I don't think so, Bessie. No, I think you're just as safe anywhere in these woods as you would be right here in the camp. There are a few guides around—they have to be kept here to warn people who make camp and don't put out their fires properly. You see, my father and the rest of the people don't mind letting nice people come here into their preserve to camp, but they've got to be careful about fire.
"You can imagine what would happen here if the woods caught fire; it would be dreadful. Further on, the woods are only just beginning to grow up again. They were all burned out a year or so ago, and they look horrid. This preserve is so beautiful that we all want to keep it looking just as nice as possible. But the guides would look after you; there's nothing to be afraid of with them.
"And I don't believe that you'd be at all likely to meet anyone else. Suppose you take the trail that starts at the far end of the lake, and follow it straight over until you come to Little Bear Lake. That's a very pretty walk. But don't go off the preserve. There's a trail that leads over to Loon Pond, but you'd better not try that until we all go as a party."
So, when the midday meal had been eaten, Bessie and Dolly started off, skirting the edge of the lake until they came to the beginning of the trail Miss Mercer had spoken of, which was marked by a birch bark sign on a tree. There they left the lake, and plunged so quickly into thick woods that the water was soon out of sight.
"Isn't this lovely? Oh, I could walk miles and miles here and never get tired at all, I believe!" said Dolly. "But I do sort of wish there was a hotel somewhere around. They have dances, and parties, and all sorts of fun at those hotels. And, Bessie, do you know I heard there was one near here, at a place called Loon Pond?"
"Yes; I think it would be fun to go there some time."
"Well, maybe we can, some time, Dolly. When Miss Eleanor is along. But we'd better not do it today. You know she said we were to stick to the preserve."
"Oh, bother; as if we could get into any mischief up here! But I suppose there wouldn't be any use in trying to persuade you; you always do just as you're told."
"Oh, I'd like to see the hotel, too, Dolly, but not today. The woods are enough for me now. And we can go there some other time, I'm sure."
Dolly said nothing more just then, and for a time they walked along quietly.
"We're about half way to Little Bear Lake now," announced Dolly, after a spell of silence.
"Why, how do you know?"
"Because I saw a map, and this ridge we've just come to is half way between the two lakes."
"Oh," said Bessie.
"Yes. We've been coming up hill so far now, the rest of the way is down hill, so it will be easier walking."
"That's good; it means that when we're going home we'll be going down for the last half of the trip, when we're tired. That's much easier than if it was the other way, I think."
"You look tired, Bessie; why don't you sit down and rest!"
"Well, that's not a bad idea, Dolly. I'm not used to so much walking lately."
"All right, sit down. I'm thirsty. I think I'll just run ahead and see if I can find a spring while you rest."
So Dolly ran ahead, and disappeared after a moment. Presently, when Bessie was rested, she started again, and soon overtook Dolly.
"We turn here," said Dolly. "See, here's another trail, and the signs show which one we're to take."
"That's funny," said Bessie, puzzled. "I thought we went to Little Bear in a perfectly straight line. Miss Eleanor didn't say anything about changing direction."
"Well, there's the sign, Bessie. If we keep straight on it says that we'll come to Loon Pond. We turn off to the right here to get to Little Bear."
"Well, I guess the sign must be right. But it certainly seems funny. I hope there isn't any mistake."
"Mistake! How can there be? Don't be silly, Bessie. There wouldn't be any chance of that. Come on."
So they turned off, and, as they followed the new trail, the trees began to grow thinner, presently. The whole character of the woods seemed to change, too. They passed numerous places where picnic parties had evidently eaten their meals, and had left blackened spots, and the remnants of their feasts.
"It seems to me some of the people who've been here have been very careless, Dolly," said Bessie, "Look, there's a place where a fire started. It didn't get very far, but it burnt over quite a little bit of ground before it was put out."
The trail began to dip sharply, too, and before long they were walking in what was almost open country. Stumps of trees were all about, and evidently wood-cutters had been at work.
"This isn't half as pretty as Long Lake," said Bessie. "Oh, Dolly, look! What's that?"
Dolly laughed in a peculiar fashion. For they had come in sight of a sheet of water, and, in plain view, not far from them, by the shore of the lake, they saw a place that could not be mistaken. It proclaimed its nature at once—a regular summer hotel, with wide piazzas, full of people. And on the water there were a score of boats and canoes, and one or two launches.
"This isn't Little Bear Lake!" said Bessie.
"Of course it isn't, silly; it's Loon Pond. I changed the signs while you rested, because I meant to come here, and I knew you wouldn't, if you knew what you were doing!"
THE GYPSY CAMP
Bessie grew red with indignation for a moment, but before she spoke she was calm again.
"Don't you think that's a pretty mean trick, Dolly?" she said, gently. "It seems to me it's a good deal like lying."
"Why, Bessie King! Can't you ever take a joke? I didn't say a single, solitary thing that wasn't so. I said the signs said this was the way to Little Bear Lake, and you never asked me if I'd changed them, did you?"
Bessie laughed helplessly.
"Oh, Dolly!" she said. "Of course I didn't; why should I? Who would ever think of doing such a thing, except you? You don't expect people to guess what you're going to do next, do you?"
"I suppose not," said Dolly, impenitently, her eyes still twinkling. "I do manage to surprise people pretty often. My aunt Mabel says that if I spent half as much time studying as I do thinking up new sorts of mischief I'd be at the top of every class I'm in at school."
"She's perfectly right. I thought at first you had a hard time with your aunt, Dolly, but I'm through being sorry for you. She needs all the sympathy anyone has got for having to try to look after you!"
"Oh, what's the harm? We're here now, and It isn't so very dreadful, is it? Come on, let's go over to the hotel."
"Indeed we shan't do anything of the sort, Dolly Ransom! We'll turn around and go right straight back to Long Lake, that's what we'll do."
"I guess not. You don't think I've come this far and that I'm going to turn around without seeing what the place is like, do you?"
"Why, Dolly, you know we weren't supposed to come here alone. I don't think much of it; it isn't half as pretty as Long Lake. What's the use of wasting our time here, anyhow?"
"Why—why—because there are people here! I just love seeing people, Bessie, they're so interesting, because they're all so different, and you never know what they're going to say or do. And there may be someone we know here, too."
"There can't be anyone I know, Dolly."
"Oh, bother! Well, there may be someone I know, and that's the same thing, isn't it? Come on, be a sport, Bessie."
"That's what you said about going in the car with Mr. Holmes the other day, too."
"Oh, but this isn't a bit like that, Bessie."
"It might get us into just as much mischief, Dolly. No, I'm not going over there. It's silly, and it's wrong."
And this time Bessie stood firm. Despite Dolly's pleading, which turned, presently, to angry threats, she refused absolutely to go any nearer the hotel, and Dolly was afraid to venture there alone, though there was very little she was afraid to do. In her inmost heart, of course, Dolly knew that Bessie was right, and that she had had no business to trick her chum into seeming to break her promise to Miss Eleanor.
"Oh, well," she said, "I might have known that I couldn't always make you do what you don't want to do, Bessie. You're not mad at me, are you?"
Bessie, pleased by this sign of surrender, returned the smile.
"I ought to be, but I'm not, Dolly," she answered. "I think that is one of the reasons you keep on doing these things—but no one ever really does get angry with you, as they should. If someone you really cared for got properly angry at you just once for one of your little tricks, I think it would teach you not to do anything of the sort for a long time."
"Oh, I don't mean any harm, Bessie, and you know it, and when people really like you they don't get angry unless they think you're really trying to be mean. I say, Bessie, if you won't go over to the hotel, will you walk just a little way over to the other side, and see what that funny looking place is where those big wagons are all spread out?"
Bessie followed Dolly's pointing finger, and saw, on the side of Loon Pond opposite the hotel, several wagons, among which smoke was rising.
"It looks like a circus," said Dolly.
"It isn't, though. I know what they are," said Bessie, promptly. "It's a gypsy encampment. Do you mean you've never seen one, Dolly?"
"No; and oh dear, Bessie, I've always wanted to. Surely we could go a little nearer, couldn't we? As long as we're here?"
Bessie thought it over for a moment, and, as a matter of fact, really could see no harm in spending ten minutes or so in walking over toward the gypsy camp. She herself had seen a few gypsies near Hedgeville in her time, but in that part of the country those strange wanderers were not popular.
"All right," she said. "But if I do that will you promise to start for home as soon as we've had a look at them, and never to play such a trick on me again?"
"I certainly will. Bessie, you're a darling. And I'll tell you something else; too; you were so nice about the way I changed those signs that I'm really sorry I did it. And I just thought it would be a good joke. Usually I'm glad when people get angry at my jokes, it shows they were good ones."
Bessie smiled wisely to herself. Gradually she was learning that the way to rob Dolly's jokes and teasing tricks of their sting, and the best way, at the same time, to cure Dolly herself of her fondness for them, was never to let the joker know that they had had the effect she planned.
Dolly, considerably relieved, as a matter of fact, when she found that Bessie was really not angry at her for the trick she had played with the sign post, chatted volubly as they turned to walk over toward the gypsy camp.
"I don't see why they call this a pond and the one we're on a lake," she said. "This is ever so much bigger than Long Lake. Why, it must; be four or five miles long, don't you think, Bessie?"
"Yes. I guess they call it a pond because it looks just like a big, overgrown ice pond. See, it's round. I think Long Lake is ever so much prettier, don't you, even though it's smaller?"
"I certainly do. This place isn't like the woods at all, it's more like, regular country, that you can find by just taking a trolley car and riding a few miles out from the city."
"It used to be just as it is now around Long Lake, I suppose," said Bessie. "But they've cut the trees down, and made room for tennis courts and all sorts of things like that, and then, I suppose, they needed wood to build the hotel, too. It's quite a big place, isn't it, Dolly?"
"Yes, and I've heard of it before, too," Dolly. "A friend of mine stayed up here for a month two or three years ago. She says they advertise that it's wild and just like living right in the woods, but it isn't at all. I guess it's for people who like to think they're roughing it when they're really just as comfortable as they would be if they stayed at home. Comfortable the same way, I mean."
"Yes, that's better, Dolly. Because I think we're comfortable, though it's very different from the way we would live in the city, or even from the way we lived at the farm. But we're really roughing it, I guess."
"Yes, and it's fine, too! Tell me, Bessie, did you ever see any gypsies like these when you lived in the country!"
"There were gypsies around Hedgeville two or three times, but the farmers all hated them, and used to try to drive them away, and Maw Hoover told me not to go near them when they were around. She usually gave me so many things to do that I couldn't, anyhow. You know, the farmers say that they'll steal anything, but I think one reason for that is that the farmers drove them into doing it, in the beginning, I mean. They wouldn't let them act like other people, and they didn't like to sell them things. So I think the poor gypsies wanted to get even, and that's how they began to steal."
"What do you suppose they're doing up here, Bessie?"
"They always go around to the summer places, and in the winter they go south, to where the people from the north go to get warm when it's winter at home. They tell fortunes, and they make all sorts of queer things that people like to buy; lace, and bead things. And I suppose up here they sell all sorts of souvenirs, too; baskets, and things like that."
"Don't they have any real homes, Bessie?"
"No; except in their wagons. They live in them all the time, and they always manage to be where it's warm in the winter. They don't care where they go, you see. One place is just like another to them. They never have settled in towns. They've been wanderers for ages and ages, and they have their own language. They know all sorts of things about the weather, and they can find their way anywhere."
"How do you know so much about them, Bessie, if you never saw anything of them when you were in Hedgeville?"
"I read a book about them once. It's called 'Lavengro,' and it's by a man who's been dead a long time now; his name was Borrow."
"What a funny name! I never heard of that book, but I'll get it and read it when I get home. It tells about the gypsies, you say?"
"Yes. But I guess not about the gypsies as they are now, but more as they used to be. We're getting close, now. See all the babies! Aren't they cute and brown?"
Two or three parties, evidently from the hotel, were looking about the camp, but they paid little attention to the two Camp Fire Girls, evidently recognizing that they did not come from the hotel. The gypsies, however, always on the alert when they see a chance to make money by selling their wares or by telling fortunes, flocked about them, particularly the women. Bessie, fair haired and blond, they seemed disposed to neglect, but Bessie noticed that several of the men looked admiringly at Dolly, whose dark hair and eyes, though she was, of course, much fairer than their own women, seemed to appeal to them.
"I'd like to have my fortune told!" Dolly whispered.
"I think we'd better not do that, Dolly, really; and you remember you said you'd stay just for a minute."
"I don't see what harm it would do," Dolly pouted. But she gave in, nevertheless. They passed the door of the strangely decorated tent inside of which the secrets of the future were supposed to be revealed, and, followed by a curious pack of children, walked on to a wagon where a pretty girl, who seemed no older than themselves; but was probably, because the gypsy women grow old so much more quickly than American girls, actually younger, was sitting. She was sewing beads to a jacket, and she looked up with a bright smile as they approached.
"You come from the hotel?" she said. "You live there?"
"No," said Dolly. "We come from a long way off. Are you going to wear that jacket?"
The gypsy girl laughed.
"No. I'm making that for my man, him over there by the tree, smoking, see? He's my man; he's goin' marry me when I get it done."
"Marry you? Why, you're only a girl like me!" she exclaimed.
"No, no; me woman," protested the gypsy, eagerly. "See, I'm so tall already!"
And she sprang up to show them how tall she was. But Bessie and Dolly only laughed the more, until Bessie saw that something like anger was coming into her black eyes, and checked Dolly's laugh.
"I hope you'll be very happy," she said. "Come on, Dolly, we really must be going."
Dolly was inclined to resist once more. She hadn't seen half as much as she wanted to of the strange, exotic life of the gypsy caravan, so different from the things she was used to, but Bessie was firm, and they began to make their way back toward the trail. And, as they neared the spot from which they had had their first view of Loon Pond and the gypsy camp, Bessie was startled and frightened by the sudden appearance in their path of the good looking young gypsy for whom the girl they had been talking to was decorating the jacket.
His keen eyes devoured Dolly as he stood before her, and he put out his hand, gently enough, to bar their way.
"Will you marry me?" he said, in English much better than that of most of his tribe.
Dolly laughed, although Bessie looked serious.
"Oh, yes, of course," said Dolly. "I always marry the first man who asks me, every day; especially if he's a gypsy and I've never seen him before."
"You're too young now; you think you are, I suppose," said the gypsy, showing his white teeth. "You come back with me and wait; by and by we will get married."
"Nonsense," said Bessie, decisively. "He means it, Dolly, he's not joking. Come, we must hurry."
"Wait, stay," said the gypsy, eagerly. And he put out his hand as if to hold Dolly. But she screamed before he could touch her, and darted past him. And in a moment both girls, running hard, were out of sight.
A SERIOUS JOKE
Bessie, seriously alarmed, led the race through the woods and they had gone for nearly a quarter of a mile before she would even stop to listen. When she felt that if the gypsy were going to overtake them he would have done it, she stopped, and, breathing hard, listened eagerly for some sign that he was still behind them. But only the noises of the forest came to their ears, the rustling of the leaves in the trees, the call of a bird, the sudden sharp chattering of a squirrel or a chipmunk, and, of course, their own breathing.
"I guess we got away from him all right," she said. "Oh, Dolly, I was frightened!"
"What?" cried Dolly, amazed. "Do you mean to say that you let that silly gypsy frighten you? I thought you were braver than that, Bessie!"
"You don't know anything about it, Dolly," said Bessie, a little irritated. "It really wasn't your fault, but those people aren't like our men. He probably meant just what he said, and if he thought you were laughing at him, it would have made him furious. When you said you would marry him, of course I knew you were joking, and so would anyone like us, but I think he took you seriously. He thought you meant it!"
"Bessie! How absurd! He couldn't! Why, I won't marry anyone for ever so long, and he surely doesn't think an American girl would ever marry one of his nasty tribe! You're joking, aren't you! He couldn't ever have really thought anything so perfectly absurd?"
"I only hope we won't find out that he was serious, Dolly. You couldn't be expected to understand, but people like that are very different from ourselves. They haven't got a lot of civilized ideas to hold them in check, the way we have, and when they want something they come right out and say so, and if they can't get what they want by asking for it, they're apt to take it."
"But I didn't think anyone ever acted like that! And he is going to marry that pretty gypsy girl who is putting the beads and buttons on a jacket for him, anyhow. She said so; she said they were engaged."
"Men have changed their minds about the women they were going to marry, Dolly, even American men. And that's another thing that bothers me. I think that girl's very much in love with him, and if she thought he was fond of you, she'd be furious. There's no telling what a gypsy girl might do if she was jealous. You see, she'd blame you, instead of him. She'd say you had turned his head."
"Oh, Bessie, what a dreadful mess. Oh, dear! I seem to be getting into trouble all the time! I think I'm just going to have a little harmless fun, and then I find that I've started all sorts of trouble that I couldn't foresee at all."
"Never mind, Dolly. You didn't mean to do it, and, of course, I may be exaggerating it anyhow. I'll admit I'm frightened, but it's of what I know about the gypsies. They're strange people and they carry a grudge a long time. If they think anyone has hurt them, or offended them, they're never satisfied until they have had their revenge. But, after all, he may not do anything at all. He may have been joking. Perhaps he just wanted to frighten you."
"Oh, I really do think that must have been it, Bessie. Don't you remember that he was different from the others! He spoke just as well as we do, as if he'd been to school, and he must know more about our customs."
Bessie shook her head.
"That doesn't mean that he isn't just as wild and untamed as the others down at bottom, Dolly. I've heard the same thing about Indians; that some of those who make the most trouble are the very ones who've been to Carlisle. It isn't because they're educated, because they would have been wild and wicked anyhow, but the very fact that they are educated seems to make them more dangerous. I hope it isn't the same with this gypsy; but we've got to be careful."
"Oh, I'll be careful, Bessie," said Dolly, with a shudder. "I'll do whatever I'm told. You needn't worry about that."
"That's good, Dolly. The first thing, of course, is never to get far away from the camp alone. We mustn't come over this way at all, or go anywhere near Loon Pond as long as those gypsies are still there."
"Oh, Bessie, do you think we'll have to tell Miss Eleanor about this?"
"I'm afraid so, Dolly. But there's no reason why you should mind doing that. She won't blame you, it really wasn't your fault."
"Yes, it was, Bessie. Don't you remember the way I changed the signs! If I hadn't done that we wouldn't have gone to Loon Pond, and if we hadn't gone there—"
"We wouldn't have seen the gypsies? Yes I know, Dolly. But Miss Eleanor is fair, you know that. And she may scold you for playing trick with the signs, but that's all. She won't blame you for having misunderstood that gypsy."
Then they came to the crossing of the trails, and Dolly replaced the signs as they had been before she had played her thoughtless prank.
"We must hurry along, Dolly," said Bessie. "It's getting dark, and we don't want to be out here when it's too dark. I think it's safe enough, but—"
"Oh, suppose that horrid gypsy followed us through the woods, Bessie? That's what you mean, isn't it! Let's get back to the camp just as fast as ever we can."
"Bessie, I'm an awful coward, I'm afraid," Dolly said, as the camp was approached. "Will you tell Miss Eleanor what happened; everything! I'm afraid that if I told her myself I wouldn't put in what I did with the signs."
"You wouldn't tell her a story, Dolly?"
"No, but I might just not tell her that. You see, I wouldn't have really to tell her a story, and, oh, Bessie, I want her to know all about it. Then if she scolds me, all right. Can't you understand?"
"I'll do it if you like, Dolly, but I'm quite sure you'd tell her everything yourself. You're not a bit of a coward, Dolly, because when you've done something wrong you never try to pretend that it was the fault of someone else, or an accident."
"Do you think I ought to tell Miss Eleanor myself?" said Dolly, wistfully. "I will if you say so, Bessie, but I'd much rather not."
"No, I'll tell her," Bessie decided. "I think you're mistaken about yourself, Dolly, and the reason I'm going to tell her is because I think you'd make her think you were worse than you were, instead of not telling her the whole thing. Do you see?"
"You're ever so good, Bessie. Really, I'm going to try to stop worrying you so much after this. It seems to me that you're always having things to bother you on account of me."
Miss Eleanor, at first, like Dolly, was inclined to laugh at what Bessie told her of the gypsy and his absurd suggestion that Dolly should stay with his tribe until she was old enough to be married to him.
"Why, he must have been joking, Bessie," she said. "You say he talked well; as if he were educated? Then he surely knows that no American girl would take such an idea seriously for a moment."
"But American girls do live with the gypsies and marry them, Miss Eleanor. Often, I've heard of that. And if you'd seen him when he got in our way on the trail you'd know why he frightened me. His face was perfectly black, he was so angry. And when Dolly laughed at him he looked as if he would like to beat her."
"I can understand that," laughed Miss Eleanor. "I've wanted to beat Dolly myself sometimes when she laughed when she was being scolded for something!"
"Oh, but this was different," said Bessie, earnestly. "Really, Miss Eleanor, you'd have been frightened too, if you'd seen him. And I do think Dolly ought to be very careful until they've gone away from Loon Pond."
Bessie was so serious that Miss Eleanor was impressed, almost despite herself.
"Well, yes, she must be careful, of course. I don't want the girls going over to Loon Pond, anyway. I want them to have this time in the woods, and live in a natural way, and the Loon Pond people at the hotel just spoil the woods for me. But I don't believe there's any reason for being really frightened, Bessie."
"Suppose that man tried to carry her off?"
"Oh, he wouldn't dare to try anything like that, Bessie. I don't believe the gypsies are half as bad as they are painted, anyhow, but, even if he would be willing to do it, he'd be afraid. The guides would soon run him out of the preserve if they found him here; no one is supposed to be on it, without permission. And a gypsy couldn't get that, I know."
"But it's a pretty big place, and there aren't so very many guides. We didn't see one today, and we really took quite a long walk."
"But, Bessie, what would he do with her if he did carry her off? Those people travel along the roads, and they travel slowly. He must know that if anything happened to Dolly, or if she disappeared, he'd be suspected right away, and he'd be chased everywhere he went."
"I think it would be easy to hide someone in their caravans, though, Miss Eleanor. And those people stick together, so that no one would betray him if he did anything like that. We might be perfectly sure that he had done it, but we wouldn't be able to prove it."
"I'll speak to the guides and have them keep a good watch in the direction of Loon Pond, Bessie. There, will that make you feel any better? And those gypsies won't stay over there very long. They never do."
"Have they been here before, Miss Eleanor?"
"Oh, yes; every year when I've been here."
"Well, I'll feel better when they've gone, Miss Eleanor."
"So will I. You've made me quite nervous, Bessie. I think you'd better tell Dolly, and be careful yourself, not to tell the other girls anything about this. There's no use in scaring them, and making them feel nervous, too."
"No. I thought of that, too. Some of them would be frightened, I'm sure. I think Zara would be. She's been very nervous, anyhow, ever since we got her away from that awful house where Mr. Holmes had hidden her away from us."
"I don't blame her a bit; I would be, too. It was really a dreadful experience, Bessie, and particularly because she knew it was, in a way, her own fault."
"You mean because she believed what they said about being her friends, and that she would get you and me into trouble unless she went with them that night when they came for her?"
"Yes. Poor Zara! I'm afraid she guessed, somehow, that I had been angry with her, at first. She's terribly sensitive, and she seems to be able to guess what's in your mind when you've really scarcely thought the things yourself."
"Well, I think it will be a good thing if she doesn't know about this gypsy trouble, Miss Eleanor. So I'll go and find Dolly, and tell her not to say anything."
"Do, Bessie. And get Dolly to come to me before dinner. She was wrong to play that trick with the signs, but I don't mean to scold her. I want to comfort her, instead. I think she's been punished enough already, if she's really frightened about that gypsy."
Dolly seemed to be a good deal chastened after her talk with Eleanor, and Bessie felt glad that the Guardian, though she evidently did not take the episode of the gypsy as seriously as did Bessie, had still thought it worth while to let Dolly think she did.
"I'm going to stay close to the camp after this, Bessie," she said. "And, oh, Miss Eleanor said that there were footprints this morning near the water that a deer must have made. I've got my camera here; suppose we try to get a picture of one tonight? We could go to sleep early, and then get up. Miss Eleanor said it would be all right, just for the two of us. She said if any more sat up it would frighten the deer."
"All right," agreed Bessie. "That would be lots of fun."
So they slept for an hour or so, and then, about midnight, got up and went down to the shore of the lake, to a spot where a narrow trail came out of the woods. There they hid themselves behind some brush and placed Dolly's camera and a flashlight powder, to be ready in case the deer appeared.
They waited a long time. But at last there was a rustling in the trees, and they could hear the branches being pushed aside as some creature made its way slowly toward the water.
"All ready, Bessie?" whispered Dolly. "When I give you a squeeze press that button; that will set the flashlight off, and I'll take the picture as you do it."
They waited tensely, and Bessie was as excited as Dolly herself. She felt as if she could scarcely wait for the signal. Dolly held her left hand loosely, and two or three times she thought the grip was tightening. But the signal came at last, and there was a blinding flash. But it was not a deer which stood out in the glare; it was the gypsy who had pursued Dolly!
A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
The glare of the explosion lasted for only a moment. Dolly's eyes were fixed on the camera, as she bent her head down, and Bessie realized, thankfully, that she had not seen the evil face of the gypsy. As for the man, he cried out once, but the sound of his voice was drowned by the noise of the explosion. And then, as soon as the flashlight powder had burned out, the light was succeeded by a darkness so black that no one could have seen anything, so great was the contrast between it and the preceding illumination.
"Come, Dolly! Quick! Don't stop to argue! Run!" urged Bessie.
She seized Dolly's hand in hers, and made off, running down by the lake, and, for a few steps, actually through the water. Her one object was to get back to the camp as quickly as possible. She thought, and the event proved that she was right, the gypsy, if he saw them nearing the camp fire, which was still burning brightly, would not dare to follow them very closely.
He had no means of knowing that there were no men in the camp, and, while he might not have been afraid to follow them right into camp had he known that, Bessie judged correctly that he would take no more chances than were necessary.
"Bessie, are you crazy?" gasped Dolly, as they came into the circle of light from the fire. "My feet are all wet! Whatever is the matter with you? You nearly made me smash my camera!"
"I don't care," said Bessie, panting, but immensely relieved. "Sit down here by the fire and take off your shoes and stockings; they'll soon get dry. I'm going to do it."
She was as good as her word, and not until they had dried their feet and set the shoes and stockings to dry would she explain what had caused her wild dash from the scene of the trap they had laid for the deer, and which had so nearly proved to be a trap for them, instead.
"If you'd looked up when that powder went off you'd have run yourself, Dolly, without being made to do it," she said, then. "That wasn't a deer we heard, Dolly."
"What was it, a bear or some sort of a wild animal?"
"No, it was a man."
Dolly's face was pale, even in the ruddy glow of the fire.
"You don't mean—it wasn't—"
"The gypsy? Yes, that's just who it was, Dolly. He's found out somehow where we are, you see. It's just what I was afraid of, that he would manage to follow us over here. But I'm not afraid now, as long as we know he's around. I don't see how he can possibly do you any harm."
"Oh, Bessie, what a lucky, lucky thing that we saw him! If we hadn't just happened to try to get that picture we would never have done it. The nasty brute! The idea of his daring to follow us over here. Do you think he would have really tried to carry me back to his tribe, Bessie?"
"I don't know, Dolly. His face looked awful when I saw it in the glare. But then, of course, he was terribly surprised. He probably thought he was the only soul awake for miles and miles, and to have that thing go off in one's face would startle anybody, and make them look pretty scary."
"I should say so! You have to pucker up your face and shut your eyes. Do you think he saw us, Bessie?"
"I shouldn't think it was very likely, Dolly. You see, it's just as you say. The glare of a flashlight is blinding, when it goes off suddenly like that, right in front of you. I don't think you're likely to see much of anything except the glare. And, of course, he hadn't the slightest reason to be expecting to see us. I expect he's more puzzled and frightened than we are; he's certainly a good deal more puzzled."
"Then maybe he'll be so frightened that he'll go back to his people and let me alone, Bessie."
"I certainly hope so, Dolly. It really doesn't seem possible that he'd dare to carry you off, even if he could get hold of you. He'd know that we'd be sure to suspect that he was the one who had done it, and even a gypsy ought to know what happens to people who do things like that. I don't see how he could hope to escape."
"But, Bessie, I was thinking: suppose he didn't carry me to the place where the other gypsies are? Suppose he took me right off into the woods somewhere, and hid?"
"You'd both have to have food, Dolly. And as he couldn't get that very easily, he'd be taking a big chance of getting caught. No, what I really think is that he wants to see you, and try to persuade you to go with him willingly. Then he wouldn't be in any danger, you see."
"Ugh! He must be an awful fool to think he could do that!"
"Well, he's not bad looking, Dolly. And he's probably vain. The chances are that all the gypsy girls set their caps at him, because, if you remember, he was about the only good looking young man there in their camp. Most of the men were married. So, if he's always been popular with the girls of his own people, he may have got the idea that he's quite irresistible. That all he's got to do is to tell a girl he wants to marry her to have her fall right into his arms, like a ripe apple falling from a tree."
"The horrid brute! If he ever comes near me again, I'll slap his face for him."
"You'd better not do anything of the sort. The best thing for you to do if you ever see him anywhere near you again is to run, just as hard as you can. Dolly, you've no idea of the rage a man like that can fly into. If you struck him you can't tell what he might try to do. But I hope you'll never see him again."
Dolly shivered a little.
"Are you sleepy, Bessie?" she asked.
"No, I think I'm too excited to be sleepy. It was so startling to be expecting to see a deer, and then to see his face in the light. No, I'm not sleepy."
"Oh, Bessie! Isn't it possible that you were mistaken? You know, you couldn't have seen his face for more than a moment, if you did see it. Weren't you thinking so much of that gypsy that you just fancied you saw him, when you really didn't at all?"
"No, no, I'm quite sure, Dolly. I was perfectly certain it was a deer, and that was all I was thinking about. And I heard him cry out, too. That would be enough to make me certain that I was right. A deer wouldn't have cried out, and it wouldn't have stood perfectly still, either. It would have turned around and run as soon as it saw the light; any animal would have. It would have been too terrified to do anything else."
"But don't you suppose he was frightened? Why didn't he run?"
"Were you ever so frightened that you couldn't do a thing but just stand still? I have been; so frightened that I couldn't even have cried out for help, and couldn't have moved for a minute or so, for anything in the world.
"I think he may have been frightened that way. Men aren't like animals, they're more likely to be too frightened to move than to run away because they're afraid. And the fear that makes a man run away is a different sort, anyhow."
"It's getting cold, isn't it?"
"Yes, the fire's burning low. We'd better get to bed, Dolly."
"Oh, no; I couldn't. I don't want to be there in the dark. I'm sure I couldn't sleep if I went to bed. I'd much rather sit out here by the fire and talk, if you're not sleepy. And you said you weren't."
"I suppose we could get some more wood and throw it on the fire. It would be warm enough then, if we got a couple of blankets to wrap around us."
"I think it's a good idea to stay awake and keep watch, anyhow, in case he should come back. Then, if he saw someone sitting up by the fire he would be scared off, I should think."
"All right. Slip in as quietly as you can, Dolly, and get our blankets from the tent, while I put on some more wood. There's lots of it, that's a good thing. There's no reason why we shouldn't use it."
So, while Dolly crept into their tent to get the; blankets, Bessie piled wood high on the embers of the camp fire, until the sparks began to fly, and the wood began to burn with a high, clear flame. And when Dolly returned she had with her a box of marshmallows;
"Now we'll have a treat," she said. "I forgot all about these. I didn't remember I'd brought them with me. Give me a pointed stick and I'll toast you one."
Bessie looked on curiously. The joys of toasted marshmallows were new to her, but when she tasted her first one she was prepared to agree with Dolly that they were just the things to eat in such a spot.
"I never liked them much before," said Bessie. "They're ever so much better when they're toasted this way."
"They're good for you, too," said Dolly, her mouth full of the soft confection. "At least, that's what everyone says, and I know they've never hurt me. Sometimes I eat so much candy that I don't feel well afterwards, but it's never been that way with toasted marshmallows. My, but I'm glad I found that box!"
"So'm I," admitted Bessie. "It seems to make the time pass to have them to eat. Here, let me toast some of them, now. You're doing all the work."
"I will not, you'd spoil them. It takes a lot of skill to toast marshmallows properly," Dolly boasted. "Heavens, Bessie, when there is something I can do well, let me do it. Aunt Mabel says she thinks I'd be a good cook if I would put my mind to it, but that's only because she likes the fudge I make."
"How do you make fudge?"
"Why, Bessie King! Do you mean to say you don't know? I thought you were such a good cook!"
"I never said so, Dolly. I had to do a lot of cooking at the farm when Maw Hoover wasn't well, but she never let me do anything but cook plain food. That's the only sort we ever had, anyhow. So I never got a chance to learn to make fudge or anything like that."
"Well, I'll teach you, when we get a good chance, Bessie," promised Dolly, seriously.
"I'll be glad to take lessons from you, Dolly," she said. "I think it would be fine to know how to make all sorts of candy. Then, if you did know, and could do it really well, you could make lots of it, and sell it. People always like candy, and in the city a lot of the shops have signs saying that they sell Home Made Candy and Fudge. So people must like it better than the sort they make in factories."
"I should say so, Bessie. But most of those stores are just cheating you, because the stuff they sell isn't home made at all. Everyone says mine is much better."
Bessie grew serious.
"Why, Dolly," she said, "I think it would be a fine idea to make candy to sell! I really believe I'd like to do that—"
"I bet you would make just lots and lots of money if you did," said Dolly, taking hold of a new idea, as she always did, with enthusiasm. "And we could get one of the stores to sell it for us and keep some of the money for their trouble. Suppose we sold it for fifty cents a pound, the store would get twenty or twenty-five cents and we'd get the rest. And—"
"You're not forgetting that it costs something to make, are you!" she asked. "You have to allow for what it costs before you begin to think of how you're going to spend your profits. But I really do think it would work, Dolly. When we get back to town we'll figure it all out, and see how much it would cost for butter and sugar and nuts and chocolate and all the things we'd need."
"Yes, and if we used lots of things we'd get them cheaper, too, Bessie," said Dolly, surprising Bessie by this exhibition of her business knowledge. "Oh, I think that would be fine. I'd just love to have money that I'd earned myself. Some of the other girls have been winning honor beads by earning money, but I never could think of any way that I could do it."
Dolly was beginning to yawn, and Bessie herself felt sleepy. But when she proposed that they should go into the tent now Dolly protested.
"Oh, let's stay outside, Bessie," she said. "If we went in now we'd just wake ourselves up. We can sleep out here just as well as not. What's the difference!"
And Bessie was so sleepy that she was glad to agree to that. In a few moments they were sound asleep, with no thought of the exciting episodes of the day and night to disturb them.
The fire was low when Bessie awoke with a start. At first everything seemed all right; she could hear nothing. But then, suddenly, she looked over to where Dolly had been lying. There was no sign of her chum! And, just as Bessie herself was about to cry out, she heard a muffled call, in Dolly's tones, and then a loud crashing through the undergrowth near the camp, as someone or something made off swiftly through the woods! The gypsy had come back!
For a moment Bessie was too paralyzed with fear even to cry but. It was plain that the gypsy had carried poor Dolly away with him, and that, moreover, he had muffled her one cry for help. For a moment Bessie stood wondering what to do. To alarm the camp would be almost useless, she felt; the girls, waking up out of a sound sleep, could do nothing until they understood what had happened, and even then the chances were against their being able to help in any practical manner.
And so Bessie fought down that blind instinct to scream out her terror, and, in a moment, throwing off her blanket, she began to creep out into the black woods, dark now as pitch, and as impenetrable, it seemed, as one of the tropical jungles she had read of.
One thing Bessie felt to be, above everything, necessary. She must find out what the gypsy meant to do, and where he was taking Dolly. If, by some lucky chance, she could track him, there would be a far better opportunity to rescue Dolly in the morning, when the guides would be called to help, and, if necessary, men from the hotel at Loon Pond and other places in the woods. To such a call for help, Bessie knew well there would be an instant response.
"He'll never go back to the camp," Bessie told herself, trying to argue the problem out, so that she might overlook none of the points that were involved, and that might make so much difference to poor Dolly, who was paying so dear a price for her prank. "If he did, he'd be sure that there would be people there, looking for him, as soon as the word got around that Dolly was missing."
She stopped for a moment, to listen attentively, but though the woods were full of slight noises, she heard nothing that she could decide positively was the gypsy. Still, burdened as he was with Dolly, it seemed to Bessie that he must make some noise, no matter how skilled a woodsman he might be, and how much training he had had in silent traveling in his activities as a poacher and hunter of game in woods where keepers were on guard.