Read CHAPTER VI - THE GOOD SAMARITANS of A Campfire Girl's Test of Friendship , free online book, by Jane L. Stewart, on ReadCentral.com.

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

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

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

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

“I suppose he didn’t like them much, either, Bessie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, Mr. Holmes is trying to get hold of you, too, isn’t he?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Bessie, do you know what I think?”

“No.  I’m not a mind reader, Dolly!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But wouldn’t she have told me so, Dolly?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Didn’t his father ever see what a worthless scamp he was?”

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

“I’m sorry for Paw Hoover, Bessie.  He seemed like a very nice old man.”

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

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

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

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

“She certainly does, Dolly, unless she’s changed an awful lot since I was there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I never saw one before, but they certainly are splendid, and they’re awfully easy to make.”

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

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

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

“That’s all you know about it!  There are ever so many things we can do.”

“What, for instance?”

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

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

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