Read CHAPTER IX - A STARTLING DISCOVERY of A Campfire Girl's Test of Friendship , free online book, by Jane L. Stewart, on ReadCentral.com.

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

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

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

“It couldn’t be as nice as this, Dolly.”

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

“You can’t swim much in the sea, can you?  Isn’t the surf too heavy?”

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

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

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

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

“Why, Bessie, you say you may like it better when you see it?  Haven’t you ever been to the seashore?”

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

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

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

“Then you used to like to read?”

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

Dolly made a face.

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

“But you like to know about people and places you’ve never seen, don’t you?”

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

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

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

“Tell me about it, Dolly.”

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

“I’ll like the beach.”

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

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

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

“Is there any fishing?”

Dolly smacked her lips.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There you are!”

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

“Do you know what I’ve noticed most, Bessie, about the way he’s gone to work?”

“No.  What?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I expect a lot of people who heard it didn’t believe it.”

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

“But he didn’t get into any trouble for doing it, Dolly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There always are,” sighed Dolly.  “That’s the one thing I don’t like about camping out.”

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s not work, that’s fun,” declared Dolly.

“I’m glad you think so, because you will be more likely to be successful.”

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

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

Bessie laughed.

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

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

“I don’t see why,” said Dolly.

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

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

“Nothing, except that I’m a little tired, I think.”

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

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

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

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

She ran upstairs for the handkerchief.

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

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

“It’s Jake Hoover!” said Dolly excitedly.

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

“That means trouble,” said Dolly.