Read CHAPTER X - A MEETING-AND A CONVERSION of A Campfire Girl's Test of Friendship , free online book, by Jane L. Stewart, on ReadCentral.com.

“Trouble-he’s always meant that every time we’ve seen him!” said Bessie bitterly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you think she’ll let us do it?”

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

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

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

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

“All right!  I’ll obey orders,” said Dolly.  “You’re right, too, I think, Bessie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that?” asked Bessie, suddenly.  “Is that the message he sent, Dolly?”

“It certainly is,” said Dolly.  “Why, what’s the matter, Bessie?”

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

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

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

The agent looked at her time-table.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you think they’d do that, Bessie?  They promised-”

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

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

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

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

Bessie held out her hand.

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

“I’ll do it, Bessie!” said Jake.