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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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?”
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
“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?
“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
“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.