Read CHAPTER XI - A NARROW ESCAPE of A Campfire Girl's Test of Friendship , free online book, by Jane L. Stewart, on ReadCentral.com.

Despite Dolly’s frantic curiosity, Bessie drew Jake aside where there was no danger of their being overheard by any of the others in the station, and talked to him earnestly for a long time.  Jake seemed to have changed his whole attitude.  He was plainly nervous and frightened, but Dolly could see that he was listening to Bessie with respect.  And finally he threw up his head with a gesture entirely strange to him, and, when Bessie held out her hand, shook it happily.

“Here’s Mr. Jamieson’s address,” said Bessie, writing on a piece of paper which she handed to him.  “Now you go straight to him, and do whatever he tells you.  You’ll be all right.  How soon will you start?”

“There’s a train due right now,” said Jake, excitedly.  “I’ll get aboard, and as soon as I get to town I’ll do just as you say, Bessie.  Good-bye.”

“Good-bye, Jake-and good luck!” said Bessie warmly.  “We’re going to be good friends, now.”

“Well, I never!” gasped Dolly.  She stared at Jake’s retreating form, and then back to Bessie, as if she were paralyzed with astonishment.  “Whatever does this mean, Bessie?  I should think you would be pretty hard up for friends before you’d make one of Jake Hoover!”

“Jake’s been more stupid than mean, Dolly.  And he’s found out that he’s been wrong, I’m sure.  From this time he’s going to do a whole lot for us, unless I’m badly mistaken.  I’m sure it’s better to have him on our side than against us.”

“I’m not sure of anything of the sort, Bessie.  But do tell me what happened.  Why did you send that telegram to Miss Eleanor?  And what was in it?”

“I sent it because if I hadn’t she would have walked right into a trap-she and Zara.  Maybe it was too late, but I hope not.  And our staying behind here was a mighty lucky thing.  If we hadn’t had some warning of what Mr. Holmes and the others were planning, I don’t know what would have happened!  Zara and I would have been caught, I’m quite sure.”

“Don’t be so mysterious, Bessie,” begged Dolly.  “Tell me what you found out, can’t you?  I’m just as excited and interested as you are, and I should think you would know it, too.”

“You’ll see it all soon enough, Dolly.  Let’s find out how soon the next train comes.”

“In twenty minutes,” said the ticket agent, in answer to the question.

“And is it a through train-an express?” asked Bessie.  “Have you a time-table?  I’d like to see just where it stops.”

She got the time-table, and, after she had examined it carefully, heaved a sigh of relief.

“The train doesn’t stop at any place that isn’t marked down for it on the time-table, does it?” she said, as she bought the tickets.

“No, indeed.  That’s a limited train, and it’s almost always on time.  They wouldn’t stop that except at the regular places for anyone.”

“That’s all right, then,” said Bessie.  “Dolly, can’t you see the point yet for yourself?  Go and look at the map, and if you can’t see then, why, I’m not going to tell you!  If you’re as stupid as all that, you deserve to wait!”

Bessie laughed, but Dolly understood that the laugh was not one of amusement alone, but that Bessie was undergoing a reaction after some strain that had worried her more than she was willing to admit or to show.

“I guess I’m stupid all right,” she said, after she had looked at the map.  “I don’t know what you’re driving at, but I suppose you do, and that makes it all right.  I’m willing to do whatever you say, but I do like to know why and how things like that are necessary.  And I don’t think I’m unreasonable, either.”

“You’re not,” said Bessie, suddenly contrite.  “But, Dolly dear, I don’t want everyone here to know all about us, and the things that are happening to us.  You won’t mind waiting a little for an explanation, will you?”

“Not when you ask that way,” said Dolly, loyally.  “But I don’t like to have you act as if it were stupid of me not to be able to guess what it is.  You wouldn’t have known yourself, would you, if Jake Hoover hadn’t told you when you two were whispering together?”

“I knew it before that.  That’s one reason I was able to make Jake tell me what he did, Dolly.  I suppose you don’t like my making up with him, either, do you?”

“Oh, no, I don’t like it.  But that doesn’t make any difference.  I daresay you’ve got some very good reason.”

“I certainly have, Dolly, and you shall know it soon, too.  Listen, there’s our train whistling now!  We’ll start in a minute or two.”

“Well, that’s good.  I hate mysteries.  Do you know, Bessie, that if this train only makes one or two stops, we shall be at Plum Beach very soon after Miss Eleanor and the other girls get there?”

“I’m glad of it, Dolly.  Tell me, there isn’t any station at Plum Beach, is there?”

“No, we’ll go to Bay City, and then go back on another train to a little station called Green Cove, and that’s within a mile of the beach.  It’s on a branch railroad that runs along the coast from Bay City.”

Then the train came along, and they climbed aboard, happy in having outwitted the enemies of Bessie and Zara.  Dolly did not share Bessie’s enthusiasm over the conversion of Jake Hoover, though.

“I don’t trust him, Bessie,” she said.  “He may have really meant to turn around and be friends with us, but I don’t think he can stick to a promise.  I don’t know that he means to break them, but he just seems to be helpless.  You think he’s afraid of Mr. Holmes and those men, don’t you?”

“Yes, and he as good as admitted it, too, Dolly.”

“Well, what I’m afraid of is that he will see them again, and that he’ll do whatever the people he happens to be with tell him.”

“I suppose we’ve got to take that much of a chance, Dolly.  We really haven’t much choice.  My, how this train does go!”

“Why are you looking at your map and your time-table so carefully, Bessie?”

“I want to be sure to know when we’re getting near Canton, Dolly.  When we do, you must keep your eyes open.  You’ll see something there that may explain a whole lot of things to you, and make you understand how silly you were not to see through this plot.”

Canton was a town of considerable size, and, though the train did not stop there, it slowed down, and ran through the streets and the station at greatly reduced speed.  And as the car in which they were sitting went through the station Bessie clutched Dolly’s arm, and spoke in her ear.

“Look!” she said.  “There on the platform!  Did you ever see those men before?”

Dolly gave a startled cry as her eyes followed Bessie’s pointing finger.

“Mr. Holmes!” she exclaimed.  “And that’s that little lawyer, Mr. Brack.  And the old man with the whiskers-”

“Is Farmer Weeks, of course!  Do you see the fourth man standing with them?  See how he pushes his coat back!  He’s a constable and he’s so proud of it he wants everyone to see his badge!”

“Bessie!  Do you mean they were waiting here for you?”

“For me and Zara, Dolly!  If I had been on a train that stopped here-but I wasn’t!  And I guess Miss Eleanor must have got my telegram in time to hide Zara so that they didn’t find her on the other train, too, or else we’d see something of her.”

Dolly laughed happily.  Then she did a reckless thing, showing herself at the window, and shaking her fist defiantly as the car, with rapidly gathering speed, passed the disconsolate group on the station platform.  Holmes was the first to see her, and his face darkened with a swift scowl.  Then he caught sight of Bessie, and, seizing Brack’s arm, pointed the two girls out to him, too.  But there was nothing whatever to be done.

The train, after slowing down, was already beginning to move fast again, and there was no way in which it could be stopped, or in which the group of angry men on the platform could board it.  They could only stand in powerless rage, and look after it.  Bessie and Dolly, of course, could not hear the furious comments that Holmes was making as he turned angrily to old Weeks.  But they could make a guess, and Dolly turned an elfin face, full of mischievous delight, to Bessie.

“That’s one time they got fooled,” she exclaimed.

“I’m sorry they found out we were on this train, though,” said Bessie, gravely.  “It means that we’ll have trouble with them after we get to Plum Beach, I’m afraid.”

“Who cares?” said Dolly.  “If they can’t do any better there than they’ve done so far on this trip, we needn’t worry much, I guess.”

“Well, do you see what they were up to, now, Dolly?”

Dolly wrinkled her brows.

“I guess so,” she said.  “They meant to come aboard the train at Canton and try to get hold of you and Zara.  But I don’t see why-”

“Why they should pick out Canton rather than any other station where the trains stop along the line?”

“That’s just it, Bessie.  Why should they?”

“That’s the whole point, Dolly.  Look at this map.  Do you see the state boundaries?  For just a little way this line is in the state Canton is in-and Canton is in the same state as Hedgeville!”

“Oh!” gasped Dolly.  “You were right, Bessie, I was stupid!  I might have thought of that!  That’s why they had Jake there, and what his telegram was.  But how clever of you to think of it!  How did you ever guess it?”

“I just happened to think that if we did go into that state, it would be easy for them to get hold of Zara and me, if they only knew about it beforehand.  Because, you see, in that state Farmer Weeks is legal guardian for both of us, and he could make us come with him if he caught us there.”

“Well, I think it was mighty clever of you.  Of course, when you had the idea, it was easy to see it, once you had the map so that you could make sure.  But I never would have thought of it, so I couldn’t have looked it up to make sure, because I wouldn’t have thought there was anything to look up.”

“What I’m wondering,” said Bessie, “is what Miss Eleanor did to keep them from getting Zara.  If you ask me, that’s the really clever thing that’s been done to-day.  I was dreadfully frightened when I decided that was what they were up to.”

“Well, your telegram helped,” said Dolly.  “If it hadn’t been for that, they’d have been taken completely by surprise.  Just imagine how they would have felt, if they’d looked up when their train stopped at Canton, and had seen Farmer Weeks coming down the aisle.”

“It would have been dreadful, wouldn’t it, Bessie?  Do you know, Miss Eleanor wasn’t a bit anxious to have us stay behind?  She was afraid something would happen, I believe.  But it’s certainly a good thing that you thought of doing it, and had your way.”

“I was afraid they’d try to play some sort of a trick, Dolly.  That’s why I wanted to wait.  I couldn’t tell what it would be, but I knew that if Jake was there it wouldn’t do any harm to watch him and see what he did.  I didn’t expect to get him on our side, though.  Before I talked to him, of course, I was really only guessing, but he told me all he knew about the plan.  They hadn’t told him everything, but with what I had guessed it was enough.”

“No one trusts him, you see, Bessie.  It’s just as I said.”

“Well, do you know, I shouldn’t wonder if that was one reason for his being so untrustworthy, Dolly.  Maybe if he finds that we are going to trust him, it will change him, and make him act very differently.”

“I certainly hope so, Bessie, but I’m afraid of him.  I’m afraid that they will find out what we’ve done, and try to use him to trick us, now that we think he’s on our side.”

“We’ll have to look out for that, Dolly, of course.  But I don’t believe he’s as black as he’s painted.  He must have some good qualities.  Perhaps they’ll begin to come out now.”

At Bay City, where they arrived comparatively early in the afternoon, they had a surprise, for Miss Eleanor and all the girls were at the station to meet them, including Zara, who looked nervous and frightened.

“Oh, I’m so glad you’ve come here safely, Bessie,” said Eleanor, flinging her arms about Bessie’s neck.  “Your train came right through, didn’t it?”

“Yes, and we saw Mr. Holmes and the rest of them on the platform at Canton,” said Bessie, laughing.  “Did they get aboard your train?”

“Did they?” cried Eleanor.  “They most certainly did, and when they couldn’t find either you or Zara, they were so angry that I was afraid they were going to burst!  I don’t believe I ever saw men so dreadfully disappointed in my life.”

“How did you manage to hide Zara?”

“That was awfully funny, Bessie.  I found some friends of mine were on the train, travelling in a private car.  As soon as I got your telegram, I went back to see them.  They had a boy with them, who is just about Zara’s size.  So Zara dressed up in a suit of his clothes, and she was sitting in their car, with him, when they came aboard to look for her.”

“Did they look in that car?”

“Yes.  They had a warrant, or something, so they had a right to go everywhere on the train-and they did!”

“I should think the people who didn’t have anything to do with us must have been furious.”

“Oh, they were, but it didn’t do them any good.  They searched through the whole train, but Zara looked so different in boy’s clothes that they never even seemed to suspect her at all.  She kept perfectly still, you see, and after they had held us up for nearly an hour, we came on.”

“Oh, how mad they must have been!”

“You ought to have seen them!  It made us very late getting here, of course, and we missed the train we were to take to Green Cove.  But I think we would have waited here, anyhow, until you came.  I was very anxious about you, Bessie.  What a clever trick that was!  If it hadn’t been for you, we would have been caught without a chance to do anything at all.”

“Bessie’s made friends with Jake Hoover, too,” said Dolly, disgustedly.  “Tell Miss Eleanor about that, Bessie.”

“You did exactly the right thing,” said Eleanor, when she had heard the story, much to Dolly’s disgust.  “I agree with Dolly that we will have to look out for him, just the same, but there is a chance that he may do what he promised.  Anyhow, there’s a lot to gain and very little to lose.”