Read CHAPTER XII - PLUM BEACH of A Campfire Girl's Test of Friendship , free online book, by Jane L. Stewart, on ReadCentral.com.

On the way to Plum Beach, on the little branch line that carried the girls from Bay City to Green Cove, Eleanor was very thoughtful, and Bessie and Dolly were kept busy in telling the other girls of their experiences.  They wanted to hear from Zara, too, just how she had escaped.

“I don’t see how you kept your face straight,” said Dolly.  “I know I would have burst right out laughing, Zara.”

“You wouldn’t think so if you knew Farmer Weeks,” said Zara, making a wry face.  “I can tell you I didn’t want to laugh, Dolly.  Why, he was within a few feet of me, and looking straight at me!  I was sure he’d guess that it was I.”

“He always looks at everyone that way-just as if they owed him money,” said Bessie.  “Nasty old man!  I don’t blame you for being nervous, Zara.”

“Oh, neither do I,” said Dolly.  “But it was funny to think of his being so near you and having no idea of it.  That’s what would have made me laugh.”

“It seems funny enough, now,” admitted Zara, with a smile.  “But, you see, I was perfectly certain that he did have a very good idea of where I was.  I was expecting him to take hold of me any moment, and tell the constable to take me off the train.”

“I wonder how long this sort of thing is going to keep up,” said Margery Burton, angrily.  “Until you two girls are twenty-one?”

“I hope not,” laughed Bessie, and then she went on, more seriously, “I really do think that if Jake Hoover sticks to what he said, and takes our side, Mr. Jamieson is likely to find out something that will give him a chance to settle matters.  You see, we’ve been fighting in the dark so far.”

“I don’t see that we’ve been fighting at all, yet,” said Margery.  “They keep on trying to do something, and we manage to keep them from doing it.  That’s not my idea of a fight.  I wish we could do some of the hitting ourselves.”

“So do I, Margery.  And that’s just what I think we may be able to do now, if we have Jake on our side.  He must know something about what they’ve been doing.  They couldn’t keep him from finding out, it seems to me.”

“But will he tell?  That seems to be the question.”

“Yes, that’s it, exactly.  Well, if he does, then we’ll know why they’re doing all this.  You see, Mr. Jamieson can’t figure on what they’re going to do next, or how to beat them at their own game, simply because he doesn’t know what their game is.  They know just what they want to do, while we haven’t any idea, except that they’re anxious to have Zara and myself back where Farmer Weeks can do as he likes with us.”

“Well, it would be fine to be able to beat them, Bessie, but right now I’m more worried about what they will try to do next.  This is a pretty lonely place we’re going to, and they’re so bold that there’s no telling what they may try next.”

“That’s so-and they know we’re coming here, too.  Jake told them that.”

“They would probably have found it out anyhow,” said Dolly.  “And there’s one thing-he didn’t try to warn them that you knew about what they meant to do at Canton, Bessie.”

“No, he didn’t.  And he could have done it very easily, too.  Oh, I think we can count on Jake now, all right.  He’s pretty badly frightened, and he’s worried about himself.  He’ll stick to the side that seems the most likely to help him.  All I hope is that he will go to see Mr. Jamieson.”

“Do you think he will?”

“Why not?  Even if they get hold of him again, I think there will be time enough for him to see Mr. Jamieson first.  And I’ve got an idea that Mr. Jamieson will be able to scare him pretty badly.”

“All out for Green Cove,” called the conductor just then, appearing in the doorway, and there was a rush for the end of the car.

“Well, here we are,” said Eleanor.  “This isn’t much of a city, is it?”

It was not.  Two or three bungalows and seashore cottages were in sight, but most of the traffic for the Green Cove station came from scattered settlements along the coast.  It was a region where people liked to live alone, and they were willing to be some distance from the railroad to secure the isolation that appealed to them.  A little pier poked its nose out into the waters of the cove, and beside this pier was a gasoline launch, battered and worn, but amply able, as was soon proved, to carry all the girls and their belongings at a single load.

“Thought you wasn’t coming,” said the old sailor who owned the launch, as he helped them to get settled aboard.

“We missed the first connecting train and had to wait, Mr. Salters,” said Eleanor.  “I hope you didn’t sell the fish and clams you promised us to someone else?”

“No, indeed,” said old Salters.  “They’re waitin’ for you at the camp, ma’am, and I fixed up the place, too, all shipshape.  The tents is all ready, though why anyone should sleep in such contraptions when they can have a comfortable house is more’n I can guess.”

“Each to his taste, you know,” laughed Eleanor.  “I suppose we’ll be able to get you to take us out in the launch sometimes while we’re here?”

“Right, ma’am!  As often as you like,” he answered.  “My old boat here ain’t fashionable enough for some of the folk, but she’s seaworthy, and she won’t get stuck a mile an’ a half from nowhere, the way Harry Semmes and that new fangled boat of his done the other day when he had a load of young ladies aboard.”

He chuckled at the recollection.  But while he had been talking he had not been idle, and the Sally S., as his launch was called, had been making slow but steady progress until she was outside the cove and headed north.  Soon, too, he ran her inside the protecting spot of land of which Dolly had spoken to Bessie, and they were in such smooth water that, even had any of them had any tendency toward seasickness, there would have been no excuse for it.

In half an hour he stopped the engine, and cast his anchor overboard.  He wore no shoes and stockings, and now, rolling up his trousers, he jumped overboard.

“Hand me the dunnage first,” he said.  “I’ll get that ashore, and then I’ll take the rest of you, one at a time.”

“Indeed you won’t,” laughed Eleanor.  “We’re not afraid of getting our feet wet.  Come on, girls, it’s only two feet deep!  Roll up your skirts and take off your shoes and stockings, and we’ll wade ashore.”

She set the example, and in a very short time they were all safely ashore, with much laughter at the splashing that was involved.

“Mr. Salters could run the Sally S. ashore, but it would be a lot of trouble to get her afloat again, and this is the way we always do here.  It’s lots of fun really,” Eleanor explained.

Soon they were all ashore, and inspecting the camp which had been laid out in preparation for them.

“Real army tents, with regular floors and cots, these are,” said Eleanor.  “Sleeping on the ground wouldn’t be very wise here.  And there’s no use taking chances.  I’m responsible to the mothers and fathers of all you girls, after all, and I’m bound to see that you go home better than when you started, instead of worse.”

“I think they’re fine,” said Margery.  “Oh, I do love the seashore!  How long shall we stay, Miss Eleanor?”

“I don’t know,” said the Guardian, a shade of doubt darkening her eyes.  “You know, Margery”-she spoke in a low tone-“that seems to depend partly on things we can’t really control.  There seems to me to be something really quite desperate about the way Mr. Holmes and his friends are going for Bessie and Zara.

“Maybe they will make trouble for us here.  It is rather isolated, you know, and I can’t help remembering that we’re on the coast, and that a few miles away the coast is that of Bessie’s state-the state she mustn’t be in.”

“That’s so,” said Margery, gravely.  “You mean that if they managed to get hold of Bessie or Zara, and took them out to sea and then landed them in that state they’d be able to hold them there?”

“It worries me, Margery.  The trouble is, you see, that once they’re in that state, it doesn’t matter how they were taken there, but they can be held.  If Zara’s father gets free, why, he would be able to get her back, I suppose.  Mr. Jamieson says so.  But there’s no one with a better right to Bessie, so far as we know.  I’m really more worried about her than about Zara.”

“We’ll all be careful,” promised Margery, with fire in her eye.  “And I guess they’ll have to be pretty smart to find any way of getting her away from us.  I’ll talk to the girls, and I’ll try to be watching myself all the time.”

“I’m hungry,” announced Dolly.  “Just as hungry as a bear!  Can’t we have supper pretty soon, Miss Eleanor?”

“Supper?” scoffed Miss Eleanor.  “Why, we haven’t had our dinner yet!  But we’ll have that just as soon as it’s cooked.  I’ve just been waiting for someone to say they were hungry.  Dolly, you’re elected cook.  Since you’re the hungry one, you can cook the dinner.”

“I certainly will!  I’ll get it all the sooner that way.  May I pick out who’s to help me, Miss Eleanor?”

“That’s the rule.  You certainly can.”

“Then I pick out all the girls,” announced Dolly.  “Every one of you-and no shirking, mind!”

She laughed merrily, and in a moment she had set every girl to some task.  Even Margery obeyed her orders cheerfully, for the rule was there, and, even though Dolly had twisted it a bit, it was recognized as a good joke.  Moreover, everyone was hungry and wanted the meal to be ready as soon as possible.

“There’s good water at the top of that path,” said Eleanor, pointing to a path that led up a bluff that backed against the tents.  “I think maybe we’ll build a wooden pipe-line to bring the water right down here, but for to-day we’ll have to carry it from the spring there.”

“Is there driftwood here for a camp fire, do you suppose, the way there was last year, Miss Eleanor?” asked one of the other girls.  “I’ll never forget the lovely fires we had then!”

“There’s lots of it, I’m afraid,” said Eleanor, gravely.

“Why are you ’afraid’?” asked Bessie, wonderingly.

“Because all the driftwood, or most of it, comes from wrecked ships, Bessie.  This beach looks calm and peaceful now, but in the winter, when the great northeast storms blow, this is a terrible coast, and lots and lots of ships are wrecked.  Men are drowned very often, too.”

“Oh, I never thought of that!”

“Still, some of the wood is just lost from lumber schooners that are loaded too heavily,” said Eleanor.  “And it certainly does make a beautiful fire, all red and green and blue, and oh, all sorts of colors and shades you never even dreamed of!  We’ll have a ceremonial camp fire while we’re here, and it is certainly true that there is no fire half so beautiful as that we get when we use the wood that the sea casts up.”

“Don’t they often find lots of other things beside wood along the coast after a great storm, Miss Eleanor?”

“Yes, indeed!  There are people who make their living that way.  Wreckers, they call them, you know.  Of course, it isn’t as common to find really valuable things now as it was in the old days.”

“Why not?  I thought more things were carried at sea than ever,” said Dolly.

“There aren’t so many wrecks, Dolly, for one thing.  And then, in the old days, before steam, and the great big ships they have now, even the most valuable cargoes were carried in wooden ships that were at the mercy of these great storms.”

“Oh, and now they send those things in the big ships that are safer, I suppose?”

“Yes.  You very seldom hear of an Atlantic liner being wrecked, you know.  It does happen once in a great while, of course, but they are much more likely to reach the port they sail for than the old wooden ships.  In the old days many and many a ship sailed that was never heard of, but you could count the ships that have done that in the last few years on the fingers of one hand.”

“But there was a frightful wreck not so very long ago, wasn’t there?  The Titanic?”

“Yes.  That was the most terrible disaster since men have gone to sea at all.  You see, she was so much bigger, and could carry so many more people than the old ships, that, when she did go down, it was naturally much worse.  But the wreckers never made any profit out of her.  She went down in the middle of the ocean, and no one will ever see her again.”

“Couldn’t divers go down after her?”

“No.  She was too deep for that.  Divers can only go down a certain distance, because, below that, the pressure is too great, and they wouldn’t live.”

“Stop talking and attend to your dinner, Dolly,” said Margery, suddenly.  “You pretended you were hungry, and now you’re so busy talking that you’re forgetting about the rest of us.  We’re hungry, too.  Just remember that!”

“I can talk and work at the same time,” said Dolly.  “Is everything ready?  Because, if it is, so is dinner.  Come on, girls!  The clams first.  I’ve cooked it-I’m not going to put it on the table, too.”

“No, we ought to be glad to get any work out of her at all,” laughed Margery, as she carried the steaming, savory clams to the table.  “I suppose every time we want her to do some work the rest of the time we’re here, she’ll tell us about this dinner.”

“I won’t have to,” boasted Dolly.  “You’ll all remember it.  All I’m afraid of is that you won’t be satisfied with the way anyone else cooks after this.  I’ve let myself out this time!”

It was a good dinner-a better dinner than anyone had thought Dolly could cook.  But, despite her jesting ways, Dolly was a close observer, and she had not watched Margery, a real genius in the art of cooking, in vain.  Everyone enjoyed it, and, when they had eaten all they could, Dolly lay back in the sand with Bessie.

“Well, wasn’t I right?  Don’t you love this place?” she asked.

“I certainly think I do,” said Bessie.  “It’s so peaceful and quiet.  I didn’t believe any place could be as calm as the mountains, but I really think this is.”

“I love to hear the surf outside, too,” said Dolly.  “It’s as if it were singing a lullaby.  I think the surf, and the sighing of the wind in the trees is the best music there is.”

“Those noises were the real beginning of music, Dolly,” said Eleanor.  “Did you know that?  The very first music that was ever written was an attempt to imitate those songs of nature.”

After the dishes were washed and put away, everyone sat on the beach, watching the sky darken.  First one star and then another came out, and the scene was one of idyllic beauty.  And then, as if to complete it, a yacht appeared, small, but beautiful and graceful, steaming toward them.  Its sides were lighted, and from its deck came the music of a violin, beautifully played.

“Oh, how lovely that is!” said Eleanor.  “Why, look!  I do believe it is going to anchor!”

And, sure enough, the noise of the anchor chains came over the water.