"He'll find out some place where they're not likely to look for him, and stay there until the people around here have given up the idea of finding him," said Bessie to herself. "That's why I've got to follow him now. And I'm sure he's on one of the trails; he couldn't carry Dolly through the thick woods, no one could. Oh, I wish I could hear something!"
That wish, for the time, at least, was to be denied, but it was not long before Bessie, still tramping through thick undergrowth in the direction she was sure her quarry had taken, came to a break in the woods, where it was a little lighter, and she could see her way.
She saw at once that she had come to a trail, and, though she had never seen it before, she guessed that it was the one that led to Deer Mountain, from what Miss Eleanor had told her about the trails about the camp. And, moreover, as she started to follow it, convinced that the gypsy, on finding it, would have abandoned the rougher traveling of the uncut woods, she saw something that almost wrung a cry of startled joy from her.
It was not much that she saw, only a fragment of white cloth, caught in the branches of a bush that had pushed itself out onto the trail. But it was as good as a long letter, for the cloth was from Dolly's dress, and it was plain and unmistakable evidence that her chum had been carried along this trail.
She walked on more quickly now, pausing about once in a hundred yards to listen for sounds of those who were, as she was convinced, ahead of her, and, about half a mile beyond the spot where she had found that white pointer, she saw another piece of mute but convincing evidence, of exactly the same sort, and caught in the same way.
As Bessie kept on, the ground continued to rise, and she realized that she must be on the crest of Deer Mountain, one of the heights that lifted itself above the level of the surrounding woods. Although a high mountain, the climb from Long Lake was not a particularly severe one, for all the ground was so high that even the highest peaks in the range that was covered by these woods did not seem, unless one were looking at them from a distance of many miles, in the plain below, to be as high as they really were.
The trail that Bessie followed, as she knew, was leading her directly away from Loon Pond and the gypsy camp, but that did not disturb her, since she had expected the gypsy to bear away from his companions. Her mind was working quickly now, and she wondered just how far the gypsies were likely to go in support of their reckless companion.
She knew that the bonds among these nomads were very strong, but there was another element in this particular case that might, she thought, complicate matters. The man who had carried Dolly off was engaged to be married to the dark-eyed girl they had talked with, and it was possible that that fact might make trouble for him, and prevent him from receiving the aid of his tribe, as he would surely have done in any ordinary struggle with the laws of the people whom the gypsies seemed to despise and dislike.
Undoubtedly the girl's parents, if she had any, would resent the slight he was casting upon their daughter, and if they were powerful or influential in the tribe, they would probably try to get him cast out, and cause the other gypsies to refuse him the aid he was probably counting upon.
The most important thing, Bessie still felt, was to find out where Dolly was to be hidden. And, as she pressed on, tired, but determined not to give up what seemed to her to be the best chance of rescuing her chum, Bessie looked about constantly for some fresh evidence of Dolly's presence.
But luck was not to favor her again. Sharp as was her watch, there were no more torn pieces of Dolly's dress to guide her, and, even had Bessie been an expert in woodcraft, and so able to follow their tracks, it was too dark to use that means of tracing them.
Bessie did, indeed, think of that, and of waiting until some guide should come, who might be able to read the message of the trail. But she reflected that it was more than possible that none of the men in the neighborhood might be able to do so, and it seemed to her that it was better to take the slim chance she had than abandon it in favor of something that might, after all, turn out to be no chance at all.
The darkness was beginning to yield now to the first forerunners of the day. In the east there was a faint radiance that told of the coming of the sun, and Bessie hurried on, since she felt sure that the gypsy would not venture to travel in daylight, and must mean to hide Dolly before the coming of the sun lightened the task of his pursuers, since he must feel certain that he would be pursued, although he might have no inkling that anyone was already on his trail.
But now Bessie had to face a new problem that did, indeed, force her to rest. For suddenly the well defined, broad trail ended, and broke up into a series of smaller paths. Evidently this was a spot at which those who wished to reach the summit of the mountain took diverging paths, according to the particular spot they wanted to reach, and whether they were bound on a picnic or merely wanted to get to a spot whence they might see the splendid view for which Deer Mountain was famed.
In the darkness there was absolutely no way of telling which of these many diverging trails the gypsy had followed, and Bessie, ready to cry with disappointment and anxiety for Dolly, was forced to sit down on a stump and wait for daylight. Even that might not help her.
Her best chance, however, was to wait until the light came, and then, despite her lack of acquaintance with the art of reading footprints, to try to distinguish those of the gypsy. All that she needed was some clue to enable her to guess which path her quarry had taken; beyond that the message of the footprints was not necessary.
As she sat there, watching the slow, slow lightening in the east, Bessie wondered if the day was ever coming. She had seen the sun rise before, but never had it seemed so lazy, so inclined to linger in its couch of night.
But every wait comes to an end at last, and finally Bessie was able to go back a little way, before the other trails began to branch off, and bending over, to try to pick out the footprints of the man who had carried Dolly off. It was easy to do, fortunately, or Bessie could scarcely have hoped to accomplish it.
There had been a light rain the previous morning, enough to soften the ground and wipe out the traces of the numerous parties that had made Deer Mountain the objective point of a tramp in the woods, and, mingled with her own small footsteps, Bessie soon found the marks of hobnailed feet, that must, she was sure, have been made by the gypsy.
Step by step she followed them, and she was just about at the first of the diverging trails when a sound behind her made her turn, terrified, to see who was approaching.
But it was not the man who had so frightened her whom she saw as she turned. It was a girl—a gypsy, to be sure—but a girl, and Bessie had no fear of her, even when she saw that it was the same girl the scamp she was pursuing was to marry. Moreover, the girl seemed as surprised and frightened at the sight of Bessie, crouching there? as Bessie herself had been at the other's coming.
"Where is he; that wicked man you are to marry?" cried Bessie, fiercely, springing to her feet, and advancing upon the trembling gypsy girl. "You shall tell me, or I will—"
She seized the gypsy girls shoulders, and shook her, before she realized that the girl, whose eyes were filled with tears, probably knew as little as she herself. Then, repentant, she released her shoulders, but repeated her question.
"You mean John, my man?" said the girl, a quiver in her tones. "I do not know, he was not at the camp last night. I was afraid. I think he does not love me any more."
Something about the way she spoke made Bessie pity her.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"Lolla," said the gypsy.
"I believe you do not know, Lolla," said Bessie, kindly. "And you do not want him to be sent to prison, perhaps for years and years, do you? You love this John?"
"Prison? They would send him there? What for? No, no—yes, I love him. Do you know where he is; where he was last night?"
"I know where he was last night, Lolla, yes. He came to our camp and carried my friend away. You remember, the one who was with me yesterday, when we looked at your camp? That is why I am looking for him. He says he will make her marry him later on; that he will keep her with your tribe until she is ready."
Lolla's tears ceased suddenly, and there was a gleam of passionate anger in her eyes.
"He will do that?" she said, angrily. "My brothers, they will kill him if he does that. He is to marry me, we are betrothed. You do not know where he is? You would like to find your friend?"
"I must, Lolla."
"Then I will help you, if you will help me. Will you?"
Lolla looked intently at Bessie, as if she were trying to tell from her eyes whether she really meant what she said.
"Oh, I wish I knew whether you are good; whether you speak the truth," cried the gypsy girl, passionately. "That other girl, your friend. She wants my John. So—"
Bessie, serious as the situation was, could not help laughing.
"Listen, Lolla," she said. "You mustn't think that. Dolly—that's my friend—thinks John is good looking, perhaps, but she hasn't even thought of marrying anyone yet, oh, for years. She's too young. We don't get married as early as you. So you may be sure that if John has her, all she wants is to get away and get back to her friends."
Lolla's eyes lighted with relief.
"That is good," she said. "Then I will help, for that is what I want, too. I do not want her to live in the tribe, and to be with us. You are sure John has taken her?"
Then Bessie told her of the face they had seen in the flashlight, and of how Dolly had been spirited away from the camp fire afterward. And as she spoke, she was surprised to see that Lolla's eyes shone, as if she were delighted by the recital.
"Why, Lolla, you look pleased!" said Bessie. "As if you were glad it had happened. How can that be; how can you seem as if you were happy about it?"
Lolla blushed slightly.
"He is my man," she said, simply. "He is strong and brave, do you not see? If he were not brave he would not dare to act so. He is a fine man. If I were bad, he would beat me. And he will beat anyone who is not good to me. Of course, I am glad that he was brave enough to act so, though I did not want him to do it."
Bessie laughed. The primitive, elemental idea that was expressed in Lolla's words was beyond her comprehension, and, in fact, a good many people older and wiser than Bessie do not understand it.
But Lolla did not mind the laugh. She did not understand what was in Bessie's mind; what she had said seemed so simple to her that it required no explanation. And now her mind was bent entirely upon the problem of getting Dolly back to her friends, in order that John might turn back to her and forget the American girl whose appeal to him had lain chiefly in the fact that she was so different from the women of his own race.
"He will not take her back to camp," said Lolla, thoughtfully. "He knows they would look there first."
"But will the others—your people—help him?"
"He may tell them that he has stolen her to get a ransom; to keep her until her friends pay well for her to be returned. Our old men do not like that, they say it is too dangerous. But if he were to say that he had done so, they might help him, because our people stand and fall together. But," and her eyes shone, "I will tell my brothers the truth. They will believe me, and—Quick! Hide in those bushes; someone is coming!"
Bessie obeyed instantly. But, once she had hidden herself, she heard nothing. It was not for a minute or more after she had slipped into the bushes that she heard the sound that had disturbed Lolla. But then, looking out, she saw John coming down one of the paths, peering about him cautiously.
AN UNEXPECTED ALLY
Bessie's heart leaped at the sight of the man who had given her her wild tramp through the night, and it was all she could do to resist her impulse to rush out, accuse him of the crime she knew he had committed, and demand that he give Dolly up to her at once. It was hard to believe that he was really dangerous.
Here, in the early morning light, his clothes soaked by the wet woods, as were Bessie's for that matter, he looked very cheap and tawdry, and not at all like a man to be feared. But a moment's reflection convinced Bessie that, for the time at least, it would be far wiser to leave matters in the hands of Lolla, the gypsy girl, who understood this man, and, if she feared him, and with cause, did so from reasons very different from Bessie's.
For a moment after he came in sight John did not see Lolla. Bessie watched the pair, so different from any people she had ever seen at close range before, narrowly. She was intensely interested in Lolla, and wondered mightily what the gypsy girl intended to do. But she did not have long to wait.
Lolla, with a little cry, rushed forward, and, casting herself on the ground at her lover's feet, seized his hand and kissed it. At first she said not a word; only looked up at him with her black, brilliant eyes, in which Bessie could see that a tear was glistening.
"Lolla! What are you doing here?"
At the sight of the girl John had started, nervously. It was plain that he did not feel secure; that he thought his pursuers might, even thus early, have tracked him down, and, in the moment before he had recognized Lolla, Bessie saw him quail, while his face whitened, so that Bessie knew he was afraid.
That knowledge, somehow, comforted her vastly. It removed at once some of the formidable quality which John had acquired in her eyes when he stole Dolly after the fright that he must have had when the flashlight powder exploded, almost in his face. But Bessie remembered that he had plucked up his courage after that scare; the chances were that he would do so again now.
But, if Bessie was afraid of the kidnapper, Lolla was not. She rose, and faced him defiantly. Bessie thought there was something splendid about the gypsy girl, and she wondered why John, with such a girl ready and anxious to marry him, had been diverted from her by Dolly, charming though she was.
"I have come to save you, John," said Lolla. "Where is the American girl you stole from her friends!"
John started, evidently surprised by Lolla's knowledge of what he had done, and said something, sharply, in the gypsy tongue, which Bessie, of course, could not understand. Her question, it was plain, had frightened, as well as startled him; but it had also made him very angry. Lolla, however, did not seem to mind his anger. She faced him boldly, without giving ground, although he had moved toward her with a threatening gesture of his uplifted hand.
"Hit me, if you will," she said. "I am not your wife yet, but when I am it will be your right to strike me if you wish. But I know what you have done. I know, too, that the Americans know it. Do you think you can escape from these woods without being caught?"
John stared at her angrily.
"I am going now to the camp," he said. "If. they come looking for news of the girl, they will find me there, and plenty to swear that I have been there all this night, and so could not have done what they charge. My tribe will help me; it is my right to call upon it for help."
"You forget me," said Lolla, dangerously. "I will swear that I saw you here, where I came to look for you because you had stayed away from the camp all the night. And when I tell my brothers, what will they swear?"
Again the man muttered something in the gypsy-tongue, but under his breath. When he spoke aloud to Lolla it was in English.
"They are Barlomengri; they will support me. They will never let the policemen take me away. They are my brothers—"
"Do you think you can jilt their sister, the girl you asked for as your wife before all the tribe, and escape their vengeance? Do you think they will not punish you, even by seeing that you die in a prison, in a cell?"
And now John, beside himself with anger, fulfilled the threat of his uplifted hand, and struck Lolla sharply.
"Strike me again!" cried Lolla, furiously. "I have done no wrong! I am trying only to save you from your own folly. Tell me, at least, where you have hidden the girl? Would you have her starve? You will be watched, so that you may not bring her food. Had you thought of that?"
"Will you betray me? If you do not I shall not be watched! They will know as soon as they look for me that I was in the camp all through the night. Lolla, you fool, I love you, only you. I want her to win a ransom. They will pay to have her back, those Americans."
Lolla had guessed right when she had said that this would be his plea. But Bessie was surprised, and thought Lolla must also wonder at his telling her such a story. Lolla looked scornfully at John.
"I am no baby that I should believe such a tale as that," she said witheringly. "I give you your chance, John, your last chance. Will you take this girl back to her people, or set her free and show her the road? Or must I bear witness against you, and tell the tribe that you would shame me by forsaking me even before I am your wife?"
"Let me go," said John furiously. "We shall see if a woman's talk is to be taken before mine. You fool! Even your brothers will laugh at your Jealousy, and rejoice with me over the money this girl will bring us. Let me pass—"
"Tell me, at least, where you have hidden her! She will starve, I tell you—"
"She will not starve. Think you I know no more than that of doing such a piece of work! It is not the first time we have made anxious fathers pay to win their children back! Ha-ha! Peter, my friend, comes to take my watch. He will see to it that she does not suffer for food. And he will keep her safe for me. Out of my way!"
He brushed Lolla aside roughly, and strode off down the trail that Bessie had followed. For a moment, while she could hear the sound of his retreating footsteps, Lolla did not move. But then she raised herself, a smile in her eyes, and beckoned to Bessie.
"Go up that path, quickly," she whispered. "Somewhere up there, hidden, you will find your friend. Comfort her, but do not let her move. If she is tied up, leave her so. Tell her that help is near. I will free her."
"But why—why not come with me, and free her now!" protested Bessie, eagerly. "We can find her, for he came down that path, so he must have left her somewhere up there. Oh, come, Lolla, you will never regret it!"
"Did you not hear him say that Peter was coming? Peter is his best friend; they are closer together, and are more to one another, than brothers. If we tried to escape with her now, Peter would find us, and his hand is heavy. We should do your friend no good, and be punished ourselves. We must wait. But hurry, before he comes. Tell her to be happy, and not to fear. I will save her, and you. We will work together to save her."
And with that Bessie, much as she would have liked to get Dolly out of the clutches of her captor at once, had to be content. She realized fully that in Lolla she had gained an utterly unexpected ally, in whom lay the best possible chance for the immediate release of her chum, and the mere knowledge of where Dolly was hidden would be extremely valuable.
After all, it was all, and, possibly, more, than she had expected to accomplish when she had plunged into the woods after the gypsy and his prisoner, and she felt that she ought to be satisfied. So she hurried at once up the path that Lolla pointed out, leaving the gypsy girl below as a guard.
The path was rough and steep, rising sharply, but Bessie paid little heed to its difficulties, since she felt that it was taking her to Dolly. She kept her eyes and ears open for any sight or sound that might make it easier to find Dolly, but she did not call out, since she felt that it was practically certain the gypsy had managed, in some manner, to make it impossible for poor Dolly to cry out, lest, in his absence, she alarm some passerby and so obtain her freedom.
Bessie was sure that Dolly would not be left in some place that could be seen from the path, but she was also sure that she could not be far from it, since there had not been time for the gypsy to make any extended trip through the woods off the trail. Bessie had traveled fast through the night, and she was sure that John, with the weight of Dolly to carry, had not been able to move as fast as she, and could not, therefore, have been more than twenty minutes or half an hour ahead of her in reaching the trail she was now following.
So she watched carefully for some break in the thick undergrowth that lined the trail, for some opening through which John might have gone with his burden. There might even, she thought, be another of those precious sign posts that, back on the other trail, had been made by the torn pieces from Dolly's skirt.
But, careful as was her search, she reached the end of the trail without finding anything that looked like a promising place, or seeing anything that made her think Dolly was within a short distance of her. The trail led to an exposed peak, a ragged outcrop of rock, bare of trees, and covered only with a slight undergrowth.
Once there Bessie understood why the trail had been made through the woods. The view was wonderful. Below her were the waving tops of countless trees, and beyond them she could look down and over the cultivated valleys, full of farms, whose fields, marked off by stone fences, looked small and insignificant from her high perch.
Bessie, however, was in no mood to enjoy a view. She wasted no time in admiring it, but only peered over the edge of the peak on which she stood, to satisfy herself that Dolly was not hidden just below her. One look was enough to do that. There was a way, she soon saw, of descending, and reaching the woods again, but no man, carrying any sort of a burden, could have accomplished that descent.
It was a task that called for the use of feet and hands and Bessie turned desperately, convinced that she must, in some manner, have overlooked the place at which John had turned off the main trail with his burden.
Now, as she went downward, she searched the woods at each side with redoubled care, and at last she found what she had been looking for, or what, it seemed to her, must be the place, since she had seen no other that offered even a chance for a successful passage through the thick growth of trees and underbrush.
Without hesitation she turned off the trail, and, though the going was rough, and her hands and face were scratched, while her clothes were torn, she was rewarded at last by finding that the ground below her grew smooth, showing that human feet had passed that way often enough to wear the faintest sort of a path.
Once she became aware of the path her heart grew light, for she was sure now that she was going in the right direction at last. And, indeed, it was not more than five minutes before she almost stumbled over Dolly herself, bound to a tree, and with a handkerchief stuffed in her mouth so that she could not cry out.
"Oh, Dolly! I'm so glad, so glad! Listen, dear; I can't stay. You'll have to be here a little while longer, but we will soon have you back at the camp, as safe and well as ever. Are you hurt? Does it give you pain? If it doesn't shake your head sideways."
Dolly managed to shake her head, and in her eyes Bessie saw that now that she knew help was near Dolly's courage would sustain her.
"That gypsy girl we saw is near, but the man who carried you off is going to send another man to watch, and if I let you go now we'd only meet him, and be in more trouble than ever. But be brave, dear! it won't be long now."
Poor Dolly could not answer, for Bessie, remembering that Lolla had seemed to fear the man Peter more than she did John, dared not even loosen the gag. She saw, however, that while it must be making Dolly terribly uncomfortable, she could breathe, and that it was probably worse in appearance than in fact. So she leaned down and kissed her chum, and whispered in her ear.
"I'm going back to Lolla now, dear, but I'll soon be back with enough help so that we needn't care how many of the gypsies there are near us. If I stay now I'm afraid they'll catch me, too, and then no one would know where you were. They can't get you away from here, so you're sure to be safe soon."
Dolly nodded to show that she understood, and Bessie moved silently away. But, as she turned down the trail that would take her back to the spot where she had left Lolla, she had a new cause for fright. She heard Lolla's voice, raised loudly, arguing with a man who answered in low, guttural tones. What they were saying she could not distinguish, but somehow she understood that Peter had come even sooner than Lolla had feared, and the gypsy girl, at the risk of angering him, was trying to warn her, so that she might not descend the trail and so stumble right into his arms.
So, although the prospect frightened her, she turned and made her way swiftly up to the peak again, determined that if the man should go past the opening that led to the place where Dolly lay, she would risk the danger and the difficulty of the rocky descent from the peak itself.
As she hastened along silence fell behind her, and she knew that Peter must have started. He was whistling a queer gypsy tune and Bessie heard him pass the partly masked opening that she had herself found with so much difficulty.
After that she hesitated no longer, but rushed to the rocky top of the peak, and in a moment she was making her way down, with as much caution as possible, swinging from one ledge to the next, hanging on to a bush here, and a projecting piece of rock there.
Even an expert climber, equipped with rope and sharp pointed stick, would have found the descent difficult. And all that enabled Bessie to succeed was her knowledge that she must.
A TERRIBLE SURPRISE
Bessie, though she had to pause more than once in her wild descent of the rocks, dared not look back to see if the gypsy, Peter, was pursuing her, or even whether he was looking down after her. She had two reasons. For one thing, the task was difficult and terrifying enough as it was, and to know that there was danger from behind, as well as the peril involved in the descent itself, would, she feared, unnerve her.
And, moreover, even if Peter saw her, he might not, if she paid no attention to him, suspect that she had anything to do with Dolly, or that he and his companion had anything to dread from her. Bessie did not know whether he would recognize her as having been at the gypsy camp with Dolly, but she felt that it would be as well not to take the chance. Things were bad enough without running the risk of complicating them still further.
The descent was a long and hard one, but when she was about half way down to the comparatively level ground at the foot of the peak, all real danger of a crippling fall was over, since there a path began. Evidently some trampers who were fond of climbing had worn it through the rough surface to a point where a good view was to be had, and had stopped there, content with the distance they had gone, and not disposed to try the further ascent. And as soon as Bessie reached that point she was able to stop and get her breath.
Meanwhile she wondered what had become of Lolla. The gypsy girl, as Bessie understood thoroughly, was running severe risks. If the two men knew that she was in league with Dolly's friends they would certainly take some steps to silence her. But John, Bessie felt sure, did not believe that Lolla, no matter how jealous she might be, would actually betray her own people to the hated Americans. He had smiled in a confident manner while Lolla had made her threats, and Bessie thought he regarded the girl as a child in a temper, but sure to come to her senses before she actually put him in danger.
What to do next was a problem. Bessie, when she had followed the rough path until it led to a trail, was completely lost. She knew, roughly, and in a general way, the direction of Camp Manasquan, as the camp at Long Lake was called, but that was about all.
"If I go straight ahead I may be going just as straight as I can away from anyone who can help Dolly," she reflected. "Or I may get over toward Loon Pond, and run into that awful gypsy, and then I'd be worse off than ever! Oh, I do wish I knew where I was, or how I can find Lolla. She must know these woods, and she'd be able to help me, I'm sure."
Finally, however, Bessie determined to move slowly along the trail in a direction that would, she thought, take her around the bottom of Deer Mountain. She remembered that just a little while before she had come to the place where she had first seen Lolla, a side path had crossed the trail on which she had followed Dolly and her captor, and it seemed likely to her that that path would also cross the trail she was now on.
If it did she could work back to a spot she knew, and so find her bearings, at least. Then, if there was nothing else to be done, she would certainly be able to get back to Long Lake. For her to stay in the woods, lost and hungry, would not help Dolly.
So she set out bravely, walking as fast as she could. The sun was high in the heavens now, and it was long after breakfast time, so that Bessie was hungry, but she thought little of that.
As she had hoped, and half expected, she came, presently, and at what seemed to her the proper place, upon a trail that crossed the one she was following, and she turned to the left without hesitation. She might, she felt, be going in the wrong direction altogether, but she could not very well be more hopelessly lost she was already; and, if she had to be out in the woods without a clue to the proper way to turn, she felt it made very, little difference whether she was in one place or in another.
The new trail was one evidently little used, and when Bessie had been on it for perhaps ten minutes, and was beginning to think that it was time she came in sight of the larger trail from Long Lake to Deer Mountain, she heard someone coming toward her, and, rounding a bend, came into sight of Lolla.
The gypsy girl seemed overwhelmed with joy at the sight of Bessie.
"Oh, how glad I am!" she exclaimed. "I was afraid that Peter had caught you and tied you up with your friend, and that you would think I had sent you up there so that he would trap you! How did you escape?"
"I climbed down the rocks," said Bessie simply, and smiled at Lolla's gasp of astonishment.
"You climbed down the rocks!" cried the gypsy. "However did you do that? There ain't many men—not even many of our men—would try that, I can tell you. I thought perhaps you would try to do that, and I was coming around this way to get to the foot of the rocks and see if I could find out what had become of you."
"You know where we are and how to get back, then?" asked Bessie.
"Of course I do. I know all these woods." Lolla laughed. "I have set traps for partridges and rabbits here many and many a time, but the guides never saw me. You knew where you were going, didn't you? If you'd kept on as you were going when you met me you would have come to the main trail in a minute or two, and then, if you'd turned to the right, and kept straight on, you'd have come to Long Lake, where you started from."
"I thought that was what would happen, Lolla, but I wasn't quite sure."
"Did you hear me shouting when Peter came along? I hoped you would understand and bide yourself some way, so that he wouldn't find you. What I was most afraid of was that you would be in the woods with your friend, and that you wouldn't hear us."
"Yes, I heard you, and I knew what you were doing, Lolla; that you meant to warn me that Peter had come sooner than you thought he would. I was grateful, too, but I was afraid just to hide myself and let him go by, because the woods were so thick on each side of the trail that I was afraid he would see where I had broken through and catch me."
Lolla nodded her head.
"You are wise. You would be a good gypsy, Bessie. You would soon learn all the things we know ourselves. Peter has very quick eyes, and he is very suspicious, too. He saw you at the camp, you know, and he would have guessed right away, if he had seen you there, that you were looking for Dolly."
"That was just what I was afraid of, Lolla. He would have tied me up with her if he had found me, wouldn't he?"
"Yes. He's a bad man, that Peter. I think if John and he were not so friendly John would not have done this. He is kind, and brave, and he always tried to stop anyone who wanted to steal children. He would steal a horse, or a deer, but never a child; that was cowardly, he said."
"He didn't hurt you, did he, Lolla?"
The gypsy girl laughed.
"Oh, no. He tried to hit me, but I got away from him too quickly. I would not let him touch me. With John it is different. He is my man; he may beat me if he likes. But not Peter; I hate him. If he beat me I would put this into him."
Bessie, surprised by the look of hate in Lolla's eyes, drew back in fear as Lolla produced a long, sharp knife from the folds of her dress, and flourished it for a moment.
"Oh, Lolla, please put that away!" she exclaimed. "There's no one here to be afraid of." Lolla laughed.
"No, but I have it if I need it," she said meaningly.
"What are we going to do now, Lolla? We can't leave Dolly up there much longer. They've got her tied up, and gagged, so that she can't call out, and she's terribly uncomfortable, though I don't think she's suffering much."
"We will get her soon," said Lolla, confidently.
"You stay near where she is, so that they can't get her away," said Bessie, "and I'll go and get help. Then we shan't have any trouble."
But Lolla frowned at the suggestion.
"You would get those guides, and they would catch my man and put him in prison, oh, for years, perhaps! No, no; I will get her away, with you to help me. Leave that to me. Peter is stupid. Come with me now; I know what we must do."
"Where are you going? This isn't the way back to where Dolly is," protested Bessie, as Lolla pressed on in the direction from which Bessie had come. "We can never get up those rocks, Lolla; it was hard enough to come down."
"We are not going there, not yet," said Lolla. "I must go to the camp and find out what John is doing. If he comes back to watch her himself it will be harder. But if he has to stay, and Peter looks after her, then we shall have no trouble. You shall see; only trust me. I managed so that you saw her, didn't I? Doesn't that show you that I can do what I say?"
"I suppose so," sighed Bessie. "I should think you wouldn't care if that man does go to prison, though, Lolla. He isn't nice to you, and you say he'll beat you when you're married. American men don't beat their wives. If they did they would be sent to prison. I should think you'd give him up—"
Lolla's dark eyes flamed for a moment, but then she smiled, as if she had remembered that Bessie, not being a gypsy, could not be expected to understand the gypsy ways.
"He is a good man," she said. "He will always see that I have enough to eat, and pretty things to wear. And if he beats me, it will be because I have been wicked, and deserve to be beaten. When I am his wife he will be like my father; if I am bad he will punish me. Is it not so among your people?"
Bessie struggled with a laugh at the thought of the only married couple she had ever known at all well: Paw and Maw Hoover. The idea that Paw Hoover, the mildest and most inoffensive of men, might ever beat his wife would have made anyone who knew that couple laugh.
Instead of turning when they reached the trail which Bessie had followed after her descent from the rocks, Lolla led the way straight on.
"Are you sure you know where you are going, Lolla!" asked Bessie.
Lolla smiled at her scornfully.
"Yes, but it is not the way you would go," she said. "The trail to the camp will be full of people. They will be out all over the camp particularly. We must come to it from another direction. That is why we are going this way."
It was not long before Bessie was as thoroughly lost as if she had been in a maze. Lolla, however, seemed to know just where she was going. She left one trail to turn into another without ever showing the slightest doubt of her direction, and, at times, when the woods were thin, she would take short cuts, leading the way through entirely pathless portions of the forest with as much assurance as if she had been walking through the streets of a city where she had lived all her life. Even Bessie, used to long walks around Hedgeville, in which she had learned the country thoroughly, was surprised.
"I don't believe I'd ever get to know these woods as well as you do," she said admiringly. "Why, you never seem even to hesitate."
"I've been here every summer since I was born," said Lolla, in a laughing tone. "I ought to know these woods pretty well, I think."
"I hope no one sees us now," said Bessie, nervously. "I really do feel as if it were wrong for me to keep away. Miss Mercer must be as anxious about me as she is about Dolly."
"Is she the lady who is with you girls?"
"Yes. You see, she probably thinks that was carried off, as well as Dolly."
"She will stop being anxious all the sooner for not knowing where you are. I think it will not be long now before we get your friend away from that place where she is hidden."
"Well, I certainly hope so. Listen! I think I can hear voices in front of us."
"I heard them two or three minutes ago," said Lolla, with a smile. "Stay here, now; hide behind that clump of bushes. I will go ahead and see what I can find. Even if it is some of your friends they would not suspect me; they would think I was just out for a walk."
So Bessie waited for perhaps ten minutes, while Lolla crept forward alone. But the gypsy was back soon, smiling.
"All is safe now," she said. "Come quickly, though, so we shall get behind them and be able to get near the camp. There is a place there where you may hide while I find out what is going on."
They reached the spot Lolla meant in a few minutes more, and again Bessie had to play the inactive part and wait while Lolla went on to gain the information she needed. When she came back she was smiling happily.
"That John is stupid, though he is so brave," she said to Bessie. "He went back there to the camp, and he is sitting in front of his wagon. There is a guide with a gun sitting near him, and my sister tells me that the guide says he will follow him and shoot him if he tries to get away.
"There are many people there, and the whole camp is angry and frightened. The king says he will punish John, but John will not admit that he knows where your friend is. We are safe from him. They will not let him get away for a long time."
Bessie was comforted by the news. With her captor under guard, Dolly had nothing to fear from him, and, though Peter might be a sullen and dangerous man, Bessie felt that Lolla was right, and that he was too thick witted to be greatly feared.
They made the return trip with hearts far lighter than they had been as they made their way to the gypsy camp. Bessie had seen that Lolla was afraid of John, though now that he, had been over-reached she was ready enough to laugh at him.
"What are you going to do! How are you going to get her away, Lolla?" asked Bessie, as they neared the point where she had first seen her ally."
"I don't know yet," said Lolla, frankly. "If Peter is on the trail it will be harder. I hope he will be inside, so that we can slip by without his seeing us. If he is, and we get by, then you are to wait until you hear me sing. So."
She sang a bar or two of a gypsy melody, and repeated it until Bessie, too, could hum it, to prove that she had it right, and would not fail to recognize it.
"When you hear me sing that, remember that you must run down and go to your friend. Here is nay knife. Use it to cut the cords that tie her. Then you and she must go back toward the rocks where you went down. And when you hear me sing again you are to go down, as quickly as you can, but quietly, and, as soon as you are past the place where she was hidden, you must start running. I will try to catch up with you and go with you, but do not wait for me."
"I don't quite understand," Bessie began.
But now Lolla was the general, brooking no defiance. She stamped her foot.
"It does not matter whether you understand or not," she said sharply. "If you want me to save your friend and get back to the others you must do as you are told, and quickly. Now, come."
They went on up the trail, and, at the bend just below the spot where she had broken through to reach Dolly before, Bessie waited while Lolla, who had recognized the place from Bessie's description of it, crept forward to make sure that the way was clear.
"All right," she whispered. "Come on."
Silently, but as swiftly as they could, they crept past the place, and, when they were out of sight stopped.
"Now, you will know my song when you hear it?"
"Yes, indeed, Lolla. Why, what have you got there?"
"What I need to make Peter come with me," laughed Lolla. "See, a fine meal, is it not? I got it at the camp. Let him smell that stew and he would follow me out of the woods."
Bessie began to understand Lolla's plan at last. She was going to tempt Peter to betray his orders from his friend by appealing to his stomach. And Bessie wondered again, as she had many times since she had met Lolla, at the cunning of the gypsy girl.
Her confidence in Lolla was complete by now, and she did not at all mind waiting as she saw the little brightly clad figure disappear amidst the green of the trail.
It was some time, however, before she heard any signs that indicated that Lolla had obtained any results. And then it was not the song she heard, but Lolla's clear laugh, rising above the heavy tones of Peter.
"Oh, oh! You would give me orders when I bring you breakfast? No, no, Peter; that won't do. Come, she is safe there; come and eat with me, where she cannot put a spell on your food to make it choke you."
"Do you think she would do that?"
That was Peter's voice, stupid and filled with doubt. Bessie laughed at Lolla's cleverness. Peter, she thought, would be just the sort of man to yield to the fears of superstition.
"I know she would; she hates us. Come, Peter; does it not look good?"
"Give it to me. There, I'll catch you—"
Then there was a sound of scuffling and running, but Bessie, noticing that it drew further and further away, laughed. Lolla was a real strategist. She understood how to handle the big gypsy, evidently. And a moment later Bessie, her nerves quivering, all alert as she waited for the signal, heard the notes of Lolla's song. At once she rushed down, broke through the tangled growth, and was at Dolly's side, cutting away at the cords that bound Dolly, and, first of all, tearing the handkerchief from her mouth.
"It's all right now, we're safe, Dolly. Only you'll have to come quickly, dear, when I get you free. There, that's it. Are you stiff? Can you Stand up?"
"I guess so," gasped Dolly. "Oh, I'd do anything to get away from here. Bessie, look!"
Bessie turned, to face Peter and Lolla, their faces twisted into malignant grins. Lolla had betrayed her!
THE MYSTERIOUS VOICE
For a moment Bessie stared at the two gypsies, their eyes glowing with malicious triumph, and delight at her shocked face, in such dazed astonishment that she could not speak at all. She had been completely outwitted and hoodwinked. She had trusted Lolla utterly; had made up her mind that the girl's jealousy was not feigned.
Even now, for a wild moment, the thought flashed through her mind that perhaps Lolla had been unable to help herself; that Peter might have insisted on coming back, and that Lolla was forced, in order to be of help later on, to seem to fall in with his plans.
But Lolla herself soon robbed her of the comfort that lay in such a thought.
"You thought I would betray my people!" she cried, shrilly. "We do not do that; no, no! Ah, but it was easy to deceive you! When I saw you I knew you would be dangerous. I could not hold you by force until John came, I had to trick you. I thought we would catch you when you went up there. I did not think you would be brave enough to go down the rocks."
Bessie said not a word, but only clung to Dolly's hand and stared at the treacherous gypsy.
"So then, when you had gone, I had to find you again, and send word to Peter to do as I said, so that we could catch you, and stop you from going to your friends and telling them where we had hidden your friend who is there with you now. Now we have two, instead of one. Oh, I have done well, have I not, Peter?"
Peter grinned, and grunted something in his own tongue that made Lolla smile.
"Tie them up again, Peter," said Lolla, looking viciously at Bessie, and obviously gloating over the way in which she had tricked the American girl. And Peter, nothing loath, advanced to do so. But Bessie had stood all she could.
Dolly, terribly cast down by this sudden upsetting of all the hopes of rescue that the coming of Bessie and her release from the cords that bound her had raised, was close beside her, shivering with fright and despair.
And Bessie, with a sudden cry of anger, seized the knife Lolla had given her, which had been lying at her feet. Furiously she brandished it.
"If either of you come a step nearer I'll use it!" she said, scarcely able to recognize her own voice, so changed was it by the anger that Lolla's treachery had aroused in her. "You'd better not think I'm joking. I mean it!"
Peter hesitated, but Lolla, her eyes flashing, urged him on.
"Go on! Do you want me to tell all the women that you were frightened by a little girl; a girl you could crush with one hand?" she cried, angrily. "You coward! Tie them up, I tell you! Oh, if my man John were here he'd show you! Here—"
Peter, stung by her taunts, made a quick rush forward. For a moment Bessie did not know what to do. She wondered if, when it came to the test, she would really be able to use the knife; to try to cut or stab this man. He was getting nearer each moment, and, just as she was almost within his grasp she darted back and aimed a blow at him with the knife.
There was no danger that it would strike him; Bessie thought that, if she could only convince him that she had meant what she said, he would hesitate. And she was right. He gave a cry of alarm as he saw the steel flash toward him and drew back.
"She would stab me!" he exclaimed furiously, to Lolla. "I was not to be struck with a knife. John said nothing about that. He told me only to guard this girl—"
"She wouldn't really touch you with it," screamed Lolla, so furious that she forgot the need of keeping her voice low. "John wouldn't let her frighten him that way, he is too brave. Oh, how the women will laugh when they hear how the brave Peter was frighted by a girl with a little knife!"
But Bessie, in spite of her own indecision, had managed, somehow, to convince the man that she was serious, and Lolla's taunts no longer affected him. He drew back still farther, and stood looking stupidly at the two girls.
"You're wiser than she," said Bessie approvingly. "I meant just what I said. Keep as far as that from me, and you'll be safe. I'm not afraid of you any more."
Nor was she. Her victory, brief though it might be, had encouraged her, and revived her drooping spirits. Dolly, too, seemed to have gained new life from the sight of the big gypsy quailing before her chum. She had stopped trembling, and stood up bravely now, ready to face whatever might come.
"Good for you, Bessie!" she exclaimed. She darted a vicious look at Lolla. "I wish that treacherous little gypsy would come somewhere near me," she went on, angrily. "I'd pull her hair and make her sorry she ever tried to help those villains to keep us. When they put her in prison I'm going to see her, and jeer at her!"
Lolla, looking helpless now in her anger, said nothing, but she glared at the two girls.
"I think these people are very superstitious," whispered Dolly to Bessie, when it became plain that, for the moment, the two gypsies intended only to watch them, without making any further attempt to tie them up.
"I think so too," returned Bessie, in the same tone. "But I don't see what good that is going to do us, Dolly."
"Neither do I, just yet, Bessie. But I can't help thinking that there must be some way that we could frighten them, if we could only think of it; so that they would be frightened and run away."
"We might tell them—Oh, I've got an idea, Dolly."
She looked at Peter and Lolla. They were at the very edge of the little clearing in which Dolly had been imprisoned.
"Listen, Lolla," said Bessie, calmly. "I believe that you are a good girl, though you have lied to me, and tried to make me think you were my friend, when all the time you were planning, you could betray me. This place is dangerous."
Lolla looked at her scornfully and tossed head.
"Don't think you can frighten me with your stories," she said, with a laugh. "It is dangerous—for you. When my man comes you will find that he is not a coward, like Peter, to be frightened with your knife. He will take it away from you and beat you, too, for trying to frighten Peter with it."
"Yes, he is brave, Lolla. We saw that when he ran away from the fire that he saw last night near the lake."
Bessie was taking a chance when she said that. She did not know whether Lolla had heard of the mysterious flashlight explosion or not, but she thought it more than probable that John had told her of it. And she was reasonably sure that he was still wondering what had caused the light that had so suddenly blinded him. Her swift look at Lolla showed her that her blow had struck home.
"He is a brave man, indeed, to keep on with his wicked plan to steal my friend after such a warning," Bessie went on sternly. "But his bravery will do him no good. There is a spirit looking after us. It made the fire that frightened him, and the next time he will not only see the fire; he will feel it, too."
Now she looked not only at Lolla, who seemed shaken, but at Peter, who was staring at her as if fascinated. Evidently he, too, had heard of the strange fire. Bessie had reckoned on the probability, that seemed almost a certainty, that John would not have been able to explain, even to himself, the nature of the flashlight explosion. And evidently she was right. Then she took another chance, guessing at what she thought John would probably have said to explain the fire.
"I know what he told you," she said slowly. "He said that the fire came from a spirit that was guiding him, and was trying to help him. But he only said that because he did not understand. It meant just the opposite; that it would be better for him to go home, and forget the wicked plot he had thought of."
Peter seemed to be weakening, but Lolla tossed her head again.
"Are you a baby? Do you think that is true?" she said to him. "Don't you see that she is only trying to frighten you, as she did with the knife?"
"Indeed I am not," said Bessie, earnestly. "I am not angry with you, any more than I am afraid of you now. If you stay here something dreadful will happen to you both. You would not like to go to prison, would you, and stay there all through this summer, and the next winter, and the summer of next year, when you might be traveling the road with your brothers?"
"Make them keep quiet, Peter," cried Lolla, furiously. "She is quite right There is danger here, but it comes from her friends. She thinks that if she can fool us into letting her talk, they may pass by and hear her voice."
"You keep quiet," said Peter, doggedly, evidently deciding that, this time, he could safely obey Lolla's orders, and quite ready to do so. "If you make any more noise I will—"
He left the sentence uncompleted, but a savage gesture showed what he meant. He had a stout stick, and this he now swung with a threatening air.
Bessie had hoped to work on the superstitious nature of the gypsy man, and to frighten him, perhaps, if she had good luck, into letting her go off with Dolly. But Lolla's interference had put that out of the question. She turned sadly to Dolly, to see her companion's eyes twinkling.
"Never you mind, Bessie," she said. "They're stupid, anyhow. And as long as they don't tie us up we're all right. I'd just as soon be here as anywhere. Someone will go along that trail presently looking for us, and when they do we can shout. They'll probably make a noise themselves, so as to let us know they are near. And I'm not frightened any more; really I'm not."
But Bessie, tired and disappointed, was nearer to giving in than she had been since the moment when she had awakened and found that Dolly was missing. She felt that she ought to have distrusted Lolla; that she had made a great mistake in thinking, even for a moment, that the gypsy girl meant to betray her own people.
Then suddenly a strange thing happened. A new voice, that belonged to none of the four who were in the clearing, suddenly broke the silence. It seemed to come from a tree directly over the heads of Lolla and Peter, and, as it spoke, they stared upward with one accord, listening intently to what it said.
"Will you make me come down and punish you?" said the voice. It was that of an old, old man, feeble with age, but still clear.
Bessie stared too, as surprised as the gypsy, and the voice went on:
"I gave your companion a sign last night that should have warned him. I speak to you now, to warn you again. The next time I shall not give a warning; I shall act, and your punishment will be swift and terrible. Take heed; go, while there is time."
For a moment the two gypsies were speechless, looking at one another in wonder, and Bessie was not disposed to blame them. Her own head was in a whirl.
"Quick; it is in that tree!" said Lolla, easily the braver of the two of them. "Climb up there, and see who it is that is trying to frighten us, Peter."
But Peter was not prepared to do anything of the sort. He was trembling, and casting nervous glances behind him, as if he were more minded to make a break and run down the trail.
"Climb yourself! I shall stay here," he retorted.
And Lolla, without further hesitation, sprang into the branches of the tree and began to climb.
As she did so the mysterious voice sounded again.
"You cannot see me, yet," it said. "You can only hear me. See, my voice is in your ears, but you cannot see as much as my little finger. Beware; go before you do see me. For when you do, you will regret it; regret it as long as you live!"
When Lolla, a moment later, reached firm ground again, she was trembling, and Bessie saw that her courage was beginning to fail. She looked about her nervously, as Peter was doing. And suddenly the voice spoke again, but this time it shouted, and it was in a stronger, more vigorous tone, and one of great anger.
"Must I show myself! Must I punish you?" it said, furiously. "Fear me; you will do well! Go—GO!"
With a yell of terror Peter turned suddenly, and ran through the thick bushes toward the trail, crying out as he went, and stumbling.
"Come; it is the devil! I saw his horns and his tail then," he screamed. "Come, Lolla, this is an accursed place. I told John it was wrong to try to do this; that he would get into trouble."
"He is wise; he is safe!" said the mysterious voice. "Go too, Lolla; I am growing impatient. Go, if you want to see John, your lover, and the brothers that you love, again. The time is growing short. I come; I come; and when I come—"
And then at last Lolla's nerves, too, gave way, and she followed Peter, screaming, as he had done, while she ran. Bessie, as astonished and almost as frightened as the two gypsies had been, turned then to see how Dolly was bearing this extraordinary affair, to see her chum rolling about on the ground, with tears in her eyes.
"Oh, that was funny!" Dolly exclaimed. "They were easy, after all, Bessie."
"They've gone! It's all right now," said Bessie. "But who was it, Dolly? Who could it have been?"
"It was me!" exclaimed Dolly, weakly, between gasps of laughter, forgetting her grammar altogether. "I learned that trick last summer. They call it ventriloquism. It just means throwing your voice out so that it doesn't seem to come from you at all, and changing it, so that people won't recognize it."
Bessie stared at her, in wonder and admiration. "Why, Dolly Ransom!" she said. "However do you do it? I never heard of such a thing!"
"I don't know how I do it," said Dolly, recovering her breath. "No one who can does, I guess. It's just something you happen to be able to do."
"You certainly frightened them," said Bessie. "And you saved us with your trick, Dolly. I think they've run clear away. We can follow them down the trail; they won't stick to it, and I think we can go right back to Long Lake, now, without being afraid any more. Come on, we'd better start. I don't want to stay here."
OUT OF THE FRYING PAN
"Stay here? I should say not!" exclaimed Dolly. "I'm almost starved—and, Bessie, they must be terribly worried about us, too. And now tell me, as we go along, how you ever found me. I don't see how you managed that."
So, as they made their way down the trail, Bessie told her of all that had happened since her rude awakening at the camp fire, just after the gypsy had carried Dolly off.
"Oh, Bessie, it was perfectly fine of you, and it's only because of you that we're safe now! But you oughtn't to have taken such a risk! Just think of what might have happened!"
"That's just it, Dolly. I've got time to think about it now, but then I could only think of you, and what was happening to you. If I'd stopped to think about the danger I'm afraid I wouldn't have come."
"But you must have known it was dangerous! I don't know anyone else who would have done it for me."
"Oh, yes, they would, Dolly. That's one of the things we promise when we join the Camp Fire Girls—always to help another member of the Camp Fire who is in trouble or in danger."
"Yes—but not like that. It doesn't say anything about going into danger yourself, you know."
"Listen, Dolly. If you saw me drowning in the water, you'd jump in after me, wouldn't you? Or after any of the girls—if there wasn't time to get help?"
"I suppose so—but that's different. It just means going in quickly, without time to think very much about it. And you had plenty of time to think while you were tramping along that horrid dark trail after me."
"Well, it's all over now, Dolly, and, after all, you had to save both of us in the end."
"That was just a piece of luck, and a trick, Bessie. It didn't take any courage to do that—and, beside, if it hadn't been for you I would never have had the chance to do that. I wonder why Lolla let you have her knife to cut those cords about me?"
"I think she's a regular actress, Dolly, and that she wanted to make me feel absolutely sure she was on our side, so that we would both be there in that trap when she and Peter came back."
"It's a good thing he was such a coward, Bessie."
"Oh, I think he'd be brave enough if he just had to fight with a man, so that it was the sort of fighting he was used to. You see it wasn't his plan, and when I said I'd use that knife he couldn't see why he should run any risk when all the profit was for the other man."
"And when you played that trick with your voice he was frightened, because he'd never heard of anything of that sort, and he didn't know what was coming next. I think that would frighten a good many people who are really brave."
"Bessie, why do I always get into so much trouble? All this happened just because I changed those signs that day."
"Oh, I don't know about that, Dolly. It might have happened anyhow. I've got an idea now that they knew we were around, and that John planned to kidnap one of us and keep us until someone paid him a lot of money to let us go. Something Lolla said made me think that."
"Then he was just playing a joke when he said he wanted to marry me?"
"Yes, I think so, because I don't think he was foolish enough to think he could ever really get you to do that. I did think so at first, but if that had been so I'm quite sure that Lolla wouldn't have helped him."
"She'd have been jealous, you mean?"
"Yes, I'm quite sure, you see, that she saw him and talked to him when we went over to their camp that time, so that she could take orders from him to Peter. He knew he'd be watched, so he must have made up his mind from the first that he would have to have help."
"I wonder what he is doing now, Bessie."
"I certainly hope he's still over there at the camp, sitting near that guide. The guide said he would shoot him if he tried to get away, you know."
"My, but I'll bet there's been a lot of commotion over this."
"I'm sure there has, Dolly. Probably all the people at the hotel heard about it, too. I'll bet they've got people out all through the woods looking for us."
"I wish we'd meet some of them—and that they'd have a lot of sandwiches and things. Bessie, I've simply got to sit down and rest. I want to get back to Miss Eleanor and the girls, but if I keep on any longer I'll drop just where we are. I'm too tired to take another step without a rest."
"I am, too, Dolly. Here—here's a good place to sit down for a little while. We really can't be so very far from Long Lake now."
"No," said a voice, behind them. "But you're so far that you'll never reach there, my dears!"
And, turning, they saw John, the gypsy, leering at them. His clothes were torn, and he was hot and dirty, so that it was plain that he had had a long run, and a narrow escape from capture. But at the sight of them he smiled, evilly and triumphantly, as if that repaid him amply for any hardships he had undergone.
"Don't you dare touch us!" said Bessie, shrilly.
She realized even as she said it, that he was not likely to pay any attention to her, but the sight of his grinning face, when she had been so sure that their troubles were over at last, was too much for her.
She sank down on a log beside Dolly, and hid her face in her hands, beginning to cry. Most men, no matter how bad, would have been moved to pity by the sight of her sufferings. But John was not.
"Don't cry," he said, with mock sympathy. "I am not going to treat you badly. You shall stay in the woods with me. I have a good hiding place, a place where your friends will never find you until I am ready. You are tired. So am I. We will rest here. It is quite safe. A party of your friends passed this way five minutes ago. They will not come again—not soon. I was within a few feet of them, but they did not see me."
Bessie groaned at the news. Had they only reached the place five minutes earlier, then, they would have been safe. She was struck by an idea, however, and lifted her voice in a shout for aid. In a moment the gypsy's hand covered her mouth and he was snarling in her ear.
"None of that," he said, grittingly, "or I will find a way to make you keep still. You must do as I tell you now, or it will be the worse for you. Will you promise to keep quiet?"
Bessie realized that there was no telling what this man would do if she did not promise—and keep her promise. He was cleverer than Peter, and, therefore, much more dangerous. She felt, somehow, that the trick which had worked so well when Dolly had used it before would be of no avail now. He might even understand it; he was most unlikely, she was sure, to yield to superstitious terror as Peter and Lolla had done. And, leaning over to Dolly, she whispered to her.
"Don't try that trick, Dolly. You see, if the others had dared the voice to do something they would have found out that there was really nothing to be afraid of—and I'm afraid he'd wait. It may be useful again, but not with him, now. If we tried it, and it didn't work—"
"I understand," Dolly whispered back. "I think you are right, too, Bessie. We'd be worse off than ever. I was thinking that if only some of the other gypsies were here we might frighten them so much with it that they'd make him let us go."
"Yes. We'll save it for that."
The gypsy was still breathing hard. He looked at the two girls malignantly, but he saw that they were too tired to walk much unless he let them rest, and, purely out of policy, and not at all because he was sorry for them, and for the hardships he had made them endure, he let them sit still for a while. But finally he rose.
"Come," he said. "You've been loafing here long enough. Get up now, and walk in front of me—back, the way you came."
They groaned at the prospect of retracing their footsteps once more, but he held the upper hand, and there was nothing for it but obedience. That much was plain. Desperately, as they began to drag their tired feet once more along the trail, they listened, hoping against hope for the sounds that would indicate that some of the searchers they were sure filled the woods were in the neighborhood.
But no comforting shouts greeted them. The woods were silent, save for the calls of birds and animals, which, friendly though they might be, were powerless to aid the two girls against this traditional enemy of every furred and feathered creature in the forest.
Steadily they plodded on. Bessie knew the ground well by this time, and, one by one they passed the landmarks she knew so well, until they came at last to the cross path which had brought Bessie back to the trap Lolla had prepared for her. And there they came upon a startling interruption of their journey.
For suddenly Lolla herself, who had evidently been hiding there when they had passed, alone, before their meeting with John, sprang out and stood in front of them. Long as she had resisted her fear of the supernatural force that had come to the aid of the girls, she was plainly afraid of it still, for at sight of them her cheeks paled, and she cried out in terror. And behind her, as scared as she was herself, came Peter, the big gypsy, shaking in every limb.
"A fine mess you made of things—letting them escape," growled John, as he saw his two compatriots. "If I hadn't found them on the trail, by sheer luck, they'd have been back at the lake by this time."
"Let them go—for heaven's sake, let them go, John," wailed Lolla. "There is a devil fighting for them—he will kill you if you try any longer to keep them from their friends."
"Pah! What child's talk is this? Be thankful that I do not beat you with my stick for letting them get free!"
"Listen to her, John," said Peter, warningly. "She speaks the truth. It was a devil that spoke from the air. I saw his horns and his red tail. Be careful—he may be here now."
John laughed, scornfully.
"Run away, if you are afraid," he said. "I will manage alone now. I would not trust you—you have failed me once, both of you. Do not think you can frighten me into failure because you are as brave as a—chicken!"
"Let them go, I say," said Peter, with a sternness in his voice that gave Bessie a new ray of hope. "I have had my warning, I will profit by it."
"You coward!" sneered John.
But that was too much for Peter. With a cry of rage he sprang forward.
"I fear no man, no man I can see or touch," he cried. "And no man shall call me coward!"
In a moment the two were grappling in a furious fight. John was smaller than Peter, but he was wiry and as lithe and powerful as a trained athlete, so that he was a match, at first, for the rugged strength of Peter. But he had had a hard day, and gradually Peter's strength wore him down, and, as they crashed to the ground together, Peter was on top, and plainly destined to be victor in the fight. He looked up at the two girls.
"Go!" he said. "I will have nothing to do with you. I am fighting with my friend to save him, not for your sakes, you who have a devil to help you. If he keeps you harm will come to him. John, listen to me: I do this because you are my friend."
Bessie and Dolly needed no second invitation. Amazing as was this latest intervention in favor, they were too happy to stop to question it. It was their chance to escape, and five minutes later they were out of sight, and making their way, as fast as their tired bodies would allow them to do, toward Long Lake and safety.
SAFE AT LAST
Indeed, any lingering fear Bessie and Dolly might have had that John had succeeded in escaping from his two anxious friends who were so determined to protect him against his own recklessness, was dissipated before they came in sight of the lake, when, at a crossing of the trail, a glad cry hailed them and a sturdy guide stepped across their path.
"Well, I'll be hornswoggled!" he exclaimed. "Ain't you the two that was lost, or stolen by that gypsy critter?"
"We certainly are," said Dolly and Bessie, in one breath. "Were you looking for us?"
"Lookin' fer you!" he exclaimed. "Every one in these here woods has been a-lookin' fer you two since sun-up, I guess. Godfrey, but we was scared! Didn't know but that there gypsy might have sneaked you clean out of the woods! How did you all ever come to get loose? Or was you just plain lost?"
"No, we weren't lost," said Bessie. "He carried Dolly off all right; this is Dolly Ransom, you know. But he didn't catch me."
"Then how in tarnation did you come to be lost, too? You was, wasn't you? They told us two girls was missin'."
"Well, we were asleep in the open air, outside the tent, and I woke up just as he was carrying Dolly off. I didn't wake up until he'd got out of the firelight, and there wasn't any use calling anyone else. So I just followed myself."
"She says anyone would have done it," Dolly broke in, her eyes shining. "But I don't believe it, do you?"
"No, by Godfrey!" he said, emphatically. "A greenhorn, goin' out in them woods at night, in the dark, and a girl, at that? I guess not!"
He looked at Bessie, as if puzzled to learn that she had actually done such a thing.
"Well, you're all right now," he said. "Here, I'll just give the signal we fixed up. Listen, now!"
He raised his rifle, and, pointing it straight in the air, fired two shots, and then, after a brief interval, two more.
"The sound of that'll carry a long way," he explained, "and that means that you're both found. The other fellows who are searchin' for you will quit lookin', now, and come into Long Lake. If I'd fired just two shots, and hadn't fired the second two, that would have meant that one of you was found, and they'd have kept right on a-lookin' fer the other. I'll walk along with you now, an' I guess that varmint won't bother you no more. If he does—"
He patted his rifle with a gesture that spoke more plainly than words could have done.
"Tell me all about it as we go along," he said. "I guess maybe there'll be some work for us to do after we all get together—runnin' those gypsies out. They're a bad lot, but this is the fust time they ever done anythin' around here that give us a real chance to get even with them. We've suspected them of doin' lots of things, but a deer can't tell you who killed him out o' season, 'specially when all you find of the deer is a little skin and bones."
He listened admiringly as Bessie told her story. At the tale of Lolla's treachery he laughed.
"They're all tarred with the same brush," he said. "One's as bad as another."
And when he heard of the trick by which Dolly had worked on the superstitious fears of Lolla and Peter his merriment knew no bounds, and he absolutely refused to keep on the trail until Dolly had given him a demonstration of just how she had managed it.
"Well, by Godfrey!" he said, when she had thrown her voice far overhead, and once so that it seemed to come from just above his shoulder. "Don't that beat the Dutch! I don't wonder you skeered 'em! You'd have had me goin', I guess, an' I ain't no chicken, nor easy to skeer, neither. You two certainly done a smart job gettin' away from them."
And so, when they reached Long Lake, the girls and the guides, who had scattered all over the woods searching for them, agreed, when they straggled in, one party after another. Eleanor Mercer was one of the first to return, and when she had finished proving her gratitude for their safe return, she turned a laughing face toward the chief guide.
"Do you know the thing that pleases me best about this, Andrew?" she asked him.
"I can guess, ma'am," he said, with a grin. "You told us when you come up here that you was goin' to prove that a party of girls could get along without help from men. And I reckon it looked to you this morning as if you was goin' to need us pretty bad, didn't it?"
"It certainly did, Andrew," she answered, gravely. "And I don't want you to think for a moment that we're not grateful to you for the way you turned out and scoured the woods."
"Don't talk of gratitude, Miss Eleanor. We've known you for years, but even if we'd never seen you before, and didn't know nothin' about the girls that thief had stolen, we'd ha' turned out jest the same way to rescue them. An' I guess any white men anywhere would ha' done the same thing.
"But if it was only us you'd had to depend on, I'm afraid the young lady'd still be out there. It was her friend that saved her. Too bad she trusted that Lolla witch. If she'd gone to Jim Skelly when she was near the gypsy camp that time, an' told him where her chum was, he'd have had her free in two shakes of a lamb's tail."
"I think Dolly and Bessie must be awfully hungry," said Zara, who had listened with shining eyes to the tale of her friends' adventures.
"Oh, they must, indeed!" said Eleanor, remorsefully. "And here we've been listening to them, and letting them talk while they were starving."
She turned toward the fire, but already two of the guides had leaped forward, and in a moment the smell of crisp bacon filled the air, and coffee was being made.
"Oh, how good that smells!" said Dolly. "I am hungry, but it was so exciting, remembering everything that happened, that I forgot all about it! Isn't it funny? I was dreadfully scared when I was alone there, and again afterward, when we thought we were safe, and that horrid man caught us.
"But now that it's all over, it seems like good fun. If one only knew that everything was coming out all right when things like that happen, one could enjoy them while they were going on, couldn't one? But when one is frightened half to death there isn't much chance to think of how nice it's going to be when it's all over, and you're safe at home again."
"That's just the trouble with adventures, Dolly," said Eleanor. "You never can be sure that they will come out all right, and lots of times they don't. It's like the thrilling story that the man told about being chased by the bear."
"What was that, Miss Eleanor?"
"Well, he told about how the bear chased him, and he got into a trap, and the bear was between him and the only way of getting out, and it seemed to him as if he was going to be killed. So they asked him what happened; how he got away?"
"And how did he?"
"He said he didn't; that the bear ate him up!"
"Miss Eleanor," said Andrew, the old chief guide, as the two girls began ravenously to eat the tempting camp meal that the other guides had so quickly prepared, "we've got something more to do here."
Eleanor looked at him questioningly.
"We've got to find that gypsy," he said, "and see that he spends the night in jail, where he belongs. If I'm not mistaken, he'll spend a good many nights and days there, too, after he's been tried."
"I suppose he must be caught and taken to a place where he can be tried," said Eleanor. "I don't like the idea of revenge, but—"
"But this ain't revenge, Miss Eleanor. If you was a-goin' to say that you was quite right. It's self protection, and protection for young girls everywhere."
"Yes, you're right, Andrew. Well, what do you want me to do? I am afraid I wouldn't be touch good in helping you to catch him."
Andrew laughed heartily.
"I ain't sayin' that, ma'am, but there's men enough of us to catch him, all right. Maybe you didn't notice it, but I sent out some of the men 'most as soon as they got here, just so's they'd be able to fix things for him to have to stay where we could catch him. Trouble is, none of us don't know him when we see him. I was wonderin'—"
"Oh, no, not now, Andrew. I know what you mean. You want the girls to go with you, so as to point him out, don't you? But they're so tired, I'm sure they couldn't do any more tramping today."
"I know they're tired, ma'am, and I wasn't aimin' to let them do any more walkin'. I've got more sense than that. But we could rig up a sort of a swing chair, so's two of the boys could carry one of them, easily. Then we could take her over there, and she could tell us which was him, and never be tired at all. She'd be jest as comfortable, ma'am, as if she was a settin' here by the lake, watchin' the water."
"Well, I suppose we can manage it if you do it that way, Andrew, if you think it's really necessary."
When it came to a choice, since it was necessary for only one of the girls to go, Dolly insisted on being the one.
"Bessie is much more tired than I am," she said, stoutly. "I was carried a good part of the way and she tramped all around with that wretched little Lolla, when she thought Lolla wanted to help her get me away. So I'm going, and Bessie shall stay here and rest"
"Don't, make no difference to me," said Andrew "Let the other girls come along with us, if you like, Miss Eleanor. And you can stay hind here with the one that stays to rest. See!"
And so it was arranged. Bessie, lying on a cot that had been brought from Eleanor's tent, watched Dolly being carried off in the litter that had been hastily improvised, and Eleanor sat beside her.
"You've certainly earned a rest, Bessie," said Eleanor, happily. It delighted her to think that Bessie, whom she had befriended, should prove herself so well worthy of her confidence. "I don't know what we'd have done without you. I'm afraid that Dolly would still be there in the woods if you'd just called us, as most girls would have done."
"I don't quite understand one thing, even yet, Bessie," continued Eleanor, frowning, "You know, at first, it seemed as if the idea we had was right; that this man had some crazy idea that he might be able to make a gypsy of Dolly.
"I'm beginning to think that there was some powerful reason back of what he did; that he expected to make a great deal of money out of kidnapping her. It seems, too, as if he knew where we were going to be, and who we all were, more than he had had any chance to find out."
"I thought of that, too," said Bessie. "If it had been Zara he tried to steal—but it was Dolly. And she hasn't been mixed up at all in our affairs."
"I know, and that's what is so puzzling, Bessie. Maybe if they catch him, though, he'll tell why he did it. I think those guides will frighten him. They're all perfectly furious, and they'll make him sorry he ever tried to do anything of the sort, I think—Why, Bessie! What's the matter?"
"Don't turn around, Miss Eleanor. But I saw a pair of eyes, just behind you. I wonder if he could have sneaked back around and come here?"
"Oh, I wish we'd had one of the men stay, I was afraid of something like that, Bessie."
"I'm going to find out, Miss Eleanor. I'll pretend I don't suspect anything, and get up to go into the tent. Then, if it's John, I think he'll show himself."
She rose, and in a moment their fears were confirmed. John, his eyes triumphant, stepped out, abandoning the concealment of the hushes.
"Where is the other?" he said. "The one called Bessie—Bessie King? It's not you I want—"
"Hands up!" cried the voice of Andrew, the chief guide.
And the gypsy, wheeling with a savage cry, faced a half circle of grinning faces. He made one wild dash to escape, but it was useless, and in a moment he was on the ground, and his hands were tied. In the struggle a letter fell from his pocket, and Bessie picked it up. Suddenly, as she was looking at it idly, she saw something that made her cry out in surprise, and the next moment she and Miss Mercer were reading it together.
"Get this girl, Bessie King, and I will pay you a thousand dollars," it read. "She is dark, and goes around with a fair girl called Dolly. It will be easy, and if you once get them to me and out of the woods, I will pay you the money, and see that you are not in danger of being arrested. I will back you up."
"Who wrote that letter? Turn over, quickly!" cried Eleanor.
"I know without looking," said Bessie. "Now we can guess why he was so reckless; why he took such chances! He thought I was Dolly, because of that mistake about our hair! Yes, see; it is Mr. Holmes who sent him this letter!"
THE GYPSY'S MOTIVE
But, despite the revelation of that letter, the gypsy himself maintained a sullen silence when efforts were made to make him tell all he knew and the reason for his determined effort to kidnap Dolly. He snarled at his captors when they, asked him questions, and so enraged Andrew and the other guides by his refusal to answer that only Eleanor's intervention saved him from rough handling.
"No I won't let you use violence, Andrew," said Eleanor, firmly. "It would do no good. He won't talk; that is his nature. You have him now, and the law will take him from you. There isn't any question of his guilt; there will be evidence enough to convict him anywhere, and he will go to prison, as he deserves to do. All I hope is that he won't be the only one, that we can get the man who bribed him to do this, and see that he gets punished properly, too."
"I'm sure with you there, ma'am," said old Andrew. "He's a worthless critter enough, I know, but he ain't as bad as the man that set him on. If the law lets that other snake go, ma'am, jest you get him to come up here for a little hunting, and we'll make him sorry he ever went into such business, I'd like to get my hands on him. I'm an old man, but I reckon I'm strong enough to thrash any imitation of a man what would play such a cowardly trick as that. Afraid to do his own dirty work, is he? So he hires it done. Well, much good it's done him this time."
"I'll keep this letter," said Eleanor. "I think it was mighty foolish of him to sign his name to it. It's a pretty good piece of evidence against the man, if he is rich and powerful. If there's any justice to be had, I think he'll suffer this time."
"How did you ever get back here, just when you were so badly needed?" Bessie asked Andrew.
He smiled at that.
"Well, we get sort o' used to readin' tracks in our work around here, Miss, and we seen that someone who might be this feller was doublin' around mighty suspicious. So, bein' some worried about leavin' you two here alone anyhow, I decided to come back with three or four of the men here, an' we did it, leavin' the others to go on an' see if they could pick up the other two gypsies.
"To tell the truth, I thought it'd be mighty strange if we found him anywhere near that camp. Seemed like he must know that we'd be lookin' fer him, and that there was the fust place we'd go to. So here we were, and mighty timely, as you say, Miss."
It was no great while before the sounds of the other party, returning, resounded through the woods, and soon Lolla and Peter, the man bound, and the girl carefully guarded by two guides, each of whom held one of her arms, were brought into the clearing about the camp. Lolla, at the sight of John, lying against a tree, his arms and his feet bound, gave a cry of rage, and, snatching her arms from her guardians, ran toward him, wailing.
"Go away, you fool!" muttered John. "This is your doing. If you and Peter had not been afraid of your own shadow, this would not have happened. I am glad they have caught you; you will go to prison now, like me."
"Look here, young feller," said Andrew, angrily, "that ain't no way to talk to a lady, hear me! She may be a bad one, but she's stuck to you. If you get off any more talk like that I'll see if a dip in the lake will make you feel more polite like. See?"
John gave no answer, but relapsed into his sullen silence again.
Eleanor approached Lolla gently.
"We are not angry with you, Lolla," she said, kindly. "No, nor with John. You love him, do you?"
Lolla gave no answer, but looked up into Eleanor's face with eyes that spoke plainly enough.
"I thought so. Then you do not want him to go to prison? Try to make him tell why he did this. If he will do that, perhaps he can go free, and you and Peter, too. You wouldn't like to have to leave your people, and not be able to travel along the road, and do all the things you are used to doing, would you?
"Well, I am afraid that is what will happen to you, unless John will tell all he knows. They will take you away, soon now, and you will go down to the town and there you will be locked up, all three of you, and you and John will not even see one another, for a long time—two or three years, maybe, or even longer—"
Still Lolla could not speak. But she began to cry, quietly, but with a display of suffering that moved Eleanor. After all, she felt Lolla was little more than a girl, and, though she had done wrong, very wrong, she had never had a proper chance to learn how to do what was right.
"I'm sorry for you, Lolla," said Eleanor. "We all are. We think you didn't know what you were doing, and how wicked it was. I will do my best for you, but your best chance is to make John tell all he knows."
"How can I? He blames me. He says if I and Peter hadn't been such cowards all would have been well. He is angry at me; he will not forgive me."
"Oh, yes, he will, Lolla. I am sure he loves you, and that he did this wicked thing because he wanted to have much money to spend buying nice things for you; pretty dresses, and a fine wagon, with good horses. So he will be sorry for speaking angrily to you, soon, and you will be able to make him tell the truth, if you only try. Will you try?"
"Yes," decided Lolla, suddenly. "I think you are good—that you forgive us. Do you?"
"I certainly do. After all, you see, Lolla, you haven't done us any harm."
Lolla pointed to Bessie.
"Will she forgive me?" she inquired. "I tricked her—made a fool of her—but she made a fool of me afterward. I lied to her; will she forgive me, too, like you?"
"Did you hear that, Bessie?" asked Eleanor, by way of answer to the gypsy girl's question.
"Yes," said Bessie. "I'm sorry you did it, Lolla, because I only wanted to help your man, and if you hadn't done what you said you were going to do, and helped me to get Dolly away from him, he wouldn't be in all this trouble now.
"But you didn't understand about that, and you helped your own people instead of a stranger. I don't think that's such a dreadful thing to do. It's something like a soldier in a war. He may think his country is wrong, but if there's a battle he has to fight for it, just the same."
"But remember that the best way to help John now is to make him see that he has been wrong, and to try to make him understand that he can make up for his wickedness by helping us to punish the bad man who got him to do this," said Eleanor. "That man, you see, was too much of a coward to do his work himself, so he got your man to do it, knowing that if anyone was to be punished he would escape, and John would get into trouble.
"John doesn't owe anything to a man like that; he needn't think he's got to keep him out of trouble. The man wouldn't do it for him. He won't help him now. He'll pretend he doesn't know anything about this at all."
"I will try," promised Lolla. "But I think John is angry with me, and will not listen. But I will do my best."
And, after a little while, which the guides used to cook a meal, and to rest after their strenuous tramping in the effort to find the missing girls, Andrew told off half a dozen of them to make their way to the county seat, a dozen miles away, with the three gypsies.
"Just get them there and turn them over to the sheriff, boys," said the old guide. "He'll hold them safe until they've been tried, and we won't have any call to worry about them no more. But be careful while you're on your way down. They're slippery customers, and as like as not to try to run away from you and get to their own people."
"You leave that to me," said the guide who was to be in charge of the party. "If they get away from us, Andrew, they'll be slicker than anyone I ever heard tell of, anywhere. We won't hurt them none, but they'll walk a chalk line, right in front of us, or I'll know the reason why."
"All right," said Andrew. "Better be getting started, then. Don't want to make it too late when you get into town with them. Let the girl rest once in a while; she looks purty tired to me."
Bessie and Dolly and the other girls watched the little procession start off on the trail, and Bessie, for one, felt sorry for Lolla, who looked utterly disconsolate and hopeless.
"We couldn't let them go free, I suppose," said Eleanor, regretfully. "But I do feel sorry for that poor girl. I don't think she liked the idea from the very first, but she couldn't help herself. She had to do what the men told her. Women don't rank very high among the gypsies; they have to do what the men tell them, and they're expected to do all the work and take all the hard knocks beside."
"You're right; there's nothing else to do, ma'am," said old Andrew. "Well, guess the rest of us guides had better be gettin' back to work. Ain't nothin' else we can do fer you, is there, ma'am?"
"I don't think so. I don't suppose we need be afraid of the other gypsies, Andrew? Are they likely to try to get revenge for what has happened to their companions?"
"Pshaw! They'll be as quiet as lambs for a long time now. They was a breakin' up camp over there by Loon Pond when the boys come away last time. Truth is, I reckon they're madder at John and his pals for gettin' the whole camp into trouble than they are at us.
"You see, they know they needn't show their noses around here fer a long time now; not until this here shindy's had a chance to blow over an' be forgotten. And there ain't many places where they've been as welcome as over to the pond."
"I shouldn't think they'd be very popular here in the woods."
"They ain't, ma'am; they ain't, fer a fact. More'n once we've tried to make the hotel folks chase them away, but they sort of tickled the summer boarders over there, and so the hotel folks made out as they weren't as bad as they were painted, and was entitled to a chance to make camp around there as long as they behaved themselves."
"I suppose they never stole any stuff from the hotel?"
"That's jest it. They knew enough to keep on the right side of them people, you see, an' they did their poachin' in our woods. Any time they've been around it's always meant more work for us, and hard work, too."
"Well, I should think that after this experience the people at the hotel would see that the gypsies aren't very good neighbors, after all."
"That's what we're counting on, ma'am. Seems to me, from what I just happened to pick up, that there was some special reason, like, for this varmint to have acted that way today, or last night, maybe it was. Some feller in the city as was back of him."
"There was, Andrew, I'm afraid; a man who ought to know better, and whom you wouldn't suspect of allowing such a dreadful thing to be done."
Andrew shook his head wisely.
"It's hard to know what to wish," she said. "Sometimes a man is much worse when he comes out of prison than he was when he went in. It seems just to harden them, and make it impossible for them to get started on the right road again."
"It's their fault for going wrong in the fust place," said the old guide, sternly. "That's what I say. I don't take any stock in these new fangled notions of makin' the jail pleasant for them as does wrong. Make 'em know they're goin' to have a hard time, an' they'll be lest willin' to take chances of goin' wrong and bein' caught with the goods, like this feller here today. I bet you when he gets out of jail he'll be so scared of gettin' back that he'll be pretty nearly as good as a white man."
"Of course, the main thing is to frighten any of the others from acting the same way," said Eleanor. "I think the hotel will be sorry it let those gypsies stay around there. Because it's very sure that mothers who have children there will be nervous, and they'll go away to some place where they can feel their children are safe.
"Well, good-bye, Andrew. I'm glad you think it's safe now. I really would like to feel that we can get along by ourselves here, but, of course, I wouldn't let any pride stand in the way of safety, and if you thought it was better I'd ask you to leave one of the men here."
"No call for that, ma'am. You've shown you can get along all right. We didn't have nothin' to do with gettin' Miss Dolly away from that scamp today. It was her chum done that. Goodbye."
A FRIENDLY CONTEST
Morning found both Dolly and Bessie refreshed, and, though the other girls asked them anxiously about themselves, neither seemed to feel any ill effects after the excitement of the previous day, with its series of surprising events. Dolly, at first, was a little chastened, and seemed wholly ready to stay quietly in camp. And, indeed, all the girls decided that it would be better, for the time at least, not to venture far into the woods.
"I think it's as safe as ever now, along the well-known trails that are used all the time," said Miss Eleanor, "but, after all, we don't know much about the gypsies. Some of them may be hanging around still, even if the main party of them has moved on, and we do know that they are a revengeful race; that when one of them is hurt, or injured in any way, they are very likely not to rest until the injury is avenged. They don't care much whether they hurt the person who is guilty or not; his relatives or his friends will satisfy them equally well"
"I'm perfectly willing to stay right here by the lake," said Margery Burton, "for one. It's as nice here as it can possibly be anywhere else. I'd like someone to go in swimming with me."
"If it isn't too cold I will," cried Dolly, cheerfully.
And so, after the midday meal—two hours afterward, too, for Eleanor Mercer was too wise a Guardian to allow them to run any risk by going into the water before their food had been thoroughly digested—bathing suits were brought out, and Margery Burton, or Minnehaha, as the one who had proposed the sport, was unanimously elected a committee of one to try the water, and see if it was warm enough for swimming.
"And no tricks, Margery!" warned Dolly. "I know you, and if you found it was cold it would be just like you to pretend it was fine so that we'd all get in and be as cold as you were yourself!"
"I'll be good! I promise," laughed Margery, and, without any preliminary hesitation on the water's edge, she walked to the end of the little dock that was used for the boats and plunged boldly in. She was a splendid swimmer, a fact that had once, when Bessie had first joined the Camp Fire, nearly cost her her life, for, seeing her upset, no one except Bessie had thought it necessary to jump in after her, and she had actually been slightly stunned, so that she had been unable to swim.
But this time there was no accident. She disappeared under the water with a beautiful forward dive, and plunged along for many feet before she rose to the surface, laughing, and shaking the water out of her eyes. Then, treading water, she called to the group on the dock.
"It's all right for everyone but Dolly, I think," she cried. "I'm afraid it would be too cold for her. I like it; I think it's great!"
"You can't fool me," said Dolly, and, without any more delay, she too plunged in. But she rose to the surface at once, gasping for breath, and looking about for Margery.
"Why, it's as cold as ice!" she exclaimed. "Ugh! I'm nearly frozen to death! Margery, why didn't you tell me it was so cold?"
"I did, stupid!" laughed Margery. "I said it was warm enough for me, but that I was afraid it would be too cold for you, didn't I?"
"I—I thought you were just fooling me; you knew I'd never let the others go in if I didn't!"
"It's not my fault if you wouldn't believe me. All I promised was to tell you whether it was cold or not! Come on, you girls! It is cold, but you won't mind it after you've been in for a minute!"
"Look out! Give me room for a dive!" cried Eleanor Mercer, suddenly appearing from her tent. "I know this water; I've been in it every year since I was a lot smaller than you. I'm afraid of it every year the first time I go in, but how I do love it afterward!"
And, running at full speed, she sped down to the edge of the dock, leaped up and turned a somersault, making a beautiful dive that filled the girls who were still dry with envy. And a moment later they were all in, swimming happily and enjoying themselves immensely. All, that is, except Zara, who could not swim.
"Oh, I wish I could dive like that, Miss Eleanor!" exclaimed Bessie, who had been one of the first to go into the water.
"Oh, that's nothing; you can learn easily, Bessie. You swim better than any of us. Isn't this water cold for you? I should think you wouldn't be used to it. All the others have been in pretty cold water before now."
"Oh, so have I! You see, around Hedgeville we used to go into the regular swimming holes, and they never get very warm. There's no beach, you just go in off the bank, and most of the swimming holes have trees all around them so that they're shady, and the sun doesn't strike them. They're in the shade all the time, and that keeps the water cold. This is warmer than that, ever so much."
"I tell you what we'll do, girls; we'll fix up a spring-board and have some lessons in real diving. Wouldn't that be fun?"
"It certainly would! I'd love to be able to do a backward dive!"
"Well, this is a good place to learn; no one around to make you nervous, and good deep water. It's sixteen or seventeen feet off that dock, all the time, and that's deep enough for almost any diving; for any that we're likely to do, certainly."