"We don't know. I'm afraid we don't know Mrs. Black," answered Betty. She was getting control of herself now. The aggressive woman had rather startled her at first.
"She lives down there," and the owner of the deserted house pointed toward the nearest residence.
"No one is here but us," said Betty. "We closed the windows, and we fed the cat. We also fed ourselves, but we left the money to pay for it. Shall I get it?"
The woman stared at her blankly.
"I—I'm afraid I don't understand," she returned, weakly.
"I'll explain," said Betty, and she did, telling how they had come in for shelter from the storm, how they had found the windows open, how they had closed up the place and had eaten and slept in it. Now they were going away.
"Well if that doesn't beat all!" cried the woman, in wonder.
"We couldn't understand how no one was at home," went on Betty.
"Well, it's easy enough explained," said the woman. "I'm Mrs. Kate Robertson. Yesterday afternoon I got a telephone message from Kirkville, saying my husband, who works in the plaster mill there, was hurt. Of course that flustered me. Hiram Boggs brought the message. Of course you don't know him."
"No," answered Betty, as Mrs. Robertson paused for breath.
"Well, I was flustered, of course, naturally," went on the large lady. "I just rushed out as I was, got into Hiram Bogg's rig—he drives good horses, I will say that for him—I got in with him, just as I was, though I will say I had all my housework done and was thinking what to get for supper. I got in with Hiram, and made him drive me to the depot. I knew I just had time to get the three-thirty-seven train. And I got it. And me with only such things as I could grab up," she added, with a glance at her attire, which, though old fashioned, was neat.
"On my way to the station," she resumed, "I stopped at the drug store, telephoned to Martha Black, and asked her to run over and close up my house, for it looked like a storm."
"It did rain," put in Mollie.
"I should say it did. And Martha never closed my house?" It was a direct question.
"No, we did," said Betty. "Probably she forgot it."
"I'll have to see. Well, anyhow, when I got to my husband I found he wasn't much hurt after all. Still I stayed over night with him, as there wasn't a train back. And when I saw you girls on my porch I couldn't think what had happened. Are you a Votes for Women crowd?"
"No," said Betty. "We're a walking club."
"All right. Now, then, I'll see why Martha didn't come over. I can't understand."
"Perhaps this is she now," said Betty, as another woman was seen coming up the walk.
"It is," said Mrs. Robertson. "That's Martha Black."
The two met. There was much talk, of which the girls caught some, and then the explanation came. Mrs. Black had started to come over to Mrs. Robertson's house to close the windows as she saw the rain, but, pausing to attend to some household duties, she was a little late. Then she looked over and saw the sashes shut down, and thought that Mrs. Robertson had come back to attend to them herself. As the storm kept up, she did not have a chance to call, and only on seeing Mrs. Robertson arrive did she suspect anything wrong. Meanwhile the girls had been in charge, but Mrs. Black was not aware of it.
"Well, I must say I thank you," said Mrs. Robertson, to Betty and her chums. "And as for me taking your money, I'd never dream of it! Won't you stay to dinner?"
"We must be off," replied Betty, and soon, after more talk and explanations, and the return of the money left by the girls in the hall, the travelers were on their way once more.
"Well, I must say, they were neat and clean," observed Mrs. Robertson, as she went through her house. "Real nice girls."
But Betty and her chums did not hear this compliment. They went on to visit the sister of Grace, who was not greatly alarmed at their delay, though she was amused at the narrative of their experience. They remained there over night, and the next day went on to Simpson's Corners, where they were the guests of Betty's uncle. This was a typical country settlement, and the girls only remained one night. Their next stopping place was to be Flatbush, where Mollie's aunt lived.
The weather was fine now, after the storm, and the roads pleasant through the country. The grass was greener than ever, the trees fully in leaf, and there were many birds to be heard singing.
Save for minor adventures, such as getting on the wrong road once or twice, and meeting a herd of cattle, which did them no harm, nothing of moment occurred to the girls on their trip toward Flatbush.
They had stopped for lunch in the little village of Mooretown, eating at the roadside, under some great oak trees, and making chocolate instead of tea for a change. Then came a rest period before they went forward again.
They were within two miles of their destination, going along a peaceful country road, arched with shady trees, and running parallel for a distance with a little river, when Betty paused and called:
"Hark! Listen! Someone is crying!"
"Gracious, I hope it isn't the twins!" exclaimed Mollie.
"Out here? Never!" said Grace.
The crying increased, and then they all saw a little girl sitting on a stone under a tree, sobbing as if her heart would break. Betty hurried up to the tot.
"What is the matter?" she asked, pillowing the tousled yellow head on her arm.
"I—I'se losted!" sobbed the little girl "P'ease take me home! I'se losted!"
THE BOY PEDDLER
"What are we to do?" asked Amy, in dismay.
"We can't leave her here," added Mollie, and at the word "leave" the child broke into a fresh burst of tears.
"I'se losted!" she sobbed. "I don't got no home! I tan't find muvver! Don't go 'way!"
"Bless your heart, we won't," consoled Betty, still smoothing the tousled hair. "We'll take you home. Which way do you live?"
"Dat way," answered the child, pointing in the direction from which the girls had come.
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Grace. "Have we got to go all the way back again?"
"Me live dere too!" exclaimed the lost child, indicating with one chubby finger the other direction.
"Gracious! Can she live in two places at once?" cried Mollie. "What a child!"
"She can't mean that," said Betty. "Probably she is confused, and doesn't know what she is saying."
"Me do know!" came from the tot, positively. She had stopped sobbing now, and appeared interested in the girls. "Mamma Carrie live dat way, mamma Mary live dat way," and in quick succession she pointed first in one direction and then the other.
"Oh, dear!" sighed Amy. "It's getting worse and worse!"
"You can't have two mammas, you know," said Betty, gently. "Try and tell us right dearie, and we'll take you home."
"I dot two mammas," announced the child, positively. "Mamma Carrie live down there, mamma Mary live off there. I be at mamma Carrie's house, and I turn back, den I get losted. Take me home!"
She seemed on the verge of tears again.
"Here!" exclaimed Grace, in desperation. "Have a candy—do—two of them. But don't cry. She reminds me of the twins," she added, with just the suspicion of moisture in her own eyes. The lost child gravely accepted two chocolates, one in each hand, and at once proceeded to get about as much on the outside of her face as went in her mouth. She seemed more content now.
"I can't understand it," sighed Mollie. "Two mothers! Who ever heard of such a thing?"
"Me got two muvvers," said the child, calmly, as she took a bite first of the chocolate in her left hand, and then a nibble from the one in the right. "One live dat way—one live udder way."
"What can she be driving at?" asked Amy.
"There must be some explanation," said Betty, as she got up from the stump on which she had been sitting, and placed the child on the ground. "We'll take her a little distance on the way we are going," she went on. "Perhaps we may meet someone looking for her."
"And we can't delay too long," added Mollie. "It will soon be supper time, and my aunt, where we are going to stay to-night, is quite a fusser. I sent her a card, saying we'd be there, and if we don't arrive she may call up our houses on the telephone, and imagine that all sorts of accidents have befallen us."
"But we can't leave her all alone on the road," spoke Betty, indicating the child.
"Don't 'eeve me!" pleaded the lost tot. "Me want one of my muvvers!"
"It's getting worse and worse," sighed Mollie, wanting to laugh, but not daring to.
Slowly the girls proceeded in the direction they had been going. They hoped they might meet someone who either would be looking for the child, or else a traveler who could direct them properly to her house, or who might even assume charge of the little one. For it was getting late and the girls did not feel like spending the night in some strange place. It was practically out of the question.
They were going along, Betty holding one of the child's hands, the other small fist tightly clutching some sticky chocolates, when a turn of the road brought the outdoor girls in sight of a lad who was seated on a roadside rock, tying a couple of rags around his left foot, which was bleeding.
Beside the boy, on the ground, was a pack such as country peddlers often carry. The lad seemed in pain, for as the girls approached, their footfalls deadened by the soft dust of the road, they heard him murmur:
"Ouch! That sure does hurt! It's a bad cut, all right, and I don't see, Jimmie Martin, how you're going to do much walking! Why couldn't you look where you were going, and not step on that piece of glass?"
He seemed to be finding fault with himself.
"Gracious!" exclaimed Mollie. "I hope this isn't another lost one. We seem to be getting the habit."
"He appears able to look after himself," said Amy.
The boy heard their voices and looked up quickly. Then, after a glance at them, he went on binding up his foot. But at the sight of him the little girl cried:
"Oh, it's Dimmie! Dat's my Dimmie! He take me to my two muvvers!" She broke away from Betty and ran toward the boy peddler.
"Why, it's Nellie Burton!" the lad exclaimed. "Whatever are you doing here?"
"I'se losted!" announced the child, as though it was the greatest fun in the world. "I'se losted, and dey found me, but dey don't know where my two muvvers is. 'Oo take me home, Dimmie."
"Of course I will, Nellie. That is, if I can walk."
"Did oo hurt oo's foot?"
"Yes, Nellie. I stepped on a piece of glass, and it went right through my shoe. But it's stopped bleeding now."
"Do you know this little girl?" asked Betty. "We found her down the road, but she can't seem to tell us where she lives. First she points in one direction and then the other, and—"
"And we can't understand about her two mothers," broke in Mollie. "Do, please, if you can, straighten it out. Do you know her?"
"Yes, ma'am," answered the boy peddler, and his voice was pleasant. He took off a rather ragged cap politely, and stood up on one foot, resting the cut one on the rock. "She's Nellie Burton, and she lives about a mile down that way," and he pointed in the direction from which the girls had come.
"I live dere sometimes," spoke the child, "and sometimes down dere," and she indicated two directions. "I dot two muvvers."
"What in the world does she mean?" asked Mollie, hopelessly.
"That's what she always says," spoke the boy. "She calls one of her aunts her mamma—it's her mother's sister, you see. She lives about a mile from Nellie's house, and Nellie spends about as much time at one place as she does at the other. She always says she has two mothers."
"I has" announced the child, calmly, accepting another chocolate from Grace.
"And you know Nellie?" asked Betty, pointedly.
"Yes," said the boy. "You see, I work through this part of the country. I peddle writing paper, pens, pins, needles and notions," he added, motioning to his pack. "I often stop at Nellie's house, and at her aunt's, too. They're my regular customers," he added, proudly, and with a proper regard for his humble calling.
"I'm doing pretty well, too," he went on. "I've got a good trade, and I'm thinking of adding to it. I'll take little Nellie back home for you," he offered. "I'm going that way. Sometimes, when I'm late, as I am to-day, her mother keeps me over night."
"That's nice," said Betty. "We really didn't know what to do with her, and we ought to be in Flatbush at my friend's aunt's house," and she indicated Mollie. "Will you go with your little friend?" Betty asked of the child.
"Me go wif Dimmie," was the answer, confidently given. "Dimmie know where I live."
"But can you walk?" asked Amy, as they all noticed that the boy's foot was quite badly cut.
"Oh, I guess I can limp, if I can't walk," he said, bravely. "If I had a bandage I might tie it up so I could put on my shoe. Then I'd be all right."
"Let me fix it," exclaimed Betty, impulsively. "I know something about bandaging, and we have some cloth and ointment with us. I'll bandage up your foot."
"Oh, I couldn't think of troubling you!" he protested. "I—I guess I can do it," but he winced with pain as he accidentally hit his foot on the stone.
"Now you just let me do it!" insisted the Little Captain. "You really must, and you will have to walk to take Nellie home. That will be something off our minds."
"Maybe we can get a lift," suggested the boy. "Often the farmers let me ride with them. There may be one along soon."
"Let us hope so—for your sake as well as Nellie's," spoke Grace. "It's really kind of you, and quite providential that we met you."
"Yes, ma'am," replied the boy, looking from one pretty girl to the other. "I'll take care of Nellie. I've known her for some time, you see. I peddle around here a lot. My father's dead, I haven't got any relatives except a sick aunt that I go to see once in a while, and I'm in business for myself."
"You are quite a little soldier," complimented Betty, as she got out the bandages and salve. "You are very brave."
"Oh, I haven't got any kick coming," he answered, with a laugh. "Of course, this cut foot will make me travel slow for a while, and I can't get to all my customers on time. But I guess they'll save their trade for me—the regulars will.
"I might be worse off," the lad continued, after a pause. "I might be in as bad a hole as that fellow I saw on the train not long ago."
"How was that?" asked Betty, more for the sake of saying something rather than because she was interested. The boy himself had carefully washed out the cut at a roadside spring, and as it was clean, the girl applied the salve and was; skillfully wrapping the bandage around the wound. "What man was that?" she added.
"Why," said the boy, "I had a long jump to make from one town to another, and, as there weren't any customers between, I rode in the train. The only other passenger in our car was a young fellow, asleep. All of a sudden he woke up in his seat, and begun hunting all through his pockets. First I thought he had lost his ticket, for he kept hollerin', 'It's gone! I've lost it! My last hope!' and all things like that. I was goin' to ask him what it was, when he shouted, 'My five hundred dollar bill is gone! and out of the car he ran, hoppin' off the train, which was slowin' up at a station. That was tough luck, losin' five hundred dollars. Of course I couldn't do it, for I never had it," the boy added, philosophically, as he watched Betty adjusting the bandage.
The effect of the boy's words on the girls was electrical. Betty paused midway in her first-aid work and stared at him. Grace, who had, unconsciously perhaps, been eating some of her chocolates, dropped one half consumed. Amy looked at Betty to see what the Little Captain would do. Mollie murmured something in French; just what does not matter.
"Did—did he really lose a five hundred dollar bill?" faltered Betty, as she resumed her bandaging, but her hands trembled in spite of herself.
"Well, that's what he said," replied the boy. "He sure did make an awful fuss about it. I thought he was crazy at first, and when he ran and jumped off the train I was sure of it."
"Did he get hurt?" asked Amy, breathlessly.
"No, ma'am, not as I could see. The train was slowing up at a station, you know. I think it was Batesville, but I'm not sure."
"That's the next station beyond Deepdale," murmured Grace.
"What's that, ma'am?" asked the boy, respectfully.
"Oh, nothing. We just know where it is, that's all. A five hundred dollar bill! Fancy!" She glanced meaningly at her companions.
"Well, that's what he hollered," said the boy. "And he was real excited, too."
"Did you know him?" asked Betty, as she finished with the bandage.
"Never saw him before nor since. It was quite some time ago. I'd just bought a new line of goods. Anyhow, I'm glad it wasn't me. I couldn't afford to lose many five hundred dollar bills," and he laughed frankly. "That's about as much as I make in a year—I mean, altogether," he said, quickly, lest the girls get an exaggerated notion of the peddling business. "I can't make that clear, though I hope to some time," he said, proudly.
"Me want to go home," broke in little Nellie. "Me want my muvvers."
"All right, I'll take you to your real mother," spoke the boy peddler. "I guess I can walk now, thank you," he said to Betty. "Couldn't I give you something—some letter paper—a pencil. I've got a nice line of pencils," he motioned toward his pack.
"Oh, no, thank you!" exclaimed Mollie.
"We are only too glad to help you," added Betty. "You have done us a service in looking after the little girl."
"To say nothing of the five hundred dollar bill," added Grace, in a low tone.
"Hush!" cautioned Betty, in a whisper. "Don't let him know anything about it."
"And you are sure you wouldn't know that man again?" asked Mollie. "I mean the one you spoke of?"
"Well, I'd know him if I saw him, but I'm not likely to. He was tall and good looking, with a little black mustache. He got out of the train in a hurry when he woke up. You see, he was sitting with his window open—it was very hot—he fell asleep. I noticed him tossing around in his seat, and every once in a while he would feel in his pocket. Then he hollered."
"Maybe someone robbed him," suggested Betty, yet in her heart she knew the bill she had found must belong to this unknown young man—the very man to whom they had once given something to eat.
"No one was in the car but him and me," said the boy, "and I know I didn't get it. Maybe he didn't have it—or maybe it fell out of the window. Anyhow, he cut up an awful row and rushed out. He might have dreamed it."
"Me want to go home!" whined Nellie.
"All right—I'll take you," spoke the boy. "I can walk fine now. Thank you very much," and he pulled on his shoe, gingerly enough, for the cut was no small one. Then, shouldering his pack, and taking hold of Nellie's hand—one having been refilled with chocolates by Grace—the boy peddler moved off down the road limping, the girls calling out good-bys to him.
"I hope it's all right—to let that child go off with him," said Mollie.
"Of course it is," declared Betty. "That boy had the nicest, cleanest face I've ever seen. And he must suffer from that cut."
"Oh, I think it will be all right," said Amy. "You could trust that boy."
"I agree with you," remarked Grace. "Fancy him seeing the man lose the five hundred dollar bill we found!" she added.
"Do you think it's the same one?" asked Betty.
"I'm sure of it," said Mollie.
"I guess I am too," admitted the Little Captain. "He was the tramp. Now I will know what to do."
"What?" chorused her chums.
"Let the railroad company know about it. They must have had some inquiries. I never thought of that before. Look, he is waving to us."
"And little Nellie, too," added Grace. The boy and the little lost girl had reached a turn in the road. They looked back to send a voiceless farewell, the child holding trustingly to the boy's hand.
"Come on!" exclaimed Mollie, as the two passed from sight. "We'll hardly get to my aunt's in time for supper."
And they hastened on.
Somewhat to their relief they learned, on reaching the home of Mrs. Mulford, in Flatbush—Mrs. Mulford being Mollie's aunt—that the boy peddler was quite a well-known and much-liked local character. He was thoroughly honest, and could be trusted implicitly. Some time later the girls learned from Mollie's aunt that the little lost tot had reached home safely, and that the boy had to remain at her house for a week to recover from the cut on his foot.
The mother of the lost child took quite an interest in Jimmie Martin, the boy peddler, and looked after him, so the news came to Mrs. Mulford, who had friends acquainted with the parents of the child who insisted she had "two muvvers."
So that little incident ended happily, and once more the outdoor girls were left to pursue their way as they had started out. They stayed a day with Mollie's aunt, a rain preventing comfortable progress, and when it cleared they went on to Hightown, where they stopped with Grace's cousin.
"And now for the camp!" exclaimed Betty, one morning, when they were headed for Cameron, where a half-brother of Mr. Ford maintained a sort of resort, containing bungalows, and tents, that he rented out. It was near a little lake, and was a favorite place in summer, though the season was too early for the regulars to be there. Mr. Ford had written to Harry Smith, his half-brother, and arranged for the girls to occupy one of the bungalows for several days. Mrs. Smith agreed to come and stay with them as company.
"Though we don't really need a chaperon," laughed Grace. "I think we can look after ourselves."
"It will be better to have her at the bungalow," said Betty, and so it was arranged.
Betty had written to the railroad company, asking if any report of a lost sum of money had been received, and the answer she got was to the contrary.
"That leaves the five hundred dollar mystery as deep as ever," she said, showing the letter to her chums. It had reached them at Hightown.
"Maybe we should have told that boy peddler, and asked him to be on the lookout," suggested Amy.
"No, I do not think it would have been wise to let him have the facts," said Betty.
The girls found the camp in the woods a most delightful place. The bungalow was well arranged and furnished, and, though there were no other campers at that time, the girls did not mind this.
"I'll write home and ask Will to come," said Grace. "He might like to spend a few days here, and Uncle Harry said he could take a tent if he liked."
"Ask Frank Haley, too," suggested Amy.
"And Percy Falconer!" added Mollie, with a sly glance at Betty.
"Don't you dare!" came the protest.
"I meant Allen Washburn," corrected Mollie.
"He can't come—he has to take the bar examinations!" cried Betty, quickly.
"How do you know?" she was challenged.
"He wrote—" and then Betty blushed and stopped. Her companions laughed and teased her unmercifully.
There was some mail for the girls awaiting them at Mr. Smith's house, having been forwarded from Deepdale. And Betty's letter contained a surprise. Among other things, her mother wrote:
"There have been some inquiries made here about the five hundred dollar bill. Down at the post-office the other day a man came in and posted a notice, saying he had lost such a sum of money somewhere in this part of the country. His name is Henry Blackford, and the address is somewhere in New York State. It was on the notice, but some mischievous boys got to skylarking and tore it off. Your father is going to look into the matter."
"Oh, maybe he'll find the owner of the money, after all!" cried Mollie.
"Maybe," returned Betty.
A PERILOUS LEAK
The boys came to the camp at Cameron—Will, Frank—and, as a surprise—Allen Washburn. Betty could hardly believe it when she saw him, but he explained that he had successfully passed his bar examinations, and felt entitled to a vacation. Will had invited him on the receipt of his sister's letter.
"And we'll have some dandy times!" exclaimed Will.
"What about the man looking for his five hundred dollars?" asked Grace, for her brother and the other boys knew of the find, and also of the notice put up in the post-office.
"No one seems to know much about him," said Will, when he had been told of Mrs. Nelson's letter. "He hurried in, stuck up that notice, and hurried out again. Then some kids tore off the address."
"He's crazy," affirmed Frank.
"It does seem so," admitted Will. "He asked the postmaster if anyone had found a big sum of money, and of course Mr. Rock—slow as he always is—didn't think about the advertisement in the Banner. He said he didn't know of anyone picking up a fortune, and the man hurried off."
"I must write to him, if I can learn that address," said Betty.
The weather continued exceptionally fine, and life in the woods, in the tent for the boys and the bungalow for the girls, was well-nigh ideal. They stayed there a week, enjoying the camping novelty to the utmost. At night they would gather around a campfire and sing. Sometimes they went out on the lake in a small launch Mr. Smith owned.
Not far away was a resort much frequented by the summer colonists, and though it was not yet in full swing there were some amusements opened. These the young people enjoyed on several evenings.
"Well, I do hope my new suitcase comes tomorrow," spoke Grace, for she had written for one to be forwarded to her, containing fresh garments.
"And I need some clothes!" cried Mollie. "This walking is harder on them than you'd think."
Fortunately the garments came on time, and in fresh outfits the girls prepared to bid farewell to the camp, and once more proceed on their way. The boys begged for permission to accompany them, but Betty was firm in refusing.
"We said we would make this tour all by ourselves," she declared, "and we are going to do it. Some other time you boys may come along. But there is only another day or so, and we will be back home. Please don't tease."
The boys did, but that was all the good it availed them. The girls were obdurate.
From Cameron they were to go to Judgeville, a thriving town of about ten thousand inhabitants. Betty's cousin lived there, and had planned a round of gaieties for her young relative and friends. They were to stay three days, and from there would keep on to Deepdale, thus completing the circuit they had mapped out.
So far they had been very fortunate, not much rain coming to interfere with their progress. The morning they were to leave camp, however, the weather changed, and for three miserable days they were compelled to remain in the bungalow.
Not that they stayed indoors all the while, for the travelers fully merited the title, "Outdoor Girls," and they lived up to it. They tramped even in the rain, and managed to have a good time.
But the rain sent the boys home, for rain in a tent is most depressing, and as all the other bungalows were being repaired, they could not live in one with any comfort.
But finally the sun came out, and the girls really set off on almost the last stage of their tour. They expected to be in Judgeville at night, though the walk was about the longest they had planned for any one day.
Shortly before noon their way took them along a highway that paralleled the railroad—the same line that ran to Deepdale. And, naturally, the talk turned to the finding of the five hundred dollar bill.
"Do you suppose we'll ever find the owner?" asked Mollie.
"Of course we will!" exclaimed Betty. "It is only a question of time."
Once or twice Amy looked back down the railroad track, and Grace, noticing this, in the intervals of eating chocolate, finally asked:
"What is it, Amy?"
"That man," replied the quiet girl. "He's been following us for some time."
"Following us!" cried Betty. "What do you mean?"
"I mean walking along the railroad track back of us."
"Well, that may not mean he is following us. Probably he wants to get somewhere, and the track is the shortest route."
"He's looking down as though searching for something," said Mollie.
"Maybe he's a track-walker," suggested Amy.
"No, he isn't dressed like that," asserted Betty. She turned and looked at the man. He seemed young, and had a clean-shaven face. He paid no attention to the girls, but walked on, with head bent down.
"We must soon stop for lunch," proposed Mollie. "I have not left it behind this time," and she held out the small suitcase that contained the provisions put up that morning. "I'm just dying for a cup of chocolate!"
"We will eat soon," said Betty. "There's a nice place, just beyond that trestle," and she pointed to a railroad bridge that crossed a small but deep stream, the highway passing over it by another and lower structure.
As the girls hurried on, the man passed them, off to the left and high on the railroad embankment. He gave them not a glance, but hastened on with head bent low.
When he reached the middle of the high railroad bridge, or trestle over the stream, he paused, stooped down and seemed to be tying his shoelace. The girls watched him idly.
Suddenly the roar of an approaching train was heard. The man looked up, seemed startled, and then began to run toward the end of the bridge.
It was a long structure and a high one, and, ere he had taken a dozen steps over the ties, the train swept into sight around a curve. The road was a single-track one, and on the narrow trestle there was no room for a person to avoid the cars.
"He'll be killed!" cried Mollie.
Fascinated, the girls looked. On came the thundering train. The whistle blew shrilly. The young man increased his pace, but it was easy to see that he could not get off the bridge in time.
Realizing this, he paused. Coming to the edge of the ties on the bridge, he poised himself for a moment, and with a glance at the approaching locomotive, which was now whistling continuously, the man leaped into the stream below him.
"Oh!" screamed Grace, and then she and the others looked on, almost horrified, as the body shot downward.
THE MAN'S STORY
There was a great splash, and the man disappeared under the water. It all occurred suddenly, and the man must have made up his mind quickly that he had not a chance to stay on the trestle when the train passed over it.
"He'll be killed!" cried Mollie. "Oh, Betty, what can we do?"
"Nothing, if he really is killed," answered the practical Little Captain. "But he jumped like a man who knew how to do it, and how to dive. The water is deep there."
"Come on!" cried Amy, for once taking the initiative, and she darted toward the bank of the stream.
"There he is!" cried Betty. "He's come up!"
As she spoke, the man's head bobbed into view, and, giving himself a shake to rid his eyes of water, he struck out for the shore.
"Oh, he's swimming! He's swimming!" Mollie exclaimed. "We must get him a rope—a plank—anything! We'll help you!" she called, and she ran about almost hysterically.
The man was now swimming with long, even strokes. He seemed at home in the water, even with his clothes on, and the long jump had evidently not injured him in the least.
He reached the bank, climbed up, and stood dripping before the four young travelers.
"Whew!" he gasped, taking off his coat and wringing some water from it. "That was some jump! I had to do it, though!"
"Indeed you were fortunate," said Betty. "Are you hurt?"
"Not a bit—a little shaken up, that's all. I should not have been on that bridge, as a section hand warned me a train was due, and the trestle is very narrow. But I was taking a short cut. Railroads seem to bring me bad luck. This is the second time, in a little while, that I've had trouble on this same line."
Grace was rummaging about in the valise she carried.
"Where's our alcohol stove?" she demanded, of Mollie.
"Why? What do you want of it?"
"I'm going to make him a cup of hot chocolate. He must need it; poor fellow!"
"I'll help you," said Mollie, and the two set up the little heating apparatus in the lee of a big rock.
"Are you sure you're not hurt?" asked Betty, anxiously.
"Oh, I'm all right," the man assured the girls. "I wish I had some dry clothes. This is about the only suit I have. However, the sun will soon dry them, but they'll need pressing."
"We're making you some chocolate," spoke Grace. "It will be ready soon, and keep you from getting cold."
The man—he was young and good-looking—smiled, showing his even, white teeth.
"You seemed prepared for emergencies," he said to Betty. "Are you professional travelers?"
"Just on a walking tour. We're from Deepdale. We're going home to-morrow, after stopping over night in Judgeville. We were just going to get our noon-day lunch when we saw you jump."
"Indeed," remarked the young man, who was now wringing out his vest. "From Deepdale; eh? I've been through there on the train. This line runs there; doesn't it?" and he motioned to the one he had so hastily left.
"Yes," answered Betty. "But we never walk the track—though we did once for a short distance."
"And we found a broken rail, and told a flagman and he said the train might have been wrecked," remarked Amy.
It was the first she had spoken in some time. The young man looked at her sharply—rather too long a look, Betty thought; but there was nothing impertinent in it.
"Railroads—or, rather, this one—have been the cause of two unpleasant experiences to me," the young man went on. "I was nearly injured just now, and not long ago I lost quite a sum of money on this line."
At the mention of money Betty started. The others looked at her.
"How did it happen?" asked Betty, and then of a sudden she stared at the young man. "Excuse me, but, but—haven't we met before?" she stammered.
"Sure!" he answered, readily. "You young ladies were kind enough to share your lunch with me one day."
"Oh!" cried Mollie. "But you—you looked different then!"
"You had a mustache and long hair," murmured Amy.
"That's right, so I did. But I had my hair cut day before yesterday and the mustache taken off. Changes me quite a lot; doesn't it?"
"Yes," replied Betty. "But you were saying something about losing money on this line," she added, quickly.
"Well, I was on my way to New York, expecting to complete a business deal. I fell asleep in the car, for I was quite tired, and I guess I had been thinking pretty hard on that business matter. You see a fellow offered me an option on a small, but good, concern, for four hundred dollars. I knew if I could clinch the deal, and get the option, that some friends of mine would invest in it, and I'd have a good thing for myself.
"Well, as I say, I fell asleep. Then I dreamed someone was trying to get my pocketbook. It was a sort of nightmare, and I guess I struggled with the dream-robber. Then, all of a sudden, I woke up, and—"
"Was your pocketbook gone?" asked Mollie.
"No, but my money was. And that was the funny part of it. How anyone could get the money without taking the pocketbook I couldn't see. And there wasn't anyone in the car with me but a boy—a peddler, I think he was."
The girls looked at each other. Matters were beginning to fit together most strangely.
"I didn't know what to do," the young man went on. "I didn't want to say anything that would seem as if I accused the boy, and I felt the same about the trainmen. I knew if I said the money had been taken and the pocketbook left they would only laugh at me. I was all knocked out, and hardly knew what I was doing. I jumped off the train, and went back over the line, thinking the bill might have blown out of the window. But—"
"That is just what did happen!" cried Betty.
"What's that?" the man exclaimed, excitedly.
"I say that is exactly what happened!" went on the Little Captain. "At least, that is how I account for it."
"What sort of a bill did you lose?" asked Mollie, trying not to get excited.
"It was one of five hundred dollars, and—"
"Did it have a—anything pinned to it?" exclaimed Betty.
"It did—a note. Wait, I can tell you what it said on it." He hesitated a moment and then repeated word for word the writing on the note pinned to the bill the girls had picked up. "But I don't see how you know this!" he added, wonderingly.
"We know—because we found your five hundred dollar bill!" exclaimed Betty.
The man stared at the girls as if he could not believe what Betty had said. A strange look came over his face.
"If this is a joke, please drop it," he began. "I am almost crazy as it is. I don't know what I am doing. I—"
"It isn't a joke!" declared Betty. "It may sound strange, but it's all true. We did find your bill, under the railroad bridge in Deepdale. It's in my father's safe now."
"That's great—it's fine. I'd given it up long ago. I advertised, and put up a notice in the post-office, and—"
"Yes, my mother wrote me about it," said Betty. "But she did not give your address, for some naughty boys tore it off the notice."
"And do you really think someone tried to rob you?" asked Mollie.
"I don't know what to think," frankly admitted the young man. "There was a boy in the same car—"
"He never took it!" exclaimed Grace.
"How do you know?" the young man asked.
"Because we met that boy, and he told us just how you acted when you discovered your loss. Besides, that boy is thoroughly honest."
"Say, is there anything about my case that you girls don't know?" asked the young man with a smile. "But before I go any further, perhaps I had better introduce myself—"
"Oh, we know your name!" exclaimed Betty.
"You do? And you never saw me before?"
"You forget that your name was signed to the notice in the post-office—Mr. Blackford," and Betty blushed.
"That's so. But I don't know your names, and, if it's not too impertinent, after the service you have rendered me—"
"We'll tell you—certainly," interrupted Betty, and she introduced herself and her chums.
"I suppose you will wonder how I played the part of a tramp," said the young man. "I will tell you why. I was almost out of my mind, and I imagined that by going around looking ragged I might pick up some news of my lost money from the tramps along the railroad."
Then he told of how he had started to write a letter, stating he could not buy the business he was after, and had then torn the letter up, because he still hoped to find the bill and get control of the business.
"And we found part of that letter," cried Betty. "We tried to find you, too, but you had disappeared."
"Indeed. I know how that happened—I took a short cut through the woods."
"The chocolate is ready!" called Grace, a little later. "Won't you have some, Mr. Blackford?"
"Thank you, I will. Say, but you young ladies are all right. Do you do this sort of thing often?"
"Well, we like to be outdoors," explained Betty, as she handed him a cup of the hot beverage. "We like to take long walks, but this is the first time we ever went on a tour like this."
"And we've had the best time!" exclaimed Mollie.
"And such adventures," added Grace. "Will you have more chocolate?"
"No, thank you. That was fine. Now I must try and get dry. But I'm used to this sort of thing. I'm from the West, and I've been in more than one flood."
"You have!" cried Amy, and the others knew of what she was thinking—her own case. "I hope he didn't have the same sort of trouble I had, though," she thought.
"Perhaps if you were to walk along your clothes would dry quicker," said Betty. "And if you went on to Judgeville you might be able to get a tailor to press them."
"Thanks, I believe I will. That is, if you don't mind being seen with such a disreputable figure as I cut."
"Of course we don't mind!" declared Betty. "We are getting rather travel-stained ourselves."
"Our trunks will be waiting for us at your cousin's house, Betty," spoke Grace, for it was there they were to spend the last night of their now nearly finished tour. "We can freshen up," went on the girl who loved candy, "and enter into town in style. I hope mamma put in my new gown and another pair of shoes."
"Grace Ford! You don't mean that you'd put on a new dress to finish up this walking excursion in, do you?" asked Mollie.
"Certainly I shall. We don't know who we might meet as we get into Deepdale."
"We will hardly get in before dusk," said Betty. "From Judgeville there is the longest stretch of all, nearly twenty-two miles."
"Oh, dear!" groaned Grace. "We'll never do it. Why did you arrange for such a long walk, Betty?"
"I couldn't help it. There were no other relatives available, and I couldn't have any made to order. There was no stopping place between here and home."
"Oh, I dare say I can stand it," murmured Grace. "But I guess I won't wear my new shoes in that case. Twenty-two miles!"
"It is quite a stretch," said Mr. Blackford.
He helped Grace put away the alcohol stove, and the cups in which the chocolate had been served. They were washed in the little stream, and would be cleansed again at the house of Betty's cousin.
"You haven't asked us when we are going to give you that five hundred dollar bill," said Mollie, as they started for Judgeville.
"Well," spoke Mr. Blackford, with a laugh, "I didn't want to seem too anxious. I knew that it was safe where you had put it, Miss Nelson," and he looked at Betty. "Besides, I have been without it so long now that it seems almost as if I never had it. And from all the good it is going to do me, perhaps I might be better off without it now."
"We didn't exactly understand what you meant by the note you wrote," said Betty.
"Well, I'll tell you how that was," he said, frankly. "You see, I was left considerable money by a rich relative, but I had bad luck. Maybe I didn't have a good business head, either. Anyhow, I lost sum after sum in investments that didn't pan out, and in businesses that failed. I got down to my last big bill, and then I heard of this little business I could get control of in New York.
"I said I'd make that my last venture, and to remind myself how desperate my chances were I just jotted down those words, and pinned the note to the bill. Then I must have gotten excited in my dream. I know just before I fell asleep I kept taking the bill out of the pocketbook, and looking at it to make sure I had it. I might have done that while half asleep, and it blew out of the window. That's how it probably happened, and you girls picked up the money. I can't thank you enough. But I'm afraid it will come to me too late to use as I had intended," the man went on, with a sigh.
"Why?" asked Betty.
"Because the option on the business I was going to buy expires at midnight to-night, and as you say the five hundred dollars is in Deepdale, I don't see how I am going to get it in time to be of any service."
"Isn't that too bad!" cried Amy.
"And we might have brought it with us," said Mollie.
"Only we didn't think it would be wise to carry that sum with us," spoke Grace. "And we never thought the owner of it would jump off a railroad trestle right in front of us," she added, with a laugh.
"No, of course not," admitted Mr. Blackford, drily. "You couldn't foresee that. Neither could I. Well, it can't be helped. Maybe it will be for the best in the end. I'll have the five hundred, anyhow, and perhaps I can find some other business. But I did want to get this one on which I had the option. However, there's no help for it."
A sudden light of resolve came into Betty's eyes. She confronted the owner of the bill.
"There's no need for you to lose your option!" she exclaimed.
"But I don't see how I can get the money in time. I might if I had an airship; but to go to Deepdale, and then to New York with it, is out of the question."
"No!" cried Betty. "We can do it by telegraph! I've just thought of a way out. You can take up that option yet, Mr. Blackford!"
Betty Nelson's chums stared at her. So did Mr. Blackford. Betty herself, with flushed cheeks and flashing eyes, looked at them all in turn. Her idea had stimulated her.
"What—how—I don't see—" stammered Mr. Blackford. "If you—"
"It's this way!" cried Betty, all enthusiasm. "You know you can transfer money by telegraph in a very short time—it only takes a few minutes to do it—really it's quicker than an airship," and she smiled at Mr. Blackford.
"That's so," he admitted. "I see now."
"I'll have my father telegraph the five hundred dollars to me at Judgeville," explained Betty. "Then I can give it to you, and you can telegraph it to your business man in New York. It is sure to reach there before midnight, and you can take up your option, if that is the proper term."
"It is—very proper," said Mr. Blackford. "I believe you have the right idea, Miss Nelson. I should have thought of that myself, but that shows I am really not a good business man."
"Now let's hurry on to town," proceeded Betty. "We haven't any too much time."
It was rather an astonished telegraph operator who, a little later, was confronted by four pretty girls, a man who looked as if he had been in a shipwreck, and a much-flustered lady. The latter was Betty's cousin, at whose house the girls had stopped. It was necessary for the recipient of the money to be identified, and this Betty's cousin, who knew the operator, agreed to look after.
There was a little delay, but not much, and soon Mr. Blackford was in a position to take up his option. A local bank, where the telegraph concern did business, paid over the five hundred in cash, and four hundred of this was at once sent on to New York, by telegraph.
"I hope it reaches my man," said Mr. Blackford. "I have told him to wire me here."
A little later word was received that the transaction had been successfully carried out. Mr. Blackford could now get control of the business.
"And it's all due to you young ladies!" he said, gratefully. "I don't know how to thank you. You are entitled to a reward—"
"Don't you dare mention it!" cried Betty,
"Well, some day I'll pay you back for all you did for me!" he exclaimed, warmly. "I won't forget. And now that I have some money to spare, I'm going to get a new suit of clothes."
He said good-bye to the girls, promising to see them again some time, and then he left, having made arrangements to go on to New York and finish up his business affairs.
"Well, now that it is all over, won't you come on to the house and have supper?" said Betty's cousin, as they came out of the telegraph office. "I must say, you girls know how to do things."
"Oh, you can always trust Betty for that," said Mollie.
"It just did itself," declared Betty. "Everything seemed to work out of its own accord from the time we found the five hundred dollar bill."
"But you helped a lot," insisted Amy.
"Indeed she did," added Grace.
"Well, our walking tour will soon be over," Betty said as they neared her cousin's house. "We'll be home to-morrow. We've had lots of fun, and I think it has done us all good. We'll soon be home."
"But not without a long walk," said Grace, with a sigh. "I wonder what we shall do next? We must keep out of doors."
"We have a long vacation before us—all summer," said Amy. "I do wish we could spend it together."
"Maybe we can," said Betty. "We'll see."
And how the four chums enjoyed the vacation that was opening may be learned by reading the next volume of this series, which will be entitled "The Outdoor Girls at Rainbow Lake; Or, The Stirring Cruise of the Motor Boat Gem."
The stay of the girls at the home of Betty's cousin was most enjoyable. They remained two nights, instead of one, sending word of the change of their plans to their parents. Then, early in the morning, they started for home on the last stage of their tour.
"Twenty-two miles!" sighed Grace, as they set out. "Oh, dear!"
But they were not destined to walk all the way. About five miles from town they saw a big touring car approaching, and as it neared them they beheld Will Ford and his chum Frank in it.
"Hurray!" cried Grace's brother.
"Welcome to our city!" added Frank. "Get in and we'll take you home in style."
"Oh, you boys!" cried Betty, but she and the others got in. Off they started, all of them seemingly talking at once, and in a short time they arrived at Deepdale. They attracted considerable attention as they passed through the town in the car Will and Frank had hired to honor the members of the Camping and Tramping Club.
"But it rather spoiled our record, I think," said Betty. "We were to walk all the way."
"Oh, we walked enough," declared Grace. "I did, anyhow," and she glanced at her shoes.
"But it was fun!" exclaimed Amy.
"Glorious!" cried Mollie.
A little later the four tourists were warmly welcomed at their respective homes, later meeting for a general jollification at Mollie's house.
"Oh, you dears!" cried Betty, trying to caress the twins, Paul and Dodo, both at once. "And we saw the dearest little lost girl. Shall I tell you about her?"
"Dive us tum tandy fust," said Dodo, fastening her big eyes on Grace. "Us 'ikes tandy—don't us, Paul?"
"Us do," was the gurgling answer, and Grace brought out her confections.
And, now that the four girls are safely at home again, we will take leave of them.