“She was probably drunk when she treated the child so. If she destroyed Inez basket and used the money Inez always saved back to buy a new supply of bouquets, she fair put the poor thing out o’ business.”
“Oh, dear!” said Nan. “And we can’t find her on the square.”
“Poor thing! I wisht she had come here for a bite—I do. I’d have trusted her for a meal of vittles.”
“I am sure you would, Mrs. Beasley,” Nan said, and she and her friends went away very much worried over the disappearance of Inez, the flower-seller.
JUST TOO LATE
Walter Mason was not only an accommodating escort; he was very much interested in the search for Inez. Even Bess, who seldom admitted the necessity for boys at any time in her scheme of life, admitted on this occasion that she was glad Walter was present.
“That woman, poor little Inez’s aunt, would have slapped my face, I guess,” she admitted. “Isn’t it mean of her to speak so of the child? And she had beaten her! I don’t see how you had the courage to face her, Walter.”
“I should give him my medal,” chuckled Nan. “Where now, Walter?”
“To see that officer,” declared the boy.
The trio were again on the square where Inez had told Nan she almost always sold her flowers. Walter came back in a few moments from his interview with the police officer.
“Nothing doing,” he reported. “The man says he hasn’t seen her for several days, and she was always here.”
“I suppose he knows whom we mean?” worried Bess.
“Couldn’t be any mistake about that,” Walter said. “He is afraid she is sick.”
“I’m not,” Nan said promptly. “It is just as Mrs. Beasley says. If her aunt took Inez’s basket and money away, she is out of business. She’s lost her capital. I only hope she is not hungry, poor thing.”
“Dear, dear!” joined in Bess. “If she only knew how to come to us! She must know we’d help her.”
“She knows where we are staying,” Nan said. “Don’t you remember I showed her Walter’s card?”
“Then why hasn’t she been to see us?” cried Bess.
“I guess there are several reasons for that,” said sensible Nan.
“Well! I’d like to know what they are,” cried her chum. “Surely, she could find her way.”
“Oh, yes. Perhaps she didn’t want to come. Perhaps she is too proud to beg of us—just beg money, I mean. She is an independent little thing.”
“Oh, I know that,” admitted Bess.
“But more than likely,” Nan pursued, “her reason for not trying to see us was that she was afraid she would not be admitted to the house.”
“My gracious!” exclaimed Walter. “I never thought of that.”
“Just consider what would happen to a ragged and dirty little child who mounted your steps—even suppose she got that far,” Nan said.