But luck was not with her. Even someone far better used to the bustle and confusion of the city might well have been at a loss. It was the luncheon hour, and from all the buildings hundreds of people were pouring out, making the streets seem fuller than ever. And it was not long before Bessie decided with a sigh that she must give up, and find her way home. She was afraid Eleanor Mercer would be worried and alarmed by her absence, and she determined to return as she had come, and as fast as she could.
Still, on the way, surely she could peep into one of the beautiful store windows—and she did. For a moment she stood there, and then, suddenly, she felt a hand in her pocket. She turned to see whose it was—and looked up into the evil eyes of Farmer Weeks!
“Stop her!” he cried. “She picked my pocket!”
AND AN OLD FRIEND HELPS
Bessie gasped in sheer terror, and for a moment she couldn’t open her mouth. Farmer Weeks, his weather-beaten face twisted into a grin of malice and dislike, stood looking down at her, his bony hand gripping her wrist. Even had it been in Bessie’s mind to run away, she could not have done it. And, as a matter of fact, the shock of hearing his voice, of seeing him, and, above all, of being accused of such a thing, had deprived her for the moment of the use of her legs as well as of the power of speech.
Then, while Farmer Weeks lifted his voice again, calling for a policeman, Bessie got a vivid and sharp lesson in the interest a city crowd can be induced to take in anything out of the ordinary, no matter how trifling. The pavement where they stood was densely crowded already. Now more people seemed to spring up from nowhere at all, and they were surrounded by a ring of people who pressed against one another, calling curious questions, all trying to get into the front rank to see whatever was to be seen.
“Gosh all hemlock!” Farmer Weeks confided to the crowd. “They told me to look out fer them scalawags when I come to town, but I swan I didn’t expect to see a gal like that tryin’ to lift my wallet. No, sir! But they got to get up pretty early in the mornin’ to fool me—they have that!”
Even in her fright, Bessie divined at once what the old rascal was trying to do. He was playing the part of the green and unsuspicious countryman, the farmer on a trip, usually the easy prey of sharpers of all sorts, and he was doing it for a purpose—to win the sympathy of the crowd. In her new clothes Bessie looked enough like a city girl to pass for one easily, while Farmer Weeks wore old-fashioned clothes of rusty black, a slouch hat, and a colored handkerchief knotted about his neck in place of a scarf. He carried an old-fashioned cotton umbrella; too, a huge affair—a regular “bumbleshoot,” and he was dressed to play the part.
“Hey, mister, gimme a nickel an’ I’ll call a cop for you!” volunteered a small, sharp-faced boy, with a bundle of papers under his arm. Somehow he had managed to squirm through the crowd.