“You hear that, Zara? You must be very careful. Don’t go out alone, and if anyone tries to speak to you, no matter what they tell you, you pay no attention to them. If they keep on bothering you, speak to a policeman, if there’s one around, and say that you want him to stop them from bothering you.”
“Good idea,” said Charlie Jamieson. “And if you do have to speak to a policeman, you mention my name. They all know me, and I guess most of them like me well enough to do any little favor for a friend of mine.”
Then Jamieson turned to Bessie.
“We’ve got to think about your case, too,” he said. “Miss Mercer tells me that you don’t know what’s become of your father and mother. Just what do you know about them?”
“Not very much,” said Bessie, bravely, although the disappearance of her parents always weighed heavily on her mind. “When I was a little bit of a girl they left me with the Hoovers, at Hedgeville, and I lived with them after that. Maw Hoover said they promised to come back for me, and to pay her board for looking after me until they came, and that they did pay the board for a while. But then they stopped writing altogether, and no one has heard from them for years.”
“H’m! Where did the last letter they wrote come from?”
“San Francisco. I’ve heard Maw Hoover say that, often. But that was years and years ago.”
“Well, that’s better than nothing, anyhow. You see, the Hoovers wouldn’t have known how to start looking for them, even if they’d been particularly anxious to do it.”
“And I don’t believe they were,” said Eleanor Mercer, indignantly. “They treated her shamefully, Charlie—made her work like a hired girl, and never paid her for it, at all. Instead, they acted, or the woman did, anyhow, just as if they were giving her charity in letting her stay there. Wasn’t that an outrage?”
“Lots of people act as if they were being charitable when they get a good deal more than they give,” said the lawyer dryly.
“Maw Hoover was always calling me lazy, and saying she’d send me to the poor-farm,” said Bessie. “But it was she and Jake that made things so hard. Paw Hoover was always good to me, and he helped me to get away, too.”
“That’s what I’m driving at,” said Jamieson. “You had a right to go whenever you liked, if they hadn’t adopted you, or anything like that. Really, all you were in their place was a servant who wasn’t getting paid.”
“I knew she had a right to go,” said Eleanor. “That’s why I helped her, of course.”
“Then we’re all right. If she’d really run away from someone who had a right to keep her, it would be harder. I might be able to prove that they weren’t fit guardians, but that’s always hard, and it’s a good thing we don’t need to do it. Hullo, what’s the matter now?”
“Look!” said Zara, who had risen, and was looking keenly at a figure across the street. “See, Bessie, don’t you know who that is, even in those clothes?”