Chapter XXII. 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.