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Title: Ruth Fielding on Cliff Island - Or, The Old Hunter's Treasure Box
Author: Emerson, Alice B., pseud.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ruth Fielding on Cliff Island - Or, The Old Hunter's Treasure Box" ***

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Ruth Fielding
On Cliff Island

OR

THE OLD HUNTER'S TREASURE BOX

BY

ALICE B. EMERSON

AUTHOR OF "RUTH FIELDING OF THE RED MILL," "RUTH
FIELDING AT SILVER RANCH," ETC.

_ILLUSTRATED_

NEW YORK

CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY

PUBLISHERS

=Books for Girls=

BY ALICE B. EMERSON


RUTH FIELDING SERIES

12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.

Price per volume, 40 cents, postpaid.

    RUTH FIELDING OF THE RED MILL

    RUTH FIELDING AT BRIARWOOD HALL

    RUTH FIELDING AT SNOW CAMP

    RUTH FIELDING AT LIGHTHOUSE POINT

    RUTH FIELDING AT SILVER RANCH

    RUTH FIELDING ON CLIFF ISLAND

    RUTH FIELDING AT SUNRISE FARM

    RUTH FIELDING AND THE GYPSIES

CUPPLES & LEON CO., PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK.

COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY
CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY

RUTH FIELDING ON CLIFF ISLAND

[Illustration: SHE SHOT OVER THE YAWNING EDGE OF THE CHASM AND
DISAPPEARED]


CONTENTS


CHAPTER

    I. THE WRECK AT APPLEGATE CROSSING      1

   II. THE PANTHER AT LARGE                 9

  III. UNCLE JABEZ HAS TWO OPINIONS        17

   IV. ON THE WAY TO BRIARWOOD             26

    V. A LONG LOOK AHEAD                   35

   VI. PICKING UP THE THREADS              42

  VII. "A HARD ROW TO HOE"                 49

 VIII. JERRY SHEMING AGAIN                 57

   IX. RUTH'S LITTLE PLOT                  66

    X. AN EXCITING FINISH                  73

   XI. A NUMBER OF THINGS                  82

  XII. RUFUS BLENT'S LITTLE WAYS           90

 XIII. FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE             98

  XIV. THE HUE AND CRY                    106

   XV. OVER THE PRECIPICE                 115

  XVI. HIDE AND SEEK                      124

 XVII. CHRISTMAS MORNING                  133

XVIII. FUN ON THE ICE                     143

  XIX. BLENT IS MASTER                    150

   XX. THE FISHING PARTY                  157

  XXI. JERRY'S CAVE                       166

 XXII. SNOWED IN                          173

XXIII. "A BLOW FOR LIBERTY"               181

 XXIV. A MIDNIGHT MARAUDER                189

  XXV. THE TREASURE BOX                   197



RUTH FIELDING ON CLIFF ISLAND



CHAPTER I

THE WRECK AT APPLEGATE CROSSING


A September morning has dawned, with only a vague tang of autumn in the
air. In the green old dooryard at the Red Mill, under the spreading shade
trees, two girls are shelling a great basket of dried lima beans for the
winter's store.

The smaller, black-haired girl begins the conversation.

"Suppose Jane Ann doesn't come, Ruth?"

"You mean on this morning train?" responded the plumper and more
mature-looking girl, whose frank face was particularly attractive.

"Yes."

"Then Tom said he would go back to meet the evening train--and we'll go
with him," said Ruth Fielding, with a smile. "But I could not go this
morning and leave poor Aunt Alvirah all these beans to shell."

"Of course not," agreed her friend, promptly. "And Jane Ann won't feel
offended by our not meeting her at Cheslow, I know."

"No, indeed, Helen," laughed Ruth. "Jane Ann Hicks is altogether too
sensible a girl."

"Sensible about everything but her name," commented Helen Cameron, making
a little face.

"And one can scarcely blame her. It _is_ ugly," Ruth responded, with a
sigh. "Jane Ann Hicks! Dear, dear! how could her Uncle Bill be so
thoughtless as to name her that, when she was left, helpless, to his
care?"

"He didn't realize that fashions in names change--like everything else,"
observed Helen, briskly.

"I wonder what the girls at Briarwood will say to that name," Ruth
pondered.

"Why The Fox and Heavy will help us make the other girls toe the mark. And
Madge Steele! She's a regiment in herself," declared Helen. "We all had
such a fine time at Silver Ranch that the least we can do is to see that
Jane Ann is not hazed like the other infants."

"I expect we all have to stand our share of hazing when we go into fresh
company," said Ruth, reflectively. "But there will not be the same crowd
to meet her that met us, dear."

"And the Sweetbriars will be on hand to preserve order," laughed her chum.
"Thanks to _you_, Ruthie. Why--oh! see Tom!"

She jumped up, dropping a lapful of pods, and pointed up the Cheslow road,
which here branched from the river road almost opposite the Red Mill.

"What is the matter?" demanded Ruth, also scrambling to her feet.

A big touring car was approaching at top speed. They could see that the
only person in it was a black-haired boy, who sat at the steering wheel.

He brought the machine to an abrupt stop before the gate, and leaped out.
Tearing off his goggles as he ran, he approached the two girls in such a
state of excitement that he could scarce speak coherently.

"Oh, Tom! what is it?" gasped Helen, seizing his arm with both hands.

It took but a single glance to discover the relationship between them.
Twins never looked more alike--only Tom's features lacked the delicacy of
outline which belonged to his sister.

"Tom!" cried Ruth, on the other side of the excited youth, "don't keep us
on tenter-hooks. Surely nothing has happened to Jane Ann?"

"I don't know! They won't tell us much about it at the station," exclaimed
the boy.

"There hasn't been a wreck?" demanded Ruth.

"Yes. At Applegate Crossing. And it is the train from the west that is in
trouble with a freight. A rear-end collision, I understand."

"Suppose something has happened to the poor girl!" wailed Helen.

"We must go and see," declared Ruth, quick to decide in an emergency. "You
must drive us, Tom."

"That's what I came back for," replied Tom Cameron, mopping his brow. "I
couldn't get anything out of Mercy's father----"

"Of course not," Helen said, briskly, as Ruth ran to the house. "The
railroad employes are forbidden to talk when there is an accident. Mr.
Curtis might lose his job as station agent at Cheslow if he answered all
queries."

Ruth came flying back from the house. She had merely called into the
kitchen to Aunt Alvirah that they were off--and their destination. While
Tom sprang in and manipulated the self-starter, his sister and the girl of
the Red Mill took their seats in the tonneau.

By the time old Aunt Alvirah had hobbled to the porch, the automobile was
being turned, and backed, and then it was off, up the river road. Uncle
Jabez, in his dusty garments, appeared for a moment at the door of the
mill as they flashed past in the big motor car. Evidently he was amazed to
see the three--the girls hatless--starting off at such a pace in the
Camerons' car.

Tom threw in the clutch at high speed and the car bounded over the road,
gradually increasing its pace until the hum of the engine almost drowned
out all speech. The girls asked no questions. They knew that, by following
the river road along the placid Lumano for some distance, they could take
a fork toward the railway and reach Applegate Crossing much quicker than
by going through Cheslow.

Once Tom flung back a word or two over his shoulder. No relief train had
gone from their home station to the scene of the wreck. It was understood
that a wrecking gang, and doctors, and nurses, had started from the
distant city before ever the Cheslow people learned of the trouble.

"Oh! if Jane Ann should be hurt!" murmured Helen for the twentieth time.

"Uncle Bill Hicks would be heartbroken," agreed Ruth.

Although the crossroad, when they struck into it at the Forks, was not so
smooth and well-built as the river highway, Tom did not reduce speed. Mile
after mile rolled away behind them. From a low ridge they caught a glimpse
of the cut where the two trains had come together.

It was the old story of a freight being dilatory in getting out of a block
that had been opened for the passage of an express. The express had run
her nose into the caboose of the freight, and more harm was done to the
freight than to the passenger cars. A great crowd, however, had gathered
about.

Tom ran the car into an open lot beside the tracks, where part of the
railroad fence had been torn away. Two passenger cars were on their sides,
and one or two of the box cars had burst open.

"Look at that!" gasped the boy, whose bright eyes took in much that the
girls missed, for _they_ were looking for Jane Ann Hicks. "That's a
menagerie car--and it's all smashed. See! 'Rival's Circus & Menagerie.'
Crickey! suppose some of the savage animals are loose!"

"Oh! don't suggest such a thing," begged his sister.

Tom saw an excited crowd of men near the broken cage cars of the traveling
menagerie. Down in the gully that was here crossed by the narrow span of
the railroad trestle, there was a thick jungle of saplings and brush out
of which a few taller trees rose, their spreading limbs almost touching
the sides of the ravine.

It must be confessed that the boy was drawn more toward this point of
interest than toward the passenger train where Jane Ann might possibly be
lying injured. But Ruth and Helen ran toward this latter spot, where the
crowd of passengers was thickest.

Suddenly the crowd parted and the girls saw a figure lying on the ground,
with a girl about their own age bending over it. Ruth screamed, "Jinny!"
and at the sound of the pet name her uncle's cow punchers had given her,
the girl from Silver Ranch responded with an echoing cry.

"Oh, Ruth! And Helen! I'm not hurt--only scratched. But this poor
fellow----"

"Who is he?" demanded Helen Cameron, as she and Ruth arrived beside their
friend.

The figure on the ground was a very young man--a boy, in fact. He was
roughly dressed, and sturdily built. His eyes were closed and he was very
pale.

"He got me out of the window when the car turned over," gasped Jane Ann.
"Then he fell with me and has either broken his leg, or twisted it----"

"Only strained, Miss," spoke the victim of the accident, opening his eyes
suddenly. Ruth saw that they were kind, brown eyes, with a deal of
patience in their glance. He was not the sort of chap to make much of a
trifle.

"But you can't walk on it," exclaimed Jane Ann, who was a large-framed
girl with even blacker hair than Helen's--straight as an Indian's--and
with flashing eyes. She was expensively dressed, although her torn frock
and coat were not in very good taste. She showed plainly a lack of that
motherly oversight all girls need.

"They'll come and fix me up after a time," said the strange youth,
patiently.

"That won't do," declared Ruth, quickly. "I suppose the doctors are busy
up there with other passengers?"

"Oh, yes," admitted Jane Ann. "Lots of people were hurt in the cars a good
deal worse than Mr.--Mr.----?"

"My name's Jerry Sheming, Miss," said the youth. "Don't you worry about
me."

"Here's Tom!" cried Helen. "Can't we lift him into the car? We'll run to
Cheslow and let Dr. Davison look at his leg," she added.

Tom, understanding the difficulty at a glance, agreed. Between the four
young folk they managed to carry Jerry Sheming to the car. They had
scarcely got him into the tonneau when a series of yells arose from the
crowd down near the derailed freight train.

"Look out! Take care of that panther! I told you she was out!" shouted one
voice above the general uproar.

Ruth Fielding and her friends, startled indeed, ran to the brow of the
hill. One of the wide-branched trees rose from the bottom of the ravine
right below them. Along one of the branches lay a long, cat-like body.

"A black panther!" gasped Tom.



CHAPTER II

THE PANTHER AT LARGE


"Say! let's get out of here!" exclaimed the girl from the West. "I don't
want to be eaten up by that cat--and Uncle Bill would make an awful row
over it. Come on!"

She seized Ruth's hand and, leaving Tom to drag his sister with him, set
off at full speed for the motor car, wherein Jerry Sheming, the stranger,
still lay helpless.

Helen was breathless from laughter when she reached the car. Jane Ann's
desire not to be eaten up by the panther because of what Mr. Bill Hicks,
of Bullhide, Montana, would say, was so amusing that Tom's twin forgot her
fright.

"Stop your fooling and get in there--quick!" commanded the anxious boy,
pushing his sister into the tonneau. With the injured Jerry, the back of
the car was well filled. Tom leaped into the front seat and tried to start
the car.

"Quick, Tom!" begged Ruth Fielding. "There's the panther."

"Panther! What panther?" demanded Jerry, starting up in his seat.

The lithe, black beast appeared just then over the brow of the hill. The
men who had started after the beast were below in the ravine, yelling, and
driving the creature toward them. The motor car was the nearest object to
attract the great cat's wrath, and there is no wild beast more savage and
treacherous.

Tom was having trouble in starting the car. Besides, it was headed
directly for the huge cat, and the latter undoubtedly had fastened its
cruel gaze upon the big car and its frightened occupants.

Ruth Fielding and her friends had been in serious difficulties before.
They had even (in the woods of the Northern Adirondacks and in the
foothills of the Montana Rockies) met peril in a somewhat similar form.
But here, with the panther creeping toward them, foot by foot, the young
friends had no weapon of defense.

Ruth had often proved herself both a courageous and a sensible girl.
Coming from her old home where her parents had died, a year and a half
before, she had received shelter at the Red Mill, belonging to her great
uncle, Jabez Potter, at first as an object of charity, for Uncle Jabez was
a miserly and ill-tempered old fellow. The adventures of the first book of
this series, entitled "Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill; Or, Jasper Parloe's
Secret," narrate how Ruth won her way--in a measure, at least--to her
uncle's heart.

Ruth made friends quickly with Helen and Tom Cameron, and when, the year
previous, Helen had gone to Briarwood Hall to school, Ruth had gone with
her, and the fun, friendships, rivalries, and adventures of their first
term at boarding school are related in "Ruth Fielding at Briarwood Hall;
Or, Solving the Campus Mystery."

In "Ruth Fielding at Snow Camp; Or, Lost in the Backwoods," the third
volume of the series, are told the mid-winter sports of our heroine and
her friends; and later, after the school year is concluded, we find them
all at the seaside home of one of the Briarwood girls, and follow them
through the excitement and incidents of "Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse
Point; Or, Nita, the Girl Castaway."

When our present story opens Ruth and the Camerons have just returned from
the West, where they had spent a part of the summer vacation with Jane Ann
Hicks, and their many adventures are fully related in the fifth volume of
the series, entitled "Ruth Fielding at Silver Ranch; Or, Schoolgirls Among
the Cowboys."

Few perils they had faced, however, equalled this present incident. The
black panther, its gleaming eyes fixed upon the stalled motor car and the
young folk in it, crouched for only a moment, with lashing tail and bared
fangs.

Uttering another half-stifled snarl, the beast bounded into the air. The
distance was too great for the brute to pass immediately to the car; but
it was plain that one more leap would bring her aboard.

"Start it! Quick, Tom!" gasped Helen.

"I--I can't!" groaned her brother.

"Then we must run----"

"Sit still!" commanded Jane Ann, with fire in her eye. "I'm not going to
run from that cat. I hate 'em, anyway----"

"We can't leave Mr. Sheming," said Ruth, decidedly. "Try again, Tommy."

"Oh, don't bother about me," groaned the young man, who was still a
stranger to them. "Don't be caught here on my account."

"It will not do us any good to run," cried Ruth, sensibly. "Oh, Tommy!"

And then the engine started. The electric starter had worked at last. Tom
threw in his clutch and the car lunged ahead just as the snarling cat
sprang into the air again.

The cat and the car were approaching each other, head on. The creature
could not change its course; nor could Tom Cameron veer the car very well
on this rough ground.

He had meant to turn the car in a big circle and make for the road again.
But that flashing black body darting through the air was enough to shake
the nerve of anybody. The car "wabbled." It shot towards the tracks, and
then back again.

Perhaps that was a happy circumstance, after all. For as the car swerved,
there was a splintering crash, and the windshield was shivered. The body
of the panther shot to one side and the motor car escaped the full shock
of the charge.

Over and over upon the ground the panther rolled; and off toward the road,
in a long, sweeping curve, darted the automobile.

"Lucky escape!" Tom shouted, turning his blazing face once to look back at
the party in his car.

"Oh! More than luck, Tommy!" returned Ruth, earnestly.

"It was providential," declared Helen, shrinking into her seat again and
beginning to tremble, now that the danger was past.

"Good hunting!" exclaimed the girl from the ranch. "Think of charging a
wildcat with one of these smoke wagons! My! wouldn't it make Bashful Ike's
eyes bulge out? I reckon he wouldn't believe we had such hunting here in
the East--eh?" and her laugh broke the spell of fear that had clutched
them all.

"That critter beats the biggest bobcat I ever heard of," remarked Jerry
Sheming. "Why! a catamount isn't in it with that black beast."

"Where'd it go?" asked Tom, quite taken up with the running of the car.

"Back to the ravine," said Ruth. "Oh! I hope it will do no damage before
it is caught."

Just now the four young friends had something more immediate to think
about. This Jerry Sheming had been "playing 'possum." Suddenly they found
that he lay back in the tonneau, quite insensible.

"Oh, oh!" gasped Helen. "What shall we do? He is--Oh, Ruth! he isn't
_dead_?"

"Of a strained leg?" demanded Jane Ann, in some disgust.

"But he looks so white," said Helen, plaintively.

"He's just knocked out. It's hurt him lots more than he let on," declared
the girl from Silver Ranch, who had seen many a man suffer in silence
until he lost the grip on himself--as this youth had.

In half an hour the car stopped before Dr. Davison's gate--the gate with
the green lamps. Jerry Sheming had come to his senses long since and
seemed more troubled by the fact that he had fainted than by the injury to
his leg.

Ruth, by a few searching questions, had learned something of his story,
too. He had not been a passenger on the train in which Jane Ann was riding
when the wreck occurred. Indeed, he hadn't owned carfare between stations,
as he expressed it.

"I was hoofin' it from Cheslow to Grading. I heard of a job up at
Grading--and I needed that job," Jerry had observed, drily.

This was enough to tell Ruth Fielding what was needed. When Dr. Davison
asked where the young fellow belonged, Ruth broke in with:

"He's going to the mill with me. You come after us, Doctor, if you think
he ought to go to bed before his leg is treated."

"What do you reckon your folks will say, Miss?" groaned the injured youth.
And even Helen and Tom looked surprised.

"Aunt Alvirah will nurse you," laughed Ruth. "As for Uncle Jabez----"

"It will do Uncle Jabez good," put in Dr. Davison, confidently. "That's
right, Ruthie. You take him along to your house. I'll come right out
behind you and will be there almost before Tom, here, and your uncle's Ben
can get our patient to bed."

It had already been arranged that Jane Ann should go on to Outlook, the
Camerons' home. She would remain there with the twins for the few days
intervening before the young folk went back to school--the girls to
Briarwood, and Tom to Seven Oaks, the military academy he had entered when
his sister and Ruth went to their boarding school.

"How you will ever get your baggage--and in what shape--we can only
guess," Tom said to the Western girl, grinning over his shoulder as the
car flew on toward the Red Mill. "Guess you'll have to bid a fond farewell
to all the glad rags you brought with you, and put on some of Ruth's, or
Helen's."

"I'd look nice; wouldn't I?" she scoffed, tossing her head. "If I don't
get my trunks I'll sue the railroad company."

The car arrived before the gate of the cottage. There was the basket of
beans just where Ruth and Helen had left them. And Aunt Alvirah came
hobbling to the door again, murmuring, "Oh, my back! and oh, my bones!"
and quite amazed when she saw Ben come running to help Tom Cameron into
the house with the youth from the railroad wreck.

"Though, landy's sake! I don't know what your Uncle Jabez will say when he
comes back from town and finds this boy in the best bed," grumbled Aunt
Alvirah, after a bit, when she and Ruth were left alone with Jerry
Sheming, and the others had gone on in the car, hurrying so as not to be
late for luncheon at Outlook.



CHAPTER III

UNCLE JABEZ HAS TWO OPINIONS


Dr. Davison came, found that Jerry's leg was not broken, left liniment,
some quieting medicine to use if the patient could not sleep, and went
away. Still Uncle Jabez had not returned from town.

Dinner had been a farce. Ben, the hired man, was fed as usual; but Ruth
and Aunt Alvirah did not feel like eating; and, considering his fever, it
was just as well, the doctor said, if the patient did not eat until later.

Jerry Sheming was a fellow of infinite pluck. The pain he had endured
during his rough ride in the automobile must have been terrific. Yet he
was only ashamed, now, that he had fainted.

"First time I ever heard of a Sheming fainting--or yet a Tilton, Miss," he
told Ruth.

"I don't believe you belong near here?" suggested Ruth, who sat beside
him, for he seemed restless. "I don't remember hearing either of those
names around the Red Mill."

"No. I--I lived away west of here," replied Jerry, slowly. "Oh, a long
ways."

"Not as far as Montana? That is where Jane Ann comes from."

"The girl I helped through the car window?" he asked, quickly.

"Yes. Miss Hicks."

"I did not mean really West," he said. "But it's quite some miles. I had
been walking two days--and I'm some walker," he added, with a smile.

"Looking for work, you said?" questioned Ruth, diffident about showing her
interest in the young fellow, yet deeply curious.

"Yes. I've got to support myself some way."

"Haven't you any folks at all, Mr. Jerry?"

"I ain't a 'mister,'" said the youth. "I'm not so much older than you and
your friends."

"You seem a lot older," laughed Ruth, tossing back her hair.

"That's because I have been working most of my life--and I guess livin' in
the woods all the time makes a chap seem old."

"And you've lived in the woods?"

"With my uncle. I can't remember anybody else belongin' to me--not very
well. Pete Tilton is _his_ name. He's been a guide and hunter all his
life. And of late years he got so queer--before they took him away----"

"Took him away?" interrupted Ruth, "What do you mean by that?"

"Why, I'll tell you," said Jerry, slowly. "He got wild towards the last.
It was something about his money and papers that he lost. He kep' 'em in a
box somewhere. There was a landslide at the west end of the island."

"The island? What island?"

"Cliff Island. That's where we lived. Uncle Pete said he owned half the
island, but Rufe Blent cheated him out of it. That's what made him so
savage with Blent, and he come pretty near killin' him. At least, Blent
told it that way.

"So they took poor Uncle Pete into court, and they said he wasn't safe to
be at large, and sent him to the county asylum. Then--well, there wasn't
no manner o' use my stayin' around there. Rufe Blent warned me off the
island. So I started out to hunt a job."

The details were rather vague, but Ruth felt a little diffident about
asking for further particulars. Besides, it was not long before Uncle
Jabez came home.

"What do ye reckon your Aunt Alvirah keeps that spare room for?" demanded
the old miller, with his usual growl, when Ruth explained about Jerry.
"For to put up tramps?"

"Oh, Uncle! he isn't just a _tramp_!"

"I'd like to know what ye call it, Niece Ruth?" grumbled Uncle Jabez.

"Think how he saved Jane Ann! That car was rolling right down the
embankment. He pulled her through the window and almost the next moment
the car slid the rest of the way to the bottom, and lots of people--people
in the chairs next to her--were badly hurt. Oh, Uncle! he saved her life,
perhaps."

"That ain't makin' it any dif'rent," declared Uncle Jabez. "He's a tramp
and nobody knows anything about him. Why didn't Davison send him to the
hospital? The doc's allus mixin' us up with waifs an' strays. He's got
more cheek than a houn' pup----"

"Now, Jabez!" cried the little old lady, who had been bending over the
stove. "Don't ye make yourself out wuss nor you be. That poor boy ain't
doin' no harm to the bed."

"Makin' you more work, Alviry."

"What am I good for if it ain't to work?" she demanded, quite fiercely.
"When I can't work I want ye sh'd take me back to the poor farm where ye
got me--an' where I'd been these last 'leven years if it hadn't been for
your charity that you're so 'fraid folks will suspect----"

"Charity!" broke in Uncle Jabez. "Ha! Yes! a fat lot of charity I've
showed you, Alviry Boggs. I reckon I've got my money's wuth out o' you
back an' bones."

The old woman stood as straight as she could and looked at the grim miller
with shining eyes. Ruth thought her face really beautiful as she smiled
and said, wagging her head at the gray-faced man:

"Oh, Jabez Potter! Jabez Potter! Nobody'll know till you're in your coffin
jest how much good you've done in this world'--on the sly! An' you'll let
this pore boy rest an' git well here before he has to go out an' hunt a
job for hisself. For my pretty, here, tells me he ain't got no home nor no
friends."

"Uh-huh!" grunted Uncle Jabez, and stumped away to the mill, fairly beaten
for the time.

"He grumbles and grunts," observed Aunt Alvirah, shaking her head as she
turned to her work again. "But out o' sight he's re'lly gettin'
tender-hearted, Ruthie. An' I b'lieve you showed him how a lot. Oh, my
back! and oh, my bones!"

Before supper time a man on horseback came to the mill and cried a warning
to the miller and his family: "Look out for your stables and pigpens.
There's three beasts loose from those wrecked menagerie cars at the
crossing, Jabez."

"Mercy on us! They ain't bound this way, are they?" demanded Uncle Jabez,
with more anxiety than he usually showed.

"Nobody knows. You know, the piece of woods yonder is thick. The menagerie
men lost them an hour ago. A big black panther--an ugly brute--and a lion
and lioness. Them last two they say is as tame as kittens. But excuse me!
I'd ruther trust the kittens," said the neighbor. Then he dug his heels in
the sides of his horse and started off to bear the news to other residents
along the road that followed this bank of the Lumano River.

Jabez shouted for Ben to hurry through his supper, and they closed the
mill tight while the womenfolk tried to close all the shutters on the
first floor of the cottage. But the "blinds" had not been closed on the
east side of the house since they were painted the previous spring. Aunt
Alviry was the kind of housekeeper who favored the morning sun and it
always streamed into the windows of the guest room.

When they tried to close the outside shutters of those windows, one had a
broken hinge that the painters had said nothing about. The heavy blind
fell to the ground.

"Goodness me!" exclaimed Ruth, running back into the house. "That old
panther could jump right into that room where Jerry is. But if we keep a
bright light in there all night, I guess he won't--if he comes this way at
all."

It was foolish, of course, to fear the coming of the marauding animal
from the shattered circus car. Probably, Ruth told herself before the
evening was half over, "Rival's Circus and Menagerie" had moved on with
all its beasts.

Uncle Jabez, however, got down the double-barreled shotgun, cleaned and
oiled it, and slipped in two cartridges loaded with big shot.

"I ain't aimin' to lose my pigs if I can help it," he said.

As the evening dragged by, they all forgot the panther scare. Jerry had
fallen asleep after supper without recourse to the medicine Dr. Davison
had left. As usual, Uncle Jabez was poring over his daybook and counting
the cash in the japanned money box.

Ruth was deep in her text books. One does forget so much between June and
September! Aunt Alvirah was busily sewing some ruffled garment for "her
pretty."

Suddenly a quick, stern voice spoke out of the guest room down the hall.

"Quick! bring that gun!"

"Hul-_lo_!" murmured Uncle Jabez, looking up.

"That poor boy's delirious," declared Aunt Alvirah.

But Ruth jumped up and ran lightly to the room where Jerry Sheming lay.

"What _is_ it?" she gasped, peering at the flushed face that was raised
from the pillow.

"That cat!" muttered Jerry.

"Oh, you're dreaming!" declared Ruth, trying to laugh.

"I ain't lived in the woods for nothin'," snapped the young fellow. "I
never see that black panther in her native wilds, o' course; but I've
tracked other kinds o' cats. And one of the tribe is 'round here----There!
hear that?"

One of the horses in the stable squealed suddenly--a scream of fear. Then
a cow bellowed.

Uncle Jabez came with a rush, in his stocking feet, with the heavy shotgun
in his hand.

"What's up?" he demanded, hoarsely.

"I am!" exclaimed Jerry, swinging his legs out of bed, despite the pain it
caused him. "Put out that light, Miss Ruth."

Aunt Alvirah hobbled in, groaning, "Oh, my back! and oh, my bones!"

Uncle Jabez softly raised the sash where the blind was missing.

"I saw her eyes," gasped Jerry, much excited. He reached out a grasping
hand. "Gimme that gun, sir, unless you are a good shot. I don't often
miss."

"You take it," muttered Uncle Jabez, thrusting the gun into the young
fellow's hand. "My--my eyes ain't what they once was."

"Send the women folk back. If she leaps in at the winder----"

Suddenly he raised the gun to his shoulder. It was so dark in the room
they all saw the crouching creature on the lawn outside. It was headed for
the open window, and its eyes gleamed like yellow coals.

In a moment the gun spoke--one long tongue of flame, followed by the
other, flashed into the night. There was a yowl, a struggle on the grass
outside, and then----

"You're something of a shot, you be, young feller!" boomed out Jabez
Potter's rough voice. "I was some mistaken in you. Ah! it hurt ye, eh?"
and he proceeded to lift the suffering Jerry back into bed as tenderly as
he would have handled Ruth herself.

They did not go out to see the dead panther until daybreak. Then they
learned that the pair of lions had already been caught by their owners.



CHAPTER IV

ON THE WAY TO BRIARWOOD


If anything had been needed to interest Ruth Fielding deeply in the young
fellow who had been injured at the scene of the railroad wreck, the
occurrence that evening at the Red Mill would have provided it.

It was not enough for her to make a veritable hero of him to Helen, and
Jane Ann, and Tom, when they came over from Outlook the following morning.
When the girl of the Red Mill was really interested in anything or
anybody, she gave her whole-souled attention to it.

She could not be satisfied with Jerry Sheming's brief account of his life
with his half-crazed uncle on some distant place called Cliff Island, and
the domestic tragedy that seemed to be the cause of the old man's final
incarceration in a madhouse.

"Tell me all about yourself--do," she pleaded with Jerry, who was to
remain in bed for several days (Uncle Jabez insisted on it himself, too!),
for the injured leg must be rested. "Didn't you live anywhere else but in
the woods?"

"That's right, Miss," he said, slowly. "I got a little schooling on the
mainland; but it warn't much. Uncle Pete used to guide around parties of
city men who wanted to fish and hunt. At the last I did most of the
guidin'. He said he could trust me, for I hated liquor as bad as him. _My_
dad was killed by it.

"Uncle Pete was a mite cracked over it, maybe. But he was good enough to
me until Rufus Blent came rummagin' round. Somehow he got Uncle Pete to
ragin'."

"Who is this Rufus Blent?" asked Ruth, curiously.

"He's a real estate man. He lives at Logwood. That's the landin' at the
east end o' the lake."

"What lake?"

"Tallahaska. You've heard tell on't?" he asked.

"Yes. But I was never there, of course."

"Well, Miss, Cliff Island is just the purtiest place! And Uncle Pete must
have had some title to it, for he's lived there all his life--and he's
old. Fifty-odd year he was there, I know. He was more than a squatter.

"I reckon he was a bit of a miser. He had some money, and he didn't trust
to banks. So he kept it hid on the island, of course.

"Then the landslide come, and he talked as though it had covered his
treasure box--and in it was papers he talked about. If he could ha' got
those papers he could ha' beat Rufus Blent off.

"That's the understandin' I got of him. Of course, he talked right ragin'
and foolish; but some things he said was onderstandable. But he couldn't
make the judge see it--nor could I. They let Rufus Blent have his way, and
Uncle Pete went to the 'sylum.

"Then they ordered me off the island. I believe Blent wanted to s'arch it
himself for the treasure box. He's a sneakin' man--I allus hated him,"
said Jerry, clenching his fist angrily.

"But they could ha' put me in the jug if I'd tried to fight him. So I come
away. Don't 'spect I'll ever see Tallahaska--or Cliff Island--again," and
the young fellow's voice broke and he turned his face away.

When Jane Ann Hicks heard something of this, through Ruth, she was eager
to help Jerry to be revenged upon the man whom he thought had cheated his
uncle.

"Let me write to Bill Hicks about it," she cried, eagerly. "He'll come on
here and get after this thieving real estate fellow--you bet!"

"I have no doubt that he would," laughed Helen, pinching her. "You'd make
him leave his ranch and everything else and come here just to do that.
Don't be rash, young lady. Jerry certainly did you a favor, but you
needn't take everything he says for the gospel truth."

"I believe myself he's honest," added Ruth, quietly.

"And I don't doubt him either," Helen Cameron said. "But we'd better hear
both sides of it. And a missing treasure box, and papers to prove that an
old hunter is owner of an island in Tallahaska, sounds--well, unusual, to
say the least."

Ruth laughed. "Helen has suddenly developed caution," she said. "What do
you say, Tom?"

"I'll get father to write to somebody at Logwood, and find out about it,"
returned the boy, promptly.

That is the way the matter was left for the time being. The next day they
were to start for school--the girls for Briarwood and Tom for Seven Oaks.

It was arranged that Jerry should remain at the Red Mill for a time. Uncle
Jabez's second opinion of him was so favorable that the miller might
employ him for a time as the harvesting and other fall work came on. And
Jane Ann left a goodly sum in the miller's hands for young Sheming's use.

"He's that independent that he wouldn't take nothing from me but a pair
of cuff links," declared Jane Ann, wiping her eyes, for she was a
tender-hearted girl under her rough exterior. "Says they will do for him
to remember me by. He's a nice chap."

"Jinny's getting sentimental," gibed Tom, slily.

"I'm not over you, Mister Tom!" she flared up instantly. "You're too
'advanced' a dresser."

"And you were the girl who once ran away from Silver Ranch and the boys
out there, because everything was so 'common,'" chuckled Tom.

Ruth shut him off at that. She knew that the western girl could not stand
much teasing.

They were all nervous, anyway; at least, the girls were. Ruth and Helen
approached their second year at Briarwood with some anxiety. How would
they be treated? How would the studies be arranged for the coming months
of hard work? How were they going to stand with the teachers?

When the two chums first went to Briarwood they occupied a double room;
but later they had taken in Mercy Curtis, a lame girl. Now that
"triumvirate" could not continue, for Jane Ann had begged to room with
Ruth and Helen.

The western girl, who was afraid of scarcely anything "on four legs or
two" in her own environment, was really nervous as she approached
boarding school. She had seen enough of these eastern girls to know that
they were entirely different from herself. She was "out of their class,"
she told herself, and if she had not been with Ruth and Helen these few
last days before the opening of the school term, she would have run away.

Ruth was going back to school this term with a delightful sense of having
gained Uncle Jabez's special approval. He admitted that schooling such as
she gained at Briarwood was of some use. And he made her a nice present of
pocket-money when she started.

The Cameron auto stopped for her at the Red Mill before mid-forenoon, and
Ruth bade the miller and Aunt Alvirah and Ben--not forgetting Jerry
Sheming, her new friend--good-bye.

"Do--_do_ take care o' yourself, my pretty," crooned Aunt Alvirah over
her, at the last. "Jest remember we're a-honin' for you here at the ol'
mill."

"Take care of Uncle Jabez," whispered Ruth. She dared kiss the grim old
man only upon his dusty cheek. Then she shook hands with bashful Ben and
ran out to her waiting friends.

"Come on, or we'll lose the train," cried Helen.

They were off the moment Ruth stepped into the tonneau. But she stood up
and waved her hand to the little figure of Aunt Alvirah in the cottage
doorway as long as she could be seen on the Cheslow road. And she had a
fancy that Uncle Jabez himself was lurking in the dark opening to the
grist-floor of the mill, and watching the retreating motor car.

There was a quick, alert-looking girl hobbling on two canes up and down
the platform at Cheslow Station. This was Mercy Curtis, the station
agent's crippled daughter.

"Here you are at last!" she cried, shrilly. "And the train already hooting
for the station. Five minutes more and you would have been too late. Did
you think I could go to Briarwood without you?"

Ruth ran up and kissed her heartily. She knew that Mercy's "bark was worse
than her bite."

"You come and see Jane Ann--and be nice to her. She doesn't look it, but
she's just as scared as she can be."

"Of course you'd have some poor, unfortunate pup, or kitten, to mother,
Ruth Fielding," snapped the lame girl.

She was very nice, however, to the girl from Silver Ranch, sat beside her
in the chair car, and soon had Jane Ann laughing. For Mercy Curtis, with
her sarcastic tongue, could be good fun if she wished to be.

Here and there, along the route to Osago Lake, other Briarwood girls
joined them. At one point appeared Madge Steele and her brother, Bob, a
slow, smiling young giant, called "Bobbins" by the other boys, who was
always being "looked after" in a most distressing fashion by his sister.

"Come, Bobby, boy, don't fall up the steps and get your nice new clothes
dirty," adjured Madge, as her brother made a false step in getting aboard
the train. "Will you look out for him, Mr. Cameron, if I leave him in your
care?"

"Sure!" said Tom, laughing. "I'll see that he doesn't spoil his pinafore
or mess up his curls."

"Say! I'd shake a sister like that if I had one," grunted "Busy Izzy"
Phelps, disgustedly.

"Aw, what's the odds?" drawled good-natured Bobbins.

The hilarious crowd boarded the _Lanawaxa_ at the landing, and after
crossing the lake they again took a train, disembarking at Seven Oaks,
where the boys' school was situated.

From here the girls were to journey by stage to Briarwood. There was
dust-coated, grinning, bewhiskered "Old Noah Dolliver" and his "Ark,"
waiting for them.

There was a horde of uniformed academy boys about to greet Tom and his
chums, and to eye the girls who had come thus far in their company. But
Ruth and her friends were not so bashful as they had been the year before.

They formed in line, two by two, and slowly paraded the length of the
platform, chanting in unison the favorite "welcome to the infants" used at
the beginning of each half at Briarwood:

    "Uncle Noah, he drove an Ark--
      One wide river to cross!
    He's aiming to land at Briarwood Park--
      One wide river to cross!
        One wide river!
        One wide river of Jordan!
        One wide river!
        One wide river to cross!"

The boys cheered them enthusiastically. The girls piled into the coach
with much laughter. Even Mercy had taken part in this fun, for the
procession had marched at an easy pace for her benefit.

Old Dolliver cracked his whip. Tom ran along in the dust on one side and
Bobbins on the other, each to bid a last good-bye to his sister.

Then the coach rolled into the shadow of the cool wood road, and Ruth and
her friends were really upon the last lap of their journey to the Hall.



CHAPTER V

A LONG LOOK AHEAD


"Hurrah! first glimpse of the old place!"

Helen cried this, with her head out of the Ark. The dust rolled up in a
cloud behind them as they topped the hill. Here Mary Cox had met Ruth and
Helen that first day, a year ago, when they approached the Hall.

There was no infant in the coach now save Jane Ann. And the chums were
determined to save the western girl from that strange and lonely feeling
they had themselves experienced.

There was nobody in view on the pastured hill. Down the slope the Ark
coasted and bye and bye Cedar Walk came into view.

"Shall we get out here, girls?" called Madge Steele, with a glance at
Mercy.

"Of course we shall," cried that sprightly person, shaking her fist at the
big senior. "Don't you dare try to spare _me_, Miss! I am getting so
strong and healthy I am ashamed of myself. Don't you dare!"

Madge kissed her warmly, as Ruth had. _That_ was the best way to treat
Mercy Curtis whenever she "exploded."

Suddenly Helen leaned out of the open half of the door on her side and
began to call a welcome to four girls who were walking briskly down the
winding pathway. Instantly they began to run, shouting joyfully in return.

"Here we be, young ladies," croaked Old Dolliver, bringing his tired
horses to a halt.

They struggled forth, Jane Ann coming last to help the lame girl--just a
mite. Then the two parties of school friends came together like the
mingling of waters.

One was a very plump girl with a smiling, rosy face; one was red-haired
and very sharp-looking, and the other two balanced each other evenly, both
being more than a little pretty, very well dressed, and one dark while the
other was light.

The light girl was Belle Tingley, and the dark one Lluella Fairfax; of
course, the red-haired one was Mary Cox, "The Fox," while the stout girl
could be no other than "Heavy" Jennie Stone.

The Fox came forward quickly and seized both of Ruth's hands. "Dear Ruth,"
she whispered. "I arrived just this morning myself. You know that my
brother is all right again?" and she kissed the girl of the Red Mill
warmly.

Belle and Lluella looked a bit surprised at Mary Cox's manifestation of
friendship for Ruth; but they did not yet know all the particulars of
their schoolmates' adventures at Silver Ranch.

Heavy was hurrying about, kissing everybody indiscriminately, and of
course performing this rite with Ruth at least twice.

"I'm so tickled to see you all, I can't tell!" she laughed. "And you're
all looking fine, too. But it does seem a month, instead of a week, since
I saw you."

"My! but you are looking bad yourself, Heavy," gibed Helen Cameron,
shaking her head and staring at the other girl. "You're just fading away
to a shadow."

"Pretty near," admitted Heavy. "But the doctor says I shall get my
appetite back after a time. I was allowed to drink the water two eggs were
boiled in for lunch, and to-night I can eat the holes out of a dozen
doughnuts. Oh! I'm convalescing nicely, thank you."

The girls who had reached the school first welcomed Jane Ann quite as
warmly as they did the others. There was an air about them all that seemed
protecting to the strange girl.

Other girls were walking up and down the Cedar Walk, and sometimes they
cast more than glances at the eight juniors who were already such
friends. Madge had immediately been swallowed up by a crowd of seniors.

"Say, Foxy! got an infant there?" demanded one girl.

"I suppose Fielding has made her a Sweetbriar already--eh?" suggested
another.

"The Sweetbriars do not have to fish for members," declared Helen, tossing
her head.

"Oh, my! See what a long tail our cat's got!" responded one of the other
crowd, tauntingly.

"The double quartette! There's just eight of them," crowed another. "There
certainly will be something doing at Briarwood Hall with those two
roomsful."

"Say! that's right!" cried Heavy, eagerly, to Ruth. "You, and Helen, and
Mercy, and Jinny, take that quartette room on our other side. We'll just
about boss that dormitory. What do you say?"

"If Mrs. Tellingham will agree," said Ruth. "I'll ask her."

"But you girls will be 'way ahead of me in your books," broke in Jane Ann.

"We needn't be ahead of you in sleeping, and in fun," laughed Heavy,
pinching her.

"Don't be offish, Miss Jinny," said Helen, calling her by the title that
the cowboys did.

"And my name--my dreadful, dreadful name!" groaned the western girl.

"I tell you!" exclaimed Ruth, "we're all friends. Let's agree how we shall
introduce Miss Hicks to the bunch. She must choose a name----"

"Why, call yourself 'Nita,' if you want to, dear," said Helen, patting the
western girl's arm. "That's the name you ran away with."

"But I'm ashamed of that. I know it is silly--and I chose it for a silly
reason. But you know what all these girls will do to 'Jane Ann,'" and she
shook her head, more than a little troubled.

"What's the matter with Ann?" demanded Mercy Curtis, sharply. "Isn't 'Ann
Hicks' sensible-sounding enough? For sure, it's not _pretty_; but we can't
all have both pretty names and pretty features," and she laughed.

"And it's mighty tough when you haven't got either," grumbled the new
girl.

"'Ann Hicks,'" quoth Ruth, softly. "I like it. I believe it sounds nice,
too--when you get used to it. 'Ann Hicks.' Something dignified and fine
about it--just as though you had been named after some really great
woman--some leader."

The others laughed; and yet they looked appreciation of Ruth Fielding's
fantasy.

"Bully for you, Ruthie!" cried Helen, hugging her. "If Ann Hicks agrees."

"It doesn't sound so bad without the 'Jane,'" admitted the western girl
with a sigh. "And Ruth says it so nicely."

"We'll all say it nicely," declared The Fox, who was a much different
"Fox" from what she had been the year before. "'Ann Hicks,' I bet you've
got a daguerreotype at home of the gentle old soul for whom you are named.
You know--silver-gray gown, pearls, pink cheeks, and a real ostrich
feather fan."

"My goodness me!" ejaculated the newly christened Ann Hicks, "you have
already arranged a very fanciful family tree for me. Can I ever live up to
such an ancestress as _that_?"

"Certainly you can," declared Ruth, firmly. "You've just _got_ to. Think
of the original Ann--as Mary described her--whenever you feel like
exploding. Her picture ought to bring you up short. A lady like that
_couldn't_ explode."

"Tough lines," grumbled the western girl. "Right from what you girls call
the 'wild and woolly,' and to have to live up to silver-gray silk and
pearls--M-m-m-m!"

"Now, say! say!" cried Belle Tingley, suddenly, and seizing upon Ruth,
about whom she had been hovering ever since they had met. "_I_ want to
talk a little. There aren't any more infants to christen, I hope?"

"Go on!" laughed Ruth, squeezing her. "What is the matter, _Bella mia_?"

"And don't talk Italian," said Belle, shrugging her shoulders. "Listen! I
promised to ask you the minute you arrived, Ruthie, and now you've been
here ten at least."

"It is something splendid," laughed Lluella, clapping her hands, evidently
being already a sharer in Belle's secret.

"I'll tell you--if they'll let me," panted Belle, shaking Ruth a little.
"Father's bought Cliff Island. It's a splendid place. We were there for
part of the summer. And there will be a great lodge built by Christmas
time and he has told me I might invite you all to come to the
house-warming. Now, Ruth! it remains with you. If you'll go, the others
will, I know. And it's a splendid place."

"Cliff Island?" gasped Ruth.

"Yes. In Lake Tallahaska."

"And your father has just bought it?"

"Yes. He had some trouble getting a clear title; but it's all right now.
They had to evict an old squatter. I want you all to come with me for the
mid-winter holiday. What do you say, Ruthie?" asked Belle, eagerly.

"I say it's a long look ahead," responded Ruth, slowly. "It's very kind of
you, Belle. But I'll have to write home first, of course. I'd like to go,
though--to Cliff Island--yes, indeed!"



CHAPTER VI

PICKING UP THE THREADS


Ann Hicks must see the preceptress at once. That came first, and Ruth
would not go into the old dormitory until the introduction of the western
girl was accomplished.

There was a whole bevy of girls on the steps of the main building, in
which Mrs. Grace Tellingham and Dr. Tellingham lived. Nobody ever thought
of putting the queer old doctor first, although all the Briarwoods
respected the historian immensely. He was considered very, very scholarly,
although it would have been hard to find any of his histories in any
library save that of Briarwood itself.

It was understood that just now he was engaged upon a treatise relating to
the possible existence of a race before the Mound Builders in the Middle
West, and he was not to be disturbed, of course, at his work.

But when Ruth and Ann Hicks entered the big office room, there he was,
bent over huge tomes upon the work table, his spectacles awry, and his wig
pushed so far back upon his head that two hands' breadth of glistening
crown was exposed.

The fiction that Dr. Tellingham was not bald might have been kept up very
well indeed, did not the gentleman get so excited while he worked. As soon
as he became interested in his books, he proceeded to bare his high brow
to all beholders, and the wig slid toward the back of his neck.

The truth was, as Heavy Stone said, Dr. Tellingham had to remove his
collar to brush his hair--there really was so little of it.

"Dear, dear!" sputtered the historian, peering at the two girls over his
reading glasses. "You don't want me, of course?"

"Oh, no, Dr. Tellingham. This is a new girl. We wished to see Mrs.
Tellingham," Ruth assured him.

"Quite so," he said, briskly. "She is--Ah! she comes! My dear! Two of the
young ladies to see you," and instantly he was buried in his books
again--that is, buried all but his shining crown.

Mrs. Tellingham was a graceful, gray-haired lady, with a charming smile.
She trailed her black robe across the carpet and stooped to kiss Ruth
warmly, for she not only respected the junior, but had learned to love
her.

"Welcome, Miss Fielding!" she said, kindly. "I am glad to see you back.
And this is the girl I have been getting letters about--Miss Hicks?"

"Ann Hicks," responded Ruth, firmly. "That is the name she wishes to be
known by, dear Mrs. Tellingham."

"I don't know who could be writing you but Uncle Bill," said Ann Hicks,
blunderingly. "And I expect he's told you a-plenty."

"I think 'Uncle Bill' must be the most recklessly generous man in the
world, my dear," observed Mrs. Tellingham, taking and holding one of Ann's
brown hands, and looking closely at the western girl.

For a moment the new girl blushed and her own eyes shone. "You bet he is!
I--I beg pardon," she stammered. "Uncle Bill is all right."

"And Jennie Stone's Aunt Kate has been writing me about you, too. It seems
she was much interested in you when you visited their place at Lighthouse
Point."

"She's very kind," murmured the new girl.

"And Mrs. Murchiston, Helen's governess, has spoken a good word for you,"
added the preceptress.

"Why--why I didn't know so many people _cared_," stammered Ann.

"You see, you have a way of making friends unconsciously. I can see that,"
Mrs. Tellingham said, kindly. "Now, do not be discouraged. You will make
friends among the girls in just the same way. Don't mind their banter for
a while. The rough edges will soon rub off----"

"But there _are_ rough edges," admitted the western girl, hanging her
head.

"Don't mind. There are such in most girls' characters and they show up
when first they come to school. Keep cheerful. Come to me if you are in
real trouble--and stick close to Miss Fielding, here. I can't give you any
better advice than that," added Mrs. Tellingham, with a laugh.

Then she was ready to listen to Ruth's plea that the room next to The Fox
and her chums be given up to Ruth, Helen, Mercy and the new girl.

"We love our little room; but it was crowded with Mercy last half; and we
could all get along splendidly in a quartette room," said Ruth.

"All right," agreed the principal. "I'll telephone to Miss Scrimp and Miss
Picolet. Now, go and see about getting settled, young ladies. I expect
much of you this half, Ruth Fielding. As for Ann, I shall take her in hand
myself on Monday and see what classes she would best enter."

"She's fine," declared Ann Hicks, when they were outside again. "I can get
along with her. But how about the girls?"

"They'll be nice to you, too--after a bit. Of course, everybody new has to
expect some hazing. Thank your stars that you won't have to be put through
the initiation of the marble harp," and she pointed to a marble figure in
the tiny Italian garden in the middle of the campus.

When Ann wanted to know what _that_ meant, Ruth repeated the legend as all
new girls at Briarwood must learn it. But Ruth and her friends had long
since agreed that no other nervous or high-strung girl was to be hazed, as
she and Helen had been, when they first came to the Hall. So the ceremony
of the marble harp was abolished. It has been described in the former
volume of this series, "Ruth Fielding at Briarwood Hall."

The two went back to the dormitory that had become like home to Ruth. Miss
Picolet, the little French teacher, beckoned them into her study. "I must
be the good friend of your good friend, too, Miss Fielding," she said, and
shook hands warmly with Ann.

The matron of the house had already opened and aired the large room next
to that which had been so long occupied by The Fox and her chums. The
eight girls made the corridor ring with laughter and shouts while they
were getting settled. The trunks had arrived from Lumberton and Helen and
Ruth were busy decorating the big room which they were to share in the
future with the lame girl and Ann Hicks.

There were two wide beds in it; but each girl had her own dressing case
and her locker and closet There were four windows and two study tables.
It was a delightful place, they all agreed.

"Hush! tell it not in Gath; whisper it not in Ascalon!" hissed The Fox,
peering into the room. "You girls have the best there is. It's lots bigger
than our quartette----"

"Oh, I don't think so. Only a 'teeny' bit larger," responded Ruth,
quickly.

"Then it's Heavy that takes up so much space in our room. She dwarfs
everything. However," said the red-haired girl, "you can have lots more
fun in here. Shove back everything against one wall, roll up the rugs, and
then we can dance."

"And have Picolet after us in a hurry," observed Helen, laughing.

"Barefoot dancing is still in vogue," retorted The Fox. "Helen can play
her violin."

"After retiring bell? No, thanks!" exclaimed Ruth's chum. "I am to stand
better in my classes this half than last spring or Monsieur Pa-_pa_ will
have something to say to me. He doesn't often preach; but that
black-haired brother of mine did better last term than I did. Can't have
that."

"They're awfully strict with the boys over at Seven Oaks," sighed Heavy,
who was chewing industriously as she talked, sitting cross-legged on the
floor.

"What are you eating, Heavy?" demanded Belle, suddenly.

"Some of those doughnut holes, I bet!" giggled Lluella. "They must be
awful filling, Heavy."

"Nothing _is_ filling," replied the stout girl. "Just think, almost the
whole universe is filled with just atmosphere--and your head, Lluella."

"That's not pretty, dear," remarked The Fox, pinching Heavy. "Don't be
nasty to your playmates."

"Well, I've got to eat," groaned Heavy. "If you knew how long it seemed
from luncheon to supper time----"

Despite all Ruth Fielding could do, the girl from Silver Ranch felt
herself a good deal out of this nonsense and joviality. Ann could not talk
the way these girls did. She felt serious when she contemplated her future
in the school.

"I'd--I'd run away if it wasn't for Uncle Bill," she whispered to herself,
looking out of the window at the hundreds of girls parading the walks
about the campus.

Almost every two girls seemed chums. They walked with their arms about
each other's waists, and chattered like magpies. Ann Hicks wanted to run
and hide somewhere, for she was more lonely now than she had ever been
when wandering about the far-reaching range on the Montana ranch!



CHAPTER VII

"A HARD ROW TO HOE"


Since Ruth Fielding had organized the S.B.'s, or Sweetbriars, there had
been little hazing at Briarwood Hall. Of course, this was the first real
opening of the school year since that auspicious occasion; but the effect
of the new society and its teachings upon the whole school was marked.

Rivalries had ceased to a degree. The old Upedes, of which The Fox had
been the head, no longer played their tricks. The Fox had grown much older
in appearance, if not in years. She had had her lesson.

Belle and Lluella and Heavy were not so reckless, either. And as the
S.B.'s stood for friendship, kindness, helpfulness, and all its members
wore the pretty badge, it was likely to be much easier for those "infants"
who joined the school now.

Ann Hicks was bound to receive some hard knocks, even as Mrs. Tellingham
had suggested. But "roughing it" a little is sometimes good for girls as
well as boys.

In her own western home Ann could have held her own with anybody. She was
so much out of her usual element here at Briarwood that she was like a
startled hare. She scented danger on all sides.

Her roommates could not always defend her, although even Mercy, the
unmerciful, tried. Ann Hicks was so big, and blundering. She was taller
than most girls of her age, and "raw-boned" like her uncle. Some time she
might really be handsome; but there was little promise of it as yet.

When the principal started her in her studies, it was soon discovered that
Ann, big girl though she was, had to take some of the lessons belonging to
the primary grade. And she made a sorry appearance in recitation, at best.

There were plenty of girls to laugh at her. There is nothing so cruel as a
schoolgirl's tongue when it is unbridled. And unless the victim is blessed
with either a large sense of humor, or an apt brain for repartee, it goes
hard with her.

Poor Ann had neither--she was merely confused and miserable.

She saw the other girls of her room--and their close friends in the
neighboring quartette--going cheerfully about the term's work. They had
interests that the girl from the West, with her impoverished mind, could
not even appreciate.

She had to study so hard--even some of the simplest lessons--that she had
little time to learn games. She did not care for gymnasium work, although
there were probably few girls at the school as muscular as herself. Tennis
seemed silly to her. Nobody rode at the Hall, and she longed to bestride a
pony and dash off for a twenty-mile canter.

Nothing that she was used to doing on the ranch would appeal to these
girls here--Ann was quite sure of that. Ruth and the others who had been
with them for that all-too-short month at Silver Ranch seemed to have
forgotten the riding, and the roping, and all.

Then, Helen had her violin--and loved it. Ruth was practicing singing all
the time she could spare, for she was already a prominent member of the
Glee Club. When the girl of the Red Mill sang, Ann Hicks felt her heart
throb and the tears rise in her eyes. She loved Ruth's kind of music; yet
she, herself, could not carry a tune.

Mercy was strictly attentive to her own books. Mercy was a bookworm--nor
did she like being asked questions about her studies. Those first few
weeks Ann Hicks's recitations did not receive very high marks.

Often some of the girls who did not know her very well laughed because she
carried books belonging to the primary grade. Ann Hicks had many studies
to make up that her mates had been drilled in while they were in the
lower classes.

One day at mail time (and in a boarding school that is a most important
hour) Ann received a very tempting-looking box by parcel post. She had
been initiated into the meaning of "boxes from home." Even Aunt Alvirah
had sent a box to Ruth, filled with choicest homemade dainties.

Ann expected nothing like that. Uncle Bill would never think of it--and he
wouldn't know what to buy, anyway. The box fairly startled the girl from
Silver Ranch.

"What is it? Something good to eat, I bet," cried Heavy, who was on hand,
of course. "Open it, Ann--do."

"Come on! Let's see what the goodies are," urged another girl, but who
smiled behind her hand.

"I don't know who would send _me_ anything," said Ann, slowly.

"Never mind the address. Open it!" cried a third speaker, and had Ann
noted it, she would have realized that some of the most trying girls in
the school had suddenly surrounded her.

With trembling fingers she tore off the outside wrapper without seeing
that the box had been mailed at the local post office--Lumberton!

A very decorative box was enclosed.

"H-m-m!" gasped Heavy. "Nothing less than fancy nougatines in _that_."

She was aiding the heartless throng, but did not know it. It would have
never entered Heavy's mind to do a really mean thing.

Ann untied the narrow red ribbon. She raised the cover. Tissue paper
covered something very choice----?

_A dunce cap._

For a moment Ann was stricken motionless. The girls about her shouted. One
coarse, thoughtless girl seized the cap, pulled it from the box, and
clapped it on Ann Hicks's black hair.

The delighted crowd shouted more shrilly. Heavy was thunderstruck. Then
she sputtered:

"Well! I never would have believed there was anybody so mean as that in
the whole of Briarwood School."

But Ann, who had held in her temper as she governed a half-wild pony on
the range, until this point, suddenly "let go all holts," as Bill Hicks
would have expressed it.

She tore the cap from her head and stamped upon it and the fancy box it
had come in. She struck right and left at the laughing, scornful faces of
the girls who had so baited her.

Had it not been disgraceful, one might have been delighted with the change
in the expression of those faces--and in the rapidity with which the
change came about.

More than one blow landed fairly. The print of Ann's fingers was
impressed in red upon the cheeks of those nearest to her. They ran
screaming--some laughing, some angry.

Heavy's weight (for the fleshy girl had seized Ann about the waist) was
all that made the enraged girl give over her pursuit of her tormentors.
Fortunately, Ruth herself came running to the spot. She got Ann away and
sat by her all the afternoon in their room, making up her own delinquent
lessons afterward.

But the affair could not be passed over without comment. Some of the girls
had reported Ann's actions. Of course, such a disgraceful thing as a girl
slapping another was seldom heard of in Briarwood. Mrs. Tellingham, who
knew very well where the blame lay, dared not let the matter go without
punishing Ann, however.

"I am grieved that one of our girls--a young lady in the junior
grade--should so forget herself," said the principal. "Whatever may have
been the temptation, such an exhibition of temper cannot be allowed. I am
sure she will not yield to it again; nor shall I pass leniently over the
person who may again be the cause of Ann Hicks losing her temper."

This seemed to Ann to be "the last straw." "She might have better put me
in the primary grade in the beginning," the ranch girl said, spitefully.
"Then I wouldn't have been among those who despise me. I hate them all!
I'll just get away from here----"

But the thought of running away a second time rather troubled her. She had
worried her uncle greatly the first time she had done so. Now he was sure
she was in such good hands that she wouldn't wish to run away.

Ann knew that she could not blame Ruth Fielding, and the other girls who
were always kind to her. She merely shrank from being with them, when they
knew so much more than she did.

It was her pride that was hurt. Had she taken the teasing of the meaner
girls in a wiser spirit, she knew they would not have sent her the dunce
cap. They continued to tease her because they knew they could hurt her.

"I--I wish I could show them I could do things that they never dreamed of
doing!" muttered Ann, angrily, yet wistfully, too. "I'd like to fling a
rope, or manage a bad bronc', or something they never saw a girl do
before.

"Book learning isn't everything. Oh! I have half a mind to give up and go
back to the ranch. Nobody made fun of me out there--they didn't dare! And
our folks are too kind to tease that way, anyhow," thought the western
girl.

"Uncle Bill is just paying out his good money for nothing. He said Ruth
was a little lady--and Helen, too. I knew he wanted me to be the same,
after he got acquainted with them and saw how fine they were.

"But you sure 'can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.' That's as
certain as shootin'! If I stay here I've got a mighty hard row to
hoe--and--and I don't believe I've got the pluck to hoe it." Ann groaned,
and shook her tousled black head.



CHAPTER VIII

JERRY SHEMING AGAIN


Ruth, with all the fun and study of the opening of the fall term at
Briarwood, could not entirely forget Jerry Sheming. More particularly did
she think of him because of the invitation Belle Tingley had extended to
her the day of their arrival.

It was a coincidence that none of the other girls appreciated, for none of
them had talked much with the young fellow who had saved Ann Hicks from
the wrecked car at Applegate Crossing. Even Ann herself had not become as
friendly with the boy as had Ruth.

The fact that he had lived a good share of his life on the very island
Belle said her father had bought for a hunting camp, served to spur Ruth's
interest in both the youth and the island itself. Then, what Jerry had
told her about his uncle's lost treasure box added to the zest of the
affair.

Somewhere on the island Peter Tilton had lost a box containing money and
private papers. Jerry believed it to have been buried by a landslide that
had occurred months before.

There must be something in this story, or why should "Uncle Pete," as
Jerry called him, have lost his mind over the catastrophe? Uncle Pete must
be really mad or they would not have shut him up in the county asylum.

The loss of the papers supposed to be in the box made it possible for some
man named Blent to cheat the old hunter out of his holdings on Cliff
Island.

Not for a moment did Ruth suppose that Mr. Tingley, Belle's father, was a
party to any scheme for cheating the old hunter. It was the work of the
man Blent--if true.

Ruth was very curious--and very much interested. Few letters ever passed
between her and the Red Mill. Aunt Alvirah's gnarled and twisted fingers
did not take kindly to the pen; and Uncle Jabez loved better to add up his
earnings than to spend an evening retailing the gossip of the Mill for his
grandniece to peruse.

Ruth knew that Jerry had soon recovered from his accident and that for
several weeks, at least, had worked for Uncle Jabez. The latter grudgingly
admitted that Jerry was the best man he had ever hired in the cornfield,
both in cutting fodder and shucking corn.

Just before Thanksgiving there came a letter saying that Jerry had gone
on. Of course, Ruth knew that her uncle would not keep the young fellow
longer than he could make use of him; but she was sorry he had gone before
she had communicated with him.

The girl of the Red Mill felt that she wished to know Jerry better. She
had been deeply interested in his story. She had hoped to learn more about
him.

"If you are really going to Cliff Island for the holidays, Belle," she
told the latter, "I hope I can go."

"Bully!" exclaimed Belle, joyfully. "We'll have a dandy time there--better
than we had at Helen's father's camp, last winter. I refuse to be lost in
the snow again."

"Same here," drawled Heavy. "But I wish that lake you talk about, Belle,
wouldn't freeze over. I don't like ice," with a shiver.

"Who ever heard of water that wouldn't freeze?" demanded Belle,
scornfully.

"I have," said Heavy, promptly.

"What kind of water, I'd like to know, Miss?"

"Hot water," responded Heavy, chuckling.

Helen, and most of the other girls who were invited to Cliff Island for
Christmas, had already accepted the invitation. Ruth wrote to her uncle
with some little doubt. She did not know how he would take the suggestion.
She had been at the mill so little since first she began attending
boarding school.

This Thanksgiving she did not expect to go home. Few of the girls did so,
for the recess was only over the week-end and lessons began again on
Monday. Only those girls who lived very near to Briarwood made a real
vacation of the first winter holiday. A good many used the time to make up
lessons and work off "conditions."

Thanksgiving Day itself was made somewhat special by a trip to Buchane
Falls, where there was a large dam. Dinner was to be served at five in the
evening, and more than half the school went off to the falls (which was
ten miles away) in several big party wagons, before ten o'clock in the
morning.

"Bring your appetites back with you, girls," Mrs. Tellingham told them at
chapel, and Heavy, at least, had promised to do so and meant to keep her
word. Yet even Heavy did justice to the cold luncheon that was served to
all of them at the falls.

It was crisp autumn weather. Early in the morning there had been a skim of
ice along the edge of the water; but there had not yet been frost enough
to chain the current of the Buchane Creek. Indeed, it would not freeze
over in the middle until mid-winter, if then.

The picnic ground was above the falls and on the verge of the big
millpond. There were swings, and a bowling alley, and boats, and other
amusements.

Ruth had fairly dragged Ann Hicks into the party. The girls who had been
meanest to the westerner were present. Ann would have had a woefully bad
time of it had not some of the smaller girls needed somebody to look out
for them.

Ann hated the little girls at Briarwood less than she did the big ones. In
fact, the "primes," as they were called, rather took to the big girl from
the West.

One of the swings was not secure, and Ann started to fix it. She could
climb like any boy, and there did not happen to be a teacher near to
forbid her. Therefore, up she went, unfastened the rope from the beam, and
proceeded to splice the place where it had become frayed.

It was not a new rope, but was strong save in that one spot. Ann coiled
it, and although it did not have the "feel" of the fine hemp, or the good
hair rope that is part of the cowman's equipment, her hands and arm
tingled to lassoo some active, running object.

She coiled it once more and then flung the rope at a bush. The little
girls shouted their appreciation. Ann did not mind, for there seemed to be
no juniors or seniors there to see. Most of the older girls were down by
the water.

Indeed, some of the seniors were trying to interest the bigger girls in
rowing. Briarwood owned a small lake, and they might have canoes and
racing shells upon it, if the girls as a whole would become interested.

But many of the big girls did not even know how to row. There was one big
punt into which almost a dozen of them crowded. Heavy sat in the stern and
declared that she had to have a big crowd in the bow of the boat, to
balance it and keep her end from going down.

Therefore one girl after another jumped in, and when it was really too
full for safety it was pushed out from the landing. Just about the time
the current which set toward the middle of the pond seized the punt, it
was discovered that nobody had thought of oars.

"How under the sun did you suppose a thing like this was going to be
propelled?" Heavy demanded. "I never did see such a fellow as you are,
Mandy Mitchell!"

"You needn't scold me," declared the Mitchell girl. "You invited me into
the boat."

"Did I? Why! I must have been crazy, then!" declared Heavy. "And didn't
any of you think how we were going to get back to shore?"

"Nor we don't know now," cried another girl.

"Oh-o!" gasped one of the others, darting a frightened look ahead. "We're
aiming right for the dam."

"You wouldn't expect the boat to drift against the current, would you?"
snapped Heavy.

"Let's scream!" cried another--and they could all do that to perfection.
In a very few minutes it was apparent to everybody within the circle of
half a mile or more that a bunch of girls was in trouble--or thought so!

"Sit down!" gasped Heavy. "Don't rock the boat. If that yelling doesn't
bring anybody, we're due to reach a watery grave, sure enough."

"Oh, don't, Heavy!" wailed one of the weaker ones. "How can you?"

Heavy was privately as frightened as any of them, but she tried to keep
the others cheerful, and would have kept on joking till the end. But
several small boats came racing down the pond after them, and along the
bank came a man--or a boy--running and shouting. How either the girls in
the boats or the youth on the shore could help them, was a mystery; but
both comforted the imperiled party immensely.

The current swung the heavy punt in toward the shore. Right at that end of
the dam the water was running a foot deep--or more--over the flash-board.

If the punt struck, it would turn broadside, and probably tip all hands
over the dam. This was a serious predicament, indeed, and the spectators
realized it even more keenly than did the girls in the punt.

The youth who had been called to the spot by their screams threw off his
coat and cap, and they saw him stoop to unlace his shoes. A plunge into
this cold water was not attractive, and it was doubtful if he could help
them much if he reached the punt.

Down the hill from the picnic grounds came a group of girls, Ann Hicks in
the lead. Most of her companions were too small to do any good in any
event. The girl from the ranch carried a neat coil of rope in one hand and
she shouted to Heavy to "Hold on!"

"You tell me what to hold on to, and you'll see me do it!" replied the
plump girl. "All I can take hold of just now is thin air."

"Hold on!" said Ann again, and stopped, having reached the right spot.
Then she swung the rope in the air, let it uncoil suddenly, and the loose
end dropped fairly across Jennie Stone's lap.

"Hold on!" yelled everybody, then, and Heavy obeyed.

But the young fellow sprang to Ann's aid, and wrapped the slack of the
rope around a stout sapling on the edge of the pond.

"Easy! Easy!" he admonished. "We don't want to pull them out of the boat.
You _can_ fling a rope; can't you, Miss?"

"I'd ought to," grunted Ann. "I've roped enough steers--Why! you're Jerry
Sheming," she declared, suddenly looking into his face. "Ruth Fielding
wants to see you. Don't you run away before she talks with you."

Then the rope became taut, and the punt began to swing shoreward slowly,
taking in some water and setting the girls to screaming again.



CHAPTER IX

RUTH'S LITTLE PLOT


The punt was in shallow water and the girls who had ventured into it
without oars were perfectly safe before any of the teachers arrived. With
them came Ruth and Helen, and some of the other juniors and seniors. Heavy
took the stump.

"Now! you see what she did?" cried the stout girl, seizing Ann in her arms
the moment she could get ashore. "If she hadn't known how to fling a
lasso, and rope a steer, she'd never have been able to send that rope to
us.

"Three cheers for Ann Hicks, the girl from the ranch, who knows what to do
when folks are drowning in Buchane Pond! One--two--three----"

The cheers were given with a will. Several of the girls who had treated
the western girl so meanly about the dunce cap had been in the boat, and
they asked Ann to shake hands. They were truly repentant, and Ann could
not refuse their advances.

But the western girl was still doubtful of her standing with her mates,
and went back to play with the little ones. Meanwhile she showed Ruth
where Jerry Sheming stood at one side, and the girl from the Red Mill ran
to him eagerly.

"I am delighted to see you!" she exclaimed, shaking Jerry's rough hand. "I
was afraid I wouldn't be able to find you after you left the mill. And I
wanted to."

"I'm glad of your interest in me, Miss Ruth," he said, "but I ain't got no
call to expect it. Mr. Potter was pretty kind to me, and he kept me as
long as there was work there."

"But you haven't got to tramp it, now?"

"Only to look for a steady job. I--I come over this way hopin' I'd hit it
at Lumberton. But they're discharging men at the mills instead of hiring
new ones."

"And I expect you'd rather work in the woods than anywhere else?"
suggested Ruth.

"Why--yes, Miss. I love the woods. And I got a good rifle and shotgun, and
I'm a good camp cook. I can't get a guide's license, but I could go as
assistant--if anybody would take me around Tallahaska."

"Suppose I could get you a job working right where you've always lived--at
Cliff Island?" she asked, eagerly.

"What d'ye mean--Cliff Island?" he demanded, flushing deeply. "I wouldn't
work for that Rufus Blent--nor he wouldn't have me."

"I don't know anything about the man," said Ruth, smiling. "But one of my
chums has invited me to go to Cliff Island for the Christmas holidays. Her
father has bought the place and is building a lodge there."

"Good lands!" ejaculated Jerry.

"Isn't that a coincidence?" Ruth commented. "Now, you wouldn't refuse a
job with Mr. Tingley; would you?"

"Tingley--is that the name?"

"Yes. Perhaps I can get him, through Belle, to hire you. I'll try. Would
you go back?"

"In a minute!" exclaimed Jerry.

"Then I'll try. You see, in four or five weeks, we'll be going there
ourselves. I think it would just be jolly to have you around, for you know
all about the island and everything."

"Yes, indeed, ma'am," agreed Jerry. "I'd like the job."

"So you must write me every few days and let me know where you are. Mrs.
Tellingham won't mind--I'll explain to her," Ruth said, earnestly. "I am
not quite sure that I can go myself, yet. But I'll know for sure in a few
days. And I'll see if Belle won't ask her father to give you work at Cliff
Island. Then, in your off time, you can look for that box your uncle
lost. Don't you see?"

"Oh, Miss! I guess that's gone for good. Near as I could make out o' Uncle
Pete, the landslide at the west end of the island buried his treasure box
a mile deep! It was in one o' the little caves, I s'pose."

"Caves? Are there caves on the island?"

"Lots of 'em. Big ones as well as small. If Uncle Pete wasn't plumb crazy,
he had his money and papers in a hide-out that I'd never found."

"I see Miss Picolet coming this way. She won't approve of my talking with
'a strange young man' so long," laughed Ruth. "You let me know every few
days where you are, Jerry?"

"Yes, ma'am, I will. And thank you kindly."

"You aren't out of funds? You have money?"

"I've got quite a little store," said Jerry, smiling. "Thanks to that nice
black-eyed girl that I helped out of the car window."

"Oh! Ann Hicks. And she's being made much of, now, by the girls, because
she knew how to fling a rope," cried Ruth, looking across the picnic
ground to where her schoolmates were grouped.

"She's all right," said Jerry, enthusiastically. "They ought to be proud
of her--them that was in that boat."

"It will break the ice for Ann," declared Ruth. "I am so glad. Now, I must
run. Don't forget to write, Jerry. Good bye."

She gave him her hand and ran back to join her school friends. Ann had
gone about putting up the children's swing and at first had paid little
attention to the enthusiasm of the girls who had been saved from going
over the dam. But she could not ignore them altogether.

"You're just the smartest girl I ever saw," Heavy declaimed. "We'd all be
in the water, sure enough, if you hadn't got that rope to us. Come on,
Ann! Be a sport. _Do_ wear your laurels kindly."

"I'm just as 'dumb' about books as ever. Flinging that rope didn't make
any difference," growled the western girl.

"I don't care if you don't know your 'A.B., abs,'" cried one of the girls
who had taken a prominent part in the dunce cap trick. "You make me
awfully ashamed of myself for being so mean to you. Please forgive us all,
Ann--that's a good girl."

Ann was awkward about accepting their apologies; and yet she was not
naturally a bad-tempered girl. She was just different from them all--and
felt the difference so keenly!

This sudden reversal of feeling, and their evident offer of friendliness,
made her feel more awkward than ever. She remained very glum while at the
picnic grounds.

But, as Ruth had said, the incident served to break the ice. Ann had
gotten her start. Somebody beside the "primes" gave her "the glad hand and
the smiling eye." Briarwood began to be a different sort of place for the
ranch girl.

There were plenty of the juniors who looked down on her still; but she had
"shown them" once that she could do something the ordinary eastern girl
could not do and Ann was on the _qui vive_ for another chance to "make
good" along her own particular line.

She grew brighter and more self-possessed as the term advanced. Her
lessons, too, she attacked with more assurance.

A few days after Thanksgiving Ruth received a letter in Aunt Alvirah's
cramped hand-writing which assured her that Uncle Jabez would make no
objection to her accepting the invitation to go to Cliff Island for the
holidays.

"And I'll remind him of it in time so't he can send you a Christmas
goldpiece, if the sperit so moves him," wrote Aunt Alvirah, in her
old-fashioned way. "But do take care of yourself, my pretty, in the middle
of that lake."

In telling Belle how happy she was to accept the invitation for the
frolic, Ruth diffidently put forward her request that Mr. Tingley give
Jerry Sheming a job.

"I am quite sure he is a good boy," she told Belle. "He has worked for my
uncle, and Uncle Jabez praised him. Now, Uncle Jabez doesn't praise for
nothing."

"I'll tell father about this Jerry--sure," laughed Belle. "You're an odd
girl, Ruth. You're always trying to do something for somebody."

"Trying to do somebody for somebody, maybe," interposed Mercy, in her
sharp way. "Ruth uses her friends for her own ends."

But Ruth's little plot worked. A fortnight after Thanksgiving she was able
to write to Jerry, who had found a few days' work near the school, that he
could go back to Cliff Island and present himself to Mr. Tingley's
foreman. A good job was waiting for him on the island where he had lived
so long with his uncle, the old hunter.



CHAPTER X

AN EXCITING FINISH


Affairs at Briarwood went at high speed toward the end of the term.
Everybody was busy. A girl who did not work, or who had no interest in her
studies, fell behind very quickly.

Ann Hicks was spurred to do her best by the activities of her mates. She
did not like any of them well enough--save those in the two neighboring
quartette rooms in her dormitory building--to accept defeat from them. She
began to make a better appearance in recitations, and her marks became
better.

They all had extra interests save Ann herself. Helen Cameron was in the
school orchestra and played first violin with a hope of getting solo parts
in time. She loved the instrument, and in the evening, before the
electricity was turned on, she often played in the room, delighting the
music-loving Ann.

Sometimes Ruth sang to her chum's accompaniment. Ruth's voice was so
sweet, so true and tender, and she sang ballads with such feeling, that
Ann often was glad it was dark in the room. The western girl considered it
"soft" to weep, but Ruth's singing brought the tears to her eyes.

Mercy Curtis even gave up her beloved books during the hour of these
informal concerts. Other times she would have railed because she could not
study. Mercy was as hungry for lessons as Heavy Stone was for layer-cake
and macaroons.

"That's all that's left me," croaked the lame girl, when she was in one of
her most difficult moods. "I'll learn all there is to be learned. I'll
stuff my head full. Then, when other girls laugh at my crooked back and
weak legs, I'll shame 'em by knowing more out of books."

"Oh, what a mean way to put it!" gasped Helen.

"I don't care, Miss! You never had your back ache you and your legs go
wabbly--No person with a bad back and such aches and pains as I have, was
ever good-natured!"

"Think of Aunt Alvirah," murmured Ruth, gently.

"Oh, well--she isn't just human!" gasped the lame girl.

"She is very human, I think," Ruth returned.

"No. She's an angel. And no angel was ever called 'Curtis,'" declared the
other, her eyes snapping.

"But I believe there must be an angel somewhere named 'Mercy,'" Ruth
responded, still softly.

However, it was understood that Mercy was aiming to be the crack scholar
of her class. There was a scholarship to be won, and Mercy hoped to get it
and to go to college two years later.

Even Jennie Stone declared she was going in for "extras."

"What, pray?" scoffed The Fox. "All your spare time is taken up in eating
now, Miss."

"All right. I'll go in for the heavyweight championship at table,"
declared the plump girl, good-naturedly. "At least, the result will
doubtless be visible."

Ann began to wonder what she was studying for. All these other girls
seemed to have some particular object. Was she going to school without any
real reason for it?

Uncle Bill would be proud of her, of course. She practised assiduously to
perfect her piano playing. That was something that would show out in
Bullhide and on the ranch. Uncle Bill would crow over her playing just as
he did over her bareback riding.

But Ann was not entirely satisfied with these thoughts. Nor was she
contented with the fact that she had begun to make her mates respect her.
There was something lacking.

She had half a mind to refuse Belle Tingley's invitation to Cliff Island.
In her heart Ann believed she was included in the party because Belle
would have been ashamed to ignore her, and Ruth would not have gone had
Ann not been asked.

To tell the truth Ann was hungry for the girls to like her for
herself--for some attribute of character which she honestly possessed. She
had never had to think of such things before. In her western home it had
never crossed her mind whether people liked her, or not. Everybody about
Silver Ranch had been uniformly kind to her.

Belle's holiday party was to be made up of the eight girls in the two
quartette rooms, with Madge Steele, the senior; Madge's brother, Bobbins,
Tom Cameron, little Busy Izzy Phelps, and Belle's own brothers.

"Of course, we've got to have the boys," declared Helen. "No fun without
them."

Mercy had tried to beg off at first; then she had agreed to go, if she
could take half a trunkful of books with her.

Briarwood girls were as busy as bees in June during these last few days of
the first half. The second half was broken by the Easter vacation and most
of the real hard work in study came before Christmas.

There was going to be a school play after Christmas, and the parts were
given out before the holidays. Helen was going to play and Ruth to sing.
It did seem to Ann as though every girl was happy and busy but herself.

The last day of the term was in sight. There was to be the usual
entertainment and a dance at night. The hall had to be trimmed with greens
and those girls--of the junior and senior classes--who could, were
appointed to help gather the decorations.

"I don't want to go," objected Ann.

"Goosie!" cried Helen. "Of course you do. It will be fun."

"Not for me," returned the ranch girl, grimly. "Do you see who is going to
head the party? That Mitchell girl. She's always nasty to me."

"Be nasty to her!" snapped Mercy, from her corner.

"Now, Mercy!" begged Ruth, shaking a finger at the lame girl.

"I wouldn't mind what Mitchell says or does," sniffed The Fox.

"Fibber!" exclaimed Mercy.

"I never tell lies, Miss," said Mary Cox, tossing her head.

"Humph!" ejaculated the somewhat spiteful Mercy, "do you call yourself a
female George Washington?"

"No. Marthy Washington," laughed Heavy.

"Only her husband couldn't lie," declared Mercy. "And at that, they say
that somebody wished to change the epitaph on his tomb to read: 'Here lies
George Washington--for the first time!'"

"Everybody is tempted to tell a fib some time," sighed Helen.

"And falls, too," exclaimed Mercy.

"I must say I don't believe there ever was anybody but Washington that
didn't tell a lie. It's awfully hard to be exactly truthful always," said
Lluella. "You remember that time in the primary grade, just after we'd
come here to Briarwood, Belle?"

"Do I?" laughed Belle Tingley. "You fibbed all right then, Miss."

"It wasn't very bad--and I did _want_ to see the whole school so much.
So--so I took one of my pencils to our teacher and asked her if she would
ask the other scholars if it was theirs.

"Of course, all the other girls in our room said it wasn't," proceeded
Lluella. "Then teacher said just what I wanted her to say: 'You may
inquire in the other classes.' So I went around and saw all the other
classes and had a real nice time.

"But when I got back with the pencil in my hand still, Belle come near
getting me into trouble."

"Uh-huh!" admitted Belle, nodding.

"How?" asked somebody.

"She just whispered--right out loud, 'Lluella, that is your pencil and you
know it!' And I had to say--right off, 'It isn't, and I didn't!' Now, what
could I have said else? But it was an awful fib, I s'pose."

The assembled girls laughed. But Ann Hicks was still seriously inclined
not to go into the woods, although she had no idea of telling a fib about
it. And because she was too proud to say to the teacher in charge that she
feared Miss Mitchell's tongue, the western girl joined the
greens-gathering party at the very last minute.

There were two four-seated sleighs, for there was a hard-packed white
track into the woods toward Triton Lake. Old Dolliver drove one, and his
helper manned the other. The English teacher was in charge. She hoped to
find bushels of holly berries and cedar buds as well as the materials for
wreaths.

One pair of the horses was western--high-spirited, hard-bitted mustangs.
Ann Hicks recognized them before she got into the sleigh. How they pulled
and danced, and tossed the froth from their bits!

"I feel just as they do," thought the girl. "I'd love to break out, and
kick, and bite, and act the very Old Boy! Poor things! How they must miss
the plains and the free range."

The other girls wondered what made her so silent. The tang of the frosty
air, and the ring of the ponies' hoofs, and the jingle of the bells put
plenty of life and fun into her mates; but Ann remained morose.

They reached the edge of the swamp and the girls alighted with merry shout
and song. They were all armed with big shears or sharp knives, but the
berries grew high, and Old Dolliver's boy had to climb for them.

Then the accident occurred--a totally unexpected and unlooked for
accident. In stepping out on a high branch, the boy slipped, fell, and
came down to the ground, hitting each intervening limb, and so saving his
life, but dashing every bit of breath from his lungs, it seemed!

The girls ran together, screaming. The teacher almost fainted. Old
Dolliver stooped over the fallen boy and wiped the blood from his lips.

"Don't tech him!" he croaked. "He's broke ev'ry bone in his body, I make
no doubt. An' he'd oughter have a doctor----"

"I'll get one," said Ann Hicks, briskly, in the old man's ear. "Where's
the nearest--and the best?"

"Doc Haverly at Lumberton."

"I'll get him."

"It's six miles, Miss. You'd never walk it. I'll take one of the
teams----"

"You stay with him," jerked out Ann. "I can ride."

"Ride? Them ain't ridin' hosses, Miss," declared Old Dolliver.

"If a horse has got four legs he can be ridden," declared the girl from
the ranch, succinctly.

"Take the off one on my team, then----"

"That old plug? I guess not!" exclaimed Ann, and was off.

She unharnessed one of the pitching, snapping mustangs. "Whoa--easy! You
wouldn't bite me, you know," she crooned, and the mustang thrust forward
his ears and listened.

She dropped off the heavy harness. The bridle she allowed to remain, but
there was no saddle. The English teacher came to her senses, suddenly.

"That creature will kill you!" she cried, seeing what Ann was about.

"Then he'll be the first horse that ever did it," drawled Ann. "Hi, yi,
yi! We're off!"

To the horror of the teacher, to the surprise of Old Dolliver, and to the
delight of the other girls, Ann Hicks swung herself astride of the dancing
pony, dug her heels into his ribs, and the next moment had darted out of
sight down the wood road.



CHAPTER XI

A NUMBER OF THINGS


There may have been good reason for the teacher to be horrified, but how
else was the mustang to be ridden? Ann was a big girl to go tearing
through the roads and 'way into Lumberton astride a horse. Without a
saddle and curb, however, she could not otherwise have clung to him.

Just now haste was imperative. She had a picture in her mind, all the way,
of that boy lying in the snow, his face so pallid and the bloody foam upon
his lips.

In twenty-five minutes she was at the physician's gate. She flung herself
off the horse, and as she shouted her news to the doctor through the open
office window, she unbuckled the bridle-rein and made a leading strap of
it.

So, when the doctor drove out of the yard in his sleigh, she hopped in
beside him and led the heaving mustang back into the woods. Of course she
did not look ladylike at all, and not another girl at Briarwood would have
done it. But even the English teacher--who was a prude--never scolded her
for it.

Indeed, the doctor made a heroine of Ann, Old Dolliver said he never saw
her beat, and the boy, who was so sadly hurt (but who pulled through all
right in the end) almost worshipped the girl from Silver Ranch.

"And how she can ride!" the very girl who had treated Ann the meanest said
of her. "What does it matter if she isn't quite up to the average yet in
recitations? She _will_ be."

This was after the holidays, however. There was too short a time before
Belle Tingley and her friends started for Cliff Island for Ann to
particularly note the different manner in which the girls in general
treated her.

The party went on the night train. Mr. Tingley, who had some influence
with the railroad, had a special sleeper side-tracked at Lumberton for
their accommodation. This sleeper was to be attached to the train that
went through Lumberton at midnight.

Therefore they did not have to skip all the fun of the dance. This was one
of the occasions when the boys from the Seven Oaks Military Academy were
allowed to mix freely with the girls of Briarwood. And both parties
enjoyed it.

Belle's mother had arrived in good season, for she was to chaperone the
party bound for Logwood, at the head of Tallahaska Lake. She passed the
word at ten o'clock, and the girls got their hand-baggage and ran down to
the road, where Old Dolliver waited for them with his big sleigh. The boys
walked into town, so the girls were nicely settled in the car when Tom
Cameron and his chums reached the siding.

Belle Tingley's two brothers were not too old to be companions for Tom,
Bob, and Isadore Phelps. And they were all as eager for fun and
prank-playing as they could be.

Mrs. Tingley had already retired and most of the girls were in their
dressing gowns when the boys arrived. The porter was making up the boys'
berths as the latter tramped in, bringing on their clothing the first
flakes of the storm that had been threatening all the evening.

"Let the porter brush you, little boy," urged Madge, peering out between
the curtains of her section and admonishing her big brother. "If you get
cold and catch the croup I don't know what sister _will_ do! Now, be a
good child!"

"Huh!" grunted Isadore Phelps, trying to collect enough of the snow to
make a ball to throw at her. "I wonder at you, Bobbins. Why don't you make
her behave? Treatin' you like an over-grown kid."

"I'd never treat _you_ that way, Master Isadore," said Madge, sweetly.
"For you very well know that you're not grown at all!"

At that Isadore _did_ gather snow--by running out for it. He brought back
a dozen snowballs and the first thing the girls knew the missiles were
dropping over the top of the curtains into the sheltered spaces devoted to
the berths.

There _was_ a great squealing then, for some of the victims were quite
ready for bed, and the snow was cold and wet. Mrs. Tingley interfered
little with the pranks of the young folk, and Izzy was careful not to
throw any snow into _her_ compartment.

But the tease did not know when to stop. He was usually that way--as Madge
said, Izzy would drive a willing horse to death.

It was Heavy and Ann, however, who paid him back in some of his own coin.

The boys finally made their preparations for bed. Izzy paraded the length
of the car in his big robe and bed slippers, for a drink of ice water.

Before he could return, Heavy and Ann bounced out in their woolen kimonas
and seized him. By this time the train had come in, the engine had
switched to the siding, picked up their sleeper, and was now backing down
to couple on to the train again.

The two girls ran Izzy out into the vestibule, Heavy's hand over his
mouth so that he could not shout to his friends for help. The door of the
vestibule on the off side was unlocked. Ann pushed it open.

The snow was falling heavily--it was impossible to see even the fence that
bounded the railroad line on this side. The cars came together with a
slight shock and the three were thrown into a giggling, struggling heap on
the platform.

"Lemme go!" gasped Izzy.

"Sure we will!" giggled Heavy, and with a final push she sent him flying
down the steps. Then she shut the door.

She did not know that every other door on that side of the long train was
locked. Almost immediately the train began to move forward. It swept away
from the Lumberton platform, and it was fully a minute before Heavy and
Ann realized what they had done.

"Oh, oh, oh!" shrieked the plump girl, running down the aisle. "Busy Izzy
is left behind."

"Stop your joking," exclaimed Tom, peering out of his berth, which was an
upper. "He's nothing of the kind."

"He is! He is!"

"Why, he's all ready for bed," declared one of the Tingley boys. "He
wouldn't dare----"

"We threw him out!" wailed Heavy. "We didn't know the train was to start
so quickly."

"Threw him off the train?" cried Mrs. Tingley, appearing in her boudoir
cap and gown. "What kind of a menagerie am I supposed to preserve order
in----?"

"You can make bully good preserved ginger, Ma," said one of her sons, "but
you fall short when it comes to preserving _order_."

Most of the crowd were troubled over Isadore's absence. Some suggested
pulling the emergency cord and stopping the train; others were for
telegraphing back from the next station. All were talking at once, indeed,
when the rear door opened and in came the conductor, escorting the
shivering Isadore.

"Does this--this _tyke_ belong in here?" demanded the man of brass
buttons, with much emphasis.

They welcomed him loudly. The conductor shook his head. The flagman on the
end of the train had helped the boy aboard the last car as the train
started to move.

"Keep him here!" commanded the conductor. "And I've a mind to have both
doors of the car locked until we reach Logwood. Don't let me hear anything
more from you boys and girls on this journey."

He went away laughing, however, and bye and bye they quieted down. Madge
insisted upon making some hot composition, very strong, and dosing Isadore
with it. The drink probably warded off a cold. Izzy admitted to Bobbins
that a sister wasn't so bad to "have around" after all.

While they slept, the car was shunted to the sidetrack at Logwood and the
western-bound train went hooting away through the forest. It was still
snowing heavily, there were not many trains passing through the Logwood
yard, and no switching during the early part of the day. The snow
smothered other sounds.

Therefore, the party that had come to the lake for a vacation was not
astir until late. It was hunger that roused them to the realities of life
in the end. They had to dress and go to the one hotel of which the
settlement boasted for breakfast.

"Can't cross to the island on the ice, they say," Ralph Tingley ran in to
tell his mother. "Weight of the snow has broken it up. One of the men says
he'll get a punt and pole us over to Cliff Island if the snow stops so
that he can see his way."

"My! won't that be fun!" gasped Ann Hicks, who had overheard him.

She had begun to enjoy herself the minute she felt that they were in rough
country. Some of the girls wished they hadn't come. Ruth and Helen were
already outside, snowballing with the boys.

When Mrs. Tingley descended the car steps, ready to go to breakfast, her
other son appeared--a second Mercury.

"Mother, Mr. Preston is here. Says he'd like to see you."

Mr. Preston was the foreman to whom Jerry Sheming had been sent for a job.
Ruth, who overheard, remembered the man's name. Then she saw a man dressed
in Canadian knit cap, tall boots, and mackinaw, and carrying a huge
umbrella, with which he hurried forward to hold protectingly over Mrs.
Tingley's head.

"Glad to see you, ma'am," said the foreman. Ruth was passing them on her
way to the hotel when she heard something that stayed her progress. "Sorry
to trouble you. Mr. Tingley ain't coming up to-day?"

"Not until Christmas morning," replied the lady. "He cannot get away
before."

"Well, I'll have to discharge that Jerry Sheming. Too bad, too. He's a
worker, and well able to guide the boys and girls around the island--knows
it like a book."

"Why let him go, then?" asked the lady.

"Blent says he's dishonest. An' I seen him snooping around rather funny,
myself. Guess I'll have to fire him, Mis' Tingley."



CHAPTER XII

RUFUS BLENT'S LITTLE WAYS


The crowd waded through the soft snow to the inn. It was a small place,
patronized mainly by fishermen and hunters in the season. It was plain,
from the breakfast they served to the Tingley party, that if the
unexpected guests had to remain long, they would be starved to death.

"And all the 'big eats' over on the Island," wailed Heavy. "I could swim
there, I believe."

"I am afraid I could not allow you to do that," said Mrs. Tingley, shaking
her head. "It would be too absurd. We'd better take the train home again."

"Never!" chorused Belle and her brothers. "We must get to Cliff Island in
some way--by hook or by crook," added the girl, who had set her heart upon
this outing.

Ruth was rather serious this morning. She waited for a chance to speak
with Mrs. Tingley alone, and when it came, she blurted out what she wished
to say:

"Oh, Mrs. Tingley! I couldn't help hearing what that man said to you. Must
he discharge Jerry because Rufus Blent says so?"

"Why, my dear! Oh! I remember. You were the girl who befriended the boy in
the first place?"

"Yes, I did, Mrs. Tingley. And I hope you won't let your foreman turn him
off for nothing----"

"Oh! I can't interfere. It is my husband's business, of course."

"But let me tell you!" urged Ruth, and then she related all she knew about
Jerry Sheming, and all about the story of the old hunter who had lived so
many years on Cliff Island.

"Mr. Tingley had a good deal of trouble over that squatter," said Belle's
mother, slowly. "He was crazy."

"That might be. But Jerry isn't crazy."

"But they made some claim to owning a part of the island."

"And after the old man had lived there for fifty years, perhaps he thought
he had a right to it."

"Why, my child, that sounds reasonable. But of course he didn't."

"Just the same," said Ruth, "he maybe had the box of money and papers
hidden on the island, as he said. That is what Jerry has been looking for.
And I wager that man Blent is afraid he will find it."

"How romantic!" laughed Mrs. Tingley.

"But, do wait till Mr. Tingley comes and let him decide," begged Ruth.

"Surely. And I will tell Mr. Preston to refuse any of Blent's demands. He
is a queer old fellow, I know. And, come to think of it, he told us he
wanted to make some investigations regarding the caves at the west end of
the island. He wouldn't sell us the place without reserving in the deed
the rights to all mineral deposits and to treasure trove."

"What's 'treasure trove,' Mrs. Tingley?" asked Ruth, quickly.

"Why--that would mean anything valuable found upon the land which is not
naturally a part of it."

"Like a box of money, or papers?"

"Yes! I see. I declare, child, maybe the boy, Jerry, has told you the
truth!"

"I am sure he has. He seemed like a perfectly honest boy," declared Ruth,
anxiously.

"I will see Mr. Preston again," spoke Mrs. Tingley, decisively.

The storm continued through the forenoon. But the boys and girls waiting
for transportation to Cliff Island had plenty of fun.

Behind the inn was an open field, and there they built a fort, the party
being divided into opposing armies. Tom Cameron led one and Ann Hicks was
chosen to head the other. Mercy could look at them from the windows, and
urge the girls on in the fray.

The boys might throw straighter, but numbers told. The girls could divide
and attack the boy defenders of the fortress on both flanks. They came in
rosy and breathless at noon--to sit down to a most heart-breaking
luncheon.

"Such an expanse of table and so little on it I never saw before,"
grumbled Heavy, in a glum aside. "How long do you suppose we would exist
on these rations?"

"We're not dead yet," said Ruth, cheerfully, "so you needn't become a
'gloom.'"

"Jen ought to live on past meals--like a camel existing on its hump,"
declared Madge.

"I'm no camel," retorted the plump one, instantly. "And a meal to
me--after it has been digested--is nothing more than a beautiful dream;
and you can bet that I never gained my avoirdupois by dreaming!"

Mrs. Tingley beckoned to Ruth after dinner. Together they went into the
general room, where there was a huge fire of logs. Mr. Preston, the
foreman, was there.

"I have been making inquiries," the lady explained to Ruth, "and I find
that this Rufus Blent has not a very enviable reputation. At least, he is
considered, locally, a sharper."

"Is this the girl who is interested in Jerry?" asked the foreman. "Well!
he ought to be all right if she sticks up for him."

"I believe his story is true," Ruth said, shaking her head.

"And if that's so, then the boss hasn't got a clear title to Cliff
Island--eh?" returned the big foreman, smiling at her quizzically.

"That isn't Mr. Tingley's fault," cried Ruth, quickly.

"He'd be the one to suffer, however, if it should be proved that old Pete
Tilton had any vested right in the island," said Preston. "You can bet
Blent is sharp enough to have covered his tracks if he has done anything
foxy. He was never caught yet in any legal tangle."

"Oh, I hope Mr. Tingley won't have trouble up here," declared Mrs.
Tingley, quite disturbed.

Ruth felt rather embarrassed. As much as she was interested in Jerry
Sheming, she did not like to think she was stirring up trouble for her
school-mate's father. Just then the outer door of the inn opened and a man
entered, stamping the snow from his boots upon the wire mat.

"S-s-t!" said Preston, his eyes twinkling. "Here's Rufus Blent himself."

It seemed that Mrs. Tingley had never seen the real estate man and she was
quite as much interested as Ruth in making his acquaintance. They both
eyed him with growing disapproval as the old man finished freeing his
feet of the clinging snow and then charged at Preston from across the big
room.

"I say! I say, you, Preston!" he snarled. "Have you done what I tol' you?
Have you got that Jerry Sheming off the island? He'd never oughter been
let to git on there ag'in. I've been away, or I'd heard of it before. Is
he off?"

"Not yet," replied Preston, smiling secretly.

"I wanter know why not? I won't have him snoopin' around there. It was
understood when I sold Tingley that island that I reserved sartain
rights----"

"This here is Mis' Tingley," interposed Preston, turning the old man's
attention to the lady.

He was a brown, wrinkled old man, with sparse pepper-and-salt whiskers and
a parrot-like nose. "Sharper" was written all over his hatchet features;
but probably his provincialism and lack of book education had kept him
from being a very dangerous villain.

"I wanter know!" exclaimed Rufus. "So you're Tingley's lady? Wal! do you
take charge here?"

"Oh, no," laughed Mrs. Tingley. "My husband will be up here Christmas
morning."

"Goin' to have Preston send that boy back to the mainland?"

"Oh, no, I shall not interfere. Mr. Tingley will attend to it when he
comes. I think that would be best."

"Nothin' of the kind!" cried Blent, his little eyes snapping. "That boy's
got no business over there--snooping round."

"What are you afraid of, Rufus? What do you think he'll find?" queried
Preston, who was evidently not above aggravating the old fellow.

"Never you mind! Never you mind!" croaked Blent. "If you folks won't
discharge him and put him off the island, I'll do it, myself."

"How can you, Mr. Blent?" asked Mrs. Tingley, feeling some disposition to
cross swords with him.

"Never you mind. I'll do it. Goin' back to-day, of course, Preston; ain't
you?"

"I'm hoping to get this crowd of young folk--and Mrs. Tingley--across to
the island. And I think the snow is going to stop soon."

"I'll go with you," declared Blent, promptly. "Don't you go till I see you
again, Preston. I gotter ketch 'Squire Keller fust."

He hurried out of the inn. Mrs. Tingley and Ruth looked at the foreman
questioningly. The girl cried:

"Oh! what will he do?"

"He's going to get a warrant for the boy," answered Preston, scowling.

"How can he? What has Jerry done?"

"That don't make no difference," said the woodsman. "Old Rufus just about
runs the politics of this town. Keller will do what he says. Rufus will
get the boy off the island by foul means if he can't by fair."



CHAPTER XIII

FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE


Ruth felt her heart swell in anger against Rufus Blent, the Logwood real
estate man. If she had not been determined before to aid Jerry Sheming in
every way possible, she was now.

If there was a box of money and papers hidden on Cliff Island, once
belonging to Pete Tilton, the old hunter, Ruth desired to keep Blent from
finding it.

She believed Jerry's story--about the treasure box and all. Rufus Blent's
actions now seemed to prove the existence of such a box. He wanted to find
it. But if the money and papers in the box had belonged to old Pete
Tilton, surely Jerry, as his single living relative, should have the best
right to the "treasure trove."

How to thwart Blent was the question disturbing Ruth Fielding's mind. Of
course, nobody but Jerry had as strong a desire as she to outwit the old
real estate man. The other girls and boys--even Mrs. Tingley--would not
feel as Ruth did about it. She knew that well enough.

If anything was to be done to save Jerry from being arrested on a false
charge and dragged from Cliff Island by Blent, _she_ must bring it about.
Ruth watched the last flakes of the snow falling with a very serious
feeling.

The other young folk were delighted with the breaking of the weather. Now
they could observe Logwood better, and its surroundings. The roughly built
"shanty-town" was dropped down on the edge of the lake, in a clearing.
Much of the stumpage around the place was still raw. The only roads were
timber roads and they were now knee-deep in fresh snow.

There was a dock with a good-sized steamer tied up at it, but there was
too much ice for it to be got out into the lake. The railroad came out of
the woods on one side and disappeared into just as thick a forest on the
other.

The interest of the young people, however, lay in the bit of land that
loomed up some five miles away. Cliff Island contained several hundred
acres of forest and meadow--all now covered with glittering white.

At the nearer end was the new hunting lodge of the Tingleys, with the
neighboring outbuildings. At the far end the island rose to a rugged
promontory perhaps a hundred and fifty feet high, with a single tall pine
tree at the apex.

That western end of the island seemed to be built of huge boulders for the
most part. Here and there the rocks were so steep that the snow did not
cling to them, and they looked black and raw against the background of
dazzling white.

The face of the real cliff--because of which the island had received its
name--was scarcely visible from Logwood. Jerry had told Ruth it was a very
wild and desolate place, and the girl of the Red Hill could easily believe
it.

The crowd had left the inn as soon as the clouds began to break and a ray
or two of sunshine shone forth. Two ox teams were breaking the paths
through the town. The boys and girls went down to the dock, singing and
shouting. Mrs. Tingley and the foreman came behind.

Three other men were making ready a huge punt in which the entire party
might be transported to the island. Later the punt would return for the
extra baggage.

This vehicle for water-travel was a shallow, skiff-like boat, almost as
broad as it was long, and with a square bow and stern. There was a place
for a short mast to be stepped, but, with the lake covered with drifting
ice cakes, it was judged safer to depend upon huge sweeps for motive
power.

With these sweeps, not only could the punt be urged forward at a speed of
perhaps two miles an hour, but the ice-cakes could be pushed aside and a
channel opened through the drifting mass for the passage of the awkward
boat.

Mr. Preston had explained all this to Mrs. Tingley, who was used to
neither the woods nor the lake, and she had agreed that this means of
transportation to Cliff Island was sufficiently safe, though
extraordinary.

"Let's pile in and make a start," urged Ralph Tingley, eagerly. "Why! we
won't get there by dark if we don't hurry."

"And goodness knows we need to get somewhere to eat before long," cried
Jennie Stone. "I am willing to help propel the boat myself, if they'll
show me how."

"You might get out and swim, and drag us behind you, Heavy," suggested one
of the girls. "You're so anxious to get over to the island."

They all were desirous of gaining their destination--there could be no
doubt of that. As they were getting aboard, however, there came a hail
from up the main street of Logwood.

"Hi, yi! Don't you folks go without me! Hi, Preston!"

"Here comes that Blent man," said Mrs. Tingley, with some disgust. "I
suppose we must take him?"

"Well, I wouldn't advise ye to turn him down, Mis' Tingley," urged the
foreman. "No use making him your enemy. I tell you he's got a big
political pull in these parts."

"Is there room for him?"

"Yes. And for the fellow with him. That's Lem Daggett, the constable. Oh,
Rufe is going over with all the legal right on his side. He'll bring Jerry
back here and shut him up for a few days, I suppose."

"But on what charge?" Mrs. Tingley asked, in some distress.

"That won't matter. Some trumped-up charge. Easy enough to do it when you
have a feller like 'Squire Keller to deal with. Oh," said Preston, shaking
his head, "Rufe Blent knows what he's about, you may believe!"

"Who's the old gee-gee with the whiskers?" asked the disrespectful
Isadore, when the real estate man came down to the dock, with the
constable slouching behind him.

"Hurry up, Grandpop!" shouted one of the Tingley boys. "This expedition is
about to start."

Blent scowled at the hilarious crowd. It was plain to be seen that any
supply of milk of human kindness he may have had was long since soured.

Ruth caught Tom Cameron's eye and nodded to him. Helen's twin was a very
good friend of the girl from the Red Mill and he quickly grasped her wish
to speak with him alone.

In a minute he maneuvered so as to get into the stern with his sister's
chum, and there Ruth whispered to him her fears and desires regarding
Blent and Jerry Sheming.

"Say! we ought to help that fellow. See what he did for Jane Ann," said
Tom. "And that old fellow looks so sour he sets my teeth on edge, anyway."

"He is going to do a very mean thing," declared Ruth, decidedly. "Jerry
has done nothing wrong, I am sure."

"We must beat the old fellow."

"But how, Tom? They say he is all-powerful here at Logwood."

"Let me think. I'll be back again," replied Tom, as the boys called him to
come up front.

The punt was already under way. Preston and his three men worked the craft
out slowly into the drifting ice. The grinding of the cakes against the
sides of the boat did not frighten any of the passengers--unless perhaps
Mrs. Tingley herself. She felt responsible for the safety of this whole
party of her daughter's school friends.

The wind was not strong and the drift of the broken ice was slow.
Therefore there was really no danger to be apprehended. The punt was
worked along its course with considerable ease.

The boys had to take their turns at the sweeps; but Tom found time to slip
back to Ruth before they were half-way across to the island.

"Too bad the old fellow doesn't fall overboard," he growled in Ruth's ear.
"Isn't he a snarly old customer?"

"But I suppose the constable has the warrant," Ruth returned, smiling. "So
Mr. Blent's elimination from the scene would not help Jerry much."

"I tell you what--you've got to fight fire with fire," observed Tom, after
a moment of deep reflection.

"Well? What meanest thou, Sir Oracle?"

"Why, they haven't any business to arrest Jerry."

"Agreed."

"Then let's tip him off so that he can run."

"Where will he run to?" demanded Ruth, eagerly.

"Say! that's a big island. And I bet he knows his way all over it."

"Oh! the caves!" exclaimed Ruth.

"What's that?"

"He told me there were caves in it. He can hide in one. And we can get
food to him. Great, Tom--great!"

"Sure it's great. When your Uncle Dudley----"

"But how are we going to warn Jerry to run before this constable catches
him?" interposed Ruth, with less confidence.

"How? You leave that to me," Tom returned, mysteriously.



CHAPTER XIV

THE HUE AND CRY


Ruth and Tom Cameron had no further opportunity of speaking together until
the punt came very close to the island. Here the current ran more swiftly
and the ice-blocks seemed to have been cleared away.

There was a new stone dock, and up the slight rise from it, about a
hundred yards back from the shore, was the heavily-framed lodge. It
consisted of two stories, the upper one extending over the lower. Big
beams crossed at the corners of this upper story and the outer walls were
of roughly hewn logs. The great veranda was arranged for screening, in the
summer, but now the west side was enclosed with glass. It was an expensive
and comfortable looking camp.

There were several men on the dock as the punt came in, but Jerry Sheming
was not in sight. Tom had, from time to time, been seen whispering with
the boys. They all now gathered in the bow of the slowly moving punt,
ready to leap ashore the moment she bumped into the dock.

"Do be careful, boys," begged Mrs. Tingley. "Don't fall into the water, or
get hurt. I certainly shall be glad when Mr. Tingley comes up for
Christmas and takes all this responsibility off my hands."

"Don't have any fear for us, Mrs. Tingley, I beg," said Tom. "We're only
going to scramble ashore, and the first fellow who reaches the house is
the best man. Now, fellows!"

The punt bumped. Such a scrambling as there was! Ann Hicks showed her
suppleness by being one of the first to land and beating some of the boys;
but she did not run with them.

"They might have stayed and helped us girls--and Mrs. Tingley--to land,"
complained Helen. "I don't see what Tom was thinking of."

But all of a sudden Ruth had an idea that she understood Tom's lack of
gallantry. Jerry Sheming, not being at the dock to meet the newcomers,
must be at the house. The boys, it proved later, had agreed to help "tip"
Jerry. The first fellow to see him was to tell him of the approach of
Blent and the constable.

Therefore, when Rufus Blent and Lem Daggett reached the lodge, nobody
seemed to know anything about Jerry. Tom winked knowingly at Ruth.

"I tell ye, Preston, I gotter take that boy back to Logwood with me,"
shouted Blent, who seemed greatly excited. "Where are you hidin' the
rascal?"

"You know very well I came over with you in the boat and walked up here
with you, Blent," growled the foreman, in some anger. "How could I hide
him?"

"But the cook, nor nobody, knows what's become of him. He was here peelin'
'taters for supper, cookie says, jest b'fore we landed. Now he's sloped."

"He saw you comin', it's likely," rejoined Preston. "He suspected what you
was after."

"Well, I'm goin' to leave Daggett. And, Lem!"

"Yes, sir?" said that slouching person.

"You got to get him. Now mind that. The boy's to 'pear in 'Squire Keller's
court to-morrow--or something will happen," threatened the real estate
man.

"And if he don't appear, what then?" drawled Preston, who was more amused
by the old man than afraid of him.

"You'd better not interfere with the course of the law, Preston," declared
Blent, shaking his head.

"You bet I won't. Especially the brand of law that's handed a feller by
your man, Keller. But I don't know nothing about the boy nor where he's
gone. I don't wanter know, either.

"And none of they rest o' you wanter harbor that thief," snarled Blent,
viciously, looking around at the gaping hired men and the boys who had
come to visit Cliff Island. "The law's got a long arm. 'Member that!"

"Will we be breaking the law if we don't report this poor fellow to the
constable here, if we see him?" asked Tom Cameron, boldly.

"You bet you will. And I'll see that you're punished if ye harbor or help
the rascal. Don't think because Tingley's a rich man, and your fathers
have probably more money than is good for them, that you will escape,"
said Blent.

"I don't believe he's so powerful as he makes out to be," grumbled Tom,
later, to Ruth. "_I_ was the one who caught Jerry and whispered for him to
get out. I didn't have to say much to him. He was wise about Blent."

"Where did he go?" asked the eager Ruth, quickly.

"I don't know. I didn't want to know--and you don't, either."

"But suppose something happens to him?" objected the girl, fearfully.

"Why, he knows all about this island. You said so yourself. I just told
him we'd get some grub to him to-morrow."

"How?"

"Told him we'd leave it at the foot of that tall pine at the far end of
the island. Then he slipped out of the kitchen and disappeared."

But Blent was a crafty old party and did not easily give up the pursuit of
the young fellow he had come to the island to nab. The coat of fresh snow
over everything made tracking the fugitive an easy task.

After a few minutes of sputtering anger, the real estate man organized a
pursuit of Jerry. He made sure that the forest youth had run out of the
kitchen at about the time the visitors came up from the dock.

"He ain't got a long start," said Blent to his satellite, the constable.
"Let's see if he didn't leave tracks."

He had. There was still an hour of daylight, although the winter evening
was closing in rapidly. Jerry had left by the back door of the lodge and
had gone straight across the yard, through the unbroken snow, to the
bunkhouse used by the male help.

There he had stopped for his rifle and shotgun, and ammunition. Indeed, he
had taken everything that belonged to him, and, loaded down with this
loot, had gone right up the hill, keeping in the scrub so as to be hidden
from the big house, and had so passed over the rising ground toward the
middle of the island.

"The track is plain enough," Blent said. "Ain't ye got a dog, Preston? We
could foller him all night."

"Not with our dogs," declared the foreman.

"Why not?"

"Don't think the boss would like it. We don't keep dogs to hunt men with."

"You better take care how you try to block the law," threatened the old
man. "That boy's goin' to be caught."

"Not with these dogs," grunted Preston. "You can put _that_ in your pipe
and smoke it."

Blent and the constable went off over the ridge. Ruth was so much
interested that she stole out to follow them, and Ann Hicks overtook her
before she had gotten far up the track.

"Ruth Fielding! whatever are you doing?" demanded the girl from the
Montana ranch. "Don't you know it will soon be night? Mrs. Tingley says
for you to come back."

"Do you suppose those horrid men will find Jerry?"

"No, I don't," replied Ann, shortly. "And if they do----"

"Oh! you're not as interested in him as I am," sighed Ruth. "I am sure he
is honest and that Mr. Blent is telling lies about him. I--I want to see
that they don't abuse him if they catch him."

"Abuse him! And he a backwoods boy, with two guns?" snorted Ann. "Why, he
wouldn't even let them arrest him, I don't suppose. _I_ wouldn't if I were
Jerry."

"But that would be dreadful," sighed Ruth. "Let's go a little farther,
Ann."

Dusk was falling, however, and when they got down the far side of the
ridge they came to a swift, open water-course. Blent and the constable
were evidently "stumped." Blent was snarling at their ill-luck.

"He's took to the water--that's all _I_ know," drawled Lem Daggett, the
constable. "Ye see, there ain't a mark in the snow on 'tother side."

"Him wadin' in that ice-cold stream in mid-winter," grunted Blent. "Ain't
he a scoundrel?"

"Can't do nothin' more to-night," announced the constable, who didn't like
the job any too well, it was evident. "And dorgs wouldn't do us no good."

"Ha! ye know what ye gotter do," threatened Blent. "I'm goin' back to town
when the punt goes this evenin'. But you stay here, an' you git the hue
an' cry out after him to-morrer bright and early.

"I don't want him rummagin' around this island at all. You understand? Not
at all! It's up to you to git him, Lem Daggett."

Daggett grunted and followed his master back to the lodge. The girls went
on before and Ruth was delighted that, for a time, at least, Jerry was to
have his freedom.

"If it froze over solid in the night he could get to the mainland from the
other end of the island, and then they'd never find him," she confided to
Tom.

But when morning came the surface of the lake was still a mass of loose
and shifting ice. Lem demanded of Mrs. Tingley the help of all the men at
the camp, and they started right away after breakfast to "comb" the island
in a thorough manner.

There wasn't a trace near the running stream to show in which direction
the fugitive had gone. Had Jerry gone up stream he could have reached the
very heart of the rough end of the island without leaving the water-trail.

A party of the boys, with Ruth, Helen, and Ann Hicks, stole out of the
lodge after the main searching party, and struck off for the high point
where the lone pine tree grew.

"I'd hate to think we'd draw that constable over there and help him to
catch Jerry," said Bobbins.

"We won't," Tom replied. "We are just going to leave the tin box of grub
for him. He probably won't come out of hiding and try to get the food
until this foolish constable has given up the chase. And I put the food in
the tin box so that no prowling animal would get it instead of Jerry."

It was hard traveling in the snow, for the party of young folk had not
thought to obtain snowshoes. "We'll string some when we go back," Tom
promised. "I know there are some frames all ready."

"But no more such tobogganing as we had last winter up at Snow Camp,"
declared Busy Izzy, with deep feeling. "Remember the spill I had with Ruth
and that Heavy girl? Gee! that was some spill."

"The land here Is too rough for good sliding," said Tom. "But I wish the
lake would freeze hard again. Ralph says there are a couple of good
scooters, and we all have our skates."

"And the fishing!" exclaimed Helen, eagerly. "I _do_ so want to fish
through the ice again."

"Oh! we're bound to have a bully good time," declared Bobbins. "But we'll
do this Jerry Sheming a good turn, too, if we can."



CHAPTER XV

OVER THE PRECIPICE


Under the soft snow that had fallen the day before was a hard-packed layer
that had come earlier in the season and made a firm footing for the
explorers. Ruth and her chum, with Ann Hicks, were quite as good walkers
as the boys. At any rate, the three girls determined not to be at the end
of the procession.

The constable and his unwilling helpers (for none of the men about the
Tingley camp cared to see Jerry Sheming in trouble) were hunting the banks
of the stream higher up for traces of the trail the boy had taken when he
ran away from Rufus Blent the previous afternoon.

Therefore the girls and boys who had started for the rendezvous at the
lone pine, were able to put the wooded ridge between them and the
constable's party, and so make their way unobserved toward the western end
of Cliff Island.

"They may come back and follow us," growled Tom. "But they'll be some way
behind, and we'll hurry. I have a note in this tin box warning Jerry what
he must look out for. As long as that Lem Daggett is on the island, I
suppose he will be in danger of arrest."

"It is just as mean as it can be!" gasped Helen, plodding on.

"The boys wouldn't leave much o' that constable if they caught him playin'
tag for such a man as Blent, at Bullhide," Ann Hicks declared, with
warmth.

"This Blent," said Bobbins, seriously, "seems to have everybody about
Logwood buffaloed. What do you suppose your father will say to the
constable taking the men with him this morning to hunt Jerry down?"

This question he put to Ralph Tingley and the latter flushed angrily.

"You wait!" he exclaimed. "Father will be angry, I bet. I told mother not
to let the men have anything to do with the hunt, but you know how women
are. She was afraid. She said that if Blent and the constable were within
their legal rights----"

"All bosh!" snapped Isadore Phelps.

"I do not think Mrs. Tingley would have let them go with Daggett if she'd
had the least idea they would be able to find Jerry," observed Helen,
sagely.

"And they won't," put in Ruth, with assurance. "I know he can hide away on
this island like a fox in a burrow."

"But he'll find it mighty cold sleeping out, this weather," remarked
Bobbins.

"He sure will!" agreed Tom.

The party went ahead as rapidly as possible, but even the stronger of the
boys found it hard to climb the steeper ascents through the deep snow.

"Crackey!" exclaimed Isadore. "I know I'm slipping back two steps to every
one I get ahead."

"Nonsense, Izzy," returned Helen. "For if you did _that_, you had better
turn around and travel the other way; then you'd back up the hill!"

They had to wait and rest every few yards. The rocks were so huge that
they often had to go out of the way for some distance to get around them.
Although it could not be more than five miles, as the crow flies, from the
lodge to the lone pine, in two hours they still had the hardest part of
the journey before them.

"I had no idea we should be so long at it," Tom confessed.

"It's lucky Heavy didn't come with us," chuckled Helen.

"Why?"

"She would have been starved to death before this, and the idea of going
the rest of the distance before turning back for home and luncheon would
have destroyed her reason, I am sure."

"Then," said Ruth, amused by this extravagant language, "poor Heavy would
have been first dead and then crazy! Consider an insane corpse!"

They came out at last upon the foot of the last ascent. The eminence
seemed to be a smooth, cone-shaped hill. On it grew a number of trees, but
the enormous old pine, lightning-riven and dead at the top, stood much
taller than any of the other trees.

Here and there they caught glimpses of chasms and steep ravines that
seemed to split the rocky island to the edge of the water. When the snow
did not cover the ground there might be paths to follow, but at this time
the young explorers had to use their judgment in climbing the heights as
best they might.

The boys had to help the girls up the steeper places, with all their
independence, and even Ann admitted that their male comrades were "rather
handy to have about."

The old pine tree sprang out of a little hollow in the hill. Behind it was
the peak of the island, and from this highest spot the party obtained an
unobstructed view of the whole western end of Tallahaska.

"It's one big old lake," sighed Isadore Phelps. "If it would only just
freeze over, boys, and give us a chance to try out the iceboats!"

"If it keeps on being as cold as it was this morning, and the wind dies
down, there'll be all the ice you want to see to-morrow," declared Ralph
Tingley. "Goodness! let's get down from this exposed place. I'm 'most
frozen."

"Shall we stop and make a fire here, girls, and warm up before we return?"
asked Tom Cameron.

"And draw that constable right to this place where you want to leave
Jerry's tin box?" cried his sister. "No, indeed!"

"We'd better keep moving, anyway," Ruth urged. "Less danger of frost-bite.
The wind _is_ keen."

Tom had already placed the box of food in a sheltered spot. "The meat will
be frozen as solid as a rock, I s'pose," he grumbled. "I hope that poor
fellow has some way of making a fire in his hide-out."

They began to retrace their steps. Instead of following exactly the same
path they had used in climbing to the summit, Tom struck off at an angle,
believing he saw an easier way.

His companions followed him in single file. Ruth happened to be the last
of all to come down the smooth slope. The seven ahead of her managed to
tramp quite a smooth track through the snow, and once or twice she slipped
in stepping in their footprints.

"Look out back there, Ruthie!" called Tom, from the lead. "The snow must
have got balled on your boots. Knock it off----"

His speech was halted by a startled cry from Ruth. She felt herself going
and threw out both hands to say her sudden slide.

But there was nothing for her hands to seize save the unstable snow
itself. She fell on her side, and shot out from the narrow track her
companions had trod.

"Ruth!" shrieked Helen, in the wildest kind of dismay.

But the girl of the Red Mill was already out of reach. The drifting snow
had curled out over the brink of the tall rock across the brow of which
Tom had unwisely led the way. They had not realized they were so near the
verge of the precipice.

Ruth's body was solid, and when she fell in the snow the undercrust broke
like an eggshell. Amid a cloud of snow-dust she shot over the yawning edge
of the chasm and disappeared.

Several square yards of the snow-drift had broken away. At their very feet
fell the unexpected precipice. The boys and girls shrank back from the
peril with terrified cries, clinging to each other.

"She is killed!" moaned Helen, and covered her face with her mittened
hands.

"Ruth! Ruth!" called Tom, charging back toward the broken snow-drift.

But Bobbins caught and held him. "Don't make a fool of yourself, old man!"
commanded the big fellow. "You can't help her by falling over the cliff
yourself."

"Oh! how deep can that place be?" gasped Ralph Tingley.

"What will mother say?" cried his brother.

"Ruth! Ruth!" shouted Ann Hicks, and dropped on her knees to crawl to the
edge.

"You'll be down there yourself, Ann!" exclaimed Helen, sobbing.

"A couple of you useless boys grab me by the ankles," commanded the
western girl. "Come! take a good hold. Now let me see----"

She hung half over the verge of the rock. The fall was sheer for fifty
feet at least. It was a narrow cut in the hill, with apparently unscalable
sides and open only toward the lake.

"I--I don't see a thing," panted the girl.

"Shout again," urged Helen.

"Let's all shout together!" cried Isadore. "Now!"

They raised their voices in a long, lingering yell. Again and again they
repeated it. They thought nothing now of the possibility of attracting the
constable and his companions to the scene.

Meanwhile nothing but the echoes replied to their hail. Down there in the
chasm Ann Hicks saw no sign of the lost girl. The bottom of the place
seemed heaped high with snow.

"She plunged right into the drift, and perhaps she's smothered down
there," gasped Ann. "Oh! what shall we do?"

"If it's a deep drift Ruth may not be hurt at all," cried Tom. "Do let me
look, Ann. That's a good girl."

The western girl was drawn back and the boy took her place. Bobbins and
Ralph Tingley let Tom slide farther over the verge of the precipice than
they had Ann.

"She went down feet first," panted Tom. "There isn't an obstruction she
could have hit. She must have dropped right into the snowbank in the
bottom--Ruth! Ruth Fielding!"

But even his sharp eyes could discover no mark in the snow. Nothing of the
lost girl appeared above the drift at the foot of this sheer cliff. She
might have been smothered under the snow, as Ann suggested. And yet, that
scarcely seemed probable.

Surely the fall into the soft drift could not have injured Ruth fatally.
She must have had strength enough to struggle to the surface of the snow.

Her disappearance was a most mysterious thing. When Tom crept back from
the brink of the precipice and stood on his feet again, they all stared
at one another in growing wonder.

"What could have happened to her down there?" groaned Helen, her own
amazement stifling her sobs.



CHAPTER XVI

HIDE AND SEEK


Ruth had fallen with but a single shriek. From top to bottom of the
precipice had been such a swift descent that she could not cry out a
second time. And the great bank of snow into which she had plunged did--as
Ann suggested--smother her.

The shock of dropping fifty feet through the air, and landing without
experiencing anything more dangerous than a greatly accelerated
heart-action was enough, of itself, to make the girl of the Red Mill dumb
for the moment.

She heard faintly the frightened cries of her companions, and she
struggled to get to the surface of the great, soft heap of snow that had
saved her from instant death.

Then she heard a voice pronounce her name, and a hand was thrust into the
snow bank and seized her shoulder.

"Ruth Fielding! Miss Ruth! That come nigh to being your last jump, that
did!"

"Jerry Sheming!" gasped the girl, as he drew her out of the snow.

"In here--quick! Are they after me?"

Ruth shook the snow from her eyes. She was like a half-drowned person
suddenly coming to the surface.

"Where--where are we?" she whispered.

"All right! This is one of my hide-outs. Is that old Blent up yonder?"

"Oh, Jerry! he's not on the island to-day. He's left the constable----"

"Lem Daggett?"

"Yes. They are searching for you. But I was with Tom and Helen and the
others. We brought you some food----"

He led her along a narrow shelf, which had been swept quite free of snow.
Now a hollow in the rock-wall opened before them, and there a little fire
of sticks burned, an old buffalo robe lay nearby, and there were other
evidences of the fugitive's camp.

Ruth was shaking now, but not from the cold. The shock of her fall had
begun to awaken the nervous terror which is the afterclap of such an
adventure. So near she had been to death!

"You are sick, Miss Ruth?" exclaimed Jerry.

"Oh, no! Oh, no!" repeated the girl of the Red Mill. "But so--so
frightened."

"Nothin' to be frightened over now," he returned, smiling broadly. "But
you _did_ miss it close. If that pile of snow hadn't sifted down there
yesterday----"

"I know!" burst out Ruth. "It was providential."

"You girls and boys want to be careful climbing around these rocks," said
Jerry Sheming, gravely.

At that moment the chorus of shouts from above reached their ears. Ruth
turned about and her lips opened. She would have replied, but the
backwoods boy leaped across the fire and seized her arm.

"Don't make a sound!" he exclaimed.

"Oh! Jerry----"

"If that constable hears----"

"He isn't with us, I tell you," said Ruth.

"But wait. He might hear. I don't want him to find this place," spoke the
boy, eagerly. "He may be within hearing."

"No. I think not," Ruth explained. Then she told Jerry of the morning's
hunt for him and the course followed by both parties. He shook his head
for a moment, and then ran to a shelf at the other side of the little
cavern.

"I'll communicate with your friends. I'll make them understand. But we
mustn't shout. Lem Daggett may be within hearing."

"But I can't stay with you here, Jerry," objected the girl.

"Of course you can't, Miss. I will get you out--another way. You'll see.
But we'll explain to your friends above and they will stop yelling then.
If they keep on that way they'll draw Lem Daggett here, if he isn't
already snooping around."

Meanwhile Jerry had found a scrap of paper and a pencil. He hurriedly
wrote a few lines upon the paper. Then he produced a heavy bow and a long
arrow. The message he tied around the shank of the arrow.

"Oh! can you shoot with that?" cried Ruth, much interested.

"Reckon so," grinned Jerry. "Uncle Pete wouldn't give me much powder and
shot when I was a kid. And finally I could bring home a bigger bag of wild
turkeys than he could, and all I had to get 'em with was this
bow'n'arrer."

He strung the bow, and Ruth saw that it took all his strength to do it.
The boys and girls were still shouting for her in a desultory fashion.
Jerry laid his finger on his lips, nodded at his visitor, and stepped
swiftly out of sight along the cleared shelf of rock.

Ruth left the fire to peer after him. She saw him bend the bow and saw the
swift flight of the arrow as it shot out of the chasm and curved out of
sight beyond the broken edge of the snow-wreath which masked the summit of
the cliff.

She heard the clamor of her friends' voices as they saw the arrow shoot
over their heads. Then they were silent.

Jerry ran back to her and unstrung the bow, putting it away in its niche.
But from the same place he produced a blue-barrelled rifle.

"I know you won't tell Blent, or any of them, how to reach me, Miss Ruth,"
he said, looking at her with a smile.

"I guess not!" exclaimed the girl.

"I am going to show you the way out--to the other end. I wish you were
wearing rubber boots like me."

"Why?"

"So you could wade in the stream when we come to it. That's how I threw
them off the track," explained Jerry, laughing. "Why, I know this old
island better than Uncle Pete himself knowed it."

"And yet you haven't found the box you say your uncle hid?" asked Ruth,
curiously.

"No. I never knowed anything about it until Blent came to drive us off and
swore that Uncle Pete had never had nothin' but 'squatter rights.' But I'm
not sure that I couldn't find that place where Uncle Pete hid his treasure
box--if I had time to hunt for it," added Jerry, gravely.

"That's what Mr. Blent is afraid of," declared Ruth, with conviction.
"That's why he is afraid of your being here on the island."

"You bet it is, Miss."

"And we boys and girls will do everything we can to help you, Jerry,"
Ruth assured him, warmly. "If you think you can find the place where your
uncle hid his papers----"

"But suppose I find them and the papers show that this Mr. Tingley hasn't
a clear title to the island?" demanded the backwoods boy, looking at the
girl of the Red Mill sharply.

"Why should _that_ make a difference?" asked Ruth, coolly.

"Well--you know how some of these rich folks be," returned the boy,
dropping his gaze. "When it comes to hittin' their pocketbooks----"

"That has nothing to do with it. Right is right."

"Uh-huh!" grunted Jerry. "But sometimes they don't want to lose money any
quicker than a poor man. If he's paid for the island----"

"I don't see how he can lose," declared Ruth, quickly. "If Blent has
claimed a title that cannot be proved, Blent will have to lose."

"I bet Mr. Tingley didn't buy without having the title searched," observed
Jerry. "Blent's covered his tracks. He'll declare he was within his
rights, probably having bought Uncle Pete's share of the island through
some dummy. You know, when deeds aren't recorded, it's mighty hard to
establish them as valid. I know. I axed our town clerk. And he is one man
that ain't under Blent's thumb."

"I don't believe Mr. Tingley is a man who would stand idle and see you
cheated even if he lost money through defending you," said Ruth, firmly.

"Do you know him?"

"No. I have never met him," Ruth admitted. "But his wife is a very nice
lady. And Belle and the boys----"

"Business is business," interrupted Jerry, shaking his head. "I don't want
Tingley to know where I be--yet awhile, anyway."

"But may I talk with him about you?"

"Why--if you care enough to, Miss Ruth."

"Of course I do," cried the girl. "Didn't I tell you we all want to help
you?" and she stamped her foot upon the warm rock. "We'll bring you food,
too. We'll see that the constable doesn't get you."

"Well, it's mighty nice of you," admitted the suspicious young woodsman.
"Now, come on. I'll take you through my hide-out to the creek. I told your
friends you'd meet 'em there, and we want to get there by the time they
arrive."

"Oh, Jerry! that's a long way off," cried Ruth.

"Not so very long by the way we'll travel," he returned, with a laugh.

And this proved to be true. Jerry lighted a battered oil lantern and with
his rifle in the other hand led the way.

A narrow passage opened out of the back of this almost circular cave.
Part of the time they traveled through a veritable tunnel. At other times
Ruth saw the clear sky far above them as they passed along deep cuts in
the hills.

The descent was continuous, but gradual. Such a path wild animals might
have traveled in times past. Originally it was probably a water-course.
The action of the water had eaten out the softer rock until almost a
direct passage had been made from the bottom of the cliff where Ruth had
fallen to the edge of the swift stream that ran through the middle of the
island.

They came out behind a screen of thick brush through which Ruth could see
the far bank of the brook, but through which nobody outside could see.
Jerry set down the lantern, and later leaned the rifle against the wall
when he had made sure that nobody was in sight.

"I am going to carry you a ways, Miss Ruth," he said, "if you don't mind.
You see, I must walk in the stream or they will find this entrance to my
hide-out."

"But--can you carry me?"

"I bet you! If you only wore rubber boots I'd let you walk. Come on,
please."

"Oh! I am not afraid," she told him, quietly, and allowed him to take her
into his arms after he had stepped down into the shallow, swiftly lowing
current.

"This water-trail confuses men and dogs completely," said Jerry, with a
laugh. "That is--such men as Lem Daggett. If _I_ was hunting a fellow who
took to the stream, with the water so shallow, I'd find which way he went
in a jiffy."

"How would you?" demanded Ruth, feeling perfectly secure in the strong
arms of the young fellow.

"That's telling," chuckled Jerry. "Mebbe--some time--I'll tell you. I
hoped I'd get the chance of showing you and your friends around this
island. But I guess I won't."

"Perhaps you will. And if there is anything we can do to help you----"

"Just one thing you might do," remarked Jerry, finally setting her upright
upon a flat rock on the side of the stream nearest the hunting camp, and
some distance away from the secret entrance to his hide-out.

"Oh! what is that?" cried Ruth, eagerly.

"Find me a pickax, or a mattock, and put it right here on this rock. Do it
at night, so no one will see you. Good bye, Miss!" he exclaimed, and
hurried away.

In another minute he had disappeared behind the screen of bushes, and Ruth
heard the glad shouts of her friends as they came over the ridge and saw
her standing safe and sound beside the stream.



CHAPTER XVII

CHRISTMAS MORNING


"How under the sun did you get here, Ruth?" Helen shouted the moment she
saw her chum.

"Did that Jerry Sheming bring you?" demanded Ann.

The other members of the party were quite as anxious to learn the
particulars of her adventure, and when they had crossed on the stepping
stones, they gathered about her eagerly.

Ruth would tell just so much and no more. She explained how she had fallen
into the snow-drift at the foot of the cliff, how Jerry had heard her
scream and pulled her out. But beyond that she only said he had left her
here to wait their coming.

"You needn't be so mysterious, Miss!" ejaculated Helen, rather piqued.

"I guess she doesn't want to say anything about his hide-out that might
lead to his being hunted out by Lem Daggett," observed the wise Tom. "But
Jerry signed his name to the note he tied on the arrow."

"And we sure were surprised when we saw that arrow shoot up from the
depths," said Isadore.

"What do you suppose mother will say?" cried one of the Tingley boys.

"Don't let's tell her," suggested Ruth, quickly. "There's no need. It will
only add to her worries and she will be troubled enough by us as it is."

"But----"

"You see, I'm not a bit hurt," insisted Ruth. "And the less we talk about
the matter the less likely we shall be to drop something that may lead to
the discovery of Jerry Sheming's hiding place."

"Oh, well, if you put it that way," agreed Ralph. "I suppose mother will
have all the trouble she wants. And maybe if she knew, she'd keep you
girls away from this end of the island."

They tramped home to a late luncheon. It was so very cold that afternoon
and evening that they were only too glad to remain in the house and "hug
the fire."

The inclement weather drove Lem Daggett and the men indoors, too. The
constable had to go back to Logwood without his prisoner, and he evidently
feared the anger of Rufus Blent.

"I want to warn ye, Mis' Tingley," he said to the lady of the lodge,
shaking his head, "that when Blent sets out ter do a thing, he does it.
That boy's got to be found, and he's got to be kep' off this island."

"I will see what my husband says when he comes," replied Mrs. Tingley,
firmly. "I will not allow our men to chase the poor fellow further."

"You'd better ketch him and signal us at Logwood. Run up that flag on the
pole outside. I'll know what you mean."

"Mr. Tingley will decide when he comes," was all the satisfaction the lady
gave the constable.

After he had gone, Mrs. Tingley told Ruth she hoped no harm would come to
the poor boy, "sleeping out in the cold alone."

"Oh, Mrs. Tingley! I know he has a warm, dry place to sleep, and plenty of
firewood--heaps and heaps of it."

"You seem to know a good deal about him," the lady commented.

"Yes, I do," admitted Ruth, honestly. "More about him and where he is
hiding than he would care to have me tell you."

So Mrs. Tingley did not catechise the girl further upon the subject of the
fugitive.

Just because they were shut in was no reason why the house party on Cliff
Island should not have an extraordinarily good time. They played games and
had charades that evening. They had a candy pull, too, but unlike that
famous one at Snow Camp the winter before, Busy Izzy Phelps did not get a
chance to put the walnut shells into the taffy instead of the kernels.

The wind died down and it grew desperately cold during the night. The
mercury soon left the zero point so far above that it threatened to be
lost for the rest of the winter.

They awoke the next morning to find the island chained fast to the
mainland by old Jack Frost's fetters. A sheet of new ice extended for some
hundreds of yards all around Cliff Island. Farther out the ice was of
rougher texture, but that near at hand was clear and black.

Out came the skates soon after breakfast, and everybody but Mercy went
down to the lake. Later the boys made the lame girl and Mrs. Tingley come,
too, and they arranged chairs in which the two non-skaters could be pushed
over the smooth surface.

Hockey was the game for the afternoon, and two "sides" were chosen to
oppose each other, one of the boys and another of the girls. Although Ann
Hicks had never had a hockey stick in her hand before, she quickly got
into the game, and they all had a very merry time.

The day before Ruth had not been able to find the implement that Jerry
Sheming had spoken about, nor could she find a mattock, or pickax, on this
second day. If she went to the toolshed and hunted for the thing herself
she was afraid her quest would be observed by some of the men.

She located the place where the tools were kept, but the shed was locked.
However, there was a window, and that window could be easily slid back.
Ruth shrank from attempting to creep in by it.

"Just the same, I told him I'd get it--at least, I told myself I'd get it
for him," thought the girl of the Red Mill. "And I will."

Of course, Mrs. Tingley would have allowed her to borrow the tool, but it
would have aroused comment had it become known that Jerry wanted it.

"It must be that he really thinks now he knows where his uncle hid the
treasure box. He wants to dig for it," was Ruth's thought.

Yet she remembered that Jerry had said all along the old man had seemingly
gone mad because his treasure box was buried under a landslide. She asked
Mr. Preston, the foreman of the camp, where the landslide had occurred.

"Why, right over yonder, little lady," explained the woodsman. "If the
snow wasn't on the ground, you could easy see the scar of it down that
hillside," and he pointed to a spot just beyond the secret opening of
Jerry's cave.

"The dirt and rock was heaped up so at the foot of the slide that the
course of the brook was changed. That slide covered a monster lot of
little caves in the rock," pursued the man. "But I expect there's others
of 'em left and that Jerry's hidin' out in one now," he added, looking at
Ruth with shrewd gaze.

Ruth took him no further into her confidence. She felt that she must have
somebody to help her, however, and naturally enough she chose Tom. Helen's
twin thought a great deal of Ruth Fielding, and was never ashamed of
showing this feeling before the other boys. On her side, Ruth felt that
Tom Cameron was just about right.

Nor was she mistaken in him when she placed her difficulty before the lad.
Help her? Of course he would! They agreed to make the raid upon the
toolshed that evening when the others were busily filling stockings and
trimming the huge Christmas tree set up in the main hall of the hunting
lodge.

Ruth beckoned to her fellow-conspirator and Tom slipped out of the hall by
one door while she made the outer air by another. The kitchen girls and
the men hired about the camp were all in the big hall watching the fun, or
aiding in decorating the lodge. Nobody saw Ruth and Tom.

It was a very cold evening. There was a hazy moon and brilliant stars, but
they did not think anybody would see their efforts to aid Jerry Sheming.

Nevertheless, Ruth and Tom were very circumspect. They crept behind the
toolshed and looked all about to make sure that nobody was watching. There
was no light in the bunkhouse or in the cook's cabin.

Although the toolshed was so carefully locked, Ruth knew that the window
could be opened. Tom quickly slipped back the sash, and then dived into
the dark interior of the place, head first.

The moment he was on his feet, however, he drew from his pocket the
electric spotlight he had supplied himself with, and flashed the ray about
the shed.

"Good! here's either one you want--pickax or mattock," were the words he
whispered to Ruth.

"Which do you suppose he would like best?"

"A mattock is more practical, I believe," said Tom. "'Maddox,' they call
it. We had a fellow working for us once who called it a 'mad-ax.' It has a
broad blade and can be used to chop as well as dig."

"Never mind giving a lecture on it," laughed Ruth, very softly, "hand it
out."

Tom chuckled and did as he was bid. In a minute he was with her and picked
up the heavy implement.

"I hope they don't come hunting for us," said the girl of the Red Mill,
breathlessly.

"We must take that risk. Come on, Ruth. Or do you want me to take it down
to the brookside alone?"

"I want to go along, too. Oh, dear! I do hope he will find it."

"I have another cracker box full of food for him," said Tom. "I reckon he
will be on the lookout for the pick, so he'll find the food, too."

After a good deal of climbing, they reached the flat rock by the brookside
where Jerry Sheming had requested Ruth to leave the mattock. There was no
sign of the fugitive about. Ruth did not tell Tom where the mouth of the
secret tunnel lay--nor did Tom ask for information.

As they hurried back, mounting the ridge that separated the lodge and its
outbuildings from the middle of the island, Ruth, looking back, suddenly
grabbed Tom's hand.

"See! see there!" she cried.

Tom looked in the direction to which she pointed. The stars gave light
enough for them to see miles across the ice. Several black figures were
hurrying toward the western end of the island from the direction of the
mainland--the southern shore of the lake.

"Who do you suppose those men are?" asked Ruth, faintly.

Tom shook his head slowly. "I expect it's Lem Daggett, the constable, and
others to hunt for poor Jerry. I feel almost sure that the man in the
lead is Daggett."

"Isn't that mean?" exclaimed Ruth, her voice shaking.

"It is. But I don't believe they will find Jerry very easily."

Just the same, Ruth was not to be comforted. She was very quiet all the
rest of the evening. Her absence, and Tom's, had not been noticed. The
crowd went to bed before eleven, having spent a most delightful Christmas
Eve.

Ruth sat at a window that overlooked a part of the island. Once she saw
the men who had crossed from the mainland climbing the hill toward the
lone pine.

"I hope they won't find a trace of him!" she murmured as she popped into
bed.

Ruth slept as soundly as any of her mates. A clanging bell at six o'clock
aroused the whole household. The sun was not yet up, but there was a
streak of gold across the eastern sky. It was Christmas morning.

Ruth ran again to the west window. A pillar of smoke rose straight from a
hollow on the higher part of the island. The searching party was still
there.

There was no time now to think of Jerry Sheming and his affairs. The girls
raced to see who should dress first. Downstairs there were "loads" of
presents waiting for them, so Belle declared.

"Come on!" cried Heavy, leading the way. "Ready all? March!"

The nine girls started through the hall and down the broad stairway in
single file. Heavy began to cheer and the others chimed in:

    "'S.B.--Ah-h-h!
      S.B.--Ah-h-h!
      Sound our battle-cry
      Near and far!
      S.B.--All!
      Briarwood Hall!
      Sweetbriars, do or die--
      This be our battle-cry--
      Briarwood Hall!
      _That's All_!'"

So sounding the Sweetbriars' challenge, they met the grinning boys at the
foot of the flight, before the huge, sparkling tree.

"Gee!" exclaimed Tom. "I'm mighty glad I suggested that name for your
secret society, Ruth. 'Sweetbriars'--it just fits you."



CHAPTER XVIII

FUN ON THE ICE


Of course, the girls had prepared one another's presents long before. Each
had been tied in a queer bundle so, in trimming the tree, the nature of
the contents could not be guessed.

The oddest shaped things hung from the branches of the Christmas tree, and
the boys had excelled in making up these "surprise packages." Mrs. Tingley
handed the presents out, while the boys lifted them down for her. A long,
tightly rolled parcel, which looked as though it ought to contain an
umbrella, and was marked "To Helen from Tom," finally proved to contain a
jeweler's box, in which nestled a pretty ring, which delighted his twin.

A large, flat package, big enough to hold a large kite, was carefully
opened by Belle, who finally found in it, among the many tissue wrappings,
a pretty set of hair combs set with stones. In a roughly-done-up parcel
was a most disreputable old shoe addressed to Lluella. She was going to
throw it out, but the boys advised her so strongly not to that she finally
burrowed to the toe and found, to her amazement, a gold bracelet.

There was a good-sized box for Ann Hicks--just as it had come from the
express office at Lumberton a week before. Having been addressed in Mrs.
Tellingham's care, the western girl had known nothing about it.

Now it was opened last. It had come all the way from Silver Ranch, of
course. Such a set of furs no girl at Briarwood possessed. There were a
number of other presents from the cowboys, from Mrs. Sally, and from
Bashful Ike himself. Ann was so pleased and touched that she ran away to
hide her tears.

There were presents for each of the girls and boys who had been at
Bullhide the previous summer. Bill Hicks had forgotten nobody, and, as
Mrs. Tellingham had once said, the ranchman certainly was a generous man.

No member of the house party was overlooked on this bright Christmas
morning. Mercy's presents were as costly and numerous as those of any
other girl. Besides, the lame girl had been able to give her mates
beautiful little keepsakes that expressed her love for them quite as much
as would have articles that cost more money.

Her presents to the boys were funny, including a jumping jack on a stick
to Isadore, the face of which Mercy had whittled out and painted to look
a good deal like the features of that active youth.

For two hours the young folk reveled in their presents. Then suddenly
Heavy smelled the breakfast coffee and she led the charge to the long
dining room. They were in the midst of the meal when Mr. Tingley himself
arrived, having reached Logwood on the early train and driven across the
ice in a sleigh.

The Tingley young people met him hilariously. He was a big, bewhiskered
man, with a jolly laugh and amiable manner. His eye could flash, too, if
need be, Ruth judged. And almost at once she had an opportunity of seeing
him stern.

"What crowd is that over at the west end of the island?" he asked his
wife. "I see they have a fire. There must be four or five men there. Is it
some of Blent's doings?"

"Oh, Dad!" cried Ralph Tingley, eagerly. "You ought to stop that. Those
fellows are hunting Jerry Sheming."

"Who is Jerry Sheming?" he asked, quickly.

Mrs. Tingley explained briefly.

"I remember now," said her husband. "And this is the young lady who spoke
a good word for the boy in the first place?" and he beckoned the eager
Ruth to them. "What have you to say for your protégé now, Miss?"

"Everything that is good," declared the girl of the Red Mill, quickly. "I
am sure he is not at all the sort of boy this man Blent would have you
believe. And perhaps, Mr. Tingley, his old uncle _may_ have had some title
to a part of this island."

"That puts _me_ in bad, then--eh?" chuckled Mr. Tingley.

"Unless Mr. Blent has cheated you, sir," suggested Ruth, hesitatingly.

"He's a foxy old fellow. But I believe I have safeguarded myself. This
trouble about something being buried on the island--Well! I don't know
about that."

"I believe Jerry really has some idea now where his uncle put the box.
Even if the old hunter _was_ crazy, he might have had some valuables. And
surely Jerry has a better right to the box than Blent," Ruth said,
indignantly.

"I'll see about that. Just as soon as I have had breakfast, I'll take
Preston and go over and interview this gang of Blent's henchmen. I am not
at all sure that he has any right to hunt the boy down, warrant or no
warrant!"

That was when he looked grim and his eyes flashed. Ruth felt that her
friend's father was just the man to give Jerry Sheming a fair deal if he
had the chance.

When the boys proposed getting out the two iceboats and giving the girls a
sail (for the wind was fresh), Ruth was as eager as the others to join in
the sport.

Not all the girls would trust themselves to the scooters, but there were
enough who went down to the ice to make an exceedingly hilarious party.

Ralph Tingley and Tom Cameron were the best pilots. The small iceboats
were built so that two passengers could ride beside the steersman and
sheet tender. So the girls took turns in racing up and down the smooth ice
on the south side of the island.

Ruth and Helen liked to go together with Tom, who had Busy Izzy to tend
sheet. It was "no fair" if one party traveled farther than from the dock
to the mouth of the creek and back again.

The four friends--Ruth and her chum, and Tom and Busy Izzy--were making
their second trip over the smooth course. Bobbins, with his sister and The
Fox, and Ralph Tingley, manned the other boat.

The two swift craft had a splendid race to the mouth of that brook which,
because of its swiftness, still remained unshackled by the frost. The
shallow stream of water poured down over the rocks into the lake, but
there was only a small open place at the point where the brook emptied
into its waters into the larger and more placid body.

When the two iceboats swung about, the one Bobbins manned got away at once
and swiftly passed down the lake. The sheet fouled in Tom's boat. Busy
Izzy had to drop the sail and the boat was brought to a halt.

"There are Mr. Tingley and Preston going over to talk to the constable and
his crowd," remarked Isadore. "See yonder?"

"I hope he sends those men off the island. I don't see what right they
have here, anyway," Helen exclaimed.

"If only Jerry knows enough to keep under cover while they are here," said
Tom, looking meaningly at Ruth. They both wondered if the fugitive had
ventured out of his cave to find the mattock and box of food they had left
for him the evening before.

The craft was under way again in a minute or two, and they swept down the
course in the wake of the other boat. Suddenly the sharp crack of a rifle
echoed across the island. Helen screamed. Ruth risked the boom and sat up
to look behind.

"There's a fight!" yelled Busy Izzy. "I believe they're after Jerry."

They saw Mr. Tingley and Preston hastening their steps toward the brook.
As the iceboat swept out farther from the shore, the four friends aboard
her could see several men running in the same direction. One bore a
smoking gun in his hand.

"Right towards that rock, Ruthie!" gasped Tom, venturing a glance behind
him.

"What rock do you mean?" demanded his sister.

"The rock where you folks found me the other day. It's near the opening to
Jerry's cave. I see them!"

"'Ware boom!" yelled Tom, and shifted his helm.

The great sail went slowly over; the iceboat swooped around like a great
bird skimming the ice. Then, in a minute, it was headed back up the lake
toward the scene of the trouble.

Another rifle shot echoed across the ice.



CHAPTER XIX

BLENT IS MASTER


Ruth was truly frightened, and so was her chum. Could it be possible that
those rough men dared fire their guns at Jerry Sheming? Or was the poor
boy foolish enough to try to frighten his pursuers off with the weapons
which Ruth very well knew he had in the cave with him?

"Oh, I'm glad Mr. Tingley's here to-day," cried Busy Izzy. "He'll give
that Lem Daggett what's coming to him--that's what _he'll_ do!"

"Hope so," agreed Tom, grimly.

The latter brought the iceboat into the wind near the shore, and Isadore
dropped the sail again. They all tumbled out and ran up the bank. A little
climb brought them to the plateau where they could see all that was going
on near the rock on which Ruth and Tom had left the mattock the evening
before.

Lem Daggett had four men with him--all rough-looking fellows, and armed
with rifles. Jerry Sheming was standing half-leg deep in the running
stream, his hands over his head, and the men were holding him under the
muzzles of their guns.

"Why! it beats the 'wild and woolly'!" gasped Tom Cameron. "Silver Ranch
and Bullhide weren't as bad as this. The scoundrels!"

"Come out o' that brook, Jerry, or it'll be the wuss for ye." Lem Daggett
drawled, standing on the flat rock and grinning at his captive.

"What do you want of me?" demanded the fugitive, sullenly.

"You know well enough. Oh, I got a warrant for ye, all right. Ev'rything's
all right an' proper. Ye know Rufe Blent don't make no mistakes. He's got
ye."

"An' here he comes now!" ejaculated another of the rough men, looking
toward the east end of the island.

The four hurrying young folk looked back. Driving hastily from the lodge,
and behind Mr. Tingley and Preston, came a heavy sleigh drawn by a pair of
horses. Rufus Blent and a driver were in it.

But Mr. Tingley approached first, and it was plain by a single glance at
his face that he was angry.

"What's all this shooting about?" he demanded. "Don't you men know that
Cliff Island is private property? You are trespassing upon it."

"Oh, I guess we're within our rights, boss," said Lem Daggett, laughing.
"I'm the constable. And these here are helpers o' mine. We was arter a
bird, and we got him."

"A warrant from a justice of the peace does not allow you to go out with
guns and rifles and shoot over private property," declared Mr. Tingley,
angrily. "Be off with you--and don't you dare come to this island again
without permission."

"Hold on, thar!" yelled Rufus Blent, leaping from the sleigh with more
agility than one would have given him credit for. "You air oversteppin'
the line, Mr. Tingley. That officer's in the right."

"No, he's not in the right. He'd never be in the right--hunting a boy with
an armed posse. I should think you and these other men would be ashamed of
yourselves."

"You look out, Mr. Tingley," warned Blent, hotly. "You're a stranger in
these parts. You try to balk me and you'll be sorry."

"Why?" demanded the city man, quite as angrily. "Are you the law and the
prophets here, Mr. Blent?"

"I know my rights. And if you want to live in peace here, keep out o' my
way!" snarled the real estate man.

"You old scoundrel!" exclaimed Mr. Tingley, stepping swiftly toward him.
"Get off Cliff Island--and get off quick. I'd spend a thousand dollars to
get a penny's worth of damages from you. I'll sue you in the civil courts
for trespass if you don't go--and go quick!

"Don't think I went blindly into the transaction that gave me title to
this island. I know all about your withholding the right to 'treasure
trove,' and all that. But it doesn't give you the right to trespass here.
Get out--and take your gang with you--or I'll have suit begun against you
at once."

Old Blent was troubled, but he had one good hold and he knew it. He
shouted to Lem Daggett:

"Serve that warrant, Lem, and come along. Bring that young rascal. I'll
fix him."

"Let me read that warrant!" exclaimed Mr. Tingley, suddenly.

"No, ye don't!" yelled Blent. "Don't let him take it into his hand. Read
it aloud to him. But make that pesky young Sheming come ashore first.
Before ye know it, he'll be runnin' away ag'in."

The men who "covered" Jerry motioned him to step up to the bank. They
looked so threatening that he obeyed. Daggett produced a legal looking
paper. He read this aloud, blunderingly, for he was an illiterate man.

Its contents were easily gathered, however. Squire Keller had signed the
warrant on complaint of Rufus Blent. Jerry was accused of having stolen
several boxes of ammunition and a revolver. The property had been found in
an old shed at Logwood where the boy had slept for a few nights after he
had first been driven from Cliff Island.

"Why, this is an old story, Blent," ejaculated Mr. Tingley, angrily. "The
boy left that shed months ago. He came directly to the island, when I
hired him, from the neighborhood of Lumberton, and Preston assures me he
hasn't been to Logwood since arriving."

"You can tell all that in court," snarled Blent, waving his hand. "If he's
got witnesses to clear him, I guess they'll be given a chance to testify."

"You're a villain!" declared the city man.

"Lemme tell you something, Mr. Tingley. There's a law to punish callin'
folks out o' their names! I know the law, an' don't you forgit it. Come
here, you, Jerry Sheming! Git in this sleigh. And you, too, Lem. You other
fellers can come back to Logwood and I'll pay ye as I agreed."

Ruth had, meanwhile, met Jerry when he came ashore. She seized his hand
and, almost in tears, told him how sorry she was he was captured.

"Don't you mind, Miss Ruth. He's bound to git me out of the way if he
can," whispered Jerry. "Rufe Blent is _all_ the law there is in Logwood, I
guess."

"But Mr. Tingley will help you."

"Maybe. But if Blent can't prove this hatched up business against me,
he'll keep right on persecuting me, if I don't light out. An' I believe I
found something, Miss Ruth."

"Your uncle's money?"

"I wouldn't say that. But I was goin' to break into another little cave if
I'd got hold of that mattock. The mouth is under the debris that fell with
the landslide. It was about where Uncle Pete said he hid his treasure box.
Poor Uncle Pete! Losin' that box was what sent him off his head complete,
like."

This had been said too low for the others to hear. But now Daggett came
forward and clamped his big paw on Jerry's shoulder.

"Come along, you!" commanded the constable, jerking his prisoner toward
the sledge.

"Oh, isn't it a mean, mean shame?" cried Helen Cameron.

"Wish that old Blent was my size," grumbled Busy Izzy, clenching his fists
and glaring at the real estate man.

"I wish I could do something at the present moment to help you, Sheming,"
said Mr. Tingley, his expression very angry. "But don't be afraid. You
have friends. I shall come right over to Keller's court, and I shall hire
a lawyer to defend you."

"You kin do all ye like," sneered Blent, as the sledge started with the
prisoner. "But I'll beat ye. And ye'll pay for tryin' to balk me, too."

"Don't you be too loose with your threats, Rufe," sang out Preston, the
foreman. "If anything happens over here on the island--any of Mr.
Tingley's property is destroyed--we'll know who to look to for damages."

"Yah!" snarled Blent, and drove away.

The fact remained, however, that, for the time being at least, Rufus Blent
was master of the situation.



CHAPTER XX

THE FISHING PARTY


Ruth felt so unhappy she wept openly. It seemed too bad that Jerry Sheming
should be taken away to the mainland a prisoner.

"They'll find some way of driving him out of this country again," remarked
Preston, the foreman. "You don't know Blent, Mr. Tingley, as well as the
rest of us do. Other city men have come up here and bucked against him in
times past--and they were sorry before they got through."

"What do you mean?" demanded the angry owner of Cliff Island.

"Blent can hire those fellows from the lumber camps, and some of the
guides, to do his dirty work. That's all I've got to say. Hunting camps
have burned down in these woods before now," observed the foreman,
significantly.

"Why! the scoundrel sold me this island himself!"

"And he's sold other outsiders camp sites. But they have had to leave if
they angered Blent."

"He is a dangerous man, then?"

"Well--things just happen," returned Preston, shaking his head. "I'd keep
watch if I were you."

"I will. I'll hire guards--and arm 'em, if need be," declared Mr. Tingley,
emphatically. "But take it from me--I am going to see that that boy Jerry
is treated right in these backwoods courts. That's the way I feel about
it."

Ruth was glad to hear him say this. As she had decided when she first saw
him, Mr. Tingley could be very firm if he wished to be. At once he went
back to the house, had a team hitched to a sleigh, and drove over to the
mainland so as to be sure that Blent did not get ahead of him and have
court convened before the proper hour.

The day was spoiled for Ruth and for some of the other young folk who had
taken such a deep interest in Jerry. The boy had been caught because he
tried to get the mattock Ruth and Tom had put out for him. Ruth wished now
that she and Tom had not gone down to the brook.

There was too much going on at Cliff Island for even Ruth to mope long.
Mr. Tingley came back at dark and said he had succeeded in getting Jerry's
case put over until a lawyer could familiarize himself with the details.
Meanwhile Keller, Blent's man, had refused to accept bail. Jerry would
have to remain in jail for a time.

A man came across from the town that evening and brought a telegram for
Mr. Tingley. That gentleman had without doubt shown his interest in Jerry
Sheming. Fearing that the local legal lights might be somewhat backward
about opposing Rufus Blent, he had telegraphed to his own firm of lawyers
in New York and they were sending him a reputable attorney from an
up-State city who would be at Logwood the next day.

"Let's all go over to court to-morrow and see that lawyer get Jerry free,"
suggested Belle Tingley, and the others agreed with enthusiasm. It would
be as much fun as snow-shoeing; more fun for those who had not already
learned that art.

The day after Christmas, in the morning, the boys insisted that everybody
but Mercy Curtis should get out and try the shoes. Those who had been at
Snow Camp the year before were able to set out quite briskly--for it is an
art that, like swimming and skating, is not easily forgotten.

There were some very funny spills and by luncheon they were all in a glow.
Later the big sledge was brought around and behind that the boys strung a
couple of bobs. The horses drew them down to the ice and there it was easy
for the team to pull the whole crowd across to Logwood.

The town seemed to have turned out to meet the party from Cliff Island.

Ruth and her friends noted the fact that many of the half-grown boys and
young men--those of the rougher class--seemed greatly amused by the
appearance of the city folk.

"But what can you expect from a lot of rubes?" demanded Tom, rather
angrily. "See 'em snickering and grinning? What d'ye s'pose is the matter
with them?"

"Whatever the joke is, it's on us and we don't know it," remarked Heavy,
who was easily angered by ridicule, too. "There! Mr. Tingley has gone off
with the lawyer. I guess we'll know what it's all about pretty soon."

And _that_ was true, sure enough. It came out that there would be no case
to try. Justice Keller announced that the accusation against Jerry Sheming
had been withdrawn. Mr. Blent had "considered Mr. Tingley's plea for
mercy," the old fox said, and there was nothing the justice could do but
to turn the prisoner loose.

"But what's become of him?" Mr. Tingley wanted to know.

"Oh, that does not enter into my jurisdiction," replied Keller, blandly.
"I am not his keeper. He was let out of jail early this morning. After
that I cannot say what became of him."

Blent was not even at the court. It was learned that he had gone out of
town. Blent could always find somebody to handle pitch for him.

It was later discovered that when Lem Daggett had opened the jail to
Jerry, several of Blent's ruffians had rushed the boy to the railroad
yard, put him aboard a moving freight, given a brakeman a two-dollar bill
as per instructions from the real estate man, and Jerry wasn't likely to
get off the train, unless he jumped while it was moving, until it was
fifty miles farther west.

But, of course, this story did not come out right away. The whole town was
laughing at Mr. Tingley. Nobody cared enough about the city man, or knew
him well enough, to explain the details of Jerry's disappearance at that
time.

Mr. Tingley looked very serious when he rejoined the young folk and he had
little to say on the way home, save to Ruth, whom he beckoned to the seat
beside him.

"I am very sorry that the old fox got the best of us, Miss Fielding. As
Preston says, I must look out for him. He is sly, wicked, and powerful. My
Albany lawyer tells me that Blent is notorious in this part of the State,
and that he has great political influence, illiterate as he is.

"But I am going to fight. I have bought Cliff Island, and paid a good
price for it. I have spent a good many thousand dollars in improvements
already. I'll protect myself and my investment if I can--and meanwhile
I'll do what I can for your friend, Jerry Sheming, too.

"They've got the boy away from the vicinity for the time being, but I
reckon he'll find his way back. You think so, too, Miss Fielding?"

"If he understands that we are trying to help him. And--yes!--I believe he
will come back anyway, for he is very anxious to find that treasure box
his Uncle Peter lost."

"Oh--as to that--Well, there may be something in it. But Pete Tilton was
really insane. I saw him myself. The asylum is the place for him, poor
man," concluded Mr. Tingley.

Ruth felt in secret very much worried over Jerry's disappearance. When she
once became interested in anybody, as Helen said, "she was interested all
the way through."

The others could laugh a little about how the crafty real estate agent had
fooled Mr. Tingley and gotten Jerry out of the way, but not Ruth. She
could scarcely sleep that night for thinking of what might have happened
to the ill-used youth.

But she tried to hide her anxiety from her companions the next morning
when plans were made for a fishing trip. All but Mercy joined in this
outing. They went on snowshoes to the far end of the island, keeping on
the beach under the huge cliffs, to a little cove where they would be
sheltered and where the fishing was supposed to be good.

Preston, the foreman, went with them. He and the boys dragged a bobsled
well laden with the paraphernalia considered necessary for fishing through
the ice.

First the holes were cut--thirteen of them. Then, near each hole, and on
the windward side, two stakes were set about four feet apart and a square
of canvas lashed between them for a wind-break. A folding campstool had
been brought for each fisherman and "fishergirl," and there were a lot of
old sacks for the latter, especially, to put under their feet as they
watched the "bobbers" in the little pool of water before which they sat.

After Preston saw them well started, he went back to the house. The crowd
intended to remain until evening, and planned to make their dinner on the
shore of the cove, frying some of the fish they expected to catch, and
making coffee in a battered camp pot that had been brought along.

The fish were there, as the foreman had assured them. Each member of the
party watched and baited two lines. At first some of the girls had
considerable trouble with the bait, and the boys had to show them how to
put it on the hook; but it was fun, and soon all were interested in
pulling out the flopping fish, vying with each other in the catch,
calling back and forth about their luck, and having a splendid time.

It was so cold that the fish froze almost as soon as they were thrown upon
the ice. Had they been catching for shipment, the fish could have been
boxed and sent some distance by express without being iced.

But the young folk did not mind the cold much, nor the fact that the sun
did not shine and the clouds grew thicker as the day advanced.

"I'm going to beat you all!" declared The Fox, after a great run of luck,
in which she could scarcely bait rapidly enough to satisfy the ravenous
fish. "Might as well award me the laurel wreath right now."

"Don't you be too sure," drawled Heavy. "You know, 'He laughs best who
laughs last.'"

"Wrong!" returned Mary Cox. "The true quotation should be, 'He laughs best
whose laugh lasts.' And mine is going to last--oh-he! here comes another!"

Tom and Ruth got the dinner. There was plenty of dry wood under the fir
trees. Tom cleaned the fish and Ruth fried them to a delicious brownness
and crispness. With the other viands brought from home and cups of good,
hot coffee, the thirteen friends made a hearty and hilarious meal.

They were sheltered by the high cliff at their backs and did not notice
when the snow began to fall. But, after a time, they suddenly discovered
that the flakes were coming so thick and fast that it was all but
impossible to see the farthest fishing shelters.

"Oh, dear me! we don't want to go back yet," wailed The Fox. "And we were
catching them so fast. Do, do let's wait a while longer."

"Not much fun if it keeps on snowing this way," objected Bobbins.

"Don't begin croaking, little boy," advised his sister. "A few flakes of
snow won't hurt us."

Nevertheless, the storm did not hold up. It was more than a "flurry" and
some of the others, as well as Bob Steele, began to feel anxious.



CHAPTER XXI

JERRY'S CAVE


For a while they tried to shelter themselves with the canvas, and shouted
back and forth through the falling snow that they were having a
"scrumptious" time. But some of the girls, as Isadore said, "began to
weaken."

"We don't want to be lost in the snow as we were the time we went for
balsam at Snow Camp," said Helen.

"How can you get lost--with us fellows along?" demanded Busy Izzy, in vast
disgust.

"Can't a boy be lost?" demanded Ann Hicks, laughing.

"Not on your life!" declared the irrepressible Isadore.

But just then Madge Steele got up and declared she had had enough. "This
hole in the ice is filling up with snow. We'll lose the fish we've already
caught if we don't look out. Come on, Bobby, and get mine."

So it was agreed to cut the fishing short for that day, although The Fox
declared she could have beaten them all in another hour.

However, they had a great load of the frozen fish. Besides what they had
eaten for dinner, there were at least a hundred handsome fellows, and the
boys had strung each fisher's catch on a birch twig which they had cut and
trimmed while coming down to the lake that morning.

Tom and Ruth, left at the campfire to clean up after the mid-day meal,
were shouting for them to come in. The girls left the boys to wind up the
fishlines and "strike camp," as Ralph called taking down the pieces of
canvas, and all hustled for the shore. They crowded around the fire, threw
on more fuel, danced to get their feet warm, and called to the boys to
hurry.

The five boys had their hands full in retrieving all the chairs, and
canvas sheets, and fish lines, and sacks. When they got them all in and
packed upon the bobsled for transportation, the snow was a foot deep on
the ice and it was snowing so fast that one could not see ten feet into
the swirling heart of the storm.

"I declare! it looks as though we were in a mess, with all this snow,"
complained Tom Cameron.

"And with all these girls," growled Ralph Tingley. "Wish we'd started an
hour ago."

"I don't know about starting _at all_," observed Bobbins. "Don't you see
that the girls will give out before we're half-way there? We can't use
snowshoes with the snow coming down like this. They clog too fast."

"Oh, they'll have to wade the same as we do," said Isadore.

"Yah! Wade! And us pulling this sled, too? I wish Preston had stayed with
us. Don't you, Ralph?" asked his brother.

"Hush! don't let the girls hear you," was the whispered reply.

Already the girls were comparing notes in a group around the fire. Now
Madge turned and shouted for them:

"Come here, boys! Don't be mumbling together there. We have an idea."

"If it's any good, let's have it," answered Tom, cheerfully.

"It is good. It was born of experience. Some of us got all the tramping in
a blinding snowstorm that we wanted a year ago. Never again! Eh, girls?"

"Quite right, Madge," said Ralph. "It is foolish to run into danger. We
are all right here----"

"Why, the snow will drown out your fire in half an hour," scoffed Isadore.
"And there isn't so much dry fuel."

"I know where there is plenty of wood--and shelter, too!" cried Ruth,
suddenly.

"So do I. At the lodge," scoffed Belle.

"No. Nearby. Tom and I were just talking about it. Up that ravine yonder
is the place where I fell over the cliff. And Jerry's cave is right
there--one end of it."

"A cave!" ejaculated Helen. "That would be bully."

"If only we could have a good fire and get dry and warm again," quoth
Lluella, her teeth already chattering.

"I believe that would be best," admitted Madge Steele. "We never could get
back to the lodge through this snow. The shore is so rough."

"We can travel on the ice," ventured Ann Hicks, doubtfully.

"And get turned around," put in Tom. "Easiest thing in the world to get
lost out there on that ice without a compass and in such a whirlwind of
snow. Ruth's right. Let's try to find the cave."

"I'm game!" exclaimed Heavy. "Why, with all this fish we could live a week
in a cave. It would be bully."

"'Charming' is the better word, Miss Stone," suggested The Fox.

"Don't correct me when I'm on a vacation," exclaimed the plump girl. "I
won't stand for it----"

Just then she slipped and sat down hard and they all laughed.

"Lucky you weren't on the ice. You'd gone right through that time,
Jennie," declared The Fox. "Now, let's come on to the cave if we're all
agreed. I guess Ruth has the right idea."

"We'll drag the sled and break a path for you girls," announced Tom. "All
ready, now! Bring your snowshoes. If it stops snowing, we can get home on
them to-night."

"Oh, dear, me! I hope so," cried Belle Tingley. "What will mother and
father say if we're not home by dark?"

"They'll be pretty sure we wouldn't travel far in this storm. Preston and
the other men will find us, anyway."

"I expect that is so," admitted Ruth, thoughtfully, "And they'll find
Jerry's cave. I hope he won't be mad at me for taking you all there."

However that might be, it seemed to the girl of the Red Mill, as well as
to Tom Cameron, that it was wisdom to seek the nearest shelter. The ravine
was steep, but it was sheltered. There were not many big drifts until they
reached that great one at the head of it, into which Ruth had fallen when
she slipped over the brink of the precipice.

Nevertheless, they were half an hour beating their way up the gully and
out upon that ledge which led to the mouth of Jerry's cave. The boys
found the laden sled a good deal of a load and the girls had all they
could do to follow in the track the sled made.

"We never _could_ have reached home safely through this storm," declared
Madge. "How clever of you to remember the cave, Ruthie."

"Ruth is always doing something clever," said Helen, loyally. "Why, she
even falls over a cliff, so as to find a cave that, later, shelters us all
from the inclement elements."

"Wow, wow, wow!" jeered Isadore. "You girls think a lot of each other;
don't you? Better thank that Jerry boy for finding the cave in the first
place."

They were all crowding into the place by this time. It was not very light
in the cave, for the snow had already veiled the entrance. But there was a
great store of wood piled up along one side, and the boys soon had a fresh
fire built.

The girls and boys stamped off the clinging snow and began to feel more
comfortable. The flames danced among the sticks, and soon an appreciable
sense of warmth stole through the cave. The crowd began to laugh and
chatter. The girls brushed out the cave and the boys rolled forward loose
stones for seats.

Isadore found Jerry's shotgun, ammunition, bow and arrow, and other
possessions.

"He must have taken the rifle with him when he went to the other end of
the tunnel," Ruth said.

"Say!" exclaimed Ralph Tingley. "You could find the way through the hill
to where you came out of the cave with Jerry; couldn't you, Ruth?"

"Oh! I believe so," cried Ruth.

"Then we needn't worry," said the boy. "We can go home that way. Even if
the storm doesn't stop to-night, we ought to be able to find the lodge
from _that_ end of the cave."

"We've nothing to worry about, then," said Madge, cheerfully. "We're
supplied with all the comforts of home----"

"And plenty to eat," sighed Heavy, with satisfaction.



CHAPTER XXII

SNOWED IN


Naturally, thirteen young folk in a cave could not be content to sit
before the fire inactive. They played games, they sang songs, they made up
verses, and finally Madge produced a pencil and a notebook and they wrote
a burlesque history of "George Washington and the Cherry Tree."

The first author wrote a page of the history and two lines on the second
page. Then the second read those last two lines and went on with the
story, leaving another two lines at the top of the next page, and so on.
It was a wonderful piece of literary work when it was finished, and Madge
kept it to read to the S.B.'s when they got back to Briarwood Hall.

"For, of course," she said, "we're not going to be forever shut up in this
cave. I don't want to turn into a 'cave man'--nor yet a 'cave woman'!"

"See if the snow has stopped--that's a good boy, Tommy," urged Helen.

"Of course it hasn't. Don't you see how dark it is, sis?" returned her
twin.

But he started toward the mouth of the cavern. Just then Bob looked at his
watch in the firelight, and exclaimed:

"No wonder it seems dark--do you know it's half after four right now?"

"Wow! mother will be scared," said Ralph Tingley.

Just then there came a cry from Tom. Then followed a heavy, smothered
thud. The boys dashed to the entrance. It was pitch dark. A great mass of
hard packed snow filled the opening, and was being forced into the cave
itself. In this heap of snow struggled Tom, fairly smothered.

They laid hold upon him--by a leg and an arm--and dragged him out. He
could not speak for a moment and he had lost his cap.

"How did you do that?" demanded Bob. "What does it mean?"

"Think--think I did it on purpose?" demanded the overwhelmed youth. "I'm
no Samson to pull down the pillars on top of me. Gee! that snow came
sudden."

"Where--where did it all come from?" demanded his sister.

"From the top of the cliff, of course. It must have made a big drift there
and tumbled down--regular avalanche, you know--just as I tried to look
out. Why! the place out there is filled up yards deep! We'd never be able
to dig out in a week."

"Oh, dear me! what shall we do?" groaned Belle, who was beginning to get
nervous.

"Have supper," suggested Heavy, calmly. "No matter what we have to face,
we can do it better after eating."

They laughed, but took her advice. Nobody failed to produce an appetite at
the proper time.

"Dear me!" exclaimed Belle, "if only mother knew we were safe I'd be
content to stay all night. It's fun."

"And if we had some salt," complained Lluella. "I don't like fish without
salt--not much."

"You're a fine female Robinson Crusoe," laughed Tom. "This is real
'roughing it.' I expect all you girls will weaken by morning."

"Oh, oh!" cried his sister, "you talk as though you thought we would be
obliged to stay here, Tom."

"I don't just see how we're to get out to-night," Tom returned, grimly.
"Not from this end of the cave, at any rate. I tell you, tons and _tons_
of snow fell into its mouth."

"But you know the other way out, Ruthie?" urged Lluella, half inclined to
cry.

"I think so," returned the girl of the Red Mill.

"Then just hunt for the way," said Belle, firmly. "If it has stopped
snowing I want to go home."

"Don't be a baby, Belle," advised her brother Ralph. "Nothing is going to
hurt us here."

"Especially as we have plenty of fuel and grub," added Bobbins,
thoughtfully.

But Ruth saw that it would be wiser to try to get through the tunnel to
the brookside. Nobody could dig them out at this end, that was sure. So
she agreed with Tom and Ralph Tingley to try to follow the same passages
that Jerry Sheming had taken her through upon the occasion of her first
visit.

"How shall we find our way, though, if it's dark?" questioned Ralph,
suddenly. "_I_ can't see in the dark."

"Neither can the rest of us, I guess," said Tom. "Do you suppose we could
find torchwood in that pile yonder?"

"Not much," Bobbins told them. "And a torch is a smoky thing, anyway."

Ruth was hunting the dark corners of the big cavern in which they had
camped. Although Jerry had been at the far end of the tunnel when he was
captured by the constable and his helpers--outside that end of the tunnel,
in fact--she hoped that he had left his lantern at this end.

As it proved, she was not mistaken. Here it was, all filled and cleaned,
hidden on a shelf with a half-gallon can of kerosene. Jerry had been in
the habit of coming to the cave frequently in the old days when his uncle
and he lived alone on the island.

So Tom lit the lantern and the trio started. The opening of the tunnel
through the hill could not be missed; but farther along Ruth had a dim
recollection of passing cross galleries and passages. Should she know the
direct tunnel then?

She put that anxiety aside for the present. At first it was all plain
traveling, and Tom with the lantern went ahead to illuminate the path.

They came out into one of the narrow open cuts, but there was little snow
in it. However, a flake or two floated down to them, and they knew that
the storm still continued to rage. The moaning of the wind in the tree
tops far up on the hill reached their ears.

"Some storm, this," observed Tom.

"I should say it was! You don't suppose the folks will be foolish enough
to start out hunting for us till it's over; do you?" Ralph asked,
anxiously.

"They would better not. We're safe. They ought to know that. Preston will
tell them about the caves in this end of the island and they ought to know
we'd find one of 'em."

"It's a wild spot, just the same," remarked Ralph. "And I suppose mother
will be worried."

"Ruth isn't afraid--nor Helen--nor the other girls," said Tom. "I think
these Briarwood girls are pretty plucky, anyway. Don't _you_ get to
grouching, Rafe."

They pursued their way, Tom ahead with the lantern, for some rods further.
Suddenly the leader stopped.

"Now what, Ruthie?" he demanded. "Which way do we go?"

The passage forked. Ruth was uncertain. She could not for the life of her
remember having seen this spot before.

But, then, she and Jerry must have passed it. She had not given her
attention to the direction at that time, for she had been talking with the
backwoods boy.

She took the lantern from Tom now, and walked a little way into first the
left-hand passage and then the right-hand one. It seemed to her as though
there were places in the sand on the floor of this latter tunnel which had
been disturbed by human feet.

"_This_ is the path, I guess," she said, laughing and so hiding her own
anxiety. "But let's take a good look at the place so we can find our way
back to it if we have to return."

"Huh!" grumbled Ralph Tingley. "You're not so awfully sure; are you?"

"That's all right. Ruth was only through here once," Tom spoke up,
loyally. "And we can't get really lost."

In five minutes they came into a little circular room out of which no less
than four passages opened. Ruth was confident now that she was "turned
around." She had to admit it to her companions.

"Well! what do you know about that?" cried Ralph. "I thought you said you
could find the way?"

"I guess I can," said Ruth, cheerfully. "But we'll have to try each one of
these openings. I can't be sure which is the right one."

Ralph sniffed, but Tom was unshaken in his confidence in his girl friend.

"Let me have the lantern, Tom, and you boys stay here," Ruth said,
quickly. "I'll try them myself."

"Say! don't you get lost," cried Tom.

"And don't you leave us long in the dark," complained Ralph. "I don't
believe we ought to let her take that lantern, Tom----"

"Aw, stop croaking!" commanded young Cameron. "You're worse than any girl
yourself, Tingley."

Ruth hated to hear them quarrel, but she would not give up and admit that
she was beaten. She took the lantern and ventured into the first tunnel.
Her carriage was firmer than her mind, and before she had gone a dozen
steps she was nervously sobbing, but smothered the sounds with her
handkerchief.



CHAPTER XXIII

"A BLOW FOR LIBERTY"


Ruth was a healthy girl and particularly free from "nerves"; but she _was_
frightened. She was so proud that she determined not to admit to her
companions that she was lost In the caves.

Indeed, she was not entirely sure that she _was_ lost. Perhaps this was
the way she had come with Jerry. Only, she did not remember passing the
little room with the four tunnels opening out of it.

This first passage into which she had ventured with so much apparent
boldness proved to be the wrong one within a very few moments. She came to
the end of it--against an unbroken wall.

There she remained until she had conquered her nervous sobbing and removed
as well as she could the traces of tears from her face. When she returned
to Tom and Ralph she held the lantern well down, so that the shadow was
cast upon her face.

"How about it, Ruth?" demanded Tom, cheerfully, when she reappeared.

"That's not the one. It is just a pocket," declared Ruth. "Wait till I try
another."

"Well, don't be all night about it," growled Tingley, ungraciously. "We're
wasting a lot of time here."

Ruth did not reply, but took the next tunnel. She followed this for even a
shorter distance before finding it closed.

"Only two more. That's all right!" exclaimed Tom. "Narrows the choice
down, and we'll be surer of hitting the right one--eh, Ruthie?"

She knew that he was talking thus to keep her courage up. Dear old Tom! he
was always to be depended upon.

She gathered confidence herself, however, when she had gone some distance
into the third passage. There was a place where she had to climb upon a
shelf to get along, because the floor was covered with big stones, and she
remembered this place clearly.

So she turned and swung her Tight, calling to the boys. Her voice went
echoing through the tunnel and soon brought a reply and the sound of
scrambling feet.

"Hold up that lantern!" yelled Ralph, rather crossly. "How do you expect
us to see?"

Young Tingley's nerves were "on edge," and like a good many other people
when they get that way, he was short-tempered.

"Now we're all right, are we, Ruth?" cried Tom.

"I remember this place," the girl of the Red Mill replied. "I couldn't be
mistaken. Now you take the lantern, Tom, and lead on."

They pursued the tunnel to its very end. There it branched again and Ruth
boldly took the right hand passage. Whether it was right, or no, she
proposed to attack it firmly.

After a time Tom exclaimed: "Hullo, Ruthie! do you really think this is
right?"

"What do you mean?"

He held up the lantern in silence. Ruth and Ralph crowded forward to look
over his shoulders.

There was a heap of rubbish and earth half-filling the tunnel. It had not
fallen from the roof, although neither that nor the sides of the tunnel
were of solid rock.

"You never came through this place, Ruth!" exclaimed Ralph, in that
"I-told-you-so" tone that is so hard to bear.

"I--I didn't see this place--no," admitted Ruth.

"Of course you didn't!" declared Ralph, crossly. "Why! it's right up
against the end of the tunnel."

"It _does_ look as though we were blocked, Ruthie," said Tom, with less
confidence.

"Then we'll have to go back and try the other passage," returned the girl,
choking a little.

"See here!" cried Tom, suddenly. "Somebody's been digging here. That's
where all this stuff comes from, underfoot."

"Where?" asked the others, crowding forward to look closer. Tom set down
the lantern and picked up a broken spade. There was a cavity in the wall
of this pocket-like passage. With a flourish Tom dug the broken blade of
the spade into the gritty earth.

"This is what Jerry wanted that mattock for, I bet!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, dear, me! do you believe so?" cried Ruth. "Then, right here, is where
he thought he might find his uncle's treasure box."

"Ho, ho!" ejaculated Ralph. "That old hunter was just as crazy as he could
be--father says so."

"Well, that wouldn't keep him from having money; would it?--and might be a
very good reason for his burying it."

"And the papers he declared would prove his title to a part of this
island," Ruth hastened to add.

That didn't please Ralph any too well. "My father owns the island, and
don't you forget it!" he declared.

"Well, we don't have to quarrel about it," snapped Tom, rather disgusted
with the way Ralph was behaving. "Come on! we might as well go back. But
here's one blow for liberty!" and he laughed and flung the spade forward
with all his strength.

Jerry Sheming had never suspected it, or he would not have left the
excavation just as he had. There was but a thin shell beyond where he had
been digging, and the spade in Tom's hand went clear through.

"For the goodness gracious grannies!" gasped Tom, scrambling off his
knees. "I--I came near losing that spade altogether."

There was a fall of earth beyond the hole. They heard it rolling and
tumbling down a sharp descent.

"Hold the lantern here, Ruth!" cried Tom, trying to peer into the opening.

Ruth did so. The rays revealed a hole, big enough for a man to creep
through. It gave entrance, it seemed, to another cavern--and one of good
size.

"Oh, my dear!" exclaimed Ruth, seizing Tom's arm. "I just know what this
means."

"You may. _I_ don't," laughed Tom Cameron.

"Why, this other cavern is the one that was buried under the landslide.
Jerry said he knew about where it was, and he's been trying to dig into
it."

"Oh, yes; there was a landslide on this side of the cliff just about the
time father was negotiating for the purchase of the island last summer,"
said Ralph. "We all came up here to look at the place a while afterward.
We camped in a tent about where the lodge now stands. That old crazy
hunter had just been taken away from here. They say he tried to kill
Blent."

"And maybe he had good reason," said Tom. "Blent is without a doubt a
pretty mean proposition."

"Just the same, the island is my father's," declared Ralph, with
confidence. "He bought it, right enough."

"All right. But you think, Ruth, that perhaps it was in this buried cave
that old Mr. Tilton hid his money box?"

"So Jerry said. It looks as though Jerry had been digging here----"

"Let's have another crack at it!" cried Tom, and went to work with the
spade again.

In ten minutes he had scattered considerable earth and made the hole much
larger. They held the lantern inside and saw that the floor of the other
cavity was about on a level with the one in which they stood. Tom slid the
old spade through the hole, and then went through himself.

"Come on! let's take a look," he said, reaching up for Ruth and the
lantern.

"But this isn't finding a way out," complained Ralph. "What will the other
folks say?"

"We'll find the opening later. We couldn't venture outside now, anyway. It
is still storming, you can bet," declared the eager Tom.

Ruth's sharp eyes were peering here and there. The cavern they had entered
was almost circular and had a dome-shaped roof. There were shelves all
around several feet above the floor. Some of these ledges slanted inward
toward the rock, and one could not see much of them.

"Lift me up here, Tom!" commanded the girl. "I want to scramble up on the
ledge."

"You'll hurt yourself."

"Nonsense! Can't I climb a tree almost as well as Ann Hicks?"

He gave her a lift and Ruth scrambled over the edge with a little squeal.

"Oh, oh, oh!" she cried. "Here's something."

"Must be," grunted Tom, trying to climb up himself. "Why, I declare,
Ruthie! that's a box."

"It's a little chest. It's ironbound, too. My! how heavy. I can't lift
it."

"Tumble it down and let's see," commanded Ralph, holding the lantern.

Ruth sat down suddenly and looked at the boys.

"I don't know," she said. "I don't know that we've got any right to touch
it. It's padlocked. Maybe it is old Mr. Tilton's treasure-box."

"That would be great!" cried Tom.

"But I don't know," continued Ruth, reflectively. "We would better not
touch it. I wouldn't undertake to advise Jerry what to do if _he_ found
it. But this is what they call 'treasure trove,' I guess. At least, it was
what that Rufus Blent had in mind, all right, when he sold Mr. Tingley the
island with the peculiar reservation clause in the deed."



CHAPTER XXIV

A MIDNIGHT MARAUDER


Meanwhile the boys and girls left behind in Jerry Sheming's old camp began
to find the absence of Ruth and her two companions rather trying. The time
which had elapsed since the three explorers started to find the eastern
outlet of the cave seemed much longer to those around the campfire than to
the trio themselves.

Before the searching party could have reached the brookside, had the
tunnel been perfectly straight, the nervous Belle Tingley wanted to send
out a relief expedition.

"We never should have allowed Ruthie to go," she wailed. "We all should
have kept together. How do we know but they'll find the cave a regular
labyrinth, and get lost in it, and wander around and around, and never
find their way out, or back, and----"

"Oh, for the goodness sake!" ejaculated Mary Cox, "don't be such a
weeping, wailing Sister of Misery, Belle! You not only cross bridges
before you come to them, but, I declare, you build new ones!"

"She's Old Man Trouble's favorite daughter," said Heavy. "Didn't you know
_that_? Now, Miss Fuss-Budget, stop croaking. Nothing's going to happen to
Ruthie."

"Not with Tom on hand, you can wager," added Helen, with every confidence
in her twin brother.

But at last the watches of the party could not be doubted. Two hours had
crept by and it was getting very late in the evening. Some of the party
were, as Ann said, "yawning their heads off." Lluella and Heavy had camped
down upon the old buffalo-robe before the fire and were already more than
half asleep.

"I do wish they'd come back," muttered Bob Steele to Isadore Phelps. "We
can't tell in here whether the storm has stopped, or not. I don't just
fancy staying in this cave all night if there's any possible chance of
getting to Mr. Tingley's house."

"Don't know what can be keeping those folks. I believe I could have crept
on my hands and knees through the whole hill, and back again, before this
time," returned Busy Izzy, in a very sleepy voice.

"Now, you can talk as you please," said Ann Hicks, with sudden decision,
"but I'm going a short distance along that tunnel and see if the lantern
is in sight."

"I'm with you!" exclaimed Bob.

"Me, too," joined in Helen, jumping up with alacrity.

"Now, some more of you will go off and get lost," cried Belle. "I--I wish
we were all home. I'm--I'm sorry we came to this old island."

"Baby!" ejaculated her brother, poking her. "Do be still. Ralph isn't
going to get lost--what d'ye think he is?"

"How'll we see our way?" Helen asked Bob and Ann.

"Feel it. We'll go in the dark. Then we can see their lantern the
quicker."

"There's no wood here fit for torches," Bob admitted. "And I have plenty
of matches. Come on! We sha'n't get lost."

"What do you really suppose has happened to them?" demanded Helen of Bob,
as soon as they were out of hearing of the camp.

"Give it up. Something extraordinary--that's positive," declared the big
fellow.

They crept through the tunnel, Bob lighting a match occasionally, until
they reached the first crack in the roof, open to the sky. It was not
snowing very hard.

"Of course they wouldn't have tried climbing up here to get out," queried
Helen.

"Of course not!" exclaimed Ann. "What for?"

"No," said Bobbins. "They kept straight ahead--and so will we."

In five minutes, however, when they stopped, whispering, in a little
chamber, Ann suddenly seized her companions and commanded them to hold
their breath!

"I hear something," she whispered.

The others strained their ears to hear, too. In a moment a stone rattled.
Then there sounded an unmistakable footstep upon the rock. Somebody was
approaching.

"They're coming back?" asked Helen, doubtfully.

"Hush!" commanded Ann again. "Whoever it is, he has no light. It can't be
Ruth."

Much heavier boots than those the girl of the Red Mill wore now rattled
over the loose stones. Ann pulled the other two down beside her where she
crouched in the corner.

"Wait!" she breathed.

"Can it be some wild animal?" asked Helen.

"With boots on? I bet!" scoffed Bob.

It was pitch dark. The three crouching together in the corner of the
little chamber were not likely to attract the attention of this marauder,
if all went well. But their hearts beat fast as the rustle of the
approaching footsteps grew louder.

There loomed up a man's figure. It looked too big to be either Tom or
Ralph, and it passed on with an assured step. He needed no lamp to find a
path that seemed well known.

"Who--what----"

"Hush, Helen!" commanded Ann.

"But he's going right to the cave--and he carried a gun."

"I didn't see the gun," whispered Ann.

"I did," agreed Bob, squeezing Helen's arm. "It was a rifle. Do you
suppose there is any danger?"

"It couldn't be anybody hunting us, do you suppose?" queried Helen, in a
shaken voice. "Anybody from the house?"

"Preston!" exclaimed Ann.

"How would he know the way to get into this tunnel?" returned Bob. "Come
on! let's spy on him. I'm worried now about Tom and the others."

"You don't suppose anything has happened to Ruthie?" whispered Helen. "Oh!
you don't believe _that_, Bobbins?"

"Come on!" grunted the big fellow, and took the advance.

They were careful of their own footsteps over the loose stones. The person
ahead acted as though he had an idea he was alone.

Nor did they overtake him until they had passed the open crack in the roof
of the tunnel. Somebody laughed in the cavern ahead--then the girls all
shouted.

The marauder stopped, uttering an astonished ejaculation. Bob and the two
girls halted, too, but in a moment the person ahead turned, and came
striding toward them, evidently fleeing from the sound of the voices.

Ann and Helen were really frightened, and with faint cries, shrank back.
Bob _had_ to be brave. He leaped forward to meet the person with the
rifle, crying:

"Hold on, there!"

"Ha!" exclaimed the other and advanced the rifle until the muzzle touched
Bob Steele's breast. The boy was naturally frightened--how could he help
being? But he showed pluck. He did not move.

"What do you want in here? Who are you?" asked Bob, quietly.

"Goodness me!" gasped the other, and dropped the butt of his rifle to the
ground. "You sure did startle me. You're one of those boys staying with
the Tingleys?"

"Yes."

"And here's a couple of the girls. Not Ruth Fielding?"

"Oh, Jerry Sheming!" cried Ann, running forward. "You might have shot him
with that gun."

"Not unless I'd loaded it first," replied Jerry, with a quiet chuckle.
"But you folks scared me quite as much as I did you--Why, it's Miss Hicks
and Miss Cameron."

"Where is Ruth?" demanded Ann, anxiously.

"And Tom?" joined in Helen.

"And how did you get back here to Cliff Island?" asked Bob. "We understood
that you'd been railroaded out of the country."

"Hold on! hold on!" exclaimed Jerry. "Let's hear first about Miss
Fielding. Where's she gone? How came you folks in this cave?"

Helen was the one who told him. She related all the circumstances very
briefly, but in a way to give Jerry a clear understanding of the
situation.

"They've wandered off to the right. I know where they must be," said
Jerry, decidedly. "I'll go find them. And then I'll get you all out of
here. It has almost stopped snowing now."

"But how did you find your way back here to the island?" Bob demanded
again.

"I ain't going to be beat by Blent," declared Jerry Sheming, doggedly. "I
am going to have another look through the caves before I leave for good,
and don't you forget it.

"The engine on that train yesterday morning broke a piston rod and had to
stop down the lake shore. I hopped off and hid on the far bank, watching
the island. If you folks hadn't come over this way to fish this morning,
I'd been across before the storm began.

"I was pretty well turned around in the storm, and have been traveling a
long time. But I got to the brook at last, and then worked my way up it
and into the other end of this cave. I was going up there after my
lantern----"

"Ruth and the others have it," explained Helen, quickly.

"Then I'll go find them at once. I know my way around pretty well in the
dark. I couldn't get really lost in this cave," and Jerry laughed,
shortly.

"I've got matches if you want them," said Bob.

"Got a plenty, thanks. You folks go back to your friends, and I'll hunt
out Miss Fielding in a jiffy."

Jerry turned away at once, and soon passed out of their sight in the
gloom. As Helen and the others hurried back to the anxious party at the
campfire, Jerry went straightway to the most satisfactory discovery of all
his life.



CHAPTER XXV

THE TREASURE BOX


When Jerry met Ruth and her companions coming slowly from the little cave,
the boys bearing the heavy, ironbound box between them, he knew instantly
what it was--his uncle's chest in which he had kept his money and papers.

"It's yours to hide again if you want to, Jerry," Ruth told him, when the
excitement of the meeting had passed, and explanations were over. "It was
what both you and Rufus Blent have been looking for, and I believe you
have the best right to it"

"It belongs to Uncle Pete. And Uncle Pete shall have it," declared the
backwoods boy. "Why, do you know, I believe if Uncle Pete once had this
box in his possession again that he might recover his mind?"

"Oh, I hope so!" Ruth cried.

First, however, the crowd of young folk had to be led through the long
tunnel and out into the open air. It was agreed that nothing was to be
said to anybody but Mr. Tingley about the treasure box. And the boys and
girls, too, agreed to say nothing at the house about Jerry's having
returned to his cave.

When they reached the brook, there were lights about the island, and guns
being fired. The entire household of Tingley Lodge was out on the hunt for
the lost ones.

The boys and girls were home and in bed in another hour, and Mrs. Tingley
was vastly relieved.

"Never again will I take the responsibility of such a crowd!" declared the
harassed lady. "My own children are enough; a dozen and a half active
young ones like these would send me to the madhouse in another week!"

But the girls from Briarwood and their boy friends continued to have a
delightful time during the remainder of their stay at Cliff Island,
although their adventures were less strenuous than those that have been
related. They went away, in the end, to take up their school duties,
pronouncing their vacation on the island one of the most enjoyable they
had ever experienced.

"Something to keep up our hearts for the rest of the school year,"
declared Heavy. "And you'll like us better, too, when we're gone, Mrs.
Tingley. We _all_--even The Fox, here--have a good side to our
characters."

Even Ann Hicks went back to Briarwood with pleasant expectations. She had
learned to understand her mates better during this holiday, and all the
girls at Briarwood were prepared to welcome the western girl now with more
kindness than before.

We may believe that Ruth and her girl friends were all busy and happy
during that next half-year at Briarwood, and we may meet them again in the
midst of their work and fun in the next volume of the series, entitled
"Ruth Fielding at Sunrise Farm; Or, What Became of the Raby Orphans."

Ruth Fielding, however, did not leave Cliff Island before being assured
that the affairs of Jerry Sheming and his uncle would be set right. As it
chanced, the very day the crowd had gone fishing Mr. Tingley had received
a letter from the head doctor of the hospital, to whom the gentleman had
written inquiring about old Peter Tilton.

The patient had improved immensely. That he was eccentric was true, but he
had probably always been so, the doctor said. The old man was worrying
over the loss of what he called his treasure box, and when Ruth confided
to Mr. Tingley the truth about Jerry's return and the discovery of the
ironbound box, Mr. Tingley determined to take matters into his own hands.

He first went to the cave and had a long talk with Jerry. Then he had his
team of horses put to the sledge, and he and Jerry and the box drove the
entire length of Lake Tallahaska, struck into a main road to the county
asylum, and made an unexpected call upon the poor old hunter, who had been
so long confined in that institution.

"It was jest what Uncle Pete needed to wake him up," Jerry declared to
Ruth, when he saw her some weeks later. "He knowed the box and had always
carried the key of it about his neck on a string. They didn't know what it
was at the 'sylum, but they let him keep the key.

"And when he opened it, sure enough there was lots of papers and a couple
of bags of money. I don't know how much, but Mr. Tingley got Uncle Pete to
trust a bank with the money, and it'll be mine some day. Uncle Pete's
going to pay my way through school with some of it, he says."

"But the title to the island?" demanded the excited girl of the Red Mill.
"How did that come out? Did your uncle have any deed to it? What of that
mean old Rufus Blent?"

"Jest you hold your hosses, Miss Ruth," laughed Jerry. "I'm comin' to
that."

"But you are coming to it awfully slow, Jerry," complained the eager girl.

"No. I'll tell you quick's I can," he declared. "Uncle Pete had papers. He
had been buying a part of the island from Blent on installments, and had
paid the old rascal a good part of the price. But when Blent found out
that uncle's papers were buried under the landslide he thought he could
play a sharp trick and resell to Mr. Tingley. You see, the installment
deeds were not recorded.

"However, Mr. Tingley's lawyers made old Blent get right down and howl for
mercy--yes, they did! There was a strong case of conspiracy against him.
That's still hanging fire.

"But Mr. Tingley says he will not push that, considering Rufus did all he
was told to about the title money. He gave Uncle Pete back every cent he
had paid in on the Cliff Island property, with interest compounded, and a
good lump sum of money beside as a bonus.

"Then Uncle Pete made Mr. Tingley's title good, and we're going to live at
the lodge during the closed season, as caretakers. That pleases Uncle
Pete, for he couldn't be very well content anywhere else but on Cliff
Island."

"Oh, Jerry! I am so glad it has come out all right for you," cried the
girl of the Red Mill. "And so will all the other girls be when I tell
them. And Uncle Jabez and Aunt Alvirah--for _they_ are interested in your
welfare, too."

"You're mighty kind, Miss Ruth," said the backwoods boy, bashfully.
"I--I'm thinking I've got a lot more to thank _you_ for than I ever can
express right proper."

"Oh, no! no more to me than to other folks," cried Ruth Fielding,
earnestly, for it had always been her natural instinct to help people, and
she did not wish to be thanked for it.

That being the case, neither Jerry nor the writer must say anything more
about the matter.


THE END





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