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Title: Ruth Fielding Down in Dixie - Great Times in the Land of Cotton
Author: Emerson, Alice B.
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: RUTH SECURED A GRIP ON THE BLACK MAN’S SLEEVE.]



                             Ruth Fielding
                             Down In Dixie


                   GREAT TIMES IN THE LAND OF COTTON

                                   BY

                            ALICE B. EMERSON

            Author of “Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill,” “Ruth
                    Fielding and the Gypsies,” Etc.

                             _ILLUSTRATED_


                                NEW YORK
                         CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
                               PUBLISHERS



                            Books for Girls
                          BY ALICE B. EMERSON

                          RUTH FIELDING SERIES

                       12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.

                 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

                 RUTH FIELDING IN MOVING PICTURES

                 RUTH FIELDING DOWN IN DIXIE

               Cupples & Leon Co., Publishers, New York.

                          Copyright, 1916, by
                         Cupples & Leon Company

                      Ruth Fielding Homeward Bound

                          Printed in U. S. A.



                                CONTENTS

            CHAPTER                                        PAGE
                 I. A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing                1
                II. The Worm Turns                           12
               III. The Boy in the Moonlight                 25
                IV. The Capes of Virginia                    33
                 V. The Newspaper Account                    45
                VI. All in the Rain                          56
               VII. Miss Catalpa                             66
              VIII. Under the Umbrella                       73
                IX. Sunshine at the Gatehouse                78
                 X. An Adventure in Norfolk                  86
                XI. At the Merredith Plantation              94
               XII. The Boy at the Warehouse                103
              XIII. Ruth Is Troubled                        111
               XIV. Ruth Finds a Helper                     118
                XV. The Ride to Holloways                   123
               XVI. The “Hop”                               135
              XVII. The Flood Rises                         139
             XVIII. Across the River                        145
               XIX. “If Aunt Rachel Were Only Here”         151
                XX. Curly Plays an Heroic Part              159
               XXI. The Next Morning                        166
              XXII. Something for Curly                     174
             XXIII. “Here’s a State of Things!”             182
              XXIV. The Chamber Concert                     189
               XXV. Back Home                               202



RUTH FIELDING DOWN IN DIXIE



CHAPTER I—A WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING


“Isn’t that the oddest acting girl you ever saw, Ruth?”

“Goodness! what a gawky thing!” agreed Ruth Fielding, who was just
getting out of the taxicab, following her chum, Helen Cameron.

“And those white-stitched shoes!” gasped Helen. “Much too small for her,
I do believe!”

“How that skirt does hang!” exclaimed Ruth.

“She looks just as though she had slept in all her clothes,” said Helen,
giggling. “What do you suppose is the matter with her, Ruth?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” Ruth Fielding said. “She’s going on this boat
with us, I guess. Maybe we can get acquainted with her,” and she
laughed.

“Excuse _me_!” returned Helen. “I don’t think I care to. Oh, look!”

The girl in question—who was odd looking, indeed—had been paying the
cabman who had brought her to the head of the dock. The dock was on West
Street, New York City, and the chums from Cheslow and the Red Mill had
never been in the metropolis before. So they were naturally observant of
everything and everybody about them.

The strange girl, after paying her fare, started to thrust her purse
into the shabby handbag she carried. Just then one of the colored
porters hurried forward and took up the suitcase that the girl had set
down on the ground at her feet when she stepped from the cab.

“Right dis way, miss,” said the porter politely, and started off with
the suitcase.

“Hey! what are you doing?” demanded the girl in a sharp and shrill
voice; and she seized the handle of the bag before the porter had taken
more than a step.

She grabbed it so savagely and gave it such a determined jerk, that the
porter was swung about and almost thrown to the ground before he could
let go of the handle.

“I’ll ‘tend to my own bag,” said this vigorous young person, and strode
away down the dock, leaving the porter amazed and the bystanders much
amused.

“My goodness!” gasped the negro, when he got his breath. “Dat gal is as
strong as a ox—sho’ is! I nebber seed her like. _She_ don’t need no
he’p, _she_ don’t.”

“Let him take our bags—poor fellow,” said Helen, turning around after
paying their own driver. “Wasn’t that girl rude?”

“Here,” said Ruth, laughing and extending her light traveling bag to the
disturbed porter, “you may carry _our_ bags to the boat. We’re not as
strong as that girl.”

“She sho’ was a strong one,” said the negro, grinning. “I declar’ for’t,
missy! I ain’ nebber seed no lady so strong befo’.”

“Isn’t he delicious?” whispered Helen, pinching Ruth’s arm as they
followed the man down the dock. “_He’s_ no Northern negro. Why, he
sounds just as though we were as far as Virginia, at least, already! Oh,
my dear! our fun has begun.”

“I feel awfully important,” admitted Ruth. “And I guess you do.
Traveling alone all the way from Cheslow to New York.”

“And this city _is_ so big,” sighed Helen. “I hope we can stop and see
it when we come back from the Land of Cotton.”

They were going aboard the boat that would take them down the coast of
New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to the Capes of Virginia and
Old Point Comfort. There they were to meet their Briarwood Hall
schoolmate, Nettie Parsons, and her aunt, Mrs. Rachel Parsons.

The girls and their guide passed a gang of stevedores rushing the last
of the freight aboard the boat, their trucks making a prodigious
rumbling.

They came to the passenger gangway along which the porter led them
aboard and to the purser’s office. There he waited, clinging to the
bags, until the ship’s officer had looked at their tickets and stateroom
reservation, and handed them the key.

“Lemme see dat, missy,” said the porter to Ruth. “I done know dis boat
like a book, I sho’ does.”

“And, poor fellow, I don’t suppose he ever looked inside a book,”
whispered Helen. “Isn’t he comical?”

Ruth was afraid the porter would hear them talking about him, so she
fell back until the man with the bags was some distance ahead. He was
leading them to the upper saloon deck. Their reservation, which Tom
Cameron, Helen’s twin brother, had telegraphed for, called for an
outside stateroom, forward, on this upper deck—a pleasantly situated
room.

Tom could not come with his sister and her chum, for he was going into
the woods with some of his school friends; but he was determined that
the girls should have good accommodations on the steamboat to Old Point
Comfort and Norfolk.

“And he’s just the best boy!” Ruth declared, fumbling in her handbag as
they viewed the cozy stateroom. “Oh! here’s Mrs. Sadoc Smith’s letter.”

Helen had tipped the grinning darkey royally and he had shuffled out.
She sat down now on the edge of the lower berth. This was the first time
the chums had ever been aboard a boat for over night, and the “close
comforts” of a stateroom were quite new to Helen and Ruth.

“What a dinky little washstand,” Helen said. “Oh, my! Ruth, see the
ice-water pitcher and tumblers in the rack. Guess they expect the boat
to pitch a good deal. Do you suppose it will be rough?”

“Don’t know. Listen to this,” Ruth said shortly, reading the letter
which she had opened. “I only had a chance to glance at Mrs. Smith’s
letter before we started. Just listen here: She says Curly has got into
trouble.”

“Curly?” cried Helen, suddenly interested. “Never! What’s he done now?”

“I guess this isn’t any fun,” said Ruth, seriously. “His grandmother is
greatly disturbed. The constable has been to the house looking for Curly
and threatens to arrest him.”

“The poor boy!” exclaimed Helen. “I knew he was an awful cut-up——”

“But there never was an ounce of meanness in Henry Smith!” Ruth
declared, quite excited. “I don’t believe it can be as bad as she
thinks.”

“His grandmother has always been so strict with him,” said Helen. “You
know how she treated him while we were lodging with her when the new
West Dormitory at Briarwood was being built.”

“I remember very clearly,” agreed Ruth. “And, after all, Curly wasn’t
such a bad fellow. Mrs. Smith says he threatens to run away. _That_
would be awful.”

“Goodness! I believe I’d run away myself,” said Helen, “if I had anybody
who nagged me as Mrs. Sadoc Smith does Henry.”

“And she doesn’t mean to. Only she doesn’t like boys—nor understand
them,” Ruth said, as she folded the letter with a sigh. “Poor Curly!”

“Come on! let’s get out on deck and see them start. I do just long to
see the wonderful New York skyline that everybody talks about.”

“And the tall buildings that we couldn’t see from the taxicab window,”
added Ruth.

“Who’s going to keep the key?” demanded Helen, as Ruth locked the
stateroom door.

“_I_ am. You’re not to be trusted, young lady,” laughed Ruth. “Where’s
your handbag?”

“Why—I left it inside.”

“With all that money in it? Smart girl! And the window blind is not
locked. The rules say never to leave the room without locking the window
or the blind.”

“I’ll fix _that_,” declared Helen, and reached in to slide the blind
shut. They heard the catch snap and were satisfied.

As they went through the passage from the outer deck to the saloon they
saw a figure stalking ahead of them which made Helen all but cry out.

“I see her,” Ruth whispered. “It’s the same girl.”

“And she’s going into that stateroom,” added Helen, as the person
unlocked the door of an inside room.

“I’d like to see her face,” Ruth said, smiling. “I see she has curly
hair, and I believe it’s short.”

“We’ll look her up after the steamboat gets off. Her room is number
forty-eight,” Helen said. “Come on, dear! Feel the jar of the engines?
They must be casting off the hawsers.”

The girls went up another flight of broad, polished stairs and came out
upon the hurricane deck. They were above the roof of the dock and could
look down upon it and see the people bidding their friends on the boat
good-bye while the vessel backed out into the stream. The starting was
conducted with such precision that they heard few orders given, and only
once did the engine-room gong clang excitedly.

The steamer soon swung its stern upstream, and the bow came around,
clearing the end of the pier next below, and so heading down the North
River. Certain tugboats and wide ferries tooted their defiance at the
ocean-going craft, for the vessel on which Ruth and Helen were traveling
was one of the largest coast-wise steamers sailing out of the port.

It was a lovely afternoon toward the close of June. The city had been as
hot as a roasting pan, Helen said; but on the high deck the breeze,
breathed from the Jersey hills, lifted the damp locks from the girls’
brows. A soft mist crowned the Palisades. The sun, already descending,
drew another veil before his face as he dropped behind the Orange
Mountains, his red rays glistening splendidly upon the towers and domes
of lower Broadway.

They passed the Battery in a few minutes, with the round, pot-bellied
aquarium and the immigration offices. The upper bay was crowded with
craft of all kind. The Staten Island ferries drummed back and forth, the
perky little ferryboat to Ellis Island and the tugboat to the Statue of
Liberty crossed their path. In their wake the small craft dipped in the
swell of the propeller’s turmoil.

The Statue of Liberty herself stood tall and stately in the afternoon
sunlight, holding her green, bronze torch aloft. The girls could not
look at this monument without being impressed by its stateliness and
noble features.

“And we’ve read about it, and thought so much about this present of Miss
Picolet’s nation to ours! It is very wonderful,” Ruth said.

“And that fort! See it?” cried Helen, pointing to Governor’s Island on
the other bow. “Oh, and see, Ruth! that great, rusty, iron steamship
anchored out yonder. She must be a great, sea-going tramp.”

Every half minute there was something new for the chums to exclaim over.

In fifteen minutes they were passing through the Narrows. The two girls
were staring back at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, when a petty
officer above on the lookout post hailed the bridge amidships.

“Launch coming up, sir. Port, astern.”

There was a sudden rush of those passengers in the bows who heard to the
port side. “Oh, come on. Let’s see!” cried Helen, and away the two girls
went with the crowd.

The perky little launch shoved up close to the side of the tall steamer.
It flew a pennant which the girls did not understand; but some gentleman
near them said laughingly:

“That is a police launch. I guess we’re all arrested. See! they’re
coming aboard.”

The steamer did not slow down at all; but one of the men in the bow of
the pitching launch threw a line with a hook on the end of it, and this
fastened itself over the rail of the lower deck. By leaning over the
rail above Ruth and Helen could see all that went on below.

In a moment deckhands caught the line and hauled up with it a rope
ladder. This swung perilously—so the girls thought—over the
green-and-white leaping waves.

A man started up the swinging ladder. The steamer dipped ever so little
and he scrambled faster to keep out of the water’s reach.

“The waves act just like hungry wolves, or like dogs, leaping after
their prey,” said Ruth reflectively. “See them! They almost caught his
legs that time.”

Another man started up the ladder the moment the first one had swarmed
over the rail. Then another came, and a fourth. Four men in all boarded
the still fast-moving steamer. Everybody was talking eagerly about it,
and nobody knew what it meant.

These men were surely not passengers who had been belated, for the
launch still remained attached to the steamer.

Ruth and Helen went back into the saloon. There they saw their smiling
porter, now in the neat black dress of a waiter, bustling about. “Any
little t’ing I kin do fo’ yo’, missy?” he asked.

“No, thank you,” Ruth replied, smiling. But Helen burst out with: “Do
tell us what those men have come aboard for?”

“Dem men from de _po_-lice launch?” inquired the black man.

“Yes. What are they after? Are they police?”

“Ya-as’m. Dem’s _po_-lice,” said the darkey, rolling his eyes. “Dey tell
me dey is wantin’ a boy wot’s been stealin’—an’ he’s done got girl’s
clo’es on, missy.”

“A boy in girl’s clothing?” gasped Ruth.

“‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing!’” laughed her chum.

“Ya-as indeedy, missy. Das wot dey say.”

“Are they _sure_ he came aboard this boat?” asked Ruth anxiously.

“Sho is, missy. Dey done trailed him right to de dock. Das wot de head
steward heard ’em say. De taxicab man remembered him—he acted so funny
in dem girl’s clo’es—he, he, he! Das one silly trick, das wot _dat_ is,”
chuckled the darkey. “No boy gwine t’ look like his sister in her
clo’es—no, indeedy.”

But Ruth and Helen were now staring at each other with the same thought
in their minds. “Oh, Helen!” murmured Ruth. And, “Oh, Ruth!” responded
Helen.

“Ought we to tell?” pursued Helen, putting all the burden of deciding
the question on her chum as usual. “It’s that very strange looking girl
we saw going into number forty-eight; isn’t it?”

“It is most certainly that person,” agreed Ruth positively.



CHAPTER II—THE WORM TURNS


Ruth Fielding was plentifully supplied with good sense. Under ordinary
circumstances she would not have tried to shield any person who was a
fugitive from justice.

But in this case there seemed to her no reason for Helen and her to
volunteer information—especially when such information as they might
give was based on so infirm a foundation. They had seen an odd looking
girl disappear into one of the staterooms. They had really nothing more
than a baseless conclusion to back up the assertion that the individual
in question was disguised, or was the boy wanted by the police.

Of course, whatever Ruth said was best, and Helen would agree to it. The
latter had learned long since that her chum was gifted with judgment
beyond her years, and if she followed Ruth Fielding’s lead she would not
go far wrong.

Indeed, Helen began to admire her chum soon after Ruth first appeared at
Jabez Potter’s Red Mill, on the banks of the Lumano, near which Helen’s
father had built his all-year-around home. Ruth had come to the old Red
Mill as a “charity child.” At least, that is what miserly Jabez Potter
considered her. Nor was he chary at first of saying that he had taken
his grand-niece in because there was no one else to whom she could go.

Young as she then was, Ruth felt her position keenly. Had it not been
for Aunt Alvirah (who was nobody’s relative, but everybody’s aunt), whom
the miller had likewise “taken in out of charity” to keep house for him
and save the wages of a housekeeper, Ruth would never have been able to
stay at the Red Mill. Her uncle’s harshness and penurious ways mortified
the girl, and troubled her greatly as time went on.

Ruth succeeded in finding her uncle’s cashbox that had been stolen from
him at the time a freshet carried away a part of the old mill. These
introductory adventures are told in the initial volume of the series,
called: “Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill; or, Jacob Parloe’s Secret.”

Because he felt himself in Ruth’s debt, her Uncle Jabez agreed to pay
for her first year’s tuition and support at a girls’ boarding school to
which Mr. Cameron was sending Helen. Helen was Ruth’s dearest friend,
and the chums, in the second volume, “Ruth Fielding at Briarwood Hall,”
entered school life hand in hand, making friends and rivals alike, and
having adventures galore.

The third volume took Ruth and her friends to Snow Camp, a winter lodge
in the Adirondack wilderness. The fourth tells of their summer
adventures at Lighthouse Point on the Atlantic Coast. The fifth book
deals with the exciting times the girls and their boy friends had with
the cowboys at Silver Ranch, out in Montana. The sixth story is about
Cliff Island and its really wonderful caves, and what was hidden in
them. Number seven relates the adventures of a “safe and sane” Fourth of
July at Sunrise Farm and the rescue of the Raby orphans. While “Ruth
Fielding and the Gypsies,” the eighth volume of the series, relates a
very important episode in Ruth’s career; for by restoring a valuable
necklace to an aunt of one of her school friends she obtains a reward of
five thousand dollars.

This money, placed to Ruth’s credit in the bank by Mr. Cameron, made the
girl of the Red Mill instantly independent of Uncle Jabez, who had so
often complained of the expense Ruth was to him. Much to Aunt Alvirah’s
sorrow, Uncle Jabez became more exacting and penurious when Ruth’s
school expenses ceased to trouble him.

“I could almost a-wish, my pretty, that you hadn’t got all o’ that
money, for Jabez Potter was l’arnin’ to let go of a dollar without
a-squeezin’ all the tail feathers off the eagle that’s onto it,” said
the rheumatic, little, old woman. “Oh, my back! and oh, my bones! It’s
nice for you to have your own livin’ pervided for, Ruthie. But it’s
awful for Jabez Potter to get so selfish and miserly again.”

Aunt Alvirah had said this to the girl of the Red Mill just before Ruth
started for Briarwood Hall at the opening of her final term at that
famous school. In the story immediately preceding the present narrative,
“Ruth Fielding in Moving Pictures; Or, Helping the Dormitory Fund,” Ruth
and her school chums were much engaged in that modern wonder, the making
of “movie” films. Ruth herself had written a short scenario and had had
it accepted by Mr. Hammond, president of the Alectrion Film Corporation,
when one of the school dormitories was burned. To help increase the fund
for a new structure, the girls all desired to raise as much money as
possible.

Ruth was inspired to write a second scenario—a five-reel drama of
schoolgirl life—and Mr. Hammond produced it for the benefit of the Hall.
“The Heart of a Schoolgirl” made a big hit and brought Ruth no little
fame in her small world.

With Helen and the other girls who had been so close to her during her
boarding school life, Ruth Fielding had now graduated from Briarwood
Hall. Nettie Parsons and her Aunt Rachel had invited the girl of the Red
Mill and Helen Cameron to go South for a few weeks following their
graduation; and the two chums were now on their way to meet Mrs. Rachel
Parsons and Nettie at Old Point Comfort. And from this place their trip
into Dixie would really begin.

Ruth had stated positively her belief that the odd looking girl they had
seen going into the stateroom numbered forty-eight was the disguised boy
the police were after. But belief is not conviction, after all. They had
no proof of the identity of the person in question.

“So, why should we interfere?” said Ruth, quietly. “We don’t know the
circumstances. Perhaps he’s only accused.”

“I wish we could have seen his face,” said Helen. “I’d like to know what
kind of looking girl he made. Remember when Curly Smith dressed up in
Ann Hick’s old frock and hat that time?”

“Yes,” said Ruth, smiling. “But Curly looks like a girl when he’s
dressed that way. If his hair were long and he learned to walk better——”

“That girl we saw going into the stateroom was about Curly’s size,” said
Helen reflectively.

“Poor Curly!” said Ruth. “I hope he is not in any serious trouble. It
would really break his grandmother’s heart if he went wrong.”

“I suppose she does love him,” observed Helen. “But she is so awfully
strict with him that I wonder the boy doesn’t run away again. He did
when he was a little kiddie, you know.”

“Yes,” said Ruth, smiling. “His famous revolt against kilts and long
curls. You couldn’t really blame him.”

However, the girls were not particularly interested in the fate of Henry
Smith just then. They did not wish to lose any of the sights outside,
and were just returning to the open deck when they saw a group of men
hurrying through the saloon toward the bows. With the group Ruth and
Helen recognized the purser who had viséd their tickets. One or two of
the other men, though in citizen’s dress, were unmistakably policemen.

“Here’s the room,” said the purser, stopping suddenly, and referring to
the list he carried. “I remember the person well. I couldn’t say he
didn’t look like a young girl; but she—or he—was peculiar looking. Ah!
the door’s locked.”

He rattled the knob. Then he knocked. Helen seized Ruth’s hand. “Oh,
see!” she cried. “It is forty-eight.”

“I see it is. Poor fellow,” murmured Ruth.

“If she _is_ a fellow.”

“And what will happen if he is a girl?” laughed Ruth.

“Won’t she be mad!” cried Helen.

“Or terribly embarrassed,” Ruth added.

“Here,” said one of the police officers, “he may be in there. By your
lief, Purser,” and he suddenly put his knee against the door below the
lock, pressed with all his force, and the door gave way with a
splintering of wood and metal.

The officer plunged into the room, his comrades right behind him. Quite
a party of spectators had gathered in the saloon to watch. But there was
nobody in the stateroom.

“The bird’s flown, Jim,” said one policeman to another.

“Hullo!” said the purser. “What’s that in the berth?”

He picked up a dress, skirt, and hat. Ruth and Helen remembered that
they were like those that the strange looking girl had worn. One of the
policemen dived under the berth and brought forth a pair of high, fancy,
laced shoes.

“He’s dumped his disguise here,” growled an officer. “Either he went
ashore before the boat sailed, or he’s in his proper clothes again. Say!
it would take us all night, Jim, to search this steamer.”

“And we’re not authorized to go to the Capes with her,” said the
policeman who had been addressed as Jim. “We’d better go back and
report, and let the inspector telegraph to Old Point a full description.
Maybe the dicks there can nab the lad.”

The stateroom door was closed but could not be locked again. The purser
and policemen went away, and the girls ran out on deck to see the police
officers go down the ladder and into the launch.

They all did this without accident. Then the rope ladder was cast off
and the launch chugged away, turning back toward the distant city.

The steamer had now passed Romer Light and Sandy Hook and was through
the Ambrose Channel. The Scotland Lightship, courtesying to the rising
swell, was just ahead. Ruth and Helen had never seen a lightship before
and they were much interested in this drab, odd looking, short-masted
vessel on which a crew lived month after month, and year after year,
with only short respites ashore.

“I should think it would be dreadfully lonely,” Helen said, with
reflection. “Just to tend the lights—and the fish, perhaps—eh?”

“I don’t suppose they have dances or have people come to afternoon tea,”
giggled Ruth. “What do you expect?”

“Poor men! And no ladies around. Unless they have mermaids visit them,”
and Helen chuckled too. “Wouldn’t it be fun to hire a nice big launch—a
whole party of us Briarwood girls, for instance—and sail out there and
go aboard that lightship? Wouldn’t the crew be surprised to see us?”

“Maybe,” said Ruth seriously, “they wouldn’t let us aboard. Maybe it’s
against the rules. Or perhaps they only select men who are misanthropes,
or women-haters, to tend lightships.”

“_Are_ there such things as women-haters?” demanded Helen, big-eyed and
innocent looking. “I thought _they_ were fabled creatures—like—like
mermaids, for instance.”

“Goodness! Do you think, Helen Cameron, that every man you meet is going
to fall on his knees to you?”

“No-o,” confessed Helen. “That is, not unless I push him a little, weeny
bit! And that reminds me, Ruthie. You ought to see the great bunch of
roses Tom had the gardener cut yesterday to send to some girl. Oh, a
barrel of ’em!”

“Indeed?” asked Ruth, a faint flush coming into her cheek. “Has Tom a
crush on a new girl? I thought that Hazel Gray, the movie queen, had his
full and complete attention?”

“How you talk!” cried Helen. “I suppose Tom will have a dozen flames
before he settles down——”

Ruth suddenly burst into laughter. She knew she had been foolish for a
moment.

“What nonsense to talk so about a boy in a military school!” she cried.
“Why! he’s only a boy yet.”

“Yes, I know,” sighed Helen, speaking of her twin reflectively. “He’s
merely a child. Isn’t it funny how much older we are than Tom is?”

“Goodness me!” gasped Ruth, suddenly seizing her chum by the arm.

“O-o-o! ouch!” responded Helen. “What a grip you’ve got, Ruth! What’s
the matter with you?”

“See there!” whispered Ruth, pointing.

She had turned from the rail. Behind them, and only a few feet away, was
the row of staterooms of which their own was one. Near by was a passage
from the outer deck to the saloon, and from the doorway of this passage
a person was peeping in a sly and doubtful way.

“Goodness!” whispered Helen. “Can—can it be?”

The figure in the doorway was lean and tall. Its gown hung about its
frame as shapelessly as though the frock had been hung upon a
clothespole! The face of the person was turned from the two girls; but
Ruth whispered:

“It’s that boy they were looking for.”

“Oh, Ruth! Can it be possible?” Helen repeated.

“See the short hair?”

“Of course!”

“Oh!”

The Unknown had turned swiftly and disappeared into the passage. “Come
on!” cried Helen. “Let’s see where he goes to.”

Ruth was nothing loath. Although she would not have told anybody of
their discovery, she was very curious. If the disguised boy had left his
first disguise in stateroom forty-eight, he had doubly misled his
pursuers, for he was still in women’s clothing.

“Oh, dear me!” whispered Helen, as the two girls crowded into the
doorway, each eager to be first. “I feel just like a regular detective.”

“How do you know how a regular detective feels?” demanded Ruth,
giggling. “Those detectives who came aboard just now did not look as
though they felt very comfortable. And one of them chewed tobacco!”

“Horrors!” cried Helen. “Then I feel like the detective of fiction. I am
sure _he_ never chews tobacco.”

“There! there she is!” breathed Ruth, stopping at the exit of the
passage where they could see a good portion of the saloon.

“Come on! we mustn’t lose sight of her,” said Helen, with determination.

The awkward figure of the supposedly disguised boy was marching up the
saloon and the girls almost ran to catch up with it.

“Do you suppose he will _dare_ go to room forty-eight again?” whispered
Ruth.

“And like enough they are watching that room.”

“Well—see there!”

The person they were following suddenly wheeled around and saw them.
Ruth and Helen were so startled that they stopped, too, and stared in
return. The face of the person in which they were so interested was a
rather grim and unpleasant face. The cheeks were hollow, the short hair
hung low on the forehead and reached only to the collar of the jacket
behind. There were two deep wrinkles in the forehead over the high
arched nose. Although the person had on no spectacles, the girls were
positive that the eyes that peered at them were near-sighted.

“Why we should refer to her as _she_, when without doubt she is a _he_,
I do not know,” said Helen, in a whisper, to Ruth.

The Unknown suddenly walked past them and sought a seat on one of the
divans. The girls sat near, where they could keep watch of her, and they
discussed quite seriously what they should do.

“I wish I could hear its voice,” whispered Ruth. “Then we might tell
something more about it.”

“But we heard him speak on the dock—don’t you remember?”

“Oh, yes! when he almost knocked that poor colored man down.”

“Yes. And his voice was just a squeal then,” said Helen. “He tried to
disguise it, of course.”

“While now,” added Ruth, chuckling, “he is as silent as the Sphinx.”

The stranger was busy, just the same. A shabby handbag had been opened
and several pamphlets and folders brought forth. The near-sighted eyes
were made to squint nervously into first one of these folders and then
another, and finally there were several laid out upon the seat about the
Unknown.

Suddenly the Unknown looked up and caught the two chums staring frankly
in the direction of “his, her, or its” seat. Red flamed into the sallow
cheeks, and gathering up the folders hastily, the person crammed them
into the bag and then started up to make her way aft. But Ruth had
already seen the impoliteness of their actions.

“Do let us go away, Helen,” she said. “We have no right to stare so.”

She drew Helen down the saloon on the starboard side; it seems that the
Unknown stalked down the saloon on the other. The chums and the strange
individual rounded the built-up stairwell of the saloon at the same
moment and came face to face again.

“Well, I want to know!” exclaimed the Unknown suddenly, in a viperish
voice. “What do you girls mean? Are you following me around this boat?
And what for, I’d like to know?”

“There!” murmured Ruth, with a sigh. “The worm has turned. We’re in for
it, Helen—and we deserve it!”



CHAPTER III—THE BOY IN THE MOONLIGHT


A mistake could scarcely be made in the sex of the comical looking
individual at whom the chums had been led to stare so boldly, when once
they heard the voice. That shrill, sharp tone could never have come from
a male throat. Now, too, the Unknown drew a pair of spectacles from her
bag, adjusted them, and glared at Ruth and Helen.

“I want to know,” repeated the woman sternly, “what you mean by
following me around this boat?”

The chums were tongue-tied in their embarrassment for the moment, but
Helen managed to blurt out: “We—we didn’t know——”

She was on the verge of making a bad matter worse, by saying that they
didn’t know the lady was a lady! But Ruth broke in with:

“Oh, I beg your pardon, I am sure. We did not mean to offend you. Won’t
you forgive us, if you think we were rude? I am sure we did not intend
to be.”

It would have been hard for most people to resist Ruth’s mildness and
her pleading smile. This person with the spectacles and the short hair
was not moved by the girl of the Red Mill at all. Later Ruth and Helen
understood why not.

“I don’t want any more of your impudence!” the stern woman said. “Go
away and leave me alone. I’d like to have the training of all such girls
as you. _I’d_ teach you what’s what!”

“And I believe she would,” gasped Helen, as she and Ruth almost ran back
up to the saloon deck again. “Goodness! she is worse than Miss Brokaw
ever thought of being—and we thought _her_ pretty sharp at times.”

“I wonder what and who the woman is,” Ruth murmured. “I am glad she is
nobody whom I have to know.”

“Hope we have seen the last of the hateful old thing!”

But they had not. As the girls walked forward through the saloon and
approached the spot where they had sat watching the mysterious woman
with the short hair and the shorter temper, a youth got up from one of
the seats and strolled out upon the deck ahead of them. Ruth started,
and turned to look at Helen.

“My dear!” she said. “Did you see _that_?”

“Don’t point out any other mysteries to me—please!” cried Helen. “We’ll
get into a worse pickle.”

“But did you see that boy?” insisted Ruth.

“No. I’m not looking for boys.”

“Neither am I,” Ruth returned. “But I could not help seeing how much
that one resembled Curly Smith.”

“Dear me! You certainly have Henry Smith on the brain,” cried Helen.

“Well, I can’t help thinking of the poor boy. I hope we shall hear from
his grandmother again. I am going to write and mail the letter just as
soon as we reach Old Point Comfort.”

The girls had walked slowly on, past the seat where the odd looking
woman whom they had watched had sat down to examine the contents of her
handbag. There were few other passengers about, for as the evening
closed in almost everybody had sought the open deck.

Suddenly, from behind them, came a sound which seemed to be a cross
between a steam whistle gone mad and the clucking of an excited hen.
Ruth and Helen turned in amazement and saw the lank, mannish figure of
the strange woman flying up the saloon.

“Stop them! Come back! My ticket!” were the words which finally became
coherent as the strange individual reached the vicinity of the girl
chums. An officer who was passing through happened to be right beside
the two girls when the excited woman reached them.

She apparently had the intention of seizing hold upon Ruth and Helen,
and the friends, startled, shrank back. The ship’s officer promptly
stepped in between the girls and the excited person with the short hair.

“Wait a moment, madam,” he said sharply. “What is it all about?”

“My ticket!” cried the short-haired woman, glaring through her
spectacles at Ruth and Helen.

“Your ticket?” said the officer. “What about it?”

“It isn’t there!” and she pointed tragically to the seat on which she
had previously rested.

“Did you leave it there?” queried the officer, guessing at the reason
for her excitement.

“I just did, sir!” snapped the stern woman.

“Your ticket for your trip to Norfolk?”

“No, it isn’t. It’s my ticket for my railroad trip from Norfolk to
Charleston. I had it folded in one of those Southern Railroad Company’s
folders. And now it isn’t in my bag.”

“Well?” said the officer calmly. “I apprehend that you left the folder
on this seat—or think you did?”

“I know I did,” declared the excited woman. “Those girls were following
me around in a most impudent way; and they were right here when I got up
and forgot that folder.”

“The inference being, then,” went on the officer, “that they took the
folder and the ticket?”

“Yes, sir, I am convinced they did just that,” declared the woman,
glaring at the horrified Ruth and Helen.

Said the latter, angrily: “Why, the mean old thing! Who ever heard the
like?”

“Oh, I know girls through and through!” snapped the strange woman. “I
should think I ought to by this time—after fifteen years of dealing with
the minxes. I could see that those two were sly and untrustworthy, the
instant I saw them.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Ruth.

“Nasty cat!” muttered Helen.

The officer was not greatly impressed. “Have you any real evidence
connecting these young ladies with the loss of your ticket?” he asked.

“I say it’s stolen!” cried the sharp-voiced one.

“And it may, instead, have been picked up, folder and all, by a quite
different party. Perhaps the purser already has your lost ticket——”

At that moment the purser himself appeared, coming up the saloon. Behind
him were two of the under stewards burdened with magnificent bunches of
roses. A soft voice appealed at Ruth’s elbow:

“If missy jes’ let me take her stateroom key, den all dem roses be
‘ranged in dar mos’ skillful—ya-as’m; mos’ skillful.”

“Why! did you ever!” gasped Helen, amazed.

“Those are never for _us_?” cried Ruth.

“You are Miss Cameron?” asked the smiling purser of Ruth’s chum. “These
flowers came at the last moment by express for you and your friend. In
getting under way they were overlooked; but the head stewardess opened
the box and rearranged the roses, and I am sure they have not been hurt.
Here is the card—Mr. Thomas Cameron’s compliments.”

“Oh, the dear!” cried Helen, clasping her hands.

“_Those_ were the roses you thought he sent to Hazel Gray,” whispered
Ruth sharply.

“So they are!” cried Helen. “What a dunce I was. Of course, old Tom
would not forget us. He’s a good, good boy!”

She ran ahead to the stateroom. Ruth turned to see what had happened to
the woman who thought they had taken her railroad ticket. The deck
officer had turned her over to the purser and it was evident that the
latter was in for an unpleasant quarter of an hour.

The roses seemed fairly to fill the stateroom, there were so many of
them. The girls preferred to arrange them themselves; so the three
porters left after having been tipped.

The chums opened the blind again so that they could look out across the
water at the Jersey shore. Sandy Hook was now far behind them. Long
Branch and the neighboring seaside resorts were likewise passed.

The girls watched the shore with its ever varying scenes until past six
o’clock and many of the passengers had gone into the dining saloon. Ruth
and Helen finally went, too. They saw nothing of the unpleasant woman
whose ire had been so roused against them; but after they came up from
dinner, and the orchestra was playing, and the Brigantine Buoy was just
off the port bow, the girls saw somebody else who began to interest them
deeply.

The moon was coming up, and its silvery rays whitened everything upon
deck. The girls sat for a while in the open stern deck watching the
water and the lights. It was very beautiful indeed.

It was Helen who first noticed the figure near, with his back to them
and with his head upon the arm that rested on the steamer’s rail. She
nudged Ruth.

“See him?” she whispered. “That’s the boy who you said looked like Henry
Smith. See his curly hair?”

“Oh, Helen!” gasped Ruth, a thought stabbing her suddenly. “Suppose it
is?”

“Suppose it is what?”

“Suppose it _should_ be Curly whom the police were after? You know, that
dressed-up boy—if it was he we saw on the dock—had curly hair.”

“So he had! I forgot that when we were trailing that queer old maid,”
chuckled Helen.

“This is no laughing matter, dear,” whispered Ruth, watching the
curly-haired boy closely. “Having gotten rid of his disguise, there was
no reason why that boy should not stay aboard the steamboat.”

“No; I suppose not,” admitted Helen, rather puzzled.

“And if it is Curly—”

“Oh, goodness me! we don’t even know that Henry Smith has run away!”
exclaimed Helen.

Instantly the boy near them started. He rose and clung to the rail for a
moment. But he did not look back at the two girls.

Ruth had clutched Helen’s arm and whispered: “Hush!” She was not sure
whether the boy had heard or not. At any rate, he did not look at them,
but walked slowly away. They did not see his face at all.



CHAPTER IV—THE CAPES OF VIRGINIA


Ruth and Helen did not think of going to bed until long after Absecon
Light, off Atlantic City, was passed. They watched the long-spread
lights of the great seaside resort until they disappeared in the
distance and Ludlum Beach Light twinkled in the west.

The music of the orchestra came to their ears faintly; but above all was
the murmur and jar of the powerful machinery that drove the ship. This
had become a monotone that rather got on the girls’ nerves.

“Oh, dear! let’s go to bed,” said Helen plaintively. “I _don’t_ see why
those engines have to pound so. It sounds like the tramping of a herd of
elephants.”

“Did you ever hear a herd of elephants tramping?” asked Ruth, laughing.

“No; but I can imagine how they would sound,” said Helen. “At any rate,
let’s go to bed.”

They did not see the curly-haired boy; but as they went in to the
ladies’ lavatory on their side of the deck, they came face to face with
the queer woman with whom they had already had some trouble.

She glared at the two girls so viperishly that Helen would never have
had the courage to accost her. Not so Ruth. She ignored the angry gaze
of the lady and said:

“I hope you have found your ticket, ma’am?”

“No, I haven’t found it—and you know right well I haven’t,” declared the
short-haired woman.

“Surely, you do not believe that my friend and I took it?” Ruth said,
flushing a little, yet holding her ground. “We would have no reason for
doing such a thing, I assure you.”

“Oh, I don’t know what you did it for!” exclaimed the woman harshly.
“With all my experience with you and your kind I have never yet been
able to foretell what a rattlepated schoolgirl will do, or her reason
for doing it.”

“I am sorry if your experience has been so unfortunate with
schoolgirls,” Ruth said. “But please do not class my friend and me with
those you know—who you intimate would steal. We did not take your
ticket, ma’am.”

“Oh, goody!” exclaimed Helen, under her breath.

The woman tossed her head and her pale, blue eyes seemed to emit sparks.
“You can’t tell me! You can’t tell me!” she declared. “I know you girls.
You’ve made me trouble enough, I should hope. I would believe anything
of you—_any_thing!”

“Do come away, Ruth,” whispered Helen; and Ruth seeing that there was no
use talking with such a set and vindictive person, complied.

“But we don’t want her going about the boat and telling people that we
stole her ticket,” Ruth said, with indignation. “How will that sound?
Some persons may believe her.”

“How are you going to stop her?” Helen demanded. “Muzzle her?”

“That might not be a bad plan,” Ruth said, beginning to smile again.
“Oh! but she _did_ make me so angry!”

“I noticed that for once our mild Ruth quite lost her temper,” Helen
said, delightedly giggling. “Did me good to hear you stand up to her.”

“I wonder who she is and what sort of girls she teaches—for of course
she _is_ a teacher,” said Ruth.

“In a reform school, I should think,” Helen said. “Her opinion of
schoolgirls is something awful. It’s worse than Miss Brokaw’s.”

“Do you suppose that fifteen years of teaching can make any woman hate
girls as she certainly does?” Ruth said reflectively. “There must be
something really wrong with her—”

“There’s something wrong with her looks, that’s sure,” Helen agreed.
“She is the dowdiest thing I ever saw.”

“Her way of dressing has nothing to do with it. It is the hateful temper
she shows. I am afraid that poor woman has had a very hard time with her
pupils.”

“There you go!” cried Helen. “Beginning to pity her! I thought you would
not be sensible for long. Oh, Ruthie Fielding! you would find an excuse
for a man’s murdering his wife and seven children.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” Ruth said. “Of course, he would have to be insane
to do it.”

They returned to their stateroom. It was somewhat ghostly, Helen
thought, along the narrow deck now. Ruth fumbled at the lock for some
time.

“Are you sure you have the right room?” Helen whispered.

“I’ve got the right room, for I know the number; but I’m not sure about
the key,” giggled Ruth. “Oh! here it opens.”

They went in. Ruth remembered where the electric light bulb was and
snapped on the light. “There! isn’t this cozy?” she asked.

“‘Snug as a bug in a rug,’” quoted Helen. “Goodness! how sharp your
elbow is, dear!”

“And that was my foot you stepped on,” complained Ruth.

“I believe we’ll have to take turns undressing,” Helen said. “One stay
outside on the deck till the other gets into bed.”

“And we’ve got to draw lots for the upper berth. What a climb!”

“It makes me awfully dizzy to look down from high places,” giggled
Helen. “I don’t believe I’d dare to climb into that upper berth.”

“Now, Miss Cameron!” cried Ruth, with mock sternness. “We’ll settle this
thing at once. No cheating. Here are two matches——”

“Matches! Where did you get matches?”

“Out of my bag. In this tiny box. I have never traveled without matches
since the time we girls were lost in the snow up in the woods that time.
Remember?”

“I should say I do remember our adventures at Snow Camp,” sighed Helen.
“But I never would have remembered to carry matches, just the same.”

“Now, I break the head off this one. Do you see? One is now shorter than
the other. I put them together—_so_. Now I hide them in my hand. You
pull one, Helen. If you pull the longer one you get the lower berth.”

“I get something else, too, don’t I?” said Helen.

“What?”

“The match!” laughed the other girl. “There! Oh, dear me! it’s the short
one.”

“Oh, that’s too bad, dear,” cried Ruth, at once sympathetic. “If you
really dread getting into the upper berth——”

“Be still, you foolish thing!” cried Helen, hugging her. “If we were
going to the guillotine and I drew first place, you’d offer to have your
dear little neck chopped first. I know you.”

The next moment Helen began on something else. “Oh, me! oh, my! what a
pair of little geese we are, Ruthie.”

“What about?” demanded her chum.

“Why! see this button in the wall? And we were scrambling all over the
place for the electric light bulb. Can’t we punch it on?” and she tried
the button tentatively.

“Now you’ve done it!” groaned Ruth.

“Done what?” demanded Helen in alarm. “I guess that hasn’t anything to
do with the electric lights. Is it the fire alarm?”

“No. But it costs money every time you punch that button. You are as
silly as poor, little, flaxen-haired Amy Gregg was when she came to
Briarwood Hall and did not know how to manipulate the electric light
buttons.”

“But what have I _done_?” demanded Helen. “Why will it cost me money?”

Ruth calmly reached down the ice-water pitcher from its rack. “You’ll
know in a minute,” she said. “There! hear it?”

A faint tinkling approached. It came along the deck outside and Helen
pushed back the blind a little way to look out. Immediately a soft,
drawling voice spoke.

“D’jew ring fo’ ice-water, missy? I got it right yere.”

Ruth already had found a dime and she thrust it out with the pitcher. It
was their own particular “colored gemmen,” as Helen gigglingly called
him. She dodged back out of sight, for she had removed her shirtwaist.
He filled the pitcher and went tinkling away along the deck with a
pleasant, “I ‘ank ye, missy. Goo’ night.”

“I declare!” cried Helen. “He’s one of the genii or a bottle imp. He
appears just when you want him, performs his work, and silently
disappears.”

“That man will be rich before we get to Old Point Comfort,” sighed Ruth,
who was of a frugal disposition.

They closed the blind again, and a little later the lamp on the deck
outside was extinguished. The girls had said their prayers, and now
Helen, with much hilarity, “shinnied up” to the berth above, kicking her
night slippers off as she plunged into it.

“Good-bye—if I don’t see you again,” she said plaintively. “You may have
to call the fire department with their ladders, to get me down.”

Ruth snapped off the light, and then registered her getting into bed by
a bump on her head against the lower edge of the upper berth.

“Oh, my, Helen! You have the best of it after all. Oh, how that hurt!”

“M-m-m-m!” from Helen. So quickly was she asleep!

But Ruth could not go immediately to Dreamland. There had been too much
of an exciting nature happening.

She lay and thought of Curly Smith, and of the disguised boy, and of the
obnoxious school teacher who had accused her and Helen of robbing her.
The odor of Tom’s roses finally became so oppressive that she got up to
open the blind again for more air. She again struck her head. It was
impossible to remember that berth edge every time she got up and down.

As she stepped lightly upon the floor in her bare feet she heard a
stealthy footstep outside. It brought Ruth to an immediate halt, her
hand stretched out toward the blind. Through the interstices of the
blind she could see that the white moonlight flooded the deck.
Stealthily she drew back the blind and peered out.

The person on the deck had halted almost opposite the window. Ruth knew
now that the steamer must be well across the Five Fathom Bank, with the
Delaware Lightship behind them and the Fenwick Lightship not far ahead.
To the west was the wide entrance to Delaware Bay, and the land was now
as far away from them as it would be at any time during the trip.

She peered out quietly. There stood the curly-haired boy again, leaning
on the rail, and looking wistfully off to the distant shore.

Was it Henry Smith? Was he the boy who had come aboard the boat in
girl’s clothes? And if so, what would he do when the boat docked at Old
Point Comfort and the detectives appeared? They would probably have a
good description of the boy wanted, and could pick him out of the crowd
going ashore.

Ruth was almost tempted to speak to the boy—to whisper to him. Had she
been sure it was Curly she would have done so, for she knew him so well.
But, as before, his face was turned away from her.

He moved on, and Ruth softly slid back the blind and stole to bed again,
for the third time bumping her head. “My! if this keeps on, I’ll be all
lumps and hollows like an outline map of the Rocky Mountains,” she
whimpered, and then cuddled down under the sheet and lay looking out of
the open window.

The sea air blew softly in and cooled her flushed cheeks. The odor of
the roses was not so oppressive, and after a time she dropped to sleep.
When she awoke it was because of the change in the temperature some time
before dawn. The moon was gone; but there was a faint light upon the
water.

Helen moved in the berth above. “Hullo, up there!” whispered Ruth.

“Hullo, down there!” was the quick reply. “What ever made me wake up so
early?”

“Because you want to get up early,” replied Ruth, this time sliding out
of her berth so adroitly that she did _not_ bump her head.

Helen came tumbling down, skinning her elbow and landing with a thump on
the floor. “Gracious to goodness—and all hands around!” she ejaculated.
“Talk about sleeping on a shelf in a Pullman car! Why, that’s ‘Home
Sweet Home’ to _this_. I came near to breaking my neck.”

“Come on! scramble into your clothes,” said Ruth, already at the wash
basin.

Helen peered out. “Why—oh, my!” she said, shivering and holding the lacy
neck of her gown about her. “It’s da-ark yet. It must be midnight.”

“It is ten minutes to four o’clock,” said Ruth promptly. She had studied
the route and knew it exactly. “That is Chincoteague Island Light
yonder. That’s where those cunning little ponies that Madge Steele’s
father had at Sunrise Farm came from.”

“Wha-at?” yawned Helen. “Did they come from the light?”

“No, goosy! from the island. They are bred there.”

Ten minutes later the chums were out on the open deck. They raced
forward to see if they could see the sun. His face was still below the
sea, but a flush along the edge of the horizon announced his coming.

“Oh, see yonder!” cried Helen. “See the shore! How near! And the long
line of beaches. What’s that white line outside the yellow sand?”

“The surf,” Ruth said. “And that must be Hog Island Light. How faint it
is. The sun is putting it out.”

“It’s a long way ahead.”

“Yes. We won’t pass that till almost six o’clock. Oh, Helen! there comes
the sun.”

“What’s that?” asked Helen, suddenly seizing her chum’s wrist. “Did you
hear it?”

“That splash? The men are washing decks.”

“It is a man overboard!” murmured Helen.

“More likely a big fish jumping,” said the practical Ruth.

The girls hung over the rail, looking shoreward, and tried in the
uncertain light to see if there was any object floating on the water. If
Helen expected to see a black spot like the head of a swimmer, she was
disappointed.

But she did see—and so did Ruth—a lazy fishing smack drifting by on the
tide. They could almost have thrown a stone aboard of her.

There seemed to be a little excitement aboard the smack. Men ran to and
fro and leaned over the rail. Then the girls thought they saw the
smackmen spear something, or possibly somebody, with a boathook and haul
their prize aboard.

“I believe somebody did fall overboard from this steamer, and those
fishermen have picked him up,” Helen declared.

The girls watched the sunrise and the shore line for another hour or
more and then went in to breakfast. When they came back to the open deck
the steamer was flying past the coast of the lower Peninsula, and Cape
Charles Lightship courtesied to her on the swells.

Far, far in the distance they saw the staff of the Cape Henry Light. The
steamer soon turned her prow to pass between these two points of land,
known to seamen as the Capes of Virginia, which mark the entrance to
Chesapeake Bay.

Their fair trip down the coast from New York was almost ended and the
chums began to pick up their things in the stateroom and repack their
bags.



CHAPTER V—THE NEWSPAPER ACCOUNT


“Do you suppose Nettie and her aunt have arrived, Ruth?”

“I really don’t,” Ruth Fielding said, as she and her chum stood on the
upper deck again and watched the shore which they were approaching so
rapidly.

“Goodness! won’t you feel funny going up to that big, sprawling hotel
alone?”

“No, dear. I sha’n’t be alone,” laughed Ruth. “You will be with me,
won’t you?”

Helen merely pinched her for answer.

“The rooms are engaged for us, you know,” Ruth assured her chum. “Mrs.
Parsons knew she might be delayed by business in Washington and that we
would possibly reach the hotel first. They have our names and all we
have to do is to present her card.”

“Fine! I leave it all to you,” agreed Helen.

“Of course you will. You always do,” said Ruth drily. “You certainly are
one of the fortunate ones in this world, Helen, dear.”

“How am I?”

“Because,” Ruth said, laughing, “all you ever will do in any emergency
will be to roll those pretty eyes of yours and look helpless, and
_somebody_ will come to your rescue.”

“Lucky me, then!” sighed her friend. “How green the grass is on the
shore, Ruth—and how blue the water. Isn’t this one lovely morning?”

“And a beautiful place we are going to. That’s the fort yonder—the
largest in the United States, I shouldn’t wonder.”

As the steamer drew in closer to the dock those passengers who were not
going on to Norfolk got their hand baggage together and pressed toward
the forward lower deck, from which they would land at the Point. The
girls followed suit; but as they came out of their stateroom there was
the omnipresent colored man, in his porter’s uniform now, ready to take
the bags.

Ruth and Helen let him take the bags, though they were very well able to
carry them, for he was insistent. The stewardess—a comfortable looking
old “aunty” in starched cap and apron—was likewise bobbing courtesies to
them as they went through the saloon. Helen’s ready purse drew the
colored population of that boat as a honey-pot does bees.

As they descended to the lower deck, suddenly the queer looking school
teacher, with the short hair and funny clothes, faced them. The purser
had evidently been trying to pacify her, but now he gave it up.

“You mean to tell me that you won’t demand to have these girls
examined—_searched_?” cried the angry woman. “They may have taken my
ticket for fun, but it’s a serious matter and they are now afraid to
give it up. I know ’em—root and branch!”

“Do you _know_ these two young ladies?” demanded the purser, in
surprise.

“Yes; I know their kind. I have been teaching girls just like ’em for
fifteen years. They’re up to all kinds of mischief.”

“Oh, madam!” cried the purser, “that is strong language. I cannot hold
these young ladies on your say-so. You have no evidence. Nor do I
believe they have your ticket in their possession.”

“Of course you’d take their side!” sniffed the woman.

“I am on the side of innocence always. If you care to get into trouble
by speaking to the police, you will probably find two policemen waiting
on the dock as we go ashore. They are after that disguised boy who came
aboard.”

The woman tossed her head and strode away, after glaring again at the
embarrassed girls. The purser said, gently:

“I am very sorry, young ladies, that you have been annoyed by that
person. And I am glad that you did not let the offence make _us_ any
more trouble. Of course, she had no right to speak of you and to you as
she has.

“I believe she is to be pitied, however. I learn that she is going on a
trip South for her health, after a particularly arduous year’s work. She
is, as she intimates, a teacher in a big girl’s boarding school in New
England. She is probably not a favorite with her pupils at best, and is
now undoubtedly broken down nervously and not quite responsible for what
she says and does.”

Then the purser continued, smiling: “Perhaps you can imagine that her
pupils have not tried to make her life pleasant. I have a daughter about
your age who goes to such a school, and I know from her that sometimes
the girls are rather thoughtless of an instructor’s comfort—if they
dislike her.”

“Oh, that is true enough, I expect,” Ruth admitted. “See how they used
to treat little Picolet!” she added to Helen.

“I guess _no_ girl would fall in love with this horrid creature who says
we stole her ticket.”

“She is not of a lovable disposition, that is sure,” agreed the purser.
“Her name is Miss Miggs. I hope you will not see her again.”

“Oh! you don’t suppose she will try to make trouble for us ashore?” Ruth
cried.

“I will see that she does not. I will speak to the officers who I expect
are awaiting the boat’s arrival. They have already communicated with us
by wireless about that boy.”

“Wireless!” cried Helen. “And we didn’t know you had it aboard. I
certainly would have thanked Tom for those roses. And then, Ruth! Just
think of telegraphing by wireless!”

“Sorry you missed that, young ladies. The instrument is in Room
Seventy,” said the purser, bustling away.

“‘Too late! too late! the villain cried!’” murmured Helen. “We missed
that.”

“Never mind,” said Ruth, smiling. “If we go back to New York by boat we
can hang around the wireless telegraph room all the time and you can
send messages to all your friends.”

“No I can’t,” said Helen shortly.

“Why not?”

“Because I won’t have any money left by that time,” Helen declared
ruefully. “Goodness! how much it does cost to travel.”

“It does, I guess, if you practise such generosity as you have
practised,” said Ruth. “Do use a little judgment, Helen. You tip
recklessly, and you buy everything you see.”

“No,” declared her chum. “There’s one thing I’ve seen that I wouldn’t
buy if it was selling as cheap as ‘two bits,’ as these folks say down
here.”

“What’s that?” asked Ruth, with a laugh.

“That old maid school marm from New England,” Helen replied promptly.

“Poor thing!” commented Ruth.

“There you go! Pitying her already! How do you know that she won’t try
to have us arrested?”

“Goodness! we’ll hope not,” said Ruth, as they surged toward the gangway
with the rest of the disembarking passengers, the boat having already
docked.

The crowd came out into the sunshine of a perfect morning upon a
bustling dock. There was a goodly crowd from the hotels to see the
newcomers land. Some of the passengers were met by friends; but neither
Nettie Parsons nor her aunt were in sight.

The porter who carried the girls’ bags, however, handed them over to a
hotel porter and evidently said a good word for them to that
functionary; for he was very attentive and led the chums out of the
crowd toward the broad veranda of the hotel front.

Ruth and Helen had sharp eyes, and they saw two plain-clothes men
standing by to watch the forthcoming passengers.

“The officers looking for that boy,” whispered Ruth.

“Oh, dear! do you suppose he _was_ Curly?”

“I don’t know. I must write to Mrs. Smith as soon as we get to the
hotel.”

The chums had traveled considerably by land, and had ventured into more
than one hotel; but never alone. When they had gone to Montana to visit
Ann Hicks, Ann’s Uncle Bill had been with them and had looked after the
transportation matters. And in going into the Adirondacks they had
traveled in a private car.

The porter took them immediately to a reception parlor, and took Mrs.
Parson’s card that she had given Ruth to the hotel manager. The manager
came himself to greet the girls. Mrs. Parsons’ name was evidently well
known at this hotel.

“At this time of year there is a choice of rooms at your disposal,” he
said. “I will show you the suite Mrs. Parsons usually has; but if the
rooms assigned you are not satisfactory, we can accommodate you
elsewhere.”

As they went up to the rooms Helen whispered: “Don’t you feel kind of
_bridey_?”

“Kind of what?” gasped her chum.

“Why, as though you were on your bridal tour?” said Helen. “We’ve got on
brand new clothes, and everybody treats us as though we were queens.”

“Maybe you feel that you are a queen,” giggled Ruth. “But not me. If you
are a bride, Helen Cameron, where is the gloom?”

“Gloom?” repeated Helen. “Do you mean _groom_?”

“Not in your case,” sniffed Ruth. “He will be a ‘gloom’ all right, the
way you make the money fly. See how you tipped that fellow below just
now. He’s standing in a trance, looking at that dollar yet.”

“I—I didn’t have anything smaller,” confessed the culprit.

“Well, you ought to have had change.”

“My! do you want me to do as the old lady said she did when going to
church? She always carried some buttons in her purse, for then, if she
had run out of change, when the contribution box was passed she’d still
have something to drop in.”

Ruth went off into a gale of laughter. “I wonder how that darkey would
have looked if you had contributed a button to him.”

The manager here threw open a door which gave entrance upon two big
rooms, with a bathroom between, the windows opening upon a balcony. To
the girls it seemed a most delightful place—so high and airy—and such a
view!

“Oh, this will be lovely,” Ruth assured him. “And are Mrs. Parsons’
rooms yonder?”

“Right through that door,” replied the man. “There are the buttons. Ring
for any attendance you may need. If everything is not perfectly
satisfactory, young ladies, let me know.”

He bowed himself out. Helen performed several stately steps about the
first room. “I tell you, my dear, we are very important. Nettie’s Aunt
Rachel is a _dear_! Or are all people down here in Dixie as polite as
this person with the side whiskers?”

“Why! I think people are kind to us almost everywhere,” said Ruth,
laying off her hat and coat.

“What shall we do first?” asked Helen.

“I told you. I am going right down to the ladies’ writing room—I saw it
as we came through the lower floor—and write to Mrs. Smith. If Curly
_did_ run away, we know where he is.”

“Do we?” asked Helen, doubtfully.

“Why—I——Well, he was aboard that steamer, I am sure,” Ruth said.

“Is he now?” asked Helen. “I believe he went overboard and was picked up
by that fishing boat.”

“Goodness! do you really believe so?”

“I am quite positive that the disguised boy did just that,” said Helen,
nodding her dark head confidently.

“Well, I can tell Mrs. Smith nothing about that; it would only scare
her. But I want her to write to me as soon as she can and tell me if
Curly is at home. Poor boy! what ever would become of him if he ran
away?”

“And with the police after him!” Helen added. “I am sure he never
committed any real crime.”

“So am I sure. But he was always playing jokes and was up to all kinds
of mischief. He was bound to get into trouble,” Ruth said, with a sigh.
“Everybody around there disliked him so.”

Ruth went downstairs and easily found the writing room. Outside was a
periodical and newspaper stand. The New York morning papers had just
arrived and Ruth bought one before she entered the writing room. Before
beginning the letter to Mrs. Sadoc Smith, she opened the paper and
almost the first brief article she noticed was the following:


  “A police launch followed the New Union S.S. _Pocahontas_ yesterday
  afternoon as far as the Narrows, and plain-clothes men James
  Morrisy, B. Phelps, Schwartz and Rockheimer, boarded her to search
  for a boy from up-state who has created a stir in the vicinity of
  Lumberton.

  “It is reported that Henry Smith, fifteen years old, tall for his
  age, curly, chestnut hair, small features, especially girlish face,
  is accused of helping a pair of tramps rob the Lumberton railroad
  station. The tramps escaped on a hand-car with their booty. The
  local police went after Henry, who lives with his grandmother, Mrs.
  Sadoc Smith, his only relative, an eminently respectable woman.
  Henry locked himself in his room, and while his grandmother was
  urging him to come out and give himself up to the police, he slid
  out of the window and over the shed roof, dropping to the ground—the
  old path to the circus grounds and the bright and early Independence
  Day celebration.

  “Henry Smith left home with some money and a new pair of boots. The
  boots and his other male attire he seems to have exchanged for
  female garb at a hotel in Albany. Henry masquerades as a girl very
  effectively, it is said.

  “The Albany police were just too late in reaching the hotel, but
  later had reason to know that Henry had come on to New York by
  train. Detective Morrisy and his squad missed the fugitive at the
  Grand Central Terminal. Through the good offices of a taxicab
  driver, Henry was traced to the New Union pier, where he was
  supposed to have boarded the _Pocahontas_.

  “The detectives, however, did not find Henry Smith thereon, neither
  in female garb nor in his proper habiliments. The police at Old
  Point Comfort and Norfolk have been notified to watch for the boy.
  His grandmother, Mrs. Sadoc Smith, declares she will disinherit her
  grandson.”



CHAPTER VI—ALL IN THE RAIN


Ruth Fielding was so much disturbed over the story of Curly Smith’s
escapade that she had to run and show the paper to Helen before she did
anything else. And then the chums had to talk it all over, and exclaim
over the boy’s boldness, and the odd fact that _they_ should have seen
him in his girl’s apparel, and not have known him.

“After seeing him dressed up in Ann’s old dress that time, too,” sighed
Helen. “The foolish boy!”

“But only think of his dropping off that shed roof. Do you know, Helen,
it is twenty feet from the ground?”

“That reporter writes as though he thought it were a joke,” Helen said.
“Mean thing!”

“He never saw that shed,” said Ruth.

“It is fortunate poor Curly didn’t break his neck.”

“And his grandmother says she will disinherit him. That’s really cruel!
I dare not tell her what I think when I write,” Ruth said. “But I will
tell her how Curly is being hounded by the police, and that he jumped
overboard.”

“Sure he did! He’s an awfully brave boy,” Helen declared.

“I’m not sure that he’s to be praised for that kind of bravery. It was a
perilous chance he took. I wonder where he will go—what he will do?
Goodness! what a boy!”

“He’s all right,” urged Helen, with admiration. “I don’t believe the
police will ever catch him.”

“But what will become of him?”

“If we come across him again, we’ll help him,” said Helen, with
confidence.

“That’s not likely. I can’t even tell Mrs. Smith where he has gone. We
don’t know.”

“Let’s go out and make sure that he wasn’t taken by the police here, or
at Norfolk.”

“How will you find out?”

“At the dock. Somebody will know.”

“You go. I’ll write to Mrs. Smith. Don’t get lost,” said Ruth, drawing
paper and envelopes toward her and preparing to write the missive.

It was growing dark before Ruth finished the letter—and that should not
have been, for it was not yet noon! She looked up and then ran to the
window. A storm cloud was sweeping down the bay and off across Hampton
Roads. Over in Norfolk it was raining—a sharp shower. But it did not
look as though it would hit the Point.

While Ruth was looking out Helen came running into the writing room,
greatly excited. “Oh, come on, Ruthie!” she cried. “I’ve got a man who
will take us for a drive all around the Point and around the fortress.”

“In what?” asked Ruth, doubtfully.

“Well, I’d call it a barouche. It’s an old thing; but he’s such a nice,
old darkey, and——”

“How much have you already paid him, my dear?” asked Ruth, interrupting.

“Well—I——Oh! don’t be so inquisitive!”

“And I thought you went to inquire whether they had arrested that boy?”

“Oh! didn’t I tell you?” said Helen. “They didn’t get him. Neither here
nor at Norfolk. I asked the man on the dock. Then this nice, old colored
man in _such_ a funny livery, asked me to ride with him. He’s been
driving white folks around here, he says, ever since the war.”

“What war? The War with Spain?” asked Ruth, tartly. “I begin to believe
that there must be some sign on you, my dear, which tells these fellows
that you have money and can be easily parted from it.”

“Now, Ruthie——”

“That is true. Well! we’ll get our hats——”

“Don’t need anything of the kind. Or wraps, either. It’s lovely out.”

“But that black cloud?”

“What do you mean, Ruthie? My hack driver?” giggled Helen.

“Nonsense, you naughty child! That thunder storm.”

“The driver says it won’t come over here. Let’s go.”

“All right,” Ruth finally said. “I know you have already paid him and we
must get some return for your money.”

“What a terribly saving creature you are,” scoffed Helen. “I begin to
believe that you have caught Uncle Jabez’s disease, living with him
there in the Red Mill. There! Oh, Ruth! I didn’t mean that. I wouldn’t
hurt your feelings for anything.”

But she had effectually closed Ruth’s lips upon the subject of the waste
of money. Her chum’s countenance was rather serious as they went out
upon the great veranda, which had a sweep wider than the face of the
Capitol at Washington. Below them was a decrepit old carriage, drawn by
a horse, the harness of which was repaired in more than one place with
rope. The smart equipages made this ramshackle old vehicle look older
than Noah’s Ark at Briarwood Hall.

Helen was enormously amused by the looks of the old rattletrap and the
funny appearance of the driver. The latter was an aged negro with a gray
poll and gaps in his teeth when he grinned. He wore a tall hat such as
the White House coachman is pictured as wearing in Lincoln’s day. The
long-tailed coat he wore had once been blue, but was now faded to a
distinct maroon shade, saving a patch on the small of his back which had
retained much of its original color by being sheltered against the
seat-back.

The vest and trousers this nondescript wore were coarse white duck, but
starched and ironed, and as white as the snow. The least said about his
shoes the better, and a glimpse Ruth had of one brown shank, as the old
man got creakingly down to politely open the barouche door for them,
assured her that he wore no hose at all.

“Do get in,” giggled Helen. “Did you ever see such a funny old thing?”

“It looks as if it would fall to pieces,” objected Ruth.

“He assures me it won’t. I don’t care if everybody _is_ laughing at us.”

“Neither do I. But I believe it is going to rain.”

“Nothing more than a little shower, if any,” Helen said, and popped into
the carriage. Ruth, rather doubtful still, followed her. Amid a good
deal of amusement on the part of the company on the verandas, the
rattling equipage rolled away.

They rode along the edge of the fortress moat and past the officer’s
quarters, and so around the entire fortress and across the reservation
into the country. The old man sat very stiff and upright in his seat,
flourished his whip over his old horse in a grand manner, and altogether
made as brave an appearance as possible.

The knock-kneed horse dragged its feet over the highway with a shuffle
that made Ruth nervous. She liked a good horse. This one moved so
slowly, and the turnout was altogether so ridiculous, that Ruth did not
know whether to join Helen in laughing at it, or get out and walk back.

Suddenly, however, a drizzle of rain began to fall. It was not
unexpected, for the clouds were still black and a chill breeze had blown
up.

“We’ll have to go back, Uncle,” cried Helen to the driver.

“Wait a minute—wait a minute,” urged the old man. “Ah’ll git right down
an’ fix dat hood. Dat’ll shelter yo’ till we gits back t’ de
hotel—ya-as’m.”

“You should not have encouraged us to come out with you when it was sure
to rain,” said Ruth, rather tartly for her.

“Sho’ ‘nuff, missy—sho’ ‘nuff,” cackled the old darkey. “But ’twas a
great temptation.”

“What was a great temptation?”

“To earn a dollar. Dollars come skeerce like nowadays, for Unc’ Simmy.
He kyan’t keep up wid dese yere taxum-cabs an’ de rich folks’ smart
conveyances—no’m!” and the old negro chuckled as though poverty, too,
were a humorous thing.

He began to fuss with the hood of the carriage, which was supposed to
pull up and shelter the occupants. But it would not “stay put,” as Helen
laughingly said, and the summer shower began to patter harder on the
unprotected girls.

“You’d better not mind it, Mr. Simmy,” Helen said, “and drive us back at
once. We’re bound to get wet anyway.”

“Dey calls me _Unc’_ Simmy, missy—ma frien’s do,” said the old man,
rheumatically climbing to his seat again. “An’ Ah ain’t gwine t’ drib
yo’ back to de hotel in de face ob dishyer shower, an’ git all yo’
fin’ry wet. No’m! Yo’ leab’ Unc’ Simmy ‘lone fo’ a-gittin’ yo’ to
shelter ’twill de storm passes ober.”

He touched up the old horse with the whiplash, and the creature really
broke into a knock-kneed trot, Unc’ Simmy meanwhile singing a broken
accompaniment to the shuffling pace of his steed:

  “‘On Jor-dy-an’s sto’my bank I stand
      An’ cas’ a wishful eye
  T’ Can-ny-an’s bright an’ glo-ree-ous land—
      Ma’ ho-o-me ’twill be, bymeby!’

Dis ain’ gwine t’ be much ob a shower, missy. We turns in yere.“

They had passed several smart looking dwellings—villas they might better
be called—and more than one old, Southern house with high pillars in
front and an air of decayed gentility about them.

Unc’ Simmy swung his steed through a ruined gateway where the Virginia
creeper and honeysuckle hid the gateposts and wall. There was a small
wooden structure like a gate-keeper’s cottage, much out of repair. The
shingles on the roof had curled in the hot sun’s rays till they
resembled clutching fingers; some of the siding-strips in the peak, far
out of ordinary reach, hung and flapped by one nail; some bricks were
missing from the chimney-top; the house had not been painted for at
least two decades. The porch on the front was sheltered by climbing
vines, and there were many old-fashioned flowers in neatly kept beds
before the little house. But the girls did not see much of the front of
the cottage just then, for the old horse went by and up the lane at a
clumsy gallop. The rain was coming down faster.

“Where for pity’s sake is he taking us?” Ruth demanded.

“I don’t care—it’s fun,” gasped Helen, cowering before the rain drops.

Behind the cottage was a small barn—evidently built much more recently
than the house. The wide door was swung open and hooked back and Unc’
Simmy drove inside.

“Dar we is!” he cried exultantly. “Ah’ll jes’ take yo’ all in t’ visit
wid’ Miss Catalpa while Ah fixes dishyer kerrige so it’ll take yo’ back
to de P’int dry—ya-as’m.”

“‘Miss Catalpa,’ no less!” murmured Helen in Ruth’s ear. “_That_ sounds
like a real darkey name, doesn’t it? I wonder if she’s an old aunty—or
mammy, do they call them?”

But Ruth was interested in another phase of the matter. “Won’t the lady
object to unexpected visitors, Uncle Simmy?” she asked.

“Lor’ bress yo’! no, honey,” he said, helping her out of the sheltered
carriage, and then Helen in turn. “Yo’ come right in wid me. Miss
Catalpa’s on de front po’ch. She likes t’ hear de drummin’ ob de rain,
she say—er—he, he, he! W’ite folks sho’ do have funny sayin’s, don’t
dey?”

“Then Miss Catalpa is _white_!” gasped Helen to Ruth, as the old darkey
led the way across the back yard to the cottage.

They reached the shelter of the front veranda just as the rain “came
down in buckets,” as Helen declared. The chums had never seen it rain so
hard before. And the thunder of it on the porch roof drowned all other
sound. Unc’ Simmy was grinning at them and saying something; they could
see his lips moving; but they could not hear a word.

In the half dusk of the vine-sheltered porch they saw him gesticulating
and they looked toward the other end. There was a low table and a sewing
basket. In a low rocker, swinging to and fro, and crooning a song
perhaps, for her lips were moving as her needles flashed back and forth
in the soft wool she was knitting, was a fair, pink-cheeked little lady,
her light brown hair rippling away from her brow and over her ears in
some old-fashioned and forgotten style, but which was very becoming to
the wearer.

Her ear was turned toward their end of the porch, and she was smiling.
Evidently, in spite of the drumming of the hard rain, she had
distinguished their coming; but her eyes had the unmistakable look of
those who live in darkness.

The little lady was blind.



CHAPTER VII—MISS CATALPA


“Oh! the poor dear!” gasped Helen, for she, like Ruth, discovered the
little lady’s infirmity almost at once.

The old negro coachman pompously strode down the porch, beckoning to the
girls to follow. They were, for the moment, embarrassed. It seemed
impudent to approach this strange gentlewoman with no introduction save
that of the disreputable looking Unc’ Simmy.

But the quick, sudden shower lulled a little and they could hear the
lady’s voice—a sweet, delicious, drawling tone. She said:

“Yo’ have brought some callers, I see, Simmy. Good afternoon, young
ladies.”

Her use of the word “see” brought the quick, stinging tears to Ruth
Fielding’s eyes. But the lady’s smile and outstretched hand welcomed
both girls to her end of the porch. The hand was frail and beautiful. It
surely had never done any work more arduous than the knitting in the
lady’s lap.

She was dressed very plainly in gingham; but every flaunce was starched
and ironed beautifully, and the lace in the low-cut neck of the cheap
gown and at the wrists, was valuable and ivory-hued with age.

The negro cleared his voice and said, with great respect, removing his
ancient hat as he did so:

“De young ladies done tak’ refuge yere wid’ yo’ w’ile it shower so hard,
Miss Catalpa. I tell ’em yo’ don’t mind dem comin’ in t’ res’. Yo’ knows
Unc’ Simmy dribes de quality eround de P’int nowadays.”

“Oh, yes, Simmy. I know,” said Miss Catalpa, with a little sigh. “It
isn’t as it used to be befo’ _we_ had to take refuge, too, in this old
gatehouse. It is a refuge both in sun and rain fo’ us. How do you do, my
dears? I know you are young ladies—and I love the young. And I fancy you
are from the No’th, too?”

And Helen and Ruth had not yet said a word! The subtle appreciation of
the blind woman told her much that astonished the girls.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Ruth, striving to keep her voice from shaking, for
the pity she felt for the lady gripped her at the throat. “We are two
schoolgirls who have come down to Dixie to play for a few weeks after
our graduation from Briarwood Hall.”

“Indeed? I went to school fo’ a while at Miss Chamberlain’s in
Washington. Hers was a very select young ladies’ school. But, re’lly,
you know, had my po’ eyes not been too weak to study, the family
exchequer could scarcely stand the drain,” and she laughed, low and
sweetly. “The Grogan fortunes had long been on the wane, you see. No men
to build them up again. The war took everything from us; but the
heaviest blow of all was the killin’ of our men.”

“It must have been terrible,” said Ruth, “to lose one’s brothers and
fathers and cousins by bullet and sword.”

“Yes, indeed!” sighed the lady. “Not that I can remembah it, child! No
more than you can. I’m not so old as all that,” and she laughed merrily.
“The Grogan plantation was gone, of course, long before I saw the light.
But my father was a broken man, disabled by the campaigns he went
through.”

“Isn’t it terrible?” whispered Helen to her chum, for it sounded to the
unsophisticated girl like a tale of recent happenings.

Miss Catalpa smiled, turning her sightless eyes up to them. “There’s
only Unc’ Simmy and I left now. My lawyer, Kunnel Wildah, tells me there
is barely enough left to keep us in this po’ place till I’m called to my
long rest,” said the lady devoutly.

“But my wants are few. Uncle Simmy does for me most beautifully. He is
the last of the family servants—bo’n himself on the old plantation. This
was the gateway to the Grogan Place—and it was a mile from the house,”
and she laughed again—pleasantly, sweetly, and as carefree in sound as a
bird’s note. “The limits of the estate have shrunk, you see.”

“It must be dreadful to have been rich, and then fall into poverty,”
Helen said, commiseratingly.

“Why, honey,” said Miss Catalpa, cheerfully, “nothin’ is dreadful in
this wo’ld if we look at it right. All trials are sent for our blessin’,
if we take them right. Even my blindness,” she added simply. “It must
have been for my good that I was deprived of the boon of sight ten years
ago—just when almost the last bit of money left to me seemed to have
been lost. And I expect if I hadn’t foolishly cried so much over the
failure of the Needles Bank where the money was, and which seemed to be
a total wreck, I would not have been totally blind. So the doctors tell
me.”

“Dear, dear!” murmured Helen, wiping her own eyes.

“But then, you see, there was enough saved from the wreckage after all
to keep me alive,” and Miss Catalpa smiled again. “All that troubles me
is what will become of Uncle Simmy when I am gone. He insists on ‘dribin
de quality’, as he calls it, and so earns a little something for
himself. That livery he wears is the old Grogan livery. I expect it is a
good deal faded by now,” she laughed, adding: “Our old barouche, too! He
insists on taking me out in it every pleasant Sunday. I can feel that
the cushions are ragged and that the wheels wobble. Po’ Uncle Simmy! Ah!
here he is. Surely, Simmy, the rain hasn’t stopped?”

“No’m, Miss Catalpa,” said the old negro, appearing and bowing again.
“But mebbe ‘twon’t stop soon, an’ deseyer young ladies want t’ git back
fo’ luncheon at de hotel. I done fix’ dat hood, misses. ‘Twell keep yo’
dry.”

Ruth took the lady’s hand again. “I am glad to have met you,” she said,
her voice quite firm now. “If we stay long enough at the Point, may we
come and see you again?”

“Sho’ly! Sho’ly, my dear,” she said, drawing Ruth down to kiss her
cheek. “I love to have you young people about me. Take good care of
them, Uncle Simmy.”

“Ya-as’m, Miss Catalpa— Ah sho’ will.”

She kissed Helen, too, and possibly felt the tears on the girl’s cheek.
She patted the hand she held and whispered: “Don’t weep for me, my dear.
I am going to a better and a brighter world some day, I know. I am not
through with this one yet—and I love it. There is nothing to weep for.”

“And if I were she I’d not only cry my eyes blind, but I’d cry them
_out_!” whispered Helen to Ruth, as they followed the old coachman.

When they were out of ear-shot of the Lady of the Gatehouse Ruth asked:
“Who keeps house for Miss Grogan, Uncle Simmy?”

“Fo’ Miss Catalpa?” ejaculated the negro. “Sho’, missy, she don’t need
nobody but Unc’ Simmy.”

“There is no woman servant?”

“Lor’ bress yo’,” chuckled the black man, “ain’t been no money to pay
sarbents since dat Needleses’ Bank done busted. Nebber _did_ hear tell
o’ sech a bustification as _dat_. Dar warn’t re’lly nottin’ lef’ fo’ de
rats in de cellar. Das wot Kunnel Wildah say.”

Ruth looked at the old man seriously and with a glance that saw right
into the white soul that dwelt in his very black and crippled body: “Who
launders her frocks so beautifully—and your trousers, Unc’ Simmy?” was
her innocent if somewhat impudent question.

“Ma ol’ woman done hit till she up an’ died ’bout eight ’r nine years
ago,” said the coachman.

“And _you_ have done it all since?”

“Oh, ya-as’m! ya-as’m!” exclaimed Unc’ Simmy, briskly. “Miss Catalpa
wouldn’t feel right if she knowed anybody else did fo’ her but me—No’m!”

Helen had gone ahead. The old man, his eyes lowered, stood before Ruth
in the rain. The girl opened her purse quickly, selected a five dollar
bill, and thrust it into his hand.

“Thank you, Unc’ Simmy,” she said firmly. “That’s all I wanted to know.”

A tear found a wrinkle in Unc’ Simmy’s lined face for a sluiceway; but
the darkey was still smiling. “Lor’ bress you’, honey!” he murmured. “I
dunno wot Unc’ Simmy would do if ‘twarn’t fo’ yo’ rich folks from de
Norf. Ah got a lot to t’ank you-uns for ’sides ma freedom! An’ so’s Miss
Catalpa,” he added, “on’y she don’t know it.”

“Come along, Ruth!” cried Helen, hopping into the old carriage, the
cover of which was now lifted and tied into place. Then, when Ruth
joined her and Unc’ Simmy climbed to his seat and spread the oilcloth
over his knees, she added, in a whisper: “I saw you, Ruth Fielding! Five
dollars! Talk about _me_ being extravagant. Why, I gave him only two
dollars for the whole ride.”

“It was worth five to meet Miss Catalpa, wasn’t it?” returned her chum,
placidly. And in her own mind she was already thinking up a scheme by
which the faithful old negro should be more substantially helped in his
lifework of caring for his blind mistress.



CHAPTER VIII—UNDER THE UMBRELLA


The rain had not stopped—not by any means.

Ruth and Helen had never seen so much water fall in so short a time. The
roadway, when Unc’ Simmy drove out into it through the ruined gateway,
was flooded from side to side. It was like driving through a red, muddy
stream.

But the two girls were comparatively dry under the carriage top. They
looked out at the drenched country side with interest, meantime talking
together about the Lady of the Gatehouse, by which term they ever after
spoke of Miss Catalpa.

“The last of one of the F.F.V.‘s, I suppose,” suggested Helen. “I wonder
if Nettie’s Aunt Rachel knows her. Nettie says Aunt Rachel knows
everybody who is anybody, in the South.”

“I fancy this family got through being well-known years ago. The poor
little lady has been lost sight of, I suppose,” Ruth said.

“Yes. All her old friends are dead.”

“Except this old friend sitting up in front of us,” Ruth said, smiling.

“Yes. Isn’t he an old dear?” whispered Helen. “But I wonder if he shows
his Miss Catalpa off to all the Northern people who come to the Point?”

Ruth was silent on this matter. Helen did not suspect yet what Ruth had
discovered—that Unc’ Simmy was the sole support of the little, blind
lady; and Ruth thought she would not tell her chum just now. She wanted
to think of some way of materially helping both the old coachman and the
Lady of the Gatehouse.

Suddenly Helen uttered a squeal of surprise, and grabbed her friend’s
arm:

“Do look there, Ruth Fielding! Whom does that look like?”

Ruth came to her side of the carriage and craned her head out of the
window to look forward. In the roadway on that side, a few yards ahead
of the ambling horse, strode a figure in the rain that could not be
mistaken. So narrow and mannish was the pedestrian that a stranger would
scarcely think it a woman. The skirt clung to the rail-like limbs, while
the straight coat and silk hat helped to make Miss Miggs look extremely
like a man.

“And wet! That’s no name for it,” giggled Helen. “She’s saturated right
to the bone—and plenty of bone she has to be saturated to. Let’s give
her three cheers as we go by, Ruth.”

“You horrid girl! nothing of the kind,” cried Ruth Fielding, quite
exercised. “We must take her in with us—the carriage will hold three.
Unc’ Simmy!”

“You’re the greatest girl,” groaned Helen. “You might return good for
evil for a year with this person and it would do no good.”

“It always does good,” responded Ruth. “Unc’ Simmy!”

“To whom, I’d like to know?” demanded Helen.

“To _me_,” snapped Ruth, and this time when she raised her voice she
made the old darkey hear.

“Ya-as’m! ya-as’m!” he cried, turning and pulling the old horse down to
a welcome walk.

“Let that lady get in here, Unc’ Simmy. We’ll take her to the hotel.”

“Sho’ nuff! Sartainly,” agreed the coachman, and with a flourish he
stopped beside the woman who was fairly wading through a muddy river.

The rain was coming down harder again. It did not thunder and lightning
much, but the rainfall was fairly appalling to these visitors from the
North.

“Do get in, quick!” cried Ruth, opening the low door and peering out
from the semi-gloom of the hood.

The school teacher from New England understood instantly what the
invitation meant. She plunged toward the carriage and was half inside
before she saw who had rescued her from the deluge.

“Get in! get in!” urged Ruth. “Unc’ Simmy will take us right to the
hotel.”

Miss Miggs fairly snorted. “What! you? I wouldn’t ride with you in this
carriage if we were in the middle of the Atlantic!”

She backed out and stepped right into a puddle of water as deep as her
ankles! The excited scream she gave made Helen burst into suppressed
laughter. Hearing the girl, the woman glared at her in a way that
excited the laughter of the careless Helen to an even greater height.

“Oh, drive on! drive on!” she gasped. “Let her swim if she wants to.”

But Unc’ Simmy would not do this unless Ruth said so. He looked down at
the half submerged school teacher from his seat and exclaimed:

“Wal, now! das one foolish woman, das sho’ is! Why don’ she git under
kiver when she’s ‘vited t’ do so?”

Just then a new actor appeared on the scene. A big umbrella came into
view and its bearer crossed the road, splashing through the accumulated
water without regard to the wetting of his own feet and legs.

He gave the half-submerged woman a hand and drew her out to the side of
the road, and upon a comparatively dry spot. He had some difficulty with
the umbrella just then and raised it high enough for the two girls in
the carriage to see his face.

“Oh, Ruthie, look there!” whispered Helen, as the horse started forward.
“See who it is!”

“It’s Curly—it’s surely Curly Smith,” muttered Ruth.

“That’s what I tell you,” whispered Helen, fiercely. “And now we can’t
speak to him.”

“Not with that Miss Miggs in the way. She is mean enough to tell the
police who he is.”

“Never mind,” cried Helen, exultantly, “he got ashore from the fishing
boat.”

“But I wonder if he has any money left—and what he will do now. The
police may still be looking for him.”

“Oh, a boy as smart as he is would _never_ get caught by the police,”
declared Helen, in delight. “I only wish I could speak to him and tell
him how glad I am he escaped arrest.”

“You’re an awful-talking girl,” sighed Ruth, as the old horse jogged on.
“I wish I could get him to go back to his grandmother—and go back to
show the people up there that he is innocent.”

“That does all very well to talk about, Ruth Fielding!” cried Helen.
“But suppose he can’t _prove_ himself innocent? Do you want the poor boy
to go to jail and stay there the rest of his life?”



CHAPTER IX—SUNSHINE AT THE GATEHOUSE


The shower was over when Unc’ Simmy stopped before the hotel veranda.
The two girls were rather bedraggled in appearance; but what would Miss
Miggs look like when _she_ arrived!

“I hope we won’t see that mean thing any more,” Helen declared. “She is
our Nemesis, I do believe.”

“Don’t let her worry you. She surely punished herself this time,” said
Ruth, getting down. “Good-bye Unc’ Simmy. Come for us again
to-morrow—only I hope it won’t rain.”

“Ya-as’m! ya-as’m! T’ankee ma’am!” responded the darkey, and when Helen
had likewise alighted, he rattled away.

“Goodness!” laughed Helen. “Are you so much in love with that old outfit
that you want to ride in it again, Ruthie Fielding?”

“I want to see Miss Catalpa again—don’t you?” returned her chum. “And I
would not go to the gatehouse with anybody but Unc’ Simmy. It would be
impudent to do so.”

“Oh—yes! that’s so,” admitted Helen. “Come on to luncheon. I have Heavy
Stone’s appetite, right now!”

“If so, what will poor Heavy do?” asked Ruth, smiling. “This must be
about the time she wishes to exercise her own appetite at Lighthouse
Point. Would you deprive her, my dear, of any gastronomic pleasure?”

“Woo-o-o!” blew Helen, making a noise like a whistle. “All ashore that’s
going ashore! What big words you do use, Ruth. At any rate, let us
partake of the eatables supplied by this hostlery. Come on!”

But they went up to their rooms first to “prink and putter” as Tom
always called it.

“Dear old Tom!” sighed his twin. “How I miss him. And what fun we’d have
if he were along. Sorry Nettie’s Aunt Rachel doesn’t like boys enough to
have made up a mixed party.”

“You’re the only ‘mixed’ party I see around here,” laughed Ruth. “But I
wish Tom _were_ here. He’d know just how to get at Curly Smith and do
something for him.”

“That’s right! I wish he were here,” sighed Helen.

“Never mind,” laughed Ruth. “Don’t let it take away that famous appetite
you just claimed to have. Come on.”

The girls went down and ventured into one of the dining rooms. A smiling
colored waiter—“at so much per smile,” as Ruth whispered—welcomed them
at the door and seated them at rather a large table. This had been
selected for them because their party would soon be augmented.

And this, in fact, happened before night. The girls were lolling in
content and happiness upon the veranda when the train came in bringing
among other passengers Mrs. Parsons and Nettie.

Mrs. Parsons was a dark-haired and olive-skinned lady, who had been a
famous beauty in her youth, and a belle in her part of South Carolina.
Rachel Merredith had been quite famous, indeed, in several social
centers, and she was well known in Washington and Richmond, as well as
in the more Southern cities.

She greeted Helen kindly, but warmly kissed Ruth, having become an
admirer of the girl of the Red Mill some time before.

“Here’s my clever little girl,” she said, in her soft, drawling way. “I
declare! Ev’ry time I put on my necklace I think of you, Ruthie
Fielding, and how greatly beholden to you I am. I tell Nettie, here,
that when _she_ receives our heirloom at her coming-out party, she will
thank you, too.”

“I don’t have to wait till then, Aunt Rachel!” cried Nettie, squeezing
the plump shoulders of the girl of the Red Mill. “Isn’t it nice to see
you both again? How jolly!”

“That’s a new word Nettie got up No’th,” said her Aunt Rachel. “Tell me,
dears: Have they treated you right, here at the hotel?”

The girls assured her that the management had been very kind to them.
Then the question was asked: What had they done to kill time?

Helen rattled off a dozen things she and Ruth had dabbled in that
afternoon—or, “evening” as the Virginians say; but it was Ruth who
mentioned their ride in the rain with old Unc’ Simmy.

“To the gatehouse? Where is that?” asked Aunt Rachel, lazily.

Between bursts of laughter Helen tried to tell her about the queer old
negro and his dilapidated turnout; but it was Ruth who softly explained
to Mrs. Parsons about Miss Catalpa and the faithful old darkey’s
relations to her.

“Grogan?” repeated the lady. “Yes, yes, I remember the name. Who
doesn’t? Major Grogan, her father, was a famous leader in the Lost
Cause. Oh, dear me, Ruthie! We are still so poor in the South that the
family of many a hero has come down to want. Catalpa Grogan? And you say
she is blind?”

“She said we might come again and see her before we left the Point,”
suggested Ruth, gently.

Mrs. Rachel Parsons looked at her understandingly. “Quite right, my
dear. We _will_ go. I will find out about this lawyer, Colonel Wilder,
and he can probably tell me all we need to know. She and the old negro
shall be helped—that is the least we can do.”

So, the next morning, all in the glorious sunshine that is usually the
weather condition at Old Point Comfort, the party climbed into Unc’
Simmy’s old barouche and set out on the drive. Mrs. Parsons accepted the
dilapidated turnout as quite a matter of course.

“Don’t fret about _me_, girls,” she said, when Helen said that they
should have taken a different equipage.

Ruth had already begun to get the “slant” of the Southern mind. The
Southerners respected themselves, and were inordinately proud of their
name and blood; but they could cheerfully go without many of the
conveniences of life which Northerners would consider a distinct
privation. Poverty among them was no disgrace; rather, it was to be
expected. They cheerfully made the best of it, and enjoyed what good
things they had without allowing caviling care to corrode their
pleasure.

The sunshine drenched them as they rolled over the now dusty road, as
the rain had drenched the chums the day before. Yonder was the hole
beside the roadway into which Miss Miggs had been half submerged, and
from which she was rescued by the unfortunate Curly Smith.

Helen hilariously related this incident to Nettie and her aunt. But,
warned by Ruth, she said nothing about the identity of the boy.

“I hope we shall not meet that woman again,” Ruth said, with a sigh.
“She surely would make a scene, Mrs. Parsons. You don’t know how mean
she can be.”

“And a school teacher?” was the reply. “Fancy!”

They arrived at the gatehouse and Ruth begged Unc’ Simmy to stop and ask
if Miss Catalpa would receive them.

“Give her my card, too, boy,” said Mrs. Parsons, as the smiling old man
climbed down from his seat.

“Ya-as’m! ya-as’m!” said Unc’ Simmy, rolling his eyes, for he saw that
Mrs. Parsons was “one of de quality,” as he expressed it. “Sho’ will.”

They were not kept waiting long. Miss Grogan was too much the lady to
strive for effect. She received them, as she had the girls, on her
porch; but this time in the sunshine.

It was a beautiful old front yard, hidden by an untrimmed hedge from the
highway; and the end of the porch where the blind woman sat was now
dressed with several old chairs that her guests might sit down. It was
likely that Unc’ Simmy had brought these out himself, foretelling that
there would be visitors.

“I am glad to see you,” Miss Catalpa said. She remembered Ruth and Helen
when she clasped their hands, distinguishing between them, although she
had “seen” them but once.

To Mrs. Parsons she confessed: “These young girls came in the rain and
cheered me up. I love the young. Don’t you, ma’am?”

“I do,” sighed Aunt Rachel. “I’d give anything for my own youth.”

“No, no,” returned Miss Catalpa, shaking her head. “Life gets better as
we grow mellow. That’s what I tell them all. I do not regret my youth,
although ’twas spent comparatively free from care. And now——”

She waved the knitting in her hand, and laughed—her low, bird-like call.
“The good Lord will provide. He always has.”

Mrs. Parsons, being a Southerner herself, could talk confidentially to
Miss Catalpa. It seemed that several names were known to them in common;
and the visitor from South Carolina learned how and where to find the
particular “Kunnel Wildah” who had the disposal of Miss Catalpa’s
affairs in his hands.

The party had a very pleasant visit with the blind woman. Unc’ Simmy
appeared suddenly before them, his coachman’s coat and gloves discarded,
and a rusty black coat in place of the livery. He bore a tray with high,
beautifully thin, tinkling glasses of lemonade, with a sprig of mint in
each.

“Nobody makes lemonade quite like Uncle Simmy,” Miss Catalpa said
kindly, and the old negro’s face shone like a polished kitchen range at
the praise. It was evident that he fairly worshiped his mistress.

The visitors left at last. Helen understood now why they had come. That
afternoon the girls were left to their own devices while Mrs. Parsons
sought out Colonel Wilder and made some provision for helping in the
support of Miss Catalpa and her old servant.

“No, my dear,” she said to Ruth. “You may help a little; but not much.
Wait until you become a self-supporting woman—as you will be, I know.
Then you can have the full pleasure of helping other people as you
desire. I can only enjoy it because my cotton fields have made me rich.
When we use money that has been left to us, or given to us in some way,
for charitable purposes, we lose the sweeter taste of giving away that
which we have actually earned.

“And I thank you, my dear,” she added, “for giving me the opportunity of
helping Miss Grogan and Uncle Simmy.”



CHAPTER X—AN ADVENTURE IN NORFOLK


The party was off on its real tour into Dixie the next day. They were to
take the route in a leisurely fashion to the Merredith plantation, and,
as Nettie laughingly put it, “would go all around Robin Hood’s barn” to
reach that South Carolinian Garden of Eden.

“But we want you to really _see_ something of the South on the way; it
will be so warm—or, will seem so to you No’therners—when you come back,
that you will only be thinking of taking the steamer at Norfolk for New
York.

“Now you shall see something of Richmond and Charleston, anyway,”
concluded the Louisiana girl. “And next winter I hope you’ll go home
with me to my own canebrakes and bayous. _Then_ we’ll have a good time,
I assure you.”

Ruth and Helen were having a good time. Everybody about the hotel
treated them like grown-up young ladies—and of course such deferential
attentions delighted two schoolgirls just set free from the scholastic
yoke.

They went across the bay on the ferry and landed at Norfolk. A trip to
the Navy Yard was the first thing, and as Mrs. Parsons knew some of the
officers there, the party was very courteously treated. They might have
visited the war vessels lying in Hampton Roads; but it seemed so hot on
the water that the chums from the North voted for a trip by surface car
to Norfolk’s City Park.

The lawns had not yet been burned brown and the trees were beautifully
leaved out. The park was a pleasant place and in it is one of the best
small zoölogical parks in the East. The deer herd was particularly
fine—such pretty, graceful creatures! All would have gone well had not
Helen received an unexpected fright as they were watching the beautiful
beasts.

“You would better not stand so near that grating, Helen,” Nettie told
her, as they were in front of the fence of the deer range.

“How am I going to feed this pretty, soft-nosed thing with grass if I
_don’t_ stand near?” demanded Helen.

“But you don’t _have_ to feed the deer,” laughed Nettie.

“No. But there’s no sign that says you sha’n’t,” complained Helen. “And
I don’t see——”

Just then there was a fierce whistle and a big stag charged. Helen
looked all around—save in the right direction—for the sound. She was
leaning against the wire fence, but with her head turned so that she did
not see the gentle little doe bound away as her master came savagely
down the slope.

The next instant the brute crashed against the fence and the shock of
his collision sent Helen to the ground. Although the angry stag was on
the other side of the woven-wire fence, so savage did he appear that
other people standing about ran screaming away.

The stag was tearing up the sod with his forefeet and throwing himself
against the shaking fence as though determined to get at the prostrate
Helen.

The latter was really hurt a little, and so badly frightened that she
could not arise instantly. Nettie was the nearest of her party; but she
was trembling and crying. Ruth was too far away, as was Mrs. Parsons, to
help her chum immediately, though she started running in her direction.

But there was a rescuer at hand. A boy in a faded suit of overalls, who
must have been working near, ran down to drag the frightened girl away
from the fence. As he passed an old gentleman on the walk he seized the
latter’s cane and darting between Helen and the fence, dealt the angry
stag a heavy blow upon the nose.

Although the wire-fence saved the beast from serious injury, the blow
was heavy enough to make him fall back and cease his charges against the
wire netting. Then the boy helped Helen to her feet.

“Oh!” shrieked the frightened girl. And after that, although the boy
quickly slipped away through the gathering crowd, and out of sight,
Helen said no other word.

“Oh, my dear!” gasped Ruth, reaching her. “You did not even thank him.”

“I know it,” whispered Helen.

“Are—are you hurt, dear?”

“Only my dignity is hurt,” confessed her chum, beginning to laugh
hysterically.

“But that boy——”

“Hush, Ruthie!” begged Helen, her lips close to her chum’s ear. “Do you
know who he was?”

“Why—I——Of course not! I did not see his face.”

“It was Curly. Don’t say a word,” breathed Helen. “Here comes a
policeman.”

Ruth was as much amazed as Helen at the unexpected appearance of Henry
Smith. He was constantly bobbing up before them just like an imp in a
pantomime.

Their friends hurried the chums away from the caged deer and the crowd
that had gathered. Helen had a few bruises but was not, fortunately,
really injured. But she confessed that she had seen all the deer she
cared to see for the time.

“And I thought they were such gentle, affectionate creatures,” she
sighed. “Why, that one was as savage as a bear!”

They returned to the water-front and went aboard the Richmond boat in
good season for dinner. Ruth and Helen were rather used to boat travel
they thought by this time, and they found this smaller craft quite as
pleasant as the big steamer on which they had come down the coast.

While they were at table in the saloon the boat started, and so nicely
was it eased off, and so quiet was the water, that the girls had no idea
the vessel had started.

The girls ran out on deck, arranged a comfortable place for Mrs.
Parsons, and there watched the panoramic view of the roads and the
shores until darkness fell.

“We shall miss many of the beauties of the James River plantations and
towns,” Mrs. Parsons said; “by taking this night boat; but we shall have
a good night’s sleep and see more of Richmond to-morrow than we
otherwise could.”

The chums did not have quite as much freedom on the river trip as they
did coming down on the New Union Line boat; for Mrs. Parsons insisted
upon an early bedtime. She would not have liked their sitting out on the
deck alone at a late hour. She did not believe in too much freedom for
young girls of her niece’s age.

However, she was very pleasant to travel with. Ruth and Helen marveled
at the attention Mrs. Parsons received from all the employees of the
boat, both white and black.

“And she doesn’t have to tip extravagantly to get service,” Ruth pointed
out to Helen. “You see, these darkeys consider it an honor to attend
Mrs. Parsons. We Northerners are interlopers, after all; they sell us
their servile attentions at a high price; but they are glad to serve the
descendants of their old masters. There is a bond between the whites and
blacks of the South that we cannot quite understand.”

“I guess we’re too independent and want to help ourselves too much,”
Helen said. “You let me alone, Ruth Fielding, and I’ll loll around just
like Nettie does and let the colored people fetch and carry for me.”

“You lazy little thing!” Ruth threw at her, laughing. “It doesn’t become
your father’s daughter to long for such methods and habits. Goodness!
the negroes themselves are so slow they give me the fidgets.”

In the morning they awoke from sleep as the boat was being docked. It
was another beautiful, sunshiny day. The negro dockhands lolled upon the
wharves. Up the river they could see the bridge to Manchester and the
rapids, up which no boat could sail.

They ate their breakfast in a leisurely manner on the boat, and then
took an open carriage on Main Street, where the sickish odor of the
tobacco factories was all that spoiled the ride.

They rode east and passed the site of the old Libby tobacco
warehouse—execrated by the prisoners during the Civil War as “Libby
Prison”—and saw, too, Libby Hill Park, Marshall’s Park and the beautiful
Chimborazo reservation.

Coming back they climbed the Broad Street hill and stopped at the hotel,
remaining there for rest and luncheon. Then the girls walked on Broad
Street and saw the shops and bought a few souvenirs and some needfuls,
while Mrs. Parsons remained in the hotel. The sun was hot, but the air
was dry and invigorating.

Later in the afternoon the whole party went down into Capitol Square—a
very beautiful park, in which are located the state-house, the library,
and the Washington Monument.

“Besides,” declared Helen, “’most a million squirrels. Did you ever see
so many of the little dears? And see how tame they are.”

The squirrels and the children with their black nurses in Capitol Square
are among the pleasantest sights of Richmond. There was the old bell
tower, too, near the North Twelfth Street side, which interested the
girls, and they walked back to the hotel by way of Franklin Street and
saw the old home of General Robert E. Lee and some other famous
dwellings.

The party was to remain one night in Richmond, and in the morning the
girls went alone to the Confederate Museum on Clay Street, which during
the Civil War was the “White House of the Confederacy.”

“I leave you young people to do the rest of the sightseeing,” Mrs.
Parsons said, and took her breakfast in bed, waited on by a colored
maid.

But at noon she appeared, trim and fresh again, in time for luncheon and
the ride to the railway station where they took the train for the South.

“Now we’re off for the Land of Cotton!” cried Helen. “This dip into
Dixie so far has only been a taste. What adventures are before us now,
do you suppose, Ruth?”

Her chum could not tell her. Indeed, neither of them could have imagined
quite what was to happen to them before they again turned their faces
north for the return journey.



CHAPTER XI—AT THE MERREDITH PLANTATION


The noontide bell at some distant cotton house sent a solemn note—like
an alarm—ringing across the lowlands. The warm, sweet smell of the
brakes almost overpowered the girls from the North. And lulling their
senses, too, were the bird-notes, seemingly from every tree and bush.

Long festoons of moss hung from some of the wide-armed trees. Here and
there, cleared hammocks were shaded by mighty oaks which may have been
standing when the first white settlers on this coast of the New World
established themselves at Georgetown, not many miles away.

Riding in the comfortable open carriage, behind a handsome pair of bay
horses, and driven by a liveried coachman with a footman likewise
caparisoned on the seat beside him, Ruth and Helen, as guests of Mrs.
Rachel Parsons and Nettie, had already come twenty miles from the
railroad station.

Despite the moisture and the heat, the girls from the North were
enjoying themselves hugely. The week that had passed since they had met
Nettie and her aunt at Old Point Comfort had been a most delightful one
for the chums.

The long railroad journey south from Richmond had been broken by stops
at points of interest, including New Bern, Wilmington, Pee Dee, and
finally Charleston. The latter city had interested the girls
immensely—quite as much as Richmond.

After two days there, the party had come back as far as Lanes and had
there taken the branch road for Georgetown, at the mouth of the Pee Dee
River, one of the oldest towns in the South, and around which linger
many memories of Revolutionary days. The guests would not see this old
town until a later date, however.

Leaving the train at a small station in the forest, they were met by
this handsome equipage and were now approaching the Merredith
plantation. Ruth, as silent as her companions, was contrasting in her
own mind this beautiful carriage and pair with the old Grogan barouche,
the knock-kneed horse, and Unc’ Simmy.

“Two phases of the new South,” she thought, for Ruth was rather prone to
a kind of mental problem that does not usually interest young folk of
her age. “Here is the progressive, up-to-date, money-making class
represented by Mrs. Parsons, reviving the ancient fortunes of her house.
While poor Miss Catalpa and her single faithful servant represent the
helpless and hopeless class, ruined by the war and—probably—ruined
before the war, only they had not found it out!

“The Southern families who are reviving will, in time, be wealthier than
they were under the old regime. But how many poor people like Miss
Catalpa there must be scattered through this Dixieland!”

The party soon came to where two huge oaks, scarred deeply by the axe,
intermingled their branches over the roadway.

“This is our gateway,” said Mrs. Parsons. “Here is the beginning of the
Merredith plantation.”

“Oh, Mrs. Parsons!” cried Helen, pointing to one side. “What is that
pole there? Or is it a dead tree?”

“A dead pine. And it has been dead more than a hundred years, yet it
still stands,” explained the lady. “They say that to its lowest branch
was hung a British spy in Revolutionary times—‘as high as Haman’; but
re’lly, how they ever climbed so high to affix the rope over the limb, I
cannot say.”

She spoke to the coachman in a minute: “Jeffreys!”

“Yes, ma’am,” replied the black man.

“Drive by the quarters.” She said “quahtahs.” “It will give the children
a chance to see us, and Dilsey and Patrick Henry won’t want them coming
to the Big House and littering up the lawn.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said the coachman and swung the horses into a by-road.

All the drives were beautifully kept. If there chanced to be a piece of
grass in a forest opening, it was clipped like a lawn. This end of the
great plantation was kept as well as an English park. Occasionally they
saw men at work amid the groves of lovely shade trees.

Suddenly there burst upon their view a sloping upland, dotted here and
there with groups of outbuildings and stables, checkered by fenced
pastures in which sleek cattle and horses grazed. There were truck
patches, too, belonging to the quarters, where the negroes lived.

These whitewashed cabins, with their attendant chicken-runs and
pig-pens—all whitewashed, too—were near at hand. As the carriage swung
out of the forest, the hum of a busy village broke upon the ears of the
girls, as the sight of all this rich and rolling upland burst upon their
view.

The green trees and the green grass contrasted with the white cots made
a delightfully cool picture for the eye.

The mistress’ equipage was sighted immediately and there boiled out of
the cabins a seemingly never-ending army of children and dogs. The dogs
were all of the hound breed, and the children were of one variety,
too—brown, bare-legged pickaninnies, about all of a size, and most of
them bow-legged.

But they were a laughing, happy crowd as they came tearing along the
lane to meet the carriage. The hullabaloo of the dogs and children
brought the mothers to the cabin doors, or around from their washtubs at
the rear of the cabins. They, too, were smiling and—many of them—in
clean frocks and new bandanas, prepared to meet “de quality.”

And there were so many of them, bowing and smiling at “Mistis,” as they
called Mrs. Parsons, and bidding her welcome! It was like a village
turning out to greet the feudal owner of the property. Mrs. Parsons
seemed to know all of them by name, and she shook hands with the older
women, and spoke particularly to some of the young women with babies in
their arms. Noticeably there were no children over seven or eight years
old at home; nor were there any young men or women, save the few married
girls with infants. Everybody else was at work in the fields, Ruth
learned. And she learned, too, in time, that the Merredith plantation
was one of the largest cotton farms in the state, and one of the most
productive.

A little later, however, as they rode on, the visitors learned that
there was something beside cotton grown on the estate. On the upland
they came to a field of corn. It extended farther than their eyes could
see—a waving, black-green, waist-high sea, its blades clashing like a
forest of green swords.

“How many acres in this piece, Jeffreys?” asked Mrs. Parsons, of the
coachman, seeing that the two Northern girls were interested.

“Four hundred acres, ma’am. I hear Mistah Lomaine say so.”

“We passed huge corn and grain fields when we went West to Silver
Ranch,” Ruth said. “But mostly in the night, I believe; and the corn was
not in the same stage of growth as this.”

“Cotton is still king in the South,” laughed Mrs. Parsons; “but Corn has
become his prime-minister. I believe some of our bottom lands will raise
even better corn than this.”

They rode steadily on, having taken a considerable sweep around to see
the “quarters,” and now approached the Big House. And it _was_ big! Ruth
and Helen never heard it called anything but the “Big House” by anybody
on the plantation.

It was set upon a low mound in a grove of whispering trees. The lawns
about it were like velvet; the grass was of that old-fashioned, short,
“door-yard” kind which finds root in many door-yards of the South and
spreads slowly and surely where the land is strong enough to sustain it.
It needs little attention from the lawnmower, but makes a thick, velvety
carpet.

The roots of some of the old trees had been exposed so many years that
their upper surface had rotted away, and in the rich mold thus made the
grass had taken root, upholstering low, inviting seats with its green
velvet.

The house itself—mansion it had better be called—was painted white, of
course, even to its brick foundation. The massive roof of the veranda
which sheltered the second-floor windows as well as those of the first
floor on the front of the main building, was upheld by six great fluted
pillars as sound now as when cut from an equal number of forest monarchs
and raised into place, a hundred years before.

On either side wings were built on to the main house, each big enough
for the largest family Ruth Fielding had ever known! What could possibly
be done with all those bedrooms upstairs was a mystery to her inquiring
mind until Nettie told her that, in the old slavery days, long before
the war, and when people traveled only on horseback and by coach, a
house party at the Merredith plantation meant the inviting for a week or
two of twenty-five ladies and as many gentlemen, and each had his or her
black attendant—valet, or maid—that had to be sheltered in the Big House
at night, although coachmen and footmen, and other “outriders” could
find room in the cabins, or stables.

Both wings were closed now; but the windows remained dressed, for Mrs.
Parsons would not allow any part of the old house to look ugly and
forlorn. Twice a year an army of colored women went through the empty
rooms and cleaned and scoured, just as though again a vast company were
expected.

The small retinue of house servants met the carriage at the foot of the
broad steps. They were mostly smiling young negroes, the men in livery
and the girls in cotton gowns, stiffly starched aprons, and white caps.
There was a broad, unctuous looking, mahogany colored “Mammy” on the top
step, and a gray-wooled, bent, old negro at the door of the carriage
when it stopped.

“Good day, ma’am! Good-day!” said the old man to Mrs. Parsons. “My duty
to you.”

He waved away the officious footman and insisted upon helping the
mistress of the Merredith plantation down with all the pompous service
of a major-domo.

“We are all well, Patrick Henry,” said Aunt Rachel. “Is everything right
on the plantation?”

“Yes’m; yes’m. I’ll be proud to make my report at any time, ma’am.”

“Oh, to-morrow, I pray, Patrick Henry,” cried Mrs. Parsons. She ran
lightly up the steps and the big colored woman, waiting there with
smiling lips but overflowing eyes, gathered the lady to her broad bosom
in a bearlike hug.

“Ma honey-gal! Ma little mistis!” she crooned, rocking the white woman’s
head to and fro upon her bosom. “Dilsey don’t reckon she’ll welcome yo’
here so bery many mo’ times; but she’s sho’ glad of dishyer one!”

“You are good for many years more, you know it, Mammy Dilsey!” laughed
Mrs. Parsons, breathlessly.

“Here’s Miss Nettie,” she said, “and two of her school friends—Miss Ruth
and Miss Helen. Of course, there is no need to ask you, Mammy Dilsey, if
everything is ready for them?”

“Sho’, chile!” chuckled the old negress. “Yo’ knows I wouldn’t fo’git
nottin’ like dat. De quality allus is treated proper at Mer’dith. Come
along, honeys; dere’s time t’ res’ yo’selfs an’ dress fo’ dinner. We
gwine t’ gib yo’ sech anudder dinner as yo’ ain’ seen, Miss Rachel,
since yo’ was yere airly in de spring. I know bery well yo’ been
stahvin’ ob yo’self in dem hotels in de Norf all dishyer w’ile.”



CHAPTER XII—THE BOY AT THE WAREHOUSE


“Goodness me!” cried Helen to Nettie. “How do you get along with so many
of these colored people under foot? I had thought it might be fun to
have so many servants; but I don’t believe I could stand it.”

“Oh, I don’t think Aunt Rachel has too many,” Nettie said carelessly.
“We don’t mind having them around. As long as their faces are smiling
and we know they are happy, we don’t mind. You see, we Southerners
actually like the negroes; you Northerners only _say_ you do.”

“Hear! hear!” cried Ruth. “There is a difference.”

“Well,” pouted Helen, “I don’t know that I have any dislike for them.
I—I guess maybe I’m not just used to them.”

“It takes several generations of familiarity, I reckon,” said Nettie,
with some gravity, “to breed the feeling we Southerners have for the
children of our old slaves. Slavery seems to have been a terrible
institution to you Northern girls; but we feel that the vast majority of
the negroes were better off in those days than they are now.

“Slavery after all is a condition of the mind,” Nettie said. “Those
blacks who were intelligent in the old days perhaps should have had
their freedom. But few slaves went with empty stomachs in the old days,
or had to worry about shelter.

“It is different now. Whites as well as blacks throughout the South
often go hungry. Aunt Rachel keeps many more people on the Merredith
plantation than she really needs to work it, so that there shall be
fewer starving families on the outskirts of the estate.”

“Your aunt is a dear, good woman,” Ruth said warmly. “I am sure whatever
she does is right.”

The girls were sitting in comfortable rocking chairs on the broad
veranda in the cool of the evening. A mocking-bird began to sing in a
tree near by and the three friends broke off their conversation to
listen to him.

“I’d have loved to see one of those grand companies of ladies and
gentlemen who used to visit here,” said Helen, after a little. “Such a
weekend party as that must have been worth while.”

“And you don’t like darkeys!” cried Nettie, laughing merrily. “Why, in
those times the place was alive with them. This piece of gravel before
the house was haunted by every darkey from the quarters. The gravel was
worked like a regular silver-mine. No gentleman mounted his horse before
the door here without scattering a handful of silver to the darkeys.
Even now, the men working for Aunt Rachel, sometimes find tarnished old
silver pieces as they rake over the gravel.”

“Dear me! let’s go silver-mining, Ruthie,” cried Helen. “I need to have
my purse replenished already.”

“And if you found any money here you would give it to that bright little
girl who waited on us so nicely upstairs,” laughed Ruth.

“Of course. That’s what I want it for,” confessed Helen.

“Your mind is perfectly adjusted to a system of slavery, my dear,”
Nettie said to Helen Cameron. “Here is my father’s picture of what
slavery meant to the South. He says he was walking along a street in New
Orleans years ago and saw an old gentleman grubbing in the mud of a
gutter with his cane. The old gentleman finally turned up a half dollar
which had been dropped there; and after picking it up and polishing it
on his handkerchief to make sure it was good money, he tossed it to the
nearest negro idling on the street corner.

“_That_ was slavery. It was the whites who were enslaved to the blacks,
after all. Both were bound by the system; but it was the negro who got
the best of it, for every half dollar that the white man earned he had
to pay for food to keep his slaves. Now,” added Nettie, smiling, “the
law even lets the bad white man cheat the ignorant black out of the
wages he earns, and the poor black may starve.”

“Dear me!” cried Helen, “we’re getting as sociological as one of Miss
Brokaw’s lectures. Let’s not. Keep your information to yourself, please,
Miss Parsons. Positively I refuse to learn anything about social
conditions in the South while I am in the Land of Cotton. I’ll get my
information from text-books and at a distance. This is too beautiful a
landscape to have it spoiled by statistics and examples, or any other
_such trash_!”

By and by, as the darkness came swiftly (so swiftly that it surprised
the visitors from the North) a bird flew heavily out of the lowlands and
pitched upon a dead limb near the house. At once the plaintive cry of
“whip-poor-will!” resounded through the night, and Ruth and Helen began
to count the number of times in succession the bird uttered its somber
note without a break.

Usually the count numbered from forty-three to forty-seven—never an even
number; but Nettie said she had heard one demand “the castigation of
poor William” more than seventy times before stopping.

The whippoorwill flew to other “pitches” near the house, and once
actually lit upon the roof to utter his love-call; but never, Nettie
told the other girls, would the bird alight upon a live branch.

Just before his cry began they could hear him “cluck! cluck! cluck!”
just like an old hen—or, as Ruth suggested—“like a rheumatic old clock
getting ready to strike.”

“He’s clearing his voice,” declared Helen. “Now! off he goes. Isn’t he
funny?”

“I wonder what the little whippoorwillies are like?” asked Ruth.

“I don’t know. I never saw the young. But I’ve seen a nest,” said
Nettie. “The whippoorwill makes it right out in the open, on the top of
an old stump, or on a boulder. There the female lays the eggs and
shelters them and the young from the storms with her own body.”

“My, I’d like to see one!” exclaimed Helen.

But there were more interesting things than the nest of the whippoorwill
to see about the Merredith plantation. And the sightseeing began the
next morning, before the sun had been long up.

Immediately after breakfast, while it was still cool, the horses
appeared on the gravel before the great door, each held by a grinning
negro lad from the stables. No Southern plantation would be properly
equipped without a plentiful supply of good riding stock, and Mrs.
Parsons had bred some rather famous horses during the time she had
governed her ancestral estate.

Ruth and Helen had learned to ride well when they visited Silver Ranch
some years before; so they were not afraid to mount the spirited animals
that danced and curveted upon the gravel. Mr. Lomaine, the
superintendent of the estate, and whom the visitors had met the evening
before, came pacing along from the stables upon a great, black horse,
ready to accompany the three girls upon a tour of inspection.

Mr. Lomaine was a very pleasant gentleman and was dressed in black,
wearing a broad-brimmed black hat, riding puttees, and gauntlets. The
whip he carried was silver-mounted. He had entire charge of the work on
the plantation; but the old negro, Patrick Henry, Mammy Dilsey’s
husband, had personal care of the house, its belongings, and the other
negroes’ welfare.

“Come on, girls,” cried Nettie, showing more vigor than she usually
displayed as she was helped into her saddle by one of the attendants.
“I’m just aching for a ride.”

They rode, however, with side-saddle, and neither Ruth nor Helen felt as
sure of themselves mounted in this way as they had in the West on the
cow-ponies belonging to Mr. Bill Hicks.

The morning, however, was delightful. The dogs and little negroes
cheered the cavalcade as they passed in sight of the cabins. Had Mr.
Lomaine not ordered them back, a dozen or more of both pickaninnies and
canines would have followed “de quality” around the plantation.

They rode down from the corn lands to the cotton fields. Negroes and
mules were at work everywhere. “I do say!” gasped Helen. “I didn’t know
there were so many mules in the whole world. Funny things! with their
shaved tails and long ears.”

“And hind feet with the itch!” exclaimed Ruth. “I don’t want to get near
the _dangerous_ end of one of those creatures.”

The cavalcade followed the roads through the fields of cotton and down
to the river bank. Here stood the long cotton warehouse and the
gin-house and press, where the cotton is prepared, baled, and stored for
the market. The Merredith cotton was shipped direct from the
plantation’s own dock, and the buyers came here at the selling time to
inspect and judge the quality of the output.

The warehouse boss, a long, lean, yellow man with a chin whisker that
wabbled in a funny way every time he spoke, came out on the platform to
speak with Mr. Lomaine. There were some hands inside trundling baled
cotton from one end of the dark warehouse to the other.

“Hullo!” exclaimed Mr. Lomaine, within the girls’ hearing, and after a
minute or two of desultory conversation with the boss. “Hullo! who’s
that white boy you got there, Jimson?”

“That boy?” returned the man, with a broad grin. “That’s a little,
starvin’ Yank that come along. I had to feed him; so I thought I’d
bettah put him to work. And he kin work—sho’ kin!”

Ruth’s eye would never have been attracted by the slim figure wheeling
the big cotton bale had she not overheard this speech. A boy from the
North? And he had curly hair.

It was a very dilapidated figure, indeed, that Ruth watched trundle the
bale down the shadowy length of the warehouse. When his load was
deposited he wheeled the hand-truck back for another bale. His face was
red and he was perspiring. Ruth thought the work must be very arduous
for his slight figure.

And then she forgot all about anything but the identity of the boy. It
was Henry Smith—“Curly” as he was known about Lumberton, New York. She
glanced quickly at her chum. Helen saw the boy, too, and had recognized
him as quickly as had Ruth herself.



CHAPTER XIII—RUTH IS TROUBLED


“What shall we do about it?” asked Helen.

“Do about what, dear?”

“You know very well, Ruthie Fielding! You saw him as well as I did,”
Helen declared.

They were riding slowly back to the Big House after their visit to the
river side, and Helen reined her horse close in beside her chum’s mount.

“I know what you mean,” admitted Ruth, placidly. “Do you think it is
necessary for us to say anything—especially where others might hear?”

“But that’s Curly!” whispered Helen, fiercely.

“I am sure of it.”

“And did you see how he looked? Why, the boy is in rags. He even looks
much worse than when we last saw him—when he saved me from that deer at
Norfolk,” and Helen began to giggle at the recollection.

“Something has happened to poor Curly since then,” said Ruth, with a
sigh. “I guess he has found out that it is not so much fun to run away
as he thought.”

“The man said he was starving,” sighed Helen.

“He certainly must have been having a hard time,” Ruth returned. “I’ll
write to his grandmother again. Her answer to my letter written at Old
Point Comfort has not arrived yet; but I think she ought to know that we
have found Curly again.”

“And tell her he is ragged and hungry. Maybe it will touch her heart,”
begged Helen. “But we ought to do something for him, Ruth.”

“Maybe.”

“Of course we should. Why not?”

“It might scare him away if he knew that anybody here had recognized
him. It is such a coincidence that he should come right here to this
Merredith plantation,” Ruth said. “What do you suppose it means? Could
he have known that we were coming here, and is he trying to find us?”

“Oh, Ruth! He’d know we would help him, wouldn’t he?”

“I didn’t think that Curly was the sort of boy to hunt up girl’s help in
any case,” laughed Ruth.

“Don’t laugh! it seems so cruel. Hungry!” breathed Helen.

“The boy is learning something,” her chum said, with decision. “Now that
he is really away from his grandmother, I hope this will teach him a
lesson. I don’t want any harm to come to Curly Smith; but if he learns
that his home is better than a loose life among strangers, it will be a
good thing.”

“Why, Ruth!” gasped Helen. “You talk just as though the police were not
looking for him.”

“Hush! we won’t tell everybody that,” advised Ruth. “Probably they will
never discover him here, in any case. His crime is not so great in the
eyes of the law.”

“I don’t believe he ever did it!” cried Helen.

“Neither do I. It seems to me,” Ruth said gravely, “that if he had
helped those men commit the robbery, he would have gone away from
Lumberton with them.”

“That is so!”

“And he shows that he has no criminal friends, or he would not come so
far—and all alone. Nor would he have been so forlorn and hungry, if he
was willing to steal.”

Ruth wrote her letter, as she promised; and she thought a good deal
about the boy they had seen at the cotton warehouse. Suppose Curly Smith
should take up his wanderings from this place? Suppose the warehouseman,
Mr. Jimson, should discharge him? The man had spoken in rather an
unfeeling way of the “little, hungry Yank,” and Ruth did not know how
good at heart the lanky, chin-whiskered man was.

She determined to do something to make it reasonably sure that Curly
would remain on the Merredith plantation until she could hear from his
grandmother. Possibly the trouble in Lumberton might be settled. If the
railroad had not lost much money—provided it was really proved that
Curly had recklessly helped the thieves—the matter might be straightened
out if Mrs. Sadoc Smith would refund a portion of the money lost.

And by this time Ruth believed the boy’s grandmother might be willing to
do just that. It was very natural for her to announce in the first flush
of her anger and shame, that she would have nothing more to do with her
grandson, but Ruth was quite sure she loved him devotedly, and that her
heart would soon be yearning for his graceless self.

Besides, when Mrs. Smith read the letter Ruth wrote, she would know that
the wandering boy was in trouble and in poverty. As Helen begged her,
Ruth had written these facts “strong.” She had made out Curly’s case to
be as pitiful as possible, and she hoped for results from Lumberton.

Suppose, however, if a forgiving letter came from Mrs. Sadoc Smith,
Curly could not then be found at the warehouse on the river side? Ruth
thought of this during the heat of the day, when the family at the Big
House rested. That siesta after luncheon seemed necessary here, in the
warm, moist climate of the river-lands. Ruth awoke about three o’clock,
with an idea for action in Curly Smith’s case. She slipped out of the
room without disturbing Helen.

Running downstairs she found that nobody had yet descended. Two of the
liveried men rose yawning from the mahogany settees in the hall. A
downstairs girl dozed with her head on her arms on the center table in
one reception room.

“The castle of the Sleeping Beauty,” murmured Ruth, smiling, and without
speaking to any of the house servants, she ran out.

She knew the way to the stables and there were signs of life there. Two
or three of the grooms were currying horses in the yard, and idly
talking and laughing. One of them threw down the currycomb and brush and
ran immediately to Ruth as she appeared at the bars.

Ruth recognized him as the boy who had held her horse while she mounted
that morning, and she suspected immediately that he had been instructed
to be at her beck and call if she expressed any desire for a mount. She
asked him if that was so.

“Yes, ma’am. Patrick Henry say fo’ me t’ ‘tend yo’ if yo’ rode.”

“Can I ride out any time?” asked the girl.

He grinned at her widely. “Sho’ kin, ma’am,” he said. “Dat little bay
mare wid de scah on her hip, she at yo’ sarbice—an’ so’s Toby.”

“You are Toby?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am.”

“Then saddle the mare for me at once and—stay! can you go with me?”

“Positive got t’ go wid yo’, miss. Ab-so-lum-lute-ly,” declared the
negro, gravely. “Dem’s ma ’structions f’om Patrick Henry.”

“All right, Toby. I want to go back to that cotton warehouse where we
stopped this morning. I forgot something.”

“Ready in a pig’s wink, Miss Ruth,” declared the young negro, and ran
off to saddle the bay mare and get, for himself, a wicked looking
speckled mule.

The bay mare felt just as much refreshed by her siesta as Ruth did. She
started when Ruth was in the saddle, seemingly with a determination to
break her own record for speed. The girl of the Red Mill, her hat off,
her hair flying, and her eyes and cheeks aglow, looked back to see what
had become of Toby and the speckled mule.

But she need not have worried about them. Toby had no saddle, and only a
rope bridle; but he clung to the mule like a limpet to a rock, with his
great-toes between two ribs, “tick’lin’ ob ‘im up!” as he expressed it
to the laughing Ruth, when at last she brought the mare to a halt in
sight of the river.

“Dishyer mu-el,” declared Toby, “I s’pec could beat out dat mare on a
long lane; but I got t’ hol’ Mistah Mu-el in, ’cause Patrick Henry done
tol’ me hit ain’ polite t’ ride ahaid ob de quality.”

He dropped respectfully to the rear when they started again, only
calling out to Ruth the turns to take as they rode on. In half an hour
they were in sight of the cotton warehouse.

It was just then that the girl almost drew her bay mare to a full stop.
It smote her suddenly that she had not made up her mind just how she
should approach Curly Smith, the runaway.



CHAPTER XIV—RUTH FINDS A HELPER


The warehouse foreman, or “boss,” was sunning himself on the end
platform, just where the lap, lap, lap of the river drowsed upon his ear
on one side, and the buzzing of the bees drowsed on the other. He
started from his nap at the clatter of hoofs and beheld one of those
“little Miss Yanks,” as he privately called the visitors to Merredith,
reining in her horse before him, with the grinning darkey a proper
distance behind.

“Wal, I’ll be whip-sawed!” ejaculated Mr. Jimson, under his breath. Then
aloud: “Mighty glad t’ see yo’, miss. It’s a pretty evenin’, ain’t it?
What seems t’ be the trouble?”

“Oh, no trouble at all,” said the girl of the Red Mill, brightly. “I—I
just thought I’d stop and speak to you.”

“That’s handsome of yo’,” agreed the man, but with a puzzled look.

“I wanted another ride,” went on Ruth, “and I got Toby to take me around
this way. Because, you see, I’m curious.”

“Is that so, Miss Ruth?” returned the long and lanky man. “Seems t’ me
we most of us are. What is yo’ curiosity aimin’ at right now?”

Ruth laughed, as she saw his gray eyes twinkling. But she put on a brave
front and said: “I’d dearly love to see into your cotton storehouse.
Can’t I come in? Are the men working there now?”

“Yes’m. And the boys,” said Mr. Jimson, drily.

Ruth had to flush at that. How the boss had guessed her errand she did
not know; but she believed he suspected the reason for her visit. It was
a moment or two before she could decide whether to confide in him or
not.

Meanwhile, Toby held her stirrup and she leaped down and mounted the
platform. The negro led the mare and the mule into the shade. Mr. Jimson
still smiled lazily at her, and chewed a straw.

Finally, when Ruth was just before the man, she smiled one of her
friendly, confiding smiles and he capitulated.

“Miss Ruth,” he said, in his soft, Southern drawl, “Jes’ what is it yo’
want? I saw you an’ that other little Miss Yank—beggin’ yo’
pahdon—lookin’ at that rag’muffin I took in yisterday, an’ I s’pected
that you knowed him.”

“Oh, Mr. Jimson! how sharp you are.”

“Pretty sharp,” admitted the boss, with a sly smile. “I’d like t’ know
what he’s done.”

“He’s run away from home,” Ruth said quickly.

“Ya-as. They mos’ allus do. But what did he do ’fore he ran away, Miss
Ruth?”

The man’s dry, crooked smile held assurance in it. Ruth realized that if
she wanted his help—and she did—she must be more open with Mr. Jimson.

“I don’t believe that he has really done anything very bad,” Ruth said
gravely. “It was what he was accused of and the punishment threatening
him, which made Curly run away.”

“Curly?” repeated Jimson.

“Yes. That’s what we call him. His name is Henry Smith.”

“I’ll be whip-sawed!” exclaimed Jimson. “I like that boy. He give me his
real name—he sho’ did. Curly Smith he said ’twas. An’ yit, _that_‘d be
as good a disguise as he could ha’ thunk up, mebbe. Smith’s a mighty
common name, ain’t it?”

“Curly always was a frank and truthful boy. But he was full of
mischief.”

She knew that she had Mr. Jimson’s sympathy for the boy now, so she
began to tell him all about Curly. The warehouse boss listened without
interruption save for an occasional, “sho’, now!” or “you don’t say!”
Her own and Helen’s adventures since they had left home to come South,
seemed to amuse Mr. Jimson a great deal, too.

“I’ll be whip-sawed!” he exclaimed, at last. “You little Miss Yanks are
the beatenes’—I declar’! Never heard tell of sech gals as you are,
travelin’ about alone—jest as perky as young pa’tridges! Sho’ now!”

“My chum and I have gone about a good deal alone. We don’t think it so
very strange. ‘Most always my friend’s twin brother is with us.”

“Wal, that don’t make so much difference,” said Mr. Jimson. “Her twin
brother? Is he older’n she is?” he added, quite innocently.

“Oh, no,” Ruth admitted, stifling a desire to laugh. “My chum and I feel
quite confident of finding our way about all right.”

“Sho’ now! I got a gal at home that’s bigger’n older’n you and Miss
Helen and her maw wouldn’t trust her t’ go t’ the Big House for a
drawin’ of tea. She’d plumb git lost,” chuckled Mr. Jimson. “But now!
about this boy. What d’ yo’ want t’ do about him?”

“Oh, Mr. Jimson!” Ruth cried. “I do so want to be sure that Curly stays
here until I can hear from his grandmother. I have written to her and
begged her to take him back——”

“An’ git him grabbed by the police?” demanded Jimson.

“He ought to go back and fight it out,” Ruth declared firmly. “He ought
not to knock about the world, and fall into bad associations as he may,
and come to harm. I don’t believe he will be punished if he is not
guilty.”

“It don’t a-tall matter whether a man’s innocent or guilty,” objected
Mr. Jimson. “If the police is after him, he’s jest natcher’ly _scared_.”

“I suppose so,” Ruth admitted. “I would run away myself, I suppose. But
I want Curly to go back to Mrs. Sadoc Smith.”

“Jest as you say, Miss Ruth. I’ll hold on to him,” the warehouse boss
promised.

“I hope he doesn’t see us girls and get frightened, thinking that we’ll
tell on him,” Ruth said.

“I’ll see to it that he doesn’t skedaddle,” Mr. Jimson assured her.
“He’s sleepin’ at my shack nights. I’ll lock him in his room.”

Ruth laughed at that, and rather ruefully. “That’s what his grandmother
did,” she observed. “But it didn’t do any good, you see. He got out of
the window and went over the shed roof to the ground. And it was a
twenty-foot drop, too.”

“Don’t yo’ fret,” said Mr. Jimson. “The windah of his room is barred.
And he’d half t’ drop into the river. By the looks of things,” he added,
cocking his eye at the treetops, “there’s goin’ to be plenty of water in
this river pretty soon.”

Jimson was a prophet. That very night it began to rain.



CHAPTER XV—THE RIDE TO HOLLOWAYS


Being kept indoors by the rain was not altogether a privation. At least,
the three girls staying at the Big House did not find it such.

They became acquainted with Mammy Dilsey during that first day of rain.
At least, the girls from the North did; Nettie had been a pet of the old
woman for years.

Dilsey was full of old-time stories—just such stories as were calculated
to enthrall girls of the age of Ruth Fielding and her friends. For even
Ruth, with all her good sense and soberness, loved to hear of pretty
ladies, in pretty frocks, and with beautifully dressed gentlemen dancing
attendance upon them, such as in the old times often filled Merredith
House.

Mammy Dilsey insisted she could remember when men really dressed in
satin and lace, and wore wonderfully fluted shirt-bosoms, and fine linen
and broadcloth. The pre-Civil War ladies, of course, with their
crinolines, and tiny bonnets, and enormous shade-hats must have looked
really beautiful. The girls listened to the tales of the parties at the
Big House almost breathlessly.

“An’ dat time de Gov’nor come—de _two_ Gov’nors come,” sighed Mammy
Dilsey. “De Gov’nor ob No’th Ca’lina an’ de Gov’nor ob So’th Ca’lina——”

“I know what they _said_ to each other—those two governors,” interrupted
Helen, her eyes dancing. “My father told me.”

“I dunno wot dey _said_,” said Mammy Dilsey, who did not know the old
joke. “But I sho’ knows how dey _looked_. Dey was bof such big,
upstandin’ sort o’ men. My-oh-my! Ah tells yo’, chillen, dey was a big
_breed_ o’ men in dese pahts in dem days—sho’ was.

“Ma Miss Rachel, she been a li’le tinty gal in dem days. Ah car’s her in
ma arms ‘mos’ de time. Her maw was weakly-like. An’ I could walk up an’
down de end o’ dis big verandah wid dat mite ob a baby, an’ see all dat
went on.

“My-oh-my! de splendid car’ages, an’ de beautiful horses, an’ de fine
ladies an’ gemmen—dere nebber’ll be nothin’ like it fo’ ol’ Mammy Dilsey
t’ see ag’in twill she gits t’ dat Hebenly sho’ an’ see dat angel band
wot de Good Book talks about.”

Incidents of this great party at the Merredith plantation, and of other
famous entertainments there, were still as fresh in Mammy Dilsey’s mind
as the occurrences of yesterday.

“Oh, goodness,” sighed Helen, “there never will be any fun for girls
again. And nowadays the boys only care to go to baseball games, or to go
hunting and fishing. They refuse to come at _our_ beck and call as they
used to in these times Mammy Dilsey tells about.”

“I guess we make _ourselves_ too much like _them_selves,” laughed Ruth.
“That’s why the boys of to-day are different. If chivalry is dead, we
women folks have killed it.”

“I don’t see why,” pouted Helen.

“Oh, my dear!” cried her chum. “You want to have your cake and eat it,
too. It can’t be done. If we girls want the boys to be gallant and dance
attendance on us, and cater to our whims—as they certainly did in our
grandmothers’ days—we must not be rough and ready friends with them:
play golf, tennis, swim, run, bat balls, and—and talk slang—the equal of
our boy friends in every particular.”

“You’re so funny, Ruthie,” laughed Nettie.

“Lecture by Miss Ruth Fielding, the famous woman’s rights advocate,”
groaned Helen.

“I am not sure I advocate it, my dear,” sighed Ruth. “‘I, too, would
love and live in Arcady.’”

“Goodness! hear her exude sentiment,” gasped Helen. “Who ever thought to
live till _that_ wonder was born?”

“Maybe, after all, Ruth has the right idea,” said Nettie, timidly. “My
cousin Mapes says that he finds lots of girls who are ‘good fellows’;
but that when he marries he doesn’t want to marry a ‘good fellow,’ but a
_wife_.”

“Horrid thing!” Helen declared. “I don’t like your cousin Mapes,
Nettie.”

“I am not sure that a girl might not, after all, fill your cousin’s
‘bill of particulars,’ if she would,” Ruth said, laughing. “‘Friend
Wife’ can still be a good comrade, and darn her husband’s socks. I
guess, after all, not many young fellows would want to marry the kind of
girl his grandmother was.”

The trio of girls did not spend all their rainy hours with Mammy Dilsey,
or in such discussions as the above. Besides, now and then the sun broke
through the clouds and then the whole world seemed to steam.

The girls had the big porch to exercise upon, and as soon as it promised
any decided change in the weather there were plans for new activities.

Across the river was a place called Holloways—actually a small island.
It was quite a resort in the summer, there being a hotel and several
cottages, occupied by Georgetown and Charleston people through the hot
season.

Mrs. Parsons thought that her young guests would become woefully lonely
and “fair ill of Merredith,” if they did not soon have some social
diversion, so it was planned to go to Holloways to the weekend “hop”
held by the hotel guests and cottagers.

This was nothing like a public dance. Mrs. Parsons would not have
approved of that. But the little coterie of hotel guests and the
neighbors arranged very pleasant parties which the mistress of the
Merredith plantation was not averse to her young folks attending.

As it happened, she herself could not go. A telegram from her lawyers in
Charleston called Mrs. Parsons to the city only a few hours before the
time set for the party to start for Holloways.

“Now, listen!” cried Aunt Rachel. “You girls shall not be
disappointed—no, indeed! Mrs. Holloway will herself act as your chaperon
and will take good care of you. We should remain at her hotel over
night, in any case.”

“But we won’t have half so much fun if you don’t go, Mrs. Parsons,”
Helen said.

“Nonsense! nonsense! what trio of girls was ever enamored of a strict
duenna like me?” and Mrs. Parsons laughed. “I’ll send one of the boys on
ahead with a note to Mrs. Holloway to look out for you and Jeffreys will
drive you over and come after you to-morrow noon. I believe in girls
sleeping till noon after a party.”

“But how are you going to the station, Aunt Rachel?” cried Nettie.

“I’ll ride Nordeck. And John shall ride after me and bring the horse
back. Now, scatter to do your own primping, girls, and let Mammy Dilsey
’tend to me.”

In half an hour Mrs. Parsons was off—such need was there for haste. She
went on horseback with a single retainer, as she said, riding at her
heels. Although the weather appeared to have cleared permanently, the
creeks were up and Mr. Lomaine reported the river already swollen.

Mrs. Parsons had been wise to ride horseback; a carriage might not have
got safely through some of the fords she would be obliged to cross
between the plantation and the railroad station.

On the other hand, the girls bound for Holloways were not likely to be
held back, for there were bridges instead of fords. All in their party
finery, Ruth and Helen and Nettie started away from the Big House in the
roomy family carriage, and with them went Norma, Nettie’s own little
colored maid, with her sewing kit and extra wraps.

The road to the bridge which spanned the wide river led directly past
the cotton warehouse. Ruth had not been there since her conversation
with Mr. Jimson; but the warehouse boss had sent her word twice that
Curly Smith seemed to be contented and desired to remain.

Both of the Northern girls were extremely anxious to see the boy from
Lumberton. Ruth looked every day, now, for a letter from Mrs. Sadoc
Smith; and she hoped the stern old woman would relent and ask her
grandson to return.

The river was, as Mr. Lomaine had said, very high. The brown, muddy
current was littered with logs, uprooted trees, fence rails, pig-pens,
hen houses, and other light litter wrenched from the banks during the
last few days. Ruth said it looked quite as angry as the Lumano, at the
Red Mill, when there was a flood.

Jeffreys had brought the carriage to a full stop on the bank overlooking
the stream and the warehouse. The water surged almost level with the
shipping platform. There had been a reason for Mr. Jimson’s shifting all
the cotton in storage to the upper end of the huge building. He had
foreseen this rain and feared a flood.

Suddenly, just as Jeffreys was about to drive on, Helen uttered a
scream, and pointed to a drifting hencoop.

“See! See that poor thing!” she cried.

“What’s the matter now, honey?” asked Nettie. “I don’t see anything.”

“On the roof of that coop,” Ruth said quickly espying what her chum saw.
“The poor cat!”

“Where is there a cat?” cried Nettie, anxiously. She was a little
near-sighted and could not focus her gaze upon the small object on the
raft as quickly as the chums from the North.

“Dear me, Nettie!” cried Helen, in exasperation. “If you met a bear he’d
have to bite you before you’d know he was there.”

“Never mind,” drawled the Southern girl, “I am not being chased and
knocked down by deer——Oh! I see the poor kitty.”

“I should hope you did!” Helen said. “And it’s going to be drowned!”

“No, no,” Ruth said. “I hope not. Can’t it be brought ashore? See! that
coop is swinging into an eddy.”

“Well, Ruthie Fielding!” cried Helen, “you’re not going to jump
overboard in your party dress, and try to get that poor cat, I should
hope!”

“There’s a boy who can get her!” exclaimed Nettie, standing up in the
carriage, and being able to see well enough to espy a figure on a small
raft down by the loading dock.

“Oh, Nettie! ask him to try!” gasped Ruth.

“Hey, boy!” called Nettie. “Can’t you save that poor cat for us?”

The boy turned, and both Ruth and Helen recognized the curly head—if not
the shockingly ragged garments—of Henry Smith. He waved a reassuring
hand and pushed off from the platform.

Mr. Jimson came running from the interior of the warehouse and shouted
after him.

“There! I hope we haven’t got him into more trouble,” mourned Ruth.

“And he can’t get the cat,” wailed Helen, in a moment. “The current is
taking the raft clear out into midstream.”

Curly was working vigorously with the single sweep, however, and he
finally brought the cumbersome craft to the edge of the eddy where the
hencoop with its frightened passenger whirled under the high bank.

“Yo’ kyant git that cat, you fool boy!” bawled Jimson. “And yo’ll lose
my raft.”

“Oh, Mr. Jimson!” cried Nettie. “We do want him to save that cat if he
can.”

“But he’ll lose a mighty good oar, an’ that raft,” complained the boss.

“Never mind,” said Nettie, firmly. “You can make another oar and another
raft. But how are you going to make another cat?”

“I’ll be whip-sawed!” exclaimed the long and lanky man. “Who ever heard
the like of that? There’s enough cats come natcher’lly without nobody’s
wantin’ t’ make none.”

The girls laughed at this, but they were anxious about the cat. And, the
next moment, they began to be anxious about the boy.

Curly threw away the oar and plunged right into the eddy. He had little
clothing on, and no shoes, so he was not greatly trammeled in swimming
to the drifting hencoop. But once there, how would he get the cat
ashore?

However, the boy went about his task in quite a manful manner. He
climbed up, got one arm hooked over the roof and reached for the wet and
frightened cat. The poor creature was so despairing that she could not
even use her claws in defense, and Curly pulled her off her perch and
set her on his shoulder.

There she clung trembling, and when Curly let himself down into the
water again she only uttered a wailing, “Me-e-ou!” and did not try to
scratch him. He struck out for the shore, keeping his shoulders well out
of the water, and after a fight of a minute or two, brought the cat to
land.

Once within reach of the land, the cat leaped ashore and darted into the
bushes; while Jimson helped the breathless Curly to land.

“There! yo’ reckless creatuah!” exclaimed the man. “I’ve seen folks
drown in a current no worse than that. Stan’ up an’ make yo’ bow t’ Miss
Nettie, here,” and he turned to Nettie, who had got out of the carriage
in her interest.

Ruth and Helen stayed back. They did not wish to thrust themselves on
the notice of Curly Smith. Nettie told Jimson to see that the saturated
boy had a new outfit.

“And don’t let him get away till Aunt Rachel returns from Charleston and
sees him. She’ll want to do something for him, I know,” she added.

The boy glanced shyly up at the girls and suddenly caught sight of Ruth
and Helen in the background. Like a shot he wheeled and ran into the
bushes.

“Oh! catch him!” gasped Ruth. “Don’t let him run away, Mr. Jimson.”

“He’s streakin’ it for my shack, I reckon,” said the boss. “Mis
Jimson’ll find him some old duds of mine to put on.”

“But maybe he won’t come back,” said Helen, likewise anxious.

“Ya-as he will. I ain’t paid him fo’ his wo’k here,” chuckled Jimson.
“He’ll stay a while longah. Don’t fret about that.”

Nettie got back into the carriage, which went on toward the bridge. As
they crossed the long span the girls saw that the current was roaring
between the piers and that much rubbish was held upstream by the bridge.
The bridge shook under the blows of the logs and other debris which
charged against it.

“My! this is dangerous!” cried Helen. “Suppose the bridge should give
way?”

“Then we would not get home very easily,” laughed Nettie.

It was not a laughing matter, however, when they came later to the
shorter span that bridged the back water between the island where the
hotel was situated, and the shore of the river. Here the rough current
was level with the plank flooring of the bridge, and as the carriage
rattled over, the girls could feel that the planks were almost ready to
float away.

“We’ll be marooned on this island,” said Ruth, “if the water rises much
higher.”

“Who cares?” laughed Nettie, to whom it was all an exciting adventure
and nothing more. With all her natural timidity she did not look ahead
very far.

Jeffreys and the footman were in a hurry to get back. The instant the
girls and their little maid got out at the hotel steps, the coachman
turned the horses and hastened away.

A little, smiling woman in a trailing gown came down the steps to
welcome the party from Merredith. “I am Mrs. Holloway,” she said. “I am
glad to see you, girls. Jake reached here about an hour ago and said
Mrs. Parsons could not come. It is to be deplored; but it need not
subtract any from your pleasure on the occasion.

“Come in—do,” she added. “I will show you to your rooms.”



CHAPTER XVI—THE “HOP”


It was not a large hotel, and altogether it could not have housed more
than fifty guests. But in the dusk, as the girls from Merredith had
ridden over in the carriage, they could see that there were several
attractive cottages on the island. There was a deal of life about the
caravansary.

Now there was just time for Ruth Fielding and her friends to take a peep
in the mirror before running down at the sound of the dinner gong to
take the places Mrs. Holloway had pointed out to them in the dining
room.

The other guests came trooping in from the porches and from their
rooms—most of the matrons and young girls already in their party frocks,
like the girls from Merredith. Mrs. Holloway found an opportunity to
introduce the trio of friends to several people, while Nettie Parsons
was already known to many of the matrons present.

The affair was to begin early. Indeed, the girls heard the fiddles
tuning up before dinner was ended.

“Oh! hear that fiddle. Doesn’t it make your feet fairly _itch_?” cried
Nettie. Nettie, like most Southern girls, loved dancing.

There were some Virginia reels and some square dances, and all, old and
young, joined in these. The reels were a general romp, it was true; but
the fun and frolic were of the most harmless character.

The master of ceremonies called out the changes in a resonant voice and
all—old and young—danced the square dance with hearty enjoyment. The
girls from the North had never seen quite such a party as this; but they
enjoyed it hugely. They were not allowed to be without partners for any
dance; and the boys introduced to Ruth and Helen were nice and polite
and—most of them—danced well.

“Learning to dance seems to be more common among Southern boys than up
North,” Helen said. “Even Tom says he _hates_ dancing. And it’s
sometimes hard to get good partners at the school dances at Briarwood.”

“I think we have our boys down here better trained,” said Nettie,
smiling.

The girls heard, as the time passed, several people expressing their
wonder that certain guests from the mainland had not arrived. The
dancing floor, which occupied more than half the lower floor of the
hotel, was by no means crowded, although every white person on the
island was in attendance—either dancing or looking on.

At the back, the gallery was crowded with blacks, their shining faces
thrust in at the windows to watch the white folk. In fact, the whole
population of Holloway Island was at the hotel.

The last few guests who had arrived from the cottages came under
umbrellas as it had begun to rain again. When the fiddles stopped they
could hear the drumming of the rain on the porch roofs.

“I’m glad we aren’t obliged to go home to-night,” said Nettie, with a
little shiver, as she stood with her friends near a porch window during
an intermission. “Hear that rain pouring down!”

“And how do you suppose the bridges are?” asked Helen.

“There! I reckon that’s why those folks from the other shore didn’t get
here,” Nettie said. “I shouldn’t wonder if the planks of the old bridge
had floated away.”

“Whoo!” Helen cried. “How are _we_ going to get home?”

“By boat, maybe,” laughed Ruth. “Don’t worry. To-morrow is another day.”

And just as she said this the hotel was jarred suddenly, throughout its
every beam and girder! The fiddles had just started again. They stopped.
For a moment not a sound broke the startled silence in the ballroom.

Then the building shook again. There was an unmistakable thumping at the
up-river end of the building. The thumping was repeated.

“Something’s broken loose!” exclaimed Helen.

“Let’s see what it means!” exclaimed Ruth, and she darted out of the
long window.

Her chum and Nettie followed her. But when they found themselves
splashing through water which had risen over the porch flooring, almost
ankle deep, Nettie squealed and ran back. Helen followed Ruth to the
upper end of the porch. The oil lamps burning there revealed a sight
that both amazed and terrified the girls from the North.

The river had risen over its banks. It surged about the front of the
hotel, but had not surrounded it, for the land at the back was higher.

In the semi-darkness, however, the girls saw a large object looming
above the porch roof, and it again struck against the hotel. It was a
light cottage that had been raised from its foundation and swept by the
current against the larger building.

Again it crashed into the corner of the hotel. The roof of the porch was
wrecked at this corner by the heavy blow. Windows crashed and servants
began to scream. Ruth clutched Helen and drew her back against the wall
as the chimney-bricks of the drifting cottage fell through the broken
roof of the veranda.



CHAPTER XVII—THE FLOOD RISES


There was a doorway near at hand—the floor of the house being one step
higher than the porch which was now flooded. Ruth was just about to drag
her chum into this doorway when a figure plunged out of it—a thin,
graceless figure in a rain-garment of some kind—and little else, as it
proved.

“Oh! oh! oh!” screamed the stranger as she spattered into the water in
her slippered feet. “I am killed! I am drowned!”

Helen began actually to giggle. It did not seem so tragic to her that
the hotel on the island should become suddenly surrounded by water, or
be battered by drifting buildings which the flood had uprooted. The
surprise and fright the woman expressed as she halted on the porch, was
calculated to arouse one’s laughter.

“Oh, oh, oh!” said the woman, more feebly.

“Come right back into the house—do!” cried Ruth. “You won’t get wet
there.”

“But the house is falling down!” gasped the woman, and as she turned the
lamplight from the hall revealed her features, and Helen uttered a
stifled cry.

She recognized the woman’s face. So did Ruth, and amazement possessed
both the girls. There was no mistaking the features of the irritable,
nervous teacher from New England, Miss Miggs!

“Do come into the house, Miss Miggs,” urged Ruth. “It isn’t going to
fall yet.”

“How do you know?” snapped the school teacher, as obstinate as ever.

The cottage that had been battering the corner of the porch was now torn
away by the river and swept on, down the current. There sounded a great
hullabaloo from the ballroom. Although the river had not yet risen as
high as the dancing floor, the frightened revelers saw that the flood
was fairly upon them. At the back the darkies added their cries to the
screams of the hysterical guests.

Another drifting object struck and jarred the hotel. Miss Miggs repeated
her scream of fear, and darted into the hall with the same impetuosity
with which she had darted out.

“Who are you girls?” she demanded, peering at Ruth and Helen closely,
for she did not wear her spectacles. “Haven’t I seen you before? I
declare! you’re the girls who stole my ticket—the idea!”

At the moment—and in time to hear this accusation—Mrs. Holloway appeared
from down the hall. “Oh, Martha!” she cried. “Are you out of your bed?”

She gave the two girls from the North a sharp look as she spoke to the
teacher; but this was no time for an explanation of Miss Miggs’ remark.
The school teacher immediately opened a volley of complaints:

“Well, I must say, Cousin Lydia, if I were you I’d build my house on
some secure foundation. And calling it a hotel, too! My mercy me! the
whole thing will be down like a house of cards in ten minutes, and we
shall be drowned.”

“Oh, no, Cousin Martha,” said the Southern woman. “We shall be all
right. The river will not rise much higher, and it will never tear the
hotel from its base. It is too large.”

“Look at these other houses floating away, Lydia Holloway!” screamed
Miss Miggs.

“But they are only the huts from along shore——”

Her statement was interrupted by a terrific shock the hotel suffered as
a good-sized cottage—one of the nearest of the summer colony—smashed
against the hotel, rebounded, and drifted away down stream.

The two women and the two girls were flung together in a clinging group
for half a minute. Then Miss Martha Miggs tore herself away. “Let go of
me, you impudent young minxes!” she cried. “Are you trying to rob me
again?”

“Oh! the horrid thing!” gasped Helen; but Ruth kept her lips closed.

She knew anything they could say would make a bad matter worse. Already
the hotel proprietor’s wife was looking at them very doubtfully.

It had stopped raining, but the damp wind swept into the open door and
chilled the girls in their thin frocks. Mrs. Holloway saw this and
remembered that she had to answer to Mrs. Parsons for her guests’ well
being.

“Come back into this room,” she commanded, and led Miss Miggs first by
the arm into an unlighted parlor. The windows looked up the river, and
as the quartette reached the middle of the room, the unhappy school
teacher emitted another shriek and pointed out of the nearest unshaded
window.

“What is the matter with you now, Martha Miggs?” demanded Mrs. Holloway,
in some exasperation. “If I had known you were in such an hysterical,
nervous state, I would not have invited you down here—and sent your
ticket and all—I assure you. I never saw such a person for startling
one.”

“And lots of good the ticket did—with these girls stealing it from me,”
snapped Miss Miggs. “But look at that house next to yours. There! see it
heave? And there’s a lighted lamp in that room.”

Everybody saw the peril which the school teacher had observed. A lamp
stood on the center table in the parlor of the house next. This house
was set on a lower foundation than the hotel and the rising river,
surging about it, had begun to loosen it.

Even as they looked, the house tipped perceptibly, and the lighted lamp
fell from the table to the floor.

The burning oil was scattered about the room. Although everything was
saturated with rain outside, the interior of the cottage began to burn
furiously and the conflagration would soon endanger the hotel itself.

Helen broke down and began to cry. Ruth put her arm about her chum and
tried to soothe her. Some of the men came charging into the room,
thinking by the sudden flare of the conflagration, that this end of the
hotel was already on fire.

“Oh, dear! Goodness, me!” shrieked the school teacher, taking thought of
her dishabille, and she turned at once and fled upstairs. Mrs. Holloway
quietly fainted in an adjacent, comfortable chair. The men went out on
the porch to see if they could reach the burning cottage; but the water
was too deep and too swift between the two structures.

Ruth carefully attended the woman who had fainted. What had become of
Miss Miggs she did not know. Mrs. Holloway regained consciousness very
suddenly. She looked up at Ruth, recognized her, and shrank away from
the girl of the Red Mill.

“Don’t—don’t,” she gasped. “I’m all right.”

Mrs. Holloway’s hand went to the bosom of her gown, she fumbled there a
minute, and then brought forth her purse. The feel of the money in it
seemed to reassure her; but Ruth knew what the gesture meant. What she
had heard her cousin say had impressed the hotel keeper’s wife strongly.

Hearing the school teacher accuse the two Northern girls of stealing
from her, Mrs. Holloway considered herself unsafe in Ruth’s hands.

“Oh, come away,” urged Helen, who had likewise observed the woman’s
action. “These people make me ill. I wish we were back North again among
our own kind.”

“Hush!” warned Ruth. But in secret she felt justified in making the same
wish as her chum.



CHAPTER XVIII—ACROSS THE RIVER


As the night shut down and the rain began again, the party at Holloway’s
had paid no attention to the rising flood. But on the other side of the
river the increasing depth of the water was narrowly watched.

“It’s the biggest rise she’s showed since Adam was a small boy!” Mr.
Jimson declared. “Looks like she’d make a clean sweep of some of these
bottomland farms below yere. Mr. Lomaine’s goin’ t’ lose cash-dollars
befo’ she’s through kickin’ up her heels—yo’ take it from me!”

Mr. Jimson’s audience consisted of his immediate family—a wife, lank
like himself, and six white-haired, lank children, like six human steps,
from the little toddler, hanging to the table-cloth and so getting his
balance, to a lank girl of fifteen or thereabouts. In addition, there
was Curly Smith.

Curly had been taken right into the Jimson family when he had first come
along on a flatboat, the crew of which had treated him so badly that he
had left it and applied at the cotton warehouse for work. He worked
every day beyond his strength, if the truth were told, and for very poor
pay; but he was glad of decent housing.

The world had never used a runaway worse than it had used Curly. All the
way down the river from Pee Dee—where his money had run out, and his
transportation, too—the boy had been knocked about. And farther north,
as Ruth Fielding and Helen knew, Curly Smith’s path had not been strewn
with roses.

Therefore, if for no other reason, the boy who had run away to escape
arrest, would have remained with Mr. Jimson. The latter’s rough good
nature seemed the friendliest thing Curly had ever known; but he was
scared when he recognized Ruth and Helen and knew that they were the
“little Miss Yanks” of whom he had heard the cotton warehouse boss
speak.

Here were two girls who knew him—knew him well when he was at home—right
in the very part of Dixie in which unwise Curly Smith had taken refuge.
Curly had no idea while coming down on the New Union Line boat to
Norfolk, that Ruth and Helen were aboard; nor had he recognized Helen
when he went to her rescue at the City Park zoo when the stag had so
startled her.

In the first place, he did not know that any of the Briarwood Hall girls
who had made their home with his grandmother for a few weeks in the
spring, had any intention of coming down to the Land of Cotton for a
part of their summer vacation.

It was a distinct shock to Curly when he brought the half-drowned cat
ashore that afternoon, to see Ruth and Helen as the guests of Nettie
Parsons. He did not know that the girls recognized him; but he was quite
sure they would see him if he continued to linger in the vicinity.

Therefore, Curly’s mind was more taken up with plans for getting away
from Mr. Jimson than it was with the boss’ remarks about the rising
river. Not until some time after supper one of the children ran in with
the announcement that there was a “big fire acrosst the river” was the
boy shaken out of his secret ponderings.

“That’s got t’ be the hotel, I’ll be whip-sawed if ’taint!” declared Mr.
Jimson, starting out into the now drizzling rain without his hat.

Curly followed, because the rest of the family showed interest; but he
really did not care. What was a burning hotel to him? Then he heard Mrs.
Jimson say:

“Ye don’t mean that’s Holloway’s, Jimson?”

“That’s what she be.”

“And the bridge is down by this time.”

“Sho’s yo’ bawn, Almiry. An’ boats swep’ away, too.”

“An’ like enough the water’s clean up over that islan’. My land, Jimson!
that’ll be dretful. Them folks is all caught like rats in a trap. Treed
by the river—an’ the hotel afire.”

“It looks like the up-river end of the hotel,” said her husband.

“My land! what’ll Mrs. Parsons say? If anything happens to her niece an’
them other gals——”

“I’ll be whip-sawed! them little Miss Yanks is right there, ain’t they?”

At that, Curly Smith woke up. “Say!” he cried. “Are Ruth Fielding and
Helen Cameron at that hotel that’s afire?”

“Huh?” demanded Jimson. “Them little Miss Yanks?”

“Yes.”

“If they stuck to Miss Nettie, they are,” agreed the warehouse boss.
“And Jeffreys said he left ’em there, when he come back jest ‘fo’
supper.”

“Those girls in that burning building?” repeated Curly. “Say, Mr.
Jimson! you aren’t going to stand here and do nothing about it, are
you?”

“Wal! what d’ye reckon we kin do?” asked the man, scratching his head in
a puzzled way. “There’s more’n we-uns over there to rescue the ladies.”

“And the river up all around them? And no boats?” demanded Curly.

“Sho’! I never thought of that,” admitted the man. “Here’s this old
bateau yere——”

“Can you and me row it?” asked Curly, sharply.

“Great grief! No!” exclaimed Jimson. “Not in a thousand years!”

“Can’t we get some of the colored men to help?”

“I reckon we could. The hotel’s more’n a mile below yere on the other
side and we might strike off across the river slantin’ and hit the
island,” Jimson said slowly.

“Le’s try it, then!” cried the excited boy. “I’ll run stir up the
negroes—shall I?”

“Better let me do that,” said Jimson, with more firmness. “Almiry! gimme
my hat. If we kin do anything to help ’em——”

“Oh, Paw! look at them flames!” cried one of the children.

The fire seemed to shoot up suddenly in a pillar of flame and smoke. It
had burst through the upper floor of the cottage and was now writhing
out the chimney; but from this side of the river it still seemed to be
the hotel itself that was ablaze.

Curly had forgotten his idea of running away—for the present, at least.
He remembered what a “good sport” (as he expressed it) Ruth Fielding
was, and how she and her chum might be in danger across there at
Holloways.

If the hotel burned, where would the people go who were in it? With the
river rising momentarily, and threatening every small structure along
its banks with destruction, and no boats at hand, surely the situation
of the people in the hotel must be serious.

Curly went down to the edge of the water and found the big bateau. There
were huge sweeps for it, and four could be used to propel the craft,
while a fifth was needed to steer with.

The boy got these out and arranged everything for the start. When Jimson
came back with four lusty negroes—all hands from the warehouse and
gin-house—Curly was impatiently waiting for them. The fire across the
river had assumed greater proportions.

“That ain’t the hotel, boss,” said one of the negroes, with assurance.

“What is it, then?” demanded Jimson.

“It’s got t’ be the cottage dishyer side ob the hotel. But, fo’
goodness’ sake! de hotel’s gwine t’ burn, too.”

“And all them folkses in hit!” groaned another.

“Shut up and come on!” commanded Jimson. “We’ll git acrosst and see
what’s what.”

“If we _kin_ git acrosst,” grumbled another of the men. “Looks mighty
spasmdous t’ _me_. Dat watah’s sho’ high.”

But Curly was casting off the mooring, and in a moment the big, clumsy
boat swung out into the current.



CHAPTER XIX—“IF AUNT RACHEL WERE ONLY HERE!”


As soon as they were sure Mrs. Holloway had quite recovered from her
fainting spell, Ruth Fielding and Helen wished to get as far away from
the fire as possible.

There was nothing they could do, of course, to help put out the blaze.
Nor did it seem possible for the men who had come from the ballroom to
do anything towards extinguishing the fire. The flames were spreading
madly through the interior of the cottage; but they had not as yet burst
through the walls or the roof.

The cottage had not been torn from its foundation, although it had been
sadly shaken. If it fell it might not endanger the hotel, for it was
plain that what little cant had been given to the burning house was away
from the larger building, not toward it.

Ruth and Helen had wet their feet already; but they did not care to slop
through the puddle on the porch again, so made their way to the ballroom
through the main part of the house. There was less noise among the
frightened women and girls now than before; but they were huddled into
groups, some crying with fear of they did not know what!

“Oh! is the house tumbling down?” asked one frightened woman of Ruth.
“Must we drown?”

“Not unless we want to, I am sure, madam,” said the girl of the Red
Mill, cheerfully.

“But isn’t the house afire?” cried another.

“It isn’t this house, but another, that is burning,” the Northern girl
said, with continued placidity.

“Oh, Ruth! there’s Nettie!” exclaimed Helen, and drew her away.

In a corner was Nettie Parsons, crouched upon a stool, and the girls
expected to find her in tears. But the little serving maid, Norma, had
run to her and was now kneeling on the floor with her face hidden in
Nettie’s lap.

“The po’ foolish creature,” sighed Nettie, when the chums reached her, a
soothing hand upon the shaking black girl’s head. “She is just about out
of her head, she’s so scared. I tell her that the Good Lo’d won’t let
harm come to us; but she just can’t help bein’ scared.”

Nettie’s drawl made Helen laugh. But Ruth was proud of her. The Southern
girl had forgotten to be afraid herself while she comforted her little
servant.

There was nothing one could do but speak a comforting word now and then.
Ruth was glad that Helen took the matter so cheerfully. For, really, as
the girl of the Red Mill saw it, there was not yet any reason for being
particularly worried.

“In time of peace prepare for war, however,” she said to the other
girls. “We _may_ have to leave the hotel in a hurry. Let us go upstairs
to the rooms we were to occupy, and pack our bags again, and bring them
down here with us. Then if they say we must leave, we shall be ready.”

“But how can we leave?” demanded Helen. “By boat?”

“Maybe. Goodness! if we only had a boat we could get back across the
river and walk to the Big House.”

“Oh! I wish we were there now,” murmured Nettie.

“I wish you had your wish!” exclaimed Helen. “But we’ll do as Ruth says.
Maybe we’ll get a chance to leave the place.”

For Helen had been quite as much disturbed by the appearance of Miss
Miggs as Ruth had been. She, too, saw that the woman’s accusation had
made an impression upon the mind of her cousin, Mrs. Holloway.

“I hope we get out before there is trouble over that horrid woman’s
ticket. Who would have expected to meet her here?” said Helen to her
chum.

“No more than we expected to meet Curly at Merredith,” Ruth returned.

They went upstairs, Norma, the little maid, keeping close to them. Helen
declared the negress was so scared that she was gray in the face.

They heard a group of men talking on the stairs. They were discussing
the pros and cons of the situation. Nobody seemed to have any idea as to
what should be done. A more helpless lot of people Ruth Fielding thought
she had never seen before.

But after all, the girls from the North did not understand the situation
exactly. There was nothing one could do to stop the rising flood. There
were no means of transporting the people from the island to the higher
land across the narrow creek. And all around the hotel, save at the
back, the water was shoulder deep.

The rough current and the floating debris made venturing into the water
a dangerous thing, as well. The fire next door could not be put out; so
there seemed nothing to do but to wait for what might happen.

This policy of waiting for what might turn up did not suit Ruth
Fielding, of course. But there was nothing she could do just then to
change matters for the better. The suggestion she had made about packing
the bags was more to give her friends something to do, and so take their
minds off the peril they were in, than aught else.

There were other people on the second floor, and as the girls went into
their rooms they heard somebody talking loudly at the other end of the
hall. At the moment they paid no attention to this excited female voice.

Ruth set the example of immediately returning her few possessions to her
bag and preparing to leave the room at once. Her chum was ready almost
as soon; but they had to help Nettie and the maid. The former did not
know what to do, and the frightened Norma was perfectly useless.

“I declare! I won’t take this useless child with me anywhere again,”
said Nettie. “Goodness me!” she continued, pettishly, to the shaking
maid, “have you stolen the silver spoons that your conscience troubles
you so?”

But nothing could make Norma look upon the situation less seriously.
When the girls came out of the door into the hall, bags in hand, Ruth
was first. Immediately the high, querulous voice broke upon their ears
again, and now the girls from the North recognized it.

“There! they’ve been in one of your rooms!” cried the sharp voice of
Miss Miggs. “You’d better go and search ’em and see what they’ve stolen
now.”

“Hush, Martha!” exclaimed Mrs. Holloway.

Ruth turned with flaming cheeks and angry eyes. Her temper at last had
got the better of her discretion.

“I believe you are the meanest woman whom I ever saw!” she exclaimed,
much to Helen’s delight. “Don’t you _dare_ say Helen and I touched your
railroad ticket. I—I wish there were some means of punishing you for
accusing us the way you do. I don’t blame your scholars for treating you
meanly—if they did. I don’t see how you could expect them to do
otherwise. Nobody could love such a person as you are, I do believe.”

“Three rousing cheers!” gasped Helen under her breath, while Nettie
Parsons looked on in open-mouthed amazement.

“There! you hear how the minx dares talk to me,” cried Miss Miggs,
appealing to the ladies about her.

Besides Mrs. Holloway, there were three or four others. Miss Miggs was
dressed now and looked more presentable than she had when endeavoring to
escape from the hotel in her raincoat and slippers.

“I—I don’t understand it at all,” confessed the hotel proprietor’s wife.
“Surely, my cousin would not accuse these girls without some reason. She
is from the North, too, and must understand them better than _we_ do.”

No comment could have been more disastrous to the peace of mind of Ruth
and Helen. The latter uttered a cry of anger and Ruth could scarcely
keep back the tears.

“Perhaps we had better look out for our possessions,” said one of the
other ladies, doubtfully.

“Yes. They _did_ just come out of one of these rooms,” said another.

“Oh! these are the rooms they were to occupy,” cried Mrs. Holloway, all
in a flutter. “I—I do not think they would do anything——”

“Say!” gasped Nettie, at last finding voice. “I want to know what
yo’-all mean? Yo’ can’t be speaking of my friends?”

“Who is _this_ girl, I’d like to know!” exclaimed Miss Miggs. “One just
like them, no doubt.”

“Oh, Martha! Mrs. Parsons’ niece,” gasped Mrs. Holloway. “Mrs. Parsons
will never forgive me.”

“Gracious heavens!” gasped one of the other women. “You don’t mean to
say that these are the girls from Merredith?”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Holloway. “Of course, nobody believes that Miss Parsons
would do any such thing; but these other girls are probably merely
school acquaintances——”

“I should like to know,” said Nettie, with sudden firmness, “just what
you mean—all of you? What have Ruth and Helen done?”

“They stole my railroad ticket on the boat coming down from New York,”
declared Miss Martha Miggs.

“That is not so!” said Nettie, quickly. “Under no circumstances would I
believe it. It is impossible.”

“Do you say that my cousin does not tell the truth?” asked Mrs.
Holloway, stiffly, while Miss Miggs herself could only stammer angry
words.

“Absolutely,” declared Nettie, her naturally pale cheeks glowing. “I am
amazed at you, Mrs. Holloway. I know Aunt Rachel will be offended.”

“But my own cousin tells me so, and——”

“I do not care who tells you such a ridiculous story,” Nettie
interrupted, and Ruth and Helen were surprised to see how dignified and
assertive their usually timid friend could be when she was really
aroused.

“Ruth Fielding and Helen Cameron are above such things. They are,
besides, guests at Merredith, and we were put in your care, Mrs.
Holloway, and when you insult them you insult my aunt. Oh! if Aunt
Rachel were only here, she could talk to you,” concluded Nettie, shaking
all over she was so angry. “_And she would, too!_”



CHAPTER XX—CURLY PLAYS AN HEROIC PART


Mrs. Rachel Parsons’ name was one “to conjure with,” as the saying goes.
Ruth and Helen had marked that fact before. Not alone in the vicinity of
Merredith plantation, but in the cities and towns through which the
visitors had come in reaching the cotton farm, they had observed how
impressive her name seemed.

Several of the ladies who had been listening avidly to Miss Miggs’
declaration that she had been robbed, now hastened to disclaim any
intention of offending Mrs. Parsons’ niece and her friends.

But the angry Nettie was not so easily pacified. She was actually in
tears, it was true, but, as Helen said, “as brave as a little lioness!”
In the cause of her school friends she could well hold her own with
these scandal-mongers.

“I am surprised that anybody knowing my aunt should believe for a moment
such a ridiculous tale as this woman utters,” Nettie said, flashing an
indignant glance about the group.

“It is self-evident that if Aunt Rachel invites anybody to her home,
that the person’s character is above reproach. That is all _I_ can say.
But I know very well that she will say something far more serious when
she hears of this.

“Come, Ruthie and Helen. Let us go downstairs. I am sorry I cannot take
you immediately home. But be sure that, once we are away from
Holloway’s, we shall never come here again.”

“Oh, Miss Nettie!” gasped the hotel keeper’s wife. “I did not mean——”

“You will have to discuss that point with Aunt Rachel,” said Nettie,
firmly, yet still wiping her eyes. “I only know that I will take Ruthie
and Helen nowhere again to be insulted. As for that woman,” she flashed,
as a Parthian shot at Miss Miggs, “I think she must be crazy!”

The girls descended the stairs. At the foot Nettie put her arms about
Ruth’s neck and then about Helen’s, and kissed them both. She was not
naturally given to such displays of affection; but she was greatly
moved.

“Oh, my dears!” she cried. “I would not have had this happen for
anything! It is terrible that you should be so insulted—and among our
own people. Aunt Rachel will be perfectly wild!”

“Don’t tell her, then,” urged Ruth, quickly. “That woman will not be
allowed to say anything more, it is likely; so let it blow over.”

“It cannot blow over. Not only did she insult you, and her cousin
allowed her to do so, but their attitude insulted Aunt Rachel. Why!
there is not a person in this hotel the equal of Aunt Rachel. The
Merrediths are the best known family in the whole county. How Mrs.
Holloway _dared_——”

“There, there!” said Ruth, soothingly. “Let it go. Neither Helen nor I
are killed.”

“But your reputations might well be,” Nettie said quickly.

“Nobody knows us much here——”

“But they know Aunt Rachel. And I assure you they will hear about this
matter in a way they won’t like. The Holloways especially. She’d better
send that crazy woman packing back to the North.”

At that moment a shout arose from the front veranda. The girls, followed
by Norma screaming in renewed fright, ran to the door. The water was
still over the flooring of the veranda, but it had not advanced into the
house.

The group of excited men on the porch were pointing off into the river.
Out there it was very dark; but there was a light moving on the face of
the troubled waters.

“A boat is coming!” explained somebody to the girls. “That’s a lantern
in it. A boat from across the river.”

“A steamboat?” cried Helen.

“Oh, no; a steamboat would not venture to-night—if at all. And there is
none near by. It’s a bateau of some kind.”

“Bet it’s the old bateau from the cotton warehouse across there,” said
another of the men. “Jimson is trying to reach us.”

“And what can he do when he gets here?” asked a third. “That burning
house is bound to fall this way. Then we’ll have to fight fire for
sure!”

“Well, Holloway has a bucket brigade all ready,” said the first speaker.
“With all this water around, it’s too bad if we can’t put a fire out.”

The fire was illuminating all the vicinity now, for the flames had burst
through the roof. The whole of one end of the cottage was in a blaze,
and the wall of the hotel nearest to it was blistering in the heat.

The hotel proprietor stood there with his helpers watching the blaze.
But the girls watched the approaching boat, its situation revealed by
the bobbing lantern.

“If that is Mr. Jimson,” said Helen, “I hope he can take us back across
the river.”

“And he shall if it’s safe,” Nettie said, with confidence. “But my! the
water’s rough.”

“Oh, Miss Nettie! Miss Nettie!” groaned Norma. “Yo’ ain’ gwine t’ vencha
on dat awful ribber, is yo’?”

“Why not, you ridiculous creature?” demanded her mistress. “If you are
afraid to stay here, and afraid to go in the boat, what _will_ you do?”

“Wait till it dries up!” wailed the darkey maid. “Den we kin walk home,
dry-shod—ya-as’m!”

“Wait for the river to dry up, and all?” chuckled Helen.

“That’s what she wants,” said Nettie. “I never saw such a foolish girl.”

The bobbing lantern came nearer. Just as it reached the edge of the
submerged island, there arose a shout from the men aboard of her. Then
sounded a mighty crash.

“Hol’ on, boys! hol’ on!” arose the voice of Mr. Jimson. “Don’t lose yo’
grip! _Pull!_”

But the negroes could not pull the water-logged boat. She had struck a
snag which ripped a hole in her bottom, and had been rammed by a log at
the same time. The bateau was a wreck in a few seconds.

The six members of the crew, including the boss and Curly Smith, leaped
overboard as the bateau sank. They had brought the boat so far, after a
terrific fight with the current, only to sink her not twenty yards from
the front steps of the hotel!

“Throw us a line—or a life-buoy!” yelled Jimson. “This yere river is
tearin’ at us like a pack o’ wolves. Ain’t yo’ folks up there got no
heart?”

One of the negroes uttered a wild yell and went whirling away down
stream, clinging to a timber that floated by. Two others managed to
climb into the low branches of a tree.

But Jimson, the fourth negro, and Curly Smith struck out for the hotel.
After all, Curly was the best swimmer. Jimson would have been carried
past the end of the hotel and down the current, had not the Northern boy
caught him by the collar of his shirt and dragged him to the steps.

There he left the panting boss and plunged in again to bring the negro
to the surface. This fellow could not swim much, and was badly
frightened. The instant he felt Curly grab him, he turned to wind his
arms about the boy.

The lights burning on the hotel porch showed all this to the girls. Ruth
and Helen, already wet half-way to their knees, had ventured out on the
porch again in their excitement. Ruth screamed when she saw the danger
Curly was in.

The boy had helped save Mr. Jimson; but the negro and he were being
swept right past the hotel porch. They must both sink and be drowned if
somebody did not help them—and no man was at hand.

“Take my hand, Helen!” commanded Ruth. “Maybe I can reach them. Scream
for help—do!” and she leaned out from the end of the veranda, while her
chum clung tightly to her left wrist.

The boy and the negro came near. The water eddied about the porch-end
and held them in its grasp for a moment.

It was then that Ruth stooped lower and secured a grip upon the black
man’s sleeve. She held on grimly while her chum shrieked for help.
Jimson came staggering along to their aid.

“Hold on t’ him, Miss Ruth!” he cried. “We’ll git him!”

But if it had depended upon the spent warehouse boss to rescue the boy
and his burden, they would never have been saved. Two of the men at the
other end of the porch finally heard Helen and Nettie and came to help.

“Haul that negro in,” said one, laughing. “Is he worth saving, Jimson?”

“I ‘spect so,” gasped the boss of the cotton warehouse. “But I know well
that that white boy is. My old woman sho’ wouldn’t ha’ seen _me_ ag’in
if it hadn’t been fo’ Curly. I was jes’ about all in.”

So was Curly, as the girls could see. When the boy was dragged out upon
the porch floor, and lay on his back in the shallow water, he could
neither move nor speak. The men tried to raise him to his feet, but his
left leg doubled under him.

It was Ruth who discovered what was the matter. “Bring him inside. Lay
him on a couch. Don’t you see that the poor boy has broken his leg?” she
demanded.



CHAPTER XXI—THE NEXT MORNING


The fire was now at its height, and many of the men were fighting the
flames as they leaped across from the burning cottage. Therefore, not
many had been called to the help of the refugees from the wrecked
bateau.

“I’ll be whip-sawed!” complained Jimson. “Foolin’ with their blamed old
bonfire, they might ha’ let me an’ my negroes drown. This yere little
Yankee boy is wuth the whole bilin’ of ’em.”

They carried Curly, who was quite unconscious now, into the house. On a
couch in the office Ruth fixed a pillow, and straightened out his
injured leg.

“Isn’t there a doctor? Somebody who knows something about setting the
leg?” she demanded. “If it can only be set now, while he is unconscious,
he will be saved just so much extra pain.”

“Let me find somebody!” cried Nettie, who knew almost everybody in the
hotel party.

She ran out upon the veranda, forgetting her slippers and silk hose for
the moment, and soon came back with one of the men who had been helping
to throw water against the side of the building.

“This is Dr. Coombs. I know he can help you, Ruth—and he will.”

“Boy with broken leg, heh?” said the gentleman, briefly. “Is that all
the damage?” and he began to examine the unconscious Curly. “Now, you’re
a cool-headed young lady,” he said to Ruth; “you and Jimson can give me
a hand. Send the others out of the room. We’re going to be mighty busy
here for a few minutes.”

He saw that Ruth was calm and quick. He had her get water and bandages.
Mr. Jimson whittled out splints as directed. The doctor was really a
veterinary surgeon, but when the setting of the broken limb was
accomplished, Curly might have thanked Dr. Coombs for a very neat and
workmanlike piece of work. But poor Curly remained unconscious for some
time thereafter.

The flames were under control and the danger of the hotel’s catching
fire was past before the boy opened his eyes. He opened them to see Ruth
sitting at the foot of the couch on which he lay.

“Old Scratch!” exclaimed Curly, “don’t tell Gran, Ruth Fielding. If you
do, she’ll give me whatever for busting my leg. Ooo! don’t it hurt.”

He had forgotten for the moment that he had ever left Lumberton, and
Ruth soothed him as best she could.

The bustle and confusion around the hotel had somewhat subsided. The
regular guests had retired to their rooms, for it was past midnight now.
The water was creeping higher and higher, and now began to run in over
the floor of the lower story.

By Ruth’s advice, Helen and Nettie had gone up to their rooms. They had
allowed Mrs. Holloway to put two young ladies in one of the beds there,
for the hotel keeper had to house many more than the usual number of
people.

Ruth alone stayed with Mr. Jimson to watch Curly. And when the water
began to rise she insisted that the couch be lifted upon the shoulders
of four powerful negroes, and carried upstairs.

One of the men who transferred the boy to the wide hall above, was the
darkey whom Curly had saved from drowning. That negro was so grateful
that he camped upon the stairs for the rest of the night, to be within
call of Ruth or Mr. Jimson if anything was needed that he could do for
“dat li’le w’ite boy.”

Mrs. Holloway found a screen to put at the foot of the couch, and thus
made a shelter for the boy and his nurse. But Ruth knew that many of the
ladies before they went to bed came and peeped at her, and whispered
about her together in the open hall.

She wondered what they really thought of her and Helen. The positive
Miss Miggs had undoubtedly made an impression on their minds when she
accused Ruth and Helen of stealing.

“What they really think of us, we can’t tell,” Ruth told herself. “It is
awful to be so far from home and friends, and have no way of proving
that one is of good character. Here is poor Curly. What is going to
become of him? His grandmother hasn’t answered my letters, and perhaps
she won’t have anything to do with him after all. What will become of
him while he lies helpless? He can’t have earned much money in these few
days over at the warehouse, for they don’t pay much.”

Ruth Fielding’s sympathetic nature often caused her to bear burdens that
were imaginary—to a degree. But it was not her own trouble that worried
her now. It was that of the boy with the broken leg.

He was a stranger in a strange land, and with practically nobody to care
how he got along. He had played a heroic part in the rescue of Mr.
Jimson and the negro workman; but Ruth doubted greatly if either of the
rescued men could do much for poor Curly.

Jimson was a poor man with a large family; the negro was, of course,
less able to do anything for the white boy than the boss of the
warehouse.

These thoughts troubled Ruth’s mind, sleeping and waking, all night. She
refused to leave Curly; but she dozed a good deal of the time in the
comfortable chair that the negro had brought her from the parlor
downstairs.

Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Holloway came to speak to her, or to see how Curly
was, all night long. Yet Ruth knew that both were working hard, with the
negroes in their employ, to make all their guests comfortable.

Back of the hotel on slightly higher ground were the kitchens and
quarters. To these rooms the stores were removed and breakfast was begun
for all before six o’clock.

By that time the clouds had broken and the sun shone. But the river
roared past the hotel at express speed. Jimson said he had never seen it
so high, or so furious.

“There’s a big reservoir above yere, up the creek; I reckon it’s done
busted its banks, or has overflowed, or something,” the boss of the
warehouse said. “Never was so much water in this yere river at one time
since Adam was a boy, I tell yo’.”

The girls came for Ruth before breakfast, and made her lie down for a
nap. The two strange girls who had been put in their rooms were still in
bed, and Ruth was not disturbed until the negroes began coming upstairs
with trays of breakfast for the different rooms.

There was great hilarity then. There was no use in trying to serve the
guests downstairs, for the dining room had a foot of water washing
through one end of it, and the rear was several inches deep in a muddy
overflow.

The two girls who had slept with them awoke when Ruth did, and all five
of the girls, with Norma to wait upon them, made a merry breakfast. Ruth
ran back then to see how Curly was being served. She found the boy
alone, and nobody had thought to bring him any food save the grateful
negro laborer.

“That coon’s all right,” said Curly, with satisfaction. “He got me half
a fried chicken and some corn pone and sweet potatoes, and I’m feeling
fine. All but my leg. Old Scratch! but that hurts like a good feller,
Ruth Fielding.”

“Dear me!” said Ruth. “Don’t speak of the poor man as a ’coon.’ That’s
an animal with four legs—and they eat them down here.”

“And he wouldn’t be good eating, I know,” chuckled Curly. “But he’s a
good feller. Say, Ruthie! how did you and Helen Cameron come ’way down
here?”

“How did _you_ come here?” returned Ruth, smiling at him.

“Why—on the boat and on a train—several trains, until I got to Pee Dee.
And then a flatboat. Old Scratch! but I’ve had an awful time, Ruth.”

“You ran away, of course,” said the girl, just as though she knew
nothing about the trouble Curly had had in Lumberton.

“Yep. I did. So would you.”

“Why would I?”

“’Cause of what they said about me. Why, Ruth Fielding!” and he started
to sit up in bed, but lay down quickly with a groan. “Oh! how that leg
aches.”

“Keep still then, Curly,” she said. “And tell me the truth. _Why_ did
you run away?”

“Because they said I helped rob the railroad station.”

“But if you didn’t do it, couldn’t you risk being exonerated in court?”

“Say! they never called you, ‘that Smith boy’; did they?”

“Of course not,” admitted Ruth.

“Then you don’t know what you’re talking about. I had no more chance of
being exonerated in any court around Lumberton than I had of flying to
the moon! Everybody was down on me—including Gran.”

“Well, hadn’t they some reason?” asked Ruth, gravely.

“Mebbe they had. Mebbe they had,” cried Henry Smith. “But they ought
to’ve known I wouldn’t _steal_.”

“You didn’t help those tramps, then?”

“There you go!” sniffed the boy. “You’re just as bad as the rest of
’em.”

“I’m asking you for information,” said Ruth, coolly. “I want to hear you
say whether you did or not. I read about it in the paper.”

“Old Scratch! did they have it in the paper?” queried Curly, with
wonder.

“Yes. And your grandmother is dreadfully disgraced——”

“No she isn’t,” snapped Curly. “She only thinks she is. I never done
it.”

“Well,” said Ruth, with a sigh, “I’m glad to hear you say that, although
it’s very bad grammar.”

“Hang grammar!” cried the excited Curly. “I never stole a cent’s worth
in my life. And they all know it. But if they’d got me up before Judge
Necker I’d got a hundred years in jail, I guess. He hates me.”

“Why?”

Curly looked away. “Well, I played a trick on him. More’n one, I guess.
He gets so mad, it’s fun.”

“Your idea of fun has brought you to a pretty hard bed, I guess, Curly,”
was Ruth Fielding’s comment.



CHAPTER XXII—SOMETHING FOR CURLY


Helen Cameron was very proud of Curly. She was, in the first place,
deeply grateful for what the boy had done for her the time the stag
frightened her so badly in the City Park at Norfolk. Then, it seemed to
her, that he had shown a deal of pluck in getting so far from home as
this Southern land, and keeping clear of the police, as well.

“You must admit, Ruth, that he is awfully smart,” she repeated again and
again to her chum.

“I don’t see it—much,” returned Ruth Fielding. “I don’t see how he got
away down here on the little money he says he had at the start. He
bought the frock and hat and shoes he wore with his own money, and paid
his fare on the boat. But that took all he had, and he had to get work
in Norfolk. He worked a week for a contractor there. That’s when he
saved you from the _deer_, my _dear_!”

“Oh, indeed? And didn’t he earn enough to pay his way down here? He says
he rode in the cars.”

“I’ll ask him about that,” said Ruth, musingly.

But she forgot to do so just then. In fact there was another problem in
both the girls’ minds: What would become of Curly when the water
subsided and he would have to be taken away from the hotel?

“Nettie says there is a hospital in Georgetown. But it is a private
institution. Curly will be laid up a long while with that leg. It is a
compound fracture and it will have to be kept in splints for weeks. The
doctor says it ought to be in a cast. I wish he were in the hospital.”

“I suppose he would be better off,” said Helen, in agreement. “But isn’t
it awful that his grandmother won’t take him back?”

“I don’t understand it at all,” sighed Ruth. “I didn’t think she was
really so hard-hearted.”

The marooned guests of the hotel and the servants were quite comfortable
in their quarters; but the women and girls did not care to descend to
the lower floor of the big house. The men waded around the porches; and
two men who owned cottages on the island which had not been swept away
by the flood, used a storm-door for a raft and paddled themselves over
to inspect their property. Their families were much better off with the
Holloways at the hotel, however.

There had been landings and boats along the shore of the island; but not
a craft was now left. The river had risen so swiftly the evening before,
while the dancing was in full blast, that there had been no opportunity
to save any such property.

Every small structure on the island had been swept down the current; and
only half a dozen of the cottages were left standing. These structures,
too, might go at any time, it was prophesied.

Jimson and his negroes could not get back across the river, and not a
craft of any description came in sight.

The two negroes who had climbed into the tree at the edge of the island,
were rescued by the aid of the storm-door raft; and as Jimson said, in
his rough way, they only added to the number of mouths to feed, for they
were of no aid in any way.

The hotel keeper chanced to have a good supply of flour, meal, sugar and
the other staples on hand; and they had been removed to dry storage
before the flood reached its height. There was likewise a well supplied
meat-house behind the hotel.

Naturally the ladies and girls, marooned on the upper floor of the
hotel, were bound to become more closely associated as the hours of
waiting passed. The two girls who roomed with Nettie and her party,
learned that Ruth Fielding and Helen Cameron were very nice girls
indeed. They did not have to take Nettie’s word for it.

Perhaps they influenced public opinion in favor of the Northern girls as
much as anything did. Miss Miggs was Northern herself, and not much
liked. Her spitefulness did not compare well with Ruth’s practical
kindness to the boy with the broken leg.

Before night public opinion had really turned in favor of the visitors
from the North. But Ruth and Helen kept very much to themselves, and
Nettie was so angry with Mrs. Holloway that she would scarcely speak to
that repentant woman.

“I don’t want anything to do with her,” she said to Ruth. “If Aunt
Rachel had been here last night I don’t know what she would have done
when that woman seemed to side with that crazy school teacher.”

“You could scarcely blame her. Miss Miggs is Mrs. Holloway’s cousin.”

“Of course I can blame her,” cried Nettie. “And I do.”

“Well, I think it was pretty mean, myself,” said Helen. “But I didn’t
suppose you would hold rancor so long, Nettie Sobersides! Come on! cheer
up; the worst is yet to come.”

“The worst will certainly come to these people at this hotel,”
threatened the Southern girl. “Aunt Rachel will have the last word. You
are her guests and a Merredith or a Parsons never forgives an insult to
a guest.”

“Goodness!” cried Ruth, trying to laugh away Nettie’s resentment. “It is
fortunate you are not a man, Nettie. You would, I suppose, challenge
somebody to a duel over this.”

“There have been duels for less in this county, I can assure you,” said
Nettie, without smiling.

“How bloodthirsty!” laughed Ruth. “But let’s think about something
pleasanter. Nettie is becoming savage.”

“I know what will cure her,” cried Helen and bounced out of the room.
She came back in a few minutes with a battered violin that she had
borrowed from one of the negroes who had been a member of the orchestra
the night before. It was a mellow instrument and Helen quickly had it in
tune.

“Music has been known to soothe the savage breast,” declared Helen,
tucking the violin, swathed in a silk handkerchief, under her dimpled
chin.

“I’ll forgive anybody—even my worst enemy—if Ruth will sing, too,”
begged Nettie.

So after a few introductory strains Helen began an old ballad that she
and Ruth had often practised together. Ruth, sitting with her hands
folded in her lap and looking thoughtfully out on the drenched
landscape, began to sing.

Nettie set the door ajar. The two girls came in from the other room.
Norma, wide-eyed, crouched on the floor to listen. And before long a
crowd of faces appeared at the open door.

Quite unconscious of the interest they were creating, the two members of
the Briarwood Glee Club played and sang for several minutes. It was
Helen who looked toward the door first and saw their audience.

“Oh, Ruth!” she exclaimed, and stopped playing. Ruth turned, the song
dying on her lips. The crowd of guests began to applaud and in the
distance could be heard Curly Smith clapping his hands together and
shouting:

“Bully for Ruth! Bully for Helen! That’s fine.”

“Shut the door, Nettie!” cried Helen, insistently. “I—I really have an
idea.”

“The concert is over, ladies,” declared the Southern girl, laughing, and
shutting the door.

“What’s the idea, dear?” asked Ruth.

“About raising money for poor Curly.”

“We can give him some ourselves,” Nettie said, for of course she had
been taken into the full confidence of the chums about the runaway.

“_I_ can’t,” confessed Helen. “I have scarcely any left. If my fare home
were not paid I’d have to borrow.”

“I can give some; but not enough,” said Ruth.

“That’s where my idea comes in,” Helen said. “That’s why I said to shut
the door.”

Nettie ejaculated: “Goodness! what does the child mean?”

But Ruth guessed, and her face broke into a smile. “I’m with you, dear!”
she cried. “Of course we will—if we’re let.”

“Will _what_?” gasped Nettie. “You girls are thought readers. What one
thinks of the other knows right away.”

“A concert,” said Ruth and Helen together.

“Oh! When?”

“Right here—and now!” said Helen, promptly. “If the Holloways will let
us.”

“Oh, girls! what a very splendid idea,” declared Nettie. Then the next
moment she added: “But the piano is downstairs, and they could never get
it up here. And there’s no room big enough upstairs, anyhow.”

Ruth began to laugh. “I tell you. It shall be a regular chamber concert.
We’ll have it in the bed chambers, for a fact!”

“What do you mean?” asked the puzzled Nettie.

“Why, the audience can sit in their rooms or on the stairs or in the
long hall up here. We will give the concert downstairs. I don’t know but
we’ll have to give it barefooted, girls!”

The laughter that followed was interrupted by a shout from below. They
heard somebody say that there was a boat coming.

“Well, maybe there will be something for Curly after all,” Helen cried,
as she followed Ruth out of the room.

Through the wide doorway they could see the boat approaching. And they
could hear it, too, for it was a small launch chugging swiftly up to the
submerged island.

“Oh, goody!” cried Nettie. “Maybe we can get across the river and back
to Merredith.”

It looked as though the launch had just come from the other side of the
swollen stream. Jimson and several of the negroes were on the porch to
meet the launch as it touched.

There were but two men in it, one at the wheel and the other in the bow.
The latter, a gray-haired man with a broad-brimmed hat, blue clothes,
and a silver star on his breast, stepped out upon the porch in his high
boots.

“Hullo, Jimson,” he said, greeting the warehouse boss. “Just a little
wet here, ain’t yo’?”

“A little, Sheriff,” said Jimson.

“I’m after a party they told me at your house was probably over here. A
boy from the No’th. Name’s Henry Smith. Is he yere? I was told to get
him and notify folks up No’th that the little scamp’s cotched. He’s been
stealin’ up there, and they want him.”



CHAPTER XXIII—“HERE’S A STATE OF THINGS!”


The words of the deputy sheriff came clearly to the ears of Ruth
Fielding and her two girl friends as they stood on the lower step of the
broad flight leading to the second floor of the hotel.

Jimson, the warehouse boss, who had already shown his interest in Curly,
looked quickly around and spied the girls. He made a crooked face and
began at once to fence with the deputy.

“What’s that?” he said. “Said I got an escaped prisoner? _Who_ said
that, Mr. Ricketts?”

“Yo’ wife, I reckon ’twas, tol’ me the boy was yere.”

“She’s crazy!” declared Jimson with apparent anger. “I dunno what’s got
into that woman. I ain’t seen no convict——”

“Who’s talkin’ about a convict, Jimson?” demanded Mr. Ricketts. “D’ yo’
think I’m after some desperado from the swamps? I reckon not.”

“Well, who _are_ you after?” demanded the boss, in great apparent
vexation. “I ain’t got him, whoever he is!”

“Not a boy named Henry Smith?”

“What’s he done?”

“I see you’re some int’rested,” said Ricketts, drily. “Come on now,
Jimson! I know you. The boy’s a bad lot.”

“Your say-so don’t make him so. And I dunno as I know the boy you mean.”

“Come now, your wife tol’ me all about him. He’s a curly-headed boy. He
come along on a flatboat. You took him on as a hand in the warehouse.”

“Huh? I did, did I?” grunted Jimson, not at all willing to give in that
he knew whom the deputy sheriff was talking about.

“I mean a curly-headed Yankee boy that come over yere last night in that
old boat of yours, Jimson,” said the deputy sheriff, chuckling. “And
your woman wants to know when you’re going to bring the boat back?”

“Huh?” growled Jimson.

“Don’t yo’ call him Curly?”

“Oh! you mean _him_?” said the boss. “Wal—I reckon he’s yere. Got a
broken laig. Doctor won’t let him be moved. Impossible, Mr. Ricketts.
Impossible!”

“I reckon I’ll look to suit myself, Jimson,” said Ricketts, firmly.
“This ain’t no funnin’, you know.” Then he turned to the man in the
boat. “Tie that rope to one o’ these posts, Tom, and come ashore. I may
need you to hold Jimson,” and he winked and chuckled at the chagrined
warehouse boss.

The big deputy sheriff strode across the porch, in at the door,
scattering the wide-eyed negroes right and left, and came face to face
with three pretty young girls, dressed in the party frocks donned for
the ball the night before, all the frocks they had to wear on this
occasion.

“Bless my soul, ladies!” gasped the confused Ricketts, sweeping off his
hat. “Your servant!”

“Oh, Mr. Ricketts!” exclaimed Nettie Parsons, her hands clasped, and
looking in her most appealing way up into the big man’s face. Although
Nettie stood a step up from the hall floor, the deputy sheriff still
towered above her head and shoulders. “Oh, Mr. Ricketts!”

“Ya-as, ma’am! that’s my name, ma’am,” said the embarrassed deputy.

“We heard what you just said,” pursued Nettie. “About Curly Smith, you
know.”

“I—I——”

“And we’re awfully interested in Curly,” put in Helen, joining in the
attempt to cajole a perfectly helpless officer of the law from the path
of duty.

“Your servant, ma’am!” gasped the deputy, very red in the face now, and
bowing low before Helen.

“There are three of us, Mr. Ricketts,” suggested Ruth, her own eyes
dancing with fun, despite the really serious distress she felt over
Curly’s case.

“Bless my soul!” murmured Mr. Ricketts, bowing in her direction, too.
“So there are—so there are. _Your_ servant, ma’am.”

“Then, Mr. Ricketts, if you are the servant of _all_ of us, I know you
will do what we ask,” and Nettie laughed merrily.

Little drops of perspiration were exuding upon the deputy’s broad, bald
brow. He was not used to the society of ladies—not even extremely young
ladies; and he felt both ridiculous and in a glow of delight. He
chuckled and wabbled his head above his stiff collar, and looked
foolish. But there was a grim firmness to his smoothly shaven chin that
led Ruth to believe that he would not be an easy person to swerve from
his path.

“You know,” repeated Nettie, taking her cue from Helen, “that we are
awfully interested in that boy that you say you have come after.”

“The young scamp’s mighty lucky, then—mighty lucky!”

“But he has a broken leg—and he’s awfully sick,” said Nettie, her lips
drooping at the corners as though she were about to cry.

“Tut, tut, tut! I’m awfully sorry miss. But——”

“And he’s had an awfully bad time,” broke in Helen. “Curly has. He’s
ragged, and he has been ill-treated. And we saw him jump overboard and
swim from that steamer before it reached Old Point Comfort, and he was
picked up by a fishing boat. Oh! he is awfully brave.”

Mr. Ricketts stared and swallowed hard. He could not find voice to reply
just then.

“And he saved that cat from drowning. Oh! I had forgotten that,” said
Nettie, chiming in. “He really is very kind-hearted, as well as brave.”

“And,” said Ruth, from the stair above, “I am sure he never helped those
men rob the Lumberton railroad station. Never!”

“My soul and body, ladies!” exclaimed the deputy sheriff. “You are sho’
more knowin’ about this yere boy from the No’th than I am. I only got
instructions to _git_ him—and git him I must.”

“Oh, Mr. Ricketts!” gasped Helen.

“Please, Mr. Ricketts!” begged Nettie.

“Do consider, Mr. Ricketts!” joined in Ruth. “He’s really not guilty.”

“Who says he ain’t?” demanded the deputy sheriff, shooting in the
question suddenly.

“He says so,” said Ruth, firmly, “and I never knew Curly Smith to tell a
story.”

Mr. Ricketts was undoubtedly in a very embarrassing position. He was the
soul of gallantry—according to his standards. To please the ladies was
almost the highest law of his nature.

Behind him, Jimson, his companion, Tom, and the negroes had gathered in
a compact crowd to listen. Mr. Ricketts, hat in hand, and perspiring now
profusely, did not know what to do. He said, feebly:

“My soul and body, ladies! I dunno what t’ say. I’d please yo’ if I
could. But I’m instructed t’ bring this yere boy in, an’ I got t’ do it.
A broken laig ain’t no killin’ matter. I’ve had one myself—ya-as, ma’am!
We kin take him in this yere little launch that b’longs t’ Kunnel
Peters. He’ll be ’tended to fust-class.”

“Not in your old jail at Pegburg!” cried Nettie. “You know better, Mr.
Ricketts,” and she was quite severe.

“I know you, Miss Nettie,” Mr. Ricketts said, with humility, “You’re
Mrs. Parsons’ niece. You say the wo’d an’ I’ll take the boy right to my
own house.”

Ruth had been watching one of the negroes who had stood on the outskirts
of the group. He was a big, burly, dull-looking fellow—the very man whom
Curly had risked his life to save from the river the night before.

This man stepped softly away from the crowd. He disappeared toward the
front of the porch. By craning her neck a little Ruth could see around
the corner of the door-jamb and follow the movements of this negro with
her eyes.

The man, Tom, had tied the painter of the launch to a post there. The
negro stood for a moment near that post; then he disappeared altogether.

Ruth’s heart suddenly beat faster. What had the negro done? She leaned
forward farther to see the launch tugging at its rope. _The craft was
already a dozen yards away from the hotel!_

“I’m awful sorry, ladies,” declared the deputy sheriff, obstinately
shaking his head. “I’ve got t’ arrest that boy. That’s my sworn and
bounden duty. And I got t’ take him away in this yere launch of Kunnel
Peterses.”

He turned to wave a ham-like hand toward the tethered launch. The
gesture was stayed in midair. Jimson, turning likewise, burst into a
high cackle of laughter.

“Here’s a state of things!” roared the deputy, and rushed out upon the
porch. The launch was whirling away down the current, far out of reach.
“Here, Tom! didn’t you hitch that boat?”

“I reckon ye won’t git away with that there little Yankee boy as you
expected, Mr. Ricketts,” cried Jimson. “Er-haw! haw! haw!”



CHAPTER XXIV—THE CHAMBER CONCERT


“You kin say what you like,” Mr. Jimson said later, and in a hoarse
aside to Ruth Fielding, “the sheriff’s a good old sport. He took it
laffin’—after the fust s’prise. You make much of him, Miss Ruth—you and
Miss Helen and Miss Nettie—an’ yo’ll keep him eatin’ out o’ your hand,
he’s that gentled.”

Ruth was afraid at first that somebody would suspect the negro of
unleashing the launch. She did not think Mr. Jimson knew who did it. In
the first heat, Mr. Ricketts accused his man, Tom, of being careless.

But it all simmered down in a few minutes. Mr. Holloway came out and
invited the deputy and his comrade to come back to the rear apartment
for a bite of lunch.

Mr. Ricketts seemed satisfied to know that the boy was upstairs and in
good hands. He did not—at that time—ask to see him; and Ruth wanted, if
she could, to keep news of the deputy’s arrival from the knowledge of
the patient.

“Oh, dear me, Ruth!” groaned Helen. “It never rains but it pours.”

“That seems very true of the weather in this part of the world,” agreed
her chum. “I never saw it rain harder than it has during the past few
days.”

“Goodness! I don’t mean real rain,” said Helen. “I mean troubles never
come singly.”

“What’s troubling you particularly now?” asked Ruth.

“I’ve lost my last handkerchief,” said Helen, tragically. “Isn’t it just
awful to be here another night without a single change of anything? I
feel just as mussy as I can feel. And this pretty dress will never be
fit to wear again.”

“We’re better off than some of the girls,” laughed Ruth. “One of those
that room with us danced right through her stockings, heel and toe, the
evening of the hop; and now every time she steps there is a great gap at
each heel above her low pumps. With that costume she wears she can put
on nothing but black stockings, and I saw her just now trying to ink her
heels so that when anybody follows her upstairs, they will not be so
likely to notice the holes in her stockings.”

“Well! if that were all that bothered us!” groaned Helen. “What are we
going to do about Curly?”

“What _can_ we do about him?” asked Ruth.

“You don’t want to see him arrested and carried to jail, do you?”

“No, my dear. But how can we help it—when this deputy sheriff manages to
find a craft in which to take him away from the island?”

“I wish Nettie’s Aunt Rachel were here,” cried the other Northern girl.

“Even Mrs. Parsons, I fear, could not stop the law in its course.”

“I don’t know. She is pretty powerful,” returned her chum, grinning.
“See how nice they have all begun to treat us since Nettie threatened
them with the terrors of her Aunt Rachel’s displeasure.”

“Perhaps. But I would rather they were nice to us for our own sakes,”
Ruth said thoughtfully. “If it were not for Nettie, and Curly and the
concert we want to give for his benefit, I wouldn’t care whether many of
them spoke to us or not. And every time that Miggs woman is in sight she
makes me feel awfully unhappy,” confessed Ruth. “I don’t believe I ever
before disliked anybody quite so heartily as I dislike her.”

“Dislike! I _hate_ her!” exclaimed Helen.

“It’s awful to feel so towards any human creature,” Ruth went on. “And I
fear that we ought to pity her, not to hate her.”

“I should like to know why?” demanded Helen, in some heat.

“Mrs. Holloway told one of the ladies the particulars of Miss Miggs’
coming down here, and why she is such a nervous wreck—and the lady just
told me.”

“‘Nervous wreck,’” scoffed Helen. “Wrecked by her ugly temper, you
mean.”

“She has been the sole support, and nurse as well, of a bed-ridden aunt
for years. During this last term—she teaches in a big school in
Bannister, Massachusetts—she had a very hard time. She has always had
trouble with her girls; and evidently doesn’t love them.”

“Not so’s you’d notice it,” grumbled Helen.

“And they made her a good deal of trouble. The old aunt became more
exacting toward the last, and finally Miss Miggs was up almost all night
with the invalid and then was harassed in the schoolroom all day by the
thoughtless girls.”

“Oh, dear me, Ruthie! now you are trying to find excuses for the mean
old thing.”

“I’m telling you—that’s all.”

“Well! I don’t know that I want you to tell me,” sniffed Helen. “I don’t
feel as ugly toward that Miggs woman as I did.”

“I feel very angry with her myself,” Ruth said. “It is hard for me to
get over anger, I am afraid.”

“But you are slow to wrath. ‘Beware the anger of a patient man’
says—says—well, _somebody_. ‘Overhaul your book and, when found, make
note of,’” giggled Helen. “Well! how did Martha get away from the aunt?”

“The aunt got away from her,” said Ruth, gravely. “She died—just before
the end of the term. Altogether poor Miss Miggs was ‘all in,’ as the
saying is.”

Helen sniffed again. She would not own up that she was affected by the
story.

“Then,” said Ruth, earnestly, “just a few days before the end of school
some of her girls played a trick on the poor thing and frightened
her—oh, horribly! She fell at her desk unconscious, and the girls who
had played the trick ran out of the room and left her there—of course,
not knowing that she had fainted. She broke her glasses, and when she
came to she could not find her way about, and almost went mad. It was a
very serious matter, indeed. They found her wandering about the room
quite out of her mind. Mrs. Holloway had already invited her down here
and sent her a ticket from Norfolk to Pee Dee, where she was to take
boat again. The doctors said the trip would be the best thing for her,
and they packed her off,” concluded Ruth.

“Well—she’s to be pitied, I suppose,” said Helen, grudgingly. “But I
can’t fall in love with her.”

“Who could? She has had a hard time, just the same, When she lost her
ticket she had barely money enough to bring her on to Pee Dee where Mrs.
Holloway met her. The poor thing was worried to death. You see, all her
money had been spent on the aunt, and her funeral expenses.”

“Well! she’s unfortunate. But she had no business to accuse us of
stealing her ticket—if it was stolen at all.”

“Of course somebody picked it up. But the ticket may have done nobody
any good. She says she left it in the railroad folder on that seat in
the steamer’s saloon—you remember.”

“I remember vividly,” agreed Helen, “our first encounter with Miss
Miggs.” Then she began to laugh. “And wasn’t she funny?”

“‘Not so’s you’d notice it!’ to quote your own classic language,” said
Ruth, sharply. “There was nothing funny about it.”

“That is when we first saw Curly on the boat.”

“Yes. He was there. But he didn’t hear anything of the row, I guess. He
says he had no idea we were on that boat—and we saw him three times.”

“And heard him jump overboard,” finished Helen. “The foolish boy.”

She went away to sit by him and tell him stories. Helen was developing
quite a reputation as a nurse. The boy was in pain and anything was
welcome that kept his mind for a little off the troublesome leg.

The girls were very busy that evening with another matter. Permission
had been asked and obtained to give the proposed “chamber concert” for
Curly’s benefit. What the boy had done in saving two lives was well
known now among the enforced guests at Holloway’s, and the idea of any
entertainment was welcome.

There was a mimeograph on which the hotel menus were printed and Ruth
got up a gorgeous program in two-colored ink of the “chamber concert,”
inviting everybody to come.

“And they’ve just got to come, my dears,” said Nettie, who took upon
herself the distribution of the concert programs and—as Helen called
it—the “boning” for the money. “Ev’ry white person in this hotel has got
to pay a dollar at least, fo’ the pleasure of hearing Helen play and
Ruth sing. That’s their admission.”

“I’d like to see you get a dollar for that purpose out of Miss Miggs,”
giggled Helen.

“Never mind, honey, somebody will have to pay fo’ her,” declared Nettie.
“Then we’ll sell the choice seats and the boxes at auction.”

“Goodness, child!” cried Ruth. “What boxes do you mean; soap boxes?”

“The front stairs,” said Nettie, placidly. “The seats in the upstairs
hall here will be reserved, and must bring a premium, too.”

“The ingenuity of the girl!” gasped Ruth.

“Why, Ruthie,” said Helen, “it isn’t _anything_ to get up a concert, or
to carry a program all alone. But it takes genius to devise such schemes
as this. You will be a multi-millionairess before you die, Nettie.”

“I expect to be,” returned the Southern girl. “Now, listen: Each of
these broad stairs will hold four people comfortably. We will letter the
stairs and number the seats.”

“But those on the lower step will have their feet in the water!” cried
Ruth, in a gale of laughter.

“Very well. They will be nearest to the performers. You say yourselves
that you will probably have to be barefooted, when you are down there
singing and playing,” said Nettie. “They ought to pay an extra premium
for being allowed to be so near to the performers. That is ‘the
bald-headed row.’”

“And every bald head that sits there will have a nice cold in his head,”
Ruth declared.

However, Nettie had her way in every particular. The next evening the
auction of “reserved seats and boxes” was held in the upper hall. Mr.
Jimson officiated as auctioneer and for an hour or more the party
managed to extract a great deal of wholesome fun from the affair.

The deputy sheriff was made to subscribe for the two lower tiers of
seats on the stair at a good price, because, as Mr. Jimson said, “he was
the bigges’ an’ fattes’ man in dis hyer destitute community.” The other
seats sold merrily. No one hesitated over paying the admission fee.
There is nobody in the world as generous both in spirit and actual
practice as these Southern people.

Almost two hundred dollars was raised for Curly’s benefit. The concert
was held the afternoon following the auctioning of the seats, and the
chums covered themselves with glory.

The piano was rolled out into the hall and the negroes knocked together
a platform on which Ruth and Helen could stand and play, while Nettie
perched herself on the piano bench to accompany them, and kept her feet
out of the water.

They sang the old glees together—all three of them, for Nettie possessed
a sweet contralto voice. Ruth’s ballads were appreciated to the full and
Helen—although the instrument she used was so poor a one—delighted the
audience with her playing.

When she softly played the old, sweet harmonies, and Ruth sang them, the
applause from Curly’s couch at the end of the hall to the foot of the
stairs where the deputy sheriff sat with his boots in the water, was
tremendous.

The concert ended with the girls standing in a row with clasped hands
and for the glory of Briarwood giving the old Sweetbriar “war-cry:”

  “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!_”

During all the time it had rained intermittently, and the river did not
show any signs of abating. But the morning following the very successful
“chamber concert,” a large launch chugged up to the submerged steps of
the hotel on Holloway Island. In it was Mrs. Rachel Parsons, and with
her was the negro from the warehouse who had been swept down the river
on the log when Mr. Jimson’s bateau made its landing at the island.

Mrs. Parsons had been unable to get to Charleston after all because of
washouts on the railroad, and had come back to Georgetown, heard of the
marooning on the island of the pleasure party and at the first
opportunity had come up the river to rescue Nettie, Ruth and Helen.

A plank was laid for Mrs. Parsons from the bow of the launch to the
lower step of the flight leading to the second story of the hotel. Mrs.
Holloway came down in a flutter to meet the lady of the Big House.

Mrs. Parsons, however, had gone straight to Nettie’s room and was shut
in with her niece for half an hour before she had anything to say to the
hotel keeper’s wife, or to anybody else. Then she went first to see poor
Curly, who was feverish and in much pain.

Just as Mrs. Parsons and her niece were passing down the hall they met
Miss Miggs. Nettie shot the maiden lady an angry glance and moved
carefully to one side.

“Is this the—the person who has circulated the false reports about Ruth
and Helen?” asked Mrs. Parsons, sternly.

“No false reports, I’d have you know, ma’am!” cried Martha Miggs, “right
on deck,” Curly said afterwards, “to repel boarders.” “I’d have you know
I am just as good as you are, and I’m just as much respected in my own
place,” she continued. Miss Miggs’ troubles and consequent nervous break
had really left her in such a condition that she was not fully
responsible for what she did and said.

“I have no doubt of that,” said Mrs. Parsons, quietly. “But I wish to
know what your meaning is in trying to injure the reputation of two
young girls.”

The little group had reached Curly’s bedside; but they did not notice
that young invalid. Ruth had risen from her seat nervously, wishing that
Nettie’s Aunt Rachel had not brought the unpleasant subject to the
surface again.

“I could not injure the reputation of a couple of young minxes like
these!” declared Miss Miggs, angrily. “I put the ticket in the railroad
folder, and laid it on the seat beside me in the steamer’s saloon, and
when I got up I forgot to take the folder with me. These girls were the
only people in sight. They were watching me, and when my back was turned
they took the ticket and folder.”

“Who?” suddenly shouted a voice behind them, and before any of the party
could reply to Miss Miggs’ absurd accusation.

Curly was sitting up in bed, his cheeks very red and his eyes bright
with fever; but he was in his right senses.

“Those girls did it!” snapped Miss Miggs.

“They didn’t, either!” cried Curly. “I did it. Now you can have me
arrested if you want to!” added the boy, falling back on his pillows. “I
didn’t know the ticket belonged to anybody. When I was drying my things
aboard that fishing boat, I found it in a folder that I had picked up in
the cabin of the steamer. I s’posed it was a ticket the railroad gave
away with the folder, until I asked a railroad man if it was good, and
he said it was as good as any other ticket. So I rode down to Pee Dee on
it from Norfolk. There now! If that’s stealin’, then I _have_ stolen,
and Gran is right—I’m a thief!”

Even as obstinate a person as Miss Miggs was forced to believe this
story, for its truth was self-evident. It completely ended the
controversy about the lost ticket; but Curly Smith was not satisfied
until enough money was taken out of the fund raised for his benefit to
reimburse Mrs. Holloway for the purchase-money of the ticket she had
sent to her New England cousin.

“I wish, Martha, I had never invited you down here,” the hotel keeper’s
wife was heard to tell the New England woman. “You’ve made me trouble
enough. I will never be able to pacify Mrs. Parsons. She is going to
take the young ladies and the boy away at once, and I know that she will
never again give me her good word with any of her wealthy friends. Your
ill-temper has cost me enough, I am sure.”

Perhaps it had cost Miss Miggs a good deal, too; only Miss Miggs was the
sort of obstinate person who never does or will acknowledge that she is
wrong.



CHAPTER XXV—BACK HOME


Mrs. Rachel Parsons marveled at what the girls had done in raising money
for Curly Smith. He would have money enough to keep him at the hospital
until his leg was healed, and to spare.

Curly was not to be arrested. Deputy Sheriff Ricketts went with the
party on the launch back to Georgetown, picking up his own lost launch
by the way, uninjured, and saw the boy housed in a private room of the
hospital. Then he, as well as Ruth, received news about Curly.

The letter from Mrs. Sadoc Smith at last arrived. In it the unhappy
woman opened her heart to Ruth again and begged her to send or bring
Curly home. It had been discovered that the boy had nothing to do with
the robbery of the railroad station at Lumberton.

“And who didn’t know that?” sniffed Helen. “Of course he didn’t.”

Mr. Ricketts, too, received information that called him off the case.
“That there li’le Yankee boy ain’t t’ be arrested after all,” he
confessed to Ruth. “Guess he jest got in wrong up No’th. But yo’d better
take him back with you when you go, Miss Ruth, He needs somebody to take
care of him—sho’ do!”

The river subsided and the girls went back to Merredith. They spent the
next fortnight delightfully and then the chums from Cheslow got ready to
start home. They could not take Curly with them; but he would be sent to
New York by steamer just as soon as the doctors could get him upon
crutches; and eventually the boy from Lumberton returned to his
grandmother, a much wiser lad than when he left her home and care.

The days at Merredith, all things considered, had been very delightful.
But the weather was growing very oppressive for Northerners. Ruth and
Helen bade Mrs. Parsons and Nettie and everybody about the Big House,
including Mr. Jimson, good-bye and caught the train for Norfolk. They
had a day to wait there, and so they went across in the ferry to Old
Point Comfort, found Unc’ Simmy, and were driven out to the gatehouse to
see Miss Catalpa.

“And we sho’ done struck luck, missy,” Unc’ Simmy confided to Ruth.
“Kunnel Wildah done foun’ some mo’ money b’longin’ t’ Miss Catalpa, an’
it’s wot he calls a ‘nuity. It comes reg’lar, like a man’s wages,” and
the old darkey’s smile was beautiful to see.

“Now Miss Catalpa kin have mo’ of the fixin’s like she’s use to. Glory!”

“He is the most unselfish person I have ever met,” said Ruth to Helen.
“It makes me ashamed to see how he thinks only of that dear blind
woman.”

Miss Catalpa welcomed the chums delightedly; and they took tea with her
on the vine-shaded porch of the old gatehouse, Unc’ Simmy doing the
honors in his ancient butler’s coat. It was a very delightful party,
indeed, and Helen as well as Ruth went away at last hoping that she
would some time see the sweet-natured Miss Catalpa again.

Three days later Mr. Cameron’s automobile deposited Ruth at the Red
Mill—her arrival so soon being quite unexpected to the bent old woman
rocking and sewing in the cheerful window of the farmhouse kitchen.

When Ruth ran up the steps and in at the door, Aunt Alvirah was quite
startled. She dropped her sewing and rose up creakingly, with a
murmured, “Oh, my back! and oh, my bones!” but she reached her thin arms
out to clasp her hands at the back of Ruth Fielding’s neck, and looked
long and earnestly into the girl’s eyes.

“My pretty’s growing up—she’s growing up!” cried Aunt Alvirah. “She
ain’t a child no more. I can’t scurce believe it. What have you seen
down South there that’s made you so old-like, honey?”

“I guess it is not age, Aunt Alvirah,” declared Ruth. “Maybe I have seen
some things that have made me thoughtful. And have endured some things
that were hard. And had some pleasures that I never had before.”

“Just the same, my pretty!” crooned the old woman. “Just as thoughtful
as ever. You surely have an old head on those pretty young shoulders.
Oh, yes you have.”

“And maybe that isn’t a good thing to have, after all—an old head on
young shoulders,” thought Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill the night of her
return, as she sat at her little chamber window and looked out across
the rolling Lumano. “Helen is happier than I am; she doesn’t worry about
herself or anybody else.

“Now I’m worrying about what’s to happen to me. Briarwood is a thing of
the past. Dear, old Briarwood Hall! Shall I ever be as happy again as I
was there?

“I see college ahead of me in the fall. Of course, my expenses for
several years are assured. Mr. Hammond writes me that he will take
another moving picture scenario. I have found out that my voice—as well
as Helen’s violin playing—can be coined. I am going to be
self-supporting and that, as Mrs. Parsons says, is a heap of
satisfaction.

“I need trouble Uncle Jabez no more for money. But I can’t remain in
idleness—that’s ‘agin nater,’ to quote Aunt Alvirah. I know what I’ll
do! I’ll—I’ll go to bed!”

She arose from her seat with a laugh and began to disrobe. Ten minutes
later, her prayers said and her hair in two neat plaits on the pillow,
Ruth Fielding fell asleep.


                                THE END



THE RUTH FIELDING SERIES

By ALICE B. EMERSON


12mo. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors.

Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents additional.

Ruth Fielding was an orphan and came to live with her miserly uncle. Her
adventures and travels make stories that will hold the interest of every
reader.

Ruth Fielding is a character that will live in juvenile fiction.

   1. RUTH FIELDING OF THE RED MILL
   2. RUTH FIELDING AT BRIARWOOD HALL
   3. RUTH FIELDING AT SNOW CAMP
   4. RUTH FIELDING AT LIGHTHOUSE POINT
   5. RUTH FIELDING AT SILVER RANCH
   6. RUTH FIELDING ON CLIFF ISLAND
   7. RUTH FIELDING AT SUNRISE FARM
   8. RUTH FIELDING AND THE GYPSIES
   9. RUTH FIELDING IN MOVING PICTURES
  10. RUTH FIELDING DOWN IN DIXIE
  11. RUTH FIELDING AT COLLEGE
  12. RUTH FIELDING IN THE SADDLE
  13. RUTH FIELDING IN THE RED CROSS
  14. RUTH FIELDING AT THE WAR FRONT
  15. RUTH FIELDING HOMEWARD BOUND
  16. RUTH FIELDING DOWN EAST
  17. RUTH FIELDING IN THE GREAT NORTHWEST
  18. RUTH FIELDING ON THE ST. LAWRENCE
  19. RUTH FIELDING TREASURE HUNTING
  20. RUTH FIELDING IN THE FAR NORTH
  21. RUTH FIELDING AT GOLDEN PASS
  22. RUTH FIELDING IN ALASKA
  23. RUTH FIELDING AND HER GREAT SCENARIO
  24. RUTH FIELDING AT CAMERON HALL
  25. RUTH FIELDING CLEARING HER NAME
  26. RUTH FIELDING IN TALKING PICTURES
  27. RUTH FIELDING AND BABY JUNE
  28. RUTH FIELDING AND HER DOUBLE
  29. RUTH FIELDING AND HER GREATEST TRIUMPH
  30. RUTH FIELDING AND HER CROWNING VICTORY

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MYSTERY BOOKS FOR GIRLS


12mo. Illustrated. Colored jackets.

Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents additional.

THE JADE NECKLACE, by Pemberton Ginther

Roslyn Blake possesses a necklace of ancient Chinese design and of
mysterious origin. It brings both hope and fear. Strange events result
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THE THIRTEENTH SPOON, by Pemberton Ginther

A mystery story for girls, that holds the interest from the first word
to the last. Twelve famous Apostle spoons, and the thirteenth, the
Master Spoon vanish. Who has stolen them? Carol’s courage solves the
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THE SECRET STAIR, by Pemberton Ginther

The ‘Van Dirk Treasure’ is a manuscript jewelled and illuminated. The
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THE DOOR IN THE MOUNTAIN, by Isola L. Forrester

The four McLeans, three boys and a plucky girl, lived just outside of
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SECRET OF THE DARK HOUSE, by Frances Y. Young

Jean had an inquiring mind, and any event that she could not understand
aroused her curiosity to the ’nth degree. A charming stranger in the
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brothers, sisters, police, famous detectives, Smuff, her dog, in one
grand mystery story that every girl will enjoy reading.

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By ELSIE B. GARDNER


12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. With colored Jacket.

Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents additional.

Maxie is such an interesting, delightful, amusing character that
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1. MAXIE, AN ADORABLE GIRL or Her Adventures in the British West Indies

2. MAXIE IN VENEZUELA or The Clue to the Diamond Mine

3. MAXIE, SEARCHING FOR HER PARENTS or The Mystery in Australian Waters

4. MAXIE AT BRINKSOME HALL or Strange Adventures with Her Chums

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THE BARTON BOOKS FOR GIRLS

By MAY HOLLIS BARTON


12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. With colored Jacket.

Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents additional.

May Hollis Barton is a new writer for girls who is bound to win instant
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   2. THREE GIRL CHUMS AT LAUREL HALL
   3. NELL GRAYSON’S RANCHING DAYS
   4. FOUR LITTLE WOMEN OF ROXBY
   5. PLAIN JANE AND PRETTY BETTY
   6. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
   7. HAZEL HOOD’S STRANGE DISCOVERY
   8. TWO GIRLS AND A MYSTERY
   9. THE GIRLS OF LIGHTHOUSE ISLAND
  10. KATE MARTIN’S PROBLEM
  11. THE GIRL IN THE TOP FLAT
  12. THE SEARCH FOR PEGGY ANN
  13. SALLIE’S TEST OF SKILL
  14. CHARLOTTE CROSS AND AUNT DEB
  15. VIRGINIA’S VENTURE

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KAY TRACEY MYSTERY STORIES

By FRANCES K. JUDD


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Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents additional.

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A case of mistaken identity at a masquerade leads Kay into a delightful
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Lost Lake had two mysteries—an old one and a new one. Kay, visiting
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Heavy draperies swaying in a lonely mansion give the clue which is
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CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers NEW YORK



THE BETTY GORDON SERIES

By ALICE B. EMERSON

Author of the “Ruth Fielding Series”


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Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents additional.

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   2. BETTY GORDON IN WASHINGTON
   3. BETTY GORDON IN THE LAND OF OIL
   4. BETTY GORDON AT BOARDING SCHOOL
   5. BETTY GORDON AT MOUNTAIN CAMP
   6. BETTY GORDON AT OCEAN PARK
   7. BETTY GORDON AND HER SCHOOL CHUMS
   8. BETTY GORDON AT RAINBOW RANCH
   9. BETTY GORDON IN MEXICAN WILDS
  10. BETTY GORDON AND THE LOST PEARLS
  11. BETTY GORDON ON THE CAMPUS
  12. BETTY GORDON AND THE HALE TWINS
  13. BETTY GORDON AT MYSTERY FARM
  14. BETTY GORDON ON NO-TRAIL ISLAND
  15. BETTY GORDON AND THE MYSTERY GIRL

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