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   Chapter 2 A SURPRISING APPEARANCE

Ruth Fielding at Snow Camp; Or, Lost in the Backwoods By Alice B. Emerson Characters: 10347

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Helen was sobbing and crying as she ran. Tom kept a few feet behind the girls, although what he could have done to defend them, had the big bull overtaken him, it would be hard to say. And for several moments it looked very much as though Hiram Bassett's herd-leader was going to reach his prey.

The thunder of his hoofs was in their ears. They did not speak again as they came to the steep bank down to the open creek. There, just before them, was an old hollow stump, perhaps ten feet high, with the opening on the creek side. All three of them knew it well.

As Helen went over the bank and disappeared on one side of the stump, Tom darted around the other side. Ruth, with the red cap in her hand, stumbled over a root and fell to her knees. She was right beside the hollow stump, and Helen's cap caught in a twig and was snatched from her hand.

As Ruth scrambled aside and then fairly rolled over the edge of the bank out of sight, the cap was left dangling right in front of the stump. The bull charged it. That flashing bit of color was what had attracted the brute from the start.

As the three friends dived over the bank-and their haste and heedlessness carried them pell-mell to the bottom-there sounded a yell behind them that certainly was not emitted by the bull. Goodness knows, he roared loudly enough! But this was no voice of a bull that so startled the two girls and Tom Cameron-it was far too shrill.

"There's somebody in that tree!" yelled Tom.

And then the forefront of the bull collided with the rotten old stump. Taurus smashed against it with the force of a pile-driver- three-quarters of a ton of solid flesh and bone, going at the speed of a fast train, carries some weight. It seemed as though a live tree could scarcely have stood upright against that charge, let alone this rotten stump.

Crash!

The rotten roots gave way. They were torn out of the frozen ground, the stump toppled over, and, carrying a great ball of earth with it, plunged down the bank of the creek.

Tom had clutched the girls by their hands again and the three were running along the narrow shore under shelter of the bank. The bull no longer saw them. Indeed, the shock had thrown him to the ground, and when he scrambled up, he ran off, bellowing and tossing his head, in an entirely different direction.

But the uprooted stump went splash! into the icy waters of the creek, and as it plunged beneath the surface-all but its roots-the trio of frightened friends heard that eyrie cry again.

"It's from the hollow trunk! I tell you, some body's in there!" declared Tom.

But the uprooted stump had fallen into the water with the opening down. If there really was anybody in it, the way in which the stump had fallen served to hold such person prisoner.

Ruth Fielding was as quick as Tom to turn back to the spot where the old stump had been submerged; but Helen had fallen in her tracks, and sat there, hugging her knees and rocking her body to and fro, as she cried:

"He'll be drowned! Don't you see, he is drowned? And suppose that bull comes back?"

"That bull won't get us down here, Nell," returned her brother, laying hold of the roots of the hollow tree and trying to turn it over.

But although he and Ruth both exerted themselves to the utmost, they could barely stir the stump. Suddenly they heard a struggle going on inside the hollow shell; as well, a thumping on the thin partition of wood and a muffled sound of shouting.

"He's alive-the water hasn't filled the hollow," cried Ruth. "Oh,

Tom! we must do something."

"And I'd like to know what?" demanded that youth, in great perturbation.

The stump rested on the shore, but was half submerged in the water for most of its length. The unfortunate person imprisoned in the hollow part of the tree-trunk must be partly submerged in the water, too. Had the farther end of the stump not rested on a rock, it would have plunged to the bottom of the creek and the victim of the accident must certainly have been drowned.

"Why don't he crawl out? Why don't he crawl out?" cried Ruth, anxiously.

"How's he going to do it?" sputtered Tom.

"Can't he dive down into the water through the hole in the tree and so come up outside?" demanded the girl from the Red Mill, irritably. "I never saw such a fellow!"

Whether this referred to Tom, or to the unknown, the former did not know. But he recognized immediately the good sense in Ruth's suggestion. Tom leaped out upon the log and stamped upon it. Helen screamed:

"You'll go into the creek, too, Tom!"

"No, I won't," he replied.

"Then you'll make the stump fall in entirely and the man will be drowned."

"No, I won't do that, either," muttered Master Tom.

He stamped upon the wooden shell again. A faint halloo answered him, and the knocking on the inner side of the hollow tree was repeated.

"Come out! Come out!" shouted Tom, "Dive down through the water and get out. You'll be suffocated there."

But at first the prisoner seemed not to understand-or else was afraid to make the attempt.

"Oh, if I only had an axe!" groaned Master Tom.

"If you cut into that tree you might do so

me damage," said his sister, now so much interested in the prisoner that she got up and came near.

Ruth saw Helen's red cap high up on the bank and she scrambled up and got it, stuffing it under her coat again.

"We'll keep that out of sight," she said.

"If it hadn't been for that old red thing," growled Tom, "the bull wouldn't have chased us in the first place."

But all of them were thinking mainly of the person in the hollow of the old stump. How could they get this person out?

And the answer to that question was not so easily found-as Tom had observed. They could not roll the stump over; they had no means of cutting through to the prisoner. But, suddenly, that individual settled the question without their help. There was a struggle under the log, a splashing of the water, and then a figure bobbed up out of the shallows.

Ruth screamed and seized it before it fell back again. It was a boy- a thin, miserable-looking, dripping youth, no older than Tom, and with wild, burning eyes looking out of his wet and pallid face. Had it not been for Ruth and Tom he must have fallen back into the stream again, he was so weak.

They dragged him ashore, and he fell down, shaking and chattering, on the edge of the creek. He was none too warmly dressed at the best; the water now fast congealed upon his clothing. His garments would soon be as stiff as boards.

"We've got to get him to the Mill, girls," declared Tom. "Come! get up!" he cried to the stranger. "You must get warmed and have dry clothing."

"And something hot to drink," said Ruth. "Aunt Alviry will make him something that will take the cold out of his bones."

The strange boy stared at them, unable, it seemed, to speak a word. They dragged him upright and pushed him on between them. The bull had run towards the river and had not come back; so the friends, with their strange find, hurried on to the public road and crossed the bridge at the creek, turning off into the orchard path that led up to the Red Mill.

"What's your name?" demanded Tom of the strange boy.

But all the latter could do was to chatter and shake his head. The icy water had bitten into his very bones. They fairly dragged him between them for the last few yards, and burst into Aunt Alvirah's kitchen in a manner "fit to throw one into a conniption!" as that good lady declared.

"Oh, my back, and oh, my bones!" she groaned, getting up quickly from her rocking chair by the window, where she had been knitting. "For the good land of mercy! what is this?"

All three of the friends began to tell her together. But the little old woman with the bent back and rheumatic limbs understood one thing, if she made nothing else out of the general gabble. The strange boy had been in the water, and his need was urgent.

"Bring him right in here, Tommy," she commanded, hobbling into Mr. Potter's bedroom, which was the nearest to the kitchen, and thereby the warmest. "I don't know what Jabez will say, but that child's got to git a-twixt blankets right away. It's a mercy if he ain't got his death."

They drew off the stranger's outer clothing, and then Aunt Alviry left Tom to help him further disrobe and roll up in the blankets on Mr. Potter's bed. Meantime the old woman filled a stone water-bottle with boiling water, to put at his feet, and made a great bowl of "composition" for him to drink down as soon as it was cool enough for him to swallow.

Ruth wrung out the boy's wet garments and hung them to dry around the stove, where they began immediately to steam. As she had noticed before, the stranger's clothing was well worn. He had no overcoat- only a thick jacket. All his clothing was of the cheapest quality.

Suddenly Helen exclaimed: "What's that you've dropped out of his vest, Ruthie? A wallet?"

It was an old leather note-case. There appeared to be little in it when Ruth picked it up, for it was very flat. Certainly there was no money in it. Nor did there seem to be anything in it that would identify its owner. However, as Ruth carried it to the window she found a newspaper clipping tucked into one compartment, and, as it was damp, too, she took this out, unfolded it, and laid it carefully on the window sill to dry. But when she looked further, she saw inside the main compartment of the wallet a name and address stenciled, It was:

JONAS HATFIELD

SCARBORO, N. Y.

"Sec, Helen," she said to her chum. "Maybe this is his name-Jonas

Hatfield."

"And Scarboro, New York!" gasped Helen, suddenly. "Why, Ruthie!"

"What's the matter?" returned Ruth, in surprise.

"What a coincidence!"

"What is a coincidence?" demanded Ruth, still greatly amazed by her chum's excitement.

"Why this boy-if this is his wallet and that is his name and address-comes from right about where we are going to-morrow. Scarboro is the nearest railroad station to Snow Camp. What do you think of that?"

Before Ruth could reply, the sound of an automobile horn was heard outside, and both girls ran to the door. The Cameron automobile was just coming down the hill from the direction of Cheslow, and in a minute it stopped before the door of the Potter farmhouse.

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