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Ruth Fielding at Snow Camp; Or, Lost in the Backwoods By Alice B. Emerson Characters: 8448

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The Red Mill was a grist mill, and Mr. Jabez Potter made wheat-flour, buckwheat, cornmeal, or ground any grist that was brought to him. Standing on a commanding knoll beside the Lumano River, it was very picturesquely situated, and the rambling old farmhouse connected with it was a very homey-looking place indeed.

The automobile had stopped at the roadside before the kitchen door, and Mr. Cameron alighted and started immediately up the straight path to the porch. He was a round, jolly, red-faced man, who was forever thinking of some surprise with which to please his boy and girl, and seldom refused any request they might make of him. This plan of taking a party of young folk into the backwoods for a couple of weeks was entirely to amuse Tom and Helen. Personally, the dry-goods merchant did not much care for such an outing.

He came stamping up the steps and burst into the kitchen in a jolly way, and Helen ran to him with a kiss.

"Hullo I what's all this?" he demanded, his black eyes taking in the grove of airing garments around the stove. "Tom been in the river? No! Those aren't Tom's duds, I'll be switched if they are!"

"No, no," cried Helen. "It's another boy."

And here Tom himself appeared from the bedroom.

"I thought Tom could keep out of the river when the ice was four inches thick-eh, son?" laughed Mr. Cameron.

His children began to tell him, both together, of the adventure with the bull and the mysterious appearance of the strange boy.

"Aye, aye!" he said. "And Ruth Fielding was in it, of course-and did her part in extricating you all from the mess, too, I'll be bound! Whatever would we do without Ruth?" and he smiled and shook hands with the miller's niece.

"I guess we were all equally scared. But it certainly was my fault that the old bull bunted the hollow stump into the creek. So this boy can thank me for getting him such a ducking," laughed Ruth.

"And who is he? Where does he come from?"

Ruth showed Mr. Cameron the stencil on the inside of the wallet.

"Isn't that funny, Father?" cried Helen. "Right where we are going-


"If the wallet is his," muttered Mr. Cameron.

"What do you mean, sir?" questioned Ruth, quickly. "Do you think he is a bad boy-that he has taken the wallet--"

"Now, now!" exclaimed Mr. Cameron, smiling at her again. "Don't jump at conclusions, Mistress Ruth Fielding. I have no suspicion regarding the lad--How is the patient, Aunt Alviry?" he added, quickly, as the little old woman came hobbling out of the bedroom where the strange boy lay.

"Oh, my back, and oh, my bones!" said Aunt Alviry, under her breath. But she welcomed Mr. Cameron warmly enough, too. "He's getting on fine," she declared. "He'll be all right soon. I reckon he won't suffer none in the end for his wetting. I'm a-goin' to cook him a mess of gruel, for I believe he's hungry."

"Who is he, Aunt Alviry?" asked the gentleman. Aunt Alvirah Boggs was "everybody's Aunt Alviry," although she really had no living kin, and Mr. Jabez Potter had brought her from the almshouse ten years or more before to act as his housekeeper.

"Dunno," said Aunt Alvirah, shaking her head in answer to Mr. Cameron's question. "Ain't the first idee. You kin go in and talk to him, sir."

With the wallet in his hand and the three young folk at his heels, both their interest and their curiosity aroused, Mr. Cameron went into the passage and so came to the open door of the bedroom. Mr. Potter slept in a big, four-post bedstead, which was heaped high at this time of year with an enormous feather bed. Rolled like a mummy in the blankets, and laid on this bed, the feathers had plumped up about the vagabond boy and almost buried him. But his eyes were wide open-pale blue eyes, with light lashes and eyebrows, which gave his thin, white countenance a particularly blank expression.

"Heigho, my lad!" exclaimed Mr. Cameron, in his jolly way. "So your name is Jonas Hatfield, of Scarboro; is it?"

"No; sir; that was my father's name, sir," returned the boy in bed, weakly. "My name is Fred."

And then a brilliant flush suddenly colored his pale face. He half started up in bed, and the pale blue eyes flashed with an entirely di

fferent expression. He demanded, in a hoarse, unnatural voice:

"How'd' you find me out?"

Mr. Cameron shook his head knowingly, and laughed.

"That was a bit of information you were keeping to yourself-eh? Well, why did you carry your father's old wallet about with you, if you did not wish to be identified? Come, son! what harm is there in our knowing who you are?"

Fred Hatfield sank back in the feathers and weakly rolled his head from side to side. The blood receded from his cheeks, leaving him quite as pale as before. He whispered:

"I ran away."

"Yes. That's what I supposed," said Mr. Cameron, easily. "What for?"

"I-I can't tell you."

"What did you do?"

"I didn't say I did anything. I just got sick of it up there, and came away," the boy said, sullenly.

"Your father is dead?" asked the gentleman, shrewdly.

"Yes, sir."

"Got a mother?"

"Yes, sir."

"Doesn't she need you?"

"No, sir."

"Why not?"

"She's got Ez, and Peter, and 'Lias to work the farm. They're all older'n me. Then there's the two gals and Bob, who are younger. She don't need me," declared Fred Hatfield, doggedly.

"I don't believe a mother ever had so many children that she didn't sorely miss the one who was absent," declared Mr. Cameron, quietly. "Tell me how you came away down here."

Brokenly the boy told his story-not an uncommon one. He had traveled most of the distance afoot, working here and there for farmers and storekeepers. He admitted that he had been some weeks on the road. His being in that hollow stump in Hiram Bassett's field was quite by accident. He was passing through the field, making for the main road, when he had seen Ruth, Helen, and Tom, and stepped behind the tree so as not to be observed.

"What made you so afraid of being seen by anyone?" demanded Mr. Cameron, at this point. "Do you think your folks are trying to find you?"

"I-I don't know," stammered the lad.

This was about all his questioner was able to get out of him.

"You'll be cared for here to-night-I'll speak to Mr. Potter," said Mr. Cameron. "And in the morning I'll decide what's to be done with you."

"Why, Dad! we're going--"

Tom had begun this speech when his father warned him with a look to be still.

"You'll be all right here," pursued Mr. Cameron, cheerfully. "Aunt Alviry and Ruth will look after you. Why! I wouldn't want better nurses if I was sick."

"But I'm not sick," said Fred Hatfield, as the little old woman hobbled in with a steaming bowl. His eyes were wolfish when he saw the gruel, however.

"No, you're not so sick but that a good, square meal would be your best medicine, I'll be bound," cried the gentleman, laughing.

He went out to the mill then and was gone some moments; when he returned he called Helen and Tom to come with him quickly to the car.

"Remember and be ready as early as nine o'clock, Ruth!" called

Helen, looking back as she climbed into the automobile.

When her friends had bowled away up the frozen road, Ruth came back into the kitchen. Aunt Alvirah was still in the bedroom with their strange guest. Of a sudden the girl's eye caught sight of the newspaper clipping laid on the window sill to dry.

Mr. Cameron had placed the old wallet belonging to Fred Hatfield's father on the table when he came out of the bedroom. Now Ruth picked it up, found it dry, and went to the window to replace the clipping in it. It was the most natural thing in the world for Ruth to glance at the slip of paper when she picked it up. There is nothing secret about a newspaper clipping; it was no infringement of good manners to read the article.

And read it Ruth did when she had once seen the heading-she read it all through with breathless attention. Her rosy face paled as she came to the conclusion, and she glanced suddenly toward the bedroom as she heard Aunt Alvirah's voice again.

Dropping the old wallet on the table, Ruth folded the clipping and hastily thrust it into the bosom of her frock. She did not dare face the old woman when she appeared, but kept her back turned until she was sure the color had returned to her cheeks. And all the time she helped Aunt Alvirah get supper, Ruth was very, very silent.

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