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   Chapter 5 OFF FOR THE BACKWOODS

Ruth Fielding at Snow Camp; Or, Lost in the Backwoods By Alice B. Emerson Characters: 6937

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It was still dark when Ruth awoke and slipped down to the kitchen again. But she heard her uncle rattling the stove grate. He was a very early riser. She peered into the kitchen and saw the grove of drying clothing, so knew that her trick of the night before had kept Fred Hatfield from running away.

Therefore she merely dropped the boy's nether garments inside the kitchen door and scurried back to her own room to dress by candle-light. She heard Aunt Alvirah stumbling about her room and groaning her old, old tune, "Oh, my back, and oh, my bones!" As soon as Ruth was dressed she ran in to see if she could do anything for the old woman.

"Ah, deary! what a precious pretty you be," said the old woman, hugging her. "I'm so glad to see you again after your being away so long. And your Uncle's that proud of you, too! He often reads the reports the school teacher sends him-I see him doing that in the evening. He keeps the reports in his cash-box, just as though they was as precious as his stocks and bonds. Yes-indeedy!"

"You are so glad to have me at home, Aunt Alvirah, that I feel guilty to be going away again so soon," Ruth said.

"No, honey. Have your good times while ye may, my pretty creetur. It's mighty nice of the Camerons to take you away with them. You go and have a good time. Your trunk's all packed and ready, and your young friend, Helen, would be dreadful disappointed if you didn't go. Now, let's go down and git breakfast. Jabez has been up for some time and I heard him just go out to the mill. That boy must be up and dressed by now, for if he had been sick, Jabez would have hollered up the stairs about it."

She was right. Fred Hatfield was completely dressed when they came into the kitchen. Ruth did not look at him, but busied herself with the details of getting breakfast. She did not speak to him, nor did Fred speak to her. But Aunt Alvirah was as cheerful and as chatty as ever.

Uncle Jabez was never talkative; but he was no more taciturn this morning than was their guest. The boy ate his breakfast with downcast eyes and only said timidly, at the end of the meal:

"I'm real obliged for your kindness, Mr. Potter. I think I'm all right again now. Can't I do some work for you to pay-"

"I don't need another hand at the mill-and I couldn't make use of a boy like you at all," said Mr. Potter, hastily. "You wait till Mr. Cameron comes here this morning."

Ruth saw that there was an understanding between her uncle and Mr.

Cameron regarding this boy. But Fred said, still hesitating:

"If-if I can't do anything to repay you, I'd rather go on. I was making for Cheslow. I'll get a job-"

"You wait here as you're told, boy," snapped Uncle Jabez, and the runaway shrank into his chair again and said nothing more.

Breakfast at the Red Mill was always early; it had been finished before seven o'clock on this clear winter morning. It was a fine day when the sun appeared, and Ruth's mind-at least, a part of it!-delighted in the thought of the journey to be taken into the great woods to the north and east of Osago Lake. She had several little things to do in preparation; therefore she could not be blamed if she lost sight of Fred Hatfield occasionally.

Suddenly, however, she found that he had left the kitchen. She cried up the stairs to Aunt Alvirah:

"Have you seen him, Auntie? Where is he?"

"Where's who?" returned the old woman.

"That boy. He's not here."

"For the land's

sake!" returned Aunt Alvirah. "I dunno. Didn't your uncle tell him to wait for Mr. Cameron here?"

"But he's gone!" exclaimed Ruth; and picking up her cap she pulled it on, and likewise her sweater, and went out of the house with a bang. He was not on the road to Cheslow. She could see that, straight before the mill, for a mile. She ran down to the gate and looked along the river road, up stream. No figure appeared there. Nor in the other direction-although the Camerons' car would appear from that way, and if the runaway went in that direction he would surely run right into the Camerons.

"He slipped out of the back door-towards the river," she whispered.

Back she ran into the house. She caught up her skates in the back hall and burst out upon the back porch, which was partly enclosed. There was the figure of Fred Hatfield on the ice-some distance, already, from the shore.

Ruth ran eagerly down to the shore. She had no idea what young Hatfield intended; but she was well aware that he could get across the Lumano if he chose; the ice was thick enough.

She quickly clamped the skates upon her shoes, and within five minutes was darting off across the ice.

Hatfield heard the ring of her skates within a very few moments; he threw a glance over his shoulder, saw her, and then began to run. It was a feeble attempt to escape, for unless some accident happened to Ruth, she could easily overtake him.

And she did so, although he ran straight ahead, and ran so hard that finally he slipped and fell, panting, to his knees. Ruth was beside him before he could rise.

"Don't you be such a ridiculous boy!" she commanded, seizing the lad by the shoulder, as he attempted to rise. "You mustn't run away. Mr. Cameron expects to find you at the mill, and you must stay. And they'll be here, ready to take the train from Cheslow, shortly."

"I-I don't want to stay here," stammered the boy. "I-I don't want to see that man again."

"But he expects to see you, and I could not let you go before he comes."

"You're just the meanest girl I ever saw!" cried Hatfield, almost in tears. "I'd got away in the night if it hadn't been for you."

Ruth fairly giggled at that-she couldn't help it.

"Well, don't you be nasty about it," she said. "You are a dreadfully foolish boy-"

"What do you know about me?" he gasped, turning to look at her finally with frightened eyes.

"I know that running away isn't going to help you," Ruth Fielding said, with returning gravity.

"You think that man-that Cameron man-will take me back?"

"Back where?"

"To-to Scarboro?"

"I don't know."

"I tell you I won't go," the boy cried. "I won't go."

"But we're all going up there this very day," said Ruth, slowly. "Mr. Cameron, and Helen and Tom, and some other girls and boys. I'm going, too-"

"Going where?" shrieked Fred Hatfield, actually shaking with terror, and as pale as a ghost.

"We're off for the backwoods-up Scarboro way. Mr. Cameron is going to take us for a fortnight to Snow Camp. And you-"

With another wild cry Fred Hatfield crumpled down upon the ice and burst into a tempest of sobbing. He beat his ungloved hands upon the ice, and although Ruth could not help feeling contempt for a boy who would so give way to weakness she could not help but pity him, too.

For Ruth Fielding had more than an inkling of the trouble that so weighed Fred Hatfield down, and had made him an outcast from his home and friends.

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