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   Chapter 1 RUTH IN PERIL

Ruth Fielding in the Great Northwest; Or, The Indian Girl Star of the Movies By Alice B. Emerson Characters: 9822

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The gray dust, spurting from beneath the treads of the rapidly turning wheels, drifted across the country road to settle on the wayside hedges. The purring of the engine of Helen Cameron's car betrayed the fact that it was tuned to perfection. If there were any rough spots in the road being traveled, the shock absorbers took care of them.

"Dear me! I always do love to ride in Nell's car," said the plump and pretty girl who occupied more than her share of the rear seat. "Even if Tom isn't here to take care of it, it always is so comfy."

"Only one thing would suit you better, Heavy," declared the sharp-featured and sharp-tongued girl sitting next to Jennie Stone. "If only a motor could be connected to a rocking-chair-"

"Right-o!" agreed the cheerful plump girl. "And have it on a nice shady porch. I'd like to travel that way just as well. After our experience in France we ought to be allowed to travel in comfort for the rest of our lives. Isn't that so, Nell? And you agree, Ruthie?"

The girl at the wheel of the flying automobile nodded only, for she needed to keep her gaze fixed ahead. But the brown-haired, brown-eyed girl, whose quiet face seemed rather wistful, turned to smile upon the volatile-and voluble-Heavy Stone, so nicknamed during their early school days at Briarwood Hall.

"Don't let's talk about it, honey," she said. "I try not to think of what we all went through."

"And the soup I tasted!" groaned the plump one. "That diet kitchen in Paris! I'll never get over it-never!"

"I guess that's right," agreed Mercy Curtis, the sharp-featured girl. "How that really nice Frenchman can stand for such a fat girl-"

"Why," explained Heavy calmly, "the more there is of me the more there is for him to like." Then she giggled. "There were so few fat people left in Europe after four years of war that everybody liked to look at me."

"You certainly are a sight for sore eyes," Helen Cameron shot over her shoulder, but without losing sight of the road ahead. She was a careful, if rapid, driver. "And for any other eyes! One couldn't very well miss you, Heavy."

"Let's not talk any more about France-or the war-or anything like that," proposed Ruth Fielding, the shadow on her face deepening. "Both your Henri and Helen's Tom have had to go back-"

"Helen's Tom?" repeated Mercy Curtis softly. But Jennie Stone pinched her. She would not allow anybody to tease Ruth, although they all knew well enough that the absence of Helen's twin brother meant as much to Ruth Fielding as it did to his sister.

This was strictly a girl's party, this ride in Helen Cameron's automobile. Aside from Mercy, who was the daughter of the Cheslow railroad station agent, and therefore lived in Cheslow all the year around, the girls were not native to the place. They had just left that pretty town behind them. It appeared that Ruth, Helen, and surely Jennie Stone, knew very few of the young men of Cheslow. So this jaunt was, as Jennie saucily said, entirely "poulette".

"Which she thinks is French for 'old hen,'" scoffed the tart Mercy.

"I do not know which is worse," Ruth Fielding said with a sigh, as Helen slowed down for a railroad crossing at which stood a flagman. "Heavy's French or her slang."

"Slang! Never!" cried the plump girl, tossing her head "Far be it from me and et cetera. I never use slang. I am quite as much of a purist as that professor at Ardmore-what was his name?-that they tell the story about. The dear dean told him that some of the undergrads complained that his language was 'too pedantic and unintelligible.'"

"'Never, Madam! Impossible! Why,' said the prof, 'to employ a vulgarism, perspicuity is my penultimate appellative.'"

"Ow! Ow!" groaned Helen at the wheel "I bet that hurt your vocal cords, Heavy."

She let in the clutch again as the party broke into laughter, and they darted across the tracks behind the passing train.

"Just the same," added Helen, "I wish some of the boys we used to play around with were with us. Those fellows Tom went to Seven Oaks with were all nice boys. Dear me!"

"Most of them went into the war," Ruth reminded her. "Nothing is as it used to be. Oh, dear!"

"I must say you are all very cheerful-not!" exclaimed Jennie. "Ruth is a regular Grandmother Grimalkin, and the rest of you are little better. I for one just won't think of my dear Henri as being food for cannon. I just won't! Why! before he and Tom can get into the nasty business again the war may be over. Just see the reports in the papers of what our boys are doing. They really have the Heinies on the run."

"Ye-as," murmured Mercy. "Running which way?"

"Treason!" cried Jennie. "The only way the Germans have ever run forward is by crawling."

"Oh! Oh! Listen to the Irish bull!" cried Helen.

"Oh, is it?" exclaimed Jennie. "Maybe there is a bit of Irish in the McStones, or O'Stones. I don't know."

She certainly was the life of the party. Helen and Ruth had too recently bidden Tom Cameron good-bye to feel like joining with Jennie in repartee. Though it might have been that even the fat girl's repartee was more a matter of repertoire. She was expected to be funny, and so forced herself to make good her reputation.

This trip by automobile in fact was a forced attempt to cheer each other up on the part of the chums. At the Outlook, the Cameron's handsome country home, matters had become quite too awful to contemplate with calm, now that Tom had gone back to France. At least, so Helen stated. At the Red Mill Ruth had been (she admitted it) ready to "fly to pieces." For naturally poor Aunt Alvirah and Jabez Potter, the miller, were pot cheerful companions. And the two chums had Jennie Stone as their guest, for she had returned from New York with them, where they had all gone to bid Tom and Henri Marchand farewell.

The three college friends had picked Mercy Curtis up (she had been with them at boarding-school "years and years before," to quote Jennie) and started on this trip from Cheslow to Longhaven. On the outskirts of Longhaven a Wild West Show was advertised as having pitched its tents.

"And, of course, if there is anything about the Wild West close at hand our movie writer must see it," said Jennie. "Give you local color, Ruth, for another western screen masterpiece."

"I suppose it is one of these little fly-by-night shows!" scoffed Mercy. "Let's see that bill. Dakota Joe's Wild West and Frontier Round-Up' Mm! Sounds big. But the bigger they sound the smaller they are, as a rule."

"I am glad I am not a pessimist," sighed Jennie Stone. "It must be an awfully uncomfortable feeling inside one to wear such a cloak."

"Ow! Ow!" cried Helen again. "Another Hibernianism, without a doubt."

She turned the car into a much-traveled road just then. Not a mile ahead loomed the "big top." A band was playing, and what it lacked in sweetness it certainly made up in noise.

"Look at the cars!" exclaimed Ruth, becoming interested. "We shall have to park before long, Helen, and walk to the show lot."

"Right here!" returned Helen, with vigor, and turned her car into a field where already a dozen automobiles were parked. A man with a whisp of whisker on his chin, and actually chewing a straw, motioned the young girl where to run her car. He was evidently the farmer who owned the field, and he was surely "making hay while the sun shone," for he was collecting a quarter from every automobile owner who wished to get his car off the public road.

"Your car'll be all right here, young ladies," he said, reaching for the quarter Ruth offered him. "I'm going to stay here myself and watch 'em until the show's over. Cal'late to stay here anyway till them wild Injuns and wilder cowboys air off Peleg Swift's land yonder. No knowing what they'll do if they ain't watched."

"Listen to the opinion our friend has of your old Wild West Show," hissed Jennie, as Ruth hopped out of the seat beside Helen.

Ruth laughed. The other girls, getting out of the car on the other side, were startled by hearing her laugh change to a sudden ejaculation.

"Dear me! has that thing broken loose from the show?"

Jennie was the first to speak, and she stepped behind the high car in order to catch sight of what had caused Ruth's exclamation. Instantly the plump girl emitted a most unseemly shout:

"Oh! Oh! Look at the bull!"

"What is the matter with you, Heavy?" demanded Mercy snappishly.

But when she and Helen followed the plump girl behind the automobile, they were stricken dumb with amazement, if not with fear. Tearing down the field toward the row of automobiles was a big black bull-head down, strings of foam flying from his mouth, and with every other indication of extreme wrath.

"Run!" shrieked Jennie, and turned to do so.

She bumped into Mercy and Helen, who clung to her and really retarded the plump girl's escape. But plowing right on to the shelter of the automobile, Jennie actually swept her two friends with her.

Their cries and evident fright attracted the notice of the farmer before he really knew what was happening. Then he saw the bull and gave tongue to his own immediate excitement:

"Look at that critter! He's broke out of the barnyard-drat him! Don't let him see you, gals, for he's as vicious as sin!"

He started forward with a stick in his hand to attack the enraged bull. But the animal paid no attention to him. It had set its eyes upon something which excited its rage-Ruth Fielding's red sweater!

"Oh, Ruth! Ruth!" shrieked Helen, suddenly seeing her chum cornered on the other side of the car.

Ruth tried to open the car door again. But it stuck. Nor was there time for the girl of the Red Mill to vault the door and so escape the charge of the maddened bull. The brute was upon her.

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