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   Chapter 2 MAGGIE

Ruth Fielding At College; or, The Missing Examination Papers By Alice B. Emerson Characters: 16204

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Ruth Fielding knew very well the treacherous current of the Lumano. She saw that the drifting boat with its single occupant was very near to the point where the fierce pull of the mid-stream current would seize it.

So she rowed her best and having the stroke oar, Uncle Jabez was obliged to pull his best to keep up with her.

"Huh!" he snorted, "it ain't so pertic'lar, is it, Niece Ruth? That feller--"

She made no reply, but in a few minutes they were near enough to the drifting boat for Ruth to glance over her shoulder and see into it. At once she uttered a little cry of pity.

"What now?" gruffly demanded Uncle Jabez.

"Oh, Uncle! It's a girl!" Ruth gasped.

"A gal! Another gal?" exclaimed the old miller. "I swanny! The Red Mill is allus littered up with gals when you're to hum."

This was a favorite complaint of his; but he pulled more vigorously, nevertheless, and the punt was quickly beside the drifting boat.

A girl in very commonplace garments-although she was not at all a commonplace looking girl-lay in the bottom of the boat. Her eyes were closed and she was very pale.

"She's fainted," Ruth whispered.

"Who in 'tarnation let a gal like that go out in a boat alone, and without airy oar?" demanded Uncle Jabez, crossly. "Here! hold steady. I'll take that painter and 'tach it to the boat. We'll tow her in. But lemme tell ye," added Uncle Jabez, decidedly, "somebody's got ter pay me fur my time, or else they don't git the boat back. She seems to be all right."

"Why, she isn't conscious!" cried Ruth.

"Huh!" grunted Uncle Jabez, "I mean the boat, not the gal."

Ruth always suspected that Uncle Jabez Potter made a pretense of being really worse than he was. When a little girl she had been almost afraid of her cross-grained relative-the only relative she had in the world.

But there were times when the ugly crust of the old man's character was rubbed off and his niece believed she saw the true gold beneath. She was frequently afraid that others would hear and not understand him. Now that she was financially independent of Uncle Jabez Ruth was not so sensitive for herself.

They towed the boat back to the mill landing. Tom and Ben carried the strange girl, still unconscious into the Red Mill farmhouse, and bustling little Aunt Alvirah had her put at once to bed.

"Shall I hustle right over to Cheslow for the doctor?" Tom asked.

"Who's goin' to pay him?" growled Uncle Jabez, who heard this.

"Don't let that worry you, Mr. Potter," said the youth, his black eyes flashing. "If I hire a doctor I always pay him."

"It's a good thing to have that repertation," Uncle Jabez said drily. "One should pay the debts he contracts."

But Aunt Alvirah scoffed at the need of a doctor.

"The gal's only fainted. Scare't it's likely, findin' herself adrift in that boat. You needn't trouble yourself about it, Jabez."

Thus reassured the miller went back to examine the boat. Although it was somewhat marred, it was not damaged, and Uncle Jabez was satisfied that if nobody claimed the boat he would be amply repaid for his trouble.

Naturally, the two girls fluttered about the stranger a good deal when Aunt Alvirah had brought her out of her faint. Ruth was particularly attracted by "Maggie" as the stranger announced her name to be.

"I was working at one of those summer-folks' camps up the river. Mr. Bender's, it was," she explained to Ruth, later. "But all the folks went last night, and this morning I was going across the river with my bag-oh, did you find my bag, Miss?"

"Surely," Ruth laughed. "It is here, beside your bed."

"Oh, thank you," said the girl. "Mr. Bender paid me last night. One of the men was to take me across the river, and I sat down and waited, and nobody came, and by and by I fell into a nap and when I woke up I was out in the river, all alone. My! I was frightened."

"Then you have no reason for going back to the camp?" asked Ruth, thoughtfully.

"No-Miss. I'm through up there for the season. I'll look for another situation-I-I mean job," she added stammeringly.

"We will telephone up the river and tell them you are all right," Ruth said.

"Oh, thank you-Miss."

Ruth asked her several other questions, and although Maggie was reserved, her answers were satisfactory.

"But what's goin' to become of the gal?" Uncle Jabez asked that evening after supper, when he and his niece were in the farmhouse kitchen alone.

Aunt Alvirah had carried tea and toast in to the patient and was sitting by her.

The girl of the Red Mill thought Maggie did not seem like the usual "hired help" whom she had seen. She seemed much more refined than one might expect a girl to be of the class to which she claimed to belong.

Ruth looked across the table at her cross-grained old relative and made no direct reply to his question. She was very sure that, after all, he would be kind to the strange girl if Maggie actually needed to be helped. But Ruth had an idea that Maggie was quite capable of helping herself.

"Uncle Jabez," the girl of the Red Mill said to the old man, softly, "do you know something?"

"Huh?" grunted Uncle Jabez. "I know a hull lot more than you young sprigs gimme credit for knowin'."

"Oh! I didn't mean it that way," and Ruth laughed cheerily at him. "I mean that I have discovered something, and I wondered if you had discovered the same thing?"

"Out with it, Niece Ruth," he ordered, eyeing her curiously. "I'll tell ye if it's anything I already know."

"Well, Aunt Alvirah is growing old."

"Ye don't say!" snapped the miller. "And who ain't, I'd like to know?"

"Her rheumatism is much worse, and it will soon be winter."

"Say! what air ye tryin' to do?" he demanded. "Tellin' me these here puffictly obvious things! Of course she's gittin' older; and of course her rheumatiz is bound to grow wuss. Doctors ain't never yet found nothin' to cure rheumatiz. And winter us'ally follers fall-even in this here tarnation climate."

"Well, but the combination is going to be very bad for Aunt Alvirah," Ruth said gently, determined to pursue her idea to the finish, no matter how cross he appeared to be.

"Wal, is it my fault?" asked Uncle Jabez.

"It's nobody's fault," Ruth told him, shaking her head, and very serious. "But it's Aunt Alvirah's misfortune."

"Huh!"

"And we must do something about it."

"Huh! Must we? What, I'd like to have ye tell me?" said the old miller, eyeing Ruth much as one strange dog might another that he suspected was after his best marrow bone.

"We must get somebody to help her do the work while I am at college," Ruth said firmly.

The dull red flooded into Uncle Jabez's cheeks, and for once gave him a little color. His narrow eyes sparkled, too.

"There's one thing I've allus said, Niece Ruth," he declared hotly. "Ye air a great one for spending other folks' money."

It was Ruth's turn to flush now, and although she might not possess what Aunt Alvirah called "the Potter economical streak," she did own to a spark of the Potter temper. Ruth Fielding was not namby-pamby, although she was far from quarrelsome.

"Uncle Jabez," she returned rather tartly, "have I been spending much of your money lately?"

"No," he growled. "But ye ain't l'arnt how to take proper keer of yer own-trapsin' 'round the country the way you do."

She laughed then. "I'm getting knowledge. Some of it comes high, I have found; but it will all help me live."

"Huh! I've lived without that brand of l'arnin'," grunted Uncle Jabez.

Ruth looked at him amusedly. She was tempted to tell him that he had not lived, only existed. But she was not impudent, and merely went on to say:

"Aunt Alvirah is getting too old to do all the work here--"

"I send Ben in to help her some when she's alone," said the miller.

"And by so doing put extra work on poor Ben," Ruth told him, decidedly. "No, Aunt Alvirah must have another woman around, or a girl."

"Where ye goin' to find the gal?" snapped the miller. "Work gals don't like to stay in the country."

"She's found, I beli

eve," Ruth told him.

"Huh?"

"This Maggie we just got out of the river. She has no job, she says, and she wants one. I believe she'll stay."

"Who's goin' to pay her wages?" demanded Uncle Jabez, getting back to "first principles" again.

"I'll pay the girl's wages, Uncle Jabez," Ruth said seriously. "But you must feed her. And she must be fed well, too. I can see that part of her trouble is malnutrition."

"Huh? Has she got some ketchin' disease?" Uncle Jabez demanded.

"It isn't contagious," Ruth replied drily. "But unless she is well fed she cannot be cured of it."

"Wal, there's plenty of milk and eggs," the miller said.

"But you must not hide the key of the meat-house, Uncle," and now Ruth laughed outright at him. "Four people at table means a depletion of your smoked meat and a dipping occasionally into the corned-beef barrel."

"Wal--"

"Now, if I pay the girl's wages, you must supply the food," his niece said, firmly, "Otherwise, Aunt Alvirah will go without help, and then she will break down, and then--"

"Huh!" grunted the miller. "I couldn't let her go back to the poorfarm, I s'pose?"

He actually made it a question; but Ruth could not see his face, for he had turned aside.

"No. She could not return to the poorhouse-after fifteen years!" exclaimed the girl. "Do you know what I should do?" and she asked the question warmly.

"Somethin' fullish, I allow."

"I should take her to Ardmore with me, and find a tiny cottage for her, and maybe she would keep house for Helen and me."

"That'd be jest like ye, Niece Ruth," he responded coolly. "You think you have all the money in the world. That's because ye didn't aim what ye got-it was give to ye."

The statement was in large part true, and for the moment Ruth's lips were closed. Tears stood in her eyes, too. She realized that she could not be independent of the old miller had not chance and kind-hearted and grateful Mrs. Rachel Parsons given her the bulk of the amount now deposited in her name in the bank.

Ruth Fielding's circumstances had been very different when she had first come to Cheslow and the Red Mill. Then she was a little, homeless, orphan girl who was "taken in out of charity" by Uncle Jabez. And very keenly and bitterly had she been made to feel during those first few months her dependence upon the crabbed old miller.

The introductory volume of this series, "Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill, or, Jacob Parloe's Secret," details in full the little girl's trials and triumphs under these unfortunate conditions-how she makes friends, smooths over difficulties, and in a measure wins old Uncle Jabez's approval. The miller was a very honest man and always paid his debts. Because of something Ruth did for him he felt it to be his duty to pay her first year's tuition at boarding school, where she went with her new friend, Helen Cameron. In "Ruth Fielding at Briarwood Hall," the Red Mill girl really begins her school career, and begins, too, to satisfy that inbred longing for independence which was so strong a part of her character.

In succeeding volumes of the "Ruth Fielding Series," we follow Ruth's adventures in Snow Camp, a winter lodge in the Adirondack wilderness; at Lighthouse Point, the summer home of a girl friend on the Atlantic coast; at Silver Ranch, in Montana; at Cliff Island; at Sunrise Farm; with the Gypsies, which was a very important adventure, indeed, for Ruth Fielding. In this eighth story Ruth was able to recover for Mrs. Rachel Parsons, an aunt of one of her school friends, a very valuable pearl necklace, and as a reward of five thousand dollars had been offered for the recovery of the necklace, the entire sum came to Ruth. This money made Ruth financially independent of Uncle Jabez.

The ninth volume of the series, entitled, "Ruth Fielding in Moving Pictures; or, Helping the Dormitory Fund," shows Ruth and her chums engaged in film production. Ruth discovered that she could write a good scenario-a very good scenario, indeed. Mr. Hammond, president of the Alectrion Film Corporation, encouraged her to write others. When the West Dormitory of Briarwood Hall was burned and it was discovered that there had been no insurance on the building, the girls determined to do all in their power to rebuild the structure.

Ruth was inspired to write a scenario, a five-reel drama of schoolgirl life, and Mr. Hammond produced it, Ruth's share of the profits going toward the building fund. "The Heart of a Schoolgirl" was not only locally famous, but was shown all over the country and was even now, after six months, paying the final construction bills of the West Dormitory, at Briarwood.

In this ninth volume of the series, Ruth and Helen and many of their chums graduated from Briarwood Hall. Immediately after the graduation the girl of the Red Mill and Helen Cameron were taken south by Nettie Parsons and her Aunt Rachel to visit the Merredith plantation in South Carolina. Their adventures were fully related in the story immediately preceding the present narrative, the tenth of the "Ruth Fielding Series," entitled, "Ruth Fielding Down in Dixie; or, Great Times in the Land of Cotton."

Home again, after that delightful journey, Ruth had spent most of the remaining weeks of her vacation quietly at the Red Mill. She was engaged upon another scenario for Mr. Hammond, in which the beautiful old mill on the Lumano would figure largely. She also had had many preparations to make for her freshman year at Ardmore.

Ruth and Helen were quite "young ladies" now, so Tom scoffingly said. And going to college was quite another thing from looking forward to a term at a preparatory school. Nevertheless, Ruth had found plenty of time to help Aunt Alvirah during the past few weeks.

She had noted how much feebler the old woman was becoming. Therefore, she was determined to win Uncle Jabez to her plan of securing help in the Red Mill kitchen. The coming of the girl, Maggie, though a strange coincidence, Ruth looked upon as providential. She urged Uncle Jabez to agree to her proposal, and the very next morning she sounded Maggie upon the subject. The strange girl was sitting up, but Aunt Alvirah would not hear to her doing anything as yet. Ruth found Maggie in the sitting-room, engaged in looking at the Ardmore Year Book which Ruth had left upon the sitting-room table.

"Pretty landscapes about the college, aren't they?" Ruth suggested.

"Oh yes-Miss. Very pretty," agreed Maggie.

"That is where I am going to college," Ruth explained. "I enter as a freshman next week."

"Is that so-Miss?" hesitated Maggie. Her heretofore colorless face flushed warmly. "I've heard of that-that place," she added.

"Indeed, have you?"

Maggie was looking at the photograph of Lake Remona, with a part of Bliss Island at one side. She continued to stare at the picture while Ruth put before her the suggestion of work at the Red Mill.

"Oh, of course, Miss Fielding, I'd be glad of the work. And you're very liberal. But you don't know anything about me."

"No. And I shouldn't know much more about you if you brought a dozen recommendations," laughed Ruth.

"I suppose not-Miss." It seemed hard for the girl to get out that "Miss," and Ruth, who was keenly observant, wondered if she really had been accustomed to using it.

They talked it over and finally reached an agreement. Aunt Alvirah was sweetly grateful to Ruth, knowing full well that there must have been a "battle royal" between the miller and his niece before the former had agreed to the new arrangement.

Ruth was quite sure that Maggie was a nice girl, even if she was queer. At least, she gave deference to the quaint little old housekeeper, and seemed to like Aunt Alvirah very much. And who would not love the woman, who was everybody's aunt but nobody's relative?

Once or twice Ruth found Maggie poring over the Year Book of Ardmore College, rather an odd interest for a girl of her class. But Maggie was rather an odd girl anyway, and Ruth forgot the matter in her final preparations for departure.

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