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   Chapter 15 AN ODD ADVENTURE

Ruth Fielding At College; or, The Missing Examination Papers By Alice B. Emerson Characters: 11150

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Six inches or more of snow had fallen. It was feathery and packed well under the snowshoes. The girls sank about two inches into the fleecy mass and there the shoes made a complete bed for themselves and the weight of their wearers.

"You know what I'd love to do this winter?" said Helen, as they trudged on.

"What, my dear?" asked Ruth, who seemed much distraught.

"I'd like to try skiing. The slope of College Hill would be just splendiferous for that! Away from the observatory to the lake-and then some!"

"We'll start a skiing club among the freshies," Ruth said, warmly accepting the idea. "Wonder nobody has thought of it before."

"Ardmore hasn't waked up yet to all its possibilities," said Helen, demurely. "But this umpty-umph class of freshmen will show the college a thing or two before we pass from out its scholastic halls."

"Question!" cried Ruth, laughing. Then: "There! you can see that light again."

"Goodness! You're never going over to that island?" cried Helen.

"What did we come out for?" asked Ruth. "And scamp our study hour?"

"Goodness!" cried Helen, again, "just for fun."

"Well, it may be fun to find out just who built that fire and what for," said Ruth.

"And then again," objected her chum, "it may be no fun at all, but serious."

"I have a serious reason for finding out-if I can," Ruth declared.

"What is it, dear?"

"I'll tell you later," said Ruth. "Follow me now."

"If I do I'll not wear diamonds, and I may get into trouble," objected Helen.

"You've never got into very serious trouble yet by following my leadership," laughed Ruth. "Come on, Fraid-cat."

"Ain't! But we don't know who is over there. Just to think! A camp in the snow!"

"Well, we have camped in the snow ourselves," laughed Ruth, harking back to an adventure at Snow Camp that neither of them would ever be likely to forget.

They scuffed along on the snowshoes, soon reaching the edge of the lake. Nobody was about the boathouse, for the ice would have to be swept and scraped by the horse-drawn machines before the girls could go skating again.

The moon was pushing through the scurrying clouds, and the snow had ceased falling.

"Look back!" crowed Helen. "Looks as though two enormous animals had come down the hillside, doesn't it?"

"The girls will wake up and view our tracks with wonder in the morning," said Ruth, with a smile. "Perhaps they'll think that some curious monsters have visited Ardmore."

"That would cause more wonderment than the case of Rebecca Frayne. What do you suppose is finally going to happen to that foolish girl?"

"I really cannot guess," Ruth returned, shaking her head sadly. "Poor thing!"

"Why! she can't be poor," gasped Helen. "Look at all those trunks she brought with her to Ardmore. And her dresses are tremendously fancy-although we've not seen many of them yet."

Ruth stared at her chum for a moment without replying. It was right there and then that she came near to guessing the secret of Rebecca Frayne's trouble. But she forbore to say anything about it at the time, and went on beside her chum toward the white island, much disturbed in her mind.

Now and then they caught sight of the dancing flames of the campfire. But when they were nearer the island, the hill was so steep that they lost sight completely of the light.

"Suppose it's a man?" breathed Helen, suddenly, as they began to climb the shore of Bliss Island.

"He won't eat us," returned Ruth.

"No. They don't often. Only cannibals, and they are not prevalent in this locality," giggled Helen. "But if it is a man--"

"Then we'll turn around and go back," said Ruth, coolly. "I haven't come out here to get acquainted with any male person."

"Bluie! Suppose he's a real nice boy?"

"There's no such an animal," laughed Ruth. "That is, not around here at the present moment."

"Oh yes. I see," Helen rejoined drily. "The nearest nice one is at the Seven Oaks Military Academy."

"So you say," Ruth said demurely. "But if it were Tom?"

"Dear old Tom and some of his chums!" cried Helen. "Wouldn't it be great? This Adamless Eden is rather palling on me, Chum. The other girls have visitors, but our friends are too far away."

"Hush!" advised Ruth. "Whoever it is up there will hear you."

Helen was evidently not at all enamored of this adventure. She lagged behind a little. Yet she would not allow Ruth to go on alone to interview the mysterious camper.

"I tell you what," the black-eyed girl said, after a moment and in a whisper. "I believe that fire is up near the big boulder we looked at-you remember? The Stone Face, do they call it?"

"Quite possibly," Ruth rejoined briskly. "Come on if you're coming. I'm sure the Stone Face won't hurt us."

"Not unless it falls on us," giggled Helen.

The grove of big trees that covered this part of the hillside was open, and the chums very easily made their way toward the fire, even on snowshoes. But the shoes naturally made some noise as they scuffed over the snow, and in a minute Ruth stopped and slipped her feet out of the straps, motioning Helen to do the same. They wore overshoes so there was no danger of their getting their feet wet in the snow.

Hand in hand, Ruth and Helen crept forward. They saw the fire flickering just before them. There was a single figure between the fire and the very boulder of which Helen had spoken.

Reaching the edge of the grove the girls gazed without discovery at the camp in the snow. The boulder stood in a small open space, and it was so high and bulky

that it sheltered the fire and the camper quite comfortably. As Ruth had suspected, the latter was the girl she had seen walking upon the southern shore of Bliss Island. She knew her by her figure, if not by her face, which was at the moment hidden.

"She's alone," whispered Helen, making the words with her lips more than with her voice.

"What can she be doing out here?" was the black-eyed girl's next demand.

Her chum put out a hand in a gesture of warning and at once walked out of the shelter of the trees and approached the fire. Helen lingered behind. After all, it was so strange a situation that she did not feel very courageous.

The moon had quite broken through the clouds now and as Ruth drew nearer to the fire and the girl, her shadow was projected before her upon the snow. The girl who looked like Maggie suddenly espied this shadow, raised her head, and leaped up with a cry.

"Don't be frightened, Maggie," said Ruth. "It's only us two girls."

"My-my name is-isn't Maggie," stammered the strange girl.

And sure enough, having once seen her closely, Ruth Fielding saw that she was quite wrong in her identification. This was not the girl who had drifted down the Lumano River to the Red Mill and taken refuge with Aunt Alvirah.

This was a much more assertive person than Maggie-a girl with plenty of health, both of body and mind. Maggie impressed one as being mentally or nervously deficient. Not so this girl who was camping here in the snow on Bliss Island. Yet there was a resemblance to Maggie in the figure of the stranger, and Ruth noted a resemblance in her features, too.

"My goodness me!" she said, laughing pleasantly. "If you're not our Maggie you look near enough like her to be her sister."

"Well, I haven't any sister in that college," said the strange girl, shortly. "You're from Ardmore, aren't you?"

"Yes," Ruth said, Helen now having joined them. "And we saw your light--"

"My what?" demanded the camping girl, who was warmly, though plainly dressed.

"Your campfire. You see," explained Ruth, finding it rather difficult after all to talk to this very self-possessed girl, "we skated around the island to-day--"

"I saw you," said the stranger gruffly. "There were three of you."

"Yes. And I thought you looked like Maggie, then."

"Isn't this Maggie one of you?" sharply demanded the stranger.

"She's a girl whom-whom I know," Ruth said quickly. "A really nice girl. And you do look like her. Doesn't she, Helen?"

"Why-yes-something like," drawled Helen.

"And did you have to come out here to see if I were your friend?" asked the other girl.

"When I saw the campfire-yes," Ruth admitted. "It seemed so strange, you know."

"What seemed strange?" demanded the girl, very tartly. It was plain that she considered their visit an intrusion.

"Why, think of it yourself," Ruth cried, while Helen sniffed audibly. "A girl camping alone on this island-and in a snowstorm."

"It isn't snowing now," said the girl, smiling grimly.

"But it was when we saw the fire at first," Ruth hastened to say. "You know yourself you would be interested."

"Not enough to come clear out here-must be over a mile!-to see about it," was the rejoinder. "I usually mind my own business."

"So do we, you may be sure!" spoke up Helen, quick to take offence. "Come away, Ruth."

But the girl of the Red Mill was not at all satisfied. She said, frankly:

"I do wish that you would tell us why you are here? Surely, you won't remain all night in this lonely place? There is nobody else on the island, is there?"

"I should hope not!" exclaimed the girl. "Only you two busybodies."

"But, really, we came because we were interested in what went on here. It seems so strange for a girl, alone--"

"You've said that before," was the dry reply. "I am a girl alone. I am here on my own business. And that isn't yours."

"Oh!" ejaculated Helen, angrily.

"Well, if you don't like being spoken to plainly, you needn't stay," the strange girl flung at her.

"I see that very well," returned Helen, tossing her head. "Do come away, Ruth."

"Ha!" exclaimed the strange girl, suddenly looking at Ruth more intently. "Are you called Ruth?"

"Yes. Ruth Fielding is my name."

"Oh!" and the girl's face changed in its expression and a little flush came into her cheeks. "I've-I've heard of you."

"Indeed! How?" cried Ruth, eagerly. She felt that this girl must really have some connection with Maggie at the mill, she looked so much like the waif.

"Oh," said the other girl slowly, looking away, "I heard you wrote picture plays. I saw one of them. That's all."

Ruth was silent for a moment. Helen kept tugging at her arm and urging her to go.

"We-we can do nothing for you?" queried the girl of the Red Mill at last.

"You can get off the island-that's as much as I care," said the strange girl, with a harsh laugh. "You're only intruding where you're not wanted."

"Well, I do declare!" burst out Helen again. "She is the most impolite thing. Do come away, Ruthie."

"We really came with the best intentions," Ruth added, as she turned away with her chum. "It-it doesn't look right for a girl to be alone at a campfire on this island-and at night, too."

"I sha'n't stay here all night," the girl said shortly. "You needn't fret. If you want to know, I just built the fire to get warm by before I started back."

"Back where?" Ruth could not help asking.

"That you don't know-and you won't know," returned the strange girl, and turned her back upon them.

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