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   Chapter 16 WHAT WAS IN REBECCA'S TRUNK

Ruth Fielding At College; or, The Missing Examination Papers By Alice B. Emerson Characters: 11519

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The two chums did not speak a word to each other until they had recovered their snowshoes and set out down the rough side of Bliss Island for the ice. Then Helen sputtered:

"People like that! Did you ever see such a person? I never was so insulted--"

"Pshaw! She was right-in a way," Ruth said coolly. "We had no real business to pry into her affairs."

"Well!"

"I got you into it. I'm sorry," the girl of the Red Mill said. "I thought it really was Maggie, or I wouldn't have come over here."

"She's something like that Maggie girl," proclaimed Helen. "She was nice, I thought."

"Maybe this girl is nice, taken under other circumstances," laughed Ruth. "I really would like to know what she is over here for."

"No good, I'll be bound," said the pessimistic Helen.

"And another thing," Ruth went on to say, as she and her chum reached the level of the frozen lake, "did you notice that pick handle?"

"That what?" demanded Helen, in amazement.

"Pickaxe handle-I believe it was," Ruth said thoughtfully. "It was thrust out of the snow pile she had scraped away from the boulder. And, moreover, the ground looked as though it had been dug into."

"Why, the ground is as hard as the rock itself," Helen cried. "There are six or eight inches of frost right now."

"I guess that's so," agreed Ruth. "Perhaps that's why she built such a big fire."

"What do you mean, Ruth Fielding?" cried her chum.

"I think she wanted to dig there for something," Ruth replied reflectively. "I wonder what for?"

When they had returned to Dare Hall and had got their things off and were warm again, they looked out of the window. The campfire on the island had died out.

"She's gone away, of course," sighed Ruth. "But I would like to know what she was there for."

"One of the mysteries of life," said Helen, as she made ready for bed. "Dear me, but I'm tired!"

She was asleep almost as soon as her head touched the pillow. Not so Ruth. The latter lay awake some time wondering about the odd girl on the island and her errand there.

Ruth Fielding had another girl's troubles on her mind, however-and a girl much closer to her. The girl on the island merely teased her imagination. Rebecca Frayne's difficulties seemed much more important to Ruth.

Of course, there was no real reason for Ruth to take up cudgels for her odd classmate. Indeed, she did not feel that she could do that, for she was quite convinced that Rebecca Frayne was wrong. Nevertheless, she was very sorry for the girl. The trouble over the tam-o'-shanter had become the most talked-of incident of the school term. For the several following days Rebecca was scarcely seen outside her room, save in going to and from her classes.

She did not again appear in the dining hall. How she arranged about meals Ruth and her friends could not imagine. Then the housekeeper admitted to Ruth that she had allowed the lonely girl to get her own little meals in her room, as she had cooking utensils and an alcohol lamp.

"It is not usually allowed, I know. But Miss Frayne seems to have come to college prepared to live in just that way. She is a small eater, anyway. And-well, anything to avoid friction."

"Of course," Ruth said to Helen and Jennie Stone, "lots of girls live in furnished rooms and get their own meals-working girls and students. But it is not a system generally allowed at college, and at Ardmore especially. We shall hear from the faculty about it before the matter is done with."

"Well, we're not doing it," scoffed Jennie. "And that Rebecca Frayne is behaving like a chump."

"But how she does stick to that awful tam!" groaned Helen.

"Stubborn as a mule," agreed Jennie.

"I saw her with another hat on to-day," said Ruth, reflectively.

"That's so! It was the one she wore the day she arrived," Helen said quickly. "A summer hat. I wonder what she did bring in that trunk, anyway? She has displayed no such charming array of finery as I expected."

Ruth did not discuss this point. She was more interested in the state of Rebecca's mind, though, of course, there was not much time for her to give to anything but her studies and regular duties now, for as the term advanced the freshmen found their hours pretty well filled.

Scrub teams for certain indoor sports had been made up, and even Jennie Stone took up the playing of basketball with vigor. She was really losing flesh. She kept a card tacked upon her door on which she set down the fluctuations of her bodily changes daily. When she lost a whole pound in weight she wrote it down in red ink.

Their activities kept the three friends well occupied, both physically and mentally. Yet Ruth Fielding could not feel wholly satisfied or content when she knew that one of her mates was in trouble. She had taken an interest in Rebecca Frayne at the beginning of the semester; yet of all the freshmen Rebecca was the one whom she knew the least.

"And that poor girl needs somebody for a friend-I feel it!" Ruth told herself. "Of course, she is to blame for the situation in which she now is. But for that very reason she ought to have somebody with whom to talk it over."

Ruth determined to be that confidant of the girl who seemed to wish no associate and no confidant. She began to loiter in the corridors between recitation hours and at odd times. Whenever she knocked on Rebecca's door there was no reply. Other girls who had tried it quickly gave up their sympathetic attentions. If the foolish girl wished for no friends, let her go her own way. That became the attitude of the freshman class. Of course, the sophomores followed the lead of the seniors and the juniors, having as little to do with the unfortunate girl as possible.

But the day and hour

came at last when Ruth chanced to be right at hand when Rebecca Frayne came in and unlocked her room door. Her arms were full of small packages. Ruth knew that she had walked all the way to the grocery store on the edge of Greenburg, which the college girls often patronized.

It had been a long, cold walk, and Rebecca's fingers were numb. She dropped a paper bag-and it contained eggs!

Now, it is quite impossible to hide the fact of a dropped egg. At another time Ruth might have laughed; but now she soberly retrieved the paper bag before the broken eggs could do much damage, and stepped into the room after the nervous Rebecca.

"Oh, thank you!" gasped the girl. "Put-put them down anywhere. Thank you!"

"My goodness!" said Ruth, laughing, "you can't put broken eggs down anywhere. Don't you see they are runny?"

"Never mind, Miss Fielding--"

"Oh! you've a regular kitchenette here, haven't you?" said Ruth, emboldened to look behind a curtain. "How cunning. I'll put these eggs in this clean dish. Mercy, but they are scrambled!"

"Don't trouble, Miss Fielding. You are very kind."

"But scrambled eggs are pretty good, at that," Ruth went on, unheeding the other girl's nervousness. "If you can only get the broken shells out of them," and she began coolly to do this with a fork. "I should think you would not like eating alone, Rebecca."

The other girl stared at her. "How can I help it?" she asked harshly.

"Just by getting a proper tam and stop being stubborn," Ruth told her.

"Miss Fielding!" cried Rebecca, her face flushing. "Do you think I do this for-for fun?"

"You must. It isn't a disease, is it?" and Ruth laughed aloud, determined to refuse to take the other's tragic words seriously.

"You-you are unbearable!" gasped Rebecca.

"No, I'm not. I want to be your friend," Ruth declared boldly. "I want you to have other friends, too. No use flocking by one's self at college. Why, my dear girl! you are missing all that is best in college life."

"I'd like to know what is best in college life!" burst out Rebecca Frayne, sullenly.

"Friendship. Companionship. The rubbing of one mind against another," Ruth said promptly.

"Pooh!" returned the startled Rebecca. "I wouldn't want to rub my mind against some of these girls' minds. All I ever hear them talk about is dress or amusements."

"I don't think you know many of the other girls well enough to judge the calibre of their minds," said Ruth, gently.

"And why don't I?" demanded Rebecca, still with a sort of suppressed fury.

"We all judge more or less by appearances," Ruth admitted slowly. "I presume you, too, were judged that way."

"What do you mean, Miss Fielding?" asked Rebecca, more mildly.

"When you came here to Ardmore you made a first impression. We all do," Ruth said.

"Yes," Rebecca admitted, with a slight curl of her lip. She was naturally a proud-looking girl, and she seemed actually haughty now. "I was mistaken for you, I believe."

Ruth laughed heartily at that.

"I should be a good friend of yours," she said. "It was a great sell on those sophomores. They had determined to make poor little me suffer for some small notoriety I had gained at boarding school."

"I never went to boarding school," snapped Rebecca. "I never was anywhere till I came to college. Just to our local schools. I worked hard, let me tell you, to pass the examinations to get in here."

"And why don't you let your mind broaden and get the best there is to be had at Ardmore?" Ruth demanded, quickly. "The girls misunderstand you. I can see that. We freshmen have got to bow our heads to the will of the upper classes. It doesn't hurt-much," and she laughed again.

"Do you think I am wearing this old tam because I am stubborn?" demanded the other girl, again with that fierceness that seemed so strange in one so young.

"Why-aren't you?"

"No."

"Why do you wear it, then?" asked Ruth, wonderingly.

"Because I cannot afford to buy another!"

Rebecca Frayne said this in so tense a voice that Ruth was fairly staggered. The girl of the Red Mill gazed upon the other's flaming face for a full minute without making any reply. Then, faintly, she said:

"I-I didn't understand, Rebecca. We none of us do, I guess. You came here in such style! That heavy trunk and those bags--"

"All out of our attic," said the other, sharply. "Did you think them filled with frocks and furbelows? See here!"

Ruth had already noticed the packages of papers piled along one wall of the room. Rebecca pointed to them.

"Out of our attic, too," she said, with a scornful laugh that was really no laugh at all. "Old papers that have lain there since the Civil War."

"But, Rebecca--"

"Why did I do it?" put in the other, in the same hard voice. "Because I was a little fool. Because I did not understand.

"I didn't know just what college was like. I never talked with a girl from college in my life. I thought this was a place where only rich girls were welcome."

"Oh, Rebecca!" cried Ruth. "That isn't so."

"I see it now," agreed the other girl, shortly. "But we always have had to make a bluff at our house. Since I can remember, at least. Grandfather was wealthy; but our generation is as poor as Job's turkey.

"I didn't want to appear poor when I arrived here; so I got out the old bags and the big trunk, filled them with papers, and brought them along. A friend lent me that car I arrived in. I-I thought I'd make a splurge right at first, and then my social standing would not be questioned."

"Oh, Rebecca! How foolish," murmured Ruth.

"Don't say that!" stormed the girl. "I see that I started all wrong. But I can't help it now," and suddenly she burst into a passion of weeping.

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