MoboReader > Literature > Ruth Fielding At College; or, The Missing Examination Papers

   Chapter 18 BEARDING THE LIONS

Ruth Fielding At College; or, The Missing Examination Papers By Alice B. Emerson Characters: 9519

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Ruth had shown a very cheerful face before Rebecca Frayne, but when she was once out of the room the girl of the Red Mill did not show such a superabundance of cheerfulness.

She knew well enough that Rebecca had become so unpopular that public opinion could not be changed regarding her in a moment.

Besides, there were the two upper classes to be considered. Their order regarding the freshmen's head-covering had been flagrantly disobeyed, and would have to be disobeyed for some time to come. A girl cannot crochet a tam-o'-shanter in a minute.

Having undertaken to straighten out Rebecca Frayne's troubles, however, Ruth did not publicly shrink from the task. She was one who made up her mind quickly, and having made it up, set to work immediately to carry the matter through.

Merry Dexter, the first senior she had met upon coming to Ardmore, was kindly disposed toward her, and Ruth knew that Miss Dexter was an influential member of her class. Therefore, Ruth took her trouble-and Rebecca's-directly to Miss Dexter.

Yet, she did not feel that she had a right to explain, even to this one senior, all that Rebecca Frayne had confided to her. She realized that the girl, with her false standards of respectability and social standing, would never be able to hold up her head at college if her real financial situation were known to the girls in general. Ruth was bound, however, to take Miss Dexter somewhat into her confidence to obtain a hearing. She put the matter before the senior as nicely as possible, saying in conclusion:

"And she will knit herself a tam of the proper color just as soon as possible. No girl, you know, Miss Dexter, likes to admit that she is poor. It is dreadfully embarrassing. So I hope that this matter will be adjusted without her situation being discussed."

"Goodness! I can't change things," the senior declared. "Not unless that girl agrees to do as she is told-like the rest of you freshies."

"Then my opinion of your class, Miss Dexter," Ruth said firmly, "must be entirely wrong. I did not believe that they ordered us to wear baby blue tams just out of an arbitrary desire to make us obey. Had I believed that I would not have bought a new tam myself!"

"You wouldn't?"

"No, Miss Dexter. Nor would a great many of us freshmen. We believed the order had a deeper significance-and it had. It helped our class get together. We are combined now, we are a social body. And I believe that if I took this matter up with Rebecca's class, and explained just her situation to them (which, of course, I do not want to do), the freshmen as a whole would back me in a revolt against the upper classes."

"You're pretty sure of that, Ruth Fielding, are you?" demanded the senior.

"Yes, I am. We'd all refuse to wear the new tams. You seniors and juniors would have a nice time sending us all to Coventry, wouldn't you? If you didn't want to eat with us, you'd all go hungry for a long time before the freshmen would do as Rebecca foolishly did."

Miss Dexter laughed at that. And then she hugged Ruth.

"I believe you are a dear girl, with a lot of good sense in your head," she said. "But you must come before our executive committee and talk to them."

"Oh, dear! Beard the lions in their den?" cried Ruth.

"Yes, my dear. I cannot be your spokesman."

Ruth found this a harder task than she had bargained for; but she went that same evening to a hastily called meeting of the senior committee. Perhaps Miss Dexter had done more for her than she agreed, however, for Ruth found these older girls very kind and she seemingly made them easily understand Rebecca's situation without being obliged to say in just so many words that the girl was actually poverty-stricken.

And it was probable, too, that Ruth Fielding helped herself in this incident as much as she did her classmate. The members of the older classes thereafter gave the girl of the Red Mill considerably more attention than she had previously received. Ruth began to feel surprised that she had so many warm friends and pleasant acquaintances in the college, even among the sophomores of Edith Phelps' stamp. Edith Phelps found her tart jokes about the "canned-drama authoress" falling rather flat, so she dropped the matter.

Older girls stopped on the walks to talk to Ruth. They sat beside her in chapel and at other assemblies, and seemed to like to talk with her. Although Ruth did not hold an office in her own class organization, yet she bade fair to become soon the most popular freshman at Ardmore.

Ruth was perfectly unconscious of this fact, for she had not a spark of vanity in her make-up. Her mind was so filled with other and more important things that her social conquests impressed her but little.

She did, however, think a good bit about poor Rebecca Frayne's situation. She warned her personal friends among the freshmen, especially those at Dare Hall, to say nothing to Rebecca about the unfortunate affair.

Rebecca came into the dining-room again. Ruth knew that she had actually begun to crochet a baby blue tam-o'-shanter. But it was a question in Ruth's mind if the odd girl would be able to "keep up appearances" on the little money she had left and that which her brother could send her from time to time. It was quite tragic, after all. Rebecca was sure of good and sufficient food as long as she could pay her board; but the girl undoubtedly needed other things which she could not purchase.

Naturally, youth cannot give its entire attention to even so tragic a matter as this. Ruth's gay friends acted as counterweights in her mind to Rebecca's troubles.

The girls were out on the lake very frequently as the cold weather continued; but Ruth never saw again the strange girl whom she and Helen had interviewed at night on Bliss Island.

Hearing from Aunt Alvirah as she did with more or less frequency, the girl of the Red Mill was assured that Maggie seemed content and was proving a great help to the crippled old housekeeper. Maggie seemed quite settled in her situation.

"Just because that queer girl looked like Maggie doesn't prove that Maggie knows her," Ruth told herself. "Still-it's odd."

Stormy weather kept the college girls indoors a good deal; and the general sitting-room on Ruth's corridor became the most social spot in the whole college.

The girls whose dormitory rooms were there, irrespective of class, all shared in the furnishing of the sitting-room. Second-hand furniture is always to be had of dealers near an institution like Ardmore. Besides, the girls all owned little things they could spare for the general comfort, like Rebecca Frayne's alcohol lamp.

Helen had a tea set; somebody else furnished trays. In fact, all the "comforts of home" were supplied to that sitting-room; and the girls were considered very fortunate by their mates in other parts of the hall, and, indeed, in the other three dormitory buildings.

But during the holiday recess something happened that bade fair to deprive Ruth and her friends of their special perquisite. Dr. McCurdy's wife's sister came to Ardmore. The McCurdys did not keep house, preferring to board. They could find no room for Mrs. Jaynes, until it was remembered that there was an unassigned dormitory room at Dare Hall.

Many of the girls had gone home over the brief holidays; but our three friends from Briarwood had remained at Ardmore.

So Ruth and Helen and Jennie Stone chanced to be among the girls present when the housekeeper of Dare Hall came into the sitting-room and, to quote Jennie, informed them that they must "vamoose the ranch."

"That is what Ann Hicks would call it," Jennie said, defending her language when taken to task for it. "We've just got to get out-and it's a mean shame."

Dr. McCurdy was one of the important members of the faculty. Of course, the girls on that corridor had no real right to the extra room. All they could do was to voice their disappointment-and they did that, one may be sure, with vociferation.

"And just when we had come to be so comfortably fixed here," groaned one, when the housekeeper had departed. "I know I shall dis-like that Mrs. Jaynes extremely."

"We won't speak to her!" cried Helen, in a somewhat vixenish tone.

"Maybe she won't care if we don't," laughed Ruth.

But it was no laughing matter, as they all felt. They made a gloomy party in the pretty sitting-room that last evening of its occupancy as a community resort.

"There's Clara Mayberry in her rocker again on that squeaky board," Rebecca Frayne remarked. "I hope she rocks on that board every evening over this woman's head who has turned us out."

"Let's all hope so," murmured Helen.

Jennie Stone suddenly sat upright in the rocker she was occupying, but continued to glare at the ceiling. A board in the floor of the room above had frequently annoyed them before. Clara Mayberry sometimes forgot and placed her rocker on that particular spot.

"If-if she had to listen to that long," gasped Jennie suddenly, "she would go crazy. She's just that kind of nervous female. I saw her at chapel this morning."

"But even Clara couldn't stand the squeak of that board long," Ruth observed, smiling.

Without another word Jennie left the room. She came back later, so full of mystery, as Helen declared, that she seemed on the verge of bursting.

However, Jennie refused to explain herself in any particular; but the board in Clara Mayberry's room did not squeak again that evening.

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