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   Chapter 19 A DEEP, DARK PLOT

Ruth Fielding At College; or, The Missing Examination Papers By Alice B. Emerson Characters: 8355

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Heavy is actually losing flesh," Helen declared to Ruth. "I can see it."

"You mean you can't see it," laughed her chum. "That is, you can't see so much of it as there used to be. If she keeps on with the rowing machine work in the gym and the basket ball practise and dancing, she will soon be the thinnest girl who ever came to Ardmore."

"Oh, never!" cried Helen. "I don't believe I should like Heavy so much if she wasn't a little fat."

People who had not seen Jennie Stone for some time observed the change in her appearance more particularly than did her two close friends. This was proved when Mr. Cameron and Tom arrived.

For, as the girls did not go home for just a few days, Helen's father and her twin unexpectedly appeared at college on Christmas Eve, and their company delighted the chums immensely.

On Friday evenings the girls could have company, and on all Saturday afternoons, even during the college term. Also a girl could have a young man call on her Sunday evening, provided he took her to service at chapel.

The three Briarwood friends had had no such company heretofore. They made the most of Mr. Cameron and Tom, therefore, during Christmas week.

There was splendid sleighing, and the skating on the lake was at its very best. Ruth insisted upon including Rebecca Frayne in some of their parties, and Rebecca proved to be good fun.

Tom stared at Jennie Stone, round-eyed, when first he saw her.

"What's the matter with you, Tom Cameron?" the fleshy girl asked, rather tartly. "Didn't you ever see a good-looking girl before?"

"But say, Jennie!" he cried, "are you going into a decline?"

"I decline to answer," she responded. But she dimpled when she said it, and evidently considered Tom's rather blunt remark a compliment.

The Christmas holidays were over all too soon, it seemed to the girls. Yet they took up the class work again with vigor.

Their acquaintanceship was broadening daily, both in the student body and among the instructors. Most of the strangeness of this new college world had worn off. Ruth and Helen and Jennie were full-fledged "Ardmores" now, quite as devoted to the college as they had been to dear old Briarwood.

After New Year's there was a raw and rainy spell that spoiled many of the outdoor sports. Practice in the gymnasium increased, and Helen said that Jennie Stone was bound to work herself down to a veritable shadow if the bad weather continued long.

Ruth was in Rebecca's room one dingy, rainy afternoon, having skipped gymnasium work of all kind for the day. The proprietor of the room had finished her baby blue cap and had worn it the first time that week.

"I feel that they are not all staring at me now," she confessed to Ruth.

Ruth was at the piles of old papers which Rebecca had hidden under a half-worn portierre she had brought from home.

"Do you know," the girl of the Red Mill said reflectively, "these old things are awfully interesting, Becky?"

"What old things?"

"These papers. I've opened one bundle. They were all printed in Richmond during the Civil War. Why, paper must have been awfully scarce then. Some of these are actually printed on wrapping paper-you can scarcely read the print."

"Ought to look at those Charleston papers," said Rebecca, carelessly. "There are full files of those, too, I believe. Why, some of them are printed on wall paper."

"No!"

"Yes they are. Ridiculous, wasn't it?"

Ruth sat silent for a while. Finally she asked:

"Are you sure, Becky, that you have quite complete files here of this Richmond paper? For all the war time, I mean?"

"Yes. And of the South Carolina paper, too. Father collected them during and immediately following the war. He was down there for years, you see."

"I see," Ruth said quietly, and for a long time said nothing more.

But that evening she wrote several letters which she did not show Helen, and took them herself to the mailbag in the lower hall.

Before this, Mrs. Jaynes, Dr. McCurdy's sister-in-law, was settled in the room which had formerly been used by the girls as their own particular sitting-room. She was not an attractive woman at all; so it was

not hard for her youthful associates on that corridor of Dare Hall to declare war upon Mrs. Jaynes.

Indeed, without having been introduced to a single girl there, Mrs. Jaynes eyed them all as though she suspected they belonged to a tribe of Bushmen.

Naturally, during hours of relaxation, and occasionally at other times, the girls joked and laughed and raced through the halls and sang and otherwise acted as a crowd of young people usually act.

Mrs. Jaynes was plainly of that sort that believes that all youthfulness and ebullition of spirits should be suppressed. Luckily, she met the girls but seldom-only when she was going to and from her room. On stormy days she remained shut up in her apartment most of the time, and Mrs. Ebbetts sent a maid up with her tray at meal time. She never ate in the Dare Hall dining-room.

Meantime, Jennie Stone had several mysterious sessions with certain of the girls who felt quite as she did regarding the usurpation of Dr. McCurdy's sister-in-law of the spare room. Had Ruth not been so busy in other directions she would have realized that a plot of some kind was in process of formation, for Helen was in it, as well.

Jennie Stone had made a friend of Clara Mayberry on the floor above. In fact, a number of the girls on the lower corridor affected by the presence of Mrs. Jaynes, were in and out of Clara's room all day long. None of these girls remained long at a time-not more than half an hour; but another visitor always appeared before the first left, right through the day, from breakfast call till "lights out." And after retiring hour there began to be seen figures stealing through the corridors and on the stairway between the two floors. That is, there would have been seen such ghostly marauders had there been anybody to watch.

Mrs. Jaynes crossly complained to Mrs. Ebbetts that she was kept awake all night long-and all day, for that matter! But as she never put her head out of her room after the lights were lowered in the corridors, she did not discover the soft-footed spectres of the night.

"But," she complained to Mrs. Ebbetts, "it is the noisiest room I ever was in. Such a squeaking you never heard! And all the time, day and night."

"I do not understand that at all," said the puzzled housekeeper.

"I'd like to know how the girl who had that room before I took it, stood that awful squeaking noise," said the visitor.

"Why, Mrs. Jaynes," said the housekeeper, "no girl slept there. It was a sitting-room."

"Even so, I cannot understand how anybody could endure the noise. If I believed in such things I should declare the room was haunted."

"Indeed, Madam!" gasped the housekeeper. "I do not understand it."

"Well, I cannot endure it. I shall tell my sister that I cannot remain here at Ardmore unless she finds me other lodgings. That awful squeak, squeak, squeak continues day and night. It is unbearable."

In the end, Dr. McCurdy found lodgings for his sister-in-law in Greenburg. The girls of Ruth's corridor were delighted, and that night held a regular orgy in the recovered sitting-room.

"Thank goodness!" sighed Jennie Stone, "no more up and down all night for us, either. We may sleep in peace, as well as occupy the room in peace."

"What do you mean, Heavy?" demanded Ruth.

"Oh, Ruthie! That's one time we put one over on you, dear," said the fleshy girl sweetly. "You were not asked to join in the conspiracy. We feared your known sympathetic nature would revolt."

"But explain!"

"Why, Clara let us use her rocking chair," Jennie said demurely. "It's a very nice chair. We all rocked in it, one after another, half-hour watches being assigned--"

"Not at night?" cried the horror-stricken Ruth.

"Oh, yes. All day and all night. Every little minute that rocker was going upon the squeaky board. It's a wonder the board is not worn out," chuckled the wicked Jennie.

"Well, I never!" proclaimed Ruth, aghast. "What won't you think of next, Jennie Stone?"

"I don't know. I know I'm awfully smart," sighed Jennie. "I did so much of the rocking myself, however, that I don't much care if I never see a rocking-chair again."

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