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   Chapter 20 TWO SURPRISES

Ruth Fielding At College; or, The Missing Examination Papers By Alice B. Emerson Characters: 12816

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Ruth Fielding knew that Rebecca Frayne was painfully embarrassed for money. She managed to find the wherewithal for her board, and her textbooks of course had been paid for at the beginning of the college year. But there are always incidentals and unforeseen small expenses, which crop up in a most unexpected manner and clamor for payment.

Rebecca never opened her lips about these troubles, despite the fact that she loved Ruth and was much with the girl of the Red Mill. But Ruth was keen-eyed. She knew that Rebecca suffered for articles of clothing. She saw that her raiment was becoming very, very shabby.

The girl in this trouble was foolish, of course. But foolishness is a disease not so easily cured. There was not the slightest chance of giving Rebecca anything that she needed; Ruth knew that quite well. Her finery-and cheap enough it was-the girl would flaunt to the bitter end.

Deep down she was a good girl in every respect; but she did put on airs and ape the wealthy girls she saw. What garments she owned had been ultra-fashionable in cut, if poor in texture, when she had come to college. But fashions change so frequently nowadays that already poor Rebecca Frayne was behind the styles-and she knew it and grieved bitterly.

Most of her mates at Dare Hall, the freshmen especially, usually dressed in short cloth skirts and middy blouses, with a warm coat over all in cold weather. Would Rebecca be caught going to classes in such an outfit? Not much! That was why her better clothes wore out so quickly and now looked so shabby. Jennie Stone said, with disgust, and with more than a little truth, perhaps:

"That girl primps to go to recitations just as though she were bound for a party. I don't see how she finds time for study."

Ruth realized that Rebecca was made that way, and that was all there was to it. She wasted no strength, nor did she run the risk of being bad friends with the unwise girl, by criticising these silly things. Ruth believed in being helpful, or else keeping still.

Rebecca could never be induced to try to do the things that other poor girls did at college to help pay their expenses. Perhaps she was not really fitted for such services, and would only have failed.

Other girls acted as waitresses, did sewing, one looked after the linen for one of the dormitories, another darned hose and repaired lingerie. Dr. Frances Milroth's own personal secretary was a junior who was working her way through Ardmore and was taking a high mark, too, in her studies.

One girl helped Mrs. Leidenburg with her children during several hours of each day. Some girls were agents for articles which their college mates were glad to secure easily and quickly.

Indeed, the field of endeavor seemed rather well covered, and it would have been hard to discover anything new for Rebecca Frayne to do, had the girl even been willing to "go into trade," a thing Rebecca had told Ruth a Frayne had never done.

This attitude of the Frayne family seemed quite ridiculous to Ruth, but she knew it was absolutely useless to scold Rebecca.

Indeed, it was not Ruth Fielding's way to be a scold. If she could not be helpful she preferred to ignore that which she saw was wrong. And in Rebecca Frayne's case she was determined to be helpful if she could. Rebecca was a bright scholar. After all, she would shine in her class before all was said and done. They could not afford to lose such a really bright girl from among the freshmen.

Often on stormy days Ruth spent the time between recitations and dinner in Rebecca's room.

"I never saw anybody so fond of old papers as you are, Ruthie," Rebecca said. "Do take 'em all if you like. Of course, I'll never be silly enough to carry them back home with me. They are only useful to help build the fire."

"Don't dare destroy one of them, Rebecca Frayne!" Ruth had warned her-and actually made her promise that she would not do so.

Then the replies to Ruth's letters came. She had gone all through the bundles of papers by this time, arranged them according to their dates of issue, and wrapped the different years' issues in strong paper. Rebecca could not see for the life of her, she said, what Ruth was about.

"Surely they can't be worth much as old paper, Ruthie. I know you are a regular little business woman; but junk men aren't allowed on the college grounds."

"Expressmen are, my dear," laughed Ruth.

"What do you mean? What are you going to do with those papers?"

"You said you didn't care--"

"And I don't. They are yours to do with as you please," said the generous Rebecca Frayne.

"To punish you," Ruth said seriously, "I ought really to take you at your word," and she shook her head.

"What meanest thou, my fair young lady?" asked Rebecca, laughing.

"Read this," commanded Ruth, handing her, with the air of the stage hero "producing the papers," one of the letters she had received. "Cast your glance over this, Miss Frayne."

The other received the letter curiously, and read it with dawning surprise. She read it twice and then gazed at Ruth with almost speechless amazement.

"Well! what do you think of your Aunt Ruth now?" demanded the girl of the Red Mill, laughing.

"It-it can't be so, Ruthie!" murmured Rebecca Frayne, the hand which held the letter fairly shaking.

"It's just as so as it can be," and Ruth continued to laugh.

The tears suddenly flooded into Rebecca's eyes. She could not turn quickly enough to hide them from Ruth's keen vision. But all she said was:

"Well, Ruthie! I congratulate you. Think of it! Two hundred dollars offered for each set of those old papers. Well!"

"You see, it would scarcely have been wise to have built the fire with them," Ruth said drily.

"I-I should say not. And-and they have lain in our attic for years."

"And you brought them to college as waste paper," Ruth added.

Rebecca was silent. Ruth, smiling roguishly, stole up behind her. Suddenly she put both arms around Rebecca Frayne and hugged her tight.

"Becky! Don't you understand?" she cried.

"Understand what?" Rebecca asked gruffly, trying to dash away her few tears.

"Why, honey, I did it for you. I believed the papers must be worth something. I had heard of a set of New York illustrated papers for the years of the Civil War selling for a big price. These, I believed, must be even more interesting to collect

ors of such things.

"So I wrote to Mr. Cameron, and he sent me the names of old book dealers, and they sent me the addresses of several collectors. This Mr. Radley has a regular museum of such things, and he offers the best price-four hundred dollars for the lot if they prove to be as perfect as I said they were. And they are."

"Yes-but--"

"And, of course, the money is yours, Rebecca," said Ruth, promptly. "You don't for a moment suppose that I would take your valuable papers and cheat you out of the reward just because I happened to know more about their worth than you did? What do you take me for?"

"Oh-oh, Ruthie!"

"What do you take me for?" again demanded Ruth Fielding, quite as though she were offended.

"For the best and dearest girl who ever lived!" cried Rebecca Frayne, and cast herself upon Ruth's breast, holding her tightly while she sobbed there.

This was one surprise. But there was another later, and this was a surprise for Ruth herself.

She was very glad to have been the means of finding Rebecca such a nice little fortune as this that came to her for the old periodicals. With what the girl's brother could send her, Rebecca would be pretty sure of sufficient money to carry her through her freshman year and pay for her second year's tuition at Ardmore.

"Something may be found then for Rebecca to do," thought Ruth, "that will not so greatly shock her notions of gentility. Dear me! she's as nice a girl as ever lived; but she is a problem."

Ruth had other problems, however, on her mind. One of these brought about the personal surprise mentioned above. She had found time finally to complete the scenario of "Crossed Wires," and after some changes had been made in it, Mr. Hammond had informed her that it would be put in the hands of a director for production. It called for so many outdoor scenes, however, that the new film would not be made until spring.

Spring was now fast approaching, and Ruth determined to be at the Red Mill on a visit when the first scenes were taken for her photo-drama.

Of course, if she went, Helen must go. They stood excellently well in all their classes, and it was not hard to persuade Dr. Milroth, who had good reports of both freshmen, to let them go to Cheslow.

Ruth's coming home was in the nature of a surprise to Uncle Jabez and Aunt Alvirah. The old housekeeper was outspoken in her joy at seeing "her pretty" once more. Uncle Jabez was startled into perhaps a warmer greeting of his niece than he ordinarily considered advisable.

"I declare for't, Ruth! Ain't nothin' the matter, is there?" he asked, holding her hand and staring into her face with serious intent.

"Oh, no, Uncle. Nothing at all the matter. Just ran home to see how you all were, and to watch them take the pictures of the old mill."

"Ain't lost any of that money, have ye?" persisted the miller.

"Not a penny. And Mr. Hammond sent me a nice check on account of royalties, too," and she dimpled and laughed at him.

"All right," grunted Uncle Jabez. "Ye wanter watch out for that there money. Business is onsartain. Ain't no knowin' when everything'll go to pot here. I never see the times so hard."

But Ruth was not much disturbed by such talk. Uncle Jabez had been prophesying disaster ever since she had known him.

Maggie welcomed Ruth cordially, as well as Ben. Maggie was still the puzzling combination of characteristics that she had seemed to Ruth from the first. She was willing to work, and was kind to Aunt Alvirah; but she always withdrew into herself if anybody tried to talk much to her.

The others at the Red Mill had become used to the girl's reticence; but to Ruth it remained just as tantalizing. She had the feeling that Maggie was by no means in her right environment.

"Doesn't she ever write letters?" Ruth asked Aunt Alvirah. "Doesn't she ever have a visitor?"

"Why, bless ye, my pretty! I don't know as she writes much," Aunt Alvirah said, as she moved about the kitchen in her old slow fashion. "Oh, my back! and oh, my bones! Well Ruthie, she reads a lot. She's all for books, I guess, like you be. But she don't never talk much. And a visitor? Why, come to think on't, she did have one visitor."

"Is that so?" cried the curious Ruth. "Let's hear about it. I feel gossipy, Aunt Alvirah," and she laughed.

She knew that Maggie was away from the house, and they were alone. She could trust Aunt Alvirah to say nothing to the girl regarding her queries.

"Yes, my pretty," the old woman said, "she did have one visitor. Another gal come to see her the very week you went away to college, Ruthie."

"Is that so? Who was she?"

"Maggie didn't say. I didn't ask her. Ye see, she ain't one ter confide in a body," explained Aunt Alvirah, shaking her head and lowering herself into her rocking chair. "Oh, my back! and oh, my bones!"

"But didn't you see this visitor?"

"Why, yes, Ruthie. I seen her. It was funny, too," Aunt Alvirah said, shaking her head. "I meant to write to you about it; then I forgot.

"I hears somebody knock on the door one day, and I opened the door and there I declare stood Maggie herself. Or, I thought 'twas her."

"What?" gasped Ruth, very much interested.

"She looked a sight like her," said Aunt Alvirah, laughing to herself at the remembrance. "Yet I knowed Maggie had gone upstairs to make the beds, and this here girl who had knocked on the door was all dressed up."

"'Why, Maggie!' says I. And she says, kinder tart-like:

"'I ain't Maggie. But I want to see her.'

"So I axed her in; but she wouldn't come. I seen then maybe she was a little younger than Maggie is. Howsomever I called to Maggie, and she went out, and the two of 'em walked up and down the road for an hour. The other gal never come in. And I seen her start back toward Cheslow. Maggie never said no word about her from that day to this.

"Do you know what I think about it, Ruthie?" concluded Aunt Alvirah.

"No, Aunt Alvirah," said the girl of the Red Mill, reflectively.

"I think that was Maggie's sister. Maybe she works out for somebody in Cheslow."

Ruth merely nodded. She did not think much of that phase of the matter. What she was really puzzling over was her memory of the girl she and Helen had interviewed on the island in Lake Remona before the Christmas holidays.

That girl had looked very much like Maggie, too!

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