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Ruth Fielding At College; or, The Missing Examination Papers By Alice B. Emerson Characters: 8984

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The freshmen shell was well around the end of Bliss Island and behind it, before the squall broke. Pulling into the rising gale as they were and the water being always a little rough here, at first none of Ruth Fielding's associates in the craft realized that there was the least danger.

They were well off shore, for near the island the water was shallow and there were rocks. These rowing shells are made so lightly that a mere scraping of the keel over a sunken boulder would probably completely wreck the craft, and well the girls knew this.

Trix Davenport steered well out from the dangerous shallows. "Pull away, girls!" she shouted through her megaphone. "It's going to blow."

And just then the real squall swept down upon them. Ruth, although setting a good, long stroke, found of a sudden that the shell was scarcely moving ahead. The wind was so strong that they were only holding their own against it.

"Pull!" shouted the coxswain again.

Ruth bent forward, braced her feet firmly and drove the long oar-blade deep into the jumping little waves. Those waves quickly became larger and "jumpier." A white wreath formed upon their crests. The shell in a very few seconds was in the midst of white water.

Once with Uncle Jabez, and in a heavy punt, the girl of the Red Mill had been caught in the rapids of the Lumano below the mill, and had fought with skill and courage to help save the boat. This effort was soon to be as great-and she realized it.

She set a pace that drove the shell on in the teeth of the squall; but the boat shivered with every stroke. It was as though they were trying to push the narrow, frail little shell into a solid wall.

In pulling her oar Ruth scarcely ever raised her eyes to a level with the coxswain's face; but when she chanced to, she saw that Trix was pallid and her eyes were clouded with fear.

Ruth hoped none of the other girls saw that mask of dread which the situation had forced upon their little coxswain. She wanted to cry out to Trix-to warn her to hide her emotion. But she had no breath to spare for this.

Every ounce of breath and of muscle she owned, Ruth put into her stroke. She felt the rhythmic spring of the craft, and knew that her mates were keeping well up with her. They were doing their part bravely, even though they might be frightened.

And then, suddenly and fortunately, the freshman craft found a sheltered bit of water. A high shoulder of the hilly island broke the force of the wind.

"Ashore! Put us ashore!" Ruth managed to gasp so that Trix heard her.

"We-we'll wreck the shell!" complained Trix. "It's so shallow."

"We'll not drown in shallow water," ejaculated Ruth, expelling the words between strokes.

The coxswain shot them shoreward. She caught a glimpse of another boat pulled up on the beach-the skiff they had earlier seen rounding the point of the island.

In thirty seconds they were safe. The rain began to pour down upon them in a brisk torrent. But that did not matter.

"Rather be half drowned in the rain than wholly drowned in the lake!" Jennie Stone declared, as they scrambled out into the shallow water, more than ankle deep, and lifted the treacherous shell out of the lake.

"Goodness! what a near one that was!" Helen declared.

Ruth looked at the skiff drawn up on the shore, and then up into the grove of trees.

"I wonder where the girl is who was in that boat?" she said.

"Was it a girl?" asked Helen, with interest.

"Yes. She must have found shelter somewhere from this rain. Come on! We may be able to keep reasonably dry up there in the woods."

The other girls followed Ruth, for she was naturally their leader. The rain continued to beat down upon them; but before they reached the opening in which was situated the Stone Face, Ruth spied an evergreen, the drooping branches of which offered them reasonable shelter.

"Come on into the green tent, girls!" shouted Jennie Stone, plunging into the dimly lighted circle under the tree. "Oh! Goodness! What's that?"

"A dog!"

"A cow! and I'm afraid of co-o-ows!" wailed Sally Blanchard, seizing upon Ruth as the nearest savior.

"Don't be silly, child," vouchsafed Helen, who had followed Jennie. "How would a cow come upon this island-a mile from shore?"

"Or a dog?" laughed Ruth. "What did you see, Jennie Stone?"

"She just tried to fool us," Helen declared.

"Didn't either," the stout girl said warmly. "Something ran out at the far side as I came in."

"An animal?" gasped Trix Davenport.

"Well," returned Jennie Stone, "it certainly wasn't a vegetable. At least, I never saw a vegetable run as fast as that thing did."

"You needn't try to scare us to death, Heavy," complained Helen. "Of course it must have been the girl Ruth said came ashore in that skiff."

"Well, I didn't think of her," admitted Jennie. "But she ran like a ferret. I'd like to know who she is."

"Remember the girl we found over here that night in the snowstorm?" whispered Helen to Ruth. "The girl who looked like that Maggie?"

"Oh, don't I!" exclaimed Ruth, shaking her head.

"What do you suppose she was after-and what is this one over here on the island for?" pursued Helen, languidly.

Ruth made no reply, but her cheeks flushed and her eyes grew brighter. She stooped and peered out at the decreasing rainfall. There was a path leading straight toward the Stone Face. Had this girl whom Jennie had seen gone in that direction?

The other members of the freshman crew were so inordinately busy chattering and laughing and telling jokes and stories that nobody for the moment noticed Ruth Fielding, who stole out from the covert through the fast slackening rainfall without saying a word. Lightly running over the crest of the hill, she came in sight of the huge boulder at which she and Helen had experienced their never-to-be-forgotten adventure the winter before.

She saw nobody at the foot of the boulder, but she pressed on to the edge of the grove to make sure. And then she saw that somebody had certainly and very recently been at work near the boulder.

There was a pickaxe-perhaps the very one she had seen there in the winter-and a shovel. Some attempt had been made to dig over the gravelly soil for some yards from the foot of the boulder.

"Goodness me! what can this mean?" thought the girl of the Red Mill. "Something must be buried here! Treasure hunters! Fancy!" and she laughed a little uncertainly. "Can somebody believe that this is one of the hiding places of Captain Kidd's gold? Who ever heard the like?"

The rain ceased falling. There was a tooting of a horn down behind the island. The launch had come in sight of the shell and Miss Mallory was trying to signal the girls to return to the shore.

But Ruth did not go back. She heard the girls shout for her, but instead of complying she went straight across to the Stone Face and picked up the heavy pickaxe.

"I don't believe whoever has been digging has found anything yet," she told herself. "No. She's been here before-for, of course, it is that girl. She couldn't have dug all this over in a few minutes. No. She has been here and dug unsuccessfully. Then she has come back to-day for another attempt at-at the treasure, shall we call it? Well!"

There was already an excavation more than a foot in depth and several yards in circumference. Whatever it was the strange girl had been after she was not quite sure of its burial place.

In the winter when she had essayed to dig for the hidden thing there had been too much frost in the ground. Besides, doubtless Ruth and Helen's inquisitiveness had frightened the strange girl away. Now she was back again-somewhere now on Bliss Island. She had not accomplished her purpose as yet. Ruth smote the hard ground at her feet with all her strength. The pick sunk to its helve in the earth, now softened by the spring rain.

"Oh! I hit something!" she gasped.

In all probability she would not have continued to dig had this success not met her at the beginning. Really, her swinging of the pickaxe had been idly done. But the steel rang sharply on something. She raised the pick and used it thereafter more cautiously. There certainly was something below the surface-not very far down--

Dropping the pickaxe, Ruth gained possession of the shovel and threw aside the loose earth. Yes! there was some object hidden there-some "treasure" which she desired to see.

In a few moments, becoming impatient of the shovel, she cast it aside and stooping, with her feet planted firmly in the muddy earth, she groped in the hole with both hands.

Before she dragged the object into sight Ruth Fielding was positive by its shape and the feel of it, of the nature of the object. As she rose up at last, firmly grasping the object, a sharp voice said behind her:

"Well, now that you've interfered and found it, suppose you hand it over to me. You haven't any business with that vase, you know!"

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