Ruth Fielding In Moving Pictures
HELPING THE DORMITORY FUND
BY ALICE B. EMERSON
AUTHOR OF "RUTH FIELDING OF THE RED MILL," "RUTH FIELDING ON CLIFF ISLAND," ETC.
CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
Books for Girls
BY ALICE B. EMERSON
RUTH FIELDING SERIES
12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.
RUTH FIELDING OF THE RED MILL Or, Jasper Parloe's Secret.
RUTH FIELDING AT BRIARWOOD HALL Or, Solving the Campus Mystery.
RUTH FIELDING AT SNOW CAMP Or, Lost in the Backwoods.
RUTH FIELDING AT LIGHTHOUSE POINT Or, Nita, the Girl Castaway.
RUTH FIELDING AT SILVER RANCH Or, Schoolgirls Among the Cowboys.
RUTH FIELDING ON CLIFF ISLAND Or, The Old Hunter's Treasure Box.
RUTH FIELDING AT SUNRISE FARM Or, What Became of the Baby Orphans.
RUTH FIELDING AND THE GYPSIES Or, The Missing Pearl Necklace.
RUTH FIELDING IN MOVING PICTURES Or, Helping the Dormitory Fund
RUTH FIELDING DOWN IN DIXIE Or, Great Times in the Land of Cotton.
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CUPPLES & LEON CO., PUBLISHERS. NEW YORK.
COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
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RUTH FIELDING IN MOVING PICTURES
Printed in U.S.A.
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I. NOT IN THE SCENARIO 1 II. THE FILM HEROINE 9 III. AT THE RED MILL 18 IV. A TIME OF CHANGE 28 V. "THAT'S A PROMISE" 36 VI. WHAT IS AHEAD? 46 VII. "SWEETBRIARS ALL" 52 VIII. A NEW STAR 60 IX. THE DEVOURING ELEMENT 67 X. GAUNT RUINS 76 XI. ONE THING THE OLD DOCTOR DID 84 XII. "GREAT OAKS FROM LITTLE ACORNS GROW" 90 XIII. THE IDEA IS BORN 100 XIV. AT MRS. SADOC SMITH'S 108 XV. A DAWNING POSSIBILITY 117 XVI. THE CAT OUT OF THE BAG 125 XVII. ANOTHER OF CURLY'S TRICKS 134 XVIII. THE FIVE-REEL DRAMA 141 XIX. GREAT TIMES 153 XX. A CLOUD ARISES 161 XXI. HUNTING FOR AMY 168 XXII. DISASTER THREATENS 176 XXIII. PUTTING ONE'S BEST FOOT FORWARD 183 XXIV. "SEEING OURSELVES AS OTHERS SEE US" 190 XXV. AUNT ALVIRAH AT BRIARWOOD HALL 201
RUTH FIELDING IN MOVING PICTURES
NOT IN THE SCENARIO
"What in the world are those people up to?"
Ruth Fielding's clear voice asked the question of her chum, Helen Cameron, and her chum's twin-brother, Tom. She turned from the barberry bush she had just cleared of fruit and, standing on the high bank by the roadside, gazed across the rolling fields to the Lumano River.
"What people?" asked Helen, turning deliberately in the automobile seat to look in the direction indicated by Ruth.
"Where? People?" joined in Tom, who was tinkering with the mechanism of the automobile and had a smudge of grease across his face.
"Right over the fields yonder," Ruth explained, carefully balancing the pail of berries. "Can't you see them, Helen?"
"No-o," confessed her chum, who was not looking at all where Ruth pointed.
"Where are your eyes?" Ruth cried sharply.
"Nell is too lazy to stand up and look," laughed Tom. "I see them. Why! there's quite a bunch—and they're running."
"Where? Where?" Helen now demanded, rising to look.
"Oh, goosy!" laughed Ruth, in some vexation. "Right ahead. Surely you can see them now?"
"Oh," drawled Tom, "sis wouldn't see a meteor if it fell into her lap."
"I guess that's right, Tommy," responded his twin, in some scorn. "Neither would you. Your knowledge of the heavenly bodies is very small indeed, I fear. What do they teach you at Seven Oaks?"
"Not much about anything celestial, I guarantee," said Ruth, slyly. "Oh! there those folks go again."
"Goodness me!" gasped Helen. "Where are these wonderful persons? Oh! I see them now."
"Whom do you suppose they are chasing?" demanded Tom Cameron. "Or, who is chasing them?"
"That's it, Tommy," scoffed his sister. "I understand you have taken up navigation with the other branches of higher mathematics at Seven Oaks; and now you want to trouble Ruth and me with conundrums.
"Are we soothsayers, that we should be able to explain, off-hand," pursued Helen, "the actions of such a crazy crowd of people as those——Do look there! that woman jumped right down that sandbank. Did you ever?"
"And there goes another!" Ruth exclaimed.
"Likewise a third," came from Tom, who was quite as much puzzled as were the girls.
"One after the other—just like Brown's cows," giggled Helen. "Isn't that funny?"
"It's like one of those chases in the moving pictures," suggested Tom.
"Why, of course!" Ruth cried, relieved at once. "That's exactly what it is," and she scrambled down the bank with the pail of barberries.
"What is what?" asked her chum.
"Moving pictures," Ruth said confidently. "That is, it will be a film in time. They are making a picture over yonder. I can see the camera-man off at one side, turning the crank."
"Cracky!" exclaimed Tom, grinning, "I thought that was a fellow with a hand-organ, and I was looking for the monkey."
"Monkey, yourself," cried his sister, gaily.
"Didn't know but that he was playing for those 'crazy creeters'—as your Aunt Alvirah would call them, Ruthie—to dance by," went on Tom. "Come on! I've got this thing fixed up so it will hobble along a little farther. Let's take the lane there and go down by the river road, and see what it's all about."
"Good idea, Tommy-boy," agreed Ruth, as she got into the tonneau and sat down beside Helen.
"Fancy! taking moving pictures out in the open in mid-winter," Helen remarked. "Although this is a warm day."
"And no snow on the ground," chimed in Ruth. "Uncle Jabez was saying last evening that he doesn't remember another such open winter along the Lumano."
"Say, Ruthie, how does your Uncle Jabez treat you, now that you are a bloated capitalist?" asked Helen, pinching her chum's arm.
"Oh, Helen! don't," objected Ruth. "I don't feel puffed up at all—only vastly satisfied and content."
"Hear her! who wouldn't?" demanded Tom. "Five thousand dollars in bank—and all you did was to use your wits to get it. We had just as good a chance as you did to discover that necklace and cause the arrest of the old Gypsy," and the young fellow laughed, his black eyes twinkling.
"I never shall feel as though the reward should all have been mine," Ruth said, as Tom prepared to start the car.
"Pooh! I'd never worry over the possession of so much money," said Helen. "Not I! What does it matter how you got it? But you don't tell us what your Uncle Jabez thinks about it."
"I can't," responded Ruth, demurely.
"Because Uncle Jabez has expressed no opinion—beyond his usual grunt. It doesn't really matter how the dear man feels," pursued Ruth Fielding, earnestly. "I know how I feel about it. I am no longer a 'charity child'——"
"Oh, Ruthie! you never were that," Helen hastened to say.
"Oh, yes I was. When I first came to the Red Mill you know Uncle Jabez only took me in because I was a relative and he felt that he had to."
"But you helped save him a lot of money," cried Helen. "And there was that Tintacker Mine business. If you hadn't chanced to find The Fox's brother out there in the wilds of Montana, and nursed him back to health, your uncle would never have made a penny in that investment."
Helen might have gone on with continued vehemence, had not Ruth stopped her by saying:
"That makes no difference in my feelings, my dear. Each quarter Uncle Jabez has had to pay out a lot of money to Mrs. Tellingham for my tuition. And he has clothed me, and let me spend money going about with you 'richer folks,'" and Ruth laughed rather ruefully. "I feel that I should not have allowed him to do it. I should have remained at the Red Mill and helped Aunt Alvirah——"
"Pooh! Nonsense!" ejaculated Tom, as the spark ignited and the engine began to rumble.
"You shouldn't be so popular, Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill," chanted Helen, leaning over to kiss her chum's flushed cheek.
"Look out for the barberries!" cried Ruth.
"I reckon you don't want to spill them, after working so hard to get them," Tom said, as the automobile lurched forward.
"I certainly do not," Ruth admitted. "I scratched my hands all up getting the bucket full. Just fancy finding barberries still clinging to the bushes in such quantities this time of the year."
"What good are they?" queried Helen, selecting one gingerly and putting it into her mouth.
"Oh! Aunt Alvirah makes the loveliest pies of them—with huckleberries, you know. Half and half."
"Where'll you find huckleberries this time of year?" scoffed Tom. "On the bushes too?"
"In glass jars down cellar, sir," replied Ruth, smartly. "I did help pick those and put them up last summer, in spite of all the running around we did."
"Beg pardon, Miss Fielding," said Tom. "Go on. Tell us some more recipes. Makes my mouth water."
"O-o-oh! so will these barberries!" exclaimed Helen, making a wry face. "Just taste one, Tommy."
"Many, many thanks! Good-night!" ejaculated her brother, "I know better. But those barberries properly prepared with sugar make a mighty nice drink in summer. Our Babette makes barberry syrup, you know."
"Ugh! It doesn't taste like these," complained his sister. "Oh, folks! there are those foolish actors again."
"Now what are they about?" demanded Ruth.
"Look out that you don't bring the car into the focus of the camera, Tom," his sister warned him. "It will make them awfully mad."
"Don't fret. I have no desire to appear in a movie," laughed Tom.
"But I think I would like to," said his sister. "Wouldn't you, Ruth?"
"I—I don't know. It must be awfully interesting——"
"Pooh!" scoffed Tom. "What will you girls get into your heads next? And they don't let girls like you play in movies, anyway."
"Oh, yes, they do!" cried his sister. "Some of the greatest stars in the film firmament are nothing more than schoolgirls. They have what they call 'film charm.'"
"Think you've got any of that commodity?" demanded Tom, with cheerful impudence.
"I don't know——Oh, Ruth, look at that girl! Now, Tommy, see there! That girl isn't a day older than we."
"Too far away to make sure," said Tom, slowly. Then, the next moment, he ejaculated: "What under the sun is she doing? Why! she'll fall off that tree-trunk, the silly thing!"
The slender girl who had attracted their attention had, at the command of the director of the picture, scrambled up a leaning sycamore tree which overhung the stream at a sharp angle. The girl swayed upon the bare trunk, balancing herself prettily, and glanced back over her shoulder.
Tom had brought the car to a stop. When the engine was shut off they could hear the director's commands:
"That's it, Hazel. Keep that pose. Got your focus, Carroll?" he called to the camera man. "Now—ready! Register fear, Miss Hazel. Say! act as though you meant it! Register fear, I say—just as though you expected to fall into the water the next moment. Oh, piffle! Not at all like it! not at all like it!"
He was a dreadfully noisy, pugnacious man. Finally the girl said:
"If you think I am not scared, Mr. Grimes, you are very much mistaken. I am. I expect to slip off here any moment——Oh!"
The last was a shriek of alarm. What she was afraid would happen came to pass like a flash. Her foot slipped, she lost her balance, and the next instant was precipitated into the river!
THE FILM HEROINE
When the motion picture girl fell from the sycamore tree into the water, some of the members of the company, who sat or stood near by panting after their hard chase cross-lots, actually laughed at their unfortunate comrade's predicament.
But that was because they had no idea of the strength and treacherous nature of the Lumano. At this point the eddies and cross-currents made the stream more perilous than any similar stretch of water in the State.
"Oh, that silly girl!" shouted Mr. Grimes, the director. "There! she's spoiled the scene again. I don't know what Hammond was thinking of to send her up here to work with us.
"Hey, one of you fellows! go and fish her out. And that spoils our chance of getting the picture to-day. Miss Gray will have to be mollycoddled, and grandmothered, and what-not. Huh!"
While he scolded, the director scarcely gave a glance to the struggling girl. The latter had struck out pluckily for the shore when she came up from her involuntary plunge. After the cry she had uttered as she fell, she had not made a sound.
To swim with one's clothing all on is not an easy matter at the best of times. To do this in mid-winter, when the water is icy, is well nigh an impossibility.
Several of the men of the company, more humane than the director, had sprung to assist the unfortunate girl; but suddenly the current caught her and she was swerved from the bank. She was out of reach.
"And not a skiff in sight!" exclaimed Tom.
"Oh, dear! The poor thing!" cried his sister. "She's being carried right down the river. They'll never get her."
"Oh, Tom!" implored Ruth. "Hurry and start. We must get that girl!"
"Sure we will!" cried Tom Cameron.
He was already out of the car and madly turning the crank. In a moment the engine was throbbing. Tom leaped back behind the wheel and the automobile darted ahead.
The rough road led directly along the verge of the river bank. The picture-play actors scattered as he bore down upon them. It gave Tom, as well as the girls, considerable satisfaction to see the director, Grimes, jump out of the way of the rapidly moving car.
The friends in the car saw the actress, whom Grimes had called both "Hazel" and "Miss Gray," swirled far out from the shore; but they knew the current or an eddy would bring her back. She sank once; but she came up again and fought the current like the plucky girl she was.
"Oh, Helen! she's wonderful!" gasped Ruth, with clasped hands, as she watched this fight for life which was more thrilling than anything she had ever seen reproduced on the screen.
Helen was too frightened to reply; but Ruth Fielding often before had shown remarkable courage and self-possession in times of emergency. No more than the excited Tom did she lose her head on this occasion.
As has been previously told, Ruth had come to the banks of the Lumano River and to her Uncle Jabez Potter's Red Mill some years before, when she was a small girl. She was an orphan, and the crabbed and miserly miller was her single living relative.
The first volume of the series, entitled "Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill," tells of the incidents which follow Ruth's coming to reside with her uncle, and with Aunt Alvirah Boggs, who was "everybody's aunt" but nobody's relative.
The first and closest friends of her own age that Ruth made in her new home were Helen and Tom Cameron, twin children of a wealthy merchant whose all-year home was not far from the Red Mill. With Helen and Mercy Curtis, a lame girl, Ruth is sent to Briarwood Hall, a delightfully situated boarding school at some distance from the girls' homes, and there, in the second volume of the series, Ruth is introduced to new scenes, some new friends and a few enemies; but altogether has a delightful time.
Ensuing volumes tell of Ruth and her chums' adventures at Snow Camp; at Lighthouse Point; on Silver Ranch, in Montana; on Cliff Island, where occur a number of remarkable winter incidents; at Sunset Farm during the previous summer; and finally, in the eighth volume, the one immediately preceding this present story, Ruth achieves something that she has long, long desired.
This last volume, called "Ruth Fielding and the Gypsies; Or, The Missing Pearl Necklace," tells of an automobile trip which Ruth and her present companions, Helen and Tom Cameron, took through the hills some distance beyond the Red Mill and Cheslow, their home town.
They fall into the hands of Gypsies and the two girls are actually held captive by the old and vindictive Gypsy Queen. Through Ruth's bravery Helen escapes and takes the news of the capture back to Tom. Later the grandson of the old Gypsy Queen releases Ruth.
While at the camp Ruth sees a wonderful pearl necklace in the hands of the covetous old Queen Zelaya. Later, when the girls return to Briarwood, they learn that an aunt of one of their friends, Nettie Parsons, has been robbed of just such a necklace.
Ruth, through Mr. Cameron, puts the police on the trail of the Gypsies. The Gypsy boy, Roberto, is rescued and in time becomes a protege of Mr. Cameron, while the stolen necklace is recovered from the Gypsy Queen, who is deported by the Washington authorities.
In the end, the five thousand dollars reward offered by Nettie's aunt comes to Ruth. She is enriched beyond her wildest dreams, and above all, is made independent of the niggardly charity of her Uncle Jabez who seems to love his money more than he does his niece.
Unselfishness was Ruth's chief virtue, though she had many. She could never refuse a helping hand to the needy; nor did she fear to risk her own convenience, sometimes even her own safety, to relieve or rescue another.
In the present case, none knew better than Ruth the treacherous currents of the Lumano. It had not been so many months since she and her uncle, Jabez Potter, out upon the Lumano in a boat, had nearly lost their lives. This present accident, that to the young moving-picture actress, was at a point some distance above the Red Mill.
"If she is carried down two hundred yards farther, Tom, she will be swept out into mid-stream," declared Ruth, still master of herself, though her voice was shaking.
"And then—good-night!" answered Tom. "I know what you mean, Ruth."
"She will sink for the last time before the current sweeps her in near the shore again," Ruth added.
"Oh, don't!" groaned Helen. "The poor girl."
Tom had driven the automobile until it was ahead of the struggling Hazel Gray. An eddy clutched her and drew her swiftly in toward the bank. Immediately Tom shut off the power and he and Ruth both leaped out of the car.
A long branch from an adjacent tree had been torn off by the wind and lay beside the road. Tom seized this and ran with Ruth to the edge of the water; but he knew the branch was a poor substitute for a rope.
"If she can cling to this, I'll get something better in a moment, Ruth!" he exclaimed.
Swinging the small and bushy end of the branch outward, Tom dropped it into the water just ahead of the imperiled girl. Ruth seized the butt with her strong and capable hands.
"Cut off a length of that fence wire, Tommy," she ordered. "You have wire-cutters in your auto kit, haven't you?"
"Sure!" cried Tom. "Never travel without 'em since we were at Silver Ranch, you know. There! She's got it."
Hazel Gray had seized upon the branch. She was too exhausted to reach the bank of the river without help, and just here the eddy began to swing her around again, away from the shore.
The men of the company came running now, giving lusty shouts of encouragement, but—that was all! The director had allowed the girl to get into a perilous position on the leaning tree without having a boat and crew in readiness to pick her up if she fell into the river. It was an unpardonable piece of neglect, and there might still serious consequences arise from it.
For the girl in the water was so exhausted that she could not long cling to the limb. It was but a frail support between her and drowning.
When the men arrived Ruth feared to have them even touch the branch she held, and she motioned them back. She knew that the girl in the stream was almost exhausted and that a very little would cause her to lose her hold upon the branch altogether.
"Don't touch it! I beg of you, don't touch it!" cried Ruth, as one excited man undertook to take the butt of the branch.
"You can't hold it, Miss! you'll be pulled into the water."
"Never fear for me," the girl from the Red Mill returned. "I know what I am about——Oh, goody! here comes Tom!"
She depended on Tom—she knew that he would do something if anybody could. She gazed upon the wet, white face of the girl in the water and knew that whatever Tom did must be done at once. Hazel Gray was loosing her hold.
"Oh! oh! oh!" screamed Helen, standing in the automobile with clasped hands. "Don't let her drown, Tommy! Don't let her go down again—don't!"
Tom came, with grimly set lips, dragging about twenty feet of fence wire behind him. Luckily it was smooth wire—not barbed. He quickly made a loop in one end of it and wriggled the other end toward Ruth and the excited men.
"Catch hold here!" he ordered. "Make a loop as I have, and don't let it slip through your hands."
"Oh, Tom! you're never going into that cold water?" Ruth gasped, suddenly stricken with fear for her friend's safety.
But that was exactly what Tom intended to do. There was no other way. He had seen, too, the exhaustion of the girl in the water and knew that if her hands slipped from the tree branch, she could never get a grip on the wire.
Without removing an article of clothing the boy leaped into the stream. It was over his head right here below the bank, and the chill of the water was tremendous. As Tom said afterward, he felt it "clear to the marrow of his bones!"
But he came up and struck out strongly for the face of the girl, which was all that could be seen above the surface.
Hazel Gray's hold was slipping from the branch. She was blue about the lips and her eyes were almost closed. The current was tugging at her strongly; she was losing consciousness. If she was carried away by the suction of the stream, now dragging so strongly at her limbs, Tom Cameron would be obliged to loose his own hold upon the wire and swim after her. And the young fellow was not at all sure that he could save either her or himself if this occurred.
Yet, perilous as his own situation was, Tom thought only of that of the actress.
AT THE RED MILL
Helen, greatly excited, stood on the seat of the tonneau and cheered her brother on at the top of her voice. That, in her excitement, she thought she was "rooting" at a basket-ball game at Briarwood, was not to be wondered at. Ruth heard her chum screaming:
"S.B.—Ah-h-h! S.B.—Ah-h-h Sound our battle-cry Near and far! S.B.—All! Briarwood Hall! Sweetbriars, do or die—— This be our battle-cry—— Briarwood Hall! That's All!"
At the very moment the excited Helen brought out the "snapper" of the rallying cry of their own particular Briarwood sorority, Ruth let the limb go, for Tom had seized the sinking actress by the shoulder.
"He's got her!" the men shouted in chorus.
"And that's all those fellows were," Ruth said afterwards, in some contempt. "Just a chorus! They were a lot of tabby-cats—afraid to wet their precious feet. If it hadn't been for Tom, Miss Gray would have been drowned before the eyes of that mean director and those other imitation men. Ugh! I de-test a coward!"
This was said later, however. Until they drew Tom and his fainting burden ashore, neither Ruth nor Helen had time for criticism. Then they bundled Hazel Gray in the automobile rugs, while Tom struggled into an overcoat and cranked up the machine. The director came to inquire:
"What are you going to do with that girl?"
"Take her to the Red Mill," snapped Ruth. "That's down the river, opposite the road to Cheslow. And don't try to see her before to-morrow. No thanks to you that she isn't drowned."
"You are a very impudent young lady," growled the director.
"I may be a plain spoken one," said Ruth, not at all alarmed by the man's manner. "I don't know how you would have felt had Miss Gray been drowned. I should think you would think of that!"
But the man seemed more disturbed about the delay to the picture that was being taken.
"I shall expect you to be ready bright and early in the morning, Miss Gray!" he shouted as the automobile moved off. The young actress, half fainting in the tonneau between the Briarwood Hall girls, did not hear him.
It was several miles to the Red Mill, and Ruth, worried, said: "I'm afraid Tom will catch cold, Helen."
"And—and this po—poor girl, too," stammered Tom's sister, as the car jounced over a particularly rough piece of road.
Hazel Gray opened her eyes languidly, murmuring: "I shall be all right, thank you! Just drive to the hotel——"
"What hotel?" asked Ruth, laughing.
"In Cheslow. I don't know the name of it," whispered Hazel Gray. "Is there more than one?"
"There is; but you'll not go all the way to Cheslow in your condition," declared Ruth. "We're taking you to the Red Mill. Now! no objections, please. Hurry up, Tommy."
"But I am all wet," protested the girl.
"I should say you were," gasped Helen.
"Nobody knows better than I," said Ruth, "that the water of the Lumano river is at least damp, at all seasons."
"I will make you a lot of trouble," objected Miss Gray.
"No, you won't," the girl of the Red Mill repeated. "Aunt Alvirah will snuggle you down between soft, fluffy blankets, and give you hot boneset tea, or 'composition,' and otherwise coddle you. To-morrow morning you will feel like a new girl."
"Oh, dear!" groaned Miss Gray. "I wish I were a new girl."
A very few minutes later they came in sight of the Red Mill, with the rambling, old, story-and-a-half dwelling beside it, in which Jabez Potter's grandfather had been born. Although the leaves had long since fallen from the trees, and the lawn was brown, the sloping front yard of the Potter house was very attractive. The walks were swept, the last dead leaf removed, and the big stones at the main gateway were dazzlingly white-washed.
The jar and rumble of the grist-mill, and the trickle of the water on the wheel, made a murmurous accompaniment to all the other sounds of life about the place. From the rear of the old house fowls cackled, a mule sent his clarion call across the fields, and hungry pigs squealed their prayer for supper. A cow lowed impatiently at the pasture bars in answer to the querulous blatting of her calf.
Tom was going on home to change his clothes; but when Ruth saw the fringe of icicles around the bottoms of his trouser legs, she would not hear to it.
"You come right in with us, Tom. Helen will drive the car home and get you a change of clothing. Meanwhile you can put on some of Uncle Jabez's old clothes. Hurry on, now, children!" and she laughingly drove Tom and Hazel Gray before her to the porch of the old house, where Aunt Alvirah, having heard the automobile, met them in amazement.
"What forever has happened, my pretty?" cried the little old lady, whose bent back and rheumatic limbs made her seem even smaller than she naturally was. "In the river? Do come in! Bring the young lady right into the best room, Ruthie. You strip off right before the kitchen fire, Master Tom. I'll bring you some things to put on. There's a huck towel on the nail yonder. Oh, my back! and oh, my bones!"
Thus talking, Aunt Alvirah hobbled ahead into the sitting room. The girl who had fallen into the river was now shivering. Ruth and the old lady undressed her as quickly as possible, and Aunt Alvirah made ready the bed with the "fluffy" blankets in the chamber right off the sitting room.
"Do get one of your nighties for her, my pretty," directed Aunt Alvirah. "She wouldn't feel right sleepin' in one o' my old things, I know."
Ruth was excited. In the first place, as to most girls of her age, a "real live actress" was as much of a wonder as a Great Auk would have been; only, of course, Hazel Gray was much more charming than the garfowl!
Ruth Fielding was interested in moving pictures—and for a particular reason. Long before she had gained the reward for the return of the pearl necklace to Nettie Parsons' aunt, Ruth had thought of writing a scenario. This was not a very original thought, for many, many thousand other people have thought the same thing.
Occasionally, when she had been to a film show, Ruth had wondered why she could not write a playlet quite as good as many she saw, and get money for it. But it had been only a thought; she knew nothing about the technique of the scenario, or how to go about getting an opinion upon her work if she should write one.
Here chance had thrown her into the company of a girl who was working for the films, and evidently was of some importance in the moving picture companies, despite the treatment she had received from the unpleasant director, Mr. Grimes.
Ruth remembered now of having seen Hazel Gray upon the screen more than once within the year. She was regarded as a coming star, although she had not achieved the fame of many actresses for the silent drama who were no older.
So Ruth, feeling the importance of the occasion, selected from her store the very prettiest night gown that she owned—one she had never even worn herself—and brought it down stairs to the girl who had been in the river. A little later Hazel Gray was between Aunt Alvirah's blankets, and was sipping her hot tea.
"My dear! you are very, very good to me," she said, clinging to Ruth's hand. You and the dear little old lady. Are you as good to every stranger who comes your way?"
"Aunt Alvirah is, I'm sure," replied Ruth, laughing and blushing. Somehow, despite the fact that the young actress was only two or three years older than herself, the girl of the Red Mill felt much more immature than Miss Gray.
"You belittle your own kindness, I am sure," said Hazel. "And that dear boy who got me out of the river—Where is he?"
"Unseeable at present," laughed Ruth. "He is dressed in some of Uncle Jabez's clothing, a world too big for him. But Tom is one of the dearest fellows who ever lived."
"You think a great deal of him, I fancy?"
"Oh, yes, indeed!" cried Ruth, innocently. "His sister is my very dearest friend. We go to Briarwood Hall together."
"Briarwood Hall? I have heard of that. We go there soon, I understand. Mr. Hammond is to take some pictures in and around Lumberton."
"Oh!" exclaimed Ruth. 'That will be nice! I hope we shall see you up there, Miss Gray, for Helen and I go back to school in a week."
"Whether I see you there or not," said the young actress with a sigh, "I hope that I shall be able some time to repay you for what you do for me now. You are entirely too kind."
"Perhaps you can pay me more easily than you think," said Ruth, bashfully, but with dancing eyes.
"How? Tell me at once," said Miss Gray.
"I'm just mad to try writing a scenario for a moving picture," confessed Ruth. "But I don't know how to go about getting it read."
Miss Gray smiled, but made no comment upon Ruth's desire. She merely said, pleasantly:
"If you write your scenario, my dear, I will get our manager to read it."
"That awful Mr. Grimes?" cried Ruth. "Oh! I shouldn't want him to read it."
Hazel Gray laughed heartily at that. "Don't judge, the taste of a baked porcupine by his quills," she said. "Grimes is a very rough and unpleasant man; but he gets there. He is one of the most successful directors Mr. Hammond has working for him."
"You have mentioned Mr. Hammond before?" said Ruth, questioningly.
"He is the man I will show your scenario to." Then she added: "If I am still working for him. Mr. Hammond is a very nice man; but Grimes does not like me," and again the girl sighed, and a cloud came over her pretty face.
"I would not work under such a mean man as that Grimes!" declared Ruth. "You might have been drowned because of his carelessness."
"It is my misfortune—being an actress—often to work under unpleasant conditions. I want to get ahead, and I would like to please Grimes; he puts over his pictures, and he has made several film actresses quite famous. Of course, although my first consideration must necessarily be my bread and butter, I hope for a little fame on the side, too."
"Oh! you have achieved that, have you not?" said Ruth, timidly. "I thought you had already made a name for yourself."
"Not as great a name as I hope to gain some day," declared Hazel Gray. "But thank you for the compliment. I was carried on to the stage when I was a baby in arms by my dear mother, who was an actress of some ability. My father was an actor. He died of a fever in the South before I can remember, and when I was seven my mother died.
"Kind people trained me for the stage; they were kind enough to say I had talent. And now I have tried to do my best in the movies. Mr. Hammond thinks I am a good pantomimist; but Grimes declares I have no 'film charm,'" and Miss Gray sighed again. "He has another girl he wants to push forward, and is angry that Mr. Hammond did not send her to head this company."
"Then this Mr. Hammond is quite an important man?" asked Ruth.
"Head of the Alectrion Film Corporation. He is immensely wealthy and a really good man. Of course," went on Miss Gray, "he is in the business of making films for money; just the same, he makes a great many pictures purely for art's sake, or for educational reasons. You would like Mr. Hammond, I am sure," and the girl in bed sighed again.
Ruth saw that talking troubled Miss Gray and kept her mind upon her quarrel with the moving picture director; so it did not need Aunt Alvirah's warning to make the girl of the Red Mill steal away and leave the patient to such repose as she might get.
A TIME OF CHANGE
Tom Cameron looked funny enough in some of the miller's garments; but he was none the worse for his bath in the river. He, too, had been dosed with hot tea by Aunt Alvirah, though he made a wry face over it.
"Never you mind, boy," Ruth told him, laughing. "It is better to have a bad taste in your mouth for a little while than a sore throat for a week."
"Hear! hear the philosopher!" cried Tom. "You'd think I was a tender little blossom."
"You know, you might have the croup," suggested Ruth, wickedly.
"Croup! What am I—a kid?" demanded Tom, half angry at this suggestion. He had begun to notice that his sister and Ruth were inclined to set him down as a "small boy" nowadays.
"How is it," Tom asked his father one day, "that Helen is all grown up of a sudden? I'm not! Everybody treats me just as they always have; but even Colonel Post takes off his hat to our Helen on the street with overpowering politeness, and the other men speak to her as though she were as old as Mrs. Murchiston. It gets me!"
Mr. Cameron laughed; but he sighed thereafter, too. "Our little Helen is growing up, I expect. She's taken a long stride ahead of you, Tommy, while you've been asleep."
"Huh! I'm just as old as she is," growled Tom. "But I don't feel grown up."
And here was Ruth Fielding holding the same attitude toward him that his twin did! Tom did not like it a bit. He was a manly fellow and had always observed a protective air with Ruth and his sister. And, all of a sudden, they had become young ladies while he was still a boy.
"I wish Nell would come back with my duds," he grumbled. "I have a good mind to walk home in these things of the miller's."
"And be taken for an animated scarecrow on the way?" laughed Ruth. "Better 'bide a wee,' Tommy. Sister will get here with your rompers pretty soon. Have patience."
"Now you talk just like Bobbins' sister. Behave, will you?" complained Tom.
Ruth tripped out of the room to peep at the guest, and Aunt Alvirah hobbled in and, letting herself down into her low chair, with a groan of "Oh, my back! and oh, my bones!" smiled indulgently at Tom's gloomy face.
"What is the matter, Mister Tom?" she asked. "Truly, you look as colicky as Amos Dodge—an' they do say he lived on sour apples!"
Tom had to laugh at this; but it was rather a rueful laugh. "I don't know what is coming over these girls—Ruth and my sister," he said, "They're beginning to put on airs like grown ladies. Cracky! they used to be some fun."
"Growin' up, Mister Tom—growin' up. So's my pretty. I hate to see it, but ye can't fool Natur'—no, sir! Natur' says to these young things: 'Advance!' an' they've jest got to march, I reckon," and Aunt Alvirah sighed, too. Then her little, bird-like eyes twinkled suddenly and she chuckled. "Jest the same," she added, in a whisper, "Ruth got out all her doll-babies the other day and played with 'em jest like she was ten years old."
"Ho, ho!" cried Tom, his face clearing up. "I guess she's only making believe to be grown up, after all!"
Helen came finally and they left Tom alone in the kitchen to change his clothes. Then the Camerons hurried away, for it was close to supper time. Both Helen and Tom were greatly interested in the moving picture actress; but she had fallen into a doze and they could not bid her good-bye.
"But I'm going to run down in the morning to see how she is," Tom announced. "I'll see her before she goes away. She's a plucky one, all right!"
"Humph!" thought Ruth, when the automobile had gone, "Tom seems to have been wonderfully taken with that Miss Gray's appearance."
When Jabez Potter came in from the mill and found the strange girl in the best bed he was inclined to criticize. He was a tall, dusty, old man, for whom it seemed a hard task ever to speak pleasantly. Aunt Alvirah, when she was much put out with him, said he "croaked like a raven!"
"Gals, gals, gals!" he grumbled. "This house seems to be nigh full of 'em when you air to home, Niece Ruth."
"And empty enough of young life, for a fac', when my pretty is away," put in Aunt Alvirah.
Ruth, not minding her Uncle Jabez's strictures, went about setting the supper table with puckered lips, whistling softly. This last was an accomplishment she had picked up from Tom long ago.
"And whistling gals is the wust of all!" snarled Jabez Potter, from the sink, where he had just taken his face out of the soapsuds bath he always gave it before sitting down to table. "I reckon ye ain't forgot what I told ye:
"'Whistlin' gals an' crowin' hens Always come to some bad ends!'"
"Now, Jabez!" remonstrated Aunt Alvirah.
But Ruth only laughed. "You've got it wrong, Uncle Jabez," she declared. "There is another version of that old doggerel. It is:
"'Whistling girls and blatting sheep Are the two best things a farmer can keep!'"
Then she went straight to him and, as his irritated face came out of the huck towel, she put both arms around his neck and kissed him on his grizzled cheek.
This sort of treatment always closed her Uncle Jabez's lips for a time. There seemed no answer to be made to such an argument—and Ruth did love the crusty old man and was grateful to him.
When the miller had retired to his own chamber to count and recount the profits of the day, as he always did every evening, Aunt Alvirah complained more than usual of the old man's niggardly ways.
"It's gittin' awful, Ruthie, when you ain't to home. He's ashamed to have me set so mean a table when you air here. For he does kinder care about what you think of him, my pretty, after all."
"Oh, Aunt Alvirah! I thought he was cured of little 'stingies.'"
"No, he ain't! no, he ain't!" cried the old lady, sitting down with a groan. "Oh, my back! and oh, my bones! I tell ye, my pretty, I have to steal out things a'tween meals to Ben sometimes, or that boy wouldn't have half enough to eat. Jabez has had a new padlock put on the meat-house door, and I can't git a slice of bacon without his knowin' on it."
"That is ridiculous!" exclaimed Ruth, who had less patience now than she once had for her great uncle's penuriousness. She was positive that it was not necessary.
"Ree-dic'lous or not; it's so," Aunt Alvirah asserted. "Sometimes I feel like I was a burden on him myself."
"You a burden, dear Aunt Alvirah!" cried Ruth, with tears in her eyes. "You would be a blessing, not a burden, in anybody's house. Uncle Jabez was very fortunate indeed to get you to come here to the Red Mill."
"I dunno—I dunno," groaned the old lady. "Oh, my back! and oh, my bones! I'm a poor, rheumaticky creeter—and nobody but Jabez would have taken me out o' the poorhouse an' done for me as he has."
"You mean, you have done for him!" cried Ruth, in some passion. "You have kept his house for him, and mended for him, and made a home for him, for years. And I doubt if he has ever thanked you—not once!"
"But I have thanked him, deary," said Aunt Alvirah, sweetly. "And I do thank him, same as I do our Father in Heaven, ev'ry day of my life, for takin' me away from that poorfarm an' makin' an independent woman of me a'gin. Oh, Jabez ain't all bad. Fur from it, my pretty—fur from it!
"Now that you ain't no more beholden to him for your eddication, an' all, he is more pennyurious than ever—yes he is! For Jabez's sake, I could almost wish you hadn't got all that money you did, for gittin' back the lady's necklace. Spendin' money breeds the itch for spendin' more. Since you wrote him that you was goin' to pay all your school bills, Jabez Potter is cured of the little itch of that kind he ever had."
"Oh, Aunt Alvirah! Think of me—I am glad to be independent, too."
"I know—I know," admitted Aunt Alvirah. "But it's hard on Jabez. He was givin' you the best eddication he could——"
"Grumblingly enough, I am sure!" interposed Ruth, with a pout. She could speak plainly to the little old woman, for Aunt Alvirah knew.
"Surely—surely," agreed the old lady. "But it did him good, jest the same. Even if he only spent money on ye for fear of what the neighbors would say. Opening his pocket for your needs, my pretty, was makin' a new man of Jabez."
"Dear me!" exclaimed Ruth, thinking it rather hard. "You want me to be poor again, Aunt Alvirah."
"Only for your uncle's sake—only for his sake," she reiterated.
"But he can do more for Mercy Curtis," said Ruth. "He has helped her quite a little. He likes Mercy—better than he does me, I think."
"But he don't have to help Mercy no more," put in Aunt Alvirah, quickly. "Haven't you heard? Mercy's mother has got a legacy from some distant relative and now there ain't a soul on whom Jabez Potter thinks he's got to spend money. It's a terrible thing for Jabez—Meed an' it is, my pretty.
"Changes—changes, all the time! We were going on quite smooth and pleasant for a fac'. And now——Oh, my back! and oh, my bones!" and thus groaningly Aunt Alvirah finished her quite unusual complaint, for with all her aches and pains she was naturally a cheerful body.
"THAT'S A PROMISE"
The family at the Red Mill were early risers When the red, red sun threw his first rays across the frosty waters of the Lumano, Ruth Fielding's casement was wide open and she was busily tripping about the kitchen where her Uncle Jabez had built the fire in the range before going to the mill.
Ben, the hired man, was out doing the chores and soon brought two brimming pails of milk into the milk-room.
"Aunt Alviry will miss ye, Ruthie, when ye air gone back to school," Ben said bashfully, when Ruth, with capable air, began to strain the milk and pour it into the pans.
"Poor Aunt Alvirah!" sighed Ruth. "I hope you help her all you can when I'm not here, Ben?"
"I jest do!" said the big fellow, heartily. "T'tell the truth, Ruthie, sometimes I kin scarce a-bear Jabe Potter. I wouldn't work for him another month, I vow! if 'twasn't for the old woman—and—and you."
"Oh, thank you, Ben, for that compliment," cried Ruth, dimpling and running into the kitchen to set back the coffee-pot in which the coffee was threatening to boil over.
The breakfast dishes were not dried when the raucous "honk! honk! honk!" of an automobile horn sounded without. The machine stopped at the gate of the Potter house.
"My mercy! who kin that be?" demanded Aunt Alvirah, jerkily, and then settled back into her chair again by the window with a murmured, "Oh, my back! and oh, my bones!"
"It can't be Tom, can it?" gasped Ruth, running to the door. "So early—and to see Miss Gray?" for the thought that Tom Cameron was interested in the actress still stuck in Ruth's mind.
"It doesn't sound like Tom's horn," she added, as she struggled with the outer door. "Oh, dear! I do wish Uncle Jabez would fix this lock. There!"
The door flew open, and swung out, its weight carrying Ruth with it plump into the arms of a big man in a big fur coat which he had thrown open as he ascended the steps of the porch.
Ruth was almost smothered in the coat. And she would have slipped and fallen had not the stranger held her up, finally setting her squarely on her feet at arm's length, steadying her there and laughing the while.
"I declare, young lady," he said in a pleasant voice, "I did not expect to be met with such cordiality. Is this the way you always meet visitors at this beautiful, picturesque old place?"
"Oh, oh, oh! I—I—I——"
Ruth could only gasp at first, her cheeks ruddy with blushes, her eyes timid. Her tongue actually refused to speak two consecutive, sensible words.
"I must say, my dear," said the gentleman who, Ruth now saw, was a man as old as Mr. Cameron, "that you are as charming as the Red Mill itself. For, of course, this is the Red Mill? I was directed here from Cheslow."
"Oh, yes!" stammered Ruth. "This is the Red Mill. Did—did you wish to see Uncle Jabez?"
"Perhaps. But that was not my particular reason for coming here," said the stranger, laughing openly at her now. "I find his niece pleasanter to look at, I have no doubt; though Uncle Jabez may be a very estimable man."
Ruth was puzzled. She glanced past him to the big maroon automobile at the gate. Therein she saw the squat, pugnacious looking Mr. Grimes, and she jumped to a correct conclusion.
"Oh!" she cried faintly. "You are Mr. Hammond!"
"Perfectly correct, my dear. And who are you, may I ask?"
"Ruth Fielding. I live here, sir. We have Miss Gray with us."
"Quite so," said Mr. Hammond, nodding. "I have come to see Miss Gray—and to take her away if she is well enough to be moved."
"Oh, she is all right, Mr. Hammond. Only she is still lying in bed. Aunt Alvirah prevailed upon her to stay quiet for a while longer."
"And your Aunt Alvirah is probably right. But—may I come in? I'd like to ask you a few questions, even if Hazel is not to be seen as yet."
"Oh, certainly, sir!" cried Ruth, thus reminded of her negligence. "Do come in. Here, into the sitting room, please. It is warm in here, for Uncle Jabez kept a fire all night, and I just put in a good-sized chunk myself."
"Ah! an old-fashioned wood-heater, is it?" asked Mr. Hammond, following Ruth into the sitting room. "That looks like comfort. I remember stoking a stove like that when I was a boy."
Ruth liked this jolly, hearty, big man from the start. He was inclined to joke and tease, she thought; but with it all he had the kindliest manner and most humorous mouth in the world.
He turned to Ruth when the door was shut, and asked seriously: "My dear, is Miss Gray where she can hear us talk?"
"Why, no, sir," replied Ruth, surprised. "The door is shut—and it is a soundproof door, I am certain."
"Very well. I have heard Grimes' edition of the affair yesterday. Will you please give me your version of the accident? Of course, it was an accident?"
"Oh, yes, sir! Although that man ought not to have made her climb that tree——"
Mr. Hammond put up a warning hand, and smiled again. "I do not ask you for an opinion. Just for an account of what actually happened."
"But you intimated that perhaps Mr. Grimes was more at fault than he actually was," said Ruth, boldly. "Surely he did not push her off that tree!"
"No," said Mr. Hammond, drily. "Did she jump?"
"Jump! Goodness! do you think she is crazy?" demanded Ruth, so shocked that she quite forgot to be polite.
"Then she did not jump," the manager of the Alectrion Film Corporation said, quite placidly. "Very well. Tell me what you saw. For, I suppose, you were on the spot?"
"Yes, sir," said Ruth, not quite sure just then that the gentleman was altogether fair-minded. Later she understood that Mr. Hammond merely desired to get the stories of the accident from the observers with neither partiality nor prejudice.
Ruth repeated just what happened from the time she and her friends arrived in the Cameron car on the scene, till they reached the Red Mill and Miss Gray had been put to bed.
"Very clear and convincing. You are a good witness," declared Mr. Hammond, lightly; but she saw that the story had left an unpleasant impression on his mind. She did not see how he could blame the motion picture actress; but she feared that he did.
When Ruth tried to probe into that question, however, Mr. Hammond skilfully turned the subject to the picturesqueness of the Red Mill and its surroundings.
"This would make a splendid background for a film," he said, with enthusiasm. "We ought to have a story written around this beautiful old place, with all the romance and human interest that must be connected with the history of the house.
"Do you mind if we go out and look around a little? I would not disturb Miss Gray until she is perfectly rested and feels like rising."
"Surely I will show you around, sir!" cried Ruth. "Let me get my coat and hat."
She ran for her sweater and tam-o'-shanter, and joined Mr. Hammond on the porch. Mr. Hammond said nothing to Grimes, but allowed him to remain in the limousine.
Ruth took the moving picture magnate down to the shore of the river and showed him the wheel and the mill-side. The old stone bridge over the creek, too, was an object of interest. In fact, Ruth had thought so much about the situation of the Red Mill as a picture herself, that she knew just what would attract the gentleman's interest the most.
"I declare! I declare!" he murmured, over and over again. "It is better than I thought. A variety of scene, already for the action to be put into it! Splendid!"
"And I am sure," Ruth told him, "Uncle Jabez would not object to your filming the old place. I could fix it for you. He is not so difficult when once you know how to take him."
"I may ask your good offices in that matter," said Mr. Hammond. "But not now. Of course, Grimes could work up something in short order to fit these scenes here. He's excellent at that. But I think the subject is worthy of better treatment. I'd like a really big story, treated artistically, and one that would fit perfectly into the background of the Red Mill—nothing slapdash and carelessly written, or invented on the spur of the moment by a busy director——"
"Oh, Mr. Hammond!" cried Ruth, so excited now that she could no longer keep silent. "I'd dearly love to write a moving picture scenario about the old mill. And I've thought about it so much that I believe I could do it."
"Indeed?" said Mr. Hammond, with one of his queer smiles. "Did you ever write a scenario?"
"No, sir! but then, you know," said Ruth, naively, "one must always do a thing for the first time."
"Quite true—quite true. So Eve said when she bit into the apple," and Mr. Hammond chuckled.
"I would just love to try it," the girl continued, taking her courage in both hands. "I have a splendid plot—or, so I believe; and it is all about the Red Mill. The pictures would have to be taken here."
"Not in the winter, I fancy?" said Mr. Hammond.
"No, sir. When it is all green and leafy and beautiful," said Ruth, eagerly.
"Then," said Mr. Hammond, more seriously, "I'd try my 'prentice hand, if I were you, on something else. Don't write the Red Mill scenario now. Write some thrilling but simple story, and let me read it first——"
"Oh, Mr. Hammond!" gasped Ruth, with clasped hands. "Will you really read it?"
"Of course I will," laughed the gentleman. "No matter how bad it is. That's a promise. Here is my card with my private address upon it. You send it directly to me, and the first time I am at home I will get it and give it my best attention. That's a promise," he repeated.
"Oh, thank you, sir!" murmured Ruth delightedly, smiling and dimpling.
He pinched her cheek and his eyes grew serious for a moment. "I once knew a girl much like you, Miss Ruth," he said. "Just as full of life and enthusiasm. You are a tonic for old fogies like me."
"Old fogy!" repeated Ruth. "Why, I'm sure you are not old, Mr. Hammond."
"Never mind flattering me," he broke in, with assumed sternness. "Haven't I already promised to read your scenario?"
"Yes, sir," said Ruth, demurely. "But you haven't promised to produce it."
"Quite so," and he laughed. "But that only goes by worth. We will see what a schoolgirl like you can do in writing a scenario. It will give you practice so that you may be able to handle something really big about this beautiful old place. You know, now that the most popular writers of the day are turning their hands to movies, the amateur production has to be pretty good to 'get by,' as the saying is."
"Oh! now you are trying to discourage me."
"No. Only warning you," Mr. Hammond said, with another laugh. "I'll send you a little pamphlet on scenario preparation—it may help. And I hope to read your first attempt before long."
"Thank you, sir," Ruth responded. "And if ever I write my Red Mill scenario, I am going to write Miss Gray into it. She is just the one to play the lead."
"And she is a good little actress I believe," said Mr. Hammond. "I knew that Grimes had a girl that he wanted to push forward as the lead in this company he has up here. I never like to interfere with my directors if I can help it. But I will see that Miss Gray gets a square deal. She has had good training in the legitimate drama, she is pretty, and she has pluck and good breeding."
"That Mr. Grimes was horrid to her," repeated Ruth, casting a glance of dislike at the man in the limousine.
"Oh, well, my dear, we cannot make people over in this world. That is impossible. But I will take care that Hazel Gray gets a square deal. That's a promise, too, Ruth Fielding," and the gentleman laughed again.
WHAT IS AHEAD?
While Ruth and Mr. Hammond had been walking about, the Camerons had come. Tom's automobile was parked just beyond the moving picture magnate's handsome limousine; and Tom had given more than one covetous glance at the big car before going into the house.
When Ruth returned and entered the big and friendly kitchen after ushering Mr. Hammond Into the sitting room again, she found the twins eagerly listening to and talking to Miss Hazel Gray, who was leisurely eating a late breakfast at the long table.
"Good morning, Ruth Fielding!" cried the guest, drawing her down to kiss her cheek. "You are a dear. I've been telling your friends so. I fancy one of them at least thoroughly agrees with me," and she cast a roguish glance at Tom.
Tom blushed and Helen giggled. Ruth turned kind eyes away from Tom Cameron and smiled upon Helen. "Yes," she said, demurely, "I am sure that Helen has been singing my praises. The girls are beginning to call her 'Mr. Boswell' at school. But I have heard complimentary words of you this morning, Miss Gray."
"Oh!" cried the young actress. "From Mr. Hammond?"
"He is a lovely man," declared Hazel Gray, enthusiastically. "I have always said so. If he would only make Grimes give me a square deal——"
"Those are the very words he used," interrupted Ruth, while Tom recovered from his confusion and Helen from her enjoyment of her twin's embarrassment. "He says you shall have a square deal."
While the young actress ate—and Aunt Alvirah heaped her plate, "killing me with kindness!" Hazel Gray declared—the young folk chattered. Ruth saw that Tom could scarcely keep his eyes off Miss Gray, and it puzzled the girl of the Red Mill.
Afterward, when Miss Gray had gone out with Mr. Hammond, and Tom was out of sight, Helen began to laugh. "Aren't boys funny?" she said to Ruth. "Tom is terribly smitten with that lovely Hazel Gray."
"Smitten?" murmured Ruth.
"Of course. Don't say you didn't notice it. He hasn't had a 'crush' on any girl before that I know of. But it's a sure-enough case of 'measles' this time. Busy Izzy tells me that most of the fellows in their class at Seven Oaks have a 'crush' on some moving picture girl; and now Tom, I suppose, will be cutting out of the papers every picture of Hazel Gray that he sees, and sticking them up about his room. And she has promised to send him a real cabinet photograph of herself in character in the bargain," and Helen laughed again.
But Ruth could not be amused about this. She was disturbed.
"I didn't think Tom would be so silly," she finally said.
"Pooh! it's nothing. Bobbins and Tom are getting old enough to cast sheep's eyes at the girls. Heretofore, Tommy has been crazy about the slapstick comedians of the movies; but I rather admire his taste if he likes this Hazel Gray. I really think she's lovely."
"So she is," Ruth said quite placidly. "But she is so much older than your brother——"
"Pooh! only two or three years. But, of course, Ruth, it's nothing serious," said the more worldly-wise Helen. "And boys usually are smitten with girls some years older than themselves—at first."
"Dear me!" gasped Ruth. "How much you seem to know about such things, Helen. How did you find out?"
At that Helen burst into laughter again. "You dear little innocent!" she exclaimed. "You're so blind—blind as a bat! You never see the boys at all. You look on Tom to-day just as though he were the same Tom that you helped find the time he fell off his bicycle and was hurt by the roadside. You remember? Ages and ages ago!"
But did Ruth look upon Tom Cameron in just that way? She said nothing in reply to Tom's sister.
They came out of the house together and joined Mr. Hammond and Miss Gray just as they were about to step into the limousine. Aunt Alvirah waved her hand from the window.
"She's just lovely!" declared Miss Gray. "You should have met her, Mr. Hammond."
"That pleasure is in reserve," said the gentleman, smiling. "I hope to see the Red Mill again."
Tom came hurrying down to shake hands with Miss Gray. Ruth watched them with some puzzlement of mind. Tom was undoubtedly embarrassed; but the moving picture girl was too used to making an impression upon susceptible minds to be much disturbed by Tom Cameron's worship.
Mr. Hammond looked out of the door of the limousine before he closed it.
"Remember, Ruth Fielding, I shall be on the lookout for what you promised me."
"Oh, yes, sir!" Ruth cried, all in a flutter, for the moment having forgotten the scenario she proposed to write.
"That's a promise!" he said again gaily, and closed the door. The big car rolled away and left the three friends at the gateway.
"What's a promise, Ruth Fielding?" demanded her chum, with immense curiosity.
Ruth blushed and showed some confusion. "It's—it's a secret," she stammered.
"A secret from me?" cried Helen, in amazement.
"I—I couldn't tell even you, dearie, just now," Ruth said, with sudden seriousness. "But you shall know about it before anybody else."
"That Mr. Hammond is in it."
"Yes," admitted her chum. "That is just it. I don't feel that I can speak to anybody about it yet."
"Oh! then it's his secret?"
"Partly," Ruth said, her eyes dancing, for there and then, right at that very moment, she fell upon the subject for the first scenario she intended to submit to Mr. Hammond. It was "Curiosity"—a new version of Pandora's Box.
Helen was such a sweet-tempered girl that her chum's little mystery did not cause her more than momentary vexation.
Besides, their vacation time was now very short. Many things had to be discussed about the coming semester. At its end, in June, Ruth and Helen hoped to graduate from Briarwood Hall.
The thought of graduating from the school they loved so much was one of mingled pleasure and pain. Old Briarwood! where they had had so much fun—so many girlish sorrows—friends, enemies, struggles, triumphs, failures and successes! Neither chum could contemplate graduation lightly.
"If we go to college together, it will never seem like Briarwood Hall," Helen sighed. "College will be so big. We shall be lost among so many girls—some of them grown women!"
"Goodness!" laughed Ruth, suddenly, "we'll be almost 'grown women' ourselves before we get through college."
"Oh, don't!" exclaimed Helen. "I don't want to think of that."
What was ahead of the chums did trouble them. Their future school life was a mystery. There was no prophet to tell them of the exciting and really wonderful things that were to happen to them at Briarwood during the coming term.
"Oh, dear me!" complained Nettie Parsons, "I never can do it."
"'In the bright Lexicon of Youth, there is no such word as "fail,"'" quoted Mercy Curtis, grandiloquently.
"That must be a pretty poor reference book to have in one's library, then," said Helen, making fun of the old saying which the lame girl had repeated. "How do we know—perhaps there are other important words left out—A bas le Lexicon of Youth!"
"Perseverence is the winning game, Nettie," Ruth said to the Southern girl, cheerfully. "Stick to it."
"And if then you can't make the sum come right, come to Aunt Ruthie and ask. That's what I do," confessed Ann Hicks, the ranch girl.
"Perseverence wins," quoth Helen.
"Oh, it does, does it?" cried Jennie Stone, called by the girls "Heavy," in a smothered tone, for her mouth was full of caramels. "Let me tell you that old 'saw' is a joke. My little kid cousin proved that the other day. She came to grandfather—who is just as full of maxims and bits of wisdom as Helen seems to be to-day, and the kid said:
"'Grandpa, that's a joke about "If at first you don't succeed," isn't it?'
"And her grandfather answered, 'Certainly not. "Try, try again." That's right.'
"'Huh!' said the kid, who is one of these Cynthia-of-the-minute' youngsters, 'you're wrong, Grandpa. I've been working for an hour blowing soapbubbles and trying to pin them on a clothes line in the nursery to dry!' Perseverence didn't cut much of a figure in her case, did it?" finished Heavy, with a chuckle.
The crowd of girls was in the big "quartette" room in the West Dormitory of Briarwood Hall. The school had reopened only a week before, but all the friends were hard at work. All but Ann Hicks and Nettie Parsons hoped to graduate the coming June.
In the group, besides Ruth and Helen, were their room-mates, Mercy Curtis and Ann Hicks; Jennie Stone; Mary Cox, the red-haired girl usually called "The Fox;" and Nettie Parsons, "the sugar king's daughter," as she was known to the school. She was the one really rich girl at Briarwood—and one of the simplest in both manner and dress.
Nettie was backward in her studies, as was Ann Hicks. Nettie was a lovable, sweet-tempered girl, who had several reasons for being very fond of Ruth Fielding. Indeed, if the truth were told, not a girl in the quartette that afternoon but had some particular reason for loving Ruth.
Ruth's life at the school had been a very active one; yet she had never thrust herself forward. Although she had been the originator of the most popular—now the only sorority in the school, the Sweetbriars, she had refused to be its president for more than one term. All the older girls were "Sweetbriars" now.
Mercy Curtis, who had a sweet voice, now commenced to sing the marching song of the school, which had been adopted by the Sweetbriars and made over into a special sorority song. Sitting on her bed, with her arms clasped around her knees, the lame girl weaved back and forth as she sang:
"'At Briarwood Hall we have many a lark— But one wide river to cross! The River of Knowledge—its current dark— Is the one wide river to cross! Sweetbriars all-l! One wide River of Knowledge! Sweetbriars all-l! One wide river to cross!
"'Sweetbriars come here, one by one— But one wide river to cross! There's lots of work, but plenty of fun, With one wide river to cross!'"
"Altogether!" cried Heavy. "All join in!"
"The dear old chant!" said Helen, with a happy sigh.
Ruth had already taken up the chorus again, and her rich, full-throated tones filled the room:
"'Sweetbriars all-l! One wide River of Knowledge! Sweetbriars all-l! One wide river to cross!'"
"Once more!" exclaimed the girl from Montana, who could not herself sing a note in harmony, but liked to hear the others. The chant continued:
"'Sweetbriars joining, two by two— There's one wide river to cross! Some so scared they daren't say 'Booh!' To the one wide river to cross!"
"That was us, Ruthie!" broke off Helen, laughing. "Remember how scared we were when we walked up the old Cedar Walk with The Fox, here, and didn't know whether we were going to be met with a brass band or a ticket to the guillotine?"
The Fox, otherwise Mary Cox, suddenly turned red. Ruth hastened to smooth over her chum's rather tactless speech, for Mary had been a different girl at that time from what she was now, and the memory of the hazing she had visited on Ruth and Helen annoyed her.
"And what did meet us?" cried Ruth, dramatically. "Why, a poor, emaciated creature standing at the steps of this old West Dormitory, complaining that she would starve before supper if the bell did not sound soon. You remember, Heavy?"
"And I feel that way now," said Jennie Stone in a hollow tone. "I don't know what makes me so, but I am continually hungry at least three times a day—and at regular intervals. I must see a physician about it."
"Aren't you afraid of the effect of eating so much, Jennie?" asked Helen, gently.
"What's that? Is there a new disease?" asked the fleshy girl, trying to express fear—which she never could do successfully in any such case. Jennie had probably never been ill in her life save as the immediate result of over-indulgence in eating.
"No, my dear," said Ruth Fielding's chum. "But they do tell me that eating too much may make one fat."
"Horrors!" ejaculated Jennie. "I can't believe you. Then that is what is the matter with me! I thought I looked funny in the mirror. I must be getting a wee bit plump."
"She's the girl who went up in the balloon and came down 'plump!'"
The shouts that greeted Heavy's seriously put remark did not disturb the fleshy girl at all. "That is exactly the trouble," she went on, quite placidly. "And it cost me half a dollar yesterday."
"What's that?" asked somebody, curiously.
"Where?" asked another girl.
"In chapel. Didn't you see me trying to crawl through between the two rows of seats? And I got stuck!"
"Did you have to pay Foyle the fifty cents to pry you out, Heavy?" demanded Ann Hicks.
"No. I dropped the half dollar and tried to find it. I looked for it; that's all I could do. I was too fat to find it."
"Did you look good, Jennie?" asked Ruth, sympathetically.
"Did I look good?" repeated the fleshy girl, with scorn. "I looked as good as a fat girl crawling around on all fours, ever does look. What do you think?"
The laugh at Jennie Stone's sally really cleared the room, for the warning bell for supper sounded almost immediately. Heavy and Nettie, and all who did not belong in the quartette room, departed. Then Mercy went tap, tap, tapping down the corridor with her canes—"just like a silly woodpecker!" as she often said herself; and Ann strode away, trying to hum the marching song, but ignominiously falling into the doleful strains of the "Cowboy's Lament" before she reached the head of the stairway.
"I really would like to know what that thing is you've been writing, Ruth," remarked Helen, when they were alone. "All those sheets of paper—Goodness! it's no composition. I believe you've been writing your valedictory this early."
"Don't be silly," laughed Ruth. "I shall never write the valedictory of this class. Mercy will do that."
"I don't care! Mrs. Tellingham considers you the captain of the graduating class. So now!" cried loyal Helen.
"That may be; but Mercy is our brilliant girl—you know that."
"Yes—the poor dear! but how could she ever stand up before them all and give an oration?"
"She shall!" cried Ruth, with emphasis. "She shall not be cheated out of all the glory she wins—or of an atom of that glory. If she is our first scholar, she must, somehow, have all the honors that go with the position."
"Oh, Ruthie! how can you overcome her natural dislike of 'making an exhibition of herself,' as she calls it, and the fact that, really, a girl as lame as she is, poor creature, could never make a pleasant appearance upon the platform?"
"I do not know," Ruth said seriously. "Not now. But I shall think it out, if nobody else can. Mercy shall graduate with flying colors from Briarwood Hall, whether I do myself, or not!"
"Never mind," said Helen, laughing at her chum's emphasis. "At least the valedictorian will hail from this dear old quartette room."
"Yes," agreed Ruth, looking around the loved chamber with a tender smile. "What will we do when we see it no longer, Helen?"
"Oh, don't talk about it!" cried Helen, who had forgotten by this time what she had started to question Ruth about. "Come on! We'll be late for supper."
When her chum's back was turned, Ruth slipped out of her table drawer the very packet of papers Helen had spoken about. The sheets had been typewritten and were now sealed in a manila envelope, which was addressed and stamped.
She hesitated all day about dropping the packet in the mailbag; but now she took her courage in both hands and determined to send it to its destination.
A NEW STAR
Ruth had actually been trying her "prentice hand," as Mr. Hammond had called it, at the production of a moving picture scenario. It was the first literary work she had ever achieved, although her taste in that direction had been noted by Mrs. Tellingham and the under-instructors of the school.
Oh! she would not have had any of them know what she had done in secret since arriving at the Hall at the beginning of this term. She would not let even Helen know about it.
"If it is a success—if Mr. Hammond produces it—then I'll tell them," Ruth said to herself. "But if he tells me it is no good, then nobody shall ever know that I was so foolish as to attempt such a thing."
Even after she had it all ready she hesitated some hours as to whether or not she should send it to the address Mr. Hammond had given her. The pamphlet he had promised to send her had not arrived, and Ruth had little idea as to how a scenario should be prepared She had written much more explanatory matter than was necessary; but she had achieved one thing at least—she had been direct in the composition of her scenario and she had the faculty of saying just what she meant, and that briefly. This concise style was of immense value to her, as Ruth was later to learn.
Ruth managed to slip the big envelope addressed to Mr. Hammond into the mailbag in the hall without spurring Helen's curiosity again. She had to chuckle to herself over it, for it really was a good joke on her chum.
Unconsciously, Helen had given her the idea for this little allegorical comedy which she had written. And how her friend would laugh if the picture of "Curiosity" should be produced and they should see it on the screen.
The girls crowded into the big dining room in an orderly manner, but with some suppressed whispering and laughter on the part of the more giggling kind. There were always some of the girls so full of spirits that they could not be entirely repressed.
The long tables quickly filled up. There were few beginners at this time of year, for most of the new scholars came to Briarwood Hall at the commencement of the autumn semester.
There was one new girl at the table where Ruth and her particular friends sat, over which Miss Picolet the little teacher of French, had nominal charge. Nowadays, Miss Picolet's life was an easy one. She had little trouble with even the more boisterous girls of the West Dormitory, thanks to the Sweetbriars.
The new pupil beside the French teacher was Amy Gregg. She was a colorless, flaxen-haired girl, with such light eyebrows and lashes that Helen said her face looked like a blank wall.
She was a nervous girl, too; she pouted a good deal and seemed dissatisfied. Of course, being a stranger, she was lonely as yet; but under the rules of the Sweetbriars she was not hazed. The S.B.'s word had become law in all such matters at Briarwood Hall.
After they were seated, Heavy Stone whispered to Ruth: "Isn't that Gregg girl the most discontented looking thing you ever saw? Her face would sour cream right now! I hope she doesn't overlook my supper and give me indigestion."
"Behave!" was Ruth's only comment.
There was supposed to be silence until all were served and the teachers began eating. The waitresses bustled about, light-footed and demure. Mrs. Tellingham, who was present on this evening, overlooked all from the small guest table, as it was called, placed at the head of the room on a slightly raised platform.
Mrs. Tellingham, Ruth thought, was the loveliest lady in the world. The girl of the Red Mill had never lost the first impression the preceptress had made upon her childish mind and heart when she had come to Briarwood Hall.
At last—just in time to save Heavy's life, it would seem—Miss Picolet lifted her fork and the girls began to eat. A pleasant interchange of conversation broke out:
"Did you hear what that funny little Pease girl said to Miss Brokaw in physiology class yesterday?" asked Lluella Fairfax, who was across the table from Ruth.
"No. What has the child said now? She's a queer little thing," Helen said, before her chum could answer.
"She's rather dense, don't you know," put in Lluella's chum, Belle Tingley.
"I'm not so sure of that," laughed Lluella. "Miss Brokaw became impatient with little Pease and said:
"'It seems you are never able to answer a question, Mary; why is it?'
"'If I knew all the things you ask me, Miss Brokaw,' said Pease, 'my mother wouldn't take the trouble to send me here.'"
"I'm sure that doesn't prove the poor little kiddie a dunce," laughed Ruth.
"Say! we have a dense one at this very table," hissed Heavy, a hand beside her mouth so that the sound of her whisper would not travel to the head of the table where Miss Picolet and the sullen looking new girl sat.
"What do you mean?" asked Belle, curiously.
"Whom do you mean?" added Helen.
"That infant yonder," hissed the fleshy girl.
"What about her?" Ruth asked. "I'm rather sorry for that little Gregg. She doesn't look happy."
"Say!" chuckled Heavy. "She tried for an hour yesterday to coax electricity into the bulb over her table, and then went to Miss Scrimp and asked for a candle. She got the candle, and burned it until one of the other girls looked in (you know she's not 'chummed' with anybody yet) and showed her where the push-button was in the wall. And at that," finished Heavy, grinning broadly, "I'm not sure that she understood how the 'juice' was turned on. She must have come from the backwoods."
"Hush!" begged Ruth. "Don't let her think we're laughing at her."
"Miss Scrimp's very strict about candles and oil lamps," said Nettie. "We use them a lot in the South."
"That old house of yours in 'So'th Ca'lina' must be a funny old place, Nettie," said Heavy.
"It isn't ours," Nettie said. "The cotton plantation belongs to Aunt Rachel. She was born on it—the Merredith Place. We usually go there for the early summer, and then either come No'th, or into the mountains of Virginia until cool weather. My own dear old Louisiana home isn't considered healthy for us during the extreme hot weather. It is too damp and marshy."
"'Way down Souf in de land ob cotton— Cinnamon seed an' sandy bottom!'"
hummed Heavy. "Oh! I wish I was in Dixie—right now."
"Wait till my Aunt Rachel comes up here," Nettie promised. "I'm going to beg an invitation for you girls to visit Merredith."
"But it will be hot weather, then," said Heavy; "and I don't want to miss Light-house Point."
"And I'm just about crazy to get back to Silver Ranch," said Ann Hicks.
"Me for Cliff Island," cried Belle Tingley. "No land of cotton for mine, this summer."
"When is your aunt coming, Nettie?" asked Ruth.
"To see you graduate, my dear," replied the Southern girl, smiling. "And wait till she meets you, Ruthie Fielding! She'll near about love you to death!"
"Oh, everybody loves Ruth. Why shouldn't they?" cried Belle.
"But everybody doesn't give her a fortune, as Nettie's Aunt Rachel did," laughed Heavy.
Ruth wished they would not talk so much about that money; but, of course, she could not stop them. She made no rejoinder, but looked across the room and out at the upper pane of one of the long windows. It was deep dusk now without. The evening was clear, with a rising wind moaning through the trees on the campus.
Tony Foyle, the old gardener and general handy man, was only now lighting the lamps along the walks.
"There's a funny red star," Ruth said to Helen. "It can't be that Mars is rising there."
"Where?" queried her chum, lazily, scarcely raising her eyes to look. Helen was not interested in astronomy.
Nobody else was attracted by the red spark Ruth saw. Against the dusky sky it grew swiftly A new star——
"It is fire!" gasped Ruth, softly, rising on trembling limbs. "And it is in the West Dormitory!"
THE DEVOURING ELEMENT
Not even Helen heard Ruth's whispered words. She went on calmly with her supper when her chum arose from her seat.
Ruth quickly controlled herself. The word "fire" would start a panic on the instant, although both dormitories were across the campus from the main hall.
The girl of the Red Mill erased from her countenance all expression of the fear which gripped her; but about her heart she felt a pressure like that of a tight band. Her knees actually knocked together; she was thankful they were invisible just then.
When she started up the room toward Mrs. Tellingham's table Ruth walked steadily enough. Some of the girls looked after her in surprise; but it was not an uncommon thing for a girl to leave her seat and approach the preceptress.
Mrs. Tellingham looked up with a smile when she saw Ruth coming. She always had a smile for the girl of the Red Mill.
The preceptress, however, was a sharp reader of faces. Her own expression of countenance did not change, for other girls were looking; but she saw that something serious had occurred.
"What is it, Ruth?" she asked, the instant her low whisper could reach Ruth's ear.
The girl, looking straight at her, made the letters "F-I-R-E" with her lips. But she uttered no sound. Mrs. Tellingham understood, however, and demanded:
"West Dormitory, Mrs. Tellingham," said Ruth, coming closer.
"Are you positive?"
"I can see it from my seat. On the second floor. In one of the duo rooms at this side."
Ruth spoke these sentences in staccato; but her voice was low and she preserved an air of calmness.
"Good girl!" murmured Mrs. Tellingham. "Go out quietly and then run and tell Tony. Do you know where he is?"
"Lighting the lamps," whispered Ruth.
"Good. Tell him to go right up there and see what can be done. Warn Miss Scrimp. I will telephone to town, and Miss Brokaw will take charge and march the pupils to the big hall to call the roll. I hope nobody is in the dormitories."
Mrs. Tellingham had pushed back her chair and dropped her napkin; but her movements, though swift, were not alarming. She passed out by a rear door which led to the kitchens, while Ruth walked composedly down the room to the main exit.
"Hey! what's the matter, Ruthie?" called Heavy, in a low tone. "Whose old cat's in the well?"
Ruth appeared not to hear her. Miss Brokaw, a very capable woman, came into the dining hall as Ruth passed out. Miss Brokaw stepped to the monitor's desk at one side and tapped on the bell.
"Oh, mercy!" gasped Heavy, the incorrigible. "She's shut us off again. And I haven't had half enough to eat."
"Rise!" said Miss Brokaw, after a moment of waiting. "Immediately, girls. Miss Stone, you will come, too."
A murmur of laughter rose at Jennie Stone's evident intention to linger; but Heavy always took admonition in good part, and she arose smiling.
"Monitors to their places," commanded Miss Brokaw. "You will march to the big hall. It is Mrs. Tellingham's request. She will have something of importance to say to you."
The big hall was on the other side of the building, and from its windows nothing could be seen of either dormitory.
Meanwhile, Ruth, once alone in the hall, had bounded to the chief entrance of the building and opened one leaf of the heavy door. It was a crisp night and the frost bit keenly. The wind fluttered her skirt about her legs.
She stopped for no outer apparel, however, but dashed out upon the stone portico, drawing the door shut behind her. That act alone saved the school from panic; for it she had left the door ajar, when the girls filed out into the entrance hall from the dining room some of them would have been sure to see the growing red glow on the second floor of the West Dormitory.
To Ruth the fire seemed to be filling the room in which it had apparently started. There was no smoke as yet; but the flames leaped higher and higher, while the illumination grew frightfully.
A spark of light coming into being at the far end of the campus near the East Dormitory, showed Ruth where Tony Foyle then was. He was not likely to see the fire as yet, for in lighting the campus lamps he followed a route that kept his back to the West Dormitory until he turned to come back.
Like an arrow from the bow the young girl ran toward the distant gardener. She took the steps of the little Italian garden in the center of the campus in two flying leaps, passed the marble maiden at the fountain, and bounded up to the level of the campus path again without stopping.
"Tony! Oh, Tony!" she called breathlessly.
"Shure now, phat's the matter widyer?" returned the old Irishman, querulously. "Phy! 'tis Miss Ruth, so ut is. Phativer do be the trouble, me darlin'?"
He was very fond of Ruth and would have done anything in his power for her. So at once Tony was exercised by her appearance.
"Phativer is the matter?" he repeated.
"Fire!" blurted out Ruth, able at last to speak. The keen night air had seemed for the moment fairly to congest her lungs and render her speechless and breathless.
"That's that?" cried Tony. "'Fire,' says you? An' where is there fire save in the furnaces and the big range in the kitchen——"
He had turned, and the red glare from the room on the second floor of the West Dormitory came into his view.
"There it is!" gasped Ruth, and just then the tinkle of breaking glass betrayed the fact that the heat of the flames was bursting the panes of the window.
"Fur the love of——Begorra! I'll git the hose-cart, an' rouse herself an' the gals in the kitchen——"
Poor Tony, so wildly excited that he dropped the little "dhudeen" he was smoking and did not notice that he stepped on it, galloped away on rheumatic legs. At this hour there was no man on the premises but the little old Irishman, who cared for the furnaces until the fireman and engineer came on duty at seven in the morning.
Ruth was quite sure that neither Tony nor "herself" (by this name he meant Mrs. Foyle, the cook) or any of the kitchen girls, could do a thing towards extinguishing the fire. But she remembered that Miss Scrimp, the matron, must be in the threatened building, and the girl dashed across the intervening space and in at the door.
There was not a sound from upstairs—no crackling of flames. Ruth would never have believed the dormitory was afire had she not seen the fire outside.
The girl ran down the corridor to Miss Scrimp's room, and burst in the door like a young hurricane. The matron was at tea, and she leaped up in utter amazement when she saw Ruth.
"For the good land's sake, Ruthie Fielding!" she ejaculated. "Whatever is the matter with you?"
"Fire!" cried Ruth. "One of the rooms on the next floor—front—is all afire! I saw it from the dining hall! Mrs. Tellingham has telephoned for the department at Lumberton——"
With a shriek of alarm, Miss Scrimp picked up the little old "brown Betty" teapot off the hearth of her small stove, and started out of the room with it—whether with the expectation of putting out the fire with the contents of the pot, or not, Ruth never learned.
But when the lady was half way up the first flight of stairs the flames suddenly burst through the doorframe, and Miss Scrimp stopped.
"That candle!" she shrieked. "I knew I had no business to give that girl that candle."
"Who?" asked Ruth.
"That infant—Amy Gregg her name is. I'll tell Mrs. Tellingham——"
"But please don't tell anybody else, Miss Scrimp," begged Ruth. "It will be awful for Amy if it becomes generally known that she is at fault."
"Well, now," said the matron more calmly, coming down the stairs again. "You are right, Ruthie—you thoughtful child. We can't do a thing up there," she added, as she reached the lower floor again. "All we can do is to take such things out as we can off this floor," and she promptly marched out with the little tea-pot and deposited it carefully on the grassplot right where somebody would be sure to step on it when the firemen arrived.
Miss Scrimp prided herself upon having great presence of mind in an emergency like this. A little later Ruth saw the good woman open her window and toss out her best mirror upon the cement walk.
Miss Picolet came flying toward the burning building, chattering about her treasures she had brought from France. "Le Bon Dieu will not let to burn up my mothair's picture—my harp—my confirmation veil—all, all I have of my youth left!" chattered the excited little Frenchwoman, and because of her distress and her weakness, Ruth helped remove the harp and likewise the featherbed on which the French teacher always slept and which had come with her from France years before.
By the time these treasures were out of the house a crowd came running from the main building—Mrs. Foyle, some of the kitchen girls and waitresses, Tony dragging the hose cart, and last of all Dr. Tellingham himself.
The good old doctor was the most absent minded man in the world, and the least useful in a practical way in any emergency. He never had anything of importance to do with the government of the school; but he sometimes gave the girls wonderfully interesting lectures on historical subjects. He wrote histories that were seldom printed save in private editions; but most of the girls thought the odd old gentleman a really wonderful scholar.
He was in dishabille just now. He had run out in his dressing-gown and carpet slippers, and without his wig. That wig was always awry when he was at work, and it was a different color from his little remaining hair, anyway. But without the toupe at all he certainly looked naked.
"Go back, that's a dear man!" gasped Mrs. Foyle, turning the doctor about and heading him in the right direction. "Shure, ye air not dacently dressed. Go back, Oi say. Phat will the young ladies be thinkin' of yez? Ye kin do no good here, dear Dochter."
This was quite true. He could do no good. And, as it turned out later, the unfortunate, forgetful, short-sighted old gentleman had already done a great deal of harm.
Ruth Fielding felt a strong desire to return to the threatened building, and to make her way upstairs to that old quartette room she and her chums had occupied for so long. There were so many things she desired to save.
Not alone were there treasures of her own, but Ruth knew of articles belonging to her chums that they prized highly. It seemed actually wicked to stand idle while the hot flames spread, creating a havoc that nobody could stay.
Why! if the firemen did not soon appear, the whole West Dormitory would be destroyed.
The burst of smoke and flame into the corridor at the top of the front flight of stairs shut off any attempt to reach the upper stories from this direction. And although the back door of the building was locked, Ruth knew she could run down the hall, past Miss Scrimp's already gutted room, and up the rear stairway.
But when she started into the building again, Miss Scrimp screamed to her:
"Come out of that, you reckless girl! Don't dare go back for anything more of mine or Miss Picolet's. If we lose them, we lose them; that's all."
"But I might get some things of my own—and some belonging to the other girls."
"Don't dare go into the building again," commanded Miss Scrimp. "If you do, Ruthie Fielding, I'll report you to Mrs. Tellingham."
"Shure, she won't go in and risk her swate life," said Mrs. Foyle. "Come back, now, darlin'. 'Tis a happy chance that none o' the young leddies bes up there in thim burnin' rooms, so ut is."
"Oh, dear me! oh, dear me!" gasped Miss Picolet. "I presume it is posi-tive that there is nobody up there? Were all the mesdemoiselles at supper this evening?"
"Yes, yes," said Mrs. Tellingham's own voice. "Miss Brokaw has called the roll and there is none missing but our Ruthie. And now you would better run back, my dear," she added to Ruth. "You have no wrap or hat. I fear you will take cold."
"I never noticed it," confessed Ruth. "I guess the excitement kept me warm. But oh! how awful It is to see the old dormitory burn—and all our things in it."
"We cannot help it," sighed the principal. "Go up to the hall with the other girls, my dear. Here come the firemen. You may be hurt here."
The galloping of horses, blowing of horns, and shouting of excited men, now became audible. The glare of the fire could probably be seen by this time clear to Lumberton, and half the population of the suburbs on this side of the town would soon be on the scene.
Not until the firemen actually arrived did the girls in the big hall know what had happened. There had been singing and music and a funny recitation by one girl, to while away the time until Mrs. Tellingham appeared. Just as Ruth came in, her chum had her violin under her chin and was drawing sweet sounds from the strings, holding the other girls breathless.
But the violin music broke off suddenly and several girls uttered startled cries as the first of the fire trucks thundered past the windows.