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Ruth Fielding at Snow Camp Part 28

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"I only meant to scare him," Fred confessed, "when he shot at me and thought it was a deer. The bullet whistled right by my head. When I jumped I dislodged a stone in the bank, and that rolled down the hill and splashed into Rolling River. I hid.

"I saw 'Lias was frightened, and I thought it served him right-- shooting so carelessly. Lots of folks are shot for deer up here in the hunting reason, and 'Lias is real careless with a gun. So I stayed hid. Then I heard two men talking at night and they said they guessed marm would be glad to get rid of me--I was no good.

"So I got a ride off on the railroad, and I wasn't going back. I didn't know 'Lias had been arrested until Mr. Cameron brought me back up this way and I heard about it from a logger that didn't know me.

He said my body had been found. Of course, it wasn't me. Somebody else was drowned in Rolling River. There's been a little French Canadian feller missing since last fall and he was supposed to have been drowned. It was his body they found, I reckon. The man told me the body was so broken and disfigured that n.o.body could recognize the features--and the clothing was torn all off it.

"I don't know what marm and the boys will do to me if they find me,"

wailed Hatfield, who seemed to be more afraid of the rough usage of his big half-brothers than anything else.

But the first sled to get through to Snow Camp brought, besides the doctor, the boy's mother and 'Lias Hatfield himself. The backwoods woman showed considerable tenderness when she met her lost boy, and the young fellow who had suffered in jail for some weeks held no anger against his brother because of it.

"Why, Mr. Cam'ron," he said to the merchant, "I reckon it sarved me out right. I _was_ purty ha'sh with the boy. He ain't naught but a weakling, after all. Marm, she does her best by us all, and we stick to her; but if Fred ain't fitten to work in the woods, or on the farm, we'll find him something to do in town--if he likes it better. I don't hold no grudge."

Two days later the boy was well enough to move, and they all went away from Snow Camp; but Mr. Cameron had agreed, before they went, to give Fred Hatfield a chance in his store in the city, if they would send him down there in the spring.

"He's not fit for the rough life up here," he told Tom and Helen and Ruth, when they talked it over. "He's not an attractive boy, either.

But he needs a chance, and I will give him one. If we only helped those people in the world who really _deserved_ helping, we wouldn't boost many folks."

Meanwhile the girls had all recovered from their adventure in the blizzard, and the entire party of young folk found plenty of amus.e.m.e.nt in the snow-bound camp. In one monstrous heap in the yard the boys excavated a good-sized cavern--big enough so that all the girls as well as the boys could enter it at once; and they lit it up at night with candles and held a "party" there, at which plenty of walnut taffy was served--without sh.e.l.ls in it!

"This is heaping coals of fire on your head, young man," said Madge, tartly, as she pa.s.sed the pan to Busy Izzy.

"All right," he returned, with a grin. "Keep on heaping. I can stand it."

"If you girls had been right smart," drawled Bob Steele, "when you were lost the other day, you'd have scooped you out a hole like this in a s...o...b..nk and hived up as snug as a bug in a rug till the storm was over."

"Oh, yes! we all know lots of things to do when we are lost again,"

returned Helen. "But I hope that our next vacation won't have any such unpleasant experience in store for us."

"I'm with you in that wish," cried Belle Tingley.

"Well, now, yo've all promised to go with me to our cottage at Lighthouse Point for two weeks next summer," cried Heavy. "I guarantee you won't be lost in the snow down there."

"Not at that time of year, that's sure," laughed Ruth. "But we don't know yet, Jennie, that we _can_ go with you."

However, it is safe to state here that Ruth, at least, was able to accept the stout girl's invitation, for we shall meet her next in a story ent.i.tled: "Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point; Or, Nita, the Girl Castaway."

There was plenty of fun around Snow Camp for the remainder of the ten days they spent there, and when the time came to go back to civilization both girls and boys a.s.sured good Mr. Cameron that they had had a most delightful time. They traveled as far as Cheslow together, where Heavy and Belle and Lluella went to their homes for a day or two, to finish out the tag-end of the vacation, while the Steeles and Isadore went home with the Camerons, and Ruth returned to the Red Mill.

And how glad Aunt Alvirah was to see Ruth! Uncle Jabez didn't display his feelings so openly; but Ruth had learned how to take the miller, and how to understand him. She helped him with his accounts, made out his bills for the year, and otherwise made herself of use to him.

"You just wait, Uncle Jabez," she told him, earnestly. "I'm going to make your investment in my schooling at Briarwood pay you the biggest dividend of anything you ever speculated in--you see."

"I'm sure I hope so, Niece Ruth," he grumbled. "I don't much expect it, though. They teach you too many folderols up there. What's _this_ now?" he asked, pointing his stubbed forefinger to the little gold and black enamel pin she wore on her blouse.

"'S. B.'"

"Is them the letters?"

"Yes, sir. My society emblem. We're the Sweetbriars, of Briarwood Hall. And you wait! we're going to be the most popular club in the school before long. We've had Mrs. Tellingham, the Preceptress, at one of our meetings."

"What good is that?" he demanded, shaking his grizzled head.

"Fraternity--fellows.h.i.+p--helpfulness--hope--oh! it stands for lots of things. And then, Uncle Jabez, I am learning to sing and play.

Maybe before long I can open the old cottage organ you've got stowed away in the parlor and play for you."

"That won't lower the price of wheat, or raise the price of flour,"

he grumbled.

"How do you know it won't, until we've tried it?" she answered him, gaily.

And so she made the old mill, and the farmhouse adjoining, a much brighter, gayer, pleasanter place while she was in it. Her cheerfulness and sweetness were contagious. Aunt Alvirah complained less frequently of her back and bones when Ruth was about, and in spite of himself, the old miller's step grew lighter.

"Ah, Jabez," Aunt Alvirah said, as they watched Ruth get into the Cameron automobile to be whisked away to the station, and so to Briarwood for her second half, "that's where our endurin' comfort an'

hope is centered for our old age. We've only got Ruthie."

"She's a mighty expensive piece of property," snarled the old man.

"Ye don't mean it, Jabez, ye don't mean it," she returned, softly.

"You're thawin' out--and Ruth Fielding is the sun that warms up your cold old heart!"

But this last was said so low that Jabez Potter did not hear it as he stumped away toward the Red Mill.

In the automobile the young folks were having a gay time. Helen was with Ruth, and Tom was on the front seat.

"Say, we sure did have some excitement in Snow Camp as well as fun,"

came from Tom.

"And that catamount!" gasped Helen.

"And Ruth's shot!" broke in her twin brother. "Ruth, you ought to try for a marksmans.h.i.+p badge!"

"And wasn't it fine how it came out about Fred," said Ruth, her face beaming with satisfaction. "I am so glad to know he is no longer a homeless wanderer!"

"All due to you," said Tom. "Ruth, you're a wonder!" he added, admiringly.

"Oh, Tom!" she answered. Nevertheless, she looked much pleased.

And here let us say good-bye.

THE END

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