Ruth Fielding at Briarwood Hall/Chapter 25
It was a frosty night and snow lay smoothly upon the campus. Only the walks and the cemented place about the fountain were cleaned. Tony Foyle had made his last rounds and put out the lights; but although there was no moon the starlight on the snow made the campus silvery in spots. But the leafless trees, and the buildings about the open space, cast deep shadows.
There was a light shining in a study window of the West Dormitory and that light was in the room occupied by the Triumvirate—Ruth Fielding, Helen Cameron and Mercy Curtis. The two latter were abed, but awake and wondering why Ruth had not returned, and what Miss Scrimp had meant by coming to the door and telling them to leave the light burning.
The clocks had long since struck eleven and it was close to midnight. The night was still, for there was no wind. It was possible that very few of either the scholars, teachers, or servants at Briarwood were awake. But almost directly under the light in the Triumvirate's room another light burned—in the study of the French teacher. She seldom retired early; that is one reason why those girls who considered Miss Picolet their enemy believed she was always on the watch.
Three figures came out of the basement door under the tower of Briarwood Hall—a lady much bundled up, a girl ditto, and the old Irishman, Tony Foyle.
"Sure, ma'am, jest as I told ye this afternoon, the big felly that sassed me last fall, tryin' ter git in ter play his harp, and with his other vagabonds, was hanging around again to-day. I hear him an' his rapscallion companions is in Lumberton. They've been playing about here and there, for a month back. And now I see him comin' along with his harp on his back—bad 'cess to him! P'raps they're walkin' across to Sivin Oaks, an' are takin' in Briarwood as a 'cross-cut'."
"Hush!" whispered the Preceptress. "Isn't that somebody over yonder—by the fountain?"
They were all three silent, keeping close in the shadow. Some object did seem to be moving in the shadow of the fountain. Suddenly there sounded on the still night air the reverberating note of a harp—a crash of sound following the flourish of a practised hand across the wires.
"Bless us and save us!" muttered Tony. "'Tis the marble harp. 'Tis a banshee playin'."
"Be still!" commanded Mrs. Tellingham. "It is nothing of the kind, you very well know, Tony. Ah!"
She had looked instantly toward the illuminated window of the French teacher's study at the other side of the campus. The shade had snapped up to the top of the casement, and the shadow of Miss Picolet appeared. The French teacher had heard the voice of the harp.
"Oh, poor little thing," murmured Mrs. Tellingham. "This seems like spying and eavesdropping, Ruth Fielding; but I mean to stop this thing right here and now. She shall not be frightened out of her wits by this villain."
They heard no further sound from the harp at the fountain. But the door of the West Dormitory opened and the little figure of Miss Picolet appeared, wrapped in some long, loose garment, and she sped down toward the fountain. Soon she was out of sight behind the marble statue.
"Come!" breathed the Preceptress.
They heard Miss Picolet and the man chattering in their own language—the man threatening, the woman pleading—when the trio got to the fountain. Ruth was a poor French scholar, but of course Mrs. Tellingham understood what they said. And the Preceptress glided around the fountain and confronted the harpist with a suddenness that quite startled him.
"You, sir!" exclaimed the lady, coldly. "I have heard enough of this. Don't be frightened, Miss Picolet. I only blame you for not coming to me. I have long known your circumstances, and the fact that you are poor, and that you have an imbecile sister to support, and that this man is your disreputable half-brother. And that he threatens to hang about here and make you lose your position unless you pay him to be good, is well known to me, too.
"We will have no more of this fellow's threats," continued Mrs. Tellingham, sternly. "You will give him none of your hard-earned money, Miss Picolet. Tony, here, shall see him off the grounds, and if he ever appears here again, or troubles you, let me know and I shall send him to jail fcr trespass. Now, remember—you Jean Picolet! I have your record and the police at Lumberton shall have it, too, if you ever trouble your sister again."
"Ah-ha!" snarled the big man, looking evilly at Ruth. "So the little Mademoiselle betrayed me; did she?"
"She has had nothing to do with it—save to have had the misfortune of losing the letter you gave her to deliver to Miss Picolet," Mrs. TelImgham said, briefly. "I had her here to identify you, had Miss Picolet not come out to meet you. Now, Tony!"
And big as the harpist was, and little as the old Irishman seemed, there was that in Tony Foyle's eye that made the man pick up his harp in a hurry and make his way from the campus.
"Child! go in to bed," said Mrs. Tellingham. "Not a word of this, remember. Thank goodness, you are one girl who can keep a secret. Miss Picolet, I want to see you in my study. I hope that, hereafter, you will give me your confidence. For you need fear no dismissal from the school over such a misfortune as is visited upon you."
She took the sobbing, trembling French teacher away with her while Ruth ran up to Duet Two in the West Dormitory, in a much excited state of mind.
Fortunately both Helen and Mercy had dropped to sleep and none of the other girls seemed to have heard the harp at midnight. So there was no talk this time about the Ghost of the Campus. To the other girls at Briarwood, the mystery remained unsolved, and the legend of the marble harp was told again and again to the Infants who came to the school, with the added point that, on the night Ruth Fielding and Helen Cameron had come to the hall, the marble harp was again heard to sound its ghostly note.
No thought of such foolish, old-wives' fables troubled Ruth Fielding's dreams as she lay down on this night which had seen the complete exposure of the campus mystery and the laying of the campus ghost. She dreamed, instead, of completing her first term at Briarwood with satisfaction to herself and her teachers—which she did! She dreamed of returning to the old Red Mill and being joyfully received by Aunt Alviry and Uncle Jabez—which she did! She dreamed, too, of joining Helen Cameron and her mid-winter party at Snow Camp and enjoying quantities of fun and frolic in the wintry woods; which, likewise, came true, and which adventures will be related in good time in the next volume of this series: "Ruth Fielding at Snow Camp; Or, Lost in the Backwoods."
"I am so glad it is over!" said Ruth to herself, as she retired. "I hope there is no more trouble."
And here let us for the time being say good bye to Ruth Fielding and her chums of Briarwood Hall.