Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point/Chapter 12

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The stair-well was a wide and long opening and around it ran a broad balustrade. There was no stairway to the third floor of this big bungalow, only the servants' staircase in the rear reaching those rooms directly under the roof. So the hall on this second floor, out of which the family bedrooms opened, was an L-shaped room, with the balustrade on one hand.

And upon that balustrade Ruth Fielding beheld a tottering figure in white, plainly visible in the soft glow of the single light burning below, yet rather ghostly after all.

She might have been startled in good earnest had she not first of all recognized Isadore Phelps' face. He was balancing himself upon the balustrade and, as she came to the door, he walked gingerly along the narrow strip of moulding toward Ruth.

"Izzy! whatever are you doing?" she hissed.

The boy never said a word to her, but kept right on, balancing himself with difficulty. He was in his pajamas, his feet bare, and—she saw it at last—his eyes tight shut.

"Oh! he's asleep," murmured Ruth.

And that surely was Busy Izzy's state at that moment. Sound asleep and 'tight-rope walking' on the balustrade.

Ruth knew that it would be dangerous to awaken him suddenly—especially as it might cause him to fall down the stair-well. She crept back into her room and called Helen. The two girls in their wrappers and slippers went into the hall again. There was Busy Izzy tottering along in the other direction, having turned at the wall. Once they thought he would plunge down the stairway, and Helen grabbed at Ruth with a squeal of terror.

"Sh!" whispered her chum. "Go tell Tom. Wake him up. The boys ought to tie Izzy in bed if he is in the habit of doing this."

"My! isn't he a sight!" giggled Helen, as she ran past the gyrating youngster, who had again turned for a third perambulation of the railing.

She whispered Tom's name at his open door and in a minute the girls heard him bound out of bed. He was with them—sleepy-eyed and hastily wrapping his robe about him—in a moment.

"For the land's sake!" he gasped, when he saw his friend on the balustrade. "What are you——"

"Sh!" commanded Ruth. "He's asleep."

Tom took in the situation at a glance. Madge Steele peered out of her door at that moment. "Who is it—Bobbins?" she asked.

"No. It's Izzy. He's walking in his sleep," said Ruth.

"He's a regular somnambulist," exclaimed Helen.

"Never mind. Don't call him names. He can't help it," said Madge.

Helen giggled again. Tom had darted back to rouse his chum. Bob Steele appeared, more tousled and more sleepy-looking than Tom.

"What's the matter with that fellow now?" he grumbled. "He's like a flea—you never know where he's going to be next! Ha! he'll fall off that and break his silly neck."

And as Busy Izzy was just then nearest his end of the hall in his strange gyrations, Bob Steele stepped forward and grabbed him, lifting him bodily off the balustrade. Busy Izzy screeched, but Tom clapped a hand over his mouth.

"Shut up! want to raise the whole neighborhood?" grunted Bobbins, dragging the lightly attired, struggling boy back into their room. "Ha! I'll fix you after this. I'll lash you to the bedpost every night we're here—now mark that, young man!"

It seemed that the youngster often walked in his sleep, but the girls had not known it. Usually, at school, his roommates kept the dormitory door locked and the key hidden, so that he couldn't get out to do himself any damage running around with his eyes shut.

The party all got to sleep again after that and there was no further disturbance before morning. They made a good deal of fun of Isadore at the breakfast table, but he took the joking philosophically. He was always playing pranks himself; but he had learned to take a joke, too.

He declared that all he dreamed during the night was that he was wrecked in an iceboat on Second Reef and that the only way for him to get ashore was to walk on a cable stretched from the wreck to the beach. He had probably been walking that cable—in his mind—when Ruth had caught him balancing on the balustrade.

The strange girl who persisted in calling herself "Nita" came down to the table in some of Heavy's garments, which were a world too large for her. Her own had been so shrunk and stained by the sea-water that they would never be fit to put on again. Aunt Kate was very kind to her, but she looked at the runaway oddly, too. Nita had been just as uncommunicative to her as she had been to the girls in the bedroom the night before.

"If you don't like me, or don't like my name, I can go away," she declared to Miss Kate, coolly. "I haven't got to stay here, you know."

"But where will you go? what will you do?" demanded that young lady, severely. "You say the captain of the schooner and his wife are nothing to you?"

"I should say not!" exclaimed Nita. "They were nice and kind to me, though."

"And you can't go away until you have something decent to wear," added Heavy's aunt. "That's the first thing to 'tend to."

And although it was a bright and beautiful morning after the gale, and there were a dozen things the girls were all eager to see, they spent the forenoon in trying to make up an outfit for Nita so that she would be presentable. The boys went off with Mr. Stone's boatkeeper in the motor launch and Mary Cox was quite cross because the other girls would not leave Miss Kate to fix up Nita the best she could, so that they could all accompany the boys. But in the afternoon the buckboard was brought around and they drove to the lighthouse.

Nita, even in her nondescript garments, was really a pretty girl. No awkwardness of apparel could hide the fact that she had nice features and that her body was strong and lithe. She moved about with a freedom that the other girls did not possess. Even Ruth was not so athletic as the strange girl. And yet she seemed to know nothing at all about the games and the exercises which were commonplace to the girls from Briarwood Hall.

There was a patch of wind-blown, stunted trees and bushes covering several acres of the narrowing point, before the driving road along the ridge brought the visitors to Sokennet Light. While they were driving through this a man suddenly bobbed up beside the way and the driver hailed him.

"Hullo, you Crab!" he said. "Found anything 'long shore from that wreck?"

The man stood up straight and the girls thought him a very horrid-looking object. He had a great beard and his hair was dark and long.

"He's a bad one for looks; ain't he, Miss?" asked the driver of Ruth, who sat beside him.

"He isn't very attractive," she returned.

"Ha! I guess not. And Crab's as bad as he looks, which is saying a good deal. He comes of the 'wreckers.' Before there was a light here, or life saving stations along this coast, there was folks lived along here that made their livin' out of poor sailors wrecked out there on the reefs. Some said they used to toll vessels onto the rocks with false lights. Anyhow, Crab's father, and his gran'ther, was wreckers. He's assistant lightkeeper; but he oughtn't to be. I don't see how Mother Purling can get along with him."

"She isn't afraid of him; is she?" queried Ruth.

"She isn't afraid of anything," asid Heavy, quickly, from the rear seat. "You wait till you see her."

The buckboard went heavily on toward the lighthouse; but the girls saw that the man stood for a long time—as long as they were in sight, at least—staring after them.

"What do you suppose he looked at Nita so hard for?" whispered Helen in Ruth's ear. "Ithought he was going to speak to her."

But Ruth had not noticed this, nor did the runaway girl seem to have given the man any particular attention.