Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point/Chapter 16

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"What has happened?"

"Where's Ruth?"

"Mary Cox! why don't you answer?"

The Fox for once in her career was stunned. She could only shake her head and wring her hands. Helen was the first of the other girls to suspect the trouble, and she cried:

"Ruth's overboard! That's the reason Tom has gone in. Oh, oh! why don't they come up again?"

And almost immediately all the others saw the importance of that question. Ruth Fielding had been down fully a minute and a half now, and Tom had not come up once for air.

Nita had set off running around the head of the inlet, and Crab shuffled along in her wake. The strange girl ran like a goat over the rocks.

Phineas, who had been aboard the motor boat and busy with his famous culinary operations, now came lumbering up to the spot. He listened to a chorused explanation of the situation—tragic indeed in its appearance. Phineas looked up and down the rocky path, and across the inlet, and seemed to swiftly take a marine "observation." Then he snorted.

"They're all right!" he exclaimed.

"What?" shrieked Helen.

"All right?" repeated Heavy. "Why, Phineas——"

She broke off with a startled gurgle. Phineas turned quickly, too, and looked over the high boulder. There appeared the head of Ruth Fielding and, in a moment, the head of Tom Cameron beside it.

"You both was swept through the tunnel into the pool behind, sir," said Phineas, wagging his head.

"Oh, I was never so scared in my life," murmured Ruth, clambering down to the path, the water running from her clothing in little streams.

"Me, too!" grunted Tom, panting. "The tide sets in through that hole awfully strong."

"I might have told you about it," grunted Phineas; "but I didn't suppose airy one of ye was going for to jump into the sea right here."

"We didn't—intentionally," declared Ruth.

"How ever did it happen, Ruthie?" demanded Heavy.

There was a moment's silence. Tom grew red in the face, but he kept his gaze turned from Mary Cox. Ruth answered calmly enough:

"It was my own fault. Mary was just coming along to pass me. I had a bite. Between trying to let her by and 'tending my fish,' I fell in—and now I have lost fish, line, and all."

"Be thankful you did not lose your life, Miss Fielding," said Aunt Kate. "Come right down to the boat and get those wet things off. You, too, Tom."

At that moment Nita came to the spot. "Is she safe? Is she safe?" she cried.

"Don't I look so?" returned Ruth, laughing gaily. "And here's the fish I did catch. I mustn't lose him."

Nita stepped close to the girl from the Red Mill and tugged at her wet sleeve.

"What are you going to do to her?" she whispered.

"Do to who?"

"That girl."

"What are you talking about?" demanded Ruth.

"I saw her," said Nita. "I saw her push you. She ought to be thrown into the water herself."

"Hush!" commanded Ruth. "You're mistaken. You didn't see straight, my dear."

"Yes, I did," declared the Western girl, firmly. "She's been mean to you, right along. I've noticed it. She threw you in."

"Don't say such a thing again!" commanded Ruth, warmly. "You have no right."

"Huh!" said Nita, eyeing her strangely. "It's your own business, I suppose. But I am not blind."

"I hope not," sad Ruth, calmly. "But I hope, too, you will not repeat what you just said—to anyone."

"Why—if you really don't want me to," said Nita, slowly.

"Truly, I don't wish you to," said Ruth, earnestly. "I don't even admit that you are right, mind——"

"Oh, it's your secret," said Nita, shortly, and turned away.

And Ruth had a word to say to Tom, too, as they hurried side by side to the boat, he carrying the fish. "Now, Tommy—remember!" she said.

"I won't be easy in my mind, just the same, while that girl is here," growled Master Tom.

"That's foolish. She never meant to do it."

"Huh! She was scared, of course. But she's mean enough——"

"Stop! somebody will hear you. And, anyway," Ruth added, remembering what Nita had said, "it's my secret."

"True enough; it is."

"Then don't tell it, Tommy," she added, with a laugh.

But it was hard to meet the sharp eye of Mercy Curtis and keep the secret. "And pray, Miss, why did you have to go into the water after the fish?" Mercy demanded.

"I was afraid he would get away," laughed Ruth.

"And who helped you do it?" snapped the lame girl.

"Helped me do what?"

"Helped you tumble in."

"Now, do you suppose I needed help to do so silly a thing as that?" cried Ruth.

"You needed help to do it the other day on the steamboat," returned Mercy, silly. "And I saw The Fox following you around that way."

"Why, what nonsense you talk, Mercy Curtis!"

But Ruth wondered if Mercy was to be so easily put off. The lame girl was so very sharp.

However, Ruth was determined to keep her secret. Not a word had she said to Mary Cox. Indeed, she had not looked at her since she climbed out of the open pool behind the boulder and, well-nigh breathless, reached the rock after that perilous plunge. Tom she had sworn to silence, Nita she had warned to be still, and now Mercy's suspicions were to be routed.

"Poor, poor girl!" muttered Ruth, with more sorrow than anger. "If she is not sorry and afaid yet, how will she feel when she awakes in the night and remembers what might have been?"

Nevertheless, the girl from the Red Mill did not allow her secret to disturb her cheerfulness. She hid any feeling she might have had against The Fox. When they all met at dinner on the Miraflame, she merely laughed and joked about her accident, and passed around dainty bits of the baked tautog that Phineas had prepared especially for her.

That fisherman's chowder was a marvel, and altogether he proved to be as good a cook as Heavy had declared. The boys had caught several bass, and they caught more after dinner. But those were saved to take home. The girls, however, had had enough fishing. Ruth's experience frightened them away from the slippery rocks.

Mary Cox was certainly a very strange sort of a girl; but her present attitude did not surprise Ruth. Mary had, soon after Ruth entered Briarwood Hall, taken a dislike to the younger girl. Ruth's new club—the Sweetbriars—had drawn almost all the new girls in the school, as well as many of Mary's particular friends; while the Up and Doing Club, of which Mary was the leading spirit, was not alone frowned upon by Mrs. Tellingham and her assistants, but lost members until—as Helen Cameron had said—the last meeting of the Upedes consisted of The Fox and Helen herself.

The former laid all this at Ruth Fielding's door. She saw Ruth's influence and her club increase, while her own friends fell away from her. Twice Ruth had helped to save Mary from drowning, and on neither occasion did the older girl seem in the least grateful. Now Ruth was saving her from the scorn of the other girls and—perhaps—a request from Heavy's Aunt Kate that Mary pack her bag and return home.

Ruth hoped that Mary would find some opportunity of speaking to her alone before the day was over. But, even when the boys returned from the outer rocks with a splendid string of bass, and the bow of the Miraflame was turned homeward, The Fox said never a word to her. Ruth crept away into the bows by herself, her mind much troubled. She feared that the fortnight at Lighthouse Point might become very unpleasant, if Mary continued to be so very disagreeable.

Suddenly somebody tapped her on the arm. The motor boat was pushing toward the mouth of Sokennet Harbor and the sun was well down toward the horizon. The girls were in the cabin, singing, and Madge was trying to make her brother sing, too; but Bob's voice was changing and what he did to the notes of the familiar tunes was a caution.

But it was Tom Cameron who had come to Ruth. "See here," said the boy, eagerly. "See what I picked up on the rocks over there."

"Over where?" asked Ruth, looking curiously at the folded paper in Tom's hand.

"Across from where you fell in, Ruth. Nita and that Crab fellow were standing there when I went down the rocks and dived in for you. And I saw them looking at this sheet of newspaper," and Tom began to slowly unfold it as he spoke.