Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point/Chapter 3
ON LAKE OSAGO
The final day of the school year was always a gala occasion at Briarwood Hall. Although Ruth Fielding and her chum, Helen Cameron, had finished only their first year, they both had important places in the exercises of graduation. Ruth sang in the special chorus, while Helen played the violin in the school orchestra. Twenty-four girls were in the graduating class. Briarwood Hall prepared for Wellesley, or any of the other female colleges, and when Mrs. Grace Tellingham, the preceptress, graduated a girl with a certificate it meant that the young lady was well grounded in all the branches that Briarwood taught.
The campus was crowded with friends of the graduating class, and of the Seniors in particular. It was a very gay scene, for the June day was perfect and the company were brightly dressed. The girls, however, including the graduating class, were dressed in white only. Mrs. Tellingham had established that custom some years before, and the different classes were distinguished only by the color of their ribbons.
Helen Cameron's twin brother, Tom, and Madge Steele's brother, Bob, attended the Seven Oaks Military Academy, not many miles from Briarwood. Their graduation exercises and "Breaking Up," as the boys called it, were one day later than the same exercises at Briarwood. So the girls did not start for home until the morning of the latter day.
Old Dolliver, the stage driver, brought his lumbering stage to the end of the Cedar Walk at nine o'clock, to which point Tony Foyle, the man-of-all-work, had wheeled the girls' baggage. Ruth, and Helen, and Mercy Curtis had bidden their room good-bye and then made the round of the teachers before this hour. They gathered here to await the stage with Jennie Stone, Madge and Mary Cox. The latter had agreed to be one of the party at Lighthouse Point and was going home with Heavy to remain during the ensuing week, before the seashore party should be made up.
The seven girls comfortably filled the stage, with their hand luggage, while the trunks and suitcases in the boot and roped upon the roof made the Ark seem top-heavy. There was a crowd of belated pupils, and those who lived in the neighborhood, to see them off, and the coach finally rolled away to the famous tune of "Uncle Noah, He Built an Ark," wherein Madge Steele put her head out of the window and "lined out" a new verse to the assembled "well-wishers":
"And they didn't know where they were at,
One wide river to cross!
Till the Sweetbriars showed 'em that!
One wide river to cross!
One wide river!
One wide river of Jordan—
One wide river!
One wide river to cross!"
For although Madge Steele was now president of the Forward Club, a much older school fraternity than the Sweetbriars, she was, like Mrs. Tellingham, and Miss Picolet, the French teacher, and others of the faculty, an honorary member of the society started by Ruth Fielding. The Sweetbriars, less than one school year old, was fast becoming the most popular organization at Briarwood Hall.
Mary Cox did not join in the singing, nor did she have a word to say to Ruth during the ride to the Seven Oaks station. Tom and Bob, with lively, inquisitive, harum-scarum Isadore Phelps—"Busy Izzy," as his mates called him—were at the station to meet the party from Briarwood Hall. Tom was a dark-skinned, handsome lad, while Bob was big, and flaxen-haired, and bashful. Madge, his sister, called him "Sonny" and made believe he was at the pinafore stage of growth instead of being almost six feet tall and big in proportion.
"Here's the dear little fellow!" she cried, jumping lightly out to be hugged by the big fellow. "Let Sister see how he's grown since New Year's. Why, we'd hardly have known our Bobbins; would we, Ruthie? Let me fix your tie—it's under your ear, of course. Now, that's a neat little boy. You can shake hands with Ruthie, and Helen, and Mary, and Jennie, and Mercy Curtis and help Uncle Noah get off the trunks."
The three boys, being all of the freshman class at Seven Oaks, had less interest in the final exercises of the term at the Academy than the girls had had at Briarwood; therefore the whole party took a train that brought them to the landing at Portageton, on Osago Lake, before noon. From that point the steamer Lanawaxa would transport them the length of the lake to another railroad over which the young folks must travel to reach Cheslow.
At this time of year the great lake was a beautiful sight. Several lines of steamers plied upon it; the summer resorts on the many islands which dotted it, and upon the shores of the mainland, were gay with flags and banners; the sail up the lake promises to be a most delightful one.
And it would have been so—delightful for the whole party—had it not been for a single member. The Fox could not get over her unfriendly feeling, although Ruth Fielding gave her no cause at all. Ruth tried to talk to Mary, at first; but finding the older girl determined to be unpleasant, she let her alone.
On the boat the three boys gathered camp-chairs for the party up forward, and their pocket money went for candy and other goodies with which to treat their sisters and the latter's friends. There were not many people aboard the Lanawaxa on this trip and the young folks going home from school had the forward upper deck to themselves. There was a stiff breeze blowing that drove the other passengers into the inclosed cabins.
But the girls and their escorts were in high spirits. As Madge Steele declared, "they had slipped the scholastic collar for ten long weeks."
"And if we can't find a plenty of fun in that time it's our own fault," observed Heavy—having some trouble with her articulation because of the candy in her mouth. "Thanks be to goodness! no rising bell—no curfew—no getting anywhere any particular time. Oh, I'm just going to lie in the sand all day, when we get to the Point——"
"And have your meals brought to you, Heavy?" queried Ruth, slily.
"Never you mind about the meals, Miss. Mammy Laura's going down with us to cook, and if there's one thing Mammy Laura loves to do, it's to cook messes for me—and bring them to me. She's always been afraid that my health was delicate and that I needed more nourishing food than the rest of the family. Such custards! Um! um!"
"Do go down and see if there is anything left on the lunch counter, boys," begged Helen, anxiously. "Otherwise we won't get Heavy home alive."
"I am a little bit hungry, having had no dinner," admitted the stout girl, reflectively.
The boys went off, laughing. "She's so feeble!" cried Mary Cox, pinching the stout girl. "We never should travel with her alone. There ought to be a trained nurse and a physician along. I'm worried to death about her——"
"Ouch! stop your"pinching!' commanded Jennie, and rose up rather suddenly, for her, to give chase to her tormentor.
The Fox was as quick as a cat, and Heavy was lubberly in her movements. The lighter girl, laughing shrilly, ran forward and vaulted over the low rail that separated the awning-covered upper deck from the unrailed roof of the lower deck forward.
"You'd better come back from there!" Ruth cried, instantly. "It's wet and slippery."
The Fox turned on her instantly, her face flushed and her eyes snapping.
"Mind your business, Miss!" she cried, stamping her foot. "I can look out——"
Her foot slipped. Heavy thoughtlessly laughed. None of them really thought of danger save Ruth. But Mary Cox lost her foothold, slid toward the edge of the sloping deck, and the next instant, as the Lanawaxa plunged a little sideways (for the sharp breeze had raised quite a little sea) The Fox shot over the brink of the deck and, with a scream, disappeared feet first into the lake.
It all happened so quickly that nobody but the group of girls on the forward deck had seen the accident. And Madge, Heavy and Helen were all helpless—so frightened that they could only cry out.
"She can't swim!" gasped Helen. "She'll be drowned."
"The paddle-wheel will hit her!" added Madge.
"Oh! where are those useless boys?" demanded the stout girl. "They're never around when they could be of use."
But Ruth said never a word. The emergency appealed to her quite as seriously as it did to her friends. But she knew that if Mary Cox was to be saved they must act at once.
She flung off her cap and light outside coat. She wore only canvas shoes, and easily kicked them off and ran, in her stocking-feet, toward the paddle-box. Onto this she climbed by the short ladder and sprang out upon its top just as The Fox came up after her plunge.
By great good fortune the imperiled girl had been carried beyond the paddles. But the Lanawaxa was steaming swiftly past the girl in the water. Ruth knew very well that Mary Cox could not swim. She was one of the few girls at Briarwood who had been unable to learn that accomplishment, under the school instructor, in the gymnasium pool. Whereas Ruth herself had taken to the art "like a duck to water."
Mary's face appeared but for a moment above the surface. Ruth saw it, pale and despairing; then a wave washed over it and the girl disappeared for a second time.