Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point/Chapter 4
TROUBLE AT THE RED MILL
The screams of the other girls had brought several of the male passengers as well as some of the boat's crew to the forward deck. Mercy Curtis, who had lain down in a stateroom to rest, drew back the blind and saw Ruth poised on the wheel-box.
"Don't you do that, Ruth Fielding!" cried the lame girl, who knew instinctively what her friend's intention was.
But Ruth paid no more attention to her than she had to the other girls. She was wearing a heavy serge skirt, and she knew it would hamper her in the water. With nimble fingers she unfastened this and dropped it upon the deck. Then, without an instant's hesitation, she sprang far out from the steamer, her body shooting straight down, feet-first, to the water.
Ruth was aware as she shot downward that Tom Cameron was at the rail over her head. The Lanawaxa swept by and he, having run astern, leaned over and shouted to her. She had a glimpse of something swinging out from the rail, too, and dropping after her into the lake, and as the water closed over her head she realized that he had thrown one of the lifebuoys.
But deep as the water was, Ruth had no fear for herself. She loved to swim and the instructor at Briarwood had praised her skill. The only anxiety she had as she sank beneath the surface was for Mary Cox, who had already gone down twice.
She had leaped into the lake near wiiere The Fox had disappeared. Once beneath the surface, Ruth opened her eyes and saw the shadow of some body in the water ahead. Three strokes brought her within reach of it. She seized Mary Cox by the hair, and although her school fellow was still sinking, Ruth, with sturdy strokes, drew her up to the surface.
What a blessing it was to obtain a draught of pure air! But The Fox was unconscious, and Ruth had to bear her weight up, while treading water, until she could dash the drops from her eyes. There was the lifebuoy not ten yards away. She struck out for it with one hand, while towing Mary with the other. Long before the steamer had been stopped and a boat lowered and manned, Ruth and her burden reached the great ring, and the girls were comparatively safe.
Tom Cameron came in the boat, having forced himself in with the crew, and it was he who hauled Mary Cox over the gunwale, and then aided Ruth into the boat.
"That's the second time you've saved that girl from drowning, Ruth," he gasped. "The first time was last Fall when you and I hauled her out of the hole in the ice on Triton Lake. And now she would have gone down and stayed down if you hadn't dived for her. Now! don't you ever do it again!" concluded the excited lad.
Had Ruth not been so breathless she must have laughed at him; but there really was a serious side to the adventure. Mary Cox did not recover her senses until after they were aboard the steamer. Ruth was taken in hand by a stewardess, undressed and put between blankets, and her clothing dried and made presentable before the steamer docked at the head of the lake.
As Tom Cameron had said, Mary Cox had fallen through the ice early in the previous Winter, and Ruth had aided in rescuing her; The Fox had never even thanked the girl from the Red Mill for such aid. And now Ruth shrank from meeting her and being thanked on this occasion. Ruth had to admit to herself that she looked forward with less pleasure to the visit to the seashore with Heavy because Mary Cox was to be of the party. She could not like The Fox, and she really had ample reason.
The other girls ran into the room where Ruth was and reported when Mary became conscious, and how the doctor said that she would never have come up to the surface again, she had taken so much water into her lungs, had not Ruth grasped her. They had some difficulty in bringing The Fox to her senses.
"And aren't you the brave one, Ruthie Fielding!" cried Heavy. "Why, Mary Cox owes her life to you—she actually does this time. Before, when you and Tom Cameron helped her out of the water, she acted nasty about it——"
"Hush, Jennie!" commanded Ruth. "Don't say another word about it. If I had not jumped into the lake after Mary, somebody else would."
"Pshaw!" cried Heavy, "you can't get out of it that way. And I'm glad it happened. Now we shall have a nice time at Lighthouse Point, for Mary can't be anything but fond of you, child!"
Ruth, however, had her doubts. She remained in the stateroom as long as she could after the Lanawaxa docked. When she was dressed and came out on the deck the train that took Heavy and The Fox and the Steeles and Busy Izzy home, had gone. The train to Cheslow started a few minutes later.
"Come on, Miss Heroine!" said Tom, grinning at her as she came out on the deck. You needn't be afraid now. Nobody will thank you. I didn't hear her say a grateful word myself—and I bet you won't, either!"
Helen said nothing at all about The Fox; but she looked grave. The former president of the Upedes had influenced Helen a great deal during this first year at boarding school. Had Ruth Fielding been a less patient and less faithful chum, Helen and she would have drifted apart. And perhaps an occasional sharp speech from Mercy was what had served more particularly to show Helen how she was drifting. Now the lame girl observed:
"The next time you see Mary Cox fall overboard, Ruth, I hope you'll let her swallow the whole pond, and walk ashore without your help."
"If your name is 'Mercy' you show none to either your friends or enemies; do you?" returned Ruth, smiling.
The girl from the Red Mill refused to discuss the matter further, and soon had them all talking upon a pleasanter theme. It was evening when they reached Cheslow and Mercy's father, of course, who was the station agent, and Mr. Cameron, were waiting for them.
The big touring car belonging to the dry-goods merchant was waiting for the young folk, and after they had dropped Mercy Curtis at the little cottage on the by-street, the machine traveled swiftly across the railroad and out into the suburbs of the town. The Red Mill was five miles from the railroad station, while the Camerons' fine home, "Outlook," stood some distance beyond.
Before they had gotten out of town, however, the car was held up in front of a big house set some distance back from the road, and before which, on either side of the arched gateway, was a green lamp. The lamps were already lighted and as the Cameron car came purring along the street, with Helen herself under the steering wheel (for she had begged the privilege of running it home) a tall figure came hurrying out of the gateway, signaling them to stop.
"It's Doctor Davison himself!" cried Ruth, in some excitement.
"And how are all the Sweetbriars?" demanded the good old physician, their staunch friend and confidant. "Ah, Tom, my fine fellow! have they drilled that stoop out of your shoulders?"
"We're all right, Dr. Davison and awfully glad to see you," cried Ruth, leaning out of the tonneau to shake hands with him.
"Ah! here's the sunshine of the Red Mill—and they're needing sunshine there, just now, I believe," said the doctor. "Did you bring my Goody Two-Sticks home all right?"
"She's all right, Doctor," Helen assured him. "And so are we—only Ruth's been in the lake."
"In Lake Osago?"
"Yes, sir—and it was wet," Tom told him, grinning.
"I suppose she was trying to find that out," returned Dr. Davison. "Did you get anything else out of it, Ruthie Fielding?"
"A girl," replied Ruth, rather tartly.
"Oh-ho! Well, that was something," began the doctor, when Ruth stopped him with an abrupt question:
"Why do you say that they need me at home, sir?"
"Why—honey—they're always glad to have you there, I reckon," said the doctor, slowly, "Uncle Jabez and Aunt Alviry will both be glad to see you——"
"There's trouble, sir; what is it?" asked Ruth, gravely, leaning out of the car so as to speak into his ear. "There is trouble; isn't there? What is it?"
"I don't know that I can exactly tell you, Ruthie," he replied, with gravity. "But it's there. You'll see it."
"Is all right."
"Then it's Uncle Jabez?"
"Yes, my child. It is Uncle Jabez. What it is you will have to find out, I am afraid, for I have not been able to," said the doctor, in a whisper. "Maybe it is given to you, my dear, to straighten out the tangles at the Red Mill."
He invited them all down to sample Old Mammy's cakes and lemonade the first pleasant afternoon, and then the car sped on. But Ruth was silent. What she might find at the Red Mill troubled her.