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- Ruth Fielding at Snow Camp - 10/27 -
"Oh, Reno!" she cried, fondling Tom Cameron's big mastiff, that had come all the way from Cheslow with them in the baggage car. "_You_ know me; don't you?"
"Guess that proves her right to be here," said the hermit, more to himself than to the surprised tall man, who was the guide and keeper in charge of Snow Camp. "Your boss lose one of his party off the train, Long Jerry Todd?"
"So I hear. Is this here the gal?" cried the other, in immense surprise. "I swanny!"
"Yep. She's all right. I'll go back," said the rattlesnake man, without further ado, turning in his tracks.
"Oh, sir!" cried Ruth. "I'm so much obliged to you."
But the hermit slipped away on his snowshoes and in less than a minute was out of sight. Then Ruth looked around suddenly for Fred Hatfield. The runaway had disappeared.
"Where's that boy?" she cried.
"What boy?" returned Long Jerry, curiously. "Didn't see no boy here."
"Why, the boy that came here with us. He left the train at Emoryville when I did--you must have seen him."
"I never did," declared the guide. "He must have slipped away. Maybe he's gone into the house. You'd better come in yourself. The women folks will 'tend to you. Why, Miss, you're dead beat!"
Indeed Ruth was. She could scarcely stumble with the guide's help to the porch. She had kicked off the snowshoes and the hermit had taken them with him. Had it not been for the hermit and Fred Hatfield, Ruth Fielding would never have been able to travel the distance from the hermit's cabin to Snow Camp. And the terrible shaking up she had received on the timber cart made her feel like singing old Aunt Alvirah's tune of "Oh, my back and oh, my bones!"
There were two maids whom Mr. Cameron had brought along and they, with two men, had come over from Scarboro (a ride of eight miles, or so) with the luggage. They welcomed Ruth and set her down before a great fire in the dining room, and one of them removed the girl's shoes so that her feet might be dried and warmed, while the other hurried to make some supper for the wanderer.
But as soon as Ruth got her slippers on, and recovered a little from the exhaustion of her trip, two things troubled her vastly. She inquired for the boy again, and learned that he had not been seen about the camp. When she and the hermit had entered the clearing, Fred had undoubtedly taken the opportunity to slip away.
"And in the night--and it so cold, too," thought Ruth. "What will Mr. Cameron say?"
That question brought her to the second of her troubles. Her friends would worry about her all night if she did not find some way of allaying their anxiety.
"Oh, Mary!" she said to the maid. "Where's the telephone? Tom said there was telephone connection here."
"So there is, Miss," returned the maid. "And somebody had better tell Mrs. Murchiston that you're safe. They're all as worried as they can be about you, for the folks at that store by the railroad--where the train stopped--when _they_ was called up as soon as the train reached Scarboro, declared that you had got run away with by a team of mules."
"Which was most certainly true," admitted Ruth. "I never had such a dreadful time in all my life. Run away with by mules, and frightened to death by a great big catamount----"
Mary squealed and covered her ears. "Don't tell me!" she gasped. "Sure, Miss, there do bes bears, an' panthers, an' wild-cats, an'-- an' I dunno what-all in these woods. Sure, me and Janey will never go out of this house whilst we stay. 'Tain't civilized hereabout."
Ruth laughed rather ruefully. "I guess you're right, Mary," she said. "It doesn't seem to be very civilized here in the backwoods-- and such queer people live here, too. But now! let me telephone."
The maid showed her where it was and Ruth called up Scarboro and got the hotel where the Cameron party was stopping. Almost immediately she heard Mr. Cameron's voice.
"Hullo! Snow Camp? What's wanted?" he asked, in a nervous, jerky way.
"This is me, Mr. Cameron--Ruth, you know. I am all right at Snow Camp."
"Well! That's fine! Thank goodness you're safe!" ejaculated the merchant, in an entirely different tone. "Why, Ruth, I was just about sending a party out from the store at Emoryville to beat up the woods for you. They say there is a big panther in that district."
"Oh, I know it. The beast frightened us most to death--"
"Who was with you?" interrupted Mr. Cameron.
"Why, that boy! He jumped off the train and I followed to stop him. Now he's run away again, sir."
"Oh, the boy calling himself Fred Hatfield?" ejaculated Mr. Cameron. "He's left you?"
"He came here to Snow Camp and then disappeared. I am sorry--"
"You're a good little girl, Ruth. I wanted to bring him up here--and there are people who would be glad to know who he really is."
"But don't you know? Isn't his name Fred Hatfield?" questioned Ruth, in surprise.
"That can't be. Fred Hatfield was shot here in the woods more than a month ago. It was soon after the deer season opened, they tell me, and it is supposed to have been an accident. Young 'Lias Hatfield, half-brother of the real Fred, is in jail here, held for shooting his brother. Who the boy was whom we found and brought from the Red Mill, seems to be a mystery."
"Oh!" cried Ruth, but before she could say more, Mr. Cameron went on:
"We'll all be over in the morning. I hope you have not taken cold, or overtaxed your strength, I must go and tell Helen. She has been frightened half to death about you. Goodnight."
He hung up the receiver, leaving Ruth in rather a disturbed state of mind. The newspaper clipping that had dropped out of the old wallet the strange boy had carried, was the account of the shooting affair. Mention was made in it about the very frequent mistakes made in the hunting season--mistakes which often end in the death of one hunter by the hand of another.
It said that 'Lias Hatfield and his younger brother, Fred, had had a quarrel and then gone hunting, each taking a different direction. The younger boy had ensconced himself just under the brink of a steep bank at the bottom of which was Rolling River, a swift and deep stream. His brother's story was that he had come up facing this place, having started a young buck not half a mile away. He thought he heard the buck stamping, and blowing, and then saw what he thought was the animal behind a fringe of bushes at the top of this steep river bank.
The hunter blazed away, and heard a dreadful scream, a rolling and thrashing in the brush, and a splash in the river. He ran forward and found his brother's old gun and tippet. There was blood on the bushes. The supposition was that Fred Hatfield had been shot and had rolled into the swift-flowing river. 'Lias had given himself up to the authorities and there seemed some doubt in the minds of the people of Scarboro as to whether the shooting had been an accident.
"If there was no body found," thought Ruth, all the time she was eating the supper that Mary brought her, "how do they know Fred Hatfield is really dead? And if he _is_ dead, who is the boy who is traveling about the country using Fred Hatfield's name and carrying Mr. Hatfield's old wallet? I guess Fred has run away, instead of being killed, and is staying away because he hates his brother 'Lias, and wishes him to get into trouble about the shooting. If that's so, isn't he just the meanest boy that ever was?"
Long Jerry Todd came in with a huge armful of wood for the fire, and Ruth determined to pump him about the accident. The tall man knew all about it, and was willing enough to talk.
He sat down beside the fire and answered Ruth's questions most cheerfully.
"Ya-as, I knowed old man Hatfield," he said. "He's been dead goin' on ten year. That Fred wasn't good to his mother. His half-brothers-- children of Old Man Hatfield's fust wife--is nicer to their marm than Fred was. Oh, ya-as! he was shot by 'Lias, all right. I dunno as 'Lias meant to do it. Hope not. But they found Fred's body in the river t'other day, and so they arrested 'Lias."
But Long Jerry hadn't seen any sign of the boy that had been with Ruth and the hermit when they arrived at Snow Camp. Ruth did not like to discuss the mystery with him any more; for it _was_ a mystery now, that was sure. Fred Hatfield's body had been found in the river, yet a boy was traveling about the country bearing Fred Hatfield's name.
The guide finally unfolded himself and rose slowly to his full height, preparatory to going back to the kitchen regions. He was nearly seven feet tall, and painfully thin. He grinned down upon Ruth Fielding as she gazed in wonder at his proportions.
"I'm some long; ain't I, Miss?" he chuckled. "But I warn't no taller than av'rage folks when I was a boy. You hear of some folks gettin' stunted by sickness, or fright, or the like. Wal, I reckon _I_ got stretched out longer'n common by fright. Want to hear about it?"
He was so jolly and funny that Ruth was glad to hear him talk and she encouraged him to go on. So Jerry sat down again and began his story.
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