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- Ruth Fielding at Snow Camp - 3/27 -


soon be as stiff as boards.

"We've got to get him to the Mill, girls," declared Tom. "Come! get up!" he cried to the stranger. "You must get warmed and have dry clothing."

"And something hot to drink," said Ruth. "Aunt Alviry will make him something that will take the cold out of his bones."

The strange boy stared at them, unable, it seemed, to speak a word. They dragged him upright and pushed him on between them. The bull had run towards the river and had not come back; so the friends, with their strange find, hurried on to the public road and crossed the bridge at the creek, turning off into the orchard path that led up to the Red Mill.

"What's your name?" demanded Tom of the strange boy.

But all the latter could do was to chatter and shake his head. The icy water had bitten into his very bones. They fairly dragged him between them for the last few yards, and burst into Aunt Alvirah's kitchen in a manner "fit to throw one into a conniption!" as that good lady declared.

"Oh, my back, and oh, my bones!" she groaned, getting up quickly from her rocking chair by the window, where she had been knitting. "For the good land of mercy! what is this?"

All three of the friends began to tell her together. But the little old woman with the bent back and rheumatic limbs understood one thing, if she made nothing else out of the general gabble. The strange boy had been in the water, and his need was urgent.

"Bring him right in here, Tommy," she commanded, hobbling into Mr. Potter's bedroom, which was the nearest to the kitchen, and thereby the warmest. "I don't know what Jabez will say, but that child's got to git a-twixt blankets right away. It's a mercy if he ain't got his death."

They drew off the stranger's outer clothing, and then Aunt Alviry left Tom to help him further disrobe and roll up in the blankets on Mr. Potter's bed. Meantime the old woman filled a stone water-bottle with boiling water, to put at his feet, and made a great bowl of "composition" for him to drink down as soon as it was cool enough for him to swallow.

Ruth wrung out the boy's wet garments and hung them to dry around the stove, where they began immediately to steam. As she had noticed before, the stranger's clothing was well worn. He had no overcoat-- only a thick jacket. All his clothing was of the cheapest quality.

Suddenly Helen exclaimed: "What's that you've dropped out of his vest, Ruthie? A wallet?"

It was an old leather note-case. There appeared to be little in it when Ruth picked it up, for it was very flat. Certainly there was no money in it. Nor did there seem to be anything in it that would identify its owner. However, as Ruth carried it to the window she found a newspaper clipping tucked into one compartment, and, as it was damp, too, she took this out, unfolded it, and laid it carefully on the window sill to dry. But when she looked further, she saw inside the main compartment of the wallet a name and address stenciled, It was:

JONAS HATFIELD

SCARBORO, N. Y.

"Sec, Helen," she said to her chum. "Maybe this is his name--Jonas Hatfield."

"And Scarboro, New York!" gasped Helen, suddenly. "Why, Ruthie!"

"What's the matter?" returned Ruth, in surprise.

"What a coincidence!"

"What is a coincidence?" demanded Ruth, still greatly amazed by her chum's excitement.

"Why this boy--if this is his wallet and that is his name and address--comes from right about where we are going to-morrow. Scarboro is the nearest railroad station to Snow Camp. What do you think of that?"

Before Ruth could reply, the sound of an automobile horn was heard outside, and both girls ran to the door. The Cameron automobile was just coming down the hill from the direction of Cheslow, and in a minute it stopped before the door of the Potter farmhouse.

CHAPTER III

THE NEWSPAPER CLIPPING

The Red Mill was a grist mill, and Mr. Jabez Potter made wheat-flour, buckwheat, cornmeal, or ground any grist that was brought to him. Standing on a commanding knoll beside the Lumano River, it was very picturesquely situated, and the rambling old farmhouse connected with it was a very homey-looking place indeed.

The automobile had stopped at the roadside before the kitchen door, and Mr. Cameron alighted and started immediately up the straight path to the porch. He was a round, jolly, red-faced man, who was forever thinking of some surprise with which to please his boy and girl, and seldom refused any request they might make of him. This plan of taking a party of young folk into the backwoods for a couple of weeks was entirely to amuse Tom and Helen. Personally, the dry-goods merchant did not much care for such an outing.

He came stamping up the steps and burst into the kitchen in a jolly way, and Helen ran to him with a kiss.

"Hullo I what's all this?" he demanded, his black eyes taking in the grove of airing garments around the stove. "Tom been in the river? No! Those aren't Tom's duds, I'll be switched if they are!"

"No, no," cried Helen. "It's another boy."

And here Tom himself appeared from the bedroom.

"I thought Tom could keep out of the river when the ice was four inches thick--eh, son?" laughed Mr. Cameron.

His children began to tell him, both together, of the adventure with the bull and the mysterious appearance of the strange boy.

"Aye, aye!" he said. "And Ruth Fielding was in it, of course--and did her part in extricating you all from the mess, too, I'll be bound! Whatever would we do without Ruth?" and he smiled and shook hands with the miller's niece.

"I guess we were all equally scared. But it certainly was my fault that the old bull bunted the hollow stump into the creek. So this boy can thank me for getting him such a ducking," laughed Ruth.

"And who is he? Where does he come from?"

Ruth showed Mr. Cameron the stencil on the inside of the wallet.

"Isn't that funny, Father?" cried Helen. "Right where we are going-- Scarboro."

"If the wallet is his," muttered Mr. Cameron.

"What do you mean, sir?" questioned Ruth, quickly. "Do you think he is a bad boy--that he has taken the wallet----"

"Now, now!" exclaimed Mr. Cameron, smiling at her again. "Don't jump at conclusions, Mistress Ruth Fielding. I have no suspicion regarding the lad----How is the patient, Aunt Alviry?" he added, quickly, as the little old woman came hobbling out of the bedroom where the strange boy lay.

"Oh, my back, and oh, my bones!" said Aunt Alviry, under her breath. But she welcomed Mr. Cameron warmly enough, too. "He's getting on fine," she declared. "He'll be all right soon. I reckon he won't suffer none in the end for his wetting. I'm a-goin' to cook him a mess of gruel, for I believe he's hungry."

"Who is he, Aunt Alviry?" asked the gentleman. Aunt Alvirah Boggs was "everybody's Aunt Alviry," although she really had no living kin, and Mr. Jabez Potter had brought her from the almshouse ten years or more before to act as his housekeeper.

"Dunno," said Aunt Alvirah, shaking her head in answer to Mr. Cameron's question. "Ain't the first idee. You kin go in and talk to him, sir."

With the wallet in his hand and the three young folk at his heels, both their interest and their curiosity aroused, Mr. Cameron went into the passage and so came to the open door of the bedroom. Mr. Potter slept in a big, four-post bedstead, which was heaped high at this time of year with an enormous feather bed. Rolled like a mummy in the blankets, and laid on this bed, the feathers had plumped up about the vagabond boy and almost buried him. But his eyes were wide open--pale blue eyes, with light lashes and eyebrows, which gave his thin, white countenance a particularly blank expression.

"Heigho, my lad!" exclaimed Mr. Cameron, in his jolly way. "So your name is Jonas Hatfield, of Scarboro; is it?"

"No; sir; that was my father's name, sir," returned the boy in bed, weakly. "My name is Fred."

And then a brilliant flush suddenly colored his pale face. He half started up in bed, and the pale blue eyes flashed with an entirely different expression. He demanded, in a hoarse, unnatural voice:

"How'd' you find me out?"

Mr. Cameron shook his head knowingly, and laughed.

"That was a bit of information you were keeping to yourself--eh? Well, why did you carry your father's old wallet about with you, if you did not wish to be identified? Come, son! what harm is there in our knowing who you are?"


Ruth Fielding at Snow Camp - 3/27

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