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- Ruth Fielding at Snow Camp - 6/27 -


"You're just the meanest girl I ever saw!" cried Hatfield, almost in tears. "I'd got away in the night if it hadn't been for you."

Ruth fairly giggled at that--she couldn't help it.

"Well, don't you be nasty about it," she said. "You are a dreadfully foolish boy--"

"What do you know about me?" he gasped, turning to look at her finally with frightened eyes.

"I know that running away isn't going to help you," Ruth Fielding said, with returning gravity.

"You think that man--that Cameron man--will take me back?"

"Back where?"

"To--to Scarboro?"

"I don't know."

"I tell you I won't go," the boy cried. "I won't go."

"But we're all going up there this very day," said Ruth, slowly." Mr. Cameron, and Helen and Tom, and some other girls and boys. I'm going, too--"

"_Going where_?" shrieked Fred Hatfield, actually shaking with terror, and as pale as a ghost.

"We're off for the backwoods--up Scarboro way. Mr. Cameron is going to take us for a fortnight to Snow Camp. And you--"

With another wild cry Fred Hatfield crumpled down upon the ice and burst into a tempest of sobbing. He beat his ungloved hands upon the ice, and although Ruth could not help feeling contempt for a boy who would so give way to weakness she could not help but pity him, too.

For Ruth Fielding had more than an inkling of the trouble that so weighed Fred Hatfield down, and had made him an outcast from his home and friends.

CHAPTER VI

ON THE TRAIN

When the Cameron automobile arrived at the Red Mill that forenoon Fred Hatfield sat gloomily upon the porch steps. Ruth kept an eye on him from the doorway. Mr. Cameron seemed to understand their position when he came up the walk, and asked Ruth:

"So, he wants to leave; does he?"

Ruth merely nodded; but Fred Hatfield scowled at the dry-goods merchant and turned away his head.

"Now, young man," said Mr. Cameron, standing in front of the sullen boy, with his legs wide apart and a smile upon his ruddy face, "now, young man, let's get to the bottom of this. You confide in me, and I will not betray your confidence. Why don't you want to live at home?"

"I don't want to--that's all," muttered Fred Hatfield, shortly. "And I _won't_."

Mr. Cameron shook his head. "I hate to see one so young so obstinate," he said. "It may be that your mother and brothers and sisters find you a sore trial; perhaps they are glad you are not at home. But until I am sure of that I consider it my duty to keep an eye on you. I want you to come along with us to-day."

"I know where you are going. This girl has told me," said the light-haired youth, nodding at Ruth. "You're going up to Scarboro."

"Yes. And I propose to take you with us. We'll see whether your mother wants you or not."

"You don't know what you're doing, sir!" gasped Fred Hatfield, crouching down upon the step.

"I certainly do not know what I am doing," admitted Mr. Cameron. "But that is your fault, not mine. If you would trust us--"

"I can't!" cried the boy, shaking as though with a chill.

"Then, you come along, young man," commanded the merchant.

He put a hand upon Fred's shoulder and the boy wriggled out from under it and started to run. But Tom had got out of the automobile and seemed rather expecting this move. He sprang for the other boy and held him.

"Here! hold on!" he cried. "Put on this old overcoat of mine that I've brought along, It's going to be cold riding. Put it on--and then get into the auto with us. Aw, come on! What are you afraid of? We aren't going to eat you."

Snivelling, but ceasing his struggles, Fred Hatfield got into the coat Tom offered him, and entered the car. Ruth said never a word, but she looked very grave.

Uncle Jabez came to the door of the mill and Ruth ran to him and kissed the old miller goodbye. Not that he returned the kiss; Uncle Jabez looked as though he had never kissed anybody since he was born! But Aunt Alvirah hugged and caressed her "pretty creetur" with a warmth that made up for the miller's coldness.

"Bless ye, deary!" crooned the little old woman, enfolding Ruth in her arms. "Go and have the best of times with your young friends. We'll be thinkin' of ye here--and don't run into peril up there in the woods. Have a care."

"Oh, we won't get into any trouble," Ruth declared, happily, with no suspicion of what was before the party in the backwoods. "Goodbye!"

"Good-bye, Ruthie--Oh, my back and oh, my bones!" groaned Aunt Alvirah, as she hobbled into the house again, while Ruth ran down to the car, leaped aboard, and the chauffeur started immediately. Ben, the hired man, had gone on to Cheslow with Ruth's trunk early in the morning, and now the automobile sped quickly over the smooth road to the railroad station.

By several different ways--for Cheslow was a junction of the railroad lines--the young folk who had been invited to Snow Camp had gathered at the station to meet the Camerons and Ruth Fielding. Nobody noticed Fred Hatfield, saving Mr. Cameron and Ruth herself; but the runaway found no opportunity of leaving the party. Tom had no attention to give the Scarboro boy as he welcomed his own chums.

"Here's old Bobbins and Busy Izzy!" he cried, seeing Bob Steele and his sister, with Isadore Phelps, pacing the long platform as the car halted.

Bob Steele was a big, yellow-haired boy, rosy cheeked and good-natured, but not a little bashful. As Madge, his sister, was a year and a half older than Bob she often treated him like a very small boy indeed.

"Now, Master Cameron!" she cried, when Tom appeared, "don't muss his nice clean clothes. Be careful he doesn't get into anything. Be a good boy, Bobbie, and the choo-choo cars will soon come."

Isadore Phelps was a sharp-looking boy, with red hair and so many freckles across the bridge of his nose and under his eyes that, at a little distance, he looked as though he wore a brown mask. Isadore seldom spoke without asking a question. He was a walking interrogation point. Perhaps that was one reason why he was known among his mates as "Busy Izzy," being usually busy about other people's business.

"What do you let her nag you for that way, Bob?" he cried. "I'd shake her, if she was my sister--wouldn't you, Tom?"

"No," said Tom, boldly, for he considered Madge Steele quite a young lady. "She's too big to shake--isn't she, Bobbins?"

But Bob only smiled in his slow way, and said nothing. The girls were in a group by themselves--Helen and Ruth, Belle and Lluella, Jennie Stone (who rejoiced in the nickname of "Heavy" because of her plumpness) and Madge Steele. Mr. Cameron had gone to the ticket window to make an inquiry. It was Ruth who saw Fred Hatfield making across the tracks to where a freight train was being made up for the south.

"Tom!" she cried to Helen's brother, and he turned and saw her glance.

"By George, fellows!" exclaimed Tom, with some disgust. "There's that chap sneaking off again. We've got to watch him. Come on!"

He ran after the runaway. Busy Izzy was at his ear in a moment:

"What's the matter with him? Who is he? What's he been doing? Is he trying to get aboard that freight? What do you want of him?"

"Oh, hush! hush!" begged Tom. "Your clatter would deafen one." Then he shouted to Hatfield: "Hold on, there! the train will be in soon. Come back!"

Hatfield stopped and turned back with a scowl. Tom grinned at him cheerfully and added:

"Might as well take it easy. Dad says you're to go along with us, so I advise you to stick close."

"Pleasant-looking young dog," said Bob, in an undertone. "What's he done?"

"I don't know that he has done anything," returned Tom, in the same low tone. "But we're going to take him with us to Scarboro. That is the place he has run away from."

"Did he run away from home?" demanded Isadore Phelps. "What for?"

"I don't know. But don't you ask him!" commanded Tom. "He wouldn't tell you, anyway; he won't tell father. But don't nag him, Izzy."


Ruth Fielding at Snow Camp - 6/27

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