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- Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill - 3/26 -
"Do you know Mr. Potter?" she asked, undecided what to do.
"Do I know Jabe Potter?" repeated the man. "Well, I don't know much good of him, I assure ye! I worked for him onct, I did. And I tell ye he owes me money yet. You ax him if he don't owe Jasper Parloe money-- you jest ax him!"
He began to get excited and did not seem at all inclined to step out of Ruth's path. But just then somebody spoke to her and she turned to see the station master and two or three other men with him.
"This is the girl Mr. Mason spoke to me about, isn't it?" the railroad man asked. "The conductor of the express, I mean. He said the dog would mind you."
"He seems to like me," she replied, turning to the mastiff that had stood all this time close to her.
"That is Tom Cameron's dog all right," said one of the other men. "And that lantern is off his motorcycle, I bet anything! He went through town about dark on that contraption, and I shouldn't wonder if he's got a tumble."
Ruth showed the station master, whose name was Curtis, the bit of handkerchief with the appeal for help traced upon it.
"That is blood," she said. "You see it's blood, don't you? Can't somebody take Reno and hunt for him? He must be very badly hurt."
"Mason said he expected it was nothing but some fool joke of the boys. But it doesn't look like a joke to me," Mr. Curtis said, gravely. "Come, Parloe, you know that patch of woods well enough, over beyond the swamp and Hiram Jennings' big field. Isn't there a steep and rocky road down there, that shoots off the Osago Lake pike?"
"The Wilkins Corners road-- yep," said the old man, snappishly.
"Then, can't you take the dog and see if you can find young Tom?"
"Who's going to pay me for it?" snarled Jasper Parloe. "I ain't got no love for them Camerons. This here Tom is as sassy a boy as there is in this county."
"But he may be seriously hurt," said Ruth, looking angrily at Jasper Parloe.
"'Tain't nothin' to me-- no more than your goin' out ter live with Jabe Potter ain't nothin' to me," responded the old man, with an ugly grin.
"You're a pretty fellow, you are, Jasper!" exclaimed Mr. Curtis, and turned his back upon the fellow. "I can't leave the station now-- Ah! here's Doctor Davison. He'll know what to do."
Doctor Davison came forward and put his hand upon Ruth's shoulder most kindly. "What is all this?" he asked. "And there is the mastiff. They tell me you are a dog tamer, Miss Fielding."
He listened very closely to what Mr. Curtis had to say, and looked, too, at the smeared handkerchief.
"The dog can find him-- no doubt of that. Come, boys, get some lanterns and we'll go right along to the Wilkins Corners road and search it." Then to Ruth he said: "You are a brave girl, sure enough."
But when the party was ready to start, half a dozen strong, with Parloe trailing on behind, and with lanterns and a stretcher, Reno would not budge. The man called him, but he looked up at Ruth and did not move from her side.
"I declare for't," exclaimed one man. "That girl will have to go with us, Doctor Davison. You see what the dog means to do."
Ruth spoke to the mastiff, commanded him to leave her and find "Tom." But although the dog looked at her intelligently enough, and barked his response-- a deep, sudden, explosive bark-- he refused to start without her.
"It's a long way for the girl," objected Doctor Davison. "Besides, she is waiting to meet her uncle."
"I am not tired," she told him, quickly. "Remember I've been sitting all the afternoon. And perhaps every minute is precious. We don't know how badly the dog's master may be hurt. I'll go. I'm sure I can keep up with you."
Reno seemed to understand her words perfectly, and uttered another short, sharp bark.
"Let us go, then," said Doctor Davison, hurriedly.
So the men picked up their lanterns and the stretcher again. They crossed the tracks and came to a street that soon became a country road. Cheslow did not spread itself very far in this direction. Doctor Davison explained to Ruth that the settlement had begun to grow in the parts beyond the railroad and that all this side of the tracks was considered the old part of the town.
The street lights were soon behind them and they depended entirely upon the lanterns the men carried. Ruth could see very little of the houses they passed; but at one spot-- although it was on the other side of the road-- there were two green lanterns, one on either side of an arched gate, and there seemed to be a rather large, but gloomy, house behind the hedge before which these lanterns burned.
"You will always know my house," Doctor Davison said, softly, and still retaining her hand, "by its green eyes."
So Ruth knew she had passed his home, to which he had so kindly invited her. And that made her think for a moment about Uncle Jabez and Aunt Alvirah. Would she find somebody waiting to take her to the Red Mill when she got back to the station?
THE GATE OF THE GREEN EYES
It was a dark lane, beneath overhanging oaks, that met and intertwined their branches from either side-- this was the Wilkins Corners road. And it was very steep and stony-- up hill and down dale-- with deep ruts in places and other spots where the Spring rains had washed out the gravel and sand and left exposed the very foundations of the world.
It seemed as though no bicyclist, or motor-cyclist would have chosen this road to travel after dark. Yet there was a narrow path at the side-- just wide enough for Ruth and Doctor Davison to walk abreast, and Reno to trot by the girl's side which seemed pretty smooth.
"We don't want to go by the spot, Doctor," said one of the men walking ahead with the lights. "Don't the dog show no signs of looking for Tom?"
"Where's Tom, Reno? Where's Tom?" asked Ruth, earnestly, believing that the dog would recognize his master's name.
The mastiff raised his muzzle and barked sharply again, but trotted onward.
"He might have fallen down any of these gullies, and we'd miss him, it's so dark," observed the previous speaker.
"I don't believe the dog will miss the place," responded Doctor Davison.
Just then Reno leaped forward with a long-drawn whine. Ruth hurried with him, leaving the doctor to come on in the rear. Reno took the lead and the girl tried to keep pace with him.
It was not for many yards. Reno stopped at the brink of a steep bank beside the road. This bank fell away into the darkness, but through the trees, in the far distance, the girl could see several twinkling lights in a row. She knew that they were on the railroad, and that she was looking across the great swamp-meadow.
"Hullo!" shouted one man, loudly. "Something down there, old fellow?"
Reno answered with a short bark and began to scramble down the rough bank.
"Here's where somebody has gone down ahead of him," cried another of the searchers, holding his own lantern close to the ground. "See how the bank's all torn up? Bet his wheel hit that stone yonder in the dusk and threw him, wheel and all, into this gulley."
"Wait here, child," ordered Doctor Davison, quickly. "If he is in bad shape, boys, call me and I'll come down. Lift him carefully--"
"He's here, sir!" cried the first man to descend.
And then Reno lifted up his voice in a mournful howl.
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" murmured Ruth. "I am afraid he is badly hurt."
"Come, come!" returned Doctor Davison. "Be a brave girl now. If he is badly hurt he'll need us both to keep our wits about us, you know."
"Ye needn't fret none, leetle gal," said Jasper Parloe's voice, behind her. "Ye couldn't kill that there Cameron boy, I tell ye! He is as sassy a young'un as there is in this county."
Doctor Davison turned as though to say something sharp to the mean old man; but just then the men below shouted up to him:
"He's hit his head and his arm's twisted under him, Doctor. He isn't conscious, but doesn't seem much hurt otherwise."
"Can you bring him up?" queried the physician.
"That's what we mean to do," was the reply.
Ruth waited beside the old doctor, not without some apprehension. How would this Tom Cameron look? What kind of a boy was he? According to Jasper Parloe he was a very bad boy, indeed. She had heard that he was the son of a rich man. While the men were bringing the senseless body up the steep bank her mind ran riot with the possibilities that lay in store for her because of this accident to the dry-goods merchant's son.
And now the bearers were at the top of the bank, and she could see the
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