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- Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill - 4/26 -
limp form borne by them-- a man holding the body under the arms and another by his feet. But, altogether, it looked really as though they carried a limp sack between them.
"Fust time I ever see that boy still," murmured Jasper Parloe.
"Cracky! He's pale; ain't he?" said another man.
Doctor Davison dropped on one knee beside the body as they laid it down. The lanterns were drawn together that their combined light might illuminate the spot. Ruth saw that the figure was that of a youth not much older than herself-- lean, long limbed, well dressed, and with a face that, had it not been so pale, she would have thought very nice looking indeed.
"Poor lad!" Ruth heard the physician murmur. "He has had a hard fall-- and that's a nasty knock on his head."
The wound was upon the side of his head above the left ear and was now all clotted with blood. It was from this wound, in some moment of consciousness, that he had traced the word "Help" on his torn handkerchief, and fastened the latter, with the lamp of his motorcycle, to the dog's collar.
Here was the machine, bent and twisted enough, brought up the bank by two of the men.
"Dunno what you can do for the boy, Doctor," said one of them; "but it looks to me as though this contraption warn't scurcely wuth savin'."
"Oh, we'll bring the boy around all right," said Doctor Davison, who had felt Tom Cameron's pulse and now rose quickly. "Lift him carefully upon the stretcher. We will get him into bed before I do a thing to him. He's best as he is while we are moving him."
"It'll be a mighty long way to his house," grumbled one of the men.
"I believe yeou!" rejoined Jasper Parloe. "Three miles beyond Jabe Potter's mill."
"Pshaw!" exclaimed Doctor Davison, in his soft voice. "You know we'll not take him so far. My house is near enough. Surely you can carry him there."
"If you say the word, Doctor," said the fellow, more cheerfully, while old Parloe grunted.
They were more than half an hour in getting to the turn in the main road where she could observe the two green lights before the doctor's house. There the men put the stretcher down for a moment. Jasper Parloe grumblingly took his turn at carrying one end.
"I never did see the use of boys, noway," he growled. "They's only an aggravation and vexation of speret. And this here one is the aggravatingest and vexationingest of any I ever see."
"Don't be too hard on the boy, Jasper," said Doctor Davison, passing on ahead, so as to reach his house first.
Ruth remained behind, for the old gentleman walked too fast for her. Before the men picked up the stretcher again there was a movement and a murmur from the injured boy.
"Hullo!" said one of the men. "He's a-talkin', ain't he?"
"Jest mutterin'," said Parloe, who was at Tom's head. "'Tain't nothi
But Ruth heard the murmur of the unconscious boy, and the words startled her. They were:
"It was Jabe Potter-- he did it! It was Jabe Potter-- he did it!"
What did they mean? Or, was there no meaning at all to the muttering of the wounded boy? Ruth saw that Parloe was looking at her in his sly and disagreeable way, and she knew that he, too, had heard the words.
"It was Jabe Potter-- he did it!" Was it an accusation referring to the boy's present plight? And how could her Uncle Jabez-- the relative she had not as yet seen-- be the cause of Tom Cameron's injury? The spot where the boy was hurt must have been five miles from the Red Mill, and not even on the Osago Lake turnpike, on which highway she had been given to understand the Red Mill stood.
Not many moments more and the little procession was at the gateway, on either side of which burned the two green lamps.
Jasper Parloe, who had been relieved, shuffled off into the darkness. Reno after one pleading look into the face of the hesitating Ruth, followed the stretcher on which his master lay, in at the gate.
And Ruth Fielding, beginning again to feel most embarrassed and forsaken, was left alone where the two green eyes winked in the warm, moist darkness of the Spring night.
THE GIRL IN THE AUTOMOBILE
The men who had gone in with the unconscious boy and the stretcher hung about the doctor's door, which was some yards from the gateway. Everybody seemed to have forgotten the girl, a stranger in Cheslow, and for the first day of her life away from kind and indulgent friends.
It was only ten minutes walk to the railroad station, and Ruth remembered that it was a straight road. She arrived in the waiting room safely enough. Sam Curtis, the station master, descried her immediately and came out of his office with her bag.
"Well, and what happened? Is that boy really hurt?" he asked.
"He has a broken arm and his head is cut. I do not know how seriously, for Doctor Davison had not finished examining him when I-- I came away," she replied, bravely enough, and hiding the fact that she had been overlooked.
"They took him to the doctor's house, did they?" asked Sam.
"Yes, sir," said Ruth. "But--"
"Mr. Curtis, has there been anybody here for me?"
"For you, Miss?" the station master returned, somewhat surprised it seemed.
"Yes, sir. Anybody from Red Mill?"
Curtis smote one fist into his other palm, exclaiming:
"You don't mean to say that you was what Jabe Potter was after?"
"Mr. Jabez Potter, who keeps the Red Mill, is my uncle," Ruth observed, with dignity.
"My goodness gracious me, Miss! He was here long before your train was due. He's kind of short in his speech, Miss. And he asked me if there was anything here for him, and I told him no. And he stumped out again without another word. Why, I thought he was looking for an express package, or freight. Never had an idea he was expectin' a niece!"
Ruth still looked at him earnestly. The man did not suspect, by her appearance, how hard a time she was having to keep the tears from overrunning those calm, gray eyes.
"And you expected to go out to the Red Mill to-night, Miss?" he continued. "They're country folk out there and they'd all be abed before you could get there, even if you took a carriage."
"I don't know that I have enough to pay for carriage hire," Ruth said, softly. "Is-- is there any place I can stop over night in the village? Then I can walk out in the morning."
"Why-- there's a hotel. But a young girl like you-- You'll excuse me, Miss. You're young to be traveling alone."
"Perhaps I haven't money enough to pay for a lodging there?" suggested Ruth. "I have a dollar. It was given me to spend as I liked on the way. But Miss True gave me such a big box of luncheon that I did not want anything."
"A dollar wouldn't go far at the Brick Hotel," murmured the station agent. He still stared at her, stroking his lean, shaven jaw. Finally he burst out with: "I tell you! We'll go home and see what my wife says."
At the moment the station began to jar with the thunder of a coming train and Ruth could not make herself heard in reply to his proposal. Besides, Sam Curtis hurried out on the platform. Nor was Ruth ready to assert her independence and refuse any kind of help the station master might offer. So she sat down patiently and waited for him.
There were one or two passengers only to disembark from this train and they went away from the station without even coming into the waiting room. Then Curtis came back, putting out the lights and locking his ticket office. The baggage room was already locked and Ruth's old trunk was in it.
"Come on now, girl-- What's your name?" asked Curtis.
"Just so! Well, it's only a step to our house and wife will have supper waiting. And there's nobody else there save Mercy."
Ruth was a little curious about "Mercy"-- whether it referred to abounding grace, or was a person's name. But she asked no questions as they came out of the railroad station and Sam Curtis locked the door.
They did not cross the tracks this time, but went into the new part of the town. Turning a corner very soon as they walked up what Curtis said was Market Street, they reached, on a narrow side street, a little, warm-looking cottage, from almost all the lower windows of which the lamplight shone cheerfully. There was a garden beside it, with a big grape arbor arranged like a summer-house with rustic chairs and a table. The light shining on the side porch revealed the arbor to Ruth's quick eyes.
When they stepped upon this porch Ruth heard a very shrill and not at all pleasant voice saying-- very rapidly, and over and over again: "I don't want to! I don't want to! I don't want to!" It might have been a
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