Read CHAPTER II - THE MAN WHO PLAYED THE HARP of Ruth Fielding at Briarwood Hall / Solving the Campus Mystery, free online book, by Alice B. Emerson, on

In the first volume of this series, entitled, “Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill; Or, Jasper Parloe’s Secret,” is related how Ruth and Helen and Tom came to be such close friends.  The Camerons had been with Ruth when the lost cash-box belonging to Uncle Jabez Potter was found, and out of which incident Ruth’s presence in the Camerons’ automobile on this beautiful September morning, and the fact that she was accompanying Helen to school, arose.

Mr. Macy Cameron, a wealthy dry-goods merchant, and a widower, had selected the best school for his daughter to attend of which he could learn.  Briarwood Hall, of which the preceptress was Mrs. Grace Tellingham, was a large school (there being more than two hundred scholars in attendance for the coming term), but it remained “select” in the truest sense of the word.  It was not an institution particularly for the daughters of wealthy people, nor a school to which disheartened parents could send either unruly girls, or dunces.

Without Mrs. Murchiston’s recommendation Helen Cameron could not have gained entrance to Briarwood; without the attested examination papers of Miss Cramp, teacher of the district school, who had prepared Ruth for entering Cheslow High School before it was supposed that she could go to Briarwood, the girl from the Red Mill would not have been starting on this journey.

“My goodness me!” exclaimed Helen, when Ruth had sat down and Cheslow was coming into view before them.  “I’m just as excited as I can be.  Aren’t you afraid of meeting Mrs. Tellingham?  She’s got an A. B. after her name.  And her husband is a doctor of almost everything you can think!”

Mrs. Murchiston smiled, but said with some sternness; “I really hope, Helen, that Briarwood will quell your too exuberant spirits to a degree.  But you need not be afraid of Dr. Tellingham.  He is the mildest old gentleman one ever saw.  He is doubtless engaged upon a history of the Mound Builders of Peoria County, Illinois; or upon a pamphlet suggested by the finding of a fossilized man in the caves of Arizona.”

“Is he a great writer, Mrs. Murchiston?” asked Ruth, wonderingly.

“He has written a great many histories ­if that constitutes being a great writer,” replied the governess, with a quiet smile.  “But if it was not for Mrs. Tellingham I fear that Briarwood Hall could not exist.  However, the doctor is a perfectly harmless person.”

From this Ruth drew the conclusion (for she was a thoughtful girl ­thoughtful beyond her years, as well as imaginative) that Mrs. Grace Tellingham was a rather strong-minded lady and that the doctor would prove to be both mild and “hen-pecked.”

The car sped along the beautifully shaded road leading into Cheslow; but there was still ample time for the travelers to catch the train.  On the right hand, as they advanced, appeared a gloomy-looking house with huge pillars upholding the portico roof, which was set some distance back from the road.  On two posts, one either side of the arched gateway, were set green lanterns.  A tall, stoop-shouldered old gentleman, with a sweeping mustache and hair that touched his coat collar, and a pair of keen, dark eyes, came striding down the walk to the street as the motor-car drew near.

“Doctor Davison!” cried Helen and Ruth together.

The chauffeur slowed down and stopped as the doctor waved his hand.

“I must bid you girls good-bye here,” he said, coming to the automobile to shake hands.  “I have a call and cannot be at the station.  And I expect all of you to do your best in your studies.  But look out for your health, too.  Take plenty of gym work, girls.  Tom, you rascal!  I want to hear of you standing just as well in athletics as you do in your books.  Ah! if Mercy was going with you, I’d think the party quite complete.”

“What do you hear from her, Doctor?” questioned Ruth, eagerly.

“My little Goody Two-sticks is hopping around pretty lively.  She will come home in a few days.  Too bad she cannot see you before you go.  But then ­perhaps you’ll see her, after all.”

“What do you mean?” demanded Helen, looking sharply at the physician.  “You’re hiding something.  I can see it!  You’ve got something up your sleeve, Doctor!”

“Quite so ­my wrist!” declared the physician, and now, having shaken hands all around, he hurried away, looking vastly mysterious.

“Now, what do you suppose he meant by that?” demanded Helen.  “I’m suspicious of him.  He’s always bringing unexpected things about.  And poor Mercy Curtis ­”

“If she could only go to Briarwood with us,” sighed Ruth.

“She would make you and Helen hustle in your work, all right,” declared Tom, looking over the back of his seat.  “She’s the smartest little thing that I ever saw.”

“That’s what Dr. Davison says,” Ruth observed.  “If the surgeons have enabled her to walk again, and dispense with the wheel chair, why couldn’t she come to Briarwood?”

“I don’t think Sam Curtis is any too well fixed,” said Tom, shaking his head.  “And Mercy’s long illness has been a great expense to them.  Hello! here we are at the station, with plenty of time to spare.”

Mrs. Murchiston was not going with them; the trio of young folk were to travel alone, so Tom took the tickets, got the trunk checks, and otherwise played escort to the two girls.  There were several friends at the station to bid the Camerons good-bye; but there was nobody but the stationmaster to say a word to Ruth Fielding.  It was his lame daughter whom they had been discussing with Dr. Davison ­an unfortunate girl who had taken a strong liking for Ruth, and for whom the girl from the Red Mill, with her cheerful spirit and pleasant face, had done a world of good.

The train was made up and they got aboard.  Just below Cheslow was the Y where this train branched off the main line, and took its way by a single-track, winding branch, through the hills to the shore of Lake Osago.  But the young folks did not have to trouble about their baggage after leaving Cheslow, for that was checked through ­Tom’s grip and box to Seven Oaks, and the girls’ over another road, after crossing Lake Osago, to Lumberton, on Triton Lake.

Lake Osago was a beautiful body of water, some thirty miles long, and wide in proportion; island-dotted and bordered by a rolling country.  There were several large towns upon its shores, and, in one place, a great summer camp of an educational society.  Steamboats plied the lake, and up and down the rivers which either emptied into the Osago, or flowed out of it, as far as the dams.

The trio of school-bound young folk left the train very demurely and walked down the long wharf to the puffy little steamboat that was to take them the length of the lake to Portageton.  Tom had been adjured by his father to take good care of his sister and Ruth, and he felt the burden of this responsibility.  Helen declared, in a whisper to Ruth, that she had never known her twin brother to be so overpoweringly polite and thoughtful.

Nevertheless, the fact that they were for the very first time traveling alone (at least, the Camerons had never traveled alone before) did not spoil their enjoyment of the journey.  The trip down the lake on the little side-wheel steamer was very interesting to all three.  First the Camerons and Ruth Fielding went about to see if they could find any other girl or boy who appeared to be bound to school like themselves.  But Tom said he was alone in that intention among the few boys aboard; and there were no girls upon the Lanawaxa, as the little steamboat was named, save Ruth and Helen.

Tom did not neglect the comfort of the girls, but he really could not keep away from the engine-room of the Lanawaxa.  Tom was mightily interested in all things mechanical, and in engines especially.  So the girls were left to themselves for a while upon the upper deck of the steamboat.  They were very comfortable under the awning, and had books, and their luncheon, and a box of candy that Tom had bought and given to Ruth, and altogether they enjoyed the trip quite as much as anybody.

The breeze was quite fresh and there were not many passengers on the forward deck where the girls were seated.  But one lady sitting near attracted their attention almost at first.  She was such a little, doll-like lady; so very plainly and neatly dressed, yet with a style about her that carried the plain frock she wore, and the little hat, as though they were both of the richest materials.  She was dark, had brilliant eyes, and her figure was youthful.  Yet, when she chanced to raise her veil, Ruth noted that her face was marred by innumerable fine wrinkles ­just like cracks in the face of a wax doll that had been exposed to frost.

“Isn’t she a cunning little thing?” whispered Helen, seeing how much Ruth was attracted by the little lady.

“She’s not a dwarf.  There’s nothing wrong with her,” said Ruth.  “She’s just a lady in miniature; isn’t she?  Why, Helen, she’s no taller than you are.”

“She’s dainty,” repeated her chum.  “But she looks odd.”

Below, on the other deck, the music of a little orchestra had been tinkling pleasantly.  Now a man with the harp, another with a violin, and a third with a huge guitar, came up the companionway and grouped themselves to play upon the upper deck.  The three musicians were all foreigners ­French or Italian.  The man who played the harp was a huge, fleshy man, with a red waistcoat and long, black mustache.  The waistcoat and mustache were the two most noticeable things about him.  He sat on a little campstool while he played.

The musicians struck into some rollicking ditty that pleased the ear.  The two girls enjoyed the music, and Helen searched her purse for a coin to give whichever of the musicians came around for the collection at the end of the concert.  There was but one person on the forward deck who did not seem to care for the music.  The little lady, whose back was to the orchestra, did not even look around.

All the time he was playing the huge man who thrummed the harp seemed to have his eyes fixed upon the little lady.  This both Ruth and Helen noted.  He was so big and she was so fairy-like, that the girls could not help becoming interested in the fact that the harpist was so deeply “smitten.”

“Isn’t he funny?” whispered Helen to Ruth.  “He’s so big and she’s so little.  And he pays more attention to her than he does to playing the tune.”

Just then the orchestra of three pieces finished its third tune.  That was all it ever jingled forth before making a collection.  The man who played the guitar slipped the broad strap over his shoulders and stood up as though to pass his cap.  But instantly the huge harpist arose and muttered something to him in a guttural tone.  The other sat down and the big man seized the cap and began to move about the deck to make such collection as the audience was disposed to give for the music.

Although he had stared so at the unconscious lady’s back, the big man did not go in her direction at first, as the two girls quite expected him to do.  He went around to the other side of the deck after taking Helen’s toll, and so manoeuvred as to come to the end of the lady’s bench and suddenly face her.

“See him watch her, Ruth?” whispered Helen again.  “I believe he knows her.”

There was such a sly smile on the fat man’s face that he seemed to be having a joke all to himself; yet his eyebrows were drawn down over his nose in a scowl.  It was not a pleasant expression that he carried on his countenance to the little lady, before whom he appeared with a suddenness that would have startled almost anybody.  He wheeled around the end of the settee on which she sat and hissed some word or phrase in her ear, leaning over to do so.

The little woman sprang up with a smothered shriek.  The girls heard her chatter something, in which the word “merci” was plain.  She shrank from the big man; but he was only bowing very low before her, with the cap held out for a contribution, and his grinning face aside.

“She is French,” whispered Helen, excitedly, in Ruth’s ear.  “And he spoke in the same language.  How frightened she is!”

Indeed, the little lady fumbled in her handbag for something which she dropped into the insistent cap of the harpist.  Then, almost running along the deck, she whisked into the cabin.  She had pulled the veil over her face again, but as she passed the girls they felt quite sure that she was sobbing.

The big harpist, with the same unpleasant leer upon his face, rolled down the deck in her wake, carelessly humming a fragment of the tune he had just been playing.  He had collected all the contributions in his big hand ­a pitiful little collection of nickels and dimes ­and he tossed them into the air and caught them expertly as he joined the other players.  Then all three went aft to repeat their concert.

An hour later the Lanawaxa docked at Portageton.  When our young friends went ashore and walked up the freight-littered wharf, Ruth suddenly pulled Helen’s sleeve.

“Look there!  There ­behind the bales of rags going to the paper-mill.  Do you see them?” whispered Ruth.

“I declare!” returned her chum.  “Isn’t that mysterious?  It’s the little foreign lady and the big man who played the harp ­and how earnestly they are talking.”

“You see, she knew him after all,” said Ruth.  “But what a wicked-looking man he is!  And she was frightened when he spoke to her.”

“He looks villainous enough to be a brigand,” returned her chum, laughing.  “Yet, whoever heard of a fat brigand?  That would take the romance all out of the profession; wouldn’t it?”

“And fat villains are not so common; are they?” returned Ruth, echoing the laugh.