Read CHAPTER III - APPROACHING THE PROMISED LAND of Ruth Fielding at Briarwood Hall / Solving the Campus Mystery, free online book, by Alice B. Emerson, on

Tom had tried to remove the smut of the steamboat engine-room from his face with his handkerchief; but as his sister told him, his martial appearance in the uniform of the Seven Oaks cadets was rather spoiled by “a smootchy face.”  There wasn’t time then, however, to make any toilet before the train left.  They were off on the short run to Seven Oaks in a very few minutes after leaving the Lanawaxa.

Tom was very much excited now.  He craned his head out of the car window to catch the first glimpse of the red brick barracks and dome of the gymnasium, which were the two most prominent buildings belonging to the Academy.  Finally the hill on which the school buildings stood flashed into view.  They occupied the summit of the knoll, while the seven great oaks, standing in a sort of druidical circle, dotted the smooth, sloping lawn that descended to the railroad cut.

“Oh, how ugly!” cried Helen, who had never seen the place before.  “I do hope that Briarwood Hall will be prettier than that, or I shall want to run back home the very first week.”

Her brother smiled in a most superior way.

“That’s just like a girl,” he said.  “Wanting a school to look pretty!  Pshaw!  I want to see a jolly crowd of fellows, that’s what I want.  I hope I’ll get in with a good crowd.  I know Gil Wentworth, who came here last year, and he says he’ll put me in with a nice bunch.  That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

The train was slowing down.  There was a handsome brick station and a long platform.  This was crowded with boys, all in military garb like Tom’s own.  They looked so very trim and handsome that Helen and Ruth were quite excited.  There were boys ranging from little fellows of ten, in knickerbockers, to big chaps whose mustaches were sprouting on their upper lips.

“Oh, dear me!” gasped Ruth.  “See what a crowd we have got to go through.  All those boys!”

“That’s all right,” Tom said, gruffly.  “I’ll see you to the stage.  There it stands yonder ­and a jolly old scarecrow of a carriage it is, too!”

He was evidently feeling somewhat flurried himself.  He was going to meet more than half the great school informally right there at the station.  They had gathered to meet and greet “freshmen.”

But the car in which our friends rode stopped well along the platform and very near the spot where the old, brown, battered, and dust-covered stage coach, drawn by two great, bony horses, stood in the fall sunshine.  Most of the Academy boys were at the other end of the platform.

Gil Wentworth, Tom’s friend, had given young Cameron several pointers as to his attitude on arrival at the Seven Oaks station.  He had been advised to wear the school uniform (he had passed the entrance examinations two months before) so as to be less noticeable in the crowd.

Very soon a slow and dirge-like chant arose from the cadets gathered on the station platform.  From the rear cars of the train had stepped several boys in citizen’s garb, some with parents or guardians and some alone, and all burdened with more or less baggage and a doubtful air that proclaimed them immediately “new boys.”  The hymn of greeting rose in mournful cadence: 

  “Freshie!  Freshie!  How-de-do! 
  We’re all waiting here for you. 
    Hold your head up! 
    Square each shoulder! 
    Thrust your chest out!
    Do look bolder!

  Mamma’s precious ­papa’s man ­
  Keep the tears back if you can. 
    Sob!  Sob!  Sob! 
    It’s an awful job ­
  Freshie’s leaving home and mo-o-ther!”

The mournful wailing of that last word cannot be expressed by mere type.  There were other verses, too, and as the new boys filed off into the path leading up to the Academy with their bags and other encumbrances, the uniformed boys, en masse, got into step behind them and tramped up the hill, singing this dreadful dirge.  The unfortunate new arrivals had to listen to the chant all the way up the hill.  If they ran to get away from the crowd, it only made them look the more ridiculous; the only sensible way was to endure it with a grin.

Tom grinned widely himself, for he had certainly been overlooked.  Or, he thought so until he had placed the two girls safely in the big omnibus, had kissed Helen good-bye, and shaken hands with Ruth.  But the girls, looking out of the open door of the coach, saw him descend from the step into the midst of a group of solemn-faced boys who had only held back out of politeness to the girls whom Tom escorted.

Helen and Ruth, stifling their amusement, heard and saw poor Tom put through a much more severe examination than the other boys, for the very reason that he had come dressed in his uniform.  He was forced to endure a searching inquiry regarding his upbringing and private affairs, right within the delighted hearing of the wickedly giggling girls.  And then a tall fellow started to put him through the manual of arms.

Poor Tom was all at sea in that, and the youth, with gravity, declared that he was insulting the uniform by his ignorance and caused him to remove his coat and turn it inside out; and so Helen and Ruth saw him marched away with his stern escort, in a most ridiculous red flannel garment (the lining of the coat) which made him conspicuous from every barrack window and, indeed, from every part of the academy hill.

“Oh, dear me!” sighed Helen, wiping her eyes and almost sobbing after her laughter.  “And Tommy thought he would escape any form of hazing!  He wasn’t so cute as he thought he was.”

But Ruth suddenly became serious.  “Suppose we are greeted in any such way at Briarwood?” she exclaimed.  “I believe some girls are horrid.  They have hazing in some girls’ schools, I’ve read.  Of course, it won’t hurt us, Helen ­”

“It’ll be just fun, I think!” cried the enthusiastic Helen and then she stopped with an explosive “Oh!”

There was being helped into the coach by the roughly dressed and bewhiskered driver, the little, doll-like, foreign woman whom they thought had been left behind at Portageton.

“There ye air, Ma’mzell!” this old fellow said.  “An’ here’s yer bag ­an’ yer umbrella ­an’ yer parcel.  All there, be ye?  Wal, wal, wal!  So I got two more gals fer Briarwood; hev I?”

He was a jovial, rough old fellow, with a wind-blown face and beard and hair enough to make his head look to be as big as a bushel basket.  He was dressed in a long, faded “duster” over his other nondescript garments, and his battered hat was after the shape of those worn by Grand Army men.  He limped, too, and was slow in his movements and deliberate in his speech.

“I s’pose ye be goin’ ter Briarwood, gals?” he added, curiously.

“Yes,” replied Ruth.

“Where’s yer baggage?” he asked.

“We only have our bags.  Our trunks have gone by the way of Lumberton,” explained Ruth.

“Ah!  Well!  All right!” grunted the driver, and started to shut the door.  Then he glanced from Ruth and Helen to the little foreign lady.  “I leave ye in good hands,” he said, with a hoarse chuckle.  “This here lady is one o’ yer teachers, Ma’mzell Picolet.”  He pronounced the little lady’s name quite as outlandishly as he did “mademoiselle.”  It sounded like “Pickle-yet” on his tongue.

“That will do, M’sieur Dolliver,” said the little lady, rather tartly.  “I may venture to introduce myself ­is it not?”

She did not raise her veil.  She spoke English with scarcely any accent.  Occasionally she arranged her phrases in an oddly foreign way; but her pronunciation could not be criticised.  Old Dolliver, the stage driver, grinned broadly as he closed the door.

“Ye allus make me feel like a Frenchman myself, when ye say ‘moosher,’ Ma’mzell,” he chuckled.

“You are going to Briarwood Hall, then, my young ladies?” said Miss Picolet.

“Yes, Ma’am,” said Ruth, shyly.

“I shall be your teacher in the French language ­perhaps in deportment and the graces of life,” the little lady said, pleasantly.  “You will both enter into advanced classes, I hope?”

Helen, after all, was more shy than Ruth with strangers.  When she became acquainted she gained confidence rapidly.  But now Ruth answered again for both: 

“I was ready to enter the Cheslow High School; Helen is as far advanced as I am in all studies, Miss Picolet.”

“Good!” returned the teacher.  “We shall get on famously with such bright girls,” and she nodded several times.

But she was not really companionable.  She never raised her veil.  And she only talked with the girls by fits and starts.  There were long spaces of time when she sat huddled in the corner of her seat, with her face turned from them, and never said a word.

But the nearer the rumbling old stagecoach approached the promised land of Briarwood Hall the more excited Ruth and Helen became.  They gazed out of the open windows of the coach doors and thought the country through which they traveled ever so pretty.  Occasionally old Dolliver would lean out from his seat, twist himself around in a most impossible attitude so as to see into the coach, and bawl out to the two girls some announcement of the historical or other interest of the localities they passed.

Suddenly, as they surmounted a long ridge and came out upon the more open summit, they espied a bridle path making down the slope, through an open grove and across uncultivated fields beyond ­a vast blueberry pasture.  Up this path a girl was coming.  She swung her hat by its strings in her hand and commenced to run up the hill when she spied the coach.

She was a thin, wiry, long-limbed girl.  She swung her hat excitedly and although the girls in the coach could not hear her, they knew that she shouted to Old Dolliver.  He pulled up, braking the lumbering wheels grumblingly.  The newcomer’s sharp, freckled face grew plainer to the interested gaze of Ruth and Helen as she came out of the shadow of the trees into the sunlight of the dusty highway.

“Got any Infants, Dolliver?” the girl asked, breathlessly.

“Two on ’em, Miss Cox,” replied the stage driver.

“Then I’m in time.  Of course, nobody’s met ’em?”

“Hist!  Ma’mzell’s in there,” whispered Dolliver, hoarsely.

“Oh!  She!” exclaimed Miss Cox, with plain scorn of the French teacher.  “That’s all right, Dolliver.  I’ll get in.  Ten cents, mind you, from here to Briarwood.  That’s enough.”

“All right, Miss Cox.  Ye allus was a sharp one,” chuckled Dolliver, as the sharp-faced girl jerked open the nearest door of the coach and stared in, blinking, out of the sunlight.