Read CHAPTER XXII - THE HARPIST ONCE MORE of Ruth Fielding at Briarwood Hall / Solving the Campus Mystery, free online book, by Alice B. Emerson, on

Over all, Ruth wore a woolen sweater ­one of those stretchy, clinging coats with great pearl buttons that was just the thing for a skating frolic.  It had been her one reckless purchase since being at Briarwood, she and Helen having gone down into Lumberton on Saturday and purchased coats.  While Ruth and Tom were yet some yards from the open water the girl began to unbutton this.

“Careful, Tom!” she gasped.  “Not too near ­wait!”

“It’s thick ’way to the edge,” he returned, pantingly.

“No, it isn’t.  That’s why Mary Cox went in.  I saw the ice break under her when she tried to turn and escape.”

Thus warned, Tom dug the heel of his right skate into the ice as a brake, and they slowed down.

Ruth let go of his hand and wriggled out of her coat in a moment.  Then she dropped to her knees and slid along the ice, while Tom flung himself forward and traveled just as though he were sliding down hill.

“Take this, Tom!” cried Ruth, and tossed the coat to him.  “We’ll make a chain ­I’ll hold your feet.  Not too near!”

“Hold on, Bobbins!” yelled young Cameron.  “We’ll have you out in a minute!”

Mary Cox had screamed very loudly at first; and she struggled with her fellow victim, too.  Bob Steele was trying to hold her up, but finally he was obliged to let her go, and she went under water with a gurgling cry.

“Grab her again, Bobbins!” called Tom, flinging Ruth’s coat ahead of him, but holding firmly to it himself by the two sleeves.

“I’ve got her!” gasped Bob Steele, his teeth chattering, and up The Fox came again, her hair all dripping, and her face very pale.

“Good!” said Tom.  “She’s swallowed enough water to keep her still for a while ­what?  Come on, now, old boy!  Don’t wait!  Catch hold!”

As Ruth had warned him, the edge of the ice was fragile.  He dared not push himself out too far with the sharp toes of his skates.  He dug them into the ice now hard, and made another cast with the coat.

His chum caught it.  Tom drew them slowly toward the edge of the ice.  Ruth pulled back as hard as she could, and together they managed to work their bodies at least two yards farther from the open water.  The ice stopped cracking under Tom’s breast.

There was the ring of skates and shouting of voices in their ears, and Ruth, raising herself slightly, looked around and screamed to the crowd to keep back.  Indeed, the first of Tom’s school friends would have skated right down upon them had they not thus been warned.

“Keep back!” Ruth cried.  “We can get them out.  Don’t come nearer!”

Tom seconded her warning, too.  But mainly he gave himself up to the work of aiding the two in the water.  Bob Steele lifted the girl up ­he was a strong swimmer even in that icy bath ­and did it with one hand, too, for he clung to Ruth’s coat with the other.

Mary Cox began to struggle again.  Fortunately Bob had her half upon the ice.  Tom reached forward and seized her shoulder.  He dragged back with all his strength.  The ice crashed in again; but Mary did not fall back, for Tom jerked her heavily forward.

“Now we’ve got her!” called Tom.

And they really had.  Mary Cox was drawn completely out of the water.  Mr. Hargreaves, meanwhile, had flown to the rescue with two of the bigger boys.  They got down on the ice, forming a second living chain, and hitching forward, the tutor seized the half-conscious girl’s hand.  The others drew back and dragged Mr. Hargreaves, with the girl, to firm ice.

Meanwhile Tom, with Ruth to help him, struggled manfully to get Bob Steele out.  That youngster was by no means helpless, and they accomplished the rescue smartly.

“And that’s thanks to you, Ruthie!” declared Tom, when the tutor and Miss Reynolds had hurried the half-drowned girl and young Steele off to the Minnetonka.  “I’d never have gotten him but for you ­and look at your coat!”

“It will dry,” laughed the girl from the Red Mill.  “Let’s hurry after them, Tom.  You’re wet a good deal, too ­and I shall miss my coat, being so heated.  Come on!”

But she could not escape the congratulations of the girls and boys when they reached the steamboat.  Even Mary Cox’s closest friends gathered around Ruth to thank her.  Nobody could gainsay the fact that Ruth had been of great help in the recovery of Mary and Bob from the lake.

But Helen! had the other girls ­and Miss Reynolds ­not been in the little cabin of the boat which had been given up to the feminine members of the party, she would have broken down and cried on Ruth’s shoulder.  To think that she had been guilty of neglecting her chum!

“I believe I have been bewitched, Ruthie,” she whispered.  “Tom, I know, is on the verge of scolding me.  What did you say to him?”

“Nothing that need trouble you in the least, you may be sure, Helen,” said Ruth.  “But, my dear, if it has taken such a thing as this ­which is not a thing to go into heroics over ­to remind you that I might possibly be hurt by your treatment, I am very sorry indeed.”

“Why, Ruth!” Helen gasped.  “You don’t forgive me?”

“I am not at all sure, Helen, that you either need or want my forgiveness,” returned Ruth.  “You have done nothing yourself for which you need to ask it ­er, at least, very little; but your friends have insulted and been unkind to me.  I do not think that I could have called girls my friends who had treated you so, Helen.”

Miss Cox had retired to a small stateroom belonging to one of the officers of the boat, while her clothing was dried by the colored stewardess.  Bob Steele, however, borrowed some old clothes of some of the crew, and appeared when the lunch was ready in those nondescript garments, greatly adding to the enjoyment of the occasion.

“Well, sonny, your croup will bother you sure enough, after that dip,” declared his sister.  “Come! let sister tuck your bib in like a nice boy.  And don’t gobble!”

Bob was such a big fellow ­his face was so pink, and his hair so yellow ­that Madge’s way of talking to him made him seem highly comic.  The fellows from Seven Oaks shouted with laughter, and the girls giggled.  Mr. Hargreaves and Miss Reynolds, both relieved beyond expression by the happy conclusion of what might have been a very serious accident, did not quell the fun; and fifty or sixty young people never had such a good time before in the saloon of the lake steamer, Minnetonka.

Suddenly music began somewhere about the boat and the young folk began to get restive.  Some ran for their skates again, for the idea was to remain near the steamer for a while and listen to the music before going back to shore.  The music was a piano, guitar, violin, and harp, and when Ruth heard it and recognized the latter instrument she was suddenly reminded of Miss Picolet and the strange harpist who (she firmly believed) had caused the startling sound at the fountain.

“Let’s go and see who’s playing,” she whispered to Helen, who had clung close to her ever since they had come aboard the steamboat.  And as Tom was on the other side of his sister, he went with them into the forward part of the boat.

“Well, what do you know about that?” demanded Tom, almost before the girls were in the forward cabin.  “Isn’t that the big man with the red waistcoat that frightened that little woman on the Lanawaxa?  You know, you pointed them out to me on the dock at Portageton, Helen?  Isn’t that him at the harp?”

“Oh! it is, indeed!” ejaculated his sister.  “What a horrid man he is!  Let’s come away.”

But Ruth was deeply interested in the harpist.  She wondered what knowledge of, or what connection he had with, the little French teacher, Miss Picolet.  And she wondered, too, if her suspicions regarding the mystery of the campus ­the sounding of the harpstring in the dead of night ­were borne out by the facts?

Had this coarse fellow, with his pudgy hands, his corpulency, his drooping black mustache, some hold upon Miss Picolet?  Had he followed her to Briarwood Hall, and had he made her meet him behind the fountain just at that hour when the Upedes were engaged in hazing Helen and herself?  These thoughts arose in her mind again as Ruth gazed apprehensively at the ugly-looking harpist.

Helen pulled her sleeve and Ruth was turning away when she saw that the little, piglike eyes of the harpist were turned upon them.  He smiled in his sly way and actually nodded at them.

“Sh! he remembers us,” whispered Helen.  “Oh, do come away, Ruth!”

“He isn’t any handsome object, that’s a fact,” muttered Tom.  “And the cheek of him ­nodding to you two girls!”

After the excitement of the accident on the lake our friends did not feel much like skating until it came time to go back to the landing.  Mr. Hargreaves was out on the ice with those students of the two schools who preferred to skate; but Miss Reynolds remained in the cabin.  Mary Cox had had her lunch in the little stateroom, wrapped in blankets and in the company of an oil-stove, for heat’s sake.  Now she came out, re-dressed in her own clothes, which were somewhat mussed and shrunken in appearance.

Helen ran to her at once to congratulate Mary on her escape.  “And wasn’t it lucky Tom and Ruth were so near you?” she cried.  “And dear old Ruthie! she’s quite a heroine; isn’t she?  And you must meet Tom.”

“I shall be glad to meet and thank your brother, Helen,” said The Fox, rather crossly.  “But I don’t see what need there is to make a fuss over Fielding.  Your brother and Mr. Hargreaves pulled Mr. Steele and me out or the lake.”

Helen stepped back and her pretty face flushed.  She had begun to see Mary Cox in her true light.  Certainly she was in no mood just then to hear her chum disparaged.  She looked around for Tom and Ruth; the former was talking quietly with Miss Reynolds, but Ruth had slipped away when The Fox came into the cabin.

Mary Cox walked unperturbed to the teacher and Tom and put out her hand to the youth, thanking him very nicely for what he had done.

“Oh, you mustn’t thank me more than the rest of them,” urged Tom.  “At least, I did no more than Ruthie.  By the way, where is Ruthie?”

But Ruth Fielding had disappeared, and they did not see her again until the call was given for the start home.  Then she appeared from the forward part of the boat, very pale and silent, and all the way to the shore, skating between Tom and Helen, she had scarcely a word to say.