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

For there was the burden of a secret on Ruth Fielding’s mind and heart.  She had slipped away when she saw The Fox appear in the outer cabin and, walking forward, had been stopped suddenly in a cross gallery by a firm touch upon her arm.

“Sh!  Mademoiselle!”

Before she looked into the shadowy place she realized that it was the harpist.  His very presence so near her made Ruth shrink and tremble for an instant.  But then she recovered her self-possession and asked, unshakenly: 

“What do you want of me?”

“Ah, Mademoiselle!  Kind Mademoiselle!” purred the great creature ­and Ruth knew well what his villainous smile must look like, although she could not see it.  “May the unfortunate vagabond musician speak a single word into Mademoiselle’s ear?”

“You have spoken several words into it already, sir,” said Ruth, sharply.  “What do you want?”

“Ah! the Mademoiselle is so practical,” murmured the harpist again.

“Be quick,” commanded Ruth, for although she had a strong repugnance for the fellow there was no reason why she should fear him, with so many people within call.  “State your reason for stopping me, sir.”

“The Mademoiselle is from the school ­the institute where learning is taught the lo-fe-ly Misses?”

He thus made three syllables of “lovely” and Ruth knew that he leered like a Billiken in the dark.

“I am at Briarwood Hall ­yes,” she said.

“I have seen the kind Mademoiselle before,” said the man.  “On the boat on that other so-beeg lake ­Osago, is it?”

“On the Lanawaxa ­yes,” admitted Ruth.

“Ah!  I am proud.  The Mademoiselle remember me,” he exclaimed, bowing in the dark alley.

“Go on,” urged Ruth, impatiently.

“It is of the leetle lady ­Mademoiselle Picolet ­I would speak,” he said, more quickly.

“Our French teacher ­yes.”

“Then, knowing her, will the Mademoiselle take a small note from the poor musician to the good Picolet?  ’Tis a small matter ­no?”

“You want me to do this without telling anybody about it?” questioned Ruth, bluntly.

Oui, oui, Mademoiselle!  You have the discernment beyond your years.  Indeed!”

“I knew it must be something underhanded you wanted,” declared Ruth, boldly.

He laughed and Ruth saw a small envelope thrust toward her in the dusk of the passage.  “You will take it?” he said.

“I will take it ­providing you do not come there again,” exclaimed Ruth.

“Come where?” he demanded.

“To the school.  To the campus where the fountain is.”

“Ha! you know that, my pretty bird?” he returned.  “Well! this will perhaps relieve the good Picolet of my presence ­who knows?”

“Then I will take it,” Ruth said, hastily, her hand closing on the billet.

Comme il faut,” he said, and went away down the passage, humming in his bassoon voice.

And so, as she sped shoreward between her two friends, Ruth had the little letter tucked away in the bosom of her frock.  The secret troubled her.  She was really glad to say good bye to Tom at the landing, and all the way back in the wagonette, although Helen sat close to her and tried to show her how sorry she was for her past neglect, Ruth was very silent.

For she was much disturbed by this secret.  She feared she was doing wrong in carrying the note to Miss Picolet.  Yet, under different circumstances, she might have thought little of it.  But after her talk with Mrs. Tellingham about the mystery of the campus, she was troubled to think that she was taking any part in the French teacher’s private affairs.

Helen was so filled with the excitement of the day, and of her long talk with her twin brother, that she did not observe Ruth’s distraught manner.

“And we’ll have such fun!” Ruth finally awoke to hear her chum declare in a whisper.  “Father’s always promised to get a place in the woods, and Snow Camp is a delightful spot.”

“What are you talking about, Helen?” demanded Ruth, suddenly.

“I don’t believe you’ve heard a thing I’ve been saying,” cried her chum.

“I haven’t heard everything,” admitted Ruth.  “But tell me now; I’ll listen.”

“It’s about the Christmas Holidays.  You shall go with us.  We’re going ’way up in the woods ­to a hunting camp that father has bought.  We were there for a week-end once when Mr. Parrish owned it.  Snow Camp is the most delightful place.”

“I am sure you will have a fine time,” Ruth said, generously.

“And so you will, too,” declared Helen, “for you’re going.”

“My dear!  I am going home to the Red Mill at Christmas.”

“And we’ll go home for Christmas, too; but there are three weeks’ holidays, and two of them we will spend at Snow Camp.  Oh, yes we will!” Helen cried.  “I’d cry my eyes out if you didn’t go, Ruth.”

“But Uncle Jabez ­”

“We’ll just tease him until he lets you go.  He’ll not object much, I’m sure.  I should just cry my eyes out if you didn’t go with us, Ruthie,” she repeated.

The plan for the winter holidays sank into insignificance in Ruth’s mind, however, when they left the carriages and ran over to the West Dormitory just as evening was falling.  Mercy waved a white hand to them from her window as they crossed the campus; but Ruth allowed Helen to run ahead while she halted in the lower corridor and asked Miss Scrimp if the French teacher was in her room.

“Oh, yes, Miss Ruthie,” said the matron.  “Miss Picolet is in.  You can knock.”

As Ruth asked this question and received its answer she saw Mary Cox come in alone at the hall door.  The Fox had not spoken to Ruth since the accident on the ice.  Now she cast no pleasant glance in Ruth’s direction.  Yet, seeing the younger girl approaching Miss Picolet’s door, Mary smiled one of her very queerest smiles, nodded her head with secret satisfaction, and marched on upstairs to her own study.

“Enter!” said Miss Picolet’s soft voice in answer to Ruth’s timid rap on the panel of the door.

The girl entered and found the little French teacher sewing by the window.  Miss Picolet looked up, saw who it was, and welcomed Ruth with a smile.

“I hope you have had a joyful day, Miss Ruth,” she said.  “Come to the radiator ­you are cold.”

“I am going to run upstairs in a moment, Mademoiselle,” said Ruth, hesitatingly.  “But I have a message for you.”

“A message for me?” said the lady, in surprise.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“From the Preceptress, Ruth?”

“No, Miss Picolet.  It ­it is a letter that has been given me to be handed to you ­secretly.”

The little teacher’s withered cheek flushed and her bright little eyes clouded.  By the way one of her hands fluttered over her heart, too, Ruth knew that Miss Picolet was easily frightened.

“A letter for me?” she whispered.

Ruth was unbuttoning her coat and frock to get at the letter.  She said: 

“There was an orchestra on that boat that was frozen into the ice, Miss Picolet.  One of the musicians spoke to me.  He knew you ­or said he did ­”

The girl hated to go on, Miss Picolet turned so pale and looked so frightened.  But it had to be done, and Ruth pursued her story: 

“I had seen the man before ­the day we came to school here, Helen and I. He played the harp on the Lanawaxa.”

“Ah!” gasped the French woman, holding out her hand.  “No more, my dear!  I understand.  Let me have it.”

But now Ruth hesitated and stammered, and felt in the bosom of her dress with growing fear.  She looked at Miss Picolet, her own face paling.

“Oh, Miss Picolet!” she suddenly burst out.  “What will you think?  What can I say?”

“What ­what is the matter?” gasped the French teacher.

“I ­I haven’t got it ­it is gone!”

“What do you mean, Ruth Fielding?” cried Miss Picolet, springing to her feet.

“It’s gone ­I’ve lost it!  Oh, my dear Miss Picolet!  I didn’t mean to.  I tried to be so careful.  But I have lost the letter he gave me addressed to you!”