Chapter 20




A FRIEND IN NEED.

Ruth Patton recovered herself by a great effort. "I won't trouble you any longer, sir," she faltered. "I think I can do without further assistance."

"Excuse me for doubting it. You look very weak. Take my arm. There is a drug store not far away where I can procure you a strengthening draught."

"I am sorry to trouble you so much," she murmured apologetically.

"It is no trouble, I assure you. I count myself fortunate in being on hand so opportunely."

Ruth for the first time, encouraged by his kind words, stole a glance at the stranger. He was a well made and unusually handsome young man of perhaps twenty-seven. His careful dress and something in his manner seemed to indicate high social position. The indication corresponded with the fact. Alfred Lindsay belonged to an old and distinguished New York family. Though his means were ample he was not content to be an idler, but after careful preparation at Columbia College and Law School, he had opened a law office in the Mills Building, and was already beginning to be known as a young man with a future.

His wealth and high social standing led him to be considered a "catch," in the matrimonial market. It is safe to say that at least half a dozen young ladies had set their caps for him. Among these was Luella Ferguson, and there were those who considered her chance of landing the prize the best. At any rate Mr. Lindsay, who had been employed by the elder Ferguson in some legal matter, became a frequent caller, to the great satisfaction of Luella Ferguson. It may not be considered a mark of taste on the part of the young man to have fallen a victim to the young lady's arts, but in his presence she was all that was amiable. She was not without a certain attractiveness of face, which, had it been joined to an equally agreeable disposition, might have proved a good excuse to any young man for succumbing to her fascinations. Never for a moment had he cause to suspect that she was otherwise than she seemed. Kind and sympathetic himself, the absence of these qualities, if known to him, would have rendered her repulsive to him.

He conducted Ruth to a drug store, and the druggist administered restoratives that soon brought back her strength and color, but not her cheerfulness.

"I am strong enough now to go on my way," she said rising. "How can I thank you, sir, for your kindness?"

"By allowing me to see you to your own door," and this he insisted on despite Ruth's protest.

"Would it be indiscreet," he asked, when they had set out on their way, "to ask if you can account for your sudden illness?"

"I had a shock," she answered.

"Of what sort? Are you willing to make me your confidant? I do not ask out of curiosity, but because it may be in my power to serve you."

"I have so few friends that I will not decline your kind offer."

"You were coming from the house of Mr. Robert Ferguson?"

"Yes, sir; do you know him?"

"Quite well. I was myself going there."

"Is he considered—an honorable man?"

"Why, surely. What can lead you to doubt it?"

In answer Ruth told her story. The young lawyer listened in pained surprise. Strictly honorable himself, he found it hard to believe that a man whom he knew so well could be guilty of the meanness of defrauding two women whose interests had been confided to him. Yet the story seemed probable. Moreover, even had matters been as Mr. Ferguson represented, his want of feeling seemed almost as bad as absolute dishonesty. He asked Ruth several questions in order that he might become fully possessed of all particulars.

"This, then, was the cause of your agitation?" he said at length.

"Not wholly. It was the treatment I received from Miss Ferguson that affected me most."

"Miss Ferguson! Do you know Miss Ferguson?" Lindsay asked quickly.

"I met her for the first time yesterday afternoon."

"Where—may I ask?"

"In the Erie train. I entered the cars at Port Jervis. She was already on board, but I do not know from what point she had come."

"I think I know. She had been visiting a school friend at Binghamton."

"You know her, then?"

"Yes. I met her at a party about a year since."

"If she is a friend of yours I will not say anything to her disadvantage."

"But I want you to tell me all there is to tell. I have a special reason for learning all I can about her. You say she treated you ill?"

"She treated me cruelly. She took offense in the cars because the conductor removed her dog from a seat in order to make room for me."

"Was there no other seat in the car?"

"None, or I would not have disturbed her. I did not like to stand all the way from Port Jervis to New York."

"Of course not. Please favor me with the particulars."

The young man listened attentively while Ruth in simple language—not exaggerating in any respect—told her story. Young Lindsay's brow contracted, for he felt indignant at the cold selfishness shown by the young lady who had hitherto attracted him. He felt that, if it were all true, he could never again look upon her even with ordinary friendship.

"She feigned to look upon me as a servant," Ruth concluded, "and sharply rebuked me for thrusting myself upon her. I would gladly have taken another seat had any been unoccupied, but the car was full. I heard from the train boy that it was on account of an excursion to Shohola Glen."

"I confess, Miss Patton" (Ruth had told her name), "I am surprised and pained by what you have told me. I never knew that Luella—Miss Ferguson—had such unlovely traits. To me she has always seemed kind and considerate."

Looking in the young man's expressive face, Ruth Patton felt that she understood better than he why Miss Ferguson had assumed to be what she was not. She was not surprised that Luella should desire to make a favorable impression upon one who seemed to her the most attractive young man she had ever met. But of course she could not give utterance to the thought that was in her mind, and remained silent.

"To change the subject," said Lindsay, after a pause, "may I ask what are your plans if you have any?"

"I must try to earn some money. If—if you would advise me."

"With pleasure. Let me ask, first, what you can do."

"I used to do some copying for a lawyer at Port Jervis."

"You are used, then, to copying legal documents?"

"I have done considerable of it."

"You do not use the typewriter?"

"No, I have never learned."

Alfred Lindsay paused, and his expressive face showed that he was busy thinking.

"I am a lawyer," he said at length, "and I have copying to do, of course. Would you mind calling upon me at my office to-morrow morning?"

"I shall be very glad to do so," answered Ruth, her eyes lighting up with new-born hopes.

"I think I can promise you something to do."

"Oh, sir, you don't know how your words cheer me. This is where I live. Thank you very much for your kind escort."

"Don't mention it. I will expect you to-morrow," and the young man took off his hat as respectfully as if Ruth, instead of being a poor girl in search of work, were a lady in his own set.



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