Betty Gordon, a recently-orphaned girl, becomes the ward of her uncle, Dick Gordon. Betty loves Uncle Dick from the moment that she meets him, but he must travel on business. Uncle Dick arranges for Betty to spend the summer at Bramble Farm, where his old school friend, Agatha Peabody, lives with her husband. While Betty hates to be separated from her uncle, she fantasizes about the good times she will have at Bramble Farm. Betty finds that Bramble Farm is a very miserable place. Mr. Peabody is a mean old miser, and Mrs. Peabody is crushed in spirit and unable to speak up for herself. Mr. Peabody forces his wife and employees to eat skimpy meals. He refuses to allow his wife to make any decisions, and Mrs. Peabody is treated almost like a slave. The one bright spot is Betty's new friend, Bob Henderson, who is a poorhouse boy who lives on the farm. "Take your old butter!" she stormed at the astonished Mr. Peabody. Both Betty and Bob wish they could escape from Bramble Farm. Betty writes to her uncle and explains how miserable life at Bramble Farm is. While Betty awaits a response, she becomes acquainted with Dr. Guerin and his family. Betty considers running away, but the Guerin family convinces her that it would be best to wait for her uncle to reply to her letter.
Ruth's classmate Jerry is hurt in a train wreck and goes to convalesce at the Red Mill. While tended to by Aunt Alvirah and Ruth, Jerry reveals how his uncle was cheated of his land on Cliff Island after losing his treasure box and deed in a landslide.
While on the way to a winter break vacation at Snow Camp, Ruth, Helen, and Tom cross paths with a strangely sullen boy named Fred Hatfield. The chum's chaperone, Mr. Cameron, suspects the boy of being a runaway, and decides to take him back to his family in the town near Snow Camp. When the runaway jumps from their train on the way North, Ruth follows -- and what follows is a harrowing adventure with a panther, a crazy hermit, and a trip through the chilling climate of New York state!
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