Ruth Fielding, a recently-orphaned girl, arrives in Cheslow, New York to live with her uncle, Jabez Potter, at the Red Mill with his housekeeper, Aunt Alvirah Boggs. Ruth is greatly disappointed in the cold reception she receives. Uncle Jabez seems to care very little about her, and all that he has to say is that she must earn her keep. Uncle Jabez grows even more difficult after his cash box disappears during a flood.
The sound of the drumming wheels! It had roared in the ears of Ruth Fielding for hours as she sat on the comfortably upholstered seat in the last car of the afternoon Limited, the train whirling her from the West to the East, through the fertile valleys of Upper New York State. This had been a very long journey for the girl, but Ruth knew that it would soon come to an end. Cheslow was not many miles ahead now; she had searched it out upon the railroad timetable, and upon the map printed on the back of the sheet; and as the stations flew by, she had spelled their names out with her quick eyes, until dusk had fallen and she could no longer see more than the signal lamps and switch targets as the train whirled her on. But she still stared through the window. This last car of the train was fairly well filled, but she had been fortunate in having a seat all to herself; she was glad this was so, for a person in the seat with her might have discovered how hard it was for her to keep back the tears.