The Corner House Girls on a Houseboat
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“I don’t care. We can take umbrellas, and the boat has a roof on it,” said Dot. “My Alice-doll has been wet before.”
“But Almira doesn’t like rain, and her kittens might get cold,” objected Tess.
“We can’t take Almira!” said Ruth in a voice that Tess knew it was useless to appeal from. “The poor cat wouldn’t have a good time, Tessie, and she’d be in the way with her kittens.”
“She could catch mice,” suggested Tess, as a sort of last hope.
“There are mice on canal boats. I heard Hank Dayton say so,” put in Dot, seeking to strengthen Tess’s position.
“We’ll get a cat later if we need it,” compromised Ruth. “Don’t think of bringing Almira.”
“All right!” assented Dot, and then Tess called:
“There’s Sammy, and he’s got Billy Bumps. Let’s go down and tell them good-by!”
“Can’t Sammy come with us?” asked Dot, turning to Ruth.
“No indeed, nor the goat either! So don’t ask him and make him feel bad when I have to refuse him.”
“All right,” sighed Dot.
Then she and Tess finished dressing and went out to greet Sammy, who was paying one of his early morning calls.
“Want me to do any errands for you, Ruth?” he politely asked when he had refused an invitation to breakfast, saying he had already eaten.
“No, thank you, Sammy,” was the answer.
“I could go quick – hitch Billy to the wagon and get anything you wanted from the village,” he went on.
Ruth shook her head, and then had to hurry away to see about one of the many last-minute details.
“Well, good-by, then,” said Sammy to the other sisters, as he prepared to depart. “I wish I was going! We could take Billy Bumps.”
“But if they wouldn’t let me take a cat on the boat I don’t suppose they’d want a goat,” put in Tess.
“I don’t guess so,” said Sammy, more meekly than he usually spoke. “Well, good-by!” And down the street he went, taking Billy Bumps, who belonged to Tess and Dot, with him.
“It does look like rain,” said Agnes, when it was almost time for Mr. Howbridge to call for them in his machine to take them and their baggage to the houseboat.
“It may hold off until we get on board,” said Ruth. She gave a sudden start. “Oh, Agnes! Our jewelry! We forgot to take it to the bank!”
“That’s so! I knew we’d forget something! Well, haven’t we time to run down with it now before Mr. Howbridge comes?”
Ruth looked at her wrist watch.
“Just about,” was her decision. “Come on. You and I can take the package down and then hurry back.”
“You’d best take an umbrella, ma dearies!” cautioned Mrs. MacCall. “’Tis showery goin’ to be this day!”
“We’ll take one,” assented Ruth.
She and Agnes had planned to leave their jewelry and some other articles of value in their safe deposit box, but had forgotten it until now.
The two older girls sallied forth with a large umbrella, which Agnes carried, while Ruth had the package of jewelry.
They were half way to the bank, no great distance from home, when suddenly a downpour began with the usual quickness of a summer shower.
“Hurry! Raise the umbrella!” cried Ruth.“I’m getting drenched!”
“Isn’t it terrible!” gasped Agnes.
She and her sister stepped into the shelter of the nearest doorway for a moment. Something was wrong with the catch of the umbrella. Ruth was just going to help her sister raise it when suddenly two rough-looking men rushed from the hall back of the doorway in which the girls had taken shelter.
One of the men rudely brushed past Ruth, and, as he did so, he made a grab for the packet of jewelry, snatching it from her.
“Oh!” screamed the girl. “Stop! Oh! Oh, Agnes!”
The other man turned and pushed Agnes back as she leaned forward to help Ruth.
Then, as the rain came down harder than ever, the men sped up the street, leaving the two horror-stricken girls breathless in the doorway.
CHAPTER IX – ALL ABOARD
For a moment after the robbery neither Ruth nor Agnes felt capable of saying anything or doing anything. Ruth, it is true, had cried out as the burly ruffian had snatched the packet of jewelry from her, and then fear seemed to paralyze her. But this was only for a moment. In few seconds both she and Agnes became their energetic selves, as befitted the characters of Corner House girls.
“Oh, Agnes! did you see? He has the jewelry!” cried Ruth.
“Yes, I saw! He pushed me back or I’d have grabbed it away again! We must take after them!”
The girls started to leave, having managed to get the umbrella up, but at that instant there came such a fierce blast of wind and such a blinding downpour of rain that they were fairly forced back into the doorway.
And, more than this, their umbrella was turned inside out and sent flapping in their faces by the erratic wind, so that they could not see what they were doing.
“This is awful!” exclaimed Agnes, and she was near to crying.
“We must call for help,” said Ruth, but they would have needed to shout very loud indeed to be heard above the racket made by the wind and rain. A momentary glimpse up and down the street, when a view of it could be had amid the sheets of rain, showed no one in sight.
“What shall we do?” cried Ruth, vainly trying to get the umbrella to its proper shape.
At that moment the door behind them opened. The girls turned, fearing a further attack, but they saw Myra Stetson, whose father kept a grocery, and it was in the doorway adjoining the store that the Corner House girls had taken refuge.
“What is the matter?” asked Myra, when she saw who it was. “I heard the door blow open and I came down to shut it.”
The Stetson family lived up over the grocery, where there were two flats.
“What has happened?” went on the grocer’s daughter. She was rather more friendly with Agnes than with Ruth, but knew both sisters, and, indeed, Ruth was planning to have Myra on one of the Civic Betterment committees. There had been some little differences of opinion between Myra and Agnes, but these had been smoothed out and the girls were now good friends.
“We’ve been robbed! At least Ruth has!” exclaimed Agnes. “A ruffian took our jewelry box!”
“You don’t mean it!” cried Myra.
“I only wish I didn’t,” said Ruth brokenly. “Oh, my lovely rings!”
“And my pins!” added Agnes.
“Tell me about it,” begged Myra, and, rather breathlessly, the Corner House girls told the story of the assault of the two burly men in the doorway.
“They ran off down the street with the box of jewelry we were taking to the bank,” explained Ruth.
“Then you’d better tell the police at once,” advised Myra. “Come on up into our flat and you can telephone from there. Mr. Buckley is a special officer and he has a telephone. Father will send for him. Do come up!”
“Yes, I think we had better,” agreed Ruth. “And we must notify Mr. Howbridge. That is, if he hasn’t left his office.”
“If he has we can get him at our house,” said Agnes. “We were just going to start on a houseboat trip when this terrible thing happened,” she explained to Myra.
“Isn’t it too bad!” said the grocer’s daughter. “But do come upstairs. Did you say the man came out of our hallway?”
“Yes,” answered Ruth. “We stepped into the doorway to be out of the rain for a moment and to raise the umbrella, the catch of which had been caught in some way, when they both rushed past us, one of them grabbing the box from under my arm.”
“And one gave me a shove,” added Agnes.
“That’s the most amazing thing I ever heard of!” declared Myra. “Those men must have been hiding in there waiting for you.”
“But how did they know we were coming?” asked Ruth. “We didn’t think of going to the bank with the jewelry ourselves until a few minutes ago. Those men couldn’t have known about it.”
“Then it’s very strange,” said Myra. “I must tell father about it. There may be more of them hiding upstairs.”
“Do you mean in your house?” asked Agnes, for they were now ascending the stairs, the refractory umbrella having at last been subdued and turned right side out.
“I mean in the vacant flat above ours,” went on Myra. “It’s to let, you know, and two men were in to look at it yesterday. They said they were from the Klondike.”
“From the Klondike!” exclaimed Ruth, and she and Agnes exchanged significant glances.
“Yes. That’s in Alaska where they dig gold, you know,” explained Myra. “I didn’t see the men. Father said they came to look at the flat, and one of them remarked they had just come back from the gold regions. They didn’t rent it though, as far as I know.”
“Isn’t that strange?” said Agnes slowly.
“Very,” agreed Ruth, and, by a look, she warned her sister not to say any more just then.
They were ushered into the Stetson living apartment over the store and Mr. and Mrs. Stetson were soon listening to the story.
“The idea of any men daring to use our hallway to commit a robbery!” cried Mrs. Stetson. “Father, you’d better see if any more of the villains are hiding. I’m sure I’ll not sleep a wink this night.”
“I’ll take a look,” said the grocer. “That hall door often blows open, though. The lock needs fixing. It would be easy for any one to slip into the lower hall from the street and wait there.”
“That’s what they probably did,” said Agnes. “And it was just by accident that we went up to the doorway to raise the umbrella. The men must have seen us, and, though they couldn’t have known what was in the box, they took it anyhow. Oh, it’s too bad! Our trip is spoiled now!” and she was on the verge of tears.
“Don’t worry, my dear,” advised Mrs. Stetson. “We’ll get the police after them. Father, you must telephone at once. And you must have a look in those vacant rooms upstairs.”
“I will,” promised the grocer, and then began a period of activity. A clerk and a porter from the grocery downstairs made a careful examination of the upper premises, but, of course, discovered no more thieves. And, naturally, there were no traces of the men who had robbed Ruth and Agnes.
The telephone soon put the police authorities of Milton in possession of the facts, and Special Officer Buckley, was soon “on the job,” as he expressed it. He came, a burly figure in rubber boots and a glistening rubber coat, to the Stetson apartment, there to hear the story first-hand from Ruth and Agnes. With him also came Jimmy Dale, a reporter from the Milton Morning Post.
Jimmy had been at the police headquarters when word of the robbery was telephoned in, and he, too, “got on the job.”
All the description Ruth and Agnes could give of the men was that they were rough and burly and not very well dressed. But it had all taken place so quickly and in such obscurity amid the mist of the rain that it was difficult for either girl to be accurate.
Then as much as was possible was done. Several other special officers were notified of the occurrence, and the regular police force of Milton, no very large aggregation, was instructed to “pick up” any suspicious characters about town.
Mr. Stetson confirmed the statement made by Myra that two men who claimed to have recently returned from the Klondike had been to look at the vacant flat the day before. In appearance they were rather rough, the grocer said, though he would not call them tramps by any means.
There might be a possible connection between the two, it was agreed. Mr. Howbridge was notified by telephone, and called in his automobile for the two girls, who, after some tea, felt a little more composed.
“But, oh my lovely jewelry!” exclaimed Agnes. “It’s gone!”
“And mine,” added Ruth. “There were some things of Dot’s and Tessie’s in the box, too, and mother’s wedding ring,” and Ruth sighed.
“The police may recover it,” said the lawyer. “I am glad neither of you was harmed,” and his gaze rested anxiously on his wards.
“No, they barely touched me,” said the older girl. “One of them just grabbed the box and ran.”
“The other one gave me a shove,” declared Agnes. “If I had known what he was up to he wouldn’t have got away so easily. I haven’t been playing basket ball for nothing!” she boasted.
“Well, I think there is nothing more to be done,” said their guardian. “While there is no great rush, I think the sooner we get started on our houseboat trip the better. So if you’ll come with me, I’ll take you home, we can gather up the last of the baggage and make a quick trip to the Bluebird. I have the side curtains up and the rain is stopping, I think.”
“Oh, are we going on the trip —now– after the robbery?” asked Ruth doubtfully.
“Yes. Why not?” inquired the lawyer, with a smile. “You can do nothing by staying here, and if the men should be arrested I can arrange to bring you back to identify them. I know how bad you feel, but the trip will be the best thing in the world for you, for it will take your mind from your loss.”
“Yes, Ruth, it will!” agreed Agnes, for she saw that her sister was much affected.
“Well, we’ll go back home, anyhow,” assented Ruth. And after they had thanked the Stetson’s for their hospitality the two sisters left in charge of Mr. Howbridge. As he had said, the rain was stopping, and when they reached the Corner House the sun was out again, glistening on the green leaves of the trees.
“It’s a good omen,” declared Agnes.
Of course there was consternation at the Corner House when the story of the robbery was told. But even Aunt Sarah Maltby agreed with Mr. Howbridge that it would do Ruth and Agnes good to make the houseboat trip. Accordingly, after the two robbed ones had calmed down a little more, the last belongings were gathered together, Dot and Tess, who had considerably mussed their clothes playing tag around the furniture, were straightened out, good-bys were said over and over again, and then, in Mr. Howbridge’s automobile, the little party started for the Bluebird.
“Where’s Neale?” asked Agnes, as they neared the canal.
“He’ll meet us at the boat,” said the lawyer. “I just received a letter from his uncle, the circus man, which contains a little information about the boy’s father.”
“Has he really returned from the Klondike?” asked Ruth.
“I believe he has. But whether he has money or is as poor as when he started off to seek his fortune, I don’t know. Time will tell. But I am glad the sun is out. It would have been rather gloomy to start in the rain.”
“If it had not rained those men never would have gotten our jewel box!” declared Agnes. “It was only because we were confused by the umbrella in the hard shower that they dared take it.”
“Don’t think about it!” advised Mr. Howbridge.
They reached the Bluebird, to find Neale waiting for them with smiling face.
“I only wish we could start under gasoline instead of mule power!” he cried gayly.
“Time enough for that!” said Mr. Howbridge, with a smile. “Is Hank on hand?”
“He’s bringing out the hee-haws now,” said Neale, pointing down the towpath, while Dot and Tess laughed at his descriptive name for the mules.
The driver was leading them from the stable where they had taken shelter from the downpour, and they were soon hitched to the long towing rope.
“It ’minds me of the time I came from Scotland,” murmured Mrs. MacCall as she went up the “bridge,” as the gangplank of a canal boat is sometimes called.
“All aboard!” cried Neale, and they took their places on the Bluebird. Mr. Howbridge had arranged for one of his men to come and drive back the automobile, and there was nothing further to be looked after.
“Shall I start?” called Hank, from his station near the mules, after he had helped Neale haul up the gangplank which had connected the houseboat with the towpath.
“Give ’em gas!” shouted the boy through his hands held in trumpet fashion.
The animals leaned forward in their collars, the rope tauted, pulling with a swishing sound up from the water into which it had dropped. The Bluebird began slowly to move, and at last they were on their way.
Ruth, Agnes and the others remained on deck for a while, and then the older folk, including Neale, went below to get things “shipshape and Bristol fashion.” Dot and Tess remained on deck under the awning.
“Don’t fall overboard!” cautioned Mrs. MacCall to the small sisters.
“We won’t!” they promised.
It was about ten minutes later, during which time the Bluebird was progressing slowly through the quiet waters of the canal, that Agnes heard shouts on deck.
“Hark!” she exclaimed, for they were all moving about, getting matters to rights in the cabins.
“What is it?” asked Ruth.
“I thought I heard Tess calling,” went on Agnes.
There was no mistake about it. Down the stairway that led from the upper deck to the cabin came the cry of:
“Oh, come here! Come here quick! One of the mules is acting awful funny! I think he’s trying to kick Mr. Hank into the canal!”
CHAPTER X – A STOWAWAY
Ruth dropped some of the garments she was unpacking from her trunk. Agnes came from the dining room, where she was setting the table for the first meal on the craft. Neale and Mr. Howbridge ran from the motor compartment in the lower hold of the boat. Mrs. MacCall raised her hands and began to murmur in her broadest Scotch so that no one knew what she was saying. And from the upper deck of the boat, where they had been left sitting on camp stools under the green striped awning, came the chorused cries of Tess and Dot:
“Oh, come on up! Come on up!”
“Something must have happened!” exclaimed Ruth.
“But the girls are all right, thank goodness!” added Agnes.
Together all four of them, with Mrs. MacCall bringing up the rear, ascended to the upper deck. There they saw Dot and Tess pointing down the towpath. Hank Dayton was, indeed, having trouble with the mules. And Tess had not exaggerated when she said that one of the animals was trying to kick the driver into the canal.
“Oh! Oh!” screamed Ruth and Agnes, as the flying heels barely missed the man’s head.
“I’ll go and give him a hand!” exclaimed Neale, and before any one knew what his intention was he ran down the stairs, out to the lower forward deck of the craft, and leaped across the intervening water to the towpath, an easy feat for a lad as agile as Neale O’Neil.
“What’s the matter, Hank?” those on the Bluebird could hear Neale ask the driver.
“Oh, Arabella is feeling rather frisky, I guess,” was the answer. “She hasn’t had much work to do lately, and she’s showing off!” Arabella was the name of one of the mules.
Neale, born in a circus, knew a good deal about animals, and it did not take him and Hank Dayton long to subdue the fractious Arabella. After she had kicked up her heels a few more times, just to show her contempt for the authority of the whiffle-tree and the traces, she quieted down. The other mule, a more sedate animal, looked at his companion in what might have been disgust mingled with distrust.
“Are they all right now?” asked Ruth, as Neale leaped aboard the boat again.
“Oh, yes. Hank can manage ’em all right. He just had to let Arabella have her kick out. She’s all right now. Isn’t this fun, though?” and Neale breathed in deeply of the fresh air.
“Oh, Neale, it’s glorious!” and Agnes’ eyes sparkled.
The day had turned out a lovely one after the hard shower, and everything was fresh and green. They had reached the outskirts of Milton by this time, and were approaching the open country through which the canal meandered before joining the river. On either side of the towpath were farms and gardens, with a house set here and there amid the green fields or orchards.
Now and then other boats were passed. At such times one of the craft would have to slow up to let the tow-rope sink into the canal, so the other boat might pass over it. The mules hee-hawed to each other as they met, and Hank exchanged salutations with the other drivers.
“I think it’s just the loveliest way to spend a vacation that ever could be thought of,” said Agnes to Mr. Howbridge.
“I hope you all like it,” he remarked.
“Oh, yes, it’s going to be perfect,” said the older Kenway girl. “If only – ”
“You are thinking of your jewelry,” interrupted her guardian. “Please don’t! It will be recovered by the police.”
“I don’t believe so,” said Ruth. “I don’t care so much about our things. We can buy more. But mother’s wedding ring can never be replaced nor, I fear, found. I believe those Klondikers will dispose of it in some way. They’ll never be caught.”
“Klondikers!” cried Neale, coming into the main cabin just then. “Did you say Klondikers?” and it was plain to be seen that he was thinking of his father.
“Yes. There is a suspicion that the men who robbed Ruth were two men who the day before looked at the Stetson flat,” explained Agnes. “They said they were Klondike miners.”
“Klondike miners!” murmured Neale. “I wonder if they knew my father or if he knew them. I don’t mean the robbers,” he added quickly. “I mean the men who came to rent the flat. I wish I had a chance to speak to them.”
“So do I,” said Mr. Howbridge. “I have hardly yet had a chance to tell you, Neale, but I have a letter from your Uncle Bill.”
“Does he know about father?” asked the boy quickly.
“No. This letter was written before he received mine asking for your father’s last known address. But it may be possible for you to meet your uncle during this trip.”
“How?” asked Neale.
“He tells me in his letter the names of the places where the circus will show in the next month. And one place is not far from a town we pass on the canal.”
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