The Corner House Girls on a Houseboat
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“Then I’m going to see him!” cried Neale joyfully. “I’ll be glad to meet him again. He may know something of my father. I wonder if they have any new animals since last summer. They ought to have a pony to take Scalawag’s place.
“He didn’t say,” remarked the lawyer. “But I thought you’d be glad to know that your uncle was in this vicinity.”
“I am,” said the boy. “This trip is going to be better than I thought. Now, if he only has word of my father!”
“We’ll find him, sooner or later,” declared the guardian of the Corner House girls. “But now, since the mules seem to be doing their duty, suppose we take account of stock and see if we need anything. If we do, we ought to stop and get it at one of the places through which we pass, because we may tie up at night near some small village where they don’t keep hair pins and – er – whatever else you young ladies need,” and he smiled quizzically at Ruth.
“Thank you! We brought all the hairpins we need!” Agnes informed him.
“And I think we have enough to eat,” added Ruth. “At least Mrs. Mac is busy in the kitchen, and something smells mighty good.”
Indeed appetizing odors were permeating the interior of the Bluebird, and a little later the company were sitting down to a most delightful meal. Dot and Tess could hardly be induced to come down off the upper deck long enough to eat, so fascinated were they with the things they saw along the canal.
“Isn’t Hank going to eat, and the mules, too?” asked Dot, as she finished and took her “Alice-doll” up, ready to resume her station under the awning.
“Oh, yes. Mrs. MacCall will see that he gets what he needs, and Hank, as you call him, will feed the mules,” said Mr. Howbridge.
“Do you think we ought to call him Hank?” asked Tess. “It seems so familiar.”
“He’s used to it,” answered Neale. “Everybody along the canal calls him that. He’s been a driver for years, before he went to traveling around, and met men who knew my father.”
“Hum! That just reminds me,” said the lawyer musingly, as Dot and Tess hurried from the table. “Perhaps I ought to question Hank about the two Klondikers who inquired about the Stetson flat. He may know of them. Well, it will do to-night after we have tied up.”
“Where is Hank going to sleep?” asked Ruth, who, filling the r?le of housekeeper, thought she must carry out her duties even on the Bluebird.
“He will sleep on the upper deck. I have a cot for him,” said the lawyer. “The mules will be tethered on the towpath. It is warm now, and they won’t need shelter. They are even used to being out in the rain.”
The afternoon was drawing to a close, matters aboard the houseboat had been arranged to satisfy even the critical taste of Ruth, and Mrs. MacCall was beginning to put her mind on the preparation of supper when Dot, who had come below to get a new dress for her “Alice-doll,” ran from the storeroom where the trunks and valises had been put.
“Oh! Oh, Ruth!” gasped the little girl.“Somebody’s in there!”
“In where?” asked Ruth, who was writing a letter at the living-room table.
“In there!” and Dot pointed toward the storeroom, which was at the stern of the boat under the stairs that led up on deck.
“Some one in there?” repeated Ruth. “Well, that’s very possible. Mrs. Mac may be there, or Neale or – ”
“No, it isn’t any of them!” insisted Dot. “I saw everybody that belongs to us. It’s somebody else! He’s in the storeroom, and he sneezed and made a noise like a goat.”
“You ridiculous child! what do you mean?” exclaimed Agnes, who was just passing through the room and heard what Dot said.
“You probably heard one of Hank’s mules hee-hawing,” said Ruth, getting up from her chair.
“Mules don’t sneeze!” declared Dot with conviction.
Ruth had to admit the truth of this.
“You come and see!” urged Dot, and, clasping her sister’s hand, she led her into the storeroom, Agnes following.
“What’s up?” asked Mr. Howbridge, coming along just then.
“Oh, Dot imagines she heard some unusual noise,” explained Ruth.
“I did hear it!” insisted the younger girl. “It was a sneeze and a bleat like a goat and it smells like a goat, too. Smell it!” she cried, vigorously sniffing the air as she paused on the threshold of the storeroom. “Don’t you smell it?”
Just then the silence was shattered by a vigorous sneeze, followed by the unmistakable bleating of a goat, and out of a closet came fairly tumbling – a stowaway!
CHAPTER XI – OVERBOARD
“There! What did I tell you!” cried Dot, pointing a finger at the strange sight. “I heard a noise, and then it was a sneeze and then it was a bleat and then I smelled a goat. I knew it was a goat, and it is, and it’s Sammy Pinkney, too!”
And, surely enough, it was. Tousled and disheveled, dirty and with his clothes awry, there stood the urchin who was, it seemed, continually getting into mischief at or around the Corner House.
But if Sammy was mussed up because of having been hidden in a small closet, the goat did not appear to be any the worse for his misadventure. Billy Bumps was as fresh as a daisy, and suddenly he lowered his head and made a dive for Mr. Howbridge.
“Oh!” cried Ruth. “Look out!”
“Hold him!” yelled Agnes.
Neale, who had joined the wondering throng now gazing at the stowaway, caught the goat by the animal’s collar just in time, and held him back from butting the lawyer.
“He – he’s just a little excited like,” Sammy explained.
“Well, I should think he would be!” declared Ruth, taking command of the situation, as she often had to do where Sammy was concerned. “And now what do you mean, hiding yourself and Billy Bumps on the boat?” she demanded. “Why did you do it? And why, above all things, bring the goat?”
“’Cause I knew you wouldn’t let me come any other way,” Sammy answered. “I wanted to go houseboating awful bad, but I didn’t think you’d take me and Billy. So this morning, when you was packing up, me and him came down here and we got on board. I hid us in a closet, and we was going to stay there until night and then maybe you’d be so far away you couldn’t send us back. But something tickled my nose and I sneezed, and I guess Billy thought I was sneezing at him, for he bleated and then he butted his head against the door and it came open and – and – ”
But Sammy really had to stop – he was out of breath.
“Well, of all things!” cried Agnes.
“It is rather remarkable,” agreed Mr. Howbridge. “I don’t know that I ever before had to deal with a stowaway. The question that’s puzzling me is, what shall we do with him?”
“Can’t me and Billy stay?” asked Sammy, catching drift of an objection to his presence on board.
“Of course not!” voiced Ruth. “What would your mother and father say?”
“Oh, they wouldn’t care,” Sammy said, easily enough and brightening visibly at the question. “They let me stay when I went with you on our auto tour.”
“They surely did,” remarked Agnes dryly.
“And Billy’s strong, too!” went on Sammy eagerly. “If one of the mules got sick he could help pull the boat.”
“The idea!” exclaimed Agnes.
“Oh, hello, Sammy!” called Tess, who had just heard of the discovery of the stowaway.
“Hello,” Sammy returned. “I’m here!”
They all laughed.
“Well,” said Mr. Howbridge at length, as the houseboat was slowly pulled along the canal by the mules driven by Hank, “we must get Sammy home somehow, though how is puzzling me.”
“Oh, please can’t I stay?” begged the boy. “You can send Billy home, of course. I don’t know why I brought him. But let me stay. I’m going to be a canal mule driver when I grow up, and I could begin now if you wanted me to.”
“Aren’t you going to be a pirate?” asked Agnes, for such had been Sammy’s desire for years.
“Yes, of course. But I’m going to be a canal mule driver first.”
“It’s out of the question,” said Ruth firmly. “It was very wrong of you to hide away on board, Sammy. Very wrong indeed! And it is going to be a great bother for us to send you and Billy Bumps back home, as we must do. Twice for the same trick is too often.”
“Aw, say, Ruthie, you might turn Billy Bumps loose here on the bank and let me stay,” pleaded Sammy. “Billy can take care of himself well enough.”
“Sammy Pinkney!” exclaimed Tess, her eyes blazing. “Turn our goat loose just because you brought him along when you know you had no business to do that! Sammy Pinkney, you are the very worst boy I ever heard of!”
Sammy looked rather frightened for the first time since being found on the boat, for, after all, he had an immense respect for the usually gentle Tess, and cared more for her good opinion than he did for that of her elders.
“I didn’t mean to be bad,” he whined. “I wanted to go along, that’s all.”
“But you wasn’t asked,” Tess insisted, pouting.
“But I wasn’t asked on that auto tour,” went on Sammy hopefully.
“Well, that was – was different,” stammered Tess. “Anyway, you had no right to talk about turning our goat loose. Why, somebody might steal him!”
“What shall we do?” Ruth appealed to Mr. Howbridge. “Can a boat turn around in the canal?”
“Not wide enough here,” volunteered Neale, looking from a window. “But we can when we get to the big waters, about five miles farther along.”
“It will not be necessary to turn about and go back,” said the lawyer. “I’ll have to make arrangements for some one either to take charge of our stowaway at the next large town, and keep him there until his father can come for him, or else I may see some one going back to Milton by whom we can return our interesting specimens,” and he included boy and goat in his glances.
“Well, I was afraid you’d send us back,” said Sammy with a sigh. “But could I stay to supper?” he asked, as he sniffed the appetizing odors that now seemed more completely to fill the interior of the Bluebird.
“Of course you may stay to supper, Sammy,” conceded Ruth. “And then we’ll see what’s to be done. Oh, what a boy you are!” and she had to laugh, though she did not want to.
“I was hoping Sammy could come,” murmured Dot, as she hugged her “Alice-doll.”
“And Billy Bumps is fun,” added Tess.
“We have no room here for goats, whether they are funny or not,” declared Agnes. “Take him out in front, on the lower deck, Sammy. Tie him there, and then wash yourself for supper. I should think you would have smothered in that closet.”
“I did, almost,” confessed the boy. “And Billy didn’t like it, either. But we wanted to come.”
“Too bad – young ambition nipped in the bud,” murmured Mr. Howbridge. “Take Billy outside, Sammy.”
The goat was rather frisky, and it required Neale and Sammy to tie him to the forward rail on the lower deck. Then Mrs. MacCall, in the kindness of her Scotch heart, sent the “beastie,” as she called him, some odds and ends of food, including beet tops from the kitchen, and Billy, at least, was happy.
“Low bridge!” suddenly came the call from Hank, up ahead with the two mules.
“What’s he saying?” asked Ruth to Mr. Howbridge.
“He’s giving warning that we are approaching a low bridge, and that if we stay on deck and hold our heads too high we may get bumped. Yes, there’s the bridge just ahead. I wonder if we can pass beneath it. Our houseboat is higher than a canal boat.”
The stream curved then, and gave a view of a white bridge spanning it. Hank had had the first glimpse of it. It was necessary for the occupants of the upper deck either to desert it, or to crouch down below the railing, and they did the former.
There was just room for the Bluebird to squeeze through under the bridge, and beyond it lay a good-sized town.
“I think I can get some one there to take Sammy home, together with Billy Bumps,” said Mr. Howbridge. “We’ll try after supper, and then we must see about tying up for the night.”
The houseboat attracted considerable attention as it was slowly drawn along the canal, which passed through the middle of the town. A stop was made while Mr. Howbridge instituted inquiries as to the possibility of sending Sammy back to Milton, and arrangements were made with a farmer who agreed to hitch up after supper and deliver the goat and the boy where they belonged.
“Well, anyhow, I’m glad I’m going to stay to supper,” said Sammy, extracting what joy he could from the situation that had turned against him.
The Bluebird came to rest at a pleasant place in the canal just outside the town, and there supper was served by Mrs. MacCall. A bountiful one it was, too, and after Hank had had his, apart from the others, he confided to Neale, as he went back to the mules:
“She’s the beatenist cook I ever see!”
“Good, you mean?” asked Neale, smiling.
“The best ever! I haven’t eaten victuals like ’em since I had a home and a mother, and that’s years and years back. I’m glad I struck this job.”
In the early evening the farmer came for Sammy and the goat, a small crate, that once had held a sheep, being put in the back of the wagon for Billy’s accommodation.
“Well, maybe you’ll take me next time, when I’ve growed bigger,” suggested the boy, as he waved rather a sad farewell to his friends.
“Maybe,” said Ruth, but under her breath she added: “Not if I know it.”
“Good-by, Sammy!” called Dot.
But Tess, still indignant over Sammy’s suggestion to turn the goat – her goat – loose to shift for himself, called merely:
“Good-by, Billy Bumps!”
Mr. Howbridge went into the town and telephoned to Milton to let Sammy’s father know the boy was safe and on his way back, and then matters became rather more quiet aboard the Bluebird.
The houseboat was towed to a good place in which to spend the night. Lines were carried ashore and the craft moored to trees along the towpath.
The mules were given their suppers and tethered, and Hank announced that he was going to do some fishing before he “turned in.”
“Oh, could I fish, too?” cried Dot.
“And me! I want to!” added Tess.
“I think they might be allowed to,” said Mr. Howbridge. “There are really good fish in the canal, coming from Lake Macopic, and we could cook them for breakfast. They’d keep all right in the ice box – if any are caught.”
“Oh, I’ll catch some!” declared Hank. “I’ve fished in the canal before.”
“Oh, please let us!” begged the small girls.
“But you have no poles, lines or anything,” objected Ruth.
“I’ve got lines and hooks, and I can easy cut some poles,” offered Hank, and so it was arranged.
A little later, while Ruth, Agnes and Mrs. MacCall were busy with such housework as was necessary aboard the Bluebird, and while Neale and Mr. Howbridge were getting Hank’s cot in readiness on the deck, the mule driver and Dot and Tess sat on the stern of the craft with their lines in the water.
It was a still, quiet evening, restful and peaceful, and as Hank had told the girls that fish liked quietness, no one of the trio was speaking above a whisper.
“Have you got a bite?” suddenly asked Tess in a low voice of her sister.
“No, not yet. I’m going to set my Alice-doll up where she can watch me. She never saw anybody catch a fish – my Alice-doll didn’t.” And Dot propped her “child” up near her, on the deck of the craft.
Suddenly Hank pulled his pole up sharply.
“I got one!” he exclaimed.
“Oh, I wish I’d get one!” echoed Tess.
“Let me see!” fairly shouted Dot. “Let me see the fish, Hank!” She struggled to her feet, and the next moment a wild cry rang out.
“She’s fallen in! Oh, she’s fallen in! Oh, get her out!”
CHAPTER XII – NEALE WONDERS
Dot’s startled cries roused all on board the Bluebird. Neale and Mr. Howbridge dropped the cot they were setting in place under the awning, and rushed to the railing of the deck. Inside the boat Ruth, Agnes and Mrs. MacCall hurried to windows where they could look out toward the stern where the fishing party had seated themselves.
“Man overboard!” sang out Neale, hardly thinking what he was doing.
But, to the surprise of all the startled ones, they saw at the stern of the boat, Hank, Dot and Tess, and from Hank’s line was dangling a wiggling fish.
But Dot was pointing to something in the water.
“Why!” exclaimed Ruth, “no one has fallen in. What can the child mean?”
“She said – ” began Agnes, but she was interrupted by Dot who exclaimed:
“It’s my Alice-doll! She fell in when I got up to look at Hank’s fish! Oh, somebody please get my Alice-doll!”
“I will in jest a minute now, little lady!” cried the mule driver. “It’s bad luck to let your first fish git away. Jest a minute now, and I’ll save your Alice-doll!”
Neale and Mr. Howbridge hurried down to the lower deck from the top one in time to see Hank take his fish from the hook and toss it into a pail of water the mule driver had placed near by for just this purpose. Then as Hank took off his coat and seemed about to plunge overboard into the canal, to rescue the doll, Ruth said:
“Don’t let him, Mr. Howbridge. Dot’s doll isn’t worth having him risk his life for.”
“Risking my life, Miss Kenway! It wouldn’t be that,” said Hank, with a laugh. “I can swim, and I’d just like a bath.”
“Here’s a boat hook,” said Neale, offering one, and while Dot and Tess clung to one another Hank managed to fish up the “Alice-doll,” Dot’s special prize, which was, fortunately, floating alongside the houseboat.
“There you are, little lady!” exclaimed the driver, and he began to squeeze some of the water from Alice.
“Oh, please don’t!” begged Dot.
“Don’t what?” asked Hank.
“Please don’t choke her that way. All her sawdust might come out. It did once. I’ll just hang her up to dry. Poor Alice-doll!” murmured the little girl, as she clasped her toy in her arms.
“Were you almost drowned?” and she cuddled her doll still closer in her arms.
“Don’t hold her so close to you, Dot,” cautioned Ruth. “She’ll get you soaking wet.”
“I don’t care!” muttered Dot. “I’ve got to put dry clothes on her so she won’t catch cold.”
“And that’s just what I don’t want to have to do for you – change your clothes again to-day,” went on Ruth. “You can love your doll even if you don’t hold her so close.”
“Well, anyhow I’m glad she didn’t drown,” said Dot.
“So’m I,” remarked Tess. “I’ll go and help you change her. I’m glad we didn’t bring Almira and her kittens along, for they look so terrible when they’re wet – cats do.”
“And I’m glad we didn’t have Sammy and Billy Bumps here to fall in!” laughed Agnes. “Goats are even worse in the water than cats.”
“Well, aren’t you going to help me fish any more?” asked Hank, as the two little girls walked away, deserting their poles and lines.
“I have to take care of my Alice-doll,” declared Dot.
“And I have to help her,” said Tess.
“I’ll take a hand at fishing, if you don’t mind,” said Neale.
“And I wouldn’t mind trying myself,” added the lawyer. And when Hank’s sleeping quarters had been arranged the three men, though perhaps Neale could hardly be called that, sat together at the stern of the boat, their lines in the water.
“Mr. Howbridge is almost like a boy himself on this trip, isn’t he?” said Agnes to Ruth as the two sisters helped Mrs. MacCall make up the berths for the night.
“Yes, he is, and I’m glad of it. I wouldn’t know what to do if some grave, tiresome old man had charge of our affairs.”
“Well now, who is going to have first luck?” questioned Mr. Howbridge, jokingly, as the three sat down to try their hands at fishing.
“I guess the luck will go to the first one who gets a catch,” returned Neale.
“Luck goes to the one who gits the biggest fish,” put in the mule driver.
After that there was silence for a few minutes. Then the lawyer gave a cry of satisfaction.
“Got a bite?” questioned Hank.
“I have and he’s a beauty,” was the reply, and Mr. Howbridge drew up a fair-sized fish.
A minute later Neale found something on his hook. It was so large he had to play his catch.
“You win!” cried the lawyer, when the fish was brought on board. And he was right, for it was the largest catch made by any of them.
The fishing party had good luck, and a large enough supply was caught for a meal the next day. Hank cleaned them and put them in the ice box, for a refrigerator was among the fittings on the Bluebird.
Then, as night came on, Dot and Tess were put to bed, Dot insisting on having her “Alice-doll” placed near her bunk to dry. Hank retired to his secluded cot on the upper deck, the mules had been tethered in a sheltered grove of trees just off the towpath, and everything was made snug for the night.
“How do you like the trip so far?” asked Mr. Howbridge of Ruth and Agnes, as he sat in the main cabin, talking with them and Neale.
“It’s just perfect!” exclaimed Agnes. “And I know we’re going to like it more and more each day.”
“Yes, it is a most novel way of spending the summer vacation,” agreed Ruth, but there was little animation in her voice.
“Are you still mourning the loss of your jewelry?” asked the lawyer, noting her rather serious face.
Ruth nodded. “Mother’s wedding ring was in that box,” she said softly.
“You must not let it spoil your trip,” her guardian continued. “I think there is a good chance of getting it back.”
“Do you mean you think the police will catch those rough men who robbed us?” asked Ruth.
“Yes,” answered the lawyer. “I told them they must spare no effort to locate the ruffians, and they have sent an alarm to all the neighboring towns and cities. Men of that type will not find it easy to dispose of the rings and pins, and they may have to carry them around with them for some time. I really believe you will get back your things.”
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