The Corner House Girls on a Houseboat
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“Oh, look at the elephant!”
“Where?” demanded Tess.
“I mean it’s a picture of it on that barn,” went on the mother of the “Alice-doll,” and she pointed.
“Oh, it’s a circus!” exclaimed Tess. “Look, Ruth – Agnes!”
And there, in many gay posters was the announcement that “Twomley & Sorber’s Herculean Circus and Menagerie” would show that day in Pompey, the town they had then reached.
“It’s Uncle Bill’s show!” cried Neale. “Maybe I’ll hear some news of my father.”
“And shall we have to give back Josh mule?” asked Tess, who had taken quite a liking to the animal.
“Well, we’ll see,” said Mr. Howbridge. “But I think we may as well, all of us, go to the circus,” he added.
And, that afternoon, the trick mule having been left in the towpath barn with Hank’s animals, almost the whole party, including the driver, went to the circus. Only Mrs. MacCall decided to stay on the houseboat.
On the way to the circus the party passed the post-office. Ruth remembered that this was a town she had mentioned in a letter to Luke Shepard and ran in to see if there was any mail.
“Ruth Kenway,” said the clerk, in answer to her question, and a moment later passed out a fine, fat letter, addressed in the hand she knew so well.
“I’ll read it to-night – I haven’t time now,” she told herself, and blushed happily. “Dear Luke – I hope everything is going well with him.”
CHAPTER XV – REAL NEWS AT LAST
“Oh, look at the toy balloons! Look, Alice-doll,” and Dot held her constant companion up in her arms.
Dot was in a state of great excitement, and kept repeating to Tess stories of her experiences of the summer previous when Dot, her older sisters and some friends, seated in a box of this very circus, Scalawag, the pony, had been publicly presented to the smaller Corner House girls – a scene, and a sensation, which is told of in a previous volume of this series and which, alas! Tess had missed.
“There’s pink lemonade!” cried Tess. “Oh, I want some of that! Please, Ruth, may I have two glasses?”
“Not of that pink lemonade, Tess,” answered the older girl. “It may be colored with hat dye, for all we know. We’ll see Neale’s Uncle Bill, who will take us to the best place to get something to drink.”
“Just see the fat lady!” went on Dot next.
“Fat lady! Where? I don’t see any!” exclaimed Tess. “Do you mean an elephant?” she asked.
“No. I mean over there!” and Dot pointed to a gayly painted canvas stretched along the front of the tent in which the side shows were showing.
“Oh, that! Only a painting!” and Tess showed in her voice the disappointment she felt.
“Well, the lady is real, and we can go inside and see her; can’t we, Ruth?” pursued Dot. “Oh, I just love a circus; don’t you, Alice?” and she hugged her doll in her arms.
“Yes, a circus is very nice,” was the answer. “But now listen to me,” went on Ruth. “Don’t run away and get lost in the crowd.”
“You couldn’t run very far in such a crowd,” answered Tess.
“No, but you could get lost very easily.”
“Oh, see the camels! They are going for a drink, I guess.”
“Well, they have to have water the same as the other animals.”
“Oh, what was that?” cried Dot, as a gigantic roar rent the air.
“That must have been a lion,” answered Ruth.
“Oh, do you think he’ll get loose?” exclaimed Tess, holding back a little.
“I guess not.”
“It’s the same old crowd,” remarked Neale, as he looked on the familiar scenes about the circus tent, while Mr.Howbridge walked along with Ruth. Agnes and Neale were together, and Dot and Tess had hold of hands. Hank, after the arrival at the grounds, said he would travel around by himself, as he saw some men he knew. He agreed to be back at the canal boat at five o’clock, after the show.
“Wait until I get you a ticket,” Neale said, as the mule driver was about to separate from them. Going to the red and gold wagon, Neale stepped to the window. The man inside was busy selling tickets and tossing the money taken in to an assistant, who sorted and counted it.
“How many?” asked the man in the ticket wagon, hardly looking up.
“Seven – two of ’em halves,” answered Neale quickly.
“Well, where’s the money – where’s the cash?” asked the cashier rather snappily, and then, for the first time, he looked up. A queer change came over his face as he recognized Neale.
“Well, for the love of alligators!” he exclaimed, thrusting forth his hand. “When’d you get on the lot?”
“Just arrived,” answered Neale with a smile. “Got some friends of mine here who want to see the show.”
“Surest thing you know!” cried the cashier. “How many’d you say? Seven – two halves? Here you are,” and he flipped the tickets down on the wooden shelf in front of him. “Are you coming back to join the outfit?” he went on. “We could bill ‘Master Jakeway’s’ act very nicely now, I imagine. Only,” and he chuckled, “we’d have to drop the ‘Master.’ You’ve got beyond that.”
“No, I’m not coming back,” answered Neale. “That isn’t saying I wouldn’t like to, perhaps. But I have other plans. I’ve heard that my father has returned from the Klondike, and I want to see my uncle to find if he has any news. Is he around – Uncle Bill, I mean?”
“Yes, he was talking to me a while ago. And I did hear him mention, some time back, that he had news of your father. Well, well! I am glad to see you again, Neale. Stop in and see me after the show.”
“I’ll try to,” was the answer.
Hank, being given his ticket, went away by himself, and, after greeting some more of his circus friends, Neale began a search for his uncle. It was not an easy matter to locate any of the circus men on the “lot” at an hour just before the performance was to begin. And Tess and Dot were eager to go in and see the animals, the side shows, the main performance and everything else.
“I’d better take them in,” Ruth said finally. “You can join us later, Neale, you and Mr. Howbridge.”
So this plan was agreed on, and then the two eager girls were led into the tents of childish mystery and delight, while Neale and the lawyer sought the proprietor of the show.
They found him talking to Sully Sorber, the clown, who was just going in to put on his makeup.
At first Uncle Bill just stared at Neale, as though hardly believing the evidence of his eyes. Then a welcoming smile spread over his face, and he held out his hand.
“Well! Well! This is a coincidence!” exclaimed the ringmaster. “I was just figuring with Sully here if we would get any nearer Milton than this, as I wanted to have a talk with you, and now here you are! How did it happen? Glad to see you, sir,” and he shook hands with Mr. Howbridge. “I’ve been going to answer your letters, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time. One of the elephants got loose and wrecked a farmer’s barn, and I’ve had a damage suit to settle. But I am glad to see you both.”
“Tell me!” exclaimed Neale eagerly. “Have you any news from father? Is he back from the Klondike? Where can I find him?”
“My! you’re as bad as ever for asking questions,” chuckled Mr. Bill Sorber. “But there! I know how it is! Yes, Neale, I have some real news, though there isn’t much of it. I never see such a man as your father for not sending word direct. But maybe he did, and it miscarried. Anyhow, I’ve been trying to get in touch with him ever since I got your letter, Mr. Howbridge,” he went on speaking to the lawyer.
“Yes, your father has come back from the Klondike,” he resumed to Neale. “He put in his time to good advantage there, I hear, and made some money. Then he set out for the States, and, in an indirect way, I learned that he is located in Trumbull.”
“Trumbull? Where’s that?” asked Neale eagerly.
“It’s a small town on Lake Macopic!” answered the circus man.
Neale and the lawyer looked at one another in surprise.
“Do you know the place?” went on the ringmaster. “I must confess I don’t. I tried to look it up to see if it was worth moving there with the show, but I couldn’t even find it on the map. So it must be pretty small.”
“I don’t know exactly where it is,” the lawyer said. “But the fact of the matter is that we are on our way to Lake Macopic in a houseboat, and it is quite a coincidence that Neale’s father should be there. Can you give us any further particulars?”
“Well, not many,” confessed Mr. Sorber. “Mr. O’Neil isn’t much more on letter writing than I am, and that isn’t saying much. But my information is to the effect that he had to go there to clear up some dispute he and his mining partner had. He was in with some men in the Klondike, and when it came to a settlement of the gold they had dug out there was a dispute, I believe. One of the men lived in Trumbull, and your father, Neale, had to go there to settle the matter. But I am glad to see you!” he went on to the former circus lad. “And after the show, which is about to begin, we can have a long talk, and then – ”
At that moment a loud shouting arose from the neighborhood of the animal tent. Mingled with the cries of the men was a peculiar sound, like that of some queer whistle, or trumpet.
“There goes Minnie again!” cried Mr. Bill Sorber. “She’s broken loose!” and he ran off at top speed while other circus employees followed, the shouting and trumpeting increasing in volume.
CHAPTER XVI – RUTH’S ALARM
“Minnie’s loose!” cried Neale to Mr. Howbridge after the flight of the circus men. “Minnie is one of the worst elephants in captivity! She’s always making trouble, and breaking loose. I imagine she’s the one that wrecked the farmer’s barn Uncle Bill was telling about. If she’s on the rampage in the animal tent it means mischief!”
“An elephant loose!” cried Mr. Howbridge. “And Ruth and the children in the tent! Come on, Neale!” he cried. “Hurry!”
But there was no need to urge Neale to action. He was off on the run, and Mr. Howbridge showed that he was not nearly so old and grave as he sometimes appeared, for he ran swiftly after his more youthful companion.
The shouting continued, and the trumpet calls of the angry or frightened elephant mingled with them. Then, as Neale and Mr. Howbridge came within view of the animal tent, they saw bursting from it a huge elephant, followed by several men holding to ropes attached to the “ponderous pachyderm,” as Minnie was called on the show bills. She was pulling a score of circus hands after her, as though they were so many stuffed straw men.
Mr. Bill Sorber at this time reached the scene, and with him were several men who had hurried after him when they heard the alarm. The ringmaster seemed to know just what to do. He caught an ankus, or elephant hook, from one of his helpers, and, taking a stand directly in the path of the onrushing Minnie, he raised the sharp instrument threateningly.
On thundered the elephant, but Mr. Sorber stood his ground. Men shouted a warning to him, and the screams and cries of women and children rose shrilly on the air. Minnie, which was the rather peaceful name for a very wild elephant, raised her trunk in the air, and from it came the peculiar trumpet blasts. The men she was pulling along were dragged over the ground helplessly.
“Can he stop her, Neale?” gasped Mr. Howbridge, as he ran beside the former circus boy.
“Well, I’ve seem him stop a wild lion that got out of its cage,” was the answer. “But an elephant – ”
And then a strange thing happened. When within a few feet of the brave, resolute man who stood in her path, Minnie began to go more slowly. Her shrill cries were less insistent, and the men being dragged along after her began to hold back as they regained their feet.
Mr. Sorber raised the ankus on high. Its sharp, curved point gleamed in the sun. Minnie saw it, and she knew it could cruelly hurt her sensitive trunk. More than once she had felt it before, when on one of her rampages. She did not want to suffer again.
And so, when so close that she could have reached out and touched the ringmaster with her elongated nose, or, if so minded, she could have curled it around him and hurled him to death – when this close, the elephant stopped, and grew quiet.
“Minnie! Minnie!” said the man in a soothing voice. “Behave yourself, Minnie! Why are you acting in this way? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
And the elephant really seemed to be. She lowered her trunk, flapped her ears slowly to and fro, and then stood in her tracks and began swaying to and fro in the manner characteristic of the big beasts.
Mr. Sorber went up to her, tossing the ankus to one of his men, and began to pat the trunk which curled up as if in anticipation of a treat.
“Minnie, you’re a bad girl, and you oughtn’t to have any; but since you stopped when I told you to I’ll give you a few,” said the ringmaster, and, reaching into his pocket, he took out some peanuts which the big animal munched with every appearance of satisfaction.
“She’s all right now,” said Neale’s uncle, as the regular elephant men came up to take charge of the creature. “She was just a little excited, that’s all. How did it happen?”
“Oh, the same as usual,” replied Minnie’s keeper. “All at once she gave a trumpet, yanked her stakes loose, and set off out of the animal tent. I had some ropes on her ready to have her pull one of the wagons, and we grabbed these – as many of us as could – but we couldn’t hold her.”
“I’m afraid we’ll have to get rid of Minnie, she’s too uncertain. Doesn’t seem to know her own mind, like a lot of the women folks,” and Mr. Sorber smiled at Mr. Howbridge.
“You were very brave to stop her as you did,” observed the lawyer.
“Oh, well, it’s my business,” said the animal man. “It wasn’t such a risk as it seemed. I was all ready to jump to one side if she hadn’t stopped.”
“I wonder if any one in the animal tent was hurt,” went on the lawyer. “We must go and see, Neale. Ruth and the others – ”
“I hope none of your folks were injured,” broke in Mr. Sorber. “Minnie has done damage in the past, but I guess she only just ran away this time.”
With anxious hearts Neale and Mr. Howbridge hastened to the animal tent, but their fears were groundless. Minnie had carefully avoided every one in her rush, and, as a matter of fact, Ruth, Agnes, Dot and Tess were in the main tent when the elephant ran out. They heard the excitement, but Ruth quieted her sisters.
“Well, now we’ll go on with the show,” said Mr. Sorber, when matters had settled to their normal level. “I’ll see you afterward, Neale, and you too, Mr. Howbridge, and those delightful little ladies from the old Corner House.”
“Oh, Uncle Bill, I almost forgot!” cried the boy. “Have you that trick mule yet – Uncle Josh? The one I taught to play dead?”
“Uncle Josh? No, I haven’t got him, but I wish I had,” said the circus owner. “One of the stablemen took him away – stole him in fact – and I’d give a hundred dollars to get him back!”
Neale held out his hand, smiling.
“What do you mean?” asked his uncle.
“Pay me the hundred dollars,” was the answer. “I have Uncle Josh!”
“No! Really, have you?”
“I have! I thought you hadn’t sold him!” exclaimed the boy, and he told the story of the man on the towpath.
“Well, that is good news!” exclaimed Mr. Sorber. “I’ll send for Uncle Josh right away. I sure am glad to have him back. He was always good for a lot of laughs. He’s almost as funny as Sully, the clown.”
A few minutes later Neale and Mr. Howbridge joined Ruth and the others in the main tent.
Tess and Dot especially enjoyed the performance very much. They took in everything from the “grand entry” to the races and concert at the end. They were guests of the show, in fact, Neale having procured complimentary tickets.
When the performance was over, they visited “Uncle Bill” in his own private tent, and the Corner House girls had a glimpse of circus life “behind the scenes,” as it were, Tess’s first experience of the sort.
Neale met many of his old friends and they all expressed the hope that he would soon find his father. Uncle Josh, the trick mule, was brought to the grounds by Hank, and the animal seemed glad to be again among his companions.
“Will you be back again this evening?” asked Neale’s uncle, when the time came for the party to go back to the houseboat for supper.
“I think not,” was Neale’s answer.
He said good-by to his uncle, arranging to write to him and hear from him as often as needful. And then they left the circus lot where the night performance would soon be given.
“Well, I have real news of father at last,” said Neale to Agnes, as he went back toward the canal with his friends. “I would like to know, though, if he got rich out in the Klondike.”
“If he wants any money he can have half mine!” offered Dot. “I have eighty-seven cents in my bank, and I was going to save up to buy my Alice-doll a new carriage. But you can have my money for your father, Neale.”
“Thank you,” replied Neale, without a smile at Dot’s offer. “Maybe I shan’t need it, but it’s very kind of you.”
Mrs. MacCall had supper ready soon after they arrived at the boat, and then, as the smaller girls were tired from their day at the circus, they went to bed early, while Ruth and Mr. Howbridge, Agnes and Neale sat out on the deck and talked. As they were not to go on again until morning, Hank was allowed to go back to the circus again. He said seeing it twice in one day was not too much for him.
“I do hope you will find your father, Neale,” said Agnes softly, as, just before eleven o’clock, they all went to bed.
But Ruth, at least, did not go to sleep at once. In her bosom she carried the letter she had received from Luke, and this she now read carefully, twice.
Luke was doing well at the summer hotel. The proprietor was sick, so he and the head clerk and a night man had their hands full. He was earning good money, and part of this he was going to spend on his education and the rest he intended to save. He was sorry he could not be with the houseboat party and hoped they would all have a good time. Then he added a page or more intended only for Ruth’s eyes. The letter made the oldest Corner House girl very happy.
Soon after breakfast the next morning they were under way again. The circus had left town in the night, and Neale did not know when he would see his uncle again. But the lad’s heart beat high with hope that he might soon find his father.
The weather was propitious, and hours of sunshine were making the Corner House girls as brown as Indians. Mr. Howbridge, too, took on a coat of tan. As for Neale, his light hair looked lighter than ever against his tanned skin. And Hank, from walking along the towpath, became almost as dark as a negro.
One morning, Ruth, coming down to the kitchen to help Mrs. MacCall with the dinner, saw two fat, chubby legs sticking out of a barrel in one corner of the cabin.
The legs were vigorously kicking, and from the depths of the barrel came muffled cries of:
“Let me out! Help me out! Pull me up!”
Ruth lost no time in doing the latter, and, after an effort, succeeded in pulling right side up her sister Tess.
“What in the world were you doing?” demanded Ruth.
“I was scraping down in the bottom of the barrel to get a little flour that was left,” Tess explained, very red in the face. “But I leaned over too far and I couldn’t get up. And I couldn’t call at first.”
“What did you want of flour?” asked Ruth. “Goodness, you have enough on your dress, anyhow.”
“I wanted some to rub on my face to make me look pale,” went on Tess.
“To make you look pale! Gracious, Tess! what for?”
“We’re playing doctor and nurse, Dot and I,” Tess explained. “I have to be sick, and sick people are always pale. But I’m so tanned Dot said I didn’t look sick at all, so I tried to scrape some flour off the bottom of the barrel to rub on my face.”
“Well, you have enough now if you brush off what’s on your clothes,” laughed Ruth.
“And be careful about leaning over barrels,” put in Mrs. MacCall. “You might have been hurt.”
“Yes,” agreed Tess, “I might be but I wasn’t. Only my head felt funny and my legs felt queer, too, when I wiggled them.”
They were approaching the end of the stretch of the canal through which they must travel to reach Gentory River. The boat would be “locked” from the canal to the larger stream, and then Neale could have his wish of operating the motor come true.
Toward evening they arrived at the last lock of their trip. Just beyond lay the river, and they would proceed up that to Lake Macopic.
As the Bluebird emerged from the lock and slowly floated on the little basin into which just there the Gentory broadened, the attention of Ruth and Agnes was directed to a small motor boat which was just leaving the vicinity.
Ruth, who stood nearest the rail, grasped her sister by the arm, and cried an alarm.
“Look! Those men! In the boat!” exclaimed Ruth.
“What about them?” asked Agnes, while Mr. Howbridge glanced at the two sisters.
“They’re the same men who robbed us!” exclaimed Ruth. “The men who took our jewelry box in the rain! Oh, stop them!”
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