The Corner House Girls Under Canvas
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CHAPTER I – TOM JONAH
“Come here, Tess! Come quick and look at this poor dog. He’s just drip-ping-wet!”
Dot Kenway stood at a sitting-room window of the old Corner House, looking out upon Willow Street. It was a dripping day, and anything or anybody that remained out-of-doors and exposed to the downpour for half an hour, was sure to be saturated.
Nothing wetter or more miserable looking than the dog in question had come within the range of the vision of the two younger Corner House girls that Saturday morning.
Tess, who was older than Dot, came running. Anything as frightfully despondent and hopeless looking as that dog was bound to touch the tender heart of Tess Kenway.
“Let’s – let’s take him to the porch and feed him, Dot,” she cried.
“Will Ruthie let us?” asked Dot.
“Of course. She’s gone for her music lesson and won’t know, anyway,” declared Tess, recklessly.
“But maybe Mrs. MacCall won’t like it?”
“She’s upstairs and won’t know, either. Besides,” Tess said, bolstering up her own desire, “she says she hasn’t ever sent anybody away hungry from her door; and that poor dog looks just as hungry as any tramp that ever came to the old Corner House.”
The girls ran out of the sitting-room into the huge front hall which, in itself, was almost big enough for a ballroom. It was finished in dark, dark oak; there was a huge front door – like the door of a castle; the furniture was walnut, upholstered in haircloth, worn shiny by more than three generations of use; and out of the middle of the hall a great stairway arose, dividing when half-way up into two sections, while a sort of gallery was built all around the hall at the second floor, out of which the doors of the principal chambers opened.
There was a third story above, and above that a huge garret – often the playroom of the Corner House girls on such days as this. In the rear were two wings built on to the house, each three stories in height. The house had its “long” side to Willow Street, and only a narrow grass plot and brick walk separated the sitting-room windows from the boundary fence.
It faced Main Street, at its head, where the Parade Ground began. The dripping trees on the Parade were now in full leaf and the lush grass beneath them was green. The lawns of the old Corner House needed the mower, too; and at the back Uncle Rufus – the general factotum of the establishment – had laid out a wonderful kitchen garden which already had yielded radishes and tender onions and salad, and promised green peas to accompany the spring lamb to the table on the approaching Fourth.
Tess and Dot Kenway crossed the big hall of the Corner House, and went on through the dining-room with its big table, huge, heavily carved sideboard and comfortably armed chairs, through the butler’s pantry into the kitchen.As Tess had said, Mrs. MacCall, their good-natured and lovable housekeeper, was not in sight. Nobody delayed them, and they stepped out upon the half-screened porch at the back. The woodshed joined it at the far end. The steps faced Willow Street.
On the patch of drying green a goat was tethered, lying down in the rain, reflectively chewing a cud. He bleated when he saw the girls, but did not offer to rise; the rain did not disturb him in the least.
“Billy Bumps likes the rain,” Dot said, thoughtfully.
The dog outside the gate did not seem to be enjoying himself. He had dropped down upon the narrow strip of sward between the flagged walk and the curbing; his sides heaved as though he had run a long way, and his pink tongue lolled out of his mouth and dripped.
“My!” Dot murmured, as she saw this, “the rain’s soaked right through the poor doggy – hasn’t it? And it’s just dripping out of him!”
Tess, more practical, if no more earnest in her desire to relieve the dog’s apparent misery, ran down to the gate through the falling rain and called to him:
“Poor, poor doggie! Come in!”
She opened the gate temptingly, but the strange dog merely wagged his tail and looked at her out of his beautiful brown eyes. He was a Newfoundland dog, with a cross of some breed that gave him patches of deep brown in his coat and very fine, long, silky hair that curled up at the ends. He was strongly built and had a good muzzle which was powdered with the gray hairs of age.
“Come here, old fellow,” urged Tess, “Do come in!”
She snapped her fingers and held the gate more invitingly open. He staggered to his feet and limped toward her. He did not crouch and slink along as a dog does that has been beaten; but he eyed her doubtfully as though not sure, after all, of this reception.
He was muddied to his flanks, his coat was matted with green burrs, and there was a piece of frayed rope knotted about his neck. The dog followed Tess doubtfully to the porch. Billy Bumps climbed to his feet and shook his head threateningly, stamping his feet; but the strange dog was too exhausted to pay the goat any attention.
The visitor at first refused to mount the steps, but he looked up at Dot and wagged his tail in greeting.
“Oh, Tess!” cried the smallest girl. “He thinks he knows me. Do you suppose we have ever seen him before?”
“I don’t believe so,” said Tess, bustling into the woodshed and out again with a pan of broken meat that had been put aside for Sandyface and her children. “I know I should remember him if I had ever seen him before. Come, old fellow! Good doggie! Come up and eat.”
She put the pan down on the porch and stood back from it. The brown eyes of the dog glowed more brightly. He hesitatingly hobbled up the steps.
A single sniff of the tidbits in the pan, and the dog fell to wolfishly, not stopping to chew at all, but fairly jerking the meat into his throat with savage snaps.
“Oh, don’t gobble so!” gasped Dot. “It – it’s bad for your indigestions – and isn’t polite, anyway.”
“Guess you wouldn’t be polite if you were as hungry as he is,” Tess observed.
The dog was so tired that he lay right down, after a moment, and ate with his nose in the pan. Dot ventured to pat his wet coat and he thumped his tail softly on the boards, but did not stop eating.
At this juncture Uncle Rufus came shuffling up the path from the hen-coop. Uncle Rufus was a tall, stoop-shouldered, pleasantly brown negro, with a very bald crown around which was a narrow growth of tight, grizzled “wool.” He had a smiling face, and if the whites of his eyes were turning amber hued with age he was still “purty pert” – to use his own expression – save when the rheumatism laid him low.
“Whar’ yo’ chillen done git dat dawg?” he wanted to know, in astonishment.
“Oh, Uncle Rufus!” cried Dot. “He came along looking so wet – ”
“And he was so tired and hungry,” added Tess.
“I done spec’ yo’ chillen would take in er wild taggar, ef one come erlong lookin’ sort o’ meachin’,” grumbled the colored man.
“But he’s so good!” said Tess. “See!” and she put her hand upon the handsome head of the bedraggled beast.
“He jes’ er tramp dawg,” said Uncle Rufus, doubtfully.
“He’s only tired and dirty,” said Tess, earnestly. “I don’t believe he wants to be a tramp. He doesn’t look at all like the tramps Mrs. MacCall feeds at the back door here.”
“Nor like those horrid Gypsies that came to the house the other day,” added Dot eagerly. “I was afraid of them.”
“Well, it suah ain’t b’long ’round yere – dat dawg,” muttered Uncle Rufus. “It done run erway f’om somewhar’ an’ hit trabbel far – ya-as’m!”
He pulled the ears of the big dog himself, in a kindly fashion, and the dog pounded the porch harder with his tail and rolled a trusting eye up at the little group. Evidently the tramp dog was convinced that this would be a good place to remain in, and “rest up.”
A pretty girl of twelve or thirteen, with flower-like face, plump, and her blue eyes dancing and laughing in spite of her, ran in at the side gate. She had a covered basket of groceries on her arm, and was swathed in a raincoat with a close hood about her face.
“Agnes!” screamed Dot. “See what we’ve got! Just the nicest, friendfulnest dog – ”
“Mercy, Dot! More animals?” was the older sister’s first comment.
“But he’s such a nice dog,” wailed Dot.
“And so hungry and wet,” added Tess.
“What fine eyes he has!” exclaimed Agnes, stooping down to pat the noble head. Instantly the dog’s pink tongue sought her hand and – Agnes was won!
“He’s splendid! he’s a fine old fellow!” she cried. “Of course we’ll keep him, Dot.”
“If Ruthie says so,” added Tess, with a loyalty to the oldest Corner House girl born of the fact that Ruth had mothered the brood of three younger sisters since their real mother had died three years previous.
“I dunno wot yo’ chillen want er dawg for,” complained Uncle Rufus.
“To keep chicken thieves away,” said Agnes, promptly, laughing roguishly at the grumbling black man.
“Oh!” cried Tess. “You said yourself, Uncle Rufus, that those Gypsies that stopped here might be looking at Ruth’s chickens.”
“Well, I done guess dat tramp dawg knows when he’s well off,” said the old man, chuckling suddenly. “He’s layin’ down lak’ he’s fixin’ tuh stay – ya-as’m!”
The dog had crept to the most sheltered corner of the porch and curled up on an old rag mat Mrs. MacCall had left there for the cats.
“He ought to have that dirty old rope taken off,” said Agnes.
Uncle Rufus drew out his clasp knife and opened the blade. He approached the weary dog and knelt down to remove the rope.
“Glo-ree!” he exclaimed, suddenly. “He done got er collar on him.”
It was hidden in the thick hair about the dog’s neck. The three girls crowded close to see, Uncle Rufus unbuckled it and handed the leather strap to Agnes.
“See if there is any name and address on it, Aggie!” gasped Tess. “Oh! I hope not. Then, if we don’t know where he came from, he’s ours for keeps.”
There was a small brass plate; but no name, address, or license number was engraved upon it. Instead, in clear script, it was marked:
“THIS IS TOM JONAH. HE IS A
“There!” cried Dot, as though this settled the controversy. “What did I tell you? He can’t be any tramp dog. He’s a gentleman.”
“‘Tom Jonah,’” murmured Agnes. “What a funny name!”
When Ruth came home the younger girls bore her off at once to see Tom Jonah sleeping comfortably on the porch. The old dog raised his grizzled muzzle, wagged his tail, and beamed at her out of his soft brown eyes.
“The dear love!” cried Tess, clasping her hands. “Isn’t he beautiful, Ruthie?”
“Beautifully dirty,” said Ruth, doubtfully.
“Oh, but Uncle Rufus says he will wash him to-morrow. He’s got some insect – insecty-suicide soap like he puts on the henroosts – ”
“Insecticide, Dot,” admonished Tess. “I wish you wouldn’t try to say words that you can’t say.”
Dot pouted. But Ruth patted her head and said, soothingly:
“Never mind, honey. We’ll let the poor dog stay till he rests up, anyway. He looks like a kind creature.”
But she, as well as the adults in the old Corner House, did not expect to see Tom Jonah the next morning when they awoke. He was allowed to remain on the porch, and despite the objections of Sandyface, the mother cat, and the army of younger felines growing up about her, Tom Jonah was given a bountiful supper by Mrs. MacCall herself.
Dot and Tess ran to peep at the dog just before going to bed that night. He blinked at them in the lampshine from the open door, and thumped the porch flooring with his tail.
It was past midnight before anything more was heard of Tom Jonah. Then the whole house was aroused – not to say the neighborhood. There was a savage salvo of barks from the porch, and down the steps scrambled Tom Jonah. They heard him go roaring down the yard.
Then there arose a great confusion at the hen house – a squawking of frightened hens, the loud “cut, cut, ca-da-cut!” of the rooster, mingling with which was the voice of at least one human being and the savage baying of Tom Jonah.
CHAPTER II – SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO
Uncle Rufus was too old and too stiff to get out of bed and down from his third-story room in the old Corner House, to be of any assistance at this midnight incident. But the girls were awakened the moment Tom Jonah began barking.
“It’s a hen thief!” squealed Tess, leaping out of her own warm nest.
“I hope that dog bites him!” cried Agnes, savagely, from the other room.
She ran to the window. It was a starlit, but foggy night. She could see only vaguely the objects out of doors.
Ruth was scrambling into a skirt and dressing sacque; she thrust her feet into shoes, too, and started downstairs. Mrs. MacCall’s window went up with a bang, and the girls heard the housekeeper exclaim:
“Shoo! shoo! Get out of there!”
Whoever it was that had roused Tom Jonah, the person was evidently unable to “get out of there.” The dog’s threatening growls did not cease, and the man’s voice which had first been heard when the trouble started, was protesting.
Agnes followed her older sister downstairs. Of course, Aunt Sarah Maltby, who slept in one of the grand front rooms in the main part of the house, did not even hear all the disturbance. And there were not any houses really near the Stower Homestead, which Milton people knew by the name of “the old Corner House.”
Therefore, the sounds of conflict at the Kenway hennery were not likely to arouse many people. But when Ruth and Agnes reached out-of-doors, the younger girl remembered one person who might hear and be of assistance.
“Let’s call Neale O’Neil!” she cried to Ruth. “He’ll help us.”
“We’d better call a policeman,” said Ruth, running down the brick path.
“Huh! you wouldn’t find a policeman in Milton at this hour of the night, if you searched for a week of Sundays,” was the younger girl’s ambiguous statement. Then she raised her voice and shouted: “Neale! Neale O’Neil! Help!”
Meantime the dog continued his threatening bayings. The fowls fluttered and squawked. Billy Bumps began to blat and butt the partition in his pen. Whoever had ventured into the hennery had gotten into hot quarters and no mistake!
Ruth stopped suddenly in the path and clutched at Agnes’ arm. Agnes was as lightly dressed as herself; but it was a warm June night and there was no danger of their getting cold.
“Suppose the dog does not remember us?” the older girl gasped in Agnes’ ear. “Maybe – maybe he’ll tear us to pieces. How savage he sounds!”
Agnes was frightened; but she had pluck, too. “Come on, Ruth!” she said. “He is only mad at the thief.”
“If it is a thief,” quavered Ruth. “I – I am afraid to go on, Aggie.”
At that moment the sound of little feet pattering behind them made both girls turn. There were Dot and Tess, both barefooted, and Dot with merely a doubled-up comforter snatched from her bed, wrapped over her night clothes.
“Mercy me, children!” gasped Ruth. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, we mustn’t let Tom Jonah bite that man,” Tess declared, and kept right on running toward the henhouse.
“If that dog bites – ” screamed Ruth, and ran after her smaller sister.
There was the big dog leaping savagely toward the low eaves of the hennery. A kicking figure was sprawled on the roof, clinging with both hands to the ridge of it. The girls obtained a glimpse of a dark face, with flashing teeth, and big gold rings in the marauder’s ears.
“Tak’ dog away! Tak’ dog away!” the man said, in a strangled voice.
“He’s one of those Gypsies,” whispered Agnes, in an awed voice.
A tribe of the nomads in question had passed through Milton but a day or two before, and the girls had been frightened by the appearance of the men of the tribe who had called at the old Corner House.
Now, whether this marauder belonged to the same people or not, Ruth saw that he looked like a Gypsy. For another reason, too, her mind was relieved at once; Tom Jonah was only savage toward the man on the roof.
When Tess ran right up to the leaping dog, he stopped barking, and wagged his tail, as though satisfied that he had done his duty in drawing the family to the scene. But he still kept his eyes on the man, and occasionally uttered a growl deep in his throat.
“What are you doing up there?” Ruth demanded of the man.
“Tak’ away dog!” he whined.
“No. I think I will let the dog hold you till a policeman comes. You were trying to rob our henroost.”
“Oh, no, Missee! You wrong. No do that,” stammered the man.
“What were you doing here, then?”
Before the fellow could manufacture any plausible tale, a shout came from beyond the back fence, and somebody was heard to scramble into the Corner House yard.
“What’s the matter, girls?” demanded Neale O’Neil’s cheerful voice.
“Oh, come here, Neale!” cried Agnes. “Tom Jonah’s caught a Gypsy.”
“Tom Who?” demanded the tall, pleasant-faced boy of fifteen, who immediately approached the henhouse.
“Tom Jonah,” announced Tess. “He’s just the nicest dog!”
The boy saw the group more clearly then. He looked from the savagely growling animal to the man sprawling on the roof, and burst out laughing.
“Yes! I guess that fellow up there feels that the dog is very ‘nice.’ Where did you get the dog, and where did he get his name?”
“We’ll tell you all about that later, Neale,” said Ruth, more gravely. “At least, we’ll tell you all we know about the dear old dog. Isn’t he a splendid fellow to catch this man at my hens?”
“And the fellow had some in this bag!” exclaimed Neale, finding a bag of flopping poultry at the corner of the hen-run.
“Tak’ away dog!” begged the man on the roof again.
“That’s all he’s afraid of,” said Agnes. “I bet he has a knife. Isn’t he a wicked looking fellow?”
“Regular brigand,” agreed Neale. “What we going to do with him?”
“Give him to a policeman,” suggested Agnes.
“Do you suppose the policeman would want him?” chuckled Neale. “To awaken a Milton officer at this hour of the night would be almost sacrilege, wouldn’t it?”
“What shall we do?” demanded Agnes.
Ruth had been thinking more sensibly for a few moments. Now she spoke up decisively:
“The man did not manage to do any harm. Put the poultry back in the house, Neale. If he ever comes again he will know what to expect. He thought we had no dog; but he sees we have – and a savage one. Let him go.”
“Had we better do that, sister?” whispered Agnes. “Oughtn’t he to be punished?”
“I expect so,” Ruth said, grimly. “But for once I am going to shirk my duty. We’ll take away the dog and let him go.”
“Who’ll take him away?” demanded Agnes, suddenly.
Neale had taken the sack in which the fowl struggled, to the door of the henhouse, opened it, and dumped the fowl out. Tom Jonah evidently recognized him for a friend, for he wagged his tail, but still kept his eye on the man upon the roof.
“I declare!” said Ruth. “I hadn’t thought. Whom will he mind?”
“Come here, Tom Jonah!” said Neale, snapping his fingers.
Tom Jonah still wagged his tail, but he remained ready to receive the Gypsy (if such the fellow was) in his jaws, if he descended.
“Come away, Tom!” exclaimed Agnes, confidently. “Come on back to the house.”
The man on the roof moved and Tom Jonah stiffened. He refused to budge.
“Guess you’ll have to call a cop after all,” said Neale, doubtfully.
“Here, sir!” commanded Ruth. “Come away. You have done enough – ”
But the dog did not think so. He held his place and growled.
“I guess you’re bound to stay up there, till daylight – or a policeman – doth appear, my friend,” called up Neale to the besieged.
“Tak’ away dog!” begged the frightened fellow.
“Why, Tom Jonah!” exclaimed Tess, walking up to the big dog and putting a hand on his collar. “You must come away when you are spoken to. You’ve caught the bad man, and that’s enough.”
Tom Jonah turned and licked her hand. Then he moved a few steps away with her and looked back.
“Come on with me, Tom Jonah,” commanded the little girl, firmly. “Let the bad man go.”
“What do you know about that?” demanded Neale.
The next minute the fellow had scrambled up the roof, caught the low hanging limb of a shade tree that stood near the fence, and swinging himself like a cat into the tree, he got out on another branch that overhung the sidewalk, dropped, and ran.
Tom Jonah sprang to the fence with a savage bay; but the man only went the faster. The incident was closed in a minute, and the little party of half-dressed young folk went back to their beds, while the strange dog curled up on his mat in the corner of the porch again and slept the sleep of the just till morning.
And now that the excitement is over, let us find out a little something about the Corner House girls, their friends, their condition in life, and certain interesting facts regarding them.
When Mr. Howbridge, the lawyer from Milton and Uncle Peter Stower’s man of affairs and the administrator of his estate, came to the little tenement on Essex Street, Bloomingsburg, where the four orphaned Kenway girls had lived for some years with Aunt Sarah Maltby, he first met Tess and Dot returning from the drugstore with Aunt Sarah’s weekly supply of peppermint drops.
Aunt Sarah had been a burden on the Kenways for many years. The girls had only their father’s pension to get along on. Aunt Sarah claimed that when Uncle Peter died, his great estate would naturally fall to her, and then she would return all the benefits she had received from the Kenway family.
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