The Corner House Girls Under Canvas
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So eager and hungry were they that Tess and Dot fairly trotted through the hot dust to overtake the man. He was a short, sturdy man in a blue shirt, khaki trousers, and a broad-brimmed straw hat. When Tom Jonah bounded along beside him, sniffing in a friendly fashion, he turned around and saw the girls.
“How-de-do!” he said, smiling. “You want a hot frankfurter, little girls?”
“Yes, sir,” said Dot, frankly.
“Oh, we can’t, sir – not till we get to Willowbend Camp,” Tess hastened to say, squeezing Dot’s hand admonishingly.
Dot’s lower lip trembled and the man asked:
“Why can’t you have ’em now?”
“We – we should have to ask Ruthie,” said Tess, slowly.
“Our sister. We – we don’t carry any money in these old clothes. She’s afraid we’ll lose it out of our pockets,” said Tess, honestly.
“Oh-ho!” exclaimed the man.
“But we’re awful hungry,” ventured Dot. “And so’s my Alice-doll. We been shipwrecked, you see.”
“Shipwrecked?” asked the man, wonderingly.
“Not just that, Dot,” said Tess, doubtfully. “We were sort of castaways.”
“Well, we lost our boat, didn’t we?” demanded Dot. “And isn’t that being shipwrecked?” She was just hungry and tired enough to be rather “touchy.”
“Tell me about it,” said the frankfurter man, as the girls and Tom Jonah trotted along beside his little wagon.
So Tess – with much assistance from Dot – related their exciting adventures since the wooden-legged clam-digger had shown them what it was that squirted water up through the tiny holes on the clam-flat.
Sometimes the frankfurter man laughed, or chuckled; at other times he looked quite grave. And finally he insisted upon stopping under a broad, shady tree beside the road, and resting while he listened to the remainder of the story.
Meanwhile he opened the glass case and took out a couple of paper napkins and two rolls which were as white as snow when he split them with a very sharp knife. He buttered both sides of these rolls lavishly.
Then he opened the steaming frankfurter pot and oh! how the luscious steam gushed out! Dot grabbed Tess’ hand hard. She thought she was going to faint, for a moment – it smelled so good!
He selected two fat frankfurters and split them evenly. He placed them on the buttered rolls. He put on mustard with a lavish hand. And then he closed the rolls and wrapped the napkins about them.
Suddenly he saw Tom Jonah standing, too, watching him with wistful intentness, his pink tongue hanging out of his mouth. If ever a dog’s countenance expressed hunger, it was shown now in Tom Jonah’s face. But he was too much of a gentleman, just as his collar said, to bark.
So the frankfurter man, without saying a word, opened the pot again and took out a third sausage. This he did not split or put mustard on.
“Would you little girls like to eat a lunch now and pay me for it the next time you see me?” he asked, smiling at Tess and Dot.
“Oh!” gasped Dot, clasping her hands and almost letting the Alice-doll fall.
“You – you are so kind!” said Tess, her voice fairly trembling.
He passed the two wrapped sandwiches over with a polite bow.“You are very welcome,” he said. “And I am going to give your dog one for himself because he grabbed that Gypsy. He’s a brave dog and deserves one.”
“Oh! if you would be so good!” cried Tess.
Tom Jonah made one mouthful of the frankfurter. You see, he had not cared at all for the strawberries!
“Now,” said the frankfurter man, as the girls walked on beside him again, munching their sandwiches, “that road yonder to the left leads right down to the beach and to those tents. You can see the flags flying above them now – see?”
“Oh, yes, sir!” returned Tess and Dot, in delight.
“Then you can easy find your way. Good-day, young ladies. I know your sisters will be anxious to see you.”
“Thank you, sir,” Tess said, not forgetting her manners. “And we shall not forget that we owe you for the sausages.”
“That’s right. Always pay your debts,” said the man, laughing, and trundled his cart on through the dust, while the Kenway sisters trudged down the shadier road toward the beach.
In fifteen minutes they were seen coming. The entire encampment had turned out to search for the lost children. The boys from Milton had gone in all directions to look for Tess and Dot.
It was only to Ruth and Agnes that the small girls related the details of their surprising adventure. And Agnes did not understand entirely, and was much troubled over the identity of the girl who had befriended her sisters in so strange a fashion.
Ruth had no difficulty in guessing who she was. It was the girl with the Gypsies who had masqueraded as the queen. The oldest Corner House girl was sure that it was she. And Ruth understood that she must be striving to get away from the Gypsies.
“I hope she won’t go so far from here that I shall never see her again,” thought Ruth. “For she was interested in Rosa Wildwood, I am sure; and it might be that she could tell me something about Rosa’s missing sister.”
While Agnes put forth many “guesses” and “supposin’s” about the strange girl, Dot had quite another problem in her enquiring mind. And finally, as they were getting ready for bed that night, she threw out a leading question which attracted the immediate attention of her three sisters:
“Say, Ruthie,” she asked, “how do frankfurters grow?”
“What?” gasped Agnes, and clapped a hand over her own mouth to keep from laughing.
“How do they grow, dear?” returned Ruth, rather taken aback herself.
“Goodness gracious, child!” exclaimed Tess. “They don’t grow on bushes like pea-pods.”
“Oh, no, of course not!” ejaculated Dot, who did not like to be considered ignorant. “A frankfurter flies, doesn’t it?”
“Mercy!” murmured Ruth. “Hear her!”
“Oh! I mean it crawls – it creeps. Of course,” Dot hurried to add.
Agnes exploded here. She could not keep in any longer.
“Well, I think you’re real mean!” complained Dot. “You won’t tell me. I guess it’s a fish, then. Does it swim?”
“Goodness!” cried Tess.
“Then they come in bunches like bananas!” declared the frantic Dot.
This was the worst yet. Agnes rolled on the matting of the bedroom and almost choked. Ruth herself was laughing heartily at her small sister as she gathered her into her arms and told her just how the sausage-meat was stuffed into the frankfurters’ skins.
“Well!” murmured Dot, at last, and rather sleepily. “I don’t care. I believe they are the very nicest things there are to eat – so there! Those the frankfurter man gave us were perfectly lovely.”
That was what suggested the Frankfurter Party, and the Frankfurter Party was one of the very happiest thoughts that Ruth Kenway ever evolved. We shall have to hear about it, in another chapter.
CHAPTER XXI – MRS. BOBSTER’S MYSTERIOUS FRIEND
Rosa Wildwood quickly showed improvement after her arrival at Pleasant Cove. Under the ministrations of the little old woman who lived in a shoe the Southern girl could not help feeling a measure of contentment, if nothing else.
Her hostess was such a cheerful body! And, as Agnes had promised, Rosa was supplied with good, hearty food – and plenty of it.
There was a glass of warm milk, fresh from the cow, on the stand beside the head of her little chintz-hung bed every morning when Rosa awoke. For Mrs. Bobster was up and about by daybreak.
When Rosa came down to the sunlit kitchen, breakfast was ready and the little old woman who lived in a shoe declared she had all her “outside” chores done, saving her regular work in her garden.
Rosa sometimes helped about the housework. The doctor had told her that certain forms of housework would be good for her. But she had to be very exact and careful in doing the work about the shoe-house, for Mrs. Bobster was a New England housekeeper of the old school and was as methodical as Grandfather’s Clock.
The girls from Milton did not neglect Rosa Wildwood. At least, the Corner House girls and their friends did not. Pearl Harrod and the girls at Spoondrift Bungalow came with a wagonette and took her driving. The repairs had been made upon the bungalow and Pearl’s party was there again – all but the Corner House girls.
Ruth had decided to stick to the tent for the remainder of their stay at Pleasant Cove. And Willowbend Camp was becoming the liveliest spot along the entire beach-front.
Ruth and her sisters came after Rosa and took her out in their boat. The boys who were living at Willowbend, too, took an interest in the frail Southern girl. For Rosa Wildwood, with the color stealing back into her cheeks and lips, and her eyes bright again, was a very attractive girl indeed!
Dot Kenway’s birthday came at this time, and that was the date set for the Frankfurter Party. Dot’s guesses about the origin and nature of the hearty and inviting, if not delicate, frankfurter, had delighted the campers who heard the story; and Dot’s sisters and Neale spent some time and a good deal of ingenuity in preparing for the festive occasion.
Rosa came over to the tent colony and helped the girls prepare for the party. Moreover, she had a secret to impart to Ruth.
“Don’t let the other girls hear, Ruth Kenway,” she said, with much mystery. “But Mrs. Bobster is the oddest thing!”
“Well! I guess she is,” laughed Ruth. “But she’s good.”
“Good as gold,” agreed Rosa. “But she has some funny ways. Of course I go to bed early. The doctor told me I should.”
“You’d think she’d go to bed early, too, when she’s up so soon in the morning?”
“Well – I suppose that’s a matter of taste,” Ruth observed.
“Anyway, you know how lonesome it is over there?”
“I guess there are not many people about – after dark.”
“That’s just it!” cried Rosa. “Mrs. Bobster scurries around and does all her out of doors chores before dark. And she locks and bolts all the doors. She is really afraid after dark.”
Ruth nodded. She remembered how once the little old woman who lived in a shoe had spoken to her about being afraid.
“Well, she locks and bolts the doors,” said Rosa, “and then we have supper and I go to bed. Sometimes, like a good child, I go right to sleep. Sometimes, like a bad child, I don’t.”
“Well – what then?”
“Then I hear Mrs. Bobster talking. She has company. I never hear the company come in, or go out; but she has it every night.”
“And never says anything about it?”
“Not a word,” said Rosa. “I hinted once or twice that she must have company every night, and all she said was that she didn’t like sitting alone.”
“Is it a man or a woman?” asked Ruth.
“I don’t know,” laughed Rosa. “That’s one of the funny things about it. Although I hear Mrs. Bobster sometimes chattering like a magpie, I never hear an answer.”
“What?” gasped Ruth, in amazement.
“That’s right,” said Rosa, nodding confidently. “Whoever it is talks so low that I haven’t heard his, or her, voice yet!”
“A dumb person?” suggested Ruth.
“Maybe. At any rate, I couldn’t tell you for the life of me whether it is a man or a woman that comes to see the little old woman who lives in a shoe. Isn’t it odd, Ruth?”
“I should say it was,” admitted Ruth.
“But she treats me well,” sighed Rosa. “I wouldn’t do her any harm for the world. But I am awfully curious!”
It was this day, too – the day of Dot’s party – that the wooden-legged clam-digger came along through the Willowbend tent colony again. He always came to the tent of the Corner House girls when he appeared; Ruth was a regular customer, for she and her sisters were fond of shellfish.
“I’ll have fifty to-day, Mr. Kuk,” she said to the saltish individual when he hailed her from outside the tent. Ruth had learned that his name was Habakuk Somes; everybody along the beach called him “Kuk,” and Ruth, to be polite, tagged him with “Mister” in addition.
Tom Jonah appeared and showed his disapproval of the clam man by a throaty growl. “That thar dawg don’t like me none too well,” said the clam man. “What d’yeou call him?”
“Thet’s enough to sink him,” said the man with a grin. “How’d ye come ter call him that?”
“It’s his name,” said Ruth. “It was engraved on his collar when he came to our house in Milton.”
“Oh! then he ain’t allus been your dawg, shipmet?” demanded the man.
“No. He came to us. We don’t know where from. But he is a gentleman, and he is going to stay with us as long as he will.”
The clam man blinked, and said nothing more. But he cast more than one glance at Tom Jonah before he went away.
The preparations made for the birthday party included the purchase of a good many pounds of first quality frankfurters. And when they were delivered to the Corner House girls’ tent, the fun began.
Tess and Dot were sent away for the morning to play with some of the children at Enterprise Camp. Then Ruth and Agnes and Rosa and Neale set to work to make frankfurters into the very funniest looking things that you could imagine!
With bits of tinsel and colored paper and pins and other small wares, the young folks set to work. They made frankfurters look like caricatures of all kinds of beasts and birds, and insects as well. One was the body of a huge, gaily-winged butterfly. Another was striped and horned like a worm of ferocious aspect.
They were made into fishes, with tails and fins. Neale made a nest with several “young” frankfurters poking their heads out for food, while the mother frankfurter was just poised upon the edge of the nest, her wings spread to balance her.
There were short-legged frankfurters, with long, flapping ears, like dachshunds, and long, stiff-legged frankfurters, with abbreviated tails, and appearing to gambol like lambs. There were several linked together and apparently creeping about like a species of jointed, horrid caterpillar.
Then they actually were bunched like bananas! while some grew, husked, like sweetcorn, and some had the green, fluffy tops of carrots cunningly fastened to them and were tied together as carrots are bunched in the market.
Neale’s ingenuity, however, rose to its height when he stretched a slanting wire across the tent, higher than the partition, and made several “aeroplanes” with bodies of the succulent sausage, which he could start at one end of the wire to “fly” to the other end.
The young folks came to Willowbend Camp about five o’clock to enjoy the festivities. The older Corner House girls, with the help of some of their friends, served the crowd a hearty supper, the main course of which was hot frankfurters, prepared by the “frankfurter man” whose acquaintance Tess and Dot had made.
When the fun was over the guests took the fancy-dressed sausages home as souvenirs.
Neale and Agnes and Ruth went home with Rosa, for it was a long walk, and part of the way it was lonely. One of the ladies who had chaperoned the party remained with Tess and Dot while their sisters were absent.
The young folk had a pleasant walk, for there was a moon. Coming finally in sight of the home of the little old woman who lived in a shoe, Ruth said to Rosa, who walked with her:
“It is a lonely spot, isn’t it?”
“But I never feel afraid. Only I’m curious about Mrs. Bobster’s friend – There! See it?” she cried, suddenly, but under her breath.
“See what?” Ruth asked.
“The shadow on the curtain,” said Rosa.
At the same moment Agnes said: “Hello! Mrs. Bobster has company.”
There was a lamp lit in the tiny front room of the cottage. Plainly silhouetted upon the white shade was a man sitting in a chair.
“What! With his hat on?” exclaimed Ruth. “Who can it be?”
“He isn’t very polite, whoever he is,” said Neale.
“Let’s see about it,” suggested Agnes. “Do you know anything about him, Rosa?”
“I only know she has had a visitor sometimes – after I’m in bed,” said the Southern girl.
“Come on! let’s go in the side door,” said Agnes, in a low voice.
But when they had tiptoed to the door they found it locked. Rosa laughed. “I tell you she never leaves a door or window unfastened after dark,” she said.
They heard the little old woman who lived in a shoe coming to the door to let them in. But Rosa had to assure her who it was before Mrs. Bobster unlocked the door.
“But you had company?” said Agnes, rather pertly.
“Eh?” returned Mrs. Bobster, setting the broom behind the hall door. “Oh, yes! I don’t never kalkerlate ter be alone many evenings.”
“Is he here now?” demanded Neale, laughing.
“Who? Him? No,” said the widow, calmly. “He’s bashful. He went out jest as you young folks come in. Sit right down, children, an’ I’ll find a pitcher of milk an’ some cookies.”
The Corner House girls and Rosa – to say nothing of Neale O’Neil – were amazed. They looked at each other wonderingly as the widow bustled out to the pantry.
“I’d give a penny,” murmured Rosa Wildwood, “to know who her mysterious friend is.”
CHAPTER XXII – THE YARN OF THE “SPANKING SAL”
The wooden-legged clam digger, Habakuk Somes, seemed suddenly to have acquired a great interest in Tom Jonah.
He appeared almost every day at the tent of the Corner House girls and did his best to become friendly with the dog. Tom Jonah grew used to his presence, but he would allow no familiarities from the dilapidated waterside character.
The girls thought “Kuk” Somes only queer; the boys “joshed” him a good deal. Nobody minded having him around, considering merely that he was a peculiar fellow, and harmless.
His tales of sea-going and sea-roving were wonderful indeed. How much of them was truth and how much pure invention, the older Corner House girls and Neale O’Neil did not know. However, they forgave his “historical inaccuracies” because of the entertainment they derived from his yarns.
Tess and Dot listened to the old fellow with perfect confidence in his achievements. Had he not known – in a moment – what it was that shot water up through the holes in the clam flat? The smaller girls listened to old Kuk Somes with unshaken confidence.
“And how did the pirates get your leg, Mr. Kuk?” asked Tess. “Your really truly leg, I mean.”
She and Dot were sitting on the edge of the tent-platform, under the awning, with their bare feet in the sand, with Tom Jonah lying comfortably between them. The dog had a brooding eye upon the clam digger, who sat on a broken lobster trap a few feet away.
“Huh! them pi-rats?” queried the clam digger. “Well – er – now, did I say it was pi-rats as got my leg, shipmet?”
“Yes, you did, sir.” Dot hastened to bolster up her sister’s statement of fact. “And you said it was on the Spanish Main.”
“Well!” declared the old man, “so it was, an’ so they did. Pi-rats it was, shipmet. An’ I’ll tell yer the how of it.
“I was carpenter’s mate on the Spankin’ Sal, what sailed from Bosting to Rio, touchin’ at some West Injy ports on the way – pertic’larly Porto Rico, which is a big merlasses port. We had a good part of our upper holt stowed with warmin’ pans for the merlasses planters – ”
“Oh, Mr. Kuk!” ejaculated Tess in rather a pained voice. “Isn’t that a mistake? Warming pans?”
“Not by a joblot it ain’t no mistake!” returned the old man. “Warming pans I sez, an’ warming pans I sticks to.”
“But my geogoraphy,” Tess ventured, timidly, and mispronouncing the word as usual, “says that the West Indies are tropical. Porto Rico is near the Equator.”
“Now, ain’t that wonderful – jest wonderful?” declared the clam digger, smiting his knee with his palm. “Shows what it is to be book l’arned, shipmet.
“’Course, I knowed them was tropical places, but I didn’t know ’twas all writ down in books – joggerfries, do they call ’em?”
“Yes, sir,” said Tess, seriously. “And it is so hot down there they couldn’t possibly need warming pans.”
“Now, ye’d think that, wouldn’t ye, shipmet? And I’d think it. But the skipper of the Spankin’ Sal, he knowed dif’rent.
“A master brainy man was Captain Roebuck. That was his name – Roebuck,” declared the clam digger, solemnly. “Hev you ever seen a warming pan, shipmet – an old-fashioned warmin’ pan?”
“Oh, yes!” cried Tess and Dot together. “There’s one hangs over the mantelpiece in the sitting-room of the old Corner House,” added Tess. “That’s where we live when we’re at home in Milton.
“And it is a round brass pan, with a cover that has holes in it, and a long handle. Mrs. MacCall says folks used to put live coals in it and iron the beds before folks went to bed, in the cold weather. But we got furnace heat now, and don’t need the warming pan.”
“Surely, surely, shipmet,” agreed the clam digger. “Them’s the things. And Cap’n Roebuck of the Spankin’ Sal, plagued near crammed the upper holt with them.
“It looks right foolish, shipmet; but that skipper got a chancet ter buy up a whole lot o’ them brass warmin’ pans cheap. If he’d seen ’em cheap enough, he’d bought up a hull cargo of secon’ hand hymn books, and he’d took ’em out to the heathen in the South Seas and made a profit on ’em – he would that!” pursued Kuk, confidently.
“He must have been a wonderful man, sir,” said Tess, while Dot sat round-eyed and listened.
“Wonderful! wonderful!” agreed the clam digger. “But about them warmin’ pans. When we got ter Porto Rico we broke out the first of them things. Looked right foolish. All them dons in Panama hats and white pants, an’ barefooted comin’ aboard to look over samples of tradin’ stock, an’ all they can see is warmin’ pans.
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