The Corner House Girls Under Canvas
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“‘What’s them things for?’ axed the first planter, in the Spanish lingo.
“‘Them’s skimmers,’ says Cap’n Roebuck, knowin’ it warn’t no manner o’ use to try to explain the exact truth to a man what ain’t never seed snow, or knowed there was a zero mark on the almanack.
“He grabbed up one o’ them warmin’ pans and made a swing with it like you’d use a crab-net. ‘See! See!’ says the dons. ‘Skim-a da merlasses.’ That’s Spanish for ‘Yes, yes! skim the merlasses,’” explained Kuk, seriously.
“‘But what’s the cover for?’ axed the don. ‘Ye don’t hafter have no cover,’ says Cap’n Roebuck, and he yanks the cover off the warmin’ pan an’ throws it away.
“And there them dons had the finest merlasses dipper that ever went inter the islan’s. Cap’n Roebuck seen their eyes snap an’ put a good, stiff price on the things, and inside of a week there warn’t a warmin’ pan left on the Spankin’ Sal.
“Then,” pursued the clam digger, “we stowed away in our upper holt goods what would bring a fancy price at Rio, and laid our course for the Amazon.
“But we was all hands mighty worritted,” admitted Kuk, lowering his voice mysteriously. “Ye see, ye never could tell in them old days, an’ in the West Injies, who it was safe to trust, an’ who it was safe ter dis-trust.
“Yer see, so many of them snaky Spanish planters was hand an’ glove with the pi-rats. And ev’rybody on the island knowed the Spankin’ Sal was takin’ away a great treasure that had been exchanged for them warmin’ pans. We was a fair mark, as ye might say, for them pi-rats.”
“Oh!” gasped Dot, hugging her Alice-doll the tighter.
“How much treasure was there, Mr. Kuk?” asked the ever-practical Tess.
“A chist full,” announced the clam digger without a moment’s hesitation. “A reg’lar treasure-chist full. All them planters hadn’t had ready cash money to pay for the warmin’ pans, and they’d give in exchange di’monds and other jools – and the exchange rates for American money was high anyway. So the Spankin’ Sal was a mighty good ketch if the pi-rats ketched her.
“So, when we sailed from Porto Rico we kep’ a weather eye open for black-painted schooners with rakin’ masts an’ skulls and shinbones on their flags. When we seed them signs we’d know they was pi-rats,” declared Kuk, gravely.
The small Corner House girls sighed in unison – and in delight! “The plot thickens!” whispered Agnes to Ruth behind the flap of the tent where they were listening, likewise, though unbeknown to Kuk and the children.
“Go on, please, Mr. Kuk,” breathed Tess.
“Oh, do!” said Dot.
“Well, shipmets,” said the old clam digger, “bein’ peaceful merchantmen, as ye might say, we hadn’t shipped aboard the Spankin’ Sal to fight no pi-rats,” declared Kuk, with energy. “We wasn’t no sogers, and we told the skipper so.
“‘We’ll fight,’ says I. Bein’ an officer – carpenter’s mate, as I told ye – I was spokesman for the crew.‘But we wants ter fight with weepons as we air fermiliar with. Let you and the ossifers fire the cannon, skipper,’ says I, ‘and give us fellers that was bred along shore an’ on the farms some o’ them scythes out’n the lower holt.
“‘Cutlasses an’ muskets,’ says I, ‘is all right for them as has been brought up with ’em,’ says I, ‘but, skipper, me an’ my shipmets has been better used ter cuttin’ swamp-grass an’ mowin’ oats. Give us the weepons we air fermiliar with.’
“And he done it,” declared Kuk, wagging his sinful old head. “We broke out some cases of scythes and fixed ’em onto their handles after grindin’ of ’em sharp as razers on the grin’stone in the waist of the Spankin’ Sal.
“Pretty soon we seen one o’ them black-hulled schooners comin’. She couldn’t be mistook for anythin’ but a pi-rat, although she didn’t fly no black flag yet.
“‘Let ’em come to close quarters, skipper,’ says I. ‘Let ’em board us. Then me an’ my shipmets can git ’em on the short laig. We’ll mow ’em down like weeds along a roadside ditch.’
“He done it, an’ we did,” pursued Kuk, rather heated now with the interest of his own narrative. “When they run their schooner alongside of us and the two ships clinched, and they broke out the black flag at their peak, me an’ my shipmets stood there ready to repel boarders.
“Them pi-rats,” proceeded Kuk, “fought like a passel of cats – tooth an’ nail! They come over aour bulwarks jest like peas pourin’ out o’ a sack. ‘Steady, lads!’ I sings out. ‘Take a long, sweepin’ stroke, an’ each o’ ye cut a good swath!’
“An’ we done so,” the clam digger said, nodding. “Our scythes was longer than the cutlasses of them pi-rats; and before they could git at us, we’d reach ’em with a side-swipe of the scythes, and mow ’em down like ripe hay.”
“Oh, dear, me!” gasped Dot.
“How awful!” murmured Tess.
“’Twas sartain sure a bloody field of battle,” declared the clam digger, nodding again. “If it hadn’t been for my leg I wouldn’t never have fought no pi-rats again. A man has his feelin’s, ye see. Our scuppers run blood. The enemy was piled along the deck under our bulwarks in a reg’lar windrow.”
“And did you kill them all– every one?” demanded Tess, in amazement.
“No. We jest cut ’em down for the most part,” explained Kuk. “Ye see, we cut a low swath with our scythes; mostly we mowed off their feet and mebbe their legs purty near to their knees. After that there battle there was a most awful lot o’ wooden legged pi-rats on the Spanish Main.
“An’ that,” declared the clam digger, rising and getting ready to move on, “was the main reason why I left the sea; leastwise I never wanted to go sailin’ much in them parts again.
“In the scrimmage I got a shot in this leg as busted my knee-cap. I kep’ hoppin’ ’round on that busted leg as long as there was any pi-rats to mow down; and I did the knee a lot of harm the doctors in the horspital said.
“So I had ter have the leg ampertated. That made folks down that-a-way ax me was I a pi-rat, too. I’m a sensitive man,” said Kuk, wagging his head, “an’ it hurt my feelin’s to be classed in with all them wooden-legged fellers as we mowed down in the Spankin’ Sal. So I come hum an’ left the sea for good and all,” concluded Habakuk Somes, and at once pegged off with his clam basket on his arm.
“What an awful, awful story!” cried Dot.
“Too awful to believe,” answered Tess, wisely.
CHAPTER XXIII – THE SHADOW
The four Corner House girls planned to start for town one morning early, and they were going by road instead of by boat.
Agnes ran over to the boys’ tents to ask Neale O’Neil to see that their fresh fish was put upon the ice in the icebox when the fishman came; and she found Neale doing duty on the housekeeping staff that morning, being busily engaged in shaking up the pillows and beating mattresses in the sun. The latter exertion was particularly for the dislodgment of the ubiquitous sandflea!
“Hello, Ag! What’s the good word?” cried Neale.
Agnes told him what they were going to do and asked the favor.
“I’ll see that you get the fish all right,” Neale agreed. “But what about the iceman? He’ll never come near your tent with Tom Jonah there.”
“Tom Jonah is going with us,” Agnes said, promptly. “Did you suppose we’d leave him all day alone, poor fellow?”
When they started Tom Jonah showed his delight at being included in the girls’ outing by the most extravagant gyrations. As they went up the shaded lane toward the auto-stage road, he chased half a dozen imaginary rabbits into the woods in as many minutes.
It was right at the head of the lane that they met the man. He was not a bad looking man at all, and he was driving a nice horse to a rubber-tired runabout.
He drew in the horse, that seemed to have already traveled some miles that morning, and looked hard at Tom Jonah.
“Well,” he said, cheerfully, “there’s the old tramp himself. How long have you girls had him?”
The four Corner House girls stood stock-still, and even Ruth was smitten dumb for the moment.
“Tom Jonah, you rascal!” said the man, not unkindly. “Don’t you know your old master?”
At first the dog had not seen him; but the moment he heard the man’s voice, he halted and his whole body stiffened. The plume of his tail began to wave; his jaws stretched wide in a doggish smile. Then, as the man playfully snapped the whip at him, Tom Jonah barked loudly.
“Where did you get him!” the man repeated, looking at the Corner House girls again.
Tess and Dot were clinging to each other’s hands. Agnes stared at the man belligerently. Ruth said – and her voice was not quite steady:
“Do you think you know Tom Jonah, sir?”
“What do you think yourself, Miss?” responded the man, rather gruffly. “I guess there’s no mistake about whether he knows me and I know him.”
“No, sir,” said Ruth, bravely. “But lots of people may know him.”
“Do you mean to put in a claim for the dog?” interrupted the man, quickly.
“Tom Jonah came to our house in Milton,” began Ruth, when again the man interrupted with:
“Of course. He was on his way home to me. I sold him to a man who lives forty miles beyond Milton.”
“Then you do not own him?” Ruth said, with a feeling of relief.
The man looked at her steadily for a minute. Ruth had recovered her self-possession. Tess and Dot were now on either side of Tom Jonah, with their arms about the dog’s neck. Agnes was very angry, but remained silent.
“I raised that dog from a pup, Miss. I owned his mother. I raised him. I put his name on his collar. He has it there yet, hasn’t he?”
“Yes, sir,” admitted Ruth.
“He’s always been a good dog. He’s a gentleman if ever a dog was! He had the run of the house. My wife and the girls made a great pet of him. But by and by they said he was too big and clumsy for the house. They have a couple of little fice– lap-poodles, or the like. Tom Jonah was put out, and he got jealous. Yes, sir!” and the man laughed. “Just as jealous as a human.”
“Oh!” gasped Agnes. She disliked that man!
“My name’s Reynolds,” said the man. “Everybody knows me about Shawmit. I run a lumber-yard there.
“Well! Tom Jonah got to running away to the neighbors. Stayed a while with one, then with another. Always liked kids, Tom Jonah did, and he’d stay longest where there were kids in the family.
“But it got to be a nuisance. I didn’t know whether the dog belonged to me or somebody else. So I sold him to a relative of my wife’s who came on visiting us, and took a fancy to Tom Jonah, and who lives – as I said – forty miles beyond Milton. So the old fellow was on his way back home when you took him in, eh?”
“He came to us at Milton,” Ruth replied. “He wanted to stay. I brought him down here to take care of my little sisters. We’re living in a tent down on the shore yonder – ”
“And we’re going to keep him!” interrupted Agnes, angrily.
“Hush! Be still, Aggie!” begged Ruth, in a low tone.
“You don’t claim you bought him, I suppose?” said the man who called himself Reynolds.
“But we will!” cried Ruth, instantly. “We will gladly pay for him.”
“Oh, he’s not for sale again,” laughed the man. “I sold him once and he wouldn’t stay sold, you see.”
“Then he doesn’t belong to you now, any more than he does to us, really,” Ruth hastened to say.
“Well – that’s so, I suppose,” admitted the man.
“We won’t give Tom Jonah up to anybody,” said Agnes again.
Dot was crying and Tess could scarcely keep from following her lead. Tom Jonah stood solemnly, his eyes very bright, his tail waving slowly. He looked from the girls to the man in the runabout, and back again. He knew they were discussing him; but he did not know just what it was all about.
“If we have to,” said Ruth, with much more confidence in her voice than she felt in her heart, “we will give Tom Jonah up to the person who really owns him. We do not know you, sir. We do not know if what you say is true. You must prove it.”
“Well! I like that!” said the man in a tone that showed he did not like it at all. “You are a pretty pert young lady, you are. I guess I’ll take my own dog home. I heard he was over here to the beach and I drove over particularly to get him.”
“Take him, then!” exclaimed Ruth, desperately. “If Tom Jonah will go with you, all right. You call him.”
“Come here, boy!” commanded the man.
Tom Jonah did not move. Ruth took a hand of each of the smaller girls and led them away from the big dog.
“Come, children,” she said. “We’ll go on. If Tom Jonah really loves us, he’ll come, too.”
The dog whined. He looked from the red-faced, angry man to the four girls who loved him so well.
“Come here, Tom Jonah!” commanded the man again. He had turned his horse and was evidently headed for home. “Come, sir!”
The Corner House girls were moving sadly away. Agnes glanced back and actually made a face at the man in the runabout. Fortunately he did not see it.
“Come on, Tom Jonah!” said the man for the third time.
The dog was perplexed. He showed it plainly. He started after the man; he started back for the girls. He whined and he barked. He was torn by the conflicting emotions in his doggish soul.
“What’s the matter with him?” exclaimed the man, and snapped his whiplash at Tom Jonah.
At that, Dot uttered a shriek of anguish. Tess burst into tears. Agnes started back as though to protect the dog. Even Ruth could not forbear to utter a cry.
“Here, Tom Jonah! here, sir!” Agnes shouted. “Come on, you dear old fellow.”
The dog barked, circled the moving carriage once, and then raced down the road toward the Corner House girls. The man shouted and snapped his whip. Tom Jonah did not even look back at him when he caught up with the girls.
“Hurry up! let’s run with him, Ruthie,” begged Agnes.
But there was no need of that. The man did not turn his horse and follow. He was quickly out of sight and Tom Jonah gave no sign of wishing to follow his old master.
The incident troubled the Corner House girls vastly. Even Ruth was devoted to the good old dog by this time. If he were taken away by this Mr. Reynolds, it would be like losing one of the Corner House family.
Ruth feared that Mr. Reynolds would find some legal way of getting possession of Tom Jonah. She wished Mr. Howbridge were here to advise them what to do. She even wished now that she had not brought Tom Jonah to Pleasant Cove to act as their “chaperon.”
The smaller girls dried their eyes after a time. Agnes, “breathing threatenings,” as Ruth said, promised Tess and Dot that the man never should take Tom Jonah away. But Ruth wondered what they would do about it if Mr. Reynolds came to Willowbend Camp with a police constable and a warrant for the dog?
And, too, who had sent Mr. Reynolds word that Tom Jonah was at the beach? He particularly said that he had been informed of the fact. It seemed to Ruth that the informer must be their enemy.
Then, out of a dust cloud that had been drawing near the Corner House girls for some few moments, appeared the forefront of a big touring car. In it were Trix Severn and some of her friends from the Overlook House.
“Oh! there’s Trix!” murmured Agnes to her older sister.
The hotel-keeper’s daughter would not look at the Corner House girls. She, certainly, had proved herself their enemy. Ruth wondered if Trix had had anything to do with bringing Mr. Reynolds to Pleasant Cove, searching for his dog.
Ruth knew that the hotel-keeper’s daughter often rode over to Shawmit; she was probably on her way there now with her party. And after the way Trix had acted at the time the Spoondrift bungalow was burned, one might expect anything mean of Trix. For once Ruth allowed her suspicions to color her thoughts.
“She has awfully good times, just the same,” murmured Agnes.
“Who does?” demanded Ruth, tartly.
“I declare!” exclaimed Ruth, with more vexation than she usually displayed. “I’d be ashamed that I ever knew her after the way she’s acted. And I believe, Agnes, that we can thank her for setting that man after Tom Jonah.”
“Oh, Ruth! Do you believe so?”
“I do,” said the older Corner House girl, and she explained why she thought so.
Mr. Severn bought many of his supplies in Shawmit, and Trix was forever running over there in the car. It did not strain one’s imagination very much to picture Trix hearing about Mr. Reynolds’ dog and recognizing Tom Jonah from the description. Besides, the Severns had been coming to Pleasant Cove for several seasons, and Trix might easily have seen the dog when he lived with his first master.
“Oh, dear me!” sighed Agnes. “It does seem too bad that one’s very best friends sometimes turn out to be one’s enemies. Who’d have thought Trix Severn would do such a thing?”
“Of course, we don’t know,” admitted Ruth, trying to be fair. “But who else could have told Mr. Reynolds about Tom Jonah?”
Ruth went into the first store in the village that sold such things and bought a new leash. This she snapped into the ring of his collar and made the old dog walk beside them more decorously.
Tess and Dot could scarcely keep from hugging him all the time; they wanted Ruth to agree to take the very next train back to Milton, for they thought with the dog once at the old Corner House, nobody could take him away from them.
“I didn’t like that man at all, anyway,” Tess declared. “He had red whiskers.”
“Is – is that a sign that a man’s real mean if he has red whiskers, Tess?” asked Dot, wonderingly.
“It’s a sign Tess doesn’t like him,” laughed Agnes. “But I don’t like that Reynolds man myself. Do you, Ruthie?”
“We’re all agreed on that point I should hope,” said Ruth. “But we won’t run away with Tom Jonah. If that man comes for him again, I’ll find some way to circumvent him. The good old dog belongs to us, if he does to anybody. And as long as he wants to live with us, he shall. So now!”
The other Corner House girls finally forgot their worriment about Tom Jonah. Ruth warned them not to talk about it to the girls they met. They did their errands in the village and then went on to Spoondrift bungalow where they spent a very enjoyable day.
Neale O’Neil and Joe Eldred came after supper to escort the Corner House girls back to Willowbend Camp. Tess and Dot had taken a nap during the afternoon, so were not a drag on the procession, going home.
They went around by the home of the little old woman who lived in the shoe. Ruth and Agnes had been talking with the boys about the mystery of the strange girl who had shared in the adventures of Tess and Dot on Wild Goose Island. They all agreed she must be a Gypsy; but Ruth had kept to herself the knowledge of the girl’s identity as the Gypsy “queen.”
“I saw several of the Gypsies about the beach to-day,” Joe Eldred said. “That snaky, scarred-faced fellow was one of them.”
“He’s the ring-leader, I believe,” Ruth hastened to say.
“Can’t just see what they are after, hanging about here,” Neale observed. “There isn’t much to steal. Everybody’s brought just the oldest things they own down here to the beach.”
“And there are no hens to steal,” chuckled Agnes.
“I bet none of them will come near the tents while Tom Jonah is on guard,” Neale added, snapping his fingers for the dog who was running ahead in the moonlit path.
Suddenly Tom Jonah stopped and growled. They had arrived in sight of the queer little cottage where Rosa Wildwood lived with Mrs. Bobster. The young folk could even see the drawn shade of the sitting-room window.
“There’s that man again!” exclaimed Agnes.
“What man?” Joe Eldred asked.
“Mrs. Bobster’s mysterious friend,” giggled Agnes. “See his shadow on the curtain?”
“And he’s sitting there with his hat on,” murmured Neale.
But it was Ruth who saw the other – and more important – shadow. This was the figure of a tall man slipping along the outer side of Mrs. Bobster’s picket fence. It was this shadow at which Tom Jonah was growling.
The man came to the gate, opened it softly, and stole in. His furtive movements gave the big dog his cue. He leaped forward, barking vociferously, leaped the fence, and followed the running figure around the corner of the house.
Mrs. Bobster shrieked – the young folk outside could hear her. But her “company” did not move. He still sat there with his derby hat on.
The boys started after the dog. The girls stood, clinging to one another’s hands, at the corner of the fence.
From around the house appeared another running figure; but this was a girl. She flung herself headlong over the fence, and her skirt caught on a picket. Ruth ran forward to release her.
“Oh, my dear!” she gasped. “Where did you come from?”
It was the girl she had first noticed in the train with the Gypsy woman – the very girl who had been on Wild Goose Island with Tess and Dot. It was she who had masqueraded as Zaliska, the Gypsy queen.
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