The Corner House Girls Under Canvas
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ďĎWhatís them things for?í axed the first planter, in the Spanish lingo.
ďĎThemís skimmers,í says Capín Roebuck, knowiní it warnít no manner oí use to try to explain the exact truth to a man what ainít never seed snow, or knowed there was a zero mark on the almanack.
ďHe grabbed up one oí them warminí pans and made a swing with it like youíd use a crab-net. ĎSee! See!í says the dons. ĎSkim-a da merlasses.í Thatís Spanish for ĎYes, yes! skim the merlasses,íĒ explained Kuk, seriously.
ďĎBut whatís the cover for?í axed the don. ĎYe donít hafter have no cover,í says Capín Roebuck, and he yanks the cover off the warminí pan aní throws it away.
ďAnd there them dons had the finest merlasses dipper that ever went inter the islanís. Capín Roebuck seen their eyes snap aní put a good, stiff price on the things, and inside of a week there warnít a warminí pan left on the Spankiní Sal.
ďThen,Ē pursued the clam digger, ďwe stowed away in our upper holt goods what would bring a fancy price at Rio, and laid our course for the Amazon.
ďBut we was all hands mighty worritted,Ē admitted Kuk, lowering his voice mysteriously. ďYe see, ye never could tell in them old days, aní in the West Injies, who it was safe to trust, aní who it was safe ter dis-trust.
ďYer see, so many of them snaky Spanish planters was hand aní glove with the pi-rats. And evírybody on the island knowed the Spankiní Sal was takiní away a great treasure that had been exchanged for them warminí pans. We was a fair mark, as ye might say, for them pi-rats.Ē
ďOh!Ē gasped Dot, hugging her Alice-doll the tighter.
ďHow much treasure was there, Mr. Kuk?Ē asked the ever-practical Tess.
ďA chist full,Ē announced the clam digger without a momentís hesitation. ďA regílar treasure-chist full. All them planters hadnít had ready cash money to pay for the warminí pans, and theyíd give in exchange diímonds and other jools Ė and the exchange rates for American money was high anyway. So the Spankiní Sal was a mighty good ketch if the pi-rats ketched her.
ďSo, when we sailed from Porto Rico we kepí a weather eye open for black-painted schooners with rakiní masts aní skulls and shinbones on their flags. When we seed them signs weíd know they was pi-rats,Ē declared Kuk, gravely.
The small Corner House girls sighed in unison Ė and in delight! ďThe plot thickens!Ē whispered Agnes to Ruth behind the flap of the tent where they were listening, likewise, though unbeknown to Kuk and the children.
ďGo on, please, Mr. Kuk,Ē breathed Tess.
ďOh, do!Ē said Dot.
ďWell, shipmets,Ē said the old clam digger, ďbeiní peaceful merchantmen, as ye might say, we hadnít shipped aboard the Spankiní Sal to fight no pi-rats,Ē declared Kuk, with energy. ďWe wasnít no sogers, and we told the skipper so.
ďĎWeíll fight,í says I. Beiní an officer Ė carpenterís mate, as I told ye Ė I was spokesman for the crew.ĎBut we wants ter fight with weepons as we air fermiliar with. Let you and the ossifers fire the cannon, skipper,í says I, Ďand give us fellers that was bred along shore aní on the farms some oí them scythes outín the lower holt.
ďĎCutlasses aní muskets,í says I, Ďis all right for them as has been brought up with íem,í says I, Ďbut, skipper, me aní my shipmets has been better used ter cuttiní swamp-grass aní mowiní oats. Give us the weepons we air fermiliar with.í
ďAnd he done it,Ē declared Kuk, wagging his sinful old head. ďWe broke out some cases of scythes and fixed íem onto their handles after grindiní of íem sharp as razers on the grinístone in the waist of the Spankiní Sal.
ďPretty soon we seen one oí them black-hulled schooners cominí. She couldnít be mistook for anythiní but a pi-rat, although she didnít fly no black flag yet.
ďĎLet íem come to close quarters, skipper,í says I. ĎLet íem board us. Then me aní my shipmets can git íem on the short laig. Weíll mow íem down like weeds along a roadside ditch.í
ďHe done it, aní we did,Ē pursued Kuk, rather heated now with the interest of his own narrative. ďWhen they run their schooner alongside of us and the two ships clinched, and they broke out the black flag at their peak, me aní my shipmets stood there ready to repel boarders.
ďThem pi-rats,Ē proceeded Kuk, ďfought like a passel of cats Ė tooth aní nail! They come over aour bulwarks jest like peas pouriní out oí a sack. ĎSteady, lads!í I sings out. ĎTake a long, sweepiní stroke, aní each oí ye cut a good swath!í
ďAní we done so,Ē the clam digger said, nodding. ďOur scythes was longer than the cutlasses of them pi-rats; and before they could git at us, weíd reach íem with a side-swipe of the scythes, and mow íem down like ripe hay.Ē
ďOh, dear, me!Ē gasped Dot.
ďHow awful!Ē murmured Tess.
ďíTwas sartain sure a bloody field of battle,Ē declared the clam digger, nodding again. ďIf it hadnít been for my leg I wouldnít never have fought no pi-rats again. A man has his feelinís, ye see. Our scuppers run blood. The enemy was piled along the deck under our bulwarks in a regílar windrow.Ē
ďAnd did you kill them allĖ†every one?Ē demanded Tess, in amazement.
ďNo. We jest cut íem down for the most part,Ē explained Kuk. ďYe 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 oí wooden legged pi-rats on the Spanish Main.
ďAní that,Ē declared the clam digger, rising and getting ready to move on, ďwas the main reason why I left the sea; leastwise I never wanted to go sailiní much in them parts again.
ďIn the scrimmage I got a shot in this leg as busted my knee-cap. I kepí hoppiní íround 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.
ďSo I had ter have the leg ampertated. That made folks down that-a-way ax me was I a pi-rat, too. Iím a sensitive man,Ē said Kuk, wagging his head, ďaní it hurt my feelinís to be classed in with all them wooden-legged fellers as we mowed down in the Spankiní Sal. So I come hum aní left the sea for good and all,Ē concluded Habakuk Somes, and at once pegged off with his clam basket on his arm.
ďWhat an awful, awful story!Ē cried Dot.
ďToo awful to believe,Ē answered Tess, wisely.
CHAPTER XXIII Ė 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 boysí tents to ask Neale OíNeil 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!
ďHello, Ag! Whatís the good word?Ē cried Neale.
Agnes told him what they were going to do and asked the favor.
ďIíll see that you get the fish all right,Ē Neale agreed. ďBut what about the iceman? Heíll never come near your tent with Tom Jonah there.Ē
ďTom Jonah is going with us,Ē Agnes said, promptly. ďDid you suppose weíd leave him all day alone, poor fellow?Ē
When they started Tom Jonah showed his delight at being included in the girlsí 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.
ďWell,Ē he said, cheerfully, ďthereís the old tramp himself. How long have you girls had him?Ē
The four Corner House girls stood stock-still, and even Ruth was smitten dumb for the moment.
ďTom Jonah, you rascal!Ē said the man, not unkindly. ďDonít you know your old master?Ē
At first the dog had not seen him; but the moment he heard the manís 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.
ďWhere did you get him!Ē the man repeated, looking at the Corner House girls again.
Tess and Dot were clinging to each otherís hands. Agnes stared at the man belligerently. Ruth said Ė and her voice was not quite steady:
ďDo you think you know Tom Jonah, sir?Ē
ďWhat do you think yourself, Miss?Ē responded the man, rather gruffly. ďI guess thereís no mistake about whether he knows me and I know him.Ē
ďNo, sir,Ē said Ruth, bravely. ďBut lots of people may know him.Ē
ďDo you mean to put in a claim for the dog?Ē interrupted the man, quickly.
ďTom Jonah came to our house in Milton,Ē began Ruth, when again the man interrupted with:
ďOf course. He was on his way home to me. I sold him to a man who lives forty miles beyond Milton.Ē
ďThen you do not own him?Ē 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 dogís neck. Agnes was very angry, but remained silent.
ďI 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, hasnít he?Ē
ďYes, sir,Ē admitted Ruth.
ďHeís always been a good dog. Heís 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 ficeĖ†lap-poodles, or the like. Tom Jonah was put out, and he got jealous. Yes, sir!Ē and the man laughed. ďJust as jealous as a human.Ē
ďOh!Ē gasped Agnes. She disliked that man!
ďMy nameís Reynolds,Ē said the man. ďEverybody knows me about Shawmit. I run a lumber-yard there.
ďWell! Tom Jonah got to running away to the neighbors. Stayed a while with one, then with another. Always liked kids, Tom Jonah did, and heíd stay longest where there were kids in the family.
ďBut it got to be a nuisance. I didnít know whether the dog belonged to me or somebody else. So I sold him to a relative of my wifeís who came on visiting us, and took a fancy to Tom Jonah, and who lives Ė as I said Ė forty miles beyond Milton. So the old fellow was on his way back home when you took him in, eh?Ē
ďHe came to us at Milton,Ē Ruth replied. ďHe wanted to stay. I brought him down here to take care of my little sisters. Weíre living in a tent down on the shore yonder Ė Ē
ďAnd weíre going to keep him!Ē interrupted Agnes, angrily.
ďHush! Be still, Aggie!Ē begged Ruth, in a low tone.
ďYou donít claim you bought him, I suppose?Ē said the man who called himself Reynolds.
ďBut we will!Ē cried Ruth, instantly. ďWe will gladly pay for him.Ē
ďOh, heís not for sale again,Ē laughed the man. ďI sold him once and he wouldnít stay sold, you see.Ē
ďThen he doesnít belong to you now, any more than he does to us, really,Ē Ruth hastened to say.
ďWell Ė thatís so, I suppose,Ē admitted the man.
ďWe wonít give Tom Jonah up to anybody,Ē 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.
ďIf we have to,Ē said Ruth, with much more confidence in her voice than she felt in her heart, ďwe 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.Ē
ďWell! I like that!Ē said the man in a tone that showed he did not like it at all. ďYou are a pretty pert young lady, you are. I guess Iíll take my own dog home. I heard he was over here to the beach and I drove over particularly to get him.Ē
ďTake him, then!Ē exclaimed Ruth, desperately. ďIf Tom Jonah will go with you, all right. You call him.Ē
ďCome here, boy!Ē 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.
ďCome, children,Ē she said. ďWeíll go on. If Tom Jonah really loves us, heíll come, too.Ē
The dog whined. He looked from the red-faced, angry man to the four girls who loved him so well.
ďCome here, Tom Jonah!Ē commanded the man again. He had turned his horse and was evidently headed for home. ďCome, sir!Ē
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.
ďCome on, Tom Jonah!Ē 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.
ďWhatís the matter with him?Ē 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.
ďHere, Tom Jonah! here, sir!Ē Agnes shouted. ďCome on, you dear old fellow.Ē
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.
ďHurry up! letís run with him, Ruthie,Ē 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 ďchaperon.Ē
The smaller girls dried their eyes after a time. Agnes, ďbreathing threatenings,Ē 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.
ďOh! thereís Trix!Ē murmured Agnes to her older sister.
The hotel-keeperís 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-keeperís 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.
ďShe has awfully good times, just the same,Ē murmured Agnes.
ďWho does?Ē demanded Ruth, tartly.
ďI declare!Ē exclaimed Ruth, with more vexation than she usually displayed. ďIíd be ashamed that I ever knew her after the way sheís acted. And I believe, Agnes, that we can thank her for setting that man after Tom Jonah.Ē
ďOh, Ruth! Do you believe so?Ē
ďI do,Ē 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 oneís imagination very much to picture Trix hearing about Mr. Reynoldsí 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.
ďOh, dear me!Ē sighed Agnes. ďIt does seem too bad that oneís very best friends sometimes turn out to be oneís enemies. Whoíd have thought Trix Severn would do such a thing?Ē
ďOf course, we donít know,Ē admitted Ruth, trying to be fair. ďBut who else could have told Mr. Reynolds about Tom Jonah?Ē
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.
ďI didnít like that man at all, anyway,Ē Tess declared. ďHe had red whiskers.Ē
ďIs Ė is that a sign that a manís real mean if he has red whiskers, Tess?Ē asked Dot, wonderingly.
ďItís a sign Tess doesnít like him,Ē laughed Agnes. ďBut I donít like that Reynolds man myself. Do you, Ruthie?Ē
ďWeíre all agreed on that point I should hope,Ē said Ruth. ďBut we wonít run away with Tom Jonah. If that man comes for him again, Iíll 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!Ē
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 OíNeil 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 girlís identity as the Gypsy ďqueen.Ē
ďI saw several of the Gypsies about the beach to-day,Ē Joe Eldred said. ďThat snaky, scarred-faced fellow was one of them.Ē
ďHeís the ring-leader, I believe,Ē Ruth hastened to say.
ďCanít just see what they are after, hanging about here,Ē Neale observed. ďThere isnít much to steal. Everybodyís brought just the oldest things they own down here to the beach.Ē
ďAnd there are no hens to steal,Ē chuckled Agnes.
ďI bet none of them will come near the tents while Tom Jonah is on guard,Ē 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.
ďThereís that man again!Ē exclaimed Agnes.
ďWhat man?Ē Joe Eldred asked.
ďMrs. Bobsterís mysterious friend,Ē giggled Agnes. ďSee his shadow on the curtain?Ē
ďAnd heís sitting there with his hat on,Ē murmured Neale.
But it was Ruth who saw the other Ė and more important Ė shadow. This was the figure of a tall man slipping along the outer side of Mrs. Bobsterís 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 Ė the young folk outside could hear her. But her ďcompanyĒ did not move. He still sat there with his derby hat on.
The boys started after the dog. The girls stood, clinging to one anotherís 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.
ďOh, my dear!Ē she gasped. ďWhere did you come from?Ē
It was the girl she had first noticed in the train with the Gypsy woman Ė 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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