The Corner House Girls Under Canvas
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“But the teachers at school think you are awfully smart,” declared the Corner House girl.
“June warn’t so smart at her books,” said Rosa. “But she could do anything with her hands. You’d thunk she was two years older’n me, too. She was dark and handsome. She got mad, and run away, and then we started lookin’ for her; but we’ve never found her yet,” sighed Rosa. “And now I’ve got so miserable that I can’t keep traveling with paw. So we got to stop here, and maybe we won’t ever see June again.”
“Oh! I hope you will,” cried Ruth. “Now, your father’s dinner is all ready to dish up. And I’ll come back after school this afternoon and rid up the house for you; don’t you do a thing.”
Ruth had time that noon for only a bite at home, and explained to Mrs. MacCall that she would be late in returning from school. She carried a voluminous apron with her to cover her school frock when she set about “ridding up” the Wildwood domicile.
Ruth wanted to help Rosa; she hoped Rosa would keep up with the class and be promoted at the end of the term, as she was sure to be herself. And she was sorry for sooty, odd-talking Bob Wildwood.
What Rosa had said about her lost twin sister had deeply interested Ruth Kenway. She wanted, too, to ask the Southern girl about “June,” or Juniper.
“We were the last children maw had,” said Rosa. “She just seemed to give up after we were born. The others were all sickly – just drooped and faded. And they all were girls and had flower names. Maw was right fanciful, I reckon.
“I wish June had held on. She’d stuck it out, I know, if she’d believed paw could stop drinking toddies. But, you see he has. He ‘swigs’ an awful lot of tea, though, and I expect it’s tanning him inside just like he was leather!”
Ruth really thought this was probable – especially with the teapot in the condition she had found it. But she had put some washing soda in the pot, filled it with boiling water, and set it back on the stove to stew some of the “tannin” out of it.
While the Corner House girl was talking with Rosa in the little bedroom the girl called her own, Bob brought his mules to a halt before the house with an empty wagon, and ran in as usual.
The girls heard him enter the outer room; but Ruth never thought of what the man’s object might be until Rosa laughed and said:
“There’s paw now, for a swig at the teapot. I hope you left it full fo’ him, Ruthie, dear.”
“Oh, goodness mercy me!” cried the Corner House girl, and darted out to the kitchen to warn the man.
But she was too late. Already the begrimed Bob Wildwood had the spout of the teapot to his lips and several swallows of the scalding and acrid mixture gurgled down his throat before he discovered that it was not tea!
“Woof! woof! woof!” he sputtered, and flung pot and all away from him. “Who done tryin’ poison me! Woof! I’s scalded with poison!”
He coughed and spluttered over the sink, and then tried a draught of cold water from the spigot – which probably did him just as much good as anything.
“Oh, dear me, Mr.Wildwood!” gasped Ruth, standing with clasped hands and looking at the sooty man, half frightened. “I – I was just boiling the teapot out.”
“Boilin’ it out?”
“Yes, sir. With soda. I – I – It won’t poison you, I guess.”
“My Lawd!” groaned Bob. “What won’t yo’ Northerners do nex’? Wash out er teapot!” and he grumblingly went forth to his team and drove away.
Ruth felt that her good intentions were misunderstood – to a degree. But Rosa thanked her very prettily for what she had done, and the next day she was able to come to school again.
It was only a few days later that Carrie Poole invited a number of the high school girls and boys – and some of the younger set – to the last dance of the season at her home. She lived in a huge old farmhouse, some distance out of town on the Buckshot road, and the Corner House girls and Neale O’Neil had spent several pleasant evenings there during the winter and spring.
The night before this party there was a big wind, and a part of one of the chimneys came down into the side yard during the night with a noise like thunder; so Ruth had to telephone for a mason before breakfast.
Had it not been for this happening, the Corner House girls – at least, Ruth and Agnes – and Neale O’Neil, would have escaped rather an embarrassing incident at the party.
Neale came over to supper the evening of the party, and he brought his pumps in a newspaper under his arm.
“Come on, girls, let’s have your dancing slippers,” he said to the two older Corner House girls, who were going to the dance. “I’ll put them with mine.”
And he did so – rolling the girls’ pretty slippers up in the same parcel with his own. He left the parcel in the kitchen. Later it was discovered that the mason’s helper had left a similarly wrapped parcel there, too.
When the three young folk started off, it was Agnes who ran back after the bundle of dancing slippers. Neale carried it under his arm, and they walked briskly out through the suburbs of Milton and on along the Buckshot road.
“Are you really going to Pleasant Cove this summer, Neale?” demanded Agnes, as they went on together.
“If I can. Joe has asked me. And you girls?”
“Trix says we must come to her father’s hotel for two weeks at least,” Agnes declared.
“Humph!” said Neale, doubtfully. “Are you going, Ruth?”
“I – don’t – know,” admitted the older Corner House girl.
“Now, isn’t that just too mean?” complained Agnes. “You just say that because you don’t like Trix.”
“I don’t know whether Trix will be of the same mind when the time comes,” said Ruth, firmly.
“I believe you,” grunted Neale.
Agnes pouted. “It’s just mean of you,” she said. “Of course she will want us to go.” While Agnes was “spoons” with a girl, she was always strictly loyal to her. She could not possibly see Trix Severn’s faults just now.
They arrived at the farmhouse and found a crowd already assembled. There was a great deal of talking and laughter, and while Neale stood chatting with some of the boys in the hall, Ruth and Agnes came to him for their slippers.
“Sure!” said the boy, producing the newspaper-wrapped bundle he carried. “Guess I’ll put on my own pumps, too.”
He unrolled the parcel. Then a yell of derision and laughter arose from the onlookers; instead of three pairs of dancing slippers, Neale produced two pairs of half-worn and lime-bespattered shoes belonging to the masons who had repaired the old Corner House chimney!
“Now we can’t dance!” wailed Agnes.
“Oh, Neale!” gasped Ruth, while the young folk about them went off into another gale of laughter.
“Well, it wasn’t my fault,” grumbled Neale. “Aggie went after the bundle.”
“Shouldn’t have left them right there with the masons’ bundle – so now!” snapped Agnes.
CHAPTER IV – THE MYSTERY OF JUNE WILDWOOD
Now, Trix Severn had maneuvered so as to get the very first dance with Neale O’Neil. Among all the boys who attended the upper grammar grades, and the High, of Milton, the boy who had been brought up in a circus was the best dancer. The older girls all were glad to get him for a partner.
Time had been when Trix sneered at “that circus boy,” but that was before he and the two older Corner House girls had saved Trix from a collapsing snow palace back in mid-winter.
Since that time she had taken up with Agnes Kenway as her very closest chum, and she had visited the old Corner House a good deal. When Agnes and her sister arrived at the party on this evening, with Neale as escort, Trix determined to have at least one dance with the popular boy.
“Oh, Neale!” she whispered, fluttering up to him in her very nicest way, “Ruth and Agnes will be half an hour primping, upstairs. The music is going to strike up. Do let us have the first dance.”
“All right,” said Neale, good-naturedly.
It was the moment later that the discovery was made of the masons’ shoes in the bundle he carried under his arm.
“Now we can’t dance,” repeated Agnes, when the laughter had somewhat subsided.
“Oh, Neale can dance just as well,” Trix said, carelessly. “Come on, Neale! You know this is our dance.”
Of course Neale could dance in his walking shoes. But he saw Agnes’ woebegone face and he hesitated.
“It’s too bad, Aggie,” he said. “If it wasn’t so far – ”
“Why, Neale O’Neill” snapped Trix, unwisely. “You don’t mean to say you’d be foolish enough to go clear back to the Corner House for those girls’ slippers?”
Perhaps it was just this opposition that was needed to start Neale off. He pulled his cap from his pocket and turned toward the door, with a shrug. “I guess I can get back in an hour, Ag. Don’t you and Ruth dance much in your heavy shoes until then. You’ll tire yourselves all out.”
“Why, Neale O’Neill” cried Trix. “You won’t do it?”
Even Ruth murmured against the boy’s making the trip for the slippers. “We can get along, Neale,” she said, in her quiet way.
“And you promised to dance with me this first dance,” declared Trix, angrily, as the music began.
Neale did not pay much attention to her – at the moment. “It’s my fault, I guess,” he said, laughing. “I’ll go back for them, Ag.”
But Trix got right between him and the door. “Now! you sha’n’t go off and leave me in the lurch that way, Neale O’Neill” she cried, shrilly.
“Aw – There are other dances. Wait till I come back,” he said.
“You can dance in the shoes you have on,” Trix said, sharply.
“But we can’t, Trix,” interposed Agnes, much distressed. “Ruth and I, you know – ”
“I don’t care!” interrupted Trix, boiling over at last. “You Corner House girls are the most selfish things! You’d spoil his fun for half the party – ”
“Aw, don’t bother!” growled Neale, in much disgust.
“I will bother! You – ”
“Guess she thinks she owns you, Neale,” chuckled one of the boys, adding fuel to the flames. Neale did not feel any too pleasant after that. He flung away from Trix Severn’s detaining grasp.
“I’m going – it isn’t any of your concern,” he muttered, to the angry girl.
Ruth bore Agnes away. She was half crying. The rift in the intimacy between her soulmate and herself was apparent to all.
To make the matter worse – according to Trix’s version – when Neale finally returned, almost breathless, with the mislaid slippers, he insisted, first of all, upon dancing with Ruth and Agnes. Then he would have favored Trix (Ruth had advised it), but the angry girl would not speak to him.
“He’s nothing but a low circus boy, anyway!” she told Lucy Poole. “And I don’t think really well-bred girls would care to have anything to do with him.”
Those who heard her laughed. They had known Trix Severn’s ways for a long time. She had been upon her good behavior; but it did not surprise her old acquaintances that she should act like this.
It made a difference to the Corner House girls, however, for it made their plans about going to Pleasant Cove uncertain.
The other girls knew that Trix had invited the Corner House girls for the first two weeks after graduation, and that Ruth had tentatively accepted. Therefore even Pearl Harrod – who wanted Ruth and her sisters, herself – scarcely knew whether to put in a claim for them or not.
Graduation Day was very near at hand; the very day following the closing of the Milton High, several family parties were to leave for the seaside resort which was so popular in this part of New England.
They had to pass through Bloomingsburg to get to it, but when the Kenways had lived in that city, they had never expected to spend any part of the summer season at such a beautiful summer resort as Pleasant Cove.
It was a bungalow colony, with several fine hotels, built around a tiny, old-fashioned fishing port. There was a still cove, a beautiful river emptying into it, and outside, a stretch of rocky Atlantic coast on which the ocean played grim tunes during stormy weather.
This was as much as the Corner House girls knew about it as yet. But they all looked forward to their first visit to the place with keen delight. Tess and Dot were talking about the expected trip a good deal of the time they were awake. Most of their doll-play was colored now by thoughts of Pleasant Cove.
They were not too busy to help Mrs. MacCall take the last of the winter clothing to the garret, however, and see her pack it away in the chests there. As she did this the housekeeper sprinkled, with lavish hand, the camphor balls among the layers of clothing.
Dot had tentatively tasted one of the hard, white balls, and shuddered. “But they do look so much like candy, Tess,” she said. Then she suddenly had another thought:
“Oh, Mrs. MacCall! what do you suppose the poor moths had to live on ’way back in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve wore any clothes?”
“Now, can you beat that?” demanded the housekeeper, of nobody in particular. “What won’t that young one get in her head!”
Meanwhile Ruth was helping Rosa Wildwood all she could, so that the girl from the South would be able to pass in the necessary examinations and stand high enough in the class to be promoted.
Housework certainly “told on” Rosa. Bob said “it jest seems t’ take th’ puckerin’ string all out’n her – an’ she jest draps down like a flower.”
“We’ll help her, Mr. Wildwood,” Ruth said. “But she really ought to have a rest.”
“Hi Godfrey!” ejaculated the coal heaver. “I tell her she kin let the housework go. We don’t have no visitors – savin’ an’ exceptin’ you, ma’am.”
“But she wants to keep the place decent, you see,” Ruth told him. “And she can scarcely do that and keep up with her studies – now. You see, she’s so weak.”
“Hi Godfrey!” exclaimed the man again. “Ain’t thar sech a thing as bein’ a mite too clean?”
But Bob Wildwood had an immense respect for Ruth; likewise he was grateful because she showed an interest in his last remaining daughter.
“I tell you, sir,” the oldest Corner House girl said, gravely. “Rosa needs a change and a rest. And all us girls are going to Pleasant Cove this summer. Will you let Rosa come down, too, for a while, if I pay her way and look out for her?”
The man was somewhat disturbed by the question. “Yuh see, Miss,” he observed, scratching his head thoughtfully, “she’s all I got. I’d plumb be lost ’ithout Rosa.”
“But only for a week or two.”
“I know. And I wouldn’t want tuh stand in her way. I crossed her sister too much – that’s what I did. Juniper was a sight more uppity than Rosa – otherwise she wouldn’t have flew the coop,” said Bob Wildwood, shaking his head.
Ruth, all tenderness for his bereavement, hastened to say: “Oh, you’ll find her again, sir. Surely you don’t believe she’s dead?”
“No. If she ain’t come to a bad end, she’s all right somewhar. But she’d oughter be home with her sister – and with me. Ye see, she was pretty – an’ smart. No end smart! She went off in bad comp’ny.”
“How do you mean, Mr. Wildwood?” asked Ruth, deeply interested.
“Travelin’ folks. They had a van an’ a couple team o’ mules, an’ the man sold bitters an’ corn-salve. The woman dressed mighty fine, an’ she took June’s eye.
“We follered ’em a long spell, me an’ Rosa. But we didn’t never ketch up to ’em. If we had, I’d sure tuck a hand-holt of that medicine man. He an’ his woman put all the foolishness inter Juniper’s haid.
“An’ Rosa misses her sister like poison, too,” finished Bob Wildwood, slowly shaking his head.
There seemed to be a mystery connected with the disappearance of Rosa’s sister, and Ruth Kenway was just as curious as she could be about it; but she stuck to her subject until Bob Wildwood agreed to spare his remaining daughter for at least a week’s visit to Pleasant Cove, while the Corner House girls would be there.
CHAPTER V – OFF FOR THE SEASIDE
The last hours of the school term were busy ones indeed. Even Tess had her troublesome “’zaminations.” At the study table on the last evening before her own grade had its closing exercises, Tess propounded the following:
“Ruthie, what’s a ’scutcheon?”
“Um – um,” said Ruth, far away.
“A what, child?” demanded Agnes.
“‘Escutcheon,’ she means,” chuckled Neale, who was present as usual at study hour.
“Well, what is it?” begged Tess, plaintively.
“Why?” demanded Ruth, suddenly waking up. “That’s a hard word for a small girl, Tess.”
“It says here,” quoth Tess, “that ‘There was a blot upon his escutcheon.’”
“Oh, yes – sure,” drawled Neale, as Ruth hesitated. “That must mean a fancy vest, Tess. And he spilled soup on it – sure!”
“Now Neale! how horrid!” admonished Ruth, while Agnes giggled.
“I do think you are all awful mean to me,” wailed Tess. “You don’t tell me a thing. You’re almost as mean as Trix Severn was to me to-day. I don’t want to go to her father’s hotel, so there! Have we got to, Ruthie?”
“What did she do to you, Tess?” demanded Agnes, with a curiosity she could not quench. For, deep as the chasm had grown between her and her former chum, she could not ignore Trix.
“She just turned up her nose at me,” complained Tess, “when I went by; and I heard her say to some girl she was with: ‘There goes one of them now. They pushed their way into our party, and I s’pose we’ve got to entertain them.’ Now, did we push our way in, Ruthie?”
Ruth was angry. It was not often that she displayed indignation, so that when she did so, the other girls – and even Neale – were the more impressed.
“Of course she was speaking of that wretched invitation she gave us to stay at her father’s hotel at Pleasant Cove,” said Ruth. “Well!”
“Oh, Ruthie! don’t say you won’t go,” begged Agnes.
“I’ll never go to that Overlook House unless we pay our way – be sure of that,” declared the angry Ruth.
“But we are going to the shore, Ruthie?” asked Tess.
“Maybe Pearl Harrod will ask us again,” murmured Agnes, hopefully.
“I guess we can pay our way and be beholden to nobody,” said Ruth, shortly. “I will hire one of the tents, if nothing else. And we’ll start the very day after High closes, just as we planned.”
Despite the loss of her “soulmate,” Agnes was pretty cheerful. She was to graduate from grammar school; and although she was sorry to lose Miss Georgiana Shipman as a teacher, she was delighted to get out of “the pigtail classes,” as she rudely termed the lower grades.
“I’m going to do up my hair, Ruthie, whatever you say,” she declared, “just as soon as I get into high school next fall. I’m old enough to forget braids and hair-ribbons, I should hope!”
“Not yet, my child, not yet,” laughed Ruth. “Why! there are more girls in High who wear their hair down than up.”
“But I’m so big – ”
“You mean, you’d be big,” chuckled Neale, “if you were only rolled out,” for he was always teasing Agnes about her plumpness.
“Well! I want to celebrate some way,” sighed Agnes. “Can’t we have a specially nice supper that night?”
“Surely, child,” said her sedate sister. “What do you want?”
“Well!” repeated Agnes, slowly; “you know I’ll never graduate from Grammar again. Couldn’t we kill some of those nice frying chickens of yours, Ruthie?”
“Oh, my!” cried Neale. “What have the poor chickens done that they should be slaughtered to make a Roman holiday?”
“Mr. Smartie!” snapped Agnes. “You be good, or you sha’n’t have any.”
“If that Tom Jonah hadn’t been busy on a certain night, none of us would have eaten those particular frying chickens,” laughed Neale. “I wonder if that Gypsy is running yet?”
“He didn’t get the frying chickens in the bag,” said Agnes. “They were in another coop. We hatched them in January and brought them up by hand. Say! I don’t believe you know much about natural history, Neale, anyway.”
“I guess he knows more than Sammy Pinkney does,” Tess said, again drawn into the conversation. “Teacher asked him to tell us two breeds of dairy cattle and which gives the most milk. She’d been reading to us about it out of a book. So Sammy says:
“‘The bull and the cow, Miss Andrews; and the cow gives the most milk.’”
Dot’s school held its closing exercises one morning, and Tess’ in the afternoon. Then came the graduation of Agnes and Neale O’Neil from the grammar school. Ruth was excused from her own classes at High long enough to attend her sister’s graduation.
Although the plump Corner House girl was no genius, she always stood well in her classes. Ruth saw to that, for what Agnes did not learn at school she had to study at home.
So she stood well up in her class, and she did look “too distractingly pretty,” as Mrs. MacCall declared, when she gave the last touches to Agnes’ dress before she started for school that last day. Miss Ann Titus, Milton’s most famous seamstress and “gossip-in-ordinary,” had outdone herself in making Agnes’ dress. No girl in her class – not even Trix Severn – was dressed so becomingly.
The envious Trix heard the commendations showered on her former friend, and her face grew sourer and her temper sharper. She well knew she had invited the Corner House girls to be her guests at Pleasant Cove; but she did not want them in her party now. She did not know how to get out of “the fix,” as she called it in her own mind.
She had intimated to two or three other girls who were going, however, that Agnes and Ruth had forced the invitation from her in a moment of weakness. If she had to number them of her party, Miss Trix proposed to make it just as unpleasant for the Kenway sisters as she could.
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