The Corner House Girls Under Canvas
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High school graduation was on Thursday. On Friday a special through train was put on by the railroad from Milton to Pleasant Cove. It was scheduled to leave the former station at ten o’clock.
Luckily Mrs. MacCall had insisted upon having all the trunks and bags packed the day before, for on this Friday morning the Corner House girls had little time for anything but saying “good-bye” to their many friends, both human and dumb.
“Whatever will Tom Jonah think?” cried Tess, hugging the big dog that had taken up his abode at the Corner House so strangely. “He’ll think we have run away from him, poor fellow!”
“Oh! don’t you think that, Tom Jonah!” begged Dot, seizing the dog on the other side. “We all love you so! And we’ll come back to you.”
“You’ll give him just the best care ever, won’t you, Uncle Rufus?” cried Agnes.
“Sho’ will!” agreed the old colored man.
“Can’t we take him with us, Ruthie?” asked Dot.
Ruth would have been tempted to do just this had she been sure that they would hire a tent in the colony as soon as they reached Pleasant Cove. Tom Jonah was just the sort of a protector the Corner House girl would have chosen under those circumstances.
But Ruth was puzzled. She had not seen Pearl Harrod, and was not sure whether Pearl had completely filled her uncle’s bungalow with guests or not. Of one thing Ruth was sure: if they went to the Overlook House (Mr. Terrence Severn’s hotel), they would pay their board and refuse to be Trix’s guests.
When the carriage came for them, Tom Jonah stood at the gate and watched them get in and drive away with a rather depressed air. Dot and Tess waved their handkerchiefs from the carriage window at him as long as they could see the big dog.
There was much confusion at the station. Many people whom the girls knew were on the platform, or in the cars already. Trix Severn was very much in evidence. The Kenway sisters saw the other girls who were going to accept Miss Severn’s hospitality in a group at one side, but they hesitated to join this party.
Trix passed the Kenways twice and did not even look at them. Of course, she knew the sisters were there, but Ruth believed that the mean-spirited girl merely wished them to speak to her so that she could snub them publicly.
“Well, Ruthie Kenway!” exclaimed a voice suddenly behind the Corner House girls.
It was Pearl Harrod. Pearl was a bright-faced, big girl, jovial and kind-hearted. “I’ve just been looking for you everywhere,” pursued Pearl. “Here it is the last minute, and you haven’t told me whether you and the other girls are going to my uncle’s house or not.”
“Why – if you are sure you want us?” queried Ruth, with a little break in her voice.
“I should say yes!” exclaimed Pearl. “But I was afraid you had been asked by some one else.”
Trix turned and looked the four sisters over scornfully. Then she tossed her head. “Waiting like beggars for an invitation from somebody,” she said, loudly enough for all the girls nearby to hear.“You’d think, if those Corner House girls are as rich as they tell about, that they’d pay their way.”
CHAPTER VI – ON THE TRAIN
“Don’t you mind what that mean thing says,” whispered Pearl Harrod, quickly.
She had seen Ruth flush hotly and the tears spring to Agnes’ eyes when Trix Severn had spoken so ill-naturedly. The younger Corner House girls did not hear, but Ruth and Agnes were hurt to the quick.
“You are very, very kind, Pearl,” said Ruth. “But we had thought of going to the tent colony – ”
“Didn’t Trix Severn ask you to her place?” demanded Pearl, hotly. “I know she did. And now she insults you. If she hadn’t asked you first, and seemed so thick with your sister, Ruth, I would have insisted long ago that you all come to uncle’s bungalow. There’s plenty of room, for my aunt and the girls won’t be down for a fortnight.”
“But, Pearl – ”
“I’ll be mad if you don’t agree – now I know that Trix has released you, Ruth Kenway,” cried the good-hearted girl. “Now, don’t let’s say another word about it.”
“Oh, don’t be angry!” begged Ruth. “But won’t it look as though we were begging our way – as Trix says?”
“Pooh! who cares for Trix Severn?”
“You – you are very kind,” said Ruth, yielding at length.
“Then you come on. Hey, girls!” she shouted, running after her own particular friends who were climbing aboard the rear car. “I’ve gotten them to promise. The Corner House girls are going with us – for two weeks, anyway.”
At once the other girls addressed cheered and gathered the four Kenways into their group, with great rejoicing. The sting of Trix Severn’s unkindness was forgotten.
Mr. Howbridge, their guardian, came to the station to see them off, and shook hands with Ruth through the window of the car. When the train actually moved away, Neale O’Neil was there in the crowd, swinging his cap and wishing them heaps of fun. Neale expected to go to Pleasant Cove himself, later in the season.
This last car of the special train was a day coach; but the light-hearted girls did not mind the lack of conveniences and comforts to be obtained in the chair cars. The train was supposed to arrive at Pleasant Cove by three o’clock, and a five hour ride on a hot June day was only “fun” for the Corner House girls and their friends.
Ruth first of all got the brakeman to turn over a seat so that she and her three sisters could sit facing each other. Mrs. MacCall had put them up a nice hamper of luncheon and the older girl knew this would be better enjoyed if the seats were thus arranged.
Of course, there was the usual desire of some of the travelers to have windows open while others wished them closed. Cinders and dust flew in by the peck if the former arrangement prevailed, while the heat was intense if the sashes were down.
Tess and Dot were little disturbed by these physical ills. But they had their own worries. Dot, who had insisted on carrying the Alice-doll in her arms, was troubled mightily to remember whether she had packed the whole of the doll’s trousseau (this was supposed to be a wedding journey for the Alice-doll – a wedding journey in which the bridegroom had no part); while Tess wondered what would happen to Tom Jonah and Sandyface’s young family while they were all gone from the old Corner House.
“I feel condemned – I do, indeed, Dot,” sighed Tess. “We ought, at least, to have named those four kittens before we left. They’ll be awfully old before the christening – if we don’t come back at the end of our first two weeks.”
“What could happen to them?” demanded Dot.
“Why – croup – or measles – or chicken-pox. They’re only babies, you know. And if one should die,” added Tess, warmly, “we wouldn’t even know what name to put on its gravestone!”
“My! lots of things can happen in two weeks, I s’pose,” agreed Dot. “Do you think we ought to stay away from home so long?”
“I guess we’ll have to if Ruth and Aggie stay,” said Tess. “But I shall worry.”
Meanwhile Agnes, who sat with her back to the engine beside Ruth, had become interested in a couple sitting together not far down the car. They were strangers – and strangely dressed, as well.
“Oh, Ruth!” Agnes exclaimed, under her breath, “they look like Gypsies.”
“If they are, they are much better dressed than any Gypsies we ever saw before,” observed her sister.
“But how gay!”
This comment was just enough. The older one had shocking taste in millinery. She wore, too, long, pendant ear-rings and her fingers were covered with gaudy looking jewels. Her garments were rich in texture, but oddly made, and the contrasts in color were, as Agnes whispered, “fierce!”
“That girl with her is handsome, just the same,” Ruth declared.
“Oh! isn’t she!” whispered the enthusiastic Agnes. “A perfectly stunning brunette.”
If she were a Gypsy girl she was a very beautiful one. Her features were lovely and her complexion brilliant. When she smiled she flashed two rows of perfect teeth upon the beholder. She might have been a year or two older than Ruth.
“I don’t know – somehow – she reminds me of somebody,” murmured the latter.
“She reminds me of that chicken-thief Tom Jonah treed on the henhouse roof,” chuckled Agnes.
“Oh!” exclaimed Ruth; “all Gypsies can’t be alike.”
“Humph! you never heard a good word said for them,” sniffed Agnes.
“But that doesn’t prove there are not good ones. They are a wandering people and have no particular trade or standing in any community. Naturally they have a lot of crimes laid upon their shoulders that they never commit,” said the just Ruth.
“That was one of them that tried to steal your hens, just the same,” said Agnes.
“I suppose so,” admitted her sister. “But surely these two cannot belong to the same kind of Gypsies. See how richly they are dressed.”
“I guess that doesn’t make any difference,” said Agnes. “They are all cut off the same piece of goods,” and immediately she lost interest in the strange couple when Lucy Poole came up the aisle to speak to her.
Ruth had the gaily dressed woman and her companion on her mind a good deal. She often looked at them when they did not notice her. The woman must have been forty, but was straight, lithe, and of good figure. She sat on the outer end of the seat, having the girl between her and the window.
The latter seemed more and more familiar in appearance to Ruth as she looked, yet the Corner House girl could not say whom the girl looked like.
The latter scarcely spoke to her companion. Indeed, she kept her face toward the window for the most part, and seemed to be in a sullen mood. She had smiled once at Dot and the Alice-doll, and that was the only time Ruth had seen the dark, beautiful face with an attractive expression upon it.
The woman seemed talkative enough, but what language she jabbered to her companion the Corner House girl could not tell. She frequently leaned toward the dark girl, her bejeweled fingers seizing the sleeve of her waist, and her speech was both emphatic and loud.
The rattle of the train drowned, however, most of the woman’s words. Ruth arose and went the length of the car for a drink, just for the purpose of overhearing the strange speech of the Gypsy (if such the woman was) for she was sure the language was not English.
She heard nothing intelligible. Ruth folded a cup, filled it at the ice-water tank, and brought it back for the children. Pearl Harrod was sitting directly behind the two strangers, in a seat with Carrie Poole.
“Oh, I say, Ruth!” Pearl said, “is it a fact that Rosa Wildwood is coming down to the Cove next week?”
Ruth turned to answer. As she did so the girl in the seat with the Gypsy sprang to her feet, her face transfigured with amazement, or alarm – Ruth did not know which. The woman grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her back into the seat, saying something of a threatening nature to her companion.
In her excitement the woman knocked the cup of water from Ruth’s hand. She turned to apologize, and Ruth, looking over her head, saw the dark-skinned girl sitting back in her corner quite colorless and broken. The Corner House girl was sure, too, that the strange girl’s lips formed the name “Rosa Wildwood” – but she made no sound.
“It is all right,” Ruth assured the Gypsy woman. “No harm done.”
“I am the ver’ awkward one – eh?” repeated the woman, with a hard smile.
“It does not matter,” said Ruth. “I can get another cup of water.”
She returned to do so. All the while she was wondering what the incident meant. It was not merely a chance happening, she was sure. Something about the name of her schoolmate, Rosa Wildwood, had frightened the beautiful girl who was evidently in the Gypsy woman’s care.
Ruth grew quite excited as she drew another cup of water, and she swiftly planned to discover the mystery, as she started up the aisle of the coach a second time.
CHAPTER VII – SOMETHING AHEAD
Pearl Harrod was now busily talking with Carrie Poole again; she had probably forgotten about Rosa Wildwood for the time being. But Ruth stopped at her seat – the seat directly behind that occupied by the two strangers.
“You asked about Rosa, Pearl?” said Ruth, speaking loudly enough, she was sure, for the girl in front to hear.
“Oh, hello! don’t spill that water again, Ruthie,” laughed Pearl. “Yes. I asked if she were coming down to the Cove!”
“Yes. Rosa Wildwood expects to come next week. I am going to find her a boarding place.”
Ruth spoke very distinctly, and she kept her eyes fastened upon the back of the strange girl’s head. But the latter gave no sign of having heard – at least, she appeared not to be interested in the name which had before so startled her.
“I don’t see how the poor girl can afford it,” Carrie Poole said, not unkindly. “They say she and her father are very poor.”
“Mr. Bob Wildwood works regularly. He doesn’t drink any more,” Ruth explained, intentionally speaking so that those in the forward seat could hear if they wished to listen.
“Rosa is an awfully sweet girl,” said Carrie.
“I love that little Southern drawl of hers!” cried Pearl. “She says ‘Ah reckon so’ in just the cunningest way!”
“She is very frail,” Ruth continued, clearly. “I was afraid she would break down before the school term closed. Now it has been arranged for her to stay at Pleasant Cove until she gains strength. Dr. Forsythe says it will do her a world of good.”
“We’ll give her a good time, all right,” declared Pearl. “Wish we could have her with us – ”
“Not at the bungalow,” said Ruth. “Nor at the hotel. We want a quiet place for her. I shall find it.”
Not a sign did the girl in front give that she heard any of this conversation. Yet Ruth believed there was a curious intentness in her manner – she held her head very still as though she were secretly listening, while apparently giving all her attention to what the train passed.
“What does your uncle call his bungalow – where we shall stop?” asked Ruth of Pearl.
“Why, the Spoondrift – don’t you remember? It’s at this end of the cove, near the river, and we have bathing rights on the shore. It’s a fine place. You’ll love it, Ruth Kenway.”
“I expect to,” said Ruth, seriously. “And you were very kind to ask me to stay two whole weeks with you,” and Ruth passed on.
She had intentionally said enough so that, if the strange girl were listening, she would learn just where Ruth could be found at Pleasant Cove.
For the Corner House girl felt that the dark beauty with the Gypsy woman held some keen interest in Rosa Wildwood. Of course – right at the start – the story of Rosa’s lost sister, June, had come into Ruth’s mind.
Yet, as the Corner House girl looked at the stranger, she could not say truthfully that it was Rosa of whom this girl reminded her. Ruth conjured before her mind’s eye the fair, delicate beauty of Bob Wildwood’s daughter; the two girls possessed no feature in common – and in complexion they were, of course, diametrically opposed.
This girl was dark enough and savage enough looking to be a Gypsy. Ruth scouted the idea that she might be Juniper Wildwood, who had run away with a traveling “medicine man” and his wife.
Nevertheless, Ruth believed that the strange girl must know something about the lost June Wildwood. She had been startled when Rosa’s name was mentioned. The Corner House girl was deeply interested in the affair; but at present she did not want to take anybody into her confidence about it – not even Agnes.
The girls did not remain quietly in their seats, by any manner of means. First there was a crowd blocking the aisle in one part of the car, then in another. Agnes was in and out of her seat half a dozen times between stations. The heat and dust was ignored as the girls shouted pleasantries back and forth; the air was vibrant with laughter.
“I’m just as anxious to see the ocean as I can be,” declared Lucy Poole who, like the Corner House girls, had never been to Pleasant Cove before.
“Oh, dear me!” scoffed her cousin Carrie. “It’s only a big, big pond! Our frog pond at home looks like a piece of the ocean – when it’s calm.”
The others laughed and Pearl said: “Guess Lucy wants to see Old Ocean in its might, eh? Big storm, whales, great ships – ”
“A sea serpent!” cried Agnes.
“Of course – if there is such a thing,” admitted Lucy. “A sea serpent must be an awfully interesting sight.”
“There aren’t any more,” said Pearl. “Father Neptune’s all out of stock.”
“I guess the sea serpent is something like the snakes alcoholic victims think they see,” proposed Carrie.
“Oh, no,” proclaimed Agnes. “Here’s what I read about the sea serpent:
“‘Perils of the Deep!’” laughed Ruth. “But even if we don’t see serpents in the ocean, I expect we’ll have plenty of adventures down there at the shore.”
Which prophecy was strangely fulfilled.
The train reached Bloomingsburg about one o’clock, and was immediately shifted to the single-tracked branch line that connected that small city with Pleasant Cove. The speed of the train after leaving Bloomingsburg was not great, for it was often held up for trains coming from the shore to pass.
The adult passengers grew impatient and wearied. There were many complaints, and the babies began to fret and cry. But our friends in the last coach remained in a jolly and – for the most part – kindly mood.
Trix Severn had taken her crowd into a forward coach. Her father owning one of the big hotels at the Cove, the railroad company had presented him with a sheaf of chair coupons. So, as Pearl Harrod laughingly said, “Trix’s party was as swell as a wet sponge.”
“I don’t suppose any of that crowd at the Overlook House will talk to us,” said Pearl. “Just the same, I guess I can show you girls a good time at Spoondrift. Uncle always lets us do just as we like. He’s the dearest man.”
The train rattled on and on. The alternate pine forests and swamp lands seemed interminable. Now and then they went through a cut, the railroad bisecting a hickory ridge.
But soon there was a change in the air. When the cinders and dust did not sift into the windows, there was a smell of salt marsh. The air seemed suddenly cleaner. At one station where they stopped, a salt creek came in, and there was a dock, and boats, and barrels of clams and fish piled on the platform ready for the next up-train.
“Regular maritime smell – whew!” sighed Carrie Poole, holding her nose delicately.
“Oh! The whole of Pleasant Cove doesn’t smell like this, does it?” demanded her cousin.
“Only the old part of it – the old village.”
“Well! that’s lucky,” said Lucy. “If this odor prevailed I should say the place ought to be called Un-pleasant Cove.”
“How far are we from the jumping-off place?” demanded Agnes. “I’d like to get out and run.”
Pearl stooped to look out under one of the drawn shades. “Why!” she said, “there are only two more stops before we reach the Cove station. It’s a winding way the railroad follows. But if we got off about here and went right through those woods yonder, we’d reach the Spoondrift bungalow in an hour. I’ve walked over here to Jumpertown many a time.”
“Yes. That’s what they called it before the real estate speculators gave it the fancy name of ‘Ridgedale Station.’”
At that moment the train suddenly slowed down. The brakes grated upon the wheels and everybody clung to the seats for support. One of the brakemen ran through from the front and the girls clamored to know the cause of the stoppage.
“Bridge down up front,” said the railroad employee. “Tide rose last night and loosened the supports. We’ve got to wait.”
“Oh, dear me!” was the general wail. When they could get hold of the conductor the girls demanded to know the length of time they would be delayed.
“Can’t tell you, young ladies,” declared the man of the punch. “There’s a repair gang at work on it now.”
“An hour?” demanded Pearl Harrod.
“Oh, longer than that,” the conductor assured her.
“But what shall we do? We want to get to the bungalow and air the bedclothes, and all that, before dark,” she cried.
“Guess you’ll have to walk, then,” said the conductor, laughing, and went away.
“That’s just what we’ll do,” Pearl said to her friends. “Can the children walk three miles, Ruth?”
“Surely they can!” Agnes cried. “If they can’t, we’ll carry them.”
Ruth was doubtful of the wisdom of the move, but her opinion was not asked.
“Come on! let’s get out quietly. We’ll fool all these other folks,” said Pearl. “We’ll get to Pleasant Cove long before they do.”
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