The Corner House Girls Under Canvas
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The bungalow was lighted by oil-lamps, and they used candles in the bed chambers; while there was a marvelous “blue-flame” kerosene range in the kitchen.
Not all of the girls understood the handling of kerosene lamps, and Pearl told a funny story about her own little sister who had never seen any lights but gas or electric.
“When she came down here to Uncle Phil’s bungalow for the first time, she was all excited about the lamps. She told mamma that ‘Uncle Phil had his ’lectricity in a lamp right on the supper table. It’s a queer kind of a light, for they fill it with water out of a can.’”
The hanging lamp in the front hall was set inside a melon-shaped globe. Finding that, as Ruth pointed out, it could not be used, Pearl made another trip to the village before teatime and in the local “department store” bought another lamp.
“I am afraid you ought not to use that lamp, Pearl,” Ruth said, when she saw that the chimney was not tall enough to stick out of the top of the globe.
“Pooh! why not? Guess it’s just as good as the old chimney was,” said Pearl.
“Seems to me Mrs. MacCall says that chimneys should always be tall enough to come up through the globe. I don’t know just why – ”
“Oh, pshaw!” interrupted Pearl. “It’s all right, I fancy.”
Neither girl had recourse to “applied physics.” Had she done so she could easily have discovered just why it was unwise to use a lamp with a short chimney inside such a shaped globe as that hanging in chains in the front hall of the bungalow.
Ruth forgot the matter. It was Pearl herself who lit the hall lamp that evening. As before, they sat on the porch and played games and sang or told stories, all the long, bright evening.
Tess and Dot had gone to bed at half after eight. It was an hour later that Lucy suddenly said:
“I smell smoke.”
“It isn’t Mr. Harrod,” said Ann. “He’s gone down to the Casino.”
“It isn’t tobacco smoke I smell,” declared Lucy, springing up.
“Oh, Lute!” shrieked Agnes. “Look at the door!”
A cloud of black, thick smoke was belching out of the front hall upon the veranda. One of the other girls shrieked “Fire!”
Those next few minutes were terribly exciting for all hands at the Spoondrift bungalow. A single glance into the hall showed Ruth Kenway that the hanging lamp had burst, and the place was all ablaze.
There was but one stairway, and the children were in one of the low-ceilinged rooms above. Tess and Dot could only be reached by climbing up the long, sloping roof of the bungalow, and getting in at the chamber window.
While some of the girls ran for water – which was useless in the quantity they could bring from the kitchen tap in pots and pans – and others ran screaming along the street for help, Ruth “shinnied” right up one of the piazza pillars and squirmed out upon the shingled roof.
She tore her dress, and hurt her knees and hands; but she did not think of this havoc at the moment.She got to the window of the room in which her sisters slept, and screamed for Tess and Dot, but in their first sleep the smaller girls were completely “dead to the world.”
There was the screen to be reckoned with before the oldest Corner House girl could enter. It was set into the window from the inside, and she could neither lift the window-sash nor stir the screen. So she beat the tough wire in with her fists, and they bled and hurt her dreadfully! Nevertheless, she got through, falling into the room just as the stifling smoke from below began to pour in around the bedroom door.
“Tess! Dot! Hurry up! Get up!” she shrieked, shaking them both.
Tess aroused, whimpering. Ruth seized Dot bodily, flung a blanket around her, and put her out of the window upon the roof. Then she dragged Tess to the window and made her climb out after her sister.
“Oh, oh!” gasped Tess, alive at last to the cause of the excitement. “Save the Alice-doll, Ruthie. Save Dot’s Alice-doll!”
And Ruth actually went back, groping through the gathering smoke, for the doll. With it she scrambled out upon the shingles.
By that time the street was noisy with shouting people. Mr. Harrod came with a fire extinguisher and attacked the flames. Other men came and helped the girls down from the roof.
Agnes had fainted when she realized the danger her sisters were in. Some of the other girls were quite hysterical. Neighbors took them all in for the night.
It was quite an hour before the fire was completely out. Then the Spoondrift bungalow certainly was in a mess.
“It will take carpenters and painters a fortnight and more to repair the damage,” said Mr. Harrod the next morning. “Luckily none of your guests lost their clothing, Pearl; but you will all have to go to the hotel to finish your visit to Pleasant Cove.”
CHAPTER XI – THE LITTLE OLD WOMAN WHO LIVED IN A SHOE
The Overlook House was nearest. Mr. Harrod made arrangements for the girls to go there and occupy several rooms. At least, he presumed he had made that arrangement with Mr. Severn when he left on the forenoon train for Bloomingsburg to arrange his insurance and hire mechanics to at once repair the bungalow.
The Spoondrift cottage was really not fit for occupancy and there seemed nothing else for the girls to do but follow his advice and go over to the Overlook. But Ruth Kenway had her doubts.
After the excitement of the fire, and the general “stir-about” which ensued, Pearl Harrod had quite forgotten that the Corner House girls were not on terms of intimacy with Trix Severn, the hotel keeper’s daughter. It probably never entered her good-natured mind that Trix would behave meanly when all hands from the Spoondrift had escaped the peril of the fire.
The girls trooped over to the hotel, after repacking their baggage, to look at the rooms which had been secured for them. Mr. Severn was not there, nor was the clerk on duty. Their schoolmate, Trix, was behind the desk.
“Oh, yes,” she said carelessly, “I presume we can find rooms for you. But father doesn’t care much to take in people who won’t stay the season out – especially at this time of the year. It’s a great inconvenience.”
“Pooh!” said Pearl, frankly, “I guess your father is running his hotel for money – not for sport. And Uncle Phil is going to pay him for all the accommodation we get.”
“Indeed?” returned Trix. “You seem to know a lot about our business, Miss Harrod.”
“Don’t you put on any of your high and mighty airs with me, Miss!” snapped Pearl. “For they don’t go down, let me tell you! Didn’t Uncle Phil secure rooms for us?”
“Well – he spoke of your coming here. There is Number 10, and 11, and 14; they’re all three double rooms, so you and Ann can have one, Maud and Lulu another, and Carrie and Lucy the third.”
“But, goodness gracious! there are ten of us!” cried Pearl. “You know that very well.”
“Those three rooms,” said Trix, with elaborate carelessness, “are all your uncle provided.”
“Why, Uncle Phil must be crazy! Didn’t he get a big room for the Kenways?”
“Humph!” said Trix, maliciously. “Are they with you, Miss Harrod? Your uncle must have quite overlooked them. All the rooms I know anything about his securing for your party are the three I’ve mentioned.”
“Well, where’s your father – ”
“He’s gone fishing,” said Trix, promptly, and with a flash of satisfaction in her eyes. “He won’t be back till late to-night.”
“Then, where’s the clerk?” demanded Pearl, much worried.
“Mr. Cheever doesn’t know anything about it. I was here when your uncle made his bargain. Nothing was said about those Corner House girls – so there! There is no room for them here.”
“Well! I call that the meanest thing!” began Pearl, but Ruth, who had stood close by, interrupted:
“Don’t let it worry you in the least, Pearl. We have plenty of time to find accommodations before night.”
“You won’t find them here, Miss!” snapped Trix.
“Nothing would make me remain under this roof for a night,” said Ruth, indignantly. “My sisters and I have never done you any harm, Trix; quite the contrary, as you would remember had you any gratitude at all. This hotel is not the only place at Pleasant Cove where we can find shelter, I am sure.”
“Oh, Ruth! don’t go!” begged Pearl. “This mean girl is not telling the truth, I am sure. You’ll break up our party,” Pearl wailed.
“I couldn’t stay here now,” the oldest Corner House girl declared. “I am going to secure a tent for us. I am quite sure we will be comfortable in one. If other people can stand it under canvas, of course we can.”
She took Agnes by the hand and they went out of the hotel. Tess and Dot had not come with them, but had been left at the neighbor’s where they had all spent the night.
Pearl and the other girls could not very well follow them; they were not so independently situated as the Corner House girls. Ruth had a well filled pocket-book, as well as checks from Mr. Howbridge and an introductory letter to the branch bank at Pleasant Cove.
She had been so used to going ahead, and arranging matters for the whole family, during the past three years, that she was not troubled much by this emergency. She was sorry that the pleasant party had to be broken up, that was all. She was not sure that she and her sisters knew any of the campers along the riverside.
There were two men who supplied tents and outfits for those who wished to live under canvas, and so there were two distinct tent colonies, though they were side by side.
One was called Camp Enterprise, and the other Camp Willowbend. The latter was just at the bend of the river, and there were a few willows on the low bluff back of it.
There were not more than a dozen tents erected in either camp as yet, for it was early in the season. The Corner House girls rode quite a mile from the hotel to Willowbend Camp and selected a tent that was already erected.
It was a large wall-tent and it was divided in half by a canvas partition that made a bedroom of one end and a living-room of the front part. In the latter was a small sheetiron cookstove, with a pipe that led the smoke outside of the tent. But there was an oilstove, too, and Ruth decided that they would make arrangements for buying most of their food cooked, so as to reduce the details of housekeeping.
Agnes cheered up at once when she saw the tent-cities. And the smaller girls were delighted with the prospect of living under canvas.
There were four cots in the tent, with sheets and blankets, and apologies for pillows; there was matting laid down on the sand, too, in this bedroom part of the tent.
The remainder of the furnishings consisted of four camp-chairs, a plain deal table, a chest of drawers that contained the chinaware and cooking utensils, and a small icebox. This front apartment had a plank floor, made in sections.
It was a rough enough shelter, and the camping arrangements were crude; nevertheless, the Corner House girls saw nothing but fun ahead of them, and they were as busy as bees all that day “getting settled.”
There were pleasant people in the other tents of Camp Willowbend, but none of them chanced to be Milton people. There were several girls of ages corresponding to those of the Corner House girls, and the latter were sure they would find these neighbors good sport.
The Kenways were so busy at noon that they only “took a bite in their fists,” as good Mrs. MacCall would have expressed it. Ruth had been wise enough to buy some cooked food in the village before they came over to the camp, but she learned from some of the ladies in the tents that there was a woman in the neighborhood who baked bread to sell, and sometimes cookies and pies.
“You go to see Mrs. Bobster. She’s the nicest old lady!” declared one city matron. “Make your arrangements for bread now, Miss Kenway, for after she takes orders for as many as she can well supply, she wouldn’t agree to bake another loaf. She has a real New England conscience, and she wouldn’t promise to bake a single biscuit more than she knows she can get in her oven.”
The directions for finding Mrs. Bobster interested and amused the Corner House girls.
“She is the little old woman who lives in the shoe,” laughed their informant. “You can’t miss the house, if you go along the beach road toward town. It’s just beyond the other camp.”
“Oh!” cried Dot, eagerly, “I want to see the lady who lives in a shoe. She must have lots of children, for they were a great bother.”
“And,” said Tess, “do you suppose she does whip them all soundly and send them to bed with a piece of bread to eat?”
“We’ll discover all that,” promised Ruth, and soon after luncheon, having fixed up the tent, and set to rights their things that the expressman had brought over from the Spoondrift bungalow, the four sisters set out to find Mrs. Bobster.
The girls had ridden over from the village along the highroad, on which they had traveled two days before in the auto-stage. This lower, or “beach” road was a much less important thoroughfare. In places it followed the line of the shore so closely that the unusual high tides that had prevailed that spring, had washed a great deal of white sand across the swamp-grass and out upon it.
So, in places, the girls plodded through sand over their shoe tops. “Might as well go barefooted,” declared Agnes, sitting down for the third time to take off her oxfords and shake out the sand.
“You’d find it pretty different, if you tried it,” laughed Ruth. “This sand is hot.”
“It does seem as though you slipped back half a step each time you tried to go forward,” said Tess, seriously. “Aren’t we ever going to get there, Ruth?”
“Oh!” cried Dot, suddenly, “isn’t that a giraffe? And there’s a camel!”
“For goodness’ sake!” gasped Agnes, plunging to her feet, and hopping along after her sisters, trying to get on her left shoe. “Is this the African desert?”
“It looks like it,” said Ruth, herself amazed.
“And it’s hot enough,” grumbled Agnes. “Oh! I see! it’s a wrecked carousel.”
There were decrepit lions and tigers, too; the rain-washed and broken animals were the remains of a carousel, the machinery of which had been taken away. Once somebody had tried to finance a small pleasure resort between the real village of Pleasant Cove and the two tent colonies, but it had been unsuccessful.
The wreck of a “shoot the chutes,” the carousel, a dancing pavilion and a short boardwalk with adjacent stands, had been abandoned by the unfortunate promoters. There was a tower – now a “leaning” tower; broken-down swings; an abandoned moving picture palace; and back from the rest of the wreckage, several hundred yards from the sandy shore, the girls saw a rusty looking frame structure, shaped like a shoe, with a flagstaff sticking out of the roof.
“There it is!” cried Tess, eagerly. “And it does look like a shoe.”
Originally the house had been a tiny brown cottage set in the midst of a garden. The fence surrounding the place was still well kept. The second story of the cottage had been transformed into the semblance of a congress-gaiter, with windows in the sides and front. It looked as though that huge shoe had been carefully placed upon the rafters of the first floor rooms of the cottage.
“What a funny looking place!” exclaimed Agnes. “Did you ever see the like, Ruth? I wonder if Mrs. Bobster is as funny as her house.”
At that moment a figure bobbed up among the beanpoles in the garden, and the girls saw that it was a little woman in a calico sunbonnet. Her face was very small and hard and rosy – like a well-shined Baldwin apple. She had twinkling blue eyes, as sharp as file-points.
“Shoo!” exclaimed the little woman. “Shoo, Agamemnon! Git aout o’ them pea-vines like I told you!”
For a moment the Corner House girls did not see Agamemnon; they could not imagine who he was.
“Shoo, I tell ye!” exclaimed the little old woman who lived in a shoe, and she struck out with the short-handled hoe she was using.
There was a squawk, and out leaped, with awkward stride, a long legged rooster – of what “persuasion” it was impossible to tell, for he was swathed from neck to spurs in a wonderful garment which had undoubtedly been made out of a red flannel undershirt!
Two or three bedraggled tail-feathers appeared at the aperture in the back of this garment; otherwise Agamemnon seemed to be quite featherless. And when, clear of his mistress’ reach, he flapped his almost naked wings and crowed, he was the most comical looking object the Corner House girls had ever seen.
CHAPTER XII – A PICNIC WITH AGAMEMNON
“You see, gals, Agamemnon’s been the most unlucky bird that ever was hatched,” said the little old woman, coming across the tiny lawn to the fence where the Corner House girls were staring, round-eyed, at the strange apparition of a rooster in a red-flannel sleeping-suit.
“But he’s the pluckiest! Yes, ma’am! He was only a pindling critter when he pipped the shell, an’ the vi-cis-si-tudes that bird’s been through since he fust scratched would ha’ made a human lay right down and die.
“The other chickens never would let him raise a pin-feather ter cover his nakedness; they picked on him suthin’ awful. I shet him up till his wings and tail growed, an’ a rat got in an’ gnawed the feathers right off him in one night; but Agamemnon picked and clawed so’t the old rat didn’t bleed him much.
“And now here, lately, a neighbor got a half-breed game rooster, an’ thet pesky fightin’ bird got down here an’ sasses Agamemnon on his own premises.
“Ag wouldn’t stand for that,” said the old lady, her blue eyes fairly crackling. “He sailed right inter that game chicken – an’ Neighbor Lincoln et his rooster the nex’ Sunday for dinner. ’Twas all he could do with the critter after Agamemnon got through with him.
“But that game rooster had tore ev’ry important feather off’n poor Agamemnon’s carcass. I had to do suthin’. ’Twarn’t decent for him to go ’round bare. So I made him that smock out of one o’ poor Eddie’s old shirts. And there ye be!” she finished breathlessly, smiling broadly upon the interested Corner House girls.
“I guess you are Mrs. Bobster?” asked Ruth, smiling in return.
“Are you really the – the lady who lives in the shoe?” asked Dot, round-eyed.
“That’s what they call me, pet,” said Mrs. Bobster, smiling at the smallest Kenway. “I’m the only little old woman who lives in this shoe. Poor Eddie thought we’d make a mint of money if we built over the top of our house like that, and I sold gingercakes and sweeties to the children who came down here to the beach. Eddie was allus mighty smart in thinkin’ up schemes for me to make money. But the Beach Company went up in smoke, as the sayin’ is; so we didn’t make our fortun’ after all.”
She laughed. Indeed, this little, apple-faced old lady was almost always laughing, it seemed.
“Poor Eddie!” she added. “I guess the Beach Company failin’ took about all the tuck out o’ him. He said himself it was the last straw on the camel’s back. He jest settled right down inter his chair, like; and he didn’t last that winter out. He was allus weakly, Eddie was.”
The Corner House girls knew she must be speaking of her husband. So now she was all alone in the house that had such a grotesque upper story.
“No. There ain’t no children here – only them that comes in to see me,” Mrs. Bobster said in answer to a question from Tess. “We never did have no children; but we allus loved ’em.”
Meanwhile she had opened the gate and invited the Corner House girls into the yard. There was an arbor which was already shaded by quick-growing vines. The little kitchen garden, with its border of gooseberries and currants, was as neat as it could be.
“I gotter cow of my own out back, and hens, too. I make a bare livin’ in winter, and put frills onto it in summer,” and the old lady laughed. “These folks from the city that come livin’ in tents here, like my bread and cookies.”
“That is what we have come to arrange for, Mrs. Bobster,” said Ruth.
“I dunno. Most all I can comferbly bake three times a week, is bespoke,” said the little old woman who lived in a shoe. “How many is there in your fam’bly, Miss?”
When she heard that there were just four of them – these girls alone – and that they were to live by themselves in a tent, she grew greatly interested.
“Surely I’ll bake for you – and cookies, too. Maybe a fruit pie oncet in a while – ’specially if you’ll go over beyond the bend when berries is ripe and pick ’em yourself. And you gals a-livin’ all alone? Sho! I’d think you’d be scaret to death.”
“Why, no!” said Ruth. “Why should we?”
“After dark,” said the old woman, shaking her hand.
“Who would hurt us?” asked the Corner House girl in wonder.
“Can’t most always sometimes tell,” said the old woman, shaking her head.
“But you live here alone!”
“No,” she said, quickly. “Not after dark. I ain’t never alone. Oh, no!”
She spoke as though she were afraid Ruth might not believe her, and repeated the denial several times.
Tess and Dot were very anxious to go upstairs and see the rooms in the “shoe,” and they made the request to Ruth in an audible whisper.
“For sure!” cried Mrs. Bobster. “All the children that come here want to go upstairs. If I had ’em of my own, that’s where I’d put ’em all to bed after I’d fed ’em bread and ‘whipped ’em all soundly,’” and she laughed.
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