The Corner House Girls Under Canvas
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“I don’t believe you’d have whipped the children, if you’d been the really truly little old woman that lived in the shoe,” quoth Dot, putting a confiding hand into the apple-faced lady’s hard palm.
“I bet you wouldn’t have had to be whipped,” laughed Mrs. Bobster, leading Dot away, with Tess following.
Later the hostess of the shoe-house brought out a pitcher of milk and glasses with a heaping plate of ginger cookies – the old-fashioned kind that just melt on your tongue!
“Sho!” she said, when Ruth praised them. “It’s easy enough to make good merlasses cookies. But ye don’t wanter have no conscience when it comes to butter – no, indeed!”
Agamemnon came to the feast. In his ridiculous red flannel suit he waddled up to his mistress and pecked crumbs off her lap when she sat down on the bench in the arbor.
“He looks just like a person ready to go in swimming,” chuckled Agnes. “It’s a red bathing suit.”
“That’s one thing Agamemnon can’t stand. He don’t like water,” said Mrs. Bobster. “But if I let him out at low tide he’ll beau a flock of hens right down to the clamflats. But now, poor thing! they won’t go with him.”
“Who – the hens!” asked Ruth, wonderingly.
“Yes. They don’t think he looks jest right, I s’pose. If he chass?s up to one of my old biddies, she tries to tear that flannel suit right off’n him. It’s hard on poor Agamemnon; but until his feathers start to grow good again, I don’t dare have him go without it. He’d git sunburned like a brick, in the fust place.”
This tickled Agnes so that she almost fell off the bench.
“But I should think the red flannel would tickle him awfully,” murmured Tess, quite seriously disturbed over the plight of the rooster.
“Sho! keeps away rheumatics. So poor Eddie allus said,” declared the widow. “That’s why he wore red flannel for forty year – and he never had a mite of rheumatism. Agamemnon ought to be satisfied he’s alive, after all he’s been through.”
It was really very funny to see the rooster strutting about the yard in what Agnes called his red bathing suit.
The Corner House girls remained for some time with Mrs. Bobster. When they went back to the camp at the bend they carried their first supply of bread and cookies.
They arrived at their tent to find a wagonette Pearl had hired in the port, and all the other girls who had been at the Spoondrift bungalow had come visiting.
The crowd was delighted with the way Ruth and her sisters were situated. It looked as though to live under canvas would be great fun indeed.
“Wish I’d spoken to Uncle Phil about it, and gotten him to hire tents instead of putting us up at that old hotel,” declared Pearl. “And do you know, girls, that Trix Severn told a story?”
“I didn’t suppose she’d be above being untruthful,” Ruth said, rather indignantly.
“And you’re quite right. We found out that her father set aside a big, double-bedded room for you four girls.Trix says she did not know anything about it. But of course Uncle Phil would not have forgotten you.”
“Never mind,” said Agnes. “I’m glad she acted so. We’re a whole lot better off here.”
“I believe you!” said Carrie Poole.
“You going to have Rosa Wildwood here in the tent with you when she comes?” asked Ann Presby.
“I’m afraid she ought to have a better place,” said Ruth. “And I believe I know just where she would get the attention – and food – that she needs,” and the oldest Corner House girl told the crowd about Mrs. Bobster – the little old lady who lived in a shoe.
“If I can get the dear old thing to take Rosa to board, I know she’ll give her just what she needs – good food, plenty of it, well cooked, and Rosa will be in a quiet place where she can rest all she wants to,” said Ruth.
She had no idea at the time of the strange adventure that would arise out of this plan of hers to bring Rosa Wildwood to stay for a part of the summer with the little old woman who lived in a shoe.
CHAPTER XIII – THE NIGHT OF THE BIG WIND
“Ruthie! there’s another man wants to sell you a boat.”
“Ruthie! there’s another man wants to sell an elephant – and it’s so cute!”
“For the land’s sake!” gasped Ruth, throwing down a sputtering pen, where she was writing on the chest of drawers in the tent. “How can a body write? And an elephant, no less!”
She rushed out to see Dot’s elephant, as that seemed more important than Tess’ announcement that a man had merely a boat for sale. Dot’s man was a gangling young fellow with a covered basket from which he was selling sugar cakes made into fancy shapes. So Dot had her elephant for the Alice-doll (almost everything that appealed to Dot was bought for that pampered child of hers!) and was appeased.
But the man with the boat was a different matter. He proved to be a boat owner and he wanted to hire one of his craft to the Corner House girls by the week. Agnes was just crazy (so she said) to add rowing to her accomplishments, and Ruth thought it would be a good thing herself.
The boat was a safe, cedar craft, with two pairs of light oars and a portable kerosene engine and propeller to use if the girls got tired of rowing. Ruth made the bargain after thoroughly looking over the boat, which had had only one season’s use.
There was a chain and padlock for mooring it to a post at the edge of the water just below the tent.
The older girls had already learned to swim in the school gymnasium at Milton. Milton was pretty well up to date in its school arrangements.
Tess had been taught to “strike out” and could be left safely to paddle by herself in shallow water while Ruth and Agnes taught little Dot.
The latter refused to own to any fear of the water. Up here in the river the waves were seldom of any consequence, and of course on stormy days the girls would not go bathing at all.
Others of the Willowbend campers had rowboats for the season; and some even owned their own motorboats. The girls were well advised regarding fishing-tackle and the like. Crabbing was a favorite sport just then, for several small creeks emptied into the river nearby and soft-shell crabs and shedders were plentiful.
“I’d be afraid of these crabs if their teeth were hard,” Dot declared, for she insisted that the “pincers” of the crustaceans were teeth.
“They are dreadfully squirmy, anyway,” sighed Tess. “Just like spiders. And yet, we eat them!”
“But – but I always shut my eyes when I eat them; just as I do when I swallow raw oysters,” confessed Dot. “They taste so much better than they look!”
Having the boat, the Corner House girls rowed to the village for their supplies and to visit their friends. They did not go to the Overlook House; but Pearl Harrod and her party were at the burned bungalow almost all day. They always bathed there, and the Corner House girls went down to bathe with them. The beach was better there than at the camp.
It was Monday when Ruth Kenway and her sisters were established in their tent. On Thursday of that week they rowed over to Spoondrift bungalow in the morning. Pearl greeted them before they got ashore with:
“Oh, Ruth! The funniest thing has happened. You’d never guess.”
“Trix Severn has the mumps!” exclaimed Agnes. “I knew she was all swelled up.”
“Not as good as that,” laughed Pearl. “But worse may happen to that girl than mumps. However, it’s nothing to do with Trix.”
“What is it?” asked Ruth, calmly. “I’m not a good guesser, Pearl.”
“You remember those Gypsies?”
“That are camped up in the woods!”
“If they are Gypsies,” said Ruth, doubtfully.
“Of course they are!” cried Pearl. “Well, they’ve been around here looking for you.”
“For goodness’ sake!” gasped Agnes. “What for?”
Ruth herself looked startled. But Pearl began to laugh again.
“At least, that queer old woman has been asking for you,” she explained.
“Zaliska!” exclaimed Ruth, although she was very sure that was not the person’s name. Of course the name was part of the strange girl’s masquerade.
“It was this morning,” Pearl went on to say. “We didn’t see many of the women of the tribe when we came past that camp last week. But a number of them came down into the village this morning – selling baskets and telling fortunes from door to door. We saw them over by the hotel – didn’t we, girls?”
“Yes. I bought a basket from one of them,” admitted Carrie Poole.
“But when we came up here to the bungalow,” pursued Pearl, “one of the men working here asked me if I’d seen ‘my friend, the Gypsy queen’? So, I said ‘No,’ of course.
“Then he told me that that Zaliska had asked him where the girl was who was called Ruth Kenway. He told her that after the bungalow got afire, all the girls went to the hotel.”
“Then she’ll never find you there, Ruth,” interposed Agnes, with satisfaction.
Ruth was not sure that she did not wish the supposed Gypsy queen to find her. She knew that “Zaliska” was really the very pretty, dark-skinned girl whom she had been so much interested in on the train coming down from Milton.
And that strange girl was interested in Rosa Wildwood. Of that Ruth was as sure as she could be.
“Maybe she’ll follow you up to the camp,” said Lucy Poole. “I’d be afraid to live all alone in that tent if I were you girls.”
“Pooh!” exclaimed Agnes. “What’s going to hurt us!”
“The crabs might come up the beach at night and pinch your toes,” laughed Maud Everts.
“I don’t know,” Pearl said, seriously. “I wouldn’t want those Gyps interested in me.”
“Now you are trying to frighten us,” laughed Ruth. “We have plenty of neighbors. Don’t you come up there and try to play tricks on us in the tent. You might get hurt.”
“Bet she has a gatling gun,” chuckled Carrie Poole.
“I’m going to have something better than that,” declared Ruth, smiling. But she refused to tell them what.
Ruth remembered that the little old woman who lived in a shoe had spoken of being afraid, too; so the oldest Corner House girl made her plans accordingly, but kept them to herself.
After their bath the sisters dressed in the Harrod tent that had been pitched on the lawn behind the bungalow, and then went on to the village. Ruth and Agnes rowed very nicely, for the former, at least, had had some practise at this sport before coming to Pleasant Cove.
They tied the painter of their boat to a ring in one of the wharf stringers, and went “up town” to the stores. The village of Pleasant Cove was never a bustling business center. There were but few people on the main street, and most of those were visitors.
“There are two of those Gypsy women, Ruth!” hissed Agnes in her sister’s ear, as they came out of a store.
Ruth looked up to see the woman who had been in the train, and another. They were both humbly dressed, but in gay colors. Ruth looked up and down the street for the disguised figure of the young girl, but she was not in sight.
“My goodness, Ruth!” said Agnes, “what do you suppose that old hag of a Gypsy wants you for?”
“She isn’t – ” began Ruth. Then she thought better of taking Agnes into her confidence just then and did not finish her impulsively begun speech, but said:
“We won’t bother about it. She probably won’t find us up at Willowbend Camp.”
“I should hope not!” cried Agnes. “I don’t want to get any better acquainted with those Gyps.”
The matter, however, caused Ruth to think more particularly of Rosa Wildwood. She had not yet found a boarding place for the Southern girl, and Rosa was to come down to Pleasant Cove the next Monday.
Ruth wanted to see Mrs. Bobster, and she did so that very afternoon. On their way back to the camp they tied the boat up at the foot of the wrecked pleasure park and walked up the broken boardwalk to the shoe-house.
“Here’s your bread, girls – warm from the oven,” said the brisk little woman. “And if you want a pan of seed cookies – ”
“Oh! don’t we, just!” sighed Agnes.
The girls sat down to eat some of the delicacies right then and there, and Mrs. Bobster brought a pitcher of cool milk from the well-curb. Ruth at once opened the subject of getting board for Rosa with the little old woman who lived in a shoe.
“Wal, I re’lly don’t know what ter say to ye,” declared Mrs. Bobster. “I ain’t never kalkerlated ter run a boardin’ house —
“But one young lady! I dunno. They wanted me to take old Mr. Kendricks ter board last winter; the town selectmen did. But I told ’em ‘No.’ I warn’t runnin’ a boardin’ house – nor yet the poorfarm.”
“Poorfarm?” questioned Ruth, puzzled by the reference.
“Yep. Ye see, there ain’t been no town poor here in Pleasant Cove for a number o’ years. Last winter old Mr. Kendricks see fit to let the town board him. He’s spry enough to go clammin’ in the summer; an’ he kin steer a boat when his rheumatics ain’t so bad. But winters is gittin’ hard on him.
“It didn’t seem good jedgment,” Mrs. Bobster said, reflectively, “to open the poorfarm jest for him. B’sides, they’d got the old farm let to good advantage for another year to Silas Holcomb. So they come to me.
“Now, Mr. Kendricks is as nice an old man as ever you’d wish ter see,” pursued Mrs. Bobster. “He comes of good folks – jest as good as my poor Eddie’s folks.
“The town selectmen had consid’rable trouble gettin’ Mr. Kendricks took, ’count o’ his being so pertic’lar. Yeast bread seemed ter be his chief objection. He couldn’t make up his mind to it on account of havin’ had sour milk biscuit all his life; but finally, after I’d said ‘No,’ they got Mis’ Ann ’Liza Cobbles to agree to give him hot bread three times a day like he was used to.
“But, lawsy me! She ain’t a com-plete cook – no, indeed! Mr. Kendricks said her cookin’ warn’t up to the mark, an’ if he has to go on the town this comin’ winter he shouldn’t go to Mis’ Cobbles.
“The selectmen may be driv’ to open the poorfarm ag’in, an’ to gittin’ somebody ter do for Mr. Kendricks proper.
“Maybe it’s a sort of lesson to the folks of Pleasant Cove,” sighed Mrs. Bobster, “for bein’ sort o’ proud-like through reason of not havin’ no town poor for endurin’ of ten years. I view it that way myself.
“Mr. Kendricks says he feels as if he was meant ter be a notice to ’em; ter be ready an’ waitin’ ter help people in a proper way; not to be boardin’ of ’em ’round where they might git dyspepsia fastened on ’em through eatin’ of unproper food.”
Agnes was giggling; but Ruth managed to get the talkative old lady back into the track she wanted her in. The Corner House girl expatiated upon how little trouble Rosa would be, and what a nice girl she was.
“Well!” said Mrs. Bobster, “I might try her. You offer awful temptin’ money, Miss. And poor Eddie allus said I’d do anything for money!”
It had been fortunate for the deceased Mr. Bobster, as Ruth had learned, that his wife had been willing to earn money in any honest way; for Mr. Bobster himself seldom had done a day’s work after his marriage to the brisk little woman.
So the matter of Rosa Wildwood’s board and lodging was arranged, and the Kenways went back to their boat. Evening was approaching, and with it dark clouds had rolled up from the horizon, threatening a bad night.
Ruth and Agnes found a head wind to contend with when they pushed off the cedar boat. Ruth had learned to run the little motor propeller, and she started it at once. Otherwise they would have a hard time pulling up to Willowbend Camp.
During the week there were few men at the tent colonies. On Saturdays and Sundays the husbands and fathers were present in force; but now there was not a handful of adult males in either the Enterprise or Willowbend encampments.
The Corner House girls were helped ashore, however, and they hauled their boat clear up to the front of their tent. There was quite a swell on, and the waves ran far up the beach, hissing and spattering spray into the air. The wind swept this spray against the tents in gusts, like rain.
But there was no rain – only wind. The black clouds threatened, but there was no downpour. There was no such thing as having a coal fire, however; the wind blew right down the stack and filled the tent with choking smoke.
They lit a lantern and ate a cold supper. The flaps of the tent were laced down, for they had been warned against letting the wind get under. Now and then, however, a chill draught blew over them and the partition creaked.
“It’s just like a storm at sea,” said Agnes, rather fearfully, yet enjoying the novel sensation. “We might as well be on a sailing ship.”
“Not much!” exclaimed Ruth. “At least, we’re on an even keel.”
They agreed to go to bed early. Lying in the cots, well covered with the blankets, seemed the safest place on such a night. There was no shouting back and forth from tent to tent, and no visiting.
Lights went out early. The wind shrieked in the treetops back from the shore, and in the lulls the girls could hear the breakers booming on the rocks outside the cove.
Tess and Dot went to sleep – tired with the day’s activities. Not so the older girls. They lay and listened, and shivered as the booming voice of the wind grew in volume, and the water seemed to drive farther and farther up the beaches.
Forever after, this night was known at Pleasant Cove as “the night of the big wind.” But as yet it had only begun and the Corner House girls had no idea of what was in store for them.
CHAPTER XIV – AN IMPORTANT ARRIVAL
Agnes did fall asleep; but Ruth only dozed, if she closed her eyes at all. The rumble of the storm shook the nerves of the oldest Corner House girl – and no wonder!
Ruth felt the weight of responsibility for her sisters’ safety. If anything happened while they were under canvas she knew that she would be blamed.
Sometimes the spray swept in from the river and spattered on the canvas like a drenching shower. The walls of the tent shook. She heard many sounds without that she could not explain – and some of these sounds frightened her.
Suppose the tent should blow down? The way the wind sometimes shook it reminded Ruth of a dog shaking a bit of rag.
Then, when the wind held its breath for a moment, the roaring of the sea in the distance was a savage sound to which the girl’s ears were not attuned.
She had left the lantern lit and it swung from a rope tied to the ridgepole of the tent, and beyond the half partition of canvas. Its flickering light cast weird shadows upon the canvas roof.
Now and then the spray beat against the front of the tent, while the roof shook and shivered as though determined to tear away from the walls. Ruth wished she had gone all around the tent before dark to make sure the pegs were driven well into the sand.
Occasionally children cried shrilly, for the noise of the elements frightened them; Ruth was thankful that Tess and Dot slept on.
She slept herself at last; how long she did not know, for when she awoke she was too greatly frightened to look at her watch. The wind seemed suddenly to have increased. It seemed struggling to tear the tent up by the roots!
And as the canvas shook, and swelled, and strove to burst its fastenings, there came a sudden snap on one side and one of the pegs flew high in the air at the end of its rope, coming down slap on the roof of the tent!
“The peg has pulled out!” gasped Ruth, sitting up in her cot and throwing off the blanket.
The canvas was straining and bellying fearfully at the point where the peg had drawn. It was likely to draw the pegs on either side. Ruth very well knew that if a broad enough opening was made for the wind to get under, the tent would be torn from its fastenings.
She hopped out upon the matting and shook Agnes by the shoulder.
“Get up! Get up, Ag!” she called, breathlessly. “Help me.”
She ran to the front of the tent for the maul – a long-handled, heavy-headed croquet-mallet. When she returned with it, Agnes was trying to rub her eyes open.
“Come quick, Ag! We’ll be blown away,” declared Ruth.
“I – I – What’ll we do?” whimpered Agnes.
“We must hold the tent down. Come on! Get into your mackintosh. I’ll get the lantern.”
Around the upright pole in the sleeping part of the tent were hung the girls’ outer garments. Ruth got into her own raincoat and buttoned it to her ankles. She left Agnes struggling with hers while she ran to unhang the lantern. She knew the night must be as black as a pocket outside.
“Wha – what you going to do?” stuttered Agnes.
“Drive the pegs in deeper. One of them pulled out.”
“Oh, dear! Can we?”
“I guess we’ll have to, if we don’t want to lose our tent. Hear that wind?”
“It – it sounds like cannon roaring.”
“But that isn’t the front flap – ”
“Think I’m going to unlace that front flap when the wind’s blowing right into it?”
“Can’t we get out yonder, where the peg has been pulled?”
“But how’ll we get in again when all the stakes are driven down hard?” snapped Ruth, beginning to unlace the flaps of the rear wall of the tent.
“Oh! oh!” moaned Agnes. “Hear that wind?”
“I wouldn’t care if it only hollered,” gasped Ruth. “It’s what it will do if it ever gets under this tent, that troubles me!”
She unlaced the flaps only a little way. “Come along with that lantern, Ag. We’ve got to crawl under.”
“‘Get down and get under,’” giggled Agnes, hysterically.
But she brought the lantern and followed Ruth out of the tent, on hands and knees. When they stood up and tried to go around to that side of the tent where the peg had pulled out, the wind almost knocked them down.
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