The Corner House Girls Under Canvas
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“And how the sleet cuts!” gasped Agnes, her arm across her eyes for protection.
“It’s sand,” explained Ruth. “I thought it was spray from the river. But a good deal of it is sand – just like a sand-storm in the desert.”
“Well!” grumbled Agnes, “I hope it’s killing a lot of those sandfleas that bother us so. I don’t see how they can live and be blown about this way.”
Ruth tackled the first post at the corner and beat it down as hard as she could, Agnes holding the lantern so that the older girl could see where to strike.
They went from one peg to the next, taking each in rotation. And when they reached the one that had pulled out entirely, Ruth drove that into the ground just as far as it would go.
Strangely enough, throughout all this business, Tess and Dot did not awake. Ruth went clear around the tent, driving the stakes. The wind howled; the sand and spray blew; and the voices of the Night and of the Storm seemed fairly to yell at them. Still the smaller Corner House girls slept through it all. Ruth and Agnes crept back into the tent and laced the flaps down in safety.
A little later, before either of them fell asleep again, they heard shouting and confusion at a distance. In the morning they learned that two of the tents in the Enterprise Camp had blown down.
The shore was strewn with wreckage, too, when daybreak came; but the wind seemed to have blown itself out. Many small craft had come ashore, and some were damaged. It was not often that the summer visitors at Pleasant Cove saw any such gale as this had been.
Everything was all right with the Corner House girls, and Ruth decided they would stick to the tent, in spite of the fact that some of the camping families were frightened away from the tent colonies by this disgraceful exhibition of Mr. Wind!
The smaller Kenways, as well as the bigger girls, were enjoying the out-of-door life immensely. They were already as brown as berries. They ran all day, bare-headed and bare-legged, on the sands. It was plain to be seen that the change from Milton to Pleasant Cove was doing all the Corner House girls a world of good.
And during the extremely pleasant days that immediately followed the night of the big wind, many new colonists came to the tents. Two big tents were erected in the Willowbend Camp, for Joe Eldred and his friends – and that included, of course, Neale O’Neil. But the Milton boys would not arrive until the next week.
On Monday afternoon the Corner House girls walked down to the railroad station to greet Rosa Wildwood. It had been a very hot day in town and it was really hot at Pleasant Cove, as well.
“Oh! you poor thing!” gasped Ruth, receiving Rosa in her strong arms as she stumbled off the car steps with her bag.
“I’m as thin as the last run of shad, am I not?” asked Rosa, laughing. “That train was awful! I am baked. It’s never like this down South. The air is so much dryer there; there isn’t this humidity.Oh!”
“Well, you’re here all right now, Rosa,” cried Ruth. “We have a nice, easy carriage for you to ride in. And the dearest place for you to live!”
“And scrumptious eating, Rose,” added Agnes.
“With the little old woman who lives in a shoe,” declared Tess, eager to add her bit of information.
Dot’s finger had strayed to the corner of her mouth, as she stared. For she had never met Rosa before, and she was naturally rather a bashful child.
“Now!” cried Ruth, again. “Where is he?”
“Who?” demanded Agnes, staring all about. “Neale didn’t come, did he?”
“Oh, he’s up in the baggage-car ahead,” said Rosa, laughing.
“You sit right down here till I get him,” Ruth commanded.
“Here’s the check,” Rosa said, and to the amazement of the other Corner House girls Ruth ran right away toward the head of the train with the baggage check, and without saying another word.
There were two baggage cars on the long train and from the open door of the first one the man was throwing trunks and bags onto the big wheel-truck.
So Ruth ran on to the other car. The side-door was wheeled back just as she arrived, and a glad bark welcomed her appearance.
Tom Jonah stood in the doorway, straining at his leash held in the hands of the baggageman. His tongue lolled out on his chest like a red necktie, and he was laughing just as plainly as ever a dog did laugh.
“I see he knows you, Miss,” said the man. “You don’t have to prove property. He sure is glad to see you,” and he accepted the check.
“No gladder than I am to see him,” said Ruth. “Let him jump down, please.”
She caught the leather strap as the baggageman tossed it toward her, and Tom Jonah bounded about her in an ecstasy of delight.
“Down, sir!” she commanded. “Now, Tom Jonah, come and see the girls. But behave.”
He barked loudly, but trotted along beside her most sedately. Tess and Dot had heard him, and deserting Rosa and Agnes, they came flying up the platform to meet Ruth and the big dog.
The two younger Corner House girls hugged Tom Jonah, and he licked their hands in greeting. Agnes was as extravagantly glad to see him as were the others.
“How did you come to send for him, Ruthie?” Agnes cried.
“I thought we might need a chaperon at the tent,” laughed Ruth.
“The Gyps!” exclaimed Agnes, under her breath. “Let them come now, if they want to. You’re a smart girl, Ruthie.”
“Sh!” commanded the older sister. “Don’t let the children hear.”
They helped Rosa into the wagonette and then climbed in after her. Ruth had taken off Tom Jonah’s leash and the good old dog trotted after the carriage as it rolled through Main Street and out upon the Shore Road toward the tent colonies.
Rosa brought all the news of home to the Corner House girls and many messages from Mrs. MacCall and Uncle Rufus. Of course, they could expect no word from Aunt Sarah, for it was not her way to be sympathetic or show any deep interest in what her adopted nieces were doing.
The girls from the old Corner House might have been a little homesick had there not been so much to take up their attention each hour at Pleasant Cove.
They brought Rosa to the little old woman who lived in a shoe, and the moment Mrs. Bobster saw how weak and white she was her sympathy went out to her.
“Tut, tut, tut!” she said, clucking almost as loudly as Agamemnon himself. “We’ll soon fix you up, my dear. If you stay long enough here at the beach, you’ll be as brown and strong as these other gals.”
Rosa put her arm about Ruth’s neck when the Corner House girls were about to leave.
“This is a heavenly place, Ruth Kenway, and you are an angel for bringing me down heah. I don’t know what greater thing anybody could do fo’ me – and you aren’t even kin!”
“Don’t bother, Rosa. I haven’t done much – ”
“There’s nothing in the world – but one thing – that could make me happier.”
Ruth looked at her curiously, and Rosa added:
“To find June. I hope to find her some day – yes, I do.”
“And suppose I should help you do that?” laughed the oldest Corner House girl.
CHAPTER XV – TWO GIRLS IN A BOAT – TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG!
“Oh, Dot! do come here. Did you ever see such a funny thing in all your life?”
Tess Kenway was just as earnest as though the discovery she had made was really of great moment. The two bare-legged girls were on the sands below the tent colony of Willowbend, and the tide was out.
The receding waves had just left this wet flat bare. Here and there the sand still dimpled to the heave of the tide, and little rivers of water ran into the hollows and out again.
“What is the matter, Tess?” asked Dot, wonderingly.
Tess pointed down at her feet – where the drab, wet sand showed lighter-colored under the pressure of her weight.
“What is it?” gasped the amazed Dot.
There was a tiny round hole in the sand – just like an ant hole, only there was no “hill” thrown up about it. As Tess tip-tilted on her toes to bring more pressure to bear near the orifice in the sand, a little fountain of water spurted into the air – shot as though from a fairy gun buried in the sand.
“Goodness!” gasped Dot again. “What is that?”
“That’s what I say,” responded Tess. “Did you ever see the like?”
“Oh! here’s another,” cried Dorothy, who chanced to step near a similar vent. “See it squirt, Tess! See it squirt!”
“What kind of a creature do you suppose can be down there?” asked the bigger girl.
“It – it can’t be anything very big,” suggested Dot. “At least, it must be awfully narrow to get down through the little hole, and pull itself ’way out of sight.”
This suggestion certainly opened a puzzling vista of possibilities to the minds of both inland-bred girls. What sort of an animal could possibly crawl into such a small aperture – and yet throw such a comparatively powerful stream of water into the air?
They found several more of the little air-holes. Whenever they stamped upon the sand beside one, up would spring the fountain!
“Just like the books say a whale squirts water through its nose,” declared Tess, who had rather a rough-and-ready knowledge of some facts of natural history.
A man with a basket on his arm and a four-pronged, short-handled rake in his hand, was working his way across the flats; sometimes stooping and digging quickly with his rake, when he would pick something up and toss it into his basket.
He drew near to two Corner House girls, and Dot whispered to Tess:
“Do you suppose he’d know what these holes are for? You ask him, Tess.”
“And he’s digging out something, himself. Do you suppose he’s collecting clams? Ruth says clams grow here on the shore and folks dig them,” Tess replied.
“Let’s ask about the holes,” determined Dot, who was persistent whether the cause was good or bad.
The two girls approached the clam-digger, hand in hand. Dot hugged tight in the crook of one arm her Alice-doll.
“Please, sir,” Tess ventured, “will you tell us what grows down under this sand and squirts water up at us through such a teeny, weeny hole?”
The man was a very weather-beaten looking person, with his shirt open at the neck displaying a brawny chest. He smiled down upon the girls.
“How’s that, shipmet?” he asked, in a very husky voice. “Show me them same holes.”
The sisters led the way, and the very saltish man followed. It was not until then that Tess and Dot noticed that one of his legs was of wood, and he stumped along in a most awkward manner.
“Hel-lo!” growled the man, seeing the apertures in the sand. “Them’s clams, an’ jest what I’m arter. By your lief – ”
He struck the rake down into the sand just beyond one of the holes and dug quickly for half a minute. Then he tossed out of the hole he had dug a nice, fat clam.
“There he be, shipmets,” declared the clam-digger, who probably had a habit of addressing everybody as “shipmate.”
“Oh – but – did he squirt the water up at us, sir?” gasped Dot.
The wooden-legged man grinned again and seized the clam between a firm finger and thumb. When he pinched it, the bivalve squirted through its snout a fine spray.
“Oh, mercy!” exclaimed Tess, drawing back.
“But – but how did he get down into the sand and only leave such a tiny hole behind him?” demanded Dot, bent upon getting information.
“Ah, shipmet! there ye have it. I ain’t a l’arned man. I ain’t never been to school. I went ter sea all my days till I got this here leg shot off me and had to take to wearin’ a timber-toe. I couldn’t tell ye, shipmets, how a clam does go down his hole an’ yet pulls the hole down arter him.”
“Oh!” sighed Dot, disappointedly.
“It’s one o’ them wonders of natur’ ye hear tell on. I never could understand it myself – like some ignerant landlubbers believin’ the world is flat! I know it’s round, ’cos I been down one side o’ it an’ come up the other!
“As for science, an’ them things, shipmets, I don’t know nothin’ ’bout ’em. I digs clams; I don’t pester none erbout how they grows – ”
And he promptly dug another and then a third. The girls watched him, fascinated at his skill. Nor did the “peg-leg” seem to trouble him at all in his work.
“Please, sir,” asked Tess, after some moments, “how did you come to lose your leg – your really truly one, I mean?”
“Pi-rats,” declared the man, with an unmoved countenance. “Pi-rats, shipmet – on the Spanish Main.”
“Oh!” breathed both girls together. Somehow that expression was faintly reminiscent to them. Agnes had a book about pirates, and she had read out loud in the evenings at the sitting-room table, at the old Corner House. Tess and Dot were not aware that “the Spanish Main” had been cleared of pirates, some years before this husky-voiced old clam-digger was born.
The clam-digger offered no details about his loss, and Tess and Dot felt some delicacy about asking further questions. Besides, Tom Jonah came along just then and evinced some distaste for the company of the roughly dressed one-legged man. Of course, he could not dig clams in his best clothes, as Tess pointed out; but Tom Jonah had confirmed doubts about all ill-dressed people. So the girls accompanied the dog back towards the tents.
The big girls had been out in the boat and Ruth had left Agnes to bring up the oars and crab nets, as well as to moor the boat, while she hastened to get dinner.
The tide being on the turn they could not very well pull the boat up to the mooring post; but there was a long painter by which it could be tied to the post. Agnes, however, carried the oars up to the tent and then forgot about the rest of her task as she dipped into a new book.
Tess and Dot came to the empty boat and at once climbed in. Tom Jonah objected at first. He ran about on the sand – even plunged into the water a bit, and put both front paws on the gunwale.
If ever a dog said, “Please, please, little mistresses, get out of the boat!” old Tom Jonah said it!
But the younger Corner House girls paid no attention to him. They went out to the stern, which was in quite deep water, and began clawing overboard with the crab nets. With a whine, the dog leaped into the craft.
Now, whether the jar the dog gave it as he jumped into the boat, or his weight when he joined the girls in the stern, set the cedar boat afloat, will never be known. However, it slid into the water and floated free.
“We can catch some crabs, too, maybe, Tess,” Dot said.
Neither of them noticed that the oars were gone, but had they been in the boat, Tess or Dot could not have used them – much. And surely Tom Jonah could not row.
They did not even notice that they were afloat until the tide, which was just at the turn, twisted the boat’s nose about and they began drifting up the river.
“Oh, my, Dot!” gasped Tess. “Where are we going?”
“Oh-oo-ee!” squealed Dot, raking wildly with one of the nets. “I almost caught one.”
“But we’re adrift, Dot!” cried Tess.
The younger girl was not so much impressed at first. “Oh, I guess they’ll come for us,” she said.
“But Ruth and Aggie can’t reach us – ’nless they swim.”
“Won’t we float ashore again? We floated out here,” said Dot.
She refused to be frightened, and Tess bethought her that she had no right to let her little sister be disturbed too much. She was old enough herself, however, to see that there was peril in this involuntary voyage. The tide was coming in strongly and the boat was quickly passing the bend. Before either Tess or Dot thought to cry out for help, they were out of sight of the camp and there was nobody to whom to call.
Tom Jonah had crouched down in the stern, with his head on his paws. He felt that he had done his duty. He had not allowed the two small girls to go without him on this voyage. He was with them; what harm could befall?
“I – I guess Alice would like to go ashore, Tess,” hesitated Dot, at last, having seized her doll and sat down upon one of the seats. The boat was jumping a good deal as the little waves slapped her, first on one side and then on the other. Without anybody steering she made a hard passage of it.
“I’d like to get ashore myself, child,” snapped Tess. “But I don’t see how we are going to do it.”
“Oh, Tess! are we going to be carried ’way out to sea?”
“Don’t be a goosey! We’re going up the river, not down,” said the more observant Tess.
“Well, then!” sighed Dot, relieved. “It isn’t so bad, is it? Of course, we’ll stop somewhere.”
“But it will soon be dinnertime,” said her sister. “And I guess Ruth and Aggie won’t know where we’ve gone to.”
In fact, nobody about the tent colony had noticed the cedar boat floating away with the two girls in it – to say nothing of the dog!
CHAPTER XVI – THE GYPSIES AGAIN
When Ruth shouted to Agnes from the kitchen, where she was frying crabs, to call the children, Agnes dropped the book she had been reading and remembered for the first time that she had neglected to tie the boat.
“Oh, Ruth!” she shrieked. “See what I’ve done!”
Ruth came to the opening in the front of the tent, flushed and disheveled, demanding:
“Well, what? This old fat snaps so!”
“The boat!” cried Agnes.
Ruth stared up and down the shore. There were other boats drawn up on the sand and a few moored beyond low-water mark; but their boat was not in sight.
“Have you let it get away, Agnes Kenway?” Ruth demanded.
“Well! you don’t suppose I went down there and pushed it off, do you?”
“This is no laughing matter – ”
“I guess I – I’m not laughing,” gulped Agnes. “It – it’s go-o-one! See! the tide is flowing in and I forgot to tie it.”
She was a little mixed here; it was the boat she had forgotten to tie.
“So,” murmured Ruth; “if the boat had been tied, the tide wouldn’t have carried it away,” and she had no intention of punning, either! “Now what shall we do? That boat cost seventy-five dollars, the man said.”
“What will Mr. Howbridge say?”
“No use crying about it,” said the oldest Corner House girl, with decision. “That won’t help.”
“But – but it’s gone out to sea.”
“Nonsense! The tide has taken it up the river. It’s gone round the bend. I hope it won’t be smashed on the rocks, that’s all. We must go after it.”
“How?” asked the tearful Agnes.
“Get another boat, of course. But let’s eat. The children will be hungry, and – My goodness! the crabs are burning up!” and she ran back into the tent. “Get Tess and Dot, and tell them to hurry!” she called from inside.
But Tess and Dot were not to be found. The beach just then was practically deserted. It was the dinner hour and the various campers all had the sort of appetites that demands meals served promptly on time.
Agnes ran to the other tents in Camp Willowbend; but her small sisters were not with any of the neighbors. It was strange. They had been forbidden to go out of sight of their own tent when neither Ruth nor Agnes was with them; and Tess and Dot were remarkably obedient children.
“I certainly do not understand it,” Ruth said, when Agnes brought back the news.
At that moment a shuffling step sounded outside the tent and a husky voice demanded:
“Any clams terday, lady? Fresh clams – jest dug. Ten cents a dozen; two-bits for fifty; half a dollar a hundred. Fresh clams!”
“Oh!” cried Agnes, springing to the tent entrance so suddenly that the wooden-legged clam-man started back in surprise. “Oh! have you seen my sisters anywhere on the beach?”
“Hel-lo!” growled the startled man. “I dunno ’bout thet thar, shipmet. What kind o’ sisters be they?”
“Two little girls,” said Ruth, eagerly, joining Agnes at the opening. “One of them carried a doll in her arms. She is dark. The bigger one is fair.”
The saltish old fellow chuckled deep in his hairy throat. “Guess I seen ’em, shipmets,” he said. “Them’s the leetle gals that didn’t know clam-holes.”
“Well! what became of them?” demanded the impatient Agnes.
“Why – I dug ’em, shipmet, an’ they air in this i-den-ti-cal basket now,” declared the clam-digger.
“Well!” gasped Agnes, behind her hand. “Maybe the children didn’t know clam-holes; but he doesn’t know beans!”
Ruth asked again: “We mean, what became of the girls, sir?”
“I couldn’t tell ye, shipmet. D’ye want any clams?” pursued this man of one idea. “Ten cents a dozen; two-bits for – ”
“I’ll buy some clams – yes,” cried Ruth, in some desperation. “But tell us where you last saw our sisters, sir?”
“How many you want, shipmet?” demanded the quite unmoved old fellow.
“Two!” cried Agnes. “There were only two of them. Two little girls – Oh!”
Ruth had pinched her, and now said, calmly: “Please count out a hundred for us, sir. Here is fifty cents. And please tell us where you saw our little sisters?”
“I seed two small gals, shipmet, down on the flats yonder,” said the clam digger, setting down his basket and squatting with the wooden leg stretched out before him. He began to busily count the clams onto the little platform before the tent.
“Where did they go, sir?” asked Ruth.
“I didn’t take no pertic’lar notice of ’em, shipmet. They had a dratted dog with them – ”
“Oh! Tom Jonah is with them. Then they can’t be lost,” gasped Agnes.
“Las’ time I ’member of cockin’ me eye at ’em,” declared the old clam digger, “they was inter a boat right down here below this tent. The dog was with ’em.”
He counted out the last clam, took his fifty cents, and departed. The two older Corner House girls looked at each other. Agnes was very white.
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