The Corner House Girls Under Canvas
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Do – do you suppose they drifted away in the boat?” she whispered.
“I expect so,” agreed Ruth. “Come on, Ag. We’ll go up beyond the bend and see if we can sight the boat.”
“Oh! if they fall overboard – ”
“Tom Jonah would bring them both ashore if they did, I believe,” said Ruth, though her voice shook a little. “Do you want something to eat before you go?”
Agnes looked at her scornfully. “I don’t ever want to eat again if Dot and Tess aren’t found,” she sobbed. “Come on!”
“We’ll take something along to eat, if you don’t want to eat here,” Ruth said, sensibly. “The children will be hungry enough when we find them, you may be sure.”
“If we find them,” suggested the desperate Agnes.
“Don’t talk like a goose, Ag!” exclaimed the older sister. “Of course we’ll find them. They’ve only drifted away.”
“But you said yourself the boat might be smashed against the rocks.”
“Tom Jonah’s with them,” said Ruth, confidently. “He could live in the water altogether, you know. Don’t be worried about the children being drowned – Oh, Agnes!”
The change in her sister’s voice startled Agnes, who had gone into the back part of the tent. She ran out to where Ruth was wrapping the fried soft-shell crabs in a sheet of brown paper.
Ruth was staring through the open flap of the tent. Outside, about where the clam digger had stood a few moments before, was the tall, scarred-faced Gypsy tramp that they had seen at the nomads’ camp the day they came to Pleasant Cove!
“Oh, Ruth!” echoed Agnes, coming to Ruth’s side.
But the older sister quickly recovered her self-possession. Her first thought was:
“If Tom Jonah were only here!”
Ruth went to the door. The man leered at her and doffed his old cap.
“Good day, little lady,” he said. “She remember me – Big Jim – heh?”
“I remember you,” Ruth said, shortly.
“Ver’ proud,” declared the Gypsy, bowing again.
“What do you want?” asked the oldest Corner House girl, with much more apparent courage than she really felt.
“You remember Zaliska – heh?” asked the man, shrewdly.
“I remember her,” said Ruth.
“Little lady seen Zaliska since that day – heh?”
“What do you want to know for?” demanded Ruth, puzzled, yet standing her ground. She remembered in a flash all her suspicions regarding the young girl who masqueraded as the Gypsy Queen.
“Zaliska come here, heh?” said the man, doggedly, and with something besides curiosity in his narrow eyes.
“I don’t know why I should tell you if she had been here,” declared Ruth, while Agnes clung to her arm in fear.
“The little lady would fool Big Jim. No! We want find Zaliska.”
“Don’t come here for her,” said Ruth, sharply. “She’s not here.”
“But she been here – heh?” repeated the fellow. “She come here like she was dressed at the camp – heh? Then she go away different – heh?”
Ruth knew well enough what he meant.He hinted that the masquerading girl had come here to see Ruth, and discarded her queen’s garments and slipped away in her own more youthful character.
“I’m not sure that I know what you mean,” she said to the evil-faced man. “But one thing I can tell you – and you can believe it. I have not seen Zaliska since that day we girls came by your camp.”
“Ha! she come here to see you – ”
“No. She went to the hotel and to a friend’s house in the village,” said Ruth, “asking for me. I did not see her. She has not come here.”
“Huh!” grunted the man, and backed away, doubtfully.
“Now we are busy and you must not trouble us any more,” declared Ruth, hurriedly. “Come, Agnes!”
“He’ll come in the tent and search it,” whispered Agnes, in her sister’s ear.
“I will speak to Mr. Stryver. He is here to-day,” said Ruth, mentioning a neighbor in the camp.
“Big Jim,” as the Gypsy called himself, had backed away from the tent, but he watched the departing girls with lowering gaze. At Mr. Stryver’s tent Ruth halted long enough to tell the gentleman to keep his eye on the Gypsy man who was hanging about the camp.
“The women were here to sell baskets and such like truck while you girls were off crabbing, this morning,” said Mrs. Stryver. “It gives me the shivers to have those folks around. I think we ought to have these tent camps policed.”
“I’ll ’tend to this fellow,” promised Mr. Stryver, who was a burly man, and not afraid of anything.
Ruth hurried Agnes away toward the bend without another word.
“Why didn’t you tell them Tess and Dot were lost?” asked Agnes, gulping down a sob.
“I don’t want anybody to know it, if we can help,” returned Ruth. “It just looks as though we didn’t take sufficient care of them.”
“It – it was all my fault,” choked Agnes. “If I had tied the boat as you told me – ”
“It doesn’t matter whose fault it is,” said Ruth, quickly. “Or, if it is anybody’s fault! We don’t want folks to say that the Corner House girls from Milton don’t know enough to take care of each other while they are under canvas.”
CHAPTER XVII – ON WILD GOOSE ISLAND
“My!” Tess gasped, sitting in the stern of the drifting boat, “how fast the shores go past, Dot! We’re going up the river awfully quick.”
“And so j-j-jerky!” exclaimed her sister, clinging to the Alice-doll.
“You aren’t really afraid, are you, Dot?”
“No-o. Only for Alice. She’s always been weakly, you know, since that awful time she got buried alive,” said Dot, seriously. “And if she should get wet and catch her death of cold – ”
“But you mustn’t drop her overboard,” warned Tess.
“Do you s’pose I would, Tess Kenway?” demanded Dot, quite hurt by the suggestion.
“If she did fall overboard, Tom Jonah would save her, of course,” went on Tess.
“Oh! don’t you say such things,” cried Dot. “And do, please, stop the boat from jerking so!”
“I – I guess it wants to be steered,” Tess said.
The tiller ropes were at hand and Tess had observed Ruth and Agnes use them. She began experimenting with them and soon got the hang of using the rudder. But as the boat was propelled, only by the tide, it would “wabble.”
Tom Jonah watched all the small girls did with his keen eyes. But he scarcely moved. The boat floated on and on. Tess did not know how to work the boat ashore – indeed, caught as the craft was in the strong tide-rip, it would have taken considerable exertion with the oars to have driven it to land.
There chanced to be no other boats beyond the bend on this day. On either hand there were farms, but the houses were too far from the shores for the dwellers therein to notice the plight of the two small girls and the big dog in the bobbing cedar boat.
The shores at the river’s edge were wooded for the most part, as was the long and narrow island in the middle of the river, not far ahead. This latter was called Wild Goose Island, as Tess and Dot knew.
“Maybe the boat will go ashore there,” said Dot, more cheerfully.
“There are berries on that island,” cried Tess. “Only they were not ripe when we were there last week.” She was beginning to feel hungry; it was past midday.
“But we can’t walk back to the tent from there,” objected Dot.
“No-o,” admitted Tess. “It’ll be land, just the same!”
But the tide swept the cedar boat out from the lower end of the island and up the northern channel. It was this fact that hid the drifting boat from the anxious eyes of Ruth and Agnes when they came around the bend, expecting to see the missing craft. The island hid it.
Wild Goose Island was more than half a mile long. In the channel where the boat floated, the current of the river and the inflowing tide began to battle.
There were eddies that seized the boat and swept it in circles. The surface of the channel was rippled by small waves. The boat bobbed every-which-way, for Tess could not control the rudder.
“Oh, dear me!” gasped Dot. “I – I am afraid my Alice-doll will be sick. Do – don’t you s’pose we can get ashore, Tess?”
But Tess did not see how they could do that, although the boat was now and then swept very close to the shore of the island.
The island was a famous picnicking place; but there were no pleasure seekers there to-day. The shore seemed deserted as the girls were swept on by the resistless tide.
Suddenly Dot stood right up and squealed – pointing at the island. Tom Jonah lifted his head and barked.
“There’s somebody, Tess!” declared Dot.
The bigger Corner House girl had seen the face break through the fringe of bushes on the island shore. It was a dark, beautiful face, and it was a girl’s.
“Oh! oh! Let’s call her,” gasped Tess. “She’ll help us.”
The two small Kenways had a strong belief in the goodness of humanity at large. They expected that anybody who saw their plight would come to their rescue if possible.
For fully a minute, however, the girl in the bushes of Wild Goose Island did not come out into the open. Tess and Dot shouted again and again, while Tom Jonah lifted up his head and bayed most mournfully.
If the girl on the island did not want general attention attracted to the place, it behooved her to come out of concealment and try to pacify the drifting trio in the cedar boat.
Her face was very red when she reappeared in an open place on the shore. The distance between her and the boat, which was now caught in a small eddy, was only a few yards.
“What’s the matter with you?” she demanded, in rather a sharp tone.
“We – we can’t stop the boat,” responded Tess.
“We want to get ashore,” added Dorothy,
“How did you get out there?” asked the strange girl. She was older than Ruth, and although she was very pretty, Tess and Dot were quite sure they did not like her – much!
“We got in it, and it floated away with us,” said Tess.
“Where from?” asked the girl on shore.
“Oh! ’way down the river. ’Round that turn. We live at Willowbend Camp with Ruth and Aggie.”
“Ruth Who?” the other demanded, sharply.
“Our sister, Ruth Kenway,” said Tess.
The girl on the island was silent for a moment, while the boat turned lazily in the eddy. It now was headed up stream again, when she said:
“Is that dog good for anything?”
“Tom Jonah?” cried Tess and Dot together. “Why, he’s the best dog that ever was,” Dot added.
“Does he know anything?” insisted the strange girl.
“Uncle Rufus says he’s just as knowin’ as any human,” Tess said, impressively.
“Does he mind?” pursued the girl on the shore.
“Oh, yes,” said Tess. “He’ll sit up and beg – and shakes hands – and lies down and rolls over – and – ”
“Say! those tricks won’t help you any,” cried the other. “Can you make him swim ashore here?”
“Why – ee – I don’t know,” stammered Tess.
“We wouldn’t want to let you have Tom Jonah,” Dorothy hastened to explain.
“Goodness knows, I don’t want him,” said the big girl, still tartly. “But if he can swim ashore with the end of that rope you have coiled there in the bow of your boat, tied to his collar, he may be of some use.”
“Oh, yes!” cried Tess, scrambling toward the bow at once.
“See that the other end is fast to your boat,” commanded the girl on the island.
It was. Tess quickly knotted the free end of the long painter to Tom Jonah’s collar.
“Now send him ashore, child!” cried the big girl.
Tom Jonah was looking up at Tess with his wonderfully intelligent eyes. He seemed to understand just what was expected of him when the rope was tied to his collar.
“Go on, Tom Jonah! Overboard!” cried Tess, firmly.
“He – he’ll get all wet, Tess,” objected Dot, plaintively.
“That won’t hurt him, Dot,” explained her sister. “You know he loves the water.”
“Come on, here!” cried the girl on the island, snapping her fingers. “Push him overboard.”
But Tom Jonah did not need such urging. With his forepaws on the gunwale of the boat he barked several times. The boat tipped a little and Dot screamed, clutching the Alice-doll tighter to her bosom.
“Go on, Tom Jonah!” shouted Tess. “You’re rocking the boat!”
The big dog leaped over the gunwale into the river, leaving the light craft tossing in a most exciting fashion. Some water even slopped over the side.
“Come on, sir! come on!” shouted the girl ashore.
Tom Jonah swam directly for the beach where she stood. The line uncoiled freely behind him, slipping into the water. It was long enough to reach the shore where the big girl stood; but none too long.
The sag of the rope in the water began to trouble Tom Jonah, strong as he was. Quickly the girl drew off her shoes and stockings and waded in to meet the laboring dog.
“Come on, sir! now we’ll get them!” she urged, laying hold of the line.
The dog scrambled ashore, barking loudly. The line was taut and the boat had swung around, tugging on the other end like a thing of life.
“Now we have them!” cried the girl.
She pulled hard on the rope. Tom Jonah, seeing what she was doing, caught the rope in his strong jaws, and set back to pull, too. Tess and Dot screamed with delight.
As the big girl slowly drew in the rope the dog backed up the beach, and so the cedar boat, with its two remaining passengers, came to land.
“Oh, dear me! Oh, dear me!” gasped Dot, standing in the bow of the boat. “I’m so glad to get ashore. And so’s my Alice-doll,” she added, seriously.
Tess helped her sister to jump down upon the sand and then followed, herself. Tom Jonah dropped the rope and bounded about them, barking his satisfaction. But the strange girl was looking up and down the river, and over at the opposite shore, with a mind plainly disturbed.
“Come on, now!” she said, sharply. “Unfasten the rope from that dog’s collar. We’ll keep that. It may come in handy.”
“Don’t you want it to pull the boat up on the beach?” asked Tess, as she obeyed the command.
The strange girl was already unfastening the rope from the ring in the bow of the boat. She threw the line ashore and then pushed the boat off with such vigor that she ran knee deep into the river again.
“Oh! oh!” squealed Dot. “You’ll lose our boat.”
“I want to lose it,” declared the girl, coming back very red in the face from her exertions. “I got you kids ashore, ’cause you might have been tipped over, or hurt in some way. I’m not going to be bothered by that boat.”
“But that’s Ruthie’s boat,” exclaimed Tess.
“I can’t help it! You young ones go into the bushes there and sit down. Keep quiet, too. Take the dog with you and keep him quiet. Don’t let him run about, or bark. If he does I’ll tie him to a tree and muzzle him.”
“Why – why, I don’t think that’s very nice of you,” said Tess, who was too polite, and had too deep a sense of gratitude, to say just what she really thought of this conduct on the part of the strange girl. “We might have saved the boat for Ruth.”
“And it would give me dead away,” declared the big girl, angrily. “You children be satisfied that I took you ashore. Now keep still!”
“I – I don’t believe I like her very much, Tess,” Dot whispered again.
The older Corner House girl was not only puzzled by the strange girl’s actions and words, but she was somewhat frightened. She and Dot sat down among the bushes, where they were completely hidden from the river and the opposite shore, and called Tom Jonah to them.
He lay at their feet. He had shaken himself comparatively dry, and now he put his head on his paws and went to sleep.
“Well,” sighed Tess, caressing the dog’s head. “I’m glad we have him with us.”
CHAPTER XVIII – THE SEARCH
Ruth and Agnes went around the wooded point, called “Willowbend,” and looked up the river. As we already know, the drifting boat, with Tess and Dot and Tom Jonah in it, had gone out of sight on the other side of Wild Goose Island.
“It never came this way, Ruth!” groaned the frightened Agnes. “They’ve drifted out to sea, just as I said.”
“Nothing of the kind,” Ruth declared, bound to keep up her sister’s courage, and knowing well that her conscience was punishing her cruelly. “The tide is coming in. They were bound to float up the river. But maybe the boat’s gone ashore somewhere.”
“Or it’s sunk,” said the lugubrious Agnes.
“Now you stop that, Aggie Kenway!” cried Ruth, stamping her foot. “I won’t have it. With Tom Jonah those children would not easily get into trouble.”
“They could fall out of the boat,” urged Agnes, wiping her eyes.
“They’d not be foolish enough to rock the boat. It’s all right, I tell you. I did expect to see the boat from this spot; but it’s floated into some cove somewhere. The children are safe enough – ”
“You don’t know!” blubbered Agnes.
“Keep still! Yes, I do know – I know as well as I want to. But we’ll have to ask for help to find them.”
“What kind of help?” asked Agnes.
“We’ll get Mr. Stryver’s motorboat,” said the oldest Corner House girl, with decision.
As they went back around the bend they heard a chorus of shouts from the camp. Agnes was startled, being in a nervous state, anyway.
“What is that, Ruth? The Gypsies?” she demanded.
“If it is, then the Gypsies have adopted the Milton high school yell. Don’t you recognize it?” returned Ruth. “The boys have arrived.”
“I suppose Neale is with them.”
“He will help us,” cried the delighted Agnes, sure in the ability of Neale O’Neil to do almost anything.
“Well – I suppose he may,” admitted Ruth, slowly.
Ruth had made no mistake in identifying the school yell of their boy friends. There was a crowd of boys at the two big tents reserved for Joe Eldred and his friends. They had just come on the auto-stage.
Already an American flag and the school pennant were being raised on the flag-pole before the tents. The scene at Willowbend Camp had been a most quiet one ten minutes before; now it seemed to be alive in every part, and the boys from Milton were all over it.
They were like a herd of young colts let loose in a new pasture. They got the flags up before the girls came back, and then began running races, and playing leap-frog on the sand. The midday heat made no difference to them.
“Doesn’t that water look inviting?” shouted Ben Truman to Joe and some of the bigger boys. “When do we go in swimming, Joe?”
“You can go when you like, Bennie,” returned Eldred.
“I’d like right now,” declared the youngster.
“Clothes and all, I suppose, Ben?” drawled Neale O’Neil.
“What’s clothes? I’m not afraid to go in just as I am.”
“I dare you, Ben!” shouted another of the boys, knowing the spirit of Truman.
“Done!” exclaimed Ben, and sprang away toward the in-coming tide. He splashed half-knee deep into the river before the others could call him back. He probably had no intention of going any deeper; but inadvertently he stepped into one of the holes the wooden-legged man had recently made when he dug for clams there, and over Ben pitched upon his nose!
There was a great shout of laughter. Ben was submerged – every bit! He came up blowing like a porpoise.
“Come on in, fellows! the water’s fine!” he gasped, not embarrassed by the accident.
“Thank you. We’ll wait till the bathing suits arrive,” returned Neale. “Hello! Here are the Corner House girls – two of them, at least.”
He hurried forward to greet Ruth and Agnes. The other boys simmered down a little when they observed the girls; most of them doffed their caps politely, but only Joe and Neale knew Ruth and Agnes very well.
“Oh, Neale!” was the latter’s greeting to her boy friend. “Don’t tell the other fellows, but Tess and Dot are lost.”
“Great goodness, Ag! You don’t mean it?” cried Neale, keenly troubled by her statement.
“It’s not as bad as that,” Ruth interposed. “They are out in our boat with Tom Jonah.”
“I knew you had him down here. He’ll take care of them,” said Neale, with confidence.
“Yes, I know,” agreed Ruth. “But they all got in the boat unbeknown to Aggie and me, and the tide’s carried them up the river.”
“You don’t know!” burst out Agnes.
“Well, they couldn’t have drifted out into the cove, that’s sure!” returned the older Corner House girl. “I’m going to get Mr. Stryver’s motorboat. Will you take us out in it and look for the children, Neale? You can run a motorboat, can’t you?”
“Sure! And I’ll do anything I can to help find the children,” declared Neale O’Neil. “Now, don’t you girls turn on the sprinklers – ”
“Who’s crying?” gulped Agnes, angrily.
“You are – pretty nearly. And your eyes are all red.”
“Hay fever,” sniffed Agnes, trying to joke.
“I’m going to get the boat right away. Come on, Neale,” cried Ruth, and she started for the Stryver tent. “I’m worried about those children,” she added, over her shoulder. “There are Gypsies about.”
She hurried on and Neale took Agnes by the elbow and led her out of all possible earshot of the other boys.
“Buck up, Aggie,” he said, gruffly, as a boy will. “You’ve been a good little sport – always. Don’t blubber about it.”
“But it was I who forgot to tie the boat,” Agnes said.
“Tell me about it,” urged Neale. So Agnes gave him the particulars. “Funny how the boat should have drifted out of sight so quickly,” was the boy’s comment.
“Isn’t it? But it’s go-o-one – ”
“There, there! We’ll find it and the children will be all right,” he assured her.
Ruth came running with the key to the padlock that moored the Nimble Shanks to the mooring stake. They got out to her – just the two girls and Neale – in a dory.
The Nimble Shanks was a blue boat with a high prow and long, sweeping lines to the low stern. It was not a large boat, but was built for speed. The engine and steering-gear were amidships and were arranged so that one man could handle the craft.
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî