The Corner House Girls Snowbound
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CHAPTER I – A GHOST AND A GOAT
There was a vast amount of tramping up and down stairs, and little feet, well shod, are noisy. This padding up and down was by the two flights of back stairs from the entry off the kitchen porch to the big heated room that was called by the older folks who lived in the old Corner House, “the nursery.”
“But it isn’t a nursery,” objected Dot Kenway, who really was not yet big enough to fit the name of “Dorothy.” “We never had a nurse, did we, Tess? Ruthie helped bring us up after our own truly mamma died. And, then, ‘nursery’ sounds so little.”
“Just as though you were kids,” put in Master Sammy Pinkney, who lived in the house across the street, and nearest, on Willow Street, from the Kenway sisters’ beautiful home in Milton, but who felt that he, too, “belonged” in the old Corner House.
“No. It should be called ‘the playroom,’” agreed Tess, who was older than Dot, and considerably bigger, yet who no more fitted the name she was christened with than the fairylike Dot fitted hers. Nobody but Aunt Sarah Maltby – and she only when she was in a most severe mood – called the next-to-the-youngest Corner House girl “Theresa.”
It was Saturday morning, and it had begun to snow; at first in a desultory fashion before Tess and Dot – or even Sammy Pinkney – were out of bed. Of course, they had hailed the fleecy, drifting snow with delight; it looked to be the first real snowstorm of the season.
But by the time breakfast was well over (and breakfast on Saturday morning at the old Corner House was a “movable feast,” for the Kenway sisters did not all get up so promptly as they did on school days) Sammy Pinkney waded almost to the top of his rubber boots in coming from his house to play with the two younger Kenway sisters.
Of course, Sammy had picked out the deepest places to wade in; but the snow really was gathering very fast. Mrs. MacCall, the Kenways’ dear friend and housekeeper, declared that it was gathering and drifting as fast as ever she had seen it as a child “at home in the Hielands,” as she expressed it.
“’Tis stay-in-the-hoose weather,” the old Scotch woman declared. “Roughs and toughs, like this Sammy Pinkney boy, can roll in the snow like porpoises in the sea; but little girls would much better stay indoor and dance ‘Katie Beardie.’”
“Oh, Mrs. Mac!” cried Dot, “what is ‘dancing Katie Beardie’?”
So the housekeeper stopped long enough in her oversight of Linda, the Finnish girl, to repeat the old rhyme one hears to this day amid the clatter of little clogs upon the pavements of Edinburgh.
“and you little ones have been ‘cackling but and cackling ben’ ever since breakfast time.Do, children, go upstairs, like good bairns, and stay awhile.”
Tess and Dot understood a good deal of Mrs. MacCall’s Scotch, for they heard it daily. But now she had to explain that a “grice” was a pig and that “but” and “ben” meant in and out. But even Sammy knew how to “count out” in Scotch, for they had long since learned Mrs. MacCall’s doggerel for games.
Now they played hide and seek, using one of the counting-out rhymes the housekeeper had taught them:
And then Sammy disappeared! It was Dot’s turn to be “it,” and she counted one hundred five times by the method approved, saying very rapidly: “Ten, ten, double-ten, forty-five and fifteen!” Then she began to hunt.
She found Tess in the wardrobe in the hall which led to the other ell of the big house. But Sammy! Why, it was just as though he had flown right out of existence!
Tess was soon curious, too, and aided her sister in the search, and they hunted the three floors of the old Corner House, and it did not seem as though any small boy could be small enough to hide in half the places into which the girls looked for Sammy Pinkney!
Dot was a persistent and faithful searcher after more things than one. If there was anything she really wanted, or wanted to know, she always stuck to it until she had accomplished her end – or driven everybody else in the house, as Agnes said, into spasms.
With her Alice-doll hugged in the crook of one arm – the Alice-doll was her chiefest treasure – Dot hunted high and low for the elusive Sammy Pinkney. Of course, occasional household happenings interfered with the search; but Dot took up the quest again as soon as these little happenings were over, for Sammy still remained in hiding.
For instance, Alfredia Blossom and one of her brothers came with the family wash in a big basket with which they had struggled through the snowdrifts. Of course they had to be taken into the kitchen and warmed and fed on seed cookies. The little boy began to play with Mainsheet, one of the cats, but Alfredia, the little girls took upstairs with them in their continued hunt for Sammy.
“Wha’ fur all dis traipsin’ an’ traipsin’ up dese stairs?” demanded a deep and unctuous voice from the dark end of the hall where the uncarpeted stairs rose to the garret landing.
“Oh, Uncle Rufus!” chorused the little white girls, and:
“Howdy, Gran’pop?” said Alfredia, her face one broad grin.
“Well, if dat ain’ de beatenes’!” declared the aged negro who was the Kenways’ man-of-all-work. “Heah you chillen is behin’ me, an’ I sho’ thought yo’ all mus’ be on ahaid of me. I sho’ did!”
“Why, no, Uncle Rufus; here we are,” said Dot.
“I see yo’ is, honey. I see yo’,” he returned, chuckling gleefully. “How’s Pechunia, Alfredia? Spry?”
“Yes, sir,” said his grandchild, bobbing her head on which the tightly braided “pigtails” stood out like the rays of a very black sun. “Mammy’s all right.”
“But who’s been trackin’ up all dese stairs, if ’twasn’t yo’ chillen?” demanded the negro, returning to the source of his complaint. “Snow jes’ eberywhere! Wha’s dat Sam Pinkney?” he added suddenly.
“We don’t know, Uncle Rufus,” said Tess slowly.
“Sammy went and hid from us, and we can’t find him,” explained Dot.
Uncle Rufus pointed a gnarled finger dramatically at a blob of snow on the carpet at the foot of the garret stairs.
“Dah he is!” he exclaimed.
“Oh!” gasped Tess.
“Where, Uncle Rufus?” begged Dorothy, somewhat startled.
“Fo’ de lan’s sake!” murmured Alfredia, her eyes shining. “He mus’ a done melted most away.”
“Dah’s his feetsteps, chillen,” declared the old man. “An’ dey come all de way up de two flights from de back do’. I been gadderin’ up lumps o’ snow in dis here shovel – ”
He halted with a sharp intake of breath, and raised his head to look up the garret stairs. It was very dark up there, for the door that opened into the great, open room extending the full width of the main part of the old Corner House was closed. In winter the children seldom went up there to play; and Uncle Rufus never mounted to the garret at all if he could help it.
“What’s dat?” he suddenly whispered.
“Tap, tap, tap; tap, tap, tap!” went the sound that had caught the old man’s attention. It receded, then drew nearer, then receded. Uncle Rufus turned a face that had suddenly become gray toward the three little girls.
“Dat’s – dat’s de same noise used to be up in dat garret befo’ your Unc’ Stower die, chillen. Ma mercy me!”
“Oh!” squealed Alfredia, turning to run. “Dat’s de garret ghos’! I’s heard ma mammy tell ’bout dat ol’ ha’nt.”
But Tess seized her and would not let her go.
“That is perfect nonsense, Alfredia!” she said very sternly. “There is no such thing as a ghost.”
“Don’ you be too uppity, chile!” murmured Uncle Rufus.
“A ghost!” cried Dot, coming nearer to the attic stairs. “Oh, my! What I thought was a goat when I was a very little girl? I remember!”
“Dat’s jest de same noise,” murmured Uncle Rufus, as the tapping sound was repeated.
“But Ruthie laid that old ghost,” said Tess with scorn. “And it wasn’t anything – much. But this – ”
Dot, who had examined the wet marks and lumps of snow on the lower treads of the garret stairs, suddenly squealed:
“Oh, looky here! ’Tisn’t a ghost, but ’tis a goat! Those are Billy Bumps’ footsteps! Of course they are!”
“Sammy Pinkney!” was the chorus of voices, even Uncle Rufus joining in. Then he added:
“Dat boy is de beatenes’! How come he make dat goat climb all dese stairs?”
“Why,” said Dot, “Billy Bumps can climb right up on the roof of the hen houses. He can climb just like a – a – well, just like a goat! Coming upstairs isn’t anything hard for Billy Bumps.”
“Sammy Pinkney, you come down from there with that goat!” commanded Tess sternly. “What do you suppose Ruthie or Mrs. MacCall will say?”
The door swung open above, and the wan daylight which entered by the small garret windows revealed Sammy Pinkney, plump, sturdy and freckled, stooping to look down at the startled group at the top of the stairs.
“I spy Sammy!” cried Dot shrilly, just remembering that they were playing hide and seek – or had been.
But somebody else spied Sammy at that moment, too. The mischievous boy had led Billy Bumps, the goat, up three long flights of stairs and turned him loose to go tap, tap, tapping about the bare attic floor on his hard little hoofs.
Billy spied Sammy as the youth stooped to grin down the stairs at Uncle Rufus and the little girls. Billy had a hair-trigger temper. He did not recognize Sammy from the rear, and he instantly charged.
Just as Sammy was going to tell those below how happy he was because he had startled them, Billy Bumps dashed out of the garret and butted the unsuspicious boy. Sammy sailed right into the air, arms and legs spread like a jumping frog, and dived down the stairway, while Billy stood blatting and shaking his horns at the head of the flight.
CHAPTER II – THE STRAW RIDE
Uncle Rufus and Alfredia had fallen back from the foot of the stairs under the impression that it was the garret ghost, rather than the garret goat, that was charging the mischievous Sammy Pinkney. And the two smallest Corner House girls were much too small to catch Sammy in full flight.
So it certainly would have gone hard with that youngster had not other and more able hands intervened. There was a shout from behind Uncle Rufus, an echoing bark, and a lean boy with a big dog dashed into the forefront of this exciting adventure.
The boy, if tall and slender, was muscular enough. Indeed, Neale O’Neil was a trained athlete, having begun his training very young indeed with his uncle, Mr. William Sorber, of Twomley and Sorber’s Herculean Circus and Menagerie. As the big Newfoundland dog charged upstairs to hold back the goat, Neale, with outspread arms, met Sammy in mid-air.
Neale staggered back, clutching the small boy, and finally tripped and fell on the carpet of the hall. But he was not hurt, nor was Sammy.
“Fo’ de good lan’ sake!” gasped Uncle Rufus, “what is we a-comin’ to? A goat in de attic, an’ – Tessie! yo’ call off dat dog or he’ll eat Billy Bumps, complete an’ a-plenty!”
The big dog was barking vociferously, while the goat stamped his hoofs and shook his horns threateningly at the head of the flight of stairs. Tom Jonah and Billy Bumps never had been friends.
Tess called the old dog down while Sammy and Neale O’Neil scrambled up from the hall floor. Two older girls appeared, running from the front of the house – a blonde beauty with fluffy, braided hair, and a more sedate brunette who was older than her sister by two years or more.
“What is the matter?” demanded the blonde girl. “If this Corner House isn’t the noisiest place in Milton – Ruth, see that goat!”
“Well, Sammy!” exclaimed Ruth Kenway, severely, “why didn’t you bring Scalawag, the pony, into the house as well? That goat!”
“I was goin’ to,” confessed the rather abashed Sammy. “But I didn’t have time.”
“Don’t you ever do such a thing again, Sammy Pinkney!” ordered Ruth, severely.
She had to be severe. Otherwise the younger ones would have completely overrun the old Corner House and made it unlivable for more sedate and quiet folk.
The responsibility for the welfare of her three sisters and that of Aunt Sarah Maltby, who lived with them, had early fallen on Ruth Kenway’s shoulders. In a much larger city than Milton the Kenways had lived in a very poor tenement and had had a hard struggle to get along on a small pension, their mother and father both being dead, until Mr. Howbridge, administrator of Uncle Peter Stower’s estate, had looked the sisters up.
At that time there was some uncertainty as to whom the old Corner House, standing opposite the Parade Ground in Milton, and the rest of the Stower property belonged; for Uncle Peter Stower had died, and his will could not be found. That there was a will, Mr. Howbridge knew, for he had drawn it for the miserly old man who had lived alone with his colored servant, Uncle Rufus, in the old Corner House for so long.
The surrogate, however, finally allowed the guardian of the Kenway sisters to place them in the roomy old house, with their aunt and with Mrs. MacCall as housekeeper, while the court tangle was straightened out. This last was satisfactorily arranged, as related in the first book of this series, entitled “The Corner House Girls.”
In successive volumes are related in detail the adventures of the four sisters and their friends since their establishment in the old Corner House, telling of their adventures at school, in a summer camp at the seashore, of their taking part in a school play, of the odd find made in the old Corner House garret, and on an automobile tour through the State.
In that sixth volume of the series the Kenways met Luke and Cecile Shepard, brother and sister, who prove to be delightful friends, especially to Ruth. Agnes, the second Kenway, already had a faithful chum and companion in Neale O’Neil. But in Luke, Ruth found a most charming acquaintance, and in the seventh book, “The Corner House Girls Growing Up,” the friendship of Ruth and Luke is cemented by a series of incidents that try both of their characters.
Of course, each month saw the four sisters that many days older. They were actually growing up – “growing out of aye ken!” Mrs. MacCall often said. Just the same, they still liked fun and frolic and, especially the younger ones, were just as likely to play pranks as ever.
Even Ruth could scarcely keep a sober face when she looked now from Sammy Pinkney’s rueful countenance to the goat shaking his head at the top of the garret stairs.
“Now,” she said as severely as possible, “I would like to know how you intend to get him down again.”
“More than that, Sam,” said Neale: “How did you ever get him up there?”
“Oh, that was easy!” declared the small boy, his confident grin returning to his freckled face. “I got a stick and tied to it one of those old cabbages that Uncle Rufus has got packed away under the shed. Then,” went on the inventive genius, “I went behind Billy and pushed, holding the cabbage ahead of his nose. Say, that goat would walk up the side of a house, let alone three flights of stairs, for a cabbage!”
“Can you beat him?” murmured Neale, vastly delighted by this confession.
“I feel sometimes as though I would like to beat him,” answered Ruth. “See if you can get Billy Bumps out to his proper quarters, Neale.”
But that was not easy, and it took an hour’s work and finally the tying of Billy Bumps “hand and foot” before the sturdy goat was overcome and returned to his pen.
By this time, however, the snow had stopped. Lunch was served in the big Corner House dining-room, Neale and Sammy being guests.
It was an hilarious meal, of course. With such a crowd of young folks about the table – and on Saturday, too! – a sedate time was not possible. But Ruth tried to keep the younger ones from talking too loud or being too careless in their table manners.
Aunt Sarah Maltby, sitting at one end of the table, shook her head solemnly about midway of the meal at Sammy Pinkney.
“Young man,” she said in her severest way, “what do you suppose will become of you? You are the most mischievous boy I have ever seen – and I have seen a good many in my time.”
“Yes’m,” said Sammy, hanging his head, for he was afraid of Aunt Sarah.
“You should think of the future,” admonished the old lady. “There is something besides fun in this world.”
“Yes’m,” again came from the abashed, if not repentant, Sammy.
“Think what you might make of yourself, young man, if you desired. Do you realize that every boy born in this country has a chance to be president?”
“Huh!” ejaculated Sammy, suddenly looking up. “Be president, Miss Maltby? Huh! I tell you what: I’ll sell you my chance for a quarter.”
The irrepressible laugh from the other young folks that followed might have offended Aunt Sarah had not the front door bell rung at that very moment. Agnes, who was nearest, and much quicker than rheumatic Uncle Rufus, ran to answer the summons.
“Oh, Ruthie!” her clear voice instantly sounded as far as the dining-room, “here’s Mr. Howbridge’s man, and he’s got a great big sleigh at the gate, and – Why, there’s Mr. Howbridge himself!”
Not only the oldest Kenway ran to join her sister at the door, but all the other young folks trooped out. They forgot their plates at the announcement of the appearance of the girls’ guardian.
“Did you e’er see such bairns before?” demanded the housekeeper of Aunt Sarah. “They have neither appetite nor manners on a Saturday!”
In the big front hall the girls and boys were delightedly greeting Mr. Howbridge, while the coach-man plowed back to the gate through the snow to hold the frisky pair of bay horses harnessed to the big pung. Bits of straw clung to the lawyer’s clothing, and he was rosy and smiling.
“I did not know but what you would already be out, young folks,” Mr. Howbridge announced. “Although I had John harness up just as soon as the weather broke.”
“Oh, Mr. Howbridge,” Ruth said, remembering her “manners” after all, “won’t you come in?”
“Won’t you come out, Miss Ruth?” responded the man, laughing.
“Oh! Oh! OH!” cried Tess, in crescendo, peering out of the open door. “That sleigh of Mr. Howbridge’s is full of straw.”
“A straw-ride!” gasped Agnes, clasping her hands. “Oh, Mr. Howbridge! have you come to take us out?”
“Of course. All of you. The more the merrier,” said their guardian, who was very fond indeed of his wards and their young friends, and missed no chance to give them pleasure.
At that statement there was a perfect rout while the young people ran for their wraps and overshoes. The dessert was forgotten, although it was Mrs. MacCall’s famous “whangdoodle pudding and lallygag sauce.”
“Never mind the eats now, Mrs. Mac!” cried Agnes, struggling into her warm coat. “Have an extra big dinner. We’ll come home tonight as hungry as crows – see if we don’t!”
In ten minutes the whole party, the four Kenway sisters, Neale, and Sammy, and Tom Jonah, had tumbled into the body of the big sleigh which was so heaped with clean straw that they burrowed right into it just like mice! The big bay horses were eager to start, and tossed their heads and made the little silver bells on the harness jingle to a merry tune indeed.
Mr. Howbridge and Ruth sat up on the wide front seat – the only seat – with the driver, John. The guardian wished to talk in private with the oldest Kenway girl. He considered her a very bright girl, with a very well-balanced mind.
While the younger folks shouted and joked and snowballed each other as the horses sped along the almost unbroken track, Ruth and her guardian were quite seriously engaged in conversation.
“I want to get some good advice from you, Miss Ruth Kenway,” said the lawyer, smiling sideways at her. “I know that you have an abundant supply.”
“You are a flatterer,” declared the girl, her eyes sparkling nevertheless. She was always proud to be taken into his confidence. “Is it something about the estate?”
“No, my dear. Nothing about the Stower estate.”
“I was afraid we might be spending too much money,” said the girl, laughing. “You know, I do think we are extravagant.”
“Not in your personal expenditures,” answered their guardian. “Only in the Kenways’ charities do I sometimes feel like putting on the brake. But this,” he added, “is something different.”
“What is it, Mr. Howbridge? I am sure I shall be glad to help you if I can,” Ruth said earnestly.
“Well, now, Miss Ruth,” said the lawyer, a quizzical smile wreathing his lips. “What would you do, for instance, if a pair of twins had been left to you?”
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