The Corner House Girls Snowbound
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CHAPTER III – TWINS – AND TROUBLE
Sometimes Mr. Howbridge called her “Martha,” because she was so cumbered with family cares. Sometimes he called her “Minerva,” and acclaimed her to be wise. He so frequently joked with her in this way that Ruth Kenway was not at all sure the lawyer was in earnest on this occasion.
“Twins?” she repeated, smiling up at him over the top of her muff. “Twin what? Twin puppies, or kittens, or even fish? I suppose there are twin fish?”
“You joke me, and I am serious,” he said, while the younger ones shouted and sang amid the straw behind. “I really have had a pair of twins given to me. I am their guardian, the administrator of their estate, just as I was made administrator of the Stower estate and guardian of you girls. It is no joke, I assure you,” and he finished rather ruefully.
“Goodness me! you don’t mean it?” cried Ruth.
“Yes, I do. I mean it very much. I do, indeed, think it rather mean. If all my friends who die and go to a better world leave me their children to take care of, I shall be in a worse pickle than the Little Old Woman Who Lived in the Shoe.”
“Like old Mrs. Bobster at Pleasant Cove,” laughed Ruth. “But even she did not have twins. And if your new family is as troublesome as the Corner House crowd, what will you ever do?”
“That is what I am asking you, Minerva,” he said seriously. “What would you do if you had had twins left to you?”
“What are they, Mr. Howbridge? Boys or girls?”
“Both? Oh! You mean one is a boy and one is a girl.”
“Ralph and Rowena Birdsall.”
“That is better than having two of either sex, I should say,” Ruth observed with more gravity. “They sort of – sort of balance each other.”
“I guess they are ‘some kids,’ as our friend Neale would say,” suddenly laughed Mr. Howbridge. “I knew Birdsall very well. I might say we were very close friends, both socially and in business. Poor fellow! The last two years of his life were very sad indeed.”
“Has he left plenty for the twins?” asked Ruth.
“More than ‘plenty,’” said Mr. Howbridge. “He was very, very wealthy. Ralph and Rowena will come into very large fortunes when they are of age. The money is well invested.”
“Then you need not worry about that,” Ruth said sedately.
“No? The more money, the more worry for the administrator and guardian,” Mr. Howbridge said succinctly. “I can assure you that is true. But it is what to do for, and with, the twins themselves that bothers me most just at first.”
“How old are they?”
“About twelve. Nice age! All legs and arms and imagination.”
“Dear me! Do you know them well?”
“Haven’t seen them since they were two little red mites in their cradle.”
“Then you merely imagine they are so very terrible.”
“I heard enough about them from Frank, Frank Birdsall. That was their father’s name. He used to be very fond of talking about them. Proud as Lucifer, he was, of Ralph and Rowena.And his wife – ”
“Oh! Of course, the mother is dead, too.”
“That was what killed Frank, I verily believe,” said Mr. Howbridge gravely. “She died two years ago at a camp he owned up near the Canadian border. Red Deer Lodge it is called. Mrs. Birdsall was flung from her horse.
“It crushed her husband. He brought the children away from there (they had spent much of their time up in the wilderness, for they loved it) and never went back again.
“That’s another piece of work he’s left me. Because he did not want ever to see the Lodge again, I have to go up there – now, in mid-winter – and attend to something that’s been hanging fire too long already. It is a nuisance.”
“A camp in the woods in mid-winter must be an enjoyable place,” Ruth said thoughtfully. “You can take your guns; and you can snowshoe; can skate; maybe – ”
“And, as our good Mrs. Mac would say, eat fried snowballs and icicle soup!” finished Mr. Howbridge. “Ugh! It’s a fine place, Red Deer Lodge, but I shall take only my man and we’ll have to depend on some old guide or trapper to do for us. No, I look forward to no pleasant time at Red Deer Lodge, I assure you.”
This conversation was not carried on in sequence. The party in the body of the sleigh frequently interrupted. Sammy managed to dance all over the sleigh, and half a dozen times he was on the point of pitching out into the drifts.
“Let him!” snapped Agnes at last. “Let him be buried in the snow, and we won’t stop for him – not until we come back.”
“The poor kid would be an icicle then,” objected Neale O’Neil.
“And he’d miss the nice hot chocolate and buns Mr. Howbridge says we are to have at Crowder’s Inn,” put in Tess, the thoughtful.
Dot squeezed her Alice-doll close to her little bosom and made up her mind that that precious possession should not pop out by accident into a drift and be left behind.
“I don’t suppose I should have brought her,” Dot confessed to Tess. “I should have given the sailor-boy baby an airing instead.”
“Oh, yes! Nosmo King Kenway,” murmured her sister.
Dot hurried on, ignoring the suggestive name of the sailor-boy baby who had been inadvertently christened after a sign on a barn door.
“You know,” the smallest Corner House girl said, “Alice’s complexion is so delicate. Of course, Neale had her all made over in the doll’s hospital; but I am always afraid that the wind will crack it.”
“I wouldn’t worry so about her, Dot,” advised Tess.
“You would if Alice were your baby,” declared Dot. “And you know she is delicate. She’s never been the same since Lillie Treble buried her with the dried apples in our back yard.”
Meanwhile Neale O’Neil had caught a sentence or two flung back by the wind from the high front seat. He bobbed up between Mr. Howbridge and Ruth.
“What’s all this about red deer, and snowshoes, and eating icicle soup?” he asked. “Sounds awfully interesting. Are you planning to go hunting, Mr. Howbridge?”
“I’ve got to go to a hunting lodge, clear up state, my boy,” said the lawyer. “And I dread it just as much as you young folks would enjoy it.”
“It would be fine, I think,” murmured Ruth.
“Oh, bully!” shouted Agnes, suddenly standing up in the straw and clinging to Neale for support. “To a regular, sure-enough winter camp? Then Carrie and Lucy Poole, and Trix Severn can’t crow over us any more! They went, last year, to Letterbeg Camp, up beyond Hoosac.”
“But, goodness, Agnes, wait till we are asked, do!” admonished Ruth. “I never saw or heard of such precipitate young ones.”
“Young one yourself!” grumbled Agnes.
“It’s my fault,” said the good-natured Neale. “Aggie misunderstood what I said.”
“No need to worry about it,” said Mr. Howbridge cheerfully. “If you young folks really want to come with me – ”
“Oh, Mr. Howbridge!” exclaimed Ruth, in a tone that showed she, herself, had been much taken with the idea.
“Why, I hate to go alone. I can send up some servants to open the Lodge. Frank was always begging me to make use of it. After Mrs. Birdsall was killed he never would go near the place, as I said. Though I believe the twins, Ralph and Rowena, have been up there with a caretaker and a governess, or somebody to look out for them.”
“Where are they now?” asked Ruth.
“The Birdsall place in Arlington was closed soon after Frank died, three months ago. His old butler and his wife live in a nice home near by, and they have the children and their governess with them.”
“With just servants?” murmured Ruth.
“They are very suitable people,” declared Mr. Howbridge, as though he felt the faint criticism in the girl’s words. “I went myself and saw Rodgers and Mrs. Rodgers. The governess and the twins were out for a drive, so I did not see them.”
“The poor things!” sighed Ruth.
“My!” exclaimed Agnes, “those children are worse off than we Kenways were. They haven’t got anybody like Ruth, Mr. Howbridge.”
“That is true,” agreed the lawyer. “But what am I to do? Separate them? Send them to boarding school – the boy one way and the girl another?”
“Gee! that would be tough, Mr. Howbridge,” declared Neale O’Neil, with considerable feeling for the unfortunate twins.
“I don’t see what I’m to do,” complained the lawyer.
“They should have a real home,” Ruth stated, with some severity. “Sending them to boarding school is dodging the issue. So is leaving them wholly in the care of servants.”
“Who would take in two tearing and wearing children, twelve years old?” demanded Mr. Howbridge, on the defensive.
“Perhaps the fault does go back to the parents – to the father, at least,” admitted Ruth. “He should have made provision for his children before he died.”
“I suppose you think the duty devolves upon me,” said Mr. Howbridge, rather grumpily. “Should I take them into my house? Should I break up the habits of years for two half-wild children?”
“Oh, I don’t know that,” Ruth told him brightly. “It’s one of those things one must decide for oneself, isn’t it?”
There was not much more said after that during the ride about the twins, Ralph and Rowena Birdsall. But Red Deer Lodge!
The idea of going to a real camp in winter was taken up by everybody in the party, for even Tom Jonah barked. In the depths of the wilderness, with wild woods, and wild animals, and perhaps wild men! (this in Sammy’s mind) all about the Lodge! The freckled boy considered the idea even superior to his long cherished desire to run away to be a pirate.
“I’ll get me a bow-arrer and learn to shoot before we start,” Sammy declared, deluding himself, as he always did, with the idea that he was to be a member of the party in any case.
“But you don’t even know if your mother’ll let you go, Sammy Pinkney!” cried Tess.
“She’ll let me go if Aggie says I may,” declared Sammy. “I can, can’t I, Aggie?” grabbing her by her plaid skirt and almost pulling her over backwards.
“Stop! You can can that!” declared the next-to-the-oldest Corner House girl slangily. “What do you think I am – a bell rope, that you yank me that way?”
“I can go to that Red Deer Lodge, can’t I?” insisted the youngster.
“You can start right now, for all I care,” said Agnes, rather grumpily, and giving Sammy no further attention.
But that was enough for Sammy Pinkney. He considered that he had a particular invitation to accompany the party into the woods, and he would tell his mother so when he reached home.
But Dot began to be worried.
“Just see here, Tess Kenway!” she exclaimed suddenly. “Do you suppose my Alice-doll – or any of the other dollies – can stand it?”
“Stand what?” her sister, quite excited, asked.
“Living in tents in winter?”
“In what tents?” asked the amazed Tess.
“Up there at Red Darling Camp – ”
“Well, I knew it was some nice word,” Dot, undisturbed, said. “But Alice is so delicate.”
“Why, Dot Kenway! we won’t have to live in tents,” said Tess.
“We did in that other camp we went to,” said the smaller girl. “Don’t you ’member? And the tent ’most blowed over one night, and you and I and Tom Jonah went sailing in a boat? And that clam man – ”
“But, Dot!” cried Tess, “that was a summer camp. This is a winter one. And it’s all made of logs, and there are doors and windows and fireplaces and – and everything!”
“Oh!” murmured Dot. “I wondered how they’d keep Jack Frost out. And he’s stinging my ears right now, Tess Kenway.”
The roadside inn was in sight now, and presently the big sleigh pulled up before it with the bells jangling and the horses steaming, as Dot remarked, “just as though they had boiling water in ’em and the smoke was leaking out.”
The whole party ran into the grillroom and chased Jack Frost away with hot chocolate and cakes. There the idea of going to Red Deer Lodge for the Christmas holidays was well thrashed out.
“Of course, I will send up my own servants and supplies. Being administrator of the estate, there will be no question of my using the Lodge as I see fit,” Mr. Howbridge said cheerfully. “And I shall be delighted to have you young folks with me.
“I am really going to confer with an old timber cruiser about the standing timber contracted for by the Neven Lumber Company before Frank Birdsall died. This timber cruiser – ”
“It sounds like a sea-story!” interrupted Agnes, roguishly.
“What is a timber cruiser?” demanded Ruth, quite as puzzled as her sister.
“It is not a ‘what’ but a ‘who,’” laughed Mr. Howbridge. “In his way, Ike M’Graw is quite a famous character up there. A timber cruiser is a man who knows timber so well that just by walking through a wood lot and looking he can number and mark down the trees that are sound and will make good timber.
“Ike has written me through a friend (for the old man cannot use a pen himself, save to make his cross) that he has been over the entire Birdsall estate and that his figures and the figures of the Nevens people are too far apart. I fear that the lumber company is trying to put something over on me, and as administrator of the estate I must look out for the twins’ interests.”
“You are more careful of their money, Mr. Howbridge, than you are of the twins themselves, are you not?” Ruth suggested, in a low voice.
“Now, don’t tell me that!” he cried. “I really cannot take those children into my house.”
“Well, you know,” she told him, smiling, “you brought this on yourself by asking my advice. And you intend to fill that Lodge up there with us ‘young ones.’”
“But I shall have you to manage for me, Miss Ruth,” declared the lawyer. “That is different.”
“Perhaps we might take the twins along with us, and you’d get used to them,” Ruth said. “You say they like it up there in the wilderness.”
“Frank said they were crazy about it.”
“You don’t know what you are letting yourselves in for. Ralph and Rowena are young savages.”
“Can’t be much worse than Sammy, yonder,” chuckled Neale, who, with Agnes, was much interested in this part of the planning.
“Oh, Ruthie!” exclaimed the second Kenway sister suddenly, clasping her hands. “There’s Cecile and Luke!”
“Where – what – ?”
“I mean we invited them to come to the Corner House for the holidays.”
“Ah-ha!” exclaimed Mr. Howbridge promptly. “The Shepards? Of course! I had already included them – in my mind.”
“Mr. Howbridge! It will be more than a party. It will be a convention,” gasped Ruth.
“It’s such a lonely place that we’ll need a big crowd to make it worth while going at all,” the lawyer laughed. “Yes. Cecile and Luke are invited. I will have them written to at once – in addition to your own invitation to them, Miss Ruth.”
“Dear me! you are just the best guardian, Mr. Howbridge,” sighed Agnes ecstatically.
“And I think,” Ruth added, “that you ought to think seriously of taking the Birdsall twins with us.”
That was not decided at that time, however. And when the party got back to the old Corner House, just across from the Parade Ground at the head of Main Street, Mr. Howbridge was met with a piece of news that shocked him much more than had the thought of the twins making their home with him in his quiet bachelor residence.
A clerk from the lawyer’s office awaited Mr. Howbridge. There was a telegram from Rodgers, the Birdsalls’ ex-butler. It read:
CHAPTER IV – ANTICIPATIONS
Mr. Howbridge, before he hurried away to his office, asked Ruth:
“What do you think of that? And you suggest my keeping those twins – those two wild youngsters – in my home!”
“I will tell you what I think of that telegram,” said the oldest Kenway girl, handing the yellow sheet of paper back to him. “I think that man Rodgers is not a fit person to have charge of the boy and girl.”
“Why not?” he asked in surprise.
“Imagine thinking of dragging a pond in mid-winter – or at any other time of the year – for two healthy children! First idea the man seems to have. I guess the twins had reason for running away.”
“Hear! Hear!” cried Agnes, who deliberately listened.
“Why, they have known Rodgers all their lives!”
“Perhaps that is why they have run away,” said Ruth, smiling. “Rodgers sounds to me – from his telegram – as though he had one awful lack.”
“You frighten me. What lack?”
“Lack of a sense of humor. And that is fatal in the character of anybody who has a pair of twins on his hands.”
Mr. Howbridge threw up his own hands in amazement. “I must lack that myself,” he said. “I see nothing funny, at least, in the idea of having Ralph and Rowena Birdsall in my house.”
“It helps,” said Ruth. “A sense of humor is what has kept me going all these years,” she added demurely. “If you think a pair of twins can be compared to Tess and Dot and Sammy Pinkney – to say nothing of Aggie and Neale – ”
“Oh! Oh!” shouted the two latter in chorus.
“You have a mean mind, Ruthie Kenway,” declared the blonde beauty.
“I knew I wasn’t much liked,” admitted Neale O’Neil. “But that is the unkindest cut of all.”
“You have had experience, I grant you,” said Mr. Howbridge, about to take his departure. “But I foresee much trouble in the case of these Birdsall twins.”
And he was a true prophet there. The twins had utterly disappeared. The Arlington police – indeed, all the county officers together – could find no trace of the orphaned brother and sister.
Mr. Howbridge put private detectives on the case. The twins seemed to have disappeared as utterly as though they really were under the two feet of ice on Arlington Pond.
The lawyer searched personally, advertised in the newspapers, and even offered a reward for the apprehension of the children. A fortnight passed without success.
The governess, Miss Mason, was discharged, for it seemed unnecessary to pay her salary when there were no children for her to teach. Rodgers and his wife could give no aid in the search. They were rather relieved, if the truth were told, to be free of the twins.
“Master Ralph was hard enough to get along with,” the ex-butler admitted. “But Miss Rowena was worse. They wanted to go back into their own house to live. They could not understand why it was shut up, sir,” and the old serving man shook his head.
“They seemed to have taken a dislike to you, sir,” he added to Mr. Howbridge. “They said you ‘hadn’t any right to boss.’ That is the way they put it.”
“But I never even saw them,” returned the lawyer. “I didn’t try ‘to boss’ them.”
“Well, you know, sir,” Rodgers explained, “I had to give ’em reasons for things. You have to with children like Master Ralph and Miss Rowena. So I had to tell ’em you said they were to do this and that.”
“Oh! Ah! I see!” muttered the guardian.
He began to believe that perhaps Ruth Kenway was right. He should have taken more of a personal interest in Ralph and Rowena. They had evidently gained from the ex-butler an entirely wrong impression of what a guardian was.
But the disappearance of the Birdsall twins did not make any change in the plans for the mid-winter visit to Red Deer Lodge. Mr. Howbridge had to go there in any case, and he would not disappoint the Kenways and their friends.
As it chanced, full three weeks were given the Milton schools at the Christmas Holiday time. There were repairs to make in the heating arrangements of both high and grammar school buildings. The schools would close the week before Christmas and not open again until the week following New Year’s Day.
If Sammy Pinkney had had his way, the schools would never have opened again!
“I don’t see what they have to learn you things for, anyway,” complained the youngster. “You can find things out for yourself.”
“That’s rather an expensive way to learn, I’ve always heard,” said Ruth, admonishingly.
“Huh!” grumbled Sammy, “teachers don’t know much, anyway. Look! There’s what Miss Grimsby told us in physics the other day – all about what you’re made of, and how you’re made, and the names you can call yourself – if you want to.
“You know: Your legs and arms are limbs– and all that. She told us the middle part of our bodies is the trunk, and she asked us all if we understood that. Some said ‘yes,’ and some didn’t say nothing,” went on the excited boy.
“‘Don’t you know the middle of the body is the trunk?’ she asked Patsy Roach. And what do you suppose he told Miss Grimsby?”
“I can’t imagine,” said Agnes, for this was in the evening and the young people were gathered about the sitting-room table with their lesson books.
“He told her: ‘You ought to go to the circus, Miss Grimsby, and see the elephant,’” giggled Sammy. “And I guess Patsy was right. Huh! Trunk!” he added with scorn.
“Association of ideas,” chuckled Neale O’Neil, who was likewise present as usual during home study hour. “I heard that one of the kids in Dot’s grade gave Miss Andrews an extremely bright answer the other day.”
“What was that, Neale?” asked Agnes, who would rather talk than study at any time.
“History. Miss Andrews asked one little girl who discovered America, and the answer was, ‘Ohio’!”
“Oh! Oh!” murmured Agnes, while even Ruth smiled.
“Yes,” chuckled Neale. “Miss Andrews said, ‘No; Columbus discovered America,’ and the kid said: ‘Yes’m. That was his first name.’”
“She got her geography and history mixed,” said Ruth, smiling.
“That was Sadie Goronofsky’s half-sister, Becky,” explained Dot. “She isn’t very bright.”
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