Grace Hill.

The Corner House Girls





Ruth was left breathless. But Agnes was able to whisper in her sisters ear:

Mrs. Treble indeed! She looks to me, Ruth, a whole lot like Mrs. Trouble. What shall we do?

CHAPTER XVIII RUTH DOES WHAT SHE THINKS IS RIGHT

Mrs. Treble, as the tall, dark lady called herself, had such an air of assurance and command, that Ruth was at a loss what course to take with her. Finally the oldest Kenway girl found voice to say:

Wont you take one of these comfortable rockers, Mrs. Treble? Perhaps we had better first talk the matter over a little.

Well, Im glad to sit down, admitted Mrs. Treble. Dont muss your dress, Lillie. Weve been traveling some ways, as I tell you. Clean from Ypsilanti. We came on from Cleveland Junction this morning, and its a hot day. Dont rub your shoes together, Lillie.

It is very warm, said Ruth, handing their visitor a fan and sending Agnes for a glass of cold water from the icebox.

Then weve been to that lawyers office, pursued Mrs. Treble. What do you call him Howbridge? Dont rub your hands on your skirt, Lillie.

Yes; Mr. Howbridge, replied Ruth.

Dont take off that hat, Lillie. So weve been walking in the sun some. Thats nice, cool water. Have some, Lillie? Dont drip it on your dress.

Wouldnt your little girl like to go with Tess and Dot to the playhouse in the garden? Ruth suggested. Then we can talk.

Why yes, said Mrs. Treble. Go with the little girls, Lillie. Dont you get a speck of dirt on you, Lillie.

Ruth did not see the awful face the much admonished Lillie made, as she left her mothers side. It amazed Tess and Dot so that they could not speak. Her tongue went into her cheek, and she drew down the corners of her mouth and rolled her eyes, leering so terribly, that for an instant she looked like nothing human. Then she resumed the placidity of her angelic expression, and minced along after the younger Kenway girls, and out of sight around a corner of the house.

Meanwhile, Agnes had drawn Ruth aside, and whispered: What are you going to do? Shes raving crazy, isnt she? Had I better run for a doctor or the police?

Sh! admonished Ruth. She is by no means crazy. I dont know what to do!

But she says she has a right to live here, too, gasped Agnes.

Perhaps she has.

Mr. Howbridge said we were Uncle Peters only heirs, said Agnes, doggedly.

May maybe he didnt know about this John Augustus Treble. We must find out about it, said Ruth, much worried. Of course, we wouldnt want to keep anybody out of the property, if they had a better right to it.

What? shrilled Agnes. Give it up? Not on your life!

In the meantime, Tess and Dot scarcely knew how to talk to Lillie Treble. She was such a strange girl! They had never seen anybody at all like her before.

Lillie walked around the house, out of her mothers sight, just as mincingly as a peacock struts.

Her look of angelic sweetness would have misled anybody. She just looked as though she had never done a single wrong thing in all her sweet young life!

But Tess and Dot quickly found that Lillie Treble was not at all the perfect creature she appeared to the casual observer. Her angelic sweetness was all a sham. Away from her mothers sharp eye, Lillie displayed very quickly her true colors.

Those all your dolls? she demanded, when she was shown the collection of Tess and Dot in the garden house.

Yes, said Tess.

Well, my mother says were going to stay here, and if you want me to play with you, said this infantile socialist, we might as well divide them up right now.

Oh! gasped Tess.

Ill take a third of them. They can be easily divided. I choose this one to begin with, said Lillie, diving for the Alice-doll.

With a shriek of alarm, Dot rescued this her choicest possession and stood on the defensive, the Alice-doll clasped close to her breast.

No! you cant have that, said Tess, decidedly.

Why not? demanded Lillie.

Why its the doll Dot loves the best.

Well, said Lillie, calmly, I suppose if I chose one of yours, youd holler, too. I never did see such selfish girls. Huh! if I cant have the dolls I want, I wont choose any. I dont want to play with the old things, anyway! and she made a most dreadful face at the Kenway sisters.

Oh-oh! whispered Dot. I dont like her at all.

Well, I suppose we must amuse her, said Tess, strong for duty.

But she says she is going to stay here all the time, pursued the troubled Dot, as Lillie wandered off toward the foot of the garden.

I dont believe that can be so, said Tess, faintly. But its our duty to entertain her, while she is here.

I dont see why we should. Shes not a nice girl at all, Dot objected.

Dot! you know very well Ruth wants us to look out for her, Tess said, with emphasis. We cant get out of it.

So the younger girl, over-ruled by Tess, followed on. At the foot of the garden, Lillie caught sight of Ruths flock of hens. Uncle Rufus had repaired the henhouse and run, and Ruth had bought in the market a dozen hens and a rooster of the white Plymouth Rock breed. Mr. Rooster strutted around the enclosure very proudly with his family. They were all very tame, for the children made pets of them.

Dont you ever let them out? asked Lillie, peering through the wire-screen.

No. Not now, Ruth says. They would get into the garden, Tess replied.

Huh! you could shoo them out again. I had a pet hen at Ypsilanti. Id rather have hens than dolls, anyway. The hens are alive, and she tried the gate entering upon the hen-run.

Oh! exclaimed Tess. You mustnt let them out.

Whos letting them out? demanded Lillie.

Well, then, you mustnt go into the yard.

Why not? repeated the visitor.

Ruth wont like it.

Well, I guess my mothers got more to say about this place than your sister has. She says shes going to show a parcel of girls how to run this house, and run it right. Thats what she told Aunt Adeline and Uncle Noah, when we went to live with them in Ypsilanti.

Thus speaking, Lillie opened the gate and walked into the poultry yard. At once there was great excitement in the flock. Lillie plunged at the nearest hen and missed her. The rooster uttered a startled and admonitory Cut! cut! ca-dar-cut! and led the procession of frightened hens about the yard.

Arent hens foolish? demanded Lillie, calmly. I am not going to hurt her.

She made another dive for the hen. The rooster uttered another shriek of warning and went through the watering-pan, flapping his wings like mad. The water was spilled, and the next attempt Lillie made to seize a hen, she was precipitated into the puddle!

Both hands, one knee, and the front of her frock were immediately streaked with mud. Lillie shrieked her anger, and plunged after the frightened hens again. She was a determined girl. Tess and Dot added their screams to the general hullabaloo.

Round and round went the hens, led by the gallant rooster. Finally the inevitable happened. Lillie got both hands upon one of the white hens.

Now I got you silly! shrieked Lillie.

But she spoke too quickly and too confidently. It was only the tail-feathers Lillie grabbed. With a wild squawk, the hen flew straight away, leaving the bulk of her plumage in the naughty girls hands!

The girls outside the fence continued to scream, and so did the flock of hens. The rooster, who was a heavy bird, came around the yard again, on another lap, and wildly leaped upon Lillies back.

He scrambled over her, his great spurs and claws tearing her frock, and his wings beating her breathlessly to the ground. Just then Uncle Rufus came hobbling along.

Glo-ree! who dat chile in dat hen-cage? he demanded. Dat ol roosterll put her eyes out for her dat he will!

He opened the gate, went in, and grabbed up Lillie Treble from the ground. When he set her on her feet outside the fence, she was a sight to behold!

Glo-ree! gasped Uncle Rufus. What you doin in dar, chile?

Mind your own business! exclaimed Lillie. Youre only a black man. I dont have to mind you, I hope.

She was covered with mud and dust, and her frock was in great disarray, but she was self-contained and as saucy as ever. Tess and Dot were horrified by her language.

I dunno who yo is, gal! exclaimed Uncle Rufus. But yo let Missie Ruths chickens erlone, or Ill see ter yuh, lak yer was one o my own granchillen.

Lillie was sullen and just a little frightened of Uncle Rufus. The disaster made but slight impression upon her mind.

What what will your mother say? gasped Tess, when the three girls were alone again.

She wont say anything till she sees me, sniffed Lillie. And to put that evil hour off, she began to inquire as to further possibilities for action about the old Corner House.

What do you girls do? she asked.

Why, said Tess, we play house; and play go visiting; and and roll hoop; and sometimes skip rope

Huh! thats dreadful tame. Dont you ever do anything Oh! theres my mother! A window had opened in one of the wings of the big house, on the second floor. It was a window of a room that the Kenway family had not before used. Tess and Dot saw Ruth as well as Mrs. Treble at the window.

Ruth was doing what she thought was right. Mrs. Treble had confessed to the oldest of the Corner House girls that she had arrived at Milton with scarcely any money. She could not pay her board even at the very cheapest hotel. Mr. Howbridge was away, Ruth knew, and nothing could be done to straighten out this tangle in affairs until the lawyer came back.

So she had offered Mrs. Treble shelter for the present. Moreover, the lady, with a confidence equaled only by Aunt Sarahs, demanded in quite a high and mighty way to be housed and fed. Yet she had calmed down, and actually thanked Ruth for her hospitality, when she found that the girl was not to be intimidated, but was acting the part of a Good Samaritan from a sense of duty.

Agnes was too angry for words. She could not understand why Ruth should cater to this Mrs. Trouble, as she insisted, in secret, upon calling the woman from Ypsilanti.

Ruth was showing the visitor a nice room on the same floor with those chambers occupied by the girls themselves, and Mrs. Treble was approving, when she chanced to look out of the window and behold her angelic Lillie in the condition related above.

CHAPTER XIX DOUBLE TROUBLE

What is the meaning of that horrid condition of your clothing, Lillie? demanded Mrs. Treble from the open window.

I fell in the mud, Mamma, said the unabashed Lillie, and glanced aside at Tess and Dot with a sweetly troubled look, as though she feared they were at fault for her disarray, but did not quite like to say so!

Come up here at once! commanded her mother, who turned to Ruth to add: I am afraid your sisters are very rough and rude in their play. Lillie has not been used to such playmates. Of course, left without a mother as they were, nothing better can be expected of them.

Meanwhile, Lillie had turned one of her frightful grimaces upon Tess and Dot before starting for the house, and the smaller Kenway girls were left frozen in their tracks by the ferocity of this parting glare.

Lillie appeared at luncheon dressed in some of Tess garments and some of Dots none of them fitting her very well. She had a sweetly forgiving air, which bolstered up her mothers opinion that Tess and Dot were guilty of leading her angelic child astray.

Mrs. Treble had two trunks at the railway station and Uncle Rufus was sent to get an expressman to bring them up to the Corner House. Ruth paid the expressman.

Talk about the Old Man of the Sea that Sinbad had to carry on his shoulders! scoffed Agnes, in private, to Ruth. This Mrs. Trouble is going to be a bigger burden for us than he was. And I believe that girl is going to be Double Trouble. She looks like butter wouldnt melt in her mouth. Uncle Rufus says she got in that messy condition before lunch, chasing the hens out of their seven senses.

There are only five senses, Aggie, said Ruth, patiently.

Humph! thats all right for folks, but hens have two more, I reckon, chuckled the younger girl.

Well, said Ruth, we must treat Mrs. Treble politely.

You act as though you really thought they had some right to come here and live on us, cried Agnes.

Perhaps they have a right to some of Uncle Peters property. We dont know.

I dont believe it! Shes the sort of a person that Mrs. Trouble who assumes rights wherever she goes.

Ruth had to confess that Mrs. Treble was trying. She criticised Mrs. McCalls cooking and the quantity of food on the table at luncheon. Lillie did not like dried apple pies, and said so bluntly, with a hostile glare at the dessert in question.

Well, little girl, said Mrs. McCall, youll have to learn to like them. Ive just bought quite a lot of dried apples and theyve got to be eaten up.

Lillie made another awful face but her mother did not see it. Dot was so awe-stricken by these facial gymnastics of the strange girl that she could scarcely eat, and watched Lillie continually.

That child ought to be cured of staring so, remarked Mrs. Treble, frowning at Dot. Or is her eyesight bad?

Mrs. Treble was busy, after her trunks came, in unpacking them and arranging her room to suit herself as though she expected to make a long visit. She had suggested appropriating Uncle Peters old bedroom in the front of the house, but that suite of rooms was locked, and Ruth refrained from telling her that she had the keys.

Meantime the bigger Corner House girls tried to help the smaller ones entertain Lillie. Lillie was not like any normal girl whom they had ever known. She wanted to do only things in which she could lead, and if she was denied her way in any particular, she wouldnt play and threatened to go up stairs and tell her mother.

Why, said Agnes, first to become exasperated. You want to be the whole show including the drum-major at the head of the procession, and the little boys following the clowns donkey-cart at the end!

Lillie made a face.

I think, said Ruth, quietly, that if I were you, Lillie, and went to visit, Id try to make my new friends like me.

Huh! said Lillie. Im not visiting dont you fool yourselves. My mother and I have come here to stay. Were not going to be put out like we were at Aunt Adelines and Uncle Noahs. Mother says weve got more right to this old house than you Kenways have, and shes going to get her rights.

That made Dot cry, and Tess looked dreadfully serious. Agnes was too angry to play with the girl any more, and Ruth, even, gave her up as impossible. Lillie wandered off by herself, for her mother would not be bothered with her just then.

When Mrs. McCall went out into the kitchen that afternoon to start dinner, she missed the bag of dried apples that had been left on the table. There had been nearly four pounds of them.

What under the canopys become of that bag? demanded the good lady. This is getting too much, I declare. I know I missed the end of the corned beef yesterday, and half a loaf of bread. I couldnt be sure about the cookies and doughnuts, and the pie.

But there that bag of dried apples stood, and there it isnt now! What do you know about such crazy actions? she demanded of Ruth, who had come at her call.

Why! its a mystery, gasped the eldest of the Corner House girls. I cant understand it, dear Mrs. McCall. Of course none of us girls have taken the dried apples. And if you have missed other things from your pantry of late, I am just as sure we are not at fault. I have warned the girls about raiding the cookie jars between meals.

Well, said Mrs. McCall, with awe, what can have taken them? And a bag of dried apples! Goodness! Its enough to give one the shivers and shakes.

Ruth was deeply mystified, too. She knew very well that Sandy-face, the cat, could not be accused with justice of this loss. Cats certainly do not eat dried apples and such a quantity!

It began to rain before evening, and Tess and Dot rushed out to rescue their dolls and other playthings, for there was wind with the rain and they were afraid it would blow in upon their treasures.

Here poor Dot received an awful shock. The Alice-doll was gone!

Dot went in crying to Ruth and would not be comforted. She loved the missing doll as though it was a real, live baby there could be no doubt of that. And why should a thief take that lovely doll only, and leave all the others?

Mysteries were piling upon mysteries! It was a gloomy night out of doors and a gloomy night inside the old Corner House as well. Mrs. Trebles air and conversation were sufficient alone to make the Kenway girls down-hearted. Dot cried herself to sleep that night, and not even Agnes could comfort her.

The wind howled around the house, and tried every latch and shutter fastening. Ruth lay abed and wondered if the thing she had seen at the window in the garret on that other windy day was now appearing and vanishing in its spectral way?

And what should she do about Mrs. Treble and her little girl? What would Mr. Howbridge say when he came home again?

Had she any right to spend more of the estates money in caring for these two strangers who were (according to the lady herself) without any means at all? Ruth Kenway put in two very bad hours that night, before she finally fell asleep.

The sun shone brightly in the morning, however. How much better the world and all that is in it seems on a clean, sunshiny morning! Even Dot was able to control her tears, as she went out upon the back porch with Tess, before breakfast.

The rain had saturated everything. The brown dirt path had been scoured and then gullied by the hard downpour. Right at the corner of the woodshed, where the water ran off in a cataract, when it did rain, was a funny looking mound.

Why why! whats that? gasped Dot.

It looks just as though a poor little baby had been buried there, whispered Tess. But of course, it isnt! Maybe theres some animal trying to crawl out of the ground.

O-o-o! squealed Dot. What animal?

I dont know. Not a mole. Moles dont make such a big hump in the ground.

As the girls wondered, Uncle Rufus came up from the henhouse. He saw the strange looking mound, too.

Glo-ree! he gasped. How come dat?

We dont know, Uncle Rufus, said Tess eagerly. We just found it.

Somebody been buryin a dawg in we-uns back yard? My soul!

Oh, it cant be! cried Tess.

And it isnt Sandy-face, Dot declared. For shes in the kitchen with all her children.

Wait er bit wait er bit, said the old man, solemnly. Unc Rufus gwine ter look inter dis yere matter. It sho is a misery meaning mystery.

He brought a shovel and dug down beside the mound. Lifting out a huge shovelful of dirt, there were scattered all about the path a great number of swollen and messy brown things that, for a moment, the girls did not identify. Then Uncle Rufus lifted up his voice in a roar:

Looker yere! Looker yere! Missie Ruth! see wot you-all mak out o disher monkey-shines. Heres dem dried apples, buried in de groun and swelled fit ter bust demselves.

Mrs. McCall as well as the other girls came running to see. It was Agnes that saw something else under the mound. She darted down the steps, put her hand into the hole and drew out the Alice-doll!

The poor things dress was ruined. Its hair was a mass of plastered apple, and its face as well. Such a disreputable looking thing!

While the others cried out in wonder and disclaimed all knowledge of how the marvel could have happened, Agnes spoke two accusing words.

Double Trouble! she cried, pointing her finger at Lillie Treble, who had just appeared, angelic face and all, at the back door.

Did that youngun do that? demanded Mrs. McCall, vigorously.

She most certainly did, declared Agnes. She tried to get rid of the dried apples, and the doll Dot wouldnt let her play with, at one and the same time. Isnt she the mean thing?

Instantly Lillies face was convulsed into a mask of rage and dislike. I hate all you girls! she snarled. Ill do worse than that to you!

Mrs. McCall seized her like an eagle pouncing upon a rabbit. Mrs. McCall was very vigorous. She carried Lillie into the kitchen with one hand, and laid her abruptly, face down, over her knee.

What happened during the next few moments was evidently the surprise of Lillie Trebles young life. Her mother had never corrected her in that good, old-fashioned way.





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