The Corner House Girls
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“It’s – it’s the ghost,” whispered Agnes, too afraid to look again.
Tess and Dot were merely curious. Ruth had seen the waving figure. Immediately it seemed to leap upward and disappear.
“Do you suppose it was Lillie?” asked Tess.
“We’ll find out when we go in,” said Ruth, in a shaken voice.
Agnes was almost in tears. She clung to Ruth’s arm and moaned in a faint voice:
“I don’t want to go in! I never want to go into that horrid old house again.”
“What nonsense you do talk, Ag,” said Ruth, as the little girls ran ahead. “We have been all over that garret. We know there is really nothing there – ”
“That’s just it,” groaned Agnes. “It must be a ghost.”
Ruth, unhappy as she felt, determined to discover the meaning of that spectral figure. “Let’s go right up there and find out about it,” she said.
“I mean it. Come on,” said the older sister, as they entered the big hall.
Tess and Dot heard her, and clamored to go, too, but Ruth sent the smaller girls back. At the head of the front stairs, they met Mrs. Treble.
“Have you, or Lillie, been up in the attic?” asked Ruth, sharply. “There was something at the window up there – ”
“What are you trying to do, girl?” demanded the lady from Ypsilanti, scornfully. “Trying to scare me with a ridiculous ghost story?”
“I don’t know what it is,” said Ruth. “I mean to find out. Were you up there?”
“I should have gone to the garret had I wished,” Mrs. Treble said, scornfully. “You must have something hidden away there, that you don’t want me to see. I wonder what it is?”
“Oh, Mrs. Treble!” began Ruth, and just then she saw that Aunt Sarah’s door was open. Aunt Sarah stood at the opening.
“Niece Ruth!” exclaimed the old lady, harshly, “why don’t you send that woman away? She’s got no business here.”
“I’ve more right here than you have, I should hope,” cried Mrs. Treble, loudly. “And more right than these girls. You’ll all find out when the courts take the matter up.”
“Oh, Mrs. Treble! We none of us know – ”
“Yes we do, too,” declared the lady from Ypsilanti, interrupting Ruth. “My husband’s mother was Peter Stower’s sister. Perhaps my Lillie shall have all the property – and this ugly old house, too. I tell you what I’ll do first thing, when it comes into my hands as guardian of my child.”
Ruth and Agnes were speechless. Mrs. Treble was more passionate than she had ever been before.
“I shall tear this ugly old house down – that’s what I’ll do,” Mrs. Treble declared. “I’ll raze it to the ground – ”
Aunt Sarah suddenly advanced into the hall. Her black eyes flashed as though there were sparks in them.
“You will do what?” she asked, in a low, hoarse voice.
“I’ll tear down the house. It is no good.”
“This beautiful old house!” groaned Agnes, forgetting about the ghost at that moment.
Aunt Sarah’s wrath was rising.It broke the bonds she had put upon her tongue so many years before.
“You will tear this house down?” she repeated. “Niece Ruth! is there any chance of this woman getting control of Peter’s property?”
“We don’t know,” said Ruth desperately. “If we can’t find Uncle Peter’s will that Mr. Howbridge made, and which leaves the estate to you and us girls, Aunt Sarah – ”
“There never was such a will,” put in Mrs. Treble.
“Mr. Howbridge says there was. He thinks Mr. Stower must have hidden it away with other papers, somewhere in the house – ”
“And I know where,” said Aunt Sarah, speaking out at last. “Peter never thought I knew where he hid things. But I did. You gals come with me.”
She stalked toward the stairs that led upward. Ruth and Agnes, half awed by her manner and speech, followed her. So did Mrs. Treble.
Aunt Sarah went directly to the garret. Agnes forgot to be scared of the ghost they had seen from outside, in her interest in this affair.
Aunt Sarah went to the old secretary, or desk, standing in the middle of the garret floor.
“Oh, we’ve looked all through that,” whispered Agnes.
“You did not look in the right place,” said Aunt Sarah.
Quite calmly she tapped with her fingers upon a panel in one end of the old desk. In a moment the panel dropped down, leaving in view a very narrow depository for papers. It was crammed with documents of several different kinds.
Mrs. Treble sprang forward, with a cry. But Aunt Sarah got in front of her. She seized her skirts with both hands and advanced upon the lady from Ypsilanti with belligerence.
“Shoo!” said Aunt Sarah. “Shoo!”
As Mrs. Treble retreated, Aunt Sarah advanced, and, as though she were “shooing” a refractory chicken, she drove the lady from Ypsilanti out of the garret and closed the door firmly in her face.
CHAPTER XXV – LAYING THE GHOST
Mr. Howbridge came by request to the Corner House the next morning. Ruth had slept all night with the papers found in the old secretary under her pillow.
Mr. Howbridge came into the dining-room where the four Corner House girls were assembled, smiling and evidently in right good humor. “I understand you have made a wonderful discovery, Miss Kenway?” he said.
“It was Aunt Sarah,” said Agnes, excitedly. “She knew where the papers were.”
“Indeed?” said the lawyer, interested.
“We have found some of Uncle Peter’s papers, that is sure,” said Ruth. “And among them is one that I think must be the will you spoke of.”
“Good! we shall hope it is the paper we have been looking for,” said Mr. Howbridge, accepting the packet Ruth handed him. “And I have made a discovery, too.”
“What is that, sir?” asked Ruth, politely.
“It refers to Mrs. Treble’s claim to the estate of Mr. Peter Stower.”
“If little Lillie bears any relationship to Uncle Peter, she must have her just share of the estate. We could agree to nothing else,” Ruth hastened to say.
“Oh, Ruth!” exclaimed Agnes.
Mr. Howbridge adjusted his glasses and looked at Ruth quizzically. “Miss Kenway,” he said, “you are a remarkable girl. Lillie Treble is the daughter of John Augustus Treble, without a doubt. His mother went west from Milton, years ago, as is claimed. But she was not Peter Stower’s sister.”
“Oh, goody!” ejaculated Agnes, clapping her hands.
“Who was she?” asked Ruth.
Mr. Howbridge laughed softly. “She was the sister of a man named Peter Stover. The names are similar, but there is a difference of one letter – and many other differences, it seems. Peter Stover was a poor man all his days. He was an ‘odd job’ man most of his life, working about the farms on the outskirts of Milton, until he grew infirm. He died last winter at the poorfarm.
“Mrs. Bean, even, remembers the name right now. These Trebles evidently heard of the wealth of your Uncle Peter, and thought he was their Uncle Peter. The names were so much alike, you see.”
“Then – then Mrs. Treble and Lillie have no claim upon Uncle Peter’s estate at all?” asked Ruth.
“No more than the Man in the Moon,” said Mr. Howbridge, still smiling.
“And you know he isn’t any relation,” whispered Tess, to Dot, with great importance.
“The poor things!” Ruth sighed. “Whatever will they do?”
“Why, Ruth Kenway!” exclaimed Agnes, in great excitement. “What are you thinking of? I should think you had done enough for them.”
Ruth only looked at her, and went on talking to the lawyer. “You see, sir,” she said, “they are quite penniless. I know, for Mrs. Treble broke down and cried about it last night, when I read to her the provisions of what I supposed to be Uncle Peter’s will.
“She spent the last money she had in getting here from Ypsilanti. She has thoroughly believed that Lillie was to come into the money. Now, what can she do?”
“Go back to Ypsilanti,” put in Agnes, sharply.
“I wonder if her relatives will take her in again if she goes back?” said Ruth slowly.
“Ahem!” said Mr. Howbridge, clearing his throat. “I have been in correspondence with a Mr. Noah Presley, her brother-in-law. He says he was opposed to her coming east without knowing more of the situation here and her own rights. Now he says she and Lillie may come back, if – wait! I will read you exactly what he says,” and Mr. Howbridge drew forth the letter in question. He cleared his throat again and read:
“‘Tell Emily she can come back here if she wants, providing she’ll mind her own business and keep that dratted young one of hers from turning the house upside down. I can’t pay her fare to Ypsilanti, but I won’t refuse her a home.’”
“You can easily see what he thinks of them,” declared Agnes, grimly.
“Do hush, dear,” begged Ruth. “Then you will pay their fare back for them, will you not, Mr. Howbridge?” pursued Ruth. “And we shall see that they are comfortably clothed. I do not think they have many frocks.”
“You are really a very remarkable girl, Miss Kenway,” said Mr. Howbridge again. That was the settlement of the Trebles’ affairs. Two weeks later the Corner House girls saw the Ypsilanti lady and her troublesome little girl off on the train for the west.
At this particular Monday morning conference, the lawyer made it clear to the Kenway girls that, now the will had been found, the matters of the estate would all be straightened out. Unless they objected, he would be appointed guardian as well as administrator of the estate. There was plenty of cash in the bank, and they were warranted in living upon a somewhat better scale than they had been living since coming to the old Corner House.
Besides, Ruth, as well as the other girls, was to go to school in the autumn, and she looked forward to this change with delight. What she and her sisters did at school, the new friends they made, and how they bound old friends to them with closer ties, will be set forth in another volume, to be called “The Corner House Girls at School.”
A great many things happened to them before schooldays came around. As Tess declared:
“I never did see such a busy time in this family – did you, Dot? Seems to me we don’t have time to turn around, before something new happens!”
“Well, I’m glad things happen,” quoth Dot, gravely. “Suppose nothing ever did happen to us? We just might as well be asleep all the time.”
First of all, with the mystery of Uncle Peter’s will cleared away, and the status of Mrs. Treble and Lillie decided, Ruth went at the mystery which had frightened them so in the garret. Even Agnes became brave enough on that particular Monday to go “ghost hunting.”
They clambered to the garret and examined the window at which they thought they had seen the flapping, jumping figure in the storm. There was positively nothing hanging near the window to suggest such a spectral form as the girls had seen from the parade ground.
“And this is the window,” said Ruth, thoughtfully. “To the right of the chimney – Oh! goodness me, what a foolish mistake!”
“What’s the matter now?” asked the nervous Agnes, who did not dare approach very near the window.
“Why, it wasn’t this window at all,” Ruth said. “Don’t you see? It was to the right of the chimney from the outside! So it is on the left of the chimney up here. It is the other window.”
She marched around the big bulge of the chimney. Agnes held to her sleeve.
“I don’t care,” she said, faintly. “It was a ghost just the same – ”
There was another window just like the one they had formerly looked at. Only, above the window frame was a narrow shelf on which lay a big, torn, home-made kite – the cloth it was covered with yellowed with age, and the string still fastened to it. In cleaning the garret, this kite had been so high up that none of them had lifted it down. Indeed, the string was fastened to a nail driven into a rafter, above.
Even now there was a draught of air sucking in around the loose window frame, and the kite rustled and wabbled on its perch. Ruth ran forward and knocked it off the shelf.
“Oh, oh!” shrieked Agnes.
The kite dangled and jumped right before the window in such a manner that it must have looked positively weird from the outside. It was more than half as tall as a man and its crazy motions might well be taken for a human figure, from a distance.
Suddenly the boisterous wind seized it again and jerked it back to its perch on the shelf. There it lay quivering, until the next gust of wind should make it perform its ghostly dance before the garret casement.
“Oh, isn’t that great!” gasped Agnes. “And it must have been there for years and years – ever since Uncle Peter was a boy, perhaps. Now! what do you suppose Eva Larry will say?”
“And other people who have been afraid to come to the old Corner House?” laughed Ruth. “Oh, I know! we’ll give a ghost party up here in the garret.”
“Ruth!” screamed Agnes in delight. “That will be just scrumptious!”
“We shall celebrate the laying of the ghost. No! don’t touch it, Agnes. We’ll show the girls when they come just what made all the trouble.”
This the Corner House girls did. They invited every girl they had become acquainted with in Milton – little and big. Even Alfredia Blossom came and helped Uncle Rufus and Petunia Blossom wait upon the table.
For the first time in years, the old Corner House resounded to the laughter and conversation of a great company. There was music, too, and Ruth opened the parlors for the first time. They all danced in those big rooms.
Mr. Howbridge proved to be a very nice guardian indeed. He allowed Ruth to do pretty much everything she wanted. But, then, Ruth Kenway was not a girl to desire anything that was not good and sensible.
“It’s dreadfully nice to feel settled,” said Tess to Dot and Maria Maroni, and Margaret and Holly Pease, and the three Creamer girls, as they all crowded into the summer house the afternoon of the ghost laying party.
“Now we know we’re going to stay here, so we can make plans for the future,” pursued Tess.
“Yes,” observed Dot. “I’m going right to work to make my Alice-doll a new dress. She hasn’t had anything fit to wear since that awful time she was buried alive.”
“Buried alive!” shrieked Mabel Creamer. “How was that?”
“Yes. And they buried her with some dried apples,” sighed Dot. “She’s never been the same since. You see, her eyes are bad. I ought to take her to an eye and ear infernery, I s’pose; but maybe even the doctors there couldn’t help her.”
“I don’t think it’s infernery, Dot,” said Tess, slowly. “That doesn’t sound just right. It sounds more like a conservatory than a hospital.”
“Well, hospital, then!” exclaimed Dot. “And poor Alice! I don’t suppose she ever will get the color back into her cheeks.”
“Shouldn’t think she would, if she’s been buried alive,” said Mabel, blankly.
The two youngest Kenways had been very glad to see Lillie Treble go away, but this was almost the only comment they ever made upon that angel-faced child, before company. Tess and Dot were polite!
That was a lovely day, and the Corner House girls all enjoyed the party immensely. Good Mrs. McCall was delighted, too. She had come to love Ruth and Agnes and Tess and Dot, almost as though they were her own. Ruth had already engaged a strong girl to help about the kitchen work, and the widow had a much easier time at the old Corner House than she had at first had.
Aunt Sarah appeared at the party, when the dancing began, in a new cap and with her knitting. She had subsided into her old self again, immediately after her discovery of Uncle Peter’s secret panel in the old secretary in the garret. She talked no more than had been her wont, and her knitting needles clicked quite as sharply. Perhaps, however, she took a more kindly interest in the affairs of the Corner House girls.
She was not alone in that. All the neighbors, and the church people – indeed everybody in Milton who knew Ruth Kenway and her sisters at all – had a deep interest in the fortunes of the Corner House girls.
“They are a town institution,” said Mr. Howbridge. “There is no character sweeter and finer than that of Ruth Kenway. Her sisters, too, in their several ways, are equally charming.
“Ruth – Agnes – Tess – Dot! For an old bachelor like me, who has known no family – to secure the confidence and liking of such a quartette of young folk, is a privilege I fully appreciate. I am proud of them!”
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