The Corner House Girls
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Myra helped about the store, after school hours and on Saturdays. When Agnes entered this day, Mr. Stetson was scolding.
ďI declare forít!Ē he grumbled. ďThereís no room to step around this store for the cats. Myra! I canít stand so many cats Ė theyíre under foot all the time. Youíll have to get rid of some of your pets. Itís making me poor to feed them all, in the first place!Ē
ďOh, father!Ē cried Myra. ďThey keep away the mice, you know.Ē
ďYes! Sure! They keep away the mice, because thereís so many cats and kittens here, the mice couldnít crowd in. I tell you I canít stand it Ė and thereís that old Sandy-face with four kittens in the basket behind the flour barrels in the back room. Those kittens have got their eyes open. Soon you canít catch them at all. I tell you, Myra, youíve got to get rid of them.Ē
ďSandy-face and all?Ē wailed Myra, aghast.
ďYes,Ē declared her father. ďThatíll be five of íem gone in a bunch. Then maybe we can at least count those that are left.Ē
ďOh, Myra!Ē cried Agnes. ďGive them to us.Ē
ďWhat?Ē asked the store-keeperís girl. ďNot the whole five?Ē
ďYes,Ē agreed Agnes, recklessly. ďMrs. McCall says we are over-run with mice, and I expect we could feed more than five cats for a long time on the mouse supply of the old Corner House.Ē
ďGoodness! Old Sandy-face is a real nice mother cat Ė Ē
ďLetís see her,Ē proposed Agnes, and followed Myra out into the store-room of the grocery.
In a broken hand-basket in which some old clothes had been dropped, Sandy-face had made her childrenís cradle. They looked like four spotted, black balls. The old cat herself was with them, and she stretched and yawned, and looked up at the two girls with perfect trust in her speckled countenance.
Her face looked as though salt and pepper, or sand, had been sprinkled upon it. Her body was marked with faint stripes of black and gray, which proved her part ďtigerĒ origin. She was ďdouble-toedĒ on her front feet, and her paws were big, soft cushions that could unsheath dangerous claws in an instant.
ďShe ought to be a good mouser,Ē said Agnes, reflectively. It did look like a big contract to cart five cats home at once!
ďBut I wouldnít feel right to separate the family Ė especially when the kittens are so young,Ē Myra said. ďIf your folks will let you take them Ė well! it would be nice,Ē she added, for she was a born lover of cats and could not think, without positive pain, of having any of the cunning kittens cut short in their feline careers.
ďOh, Ruth will be glad,Ē said Agnes, with assurance. ďSo will Mrs. McCall. We need cats Ė we just actually need them, Myra.Ē
ďBut how will you get them home?Ē asked the other girl, more practical than the impulsive Agnes.
ďGoodness! I hadnít thought of that,Ē confessed Agnes.
ďYou see, cats are funny creatures,Ē Myra declared. ďSometimes they find their way home again, even if they are carried miles and miles away.Ē
ďBut if I take the kittens, too Ė wouldnít she stay with her own kittens?Ē
ďWell Ė píríaps.But the thing is, how are you going to carry them all?Ē
ďSay! theyíre all in this old basket,Ē said Agnes. ďCanít I carry them just as they are?Ē
She picked the basket up. Old Sandy-face just ďmewedĒ a little, but did not offer to jump out.
ďOh!Ē gasped Agnes. ďTheyíre heavy.Ē
ďYou couldnít carry them all that way. And if Sandy saw a dog Ė Ē
ďMaybe Iíll have to blindfold her?Ē suggested Agnes.
ďPut her in a bag!Ē cried Myra.
ďBut that seems so cruel!Ē
ďI know. She might smother,Ē admitted Myra.
ďGoodness me!Ē said Agnes, briskly, ďif weíre going to have a cat, I donít want one that will always be afraid of me because I popped her into a bag. Besides, a cat is a dignified creature, and doing a thing like that would hurt her feelings. Donít you think so?Ē
ďI guess Sandy-face wouldnít like it,Ē agreed Myra, laughing at Agnesí serious speech and manner.
ďI tell you what,Ē the second-oldest Kenway girl said. ďIíll run home with the groceries your father has put up for me, and get the kids to come and help. They can certainly carry the kittens, while I take Sandy.Ē
ďOf course,Ē agreed the relieved Myra. She saw a chance of disposing of the entire family without hurting her own, or the catsí feelings, and she was much pleased.
As for the impulsive Agnes, when she made up her mind to do a thing, she never thought of asking advice. She reached home with the groceries and put them into the hands of Uncle Rufus at the back door. Then she called Tess and Dot from their play in the garden.
ďAre your frocks clean, girls?Ē she asked them, hurriedly. ďI want you to go to Mr. Stetsonís store with me.Ē
ďWhat for, Aggie?Ē asked Dot, but quite ready to go. By Agnesí appearance it was easy to guess that there was something exciting afoot.
ďShall I run ask Ruth?Ē Tess inquired, more thoughtfully.
Uncle Rufus was watching them from the porch. Agnes waved her hand to the black man, as she ushered the two smaller girls out of the yard onto Willow Street.
ďNo,Ē she said to Tess. ďUncle Rufus sees us, and heíll explain to Ruth.Ē At the moment, she did not remember that Uncle Rufus knew no more about their destination than Ruth herself.
The smaller girls were eager to learn the particulars of the affair as Agnes hurried them along. But the bigger girl refused to explain, until they were in the grocerís store-room.
ďNow! what do you think of them?Ē she demanded.
Tess and Dot were delighted with the kittens and Sandy-face. When they learned that all four kittens and the mother cat were to be their very own for the taking away, they could scarcely keep from dancing up and down.
Oh, yes! Tess and Dot were sure they could carry the basket of kittens. ďBut wonít that big cat scratch you, when you undertake to carry her, Aggie?Ē asked Tess.
ďI wonít let her!Ē declared Agnes. ďNow you take the basket right up when I lift out Sandy.Ē
ďI Ė Iím afraid sheíll hurt you,Ē said Dot.
ďSheís real kind!Ē Agnes lifted out the mother-cat. Sandy made no complaint, but kept her eyes fixed upon the kittens. She was used to being handled by Myra. So she quickly snuggled down into Agnesí arms, purring contentedly. The two smaller girls lifted the basket of kittens between them.
ďOh, this is nice,Ē said Tess, delightedly. ďWe can carry them just as easy! Canít we, Dot?Ē
ďThen go right along. Weíll go out of that side door there, so as not to take them through the store,Ē instructed Agnes.
Sandy made no trouble at all. Agnes was careful to walk so that the big cat could look right down into the basket where her four kittens squirmed and occasionally squealed their objections to this sort of a ďmoving day.Ē
The sun was warm and the little things could not be cold, but they missed the warmth of their motherís body, and her fur coat to snuggle up against! When they squealed, Sandy-face evinced some disturbance of mind, but Agnes managed to quiet her, until they reached Mrs. Adamsí front gate.
Mrs. Adams was the old lady who had told the Kenways about their father breaking one of her windows when he was a boy. She had shown much interest in the Corner House girls. Now she was out on her front porch and saw them coming along Willow Street.
ďWhatever have you girls been up to?Ē she demanded, pleasantly enough, but evincing much curiosity.
ďWhy, Mrs. Adams,Ē said Agnes, eagerly. ďDonít you see? Weíve adopted a family.Ē
ďHumph! A family? Not those youngíuns of Petunia Blossom? I see Uncle Rufus back at the old Corner House, and I expect the whole family will be there next.Ē
ďWhy,Ē said Agnes, somewhat surprised by this speech, ďthese are only cats.Ē
ďYesím. Cats. That is, a cat and four kittens.Ē
Mrs. Adams started down the path to see. The girls stopped before her gate. At that moment there was a whoop, a scrambling in the road, and a boy and a bulldog appeared from around the nearest corner.
With unerring instinct the bulldog, true to his nature, came charging for the cat he saw in Agnesí arms.
Poor old Sandy-face came to life in a hurry. From a condition of calm repose, she leaped in a second of time to wild and vociferous activity. Matters were on a war basis instantly.
She uttered a single ďYow!Ē and leaped straight out of Agnesí arms to the bole of a maple tree standing just inside Mrs. Adamsí fence. She forgot her kittens and everything else, and scrambled up the tree for dear life, while the bulldog, tongue hanging out, and his little red eyes all alight with excitement, leaped against the fence as though he, too, would scramble over it and up the tree.
ďOh! that horrid dog! Take him away, you Sammy Pinkney!Ē cried Mrs. Adams. ďCome into the yard, girls!Ē
The gate was open, and the little girls ran in with the basket of kittens. Each kitten, in spite of its youth, was standing stiff-legged in the basket, its tiny back arched, its fur on end, and was ďspittingĒ with all its might.
The mother cat had forgotten her children in this moment of panic. The dancing bulldog outside the fence quite crazed her. She ran out on the first limb of the tree, and leaped from it into the next tree. There was a long row of maples here and the frightened Sandy-face went from one to the other like a squirrel.
ďSheís running away! sheís running away!Ē cried Agnes.
ďWhere did you get that cat and those kittens, child?Ē demanded Mrs. Adams.
ďAt Mr. Stetsonís store,Ē said Agnes, sadly, as the old cat disappeared.
ďSheís going back,Ē said the lady firmly. ďThatís where she is going. A scared cat always will make for home, if she can. And now! what under the canopy are you going to do with that mess of kittens Ė without a cat to mother them?Ē
Agnes was stricken dumb for the moment. Tess and Dot were all but in tears. The situation was very complicated indeed, even if the boy had urged his dog away from the gate.
The four little kittens presented a problem to the Corner House girls that was too much for even the ready Agnes to solve. Here were the kittens. The cat had gone back. Agnes had a long scratch on her arm Ė and it smarted. Tess and Dot were on the verge of tears, while the kittens began to mew and refused to be pacified.
CHAPTER IX Ė THE VANISHING KITTENS
ďWhat youíll do with those little tykes, I donít see,Ē said Mrs. Adams, who was not much of a comforter, although kind-hearted. ďYouíd better take them back to Mr. Stetson, Aggie.Ē
ďNo-o. I donít think heíd like that,Ē said Agnes. ďHe told Myra to get rid of them and I promised to take them away and keep them.Ē
ďBut that old catís gone back,Ē decided the lady.
ďI sípect youíll have to go after her again, Aggie,Ē said Tess.
ďBut I wonít carry her Ė loose Ė in my arms,Ē declared the bigger girl, with emphasis. ďSee what she did to me,Ē and she displayed the long, inflamed scratch again.
ďPut her in a bag, child,Ē advised Mrs. Adams. ďYou little ones come around here to the back stoop and weíll try to make the kittens drink warm milk. Theyíre kind of small, but maybe theyíre hungry enough to put their tongues into the dish.Ē
She bustled away with Tess and Dot and the basket of kittens, while Agnes started back along the street toward the grocery store. She had rather lost interest in Sandy-face and her family.
At once Tess and Dot were strongly taken with the possibility of teaching the kittens to drink. Mrs. Adams warmed the milk, poured it into a saucer, and set it down on the top step. Each girl grabbed a kitten and the good lady took the other two.
They thrust the noses of the kittens toward the milk, and immediately the little things backed away, and made great objections to their introduction to this new method of feeding.
The little black one, with the white nose and the spot of white over one eye, got some milk on its whiskers, and immediately sneezed.
ďMy goodness me!Ē exclaimed Dot, worriedly, ďI believe this kittenís catching cold. Suppose it has a real hard cold before its mother comes back? What shall we do about it?Ē
This set Mrs. Adams to laughing so hard that she could scarcely hold her kittens. But she dipped their noses right into the milk, and after they had coughed and sputtered a little, they began to lick their chops and found the warm milk much to their taste.
Only, they did not seem to know how to get at it. They nosed around the edge of the saucer in the most ridiculous way, getting just a wee mite. They found it very good, no doubt, but were unable to discover just where the milk was.
ďDid you ever see such particular things?Ē asked the impatient Mrs. Adams. She suddenly pushed the black and white kitten (the girls had already called it ďSpottyĒ) right up against the dish. Now, no cat Ė not even a very tiny cat like this one Ė cares to be pushed, and to save itself from such indignity, Spotty put out one paw and Ė splash!†Ė it went right into the dish.
Oh! how he shook the wet paw and backed away. Cats do not like to get their feet wet. Spotty began licking the wet paw to dry it and right then and there he discovered something!
The milk on it tasted very good. He sat up in the funniest way and licked it all off, and Dot danced around, delighted to see him.
A little of the milk had been spilled on the step, and one of the speckled kittens found this, and began to lap it up with a tiny pink tongue. With a little urging the other two kittens managed to get some milk, too, but Spotty was the brightest Ė at least, the girls thought so.
After he had licked his paw dry, he ventured over to the saucer again, smelled around the edge, and then deliberately dipped in his paw and proceeded to lap it dry once more.
ďIsnít he the cunningest little thing that ever was?Ē demanded Tess, clapping her hands. Dot was so greatly moved that she had to sit down and just watch the black and white kitten. She could not speak for happiness, at first, but when she did speak, she said:
ďIsnít it nice that thereís such things as kittens in the world? I donít sípose they are useful at all till theyíre cats, but they are awfully pretty!Ē
ďIsnít she the little, old-fashioned thing?Ē murmured Mrs. Adams.
Tess and Dot were very much at home and the kittens were curled up in the basket again in apparent contentment, when Agnes returned.
She had Sandy-face in a sack, and it was just about all Agnes could do to carry the cat without getting scratched again. For Sandyís claws came through the flimsy bag, and she knew not friend from foe in her present predicament.
ďI declare! I had no idea cats had so little sense,Ē Agnes sighed, sitting down, quite heated. ďWouldnít you think sheíd be glad to be taken to a good home Ė and with her kittens, too?Ē
ďMaybe we wouldnít have any more sense if we were being carried in a sack,Ē said Tess, thoughtfully.
ďWell!Ē exclaimed Aggie. ďShe knew enough to go back to Mr. Stetsonís store, thatís sure. He had to catch her for me, for Myra was out. He says weíll have to watch her for a few days, but I donít believe sheíd have left her kittens if that bad Sam Pinkney hadnít come along with his dog Ė do you, Mrs. Adams?Ē
ďNo, deary. I think sheíll stay with the kittens all right,Ē said the old lady, comfortingly.
ďWell, letís go on home, girls,Ē said Agnes, rising from the step. ďWeíve bothered Mrs. Adams long enough.Ē
ďWeíve had an awfully nice time here,Ē said Tess, smiling at the old lady, and not forgetful of her manners.
ďIím glad you came, dearies. Come again. Iím going to have a little party here for you Corner House girls, some day, if youíll come to it.Ē
ďOh, I just love parties,Ē declared Dot, her eyes shining. ďIf Ruth will let us weíll come Ė wonít we, Tess?Ē
ďCertainly,Ē agreed Tess.
ďOf course weíll come, Mrs. Adams,Ē cried Agnes, as she led the way with the me-owing cat in the sack, while the two smaller girls carried the sleeping kittens with care.
They reached home without any further adventure. Ruth came running from Aunt Sarahís room to see the kittens. When they let Sandy-face out of the bag in the dining-room, she scurried under the sofa and refused to be coaxed forth.
The children insisted upon taking the kittens up to show Aunt Sarah, and it was determined to keep the old cat in the dining-room till evening, at any rate; so the basket was set down by the sofa. Each girl finally bore a kitten up to Aunt Sarahís room.
Agnes had chosen Spotty for her very own Ė and the others said she ought to have her choice, seeing that she had been through so much trouble to get the old mother cat and her family Ė and received a scratch on her arm, too!
They remained long enough in Auntieís room to choose names for all the other three kittens. Ruthís was named Popocatepetl Ė of course, ďPetl,Ē for short (pronounced like ďpetalĒ) is pretty for a kitten Ė ďreminds one of a flower, I guess,Ē said Tess.
Tess herself chose for her particular pet the good old fashioned name of ďAlmira.Ē ďYou see,Ē she said, ďitís sort of in memory of Miss Almira Briggs who was my teacher back in Bloomingsburg, and Myra Stetson, who gave us the cats.Ē
Dot wavered a long time between ďFairyĒ and ďElfĒ as a name for the fourth kitten, and finally she decided on ďBungleĒ! That was because the little, staggery thing, when put down on the floor, tried to chase Aunt Sarahís ball of yarn and bungled the matter in a most ridiculous fashion.
So, Spotty, Petl, Almira and Bungle, the kittens became. Aunt Sarah had a soft spot in her heart for cats Ė what maiden lady has not? She approved of them, and the children told her their whole adventure with Sandy-face and her family.
ďButter her feet,Ē was the old ladyís single audible comment upon their story, but the girls did not know what for, nor just what Aunt Sarah meant. They seldom ventured to ask her to explain her cryptic sayings, so they carried the kittens downstairs with puzzled minds.
ďWhat do you sípose she meant, Ruth?Ē demanded Agnes. ďĎButter her feet,í indeed. Why, the old cat would get grease all over everything.Ē
So they merely put the kittens back into the basket, and left the dining-room to Sandy-face and her family, until it was time for Uncle Rufus to set the table for evening dinner.
ďDas old cat shoí done feel ter home now,Ē said the black man, chuckling. ďShe done got inter dat basket wid dem kittens aní dey is haviní a regílar love feast wid each odder, dey is so glad ter be united once moí. Mebbe dat olí speckled cat kin clean out de mice.Ē
Of course, Uncle Rufus was not really a ďblackĒ man, save that he was of pure African blood. He was a brown man Ė a rich, chocolate color. But his daughter, Petunia Blossom, when she came to get the wash-clothes, certainly proved to be as black Ė and almost as shiny Ė as the kitchen range!
ďHow come she is so dreful brack, I shoí dunno,Ē groaned Uncle Rufus. ďHer mudder was a well-favored brown lady Ė not a mite darker dan me Ė aní as I ímember my pappy aní mammy, íway back dere befoí de wah, wasnít none oí dese common brack negras Ė no, Maíam!
ďBut Pechunia, she done harked back to some olí antsisterĒ (he meant ďancestorĒ) ďwot must haí been marked mighty permiscuous wid de tarbrush. Does jesí look lakí yoí could rub de soot off Pechunia wid yoí finger!Ē
Petunia was enormously fat, too, but she was a pretty colored woman, without Uncle Rufusí broad, flat features. And she had a great number of bright and cunning pickaninnies.
ďHow many I got in to-tal, Missie?Ē she repeated Ruthís question. ďLorí bress yoí! Sometimes I scurce remember dem all. Dereís two merried aní moved out oí town. Den dereís two moí wokiní; das four, ainít it? Den de good Lorí sení me twins twicet Ė das makí eight, ef my írithmetickle am cor-rect. Aní dereís Alfredia, aní Jackson, and Burne-Jones Whisíler Blossom (he done been named by Misí Holcomb, de artisí lady, wot I wok foí) aní de baby, aní Louisa Annette, aní aní Ė Bress de Lorí, Missie, I íspect das íbout all.Ē
Ruth had lost count and could only laugh over the names foistered upon the helpless brown babies. Uncle Rufus ďsnortedĒ over the catalog of his daughterís progeny.
ďHuh! dem names donít mean nuthiní, aní so I tell her,Ē he grunted. ďBut yoí cyanít put sense in de head ob a flighty negra-woman Ė no, Maíam! She called dem by sech circusy names ícause dey sounds pretty. Sound aní no sense! Huh!Ē
Just now, however, the Corner House girls were more deeply interested in the names of the four kittens, and in keeping them straight (for three were marked almost exactly alike), than they were in the names which had been forced upon the helpless family of Petunia Blossom.
Having already had one lesson in lapping milk from a saucer, the kittens were made to go through the training again after dinner, under the ministrations of Tess and Dot.
Sandy-face, who seemed to have become fairly contented by this time, sat by and watched her offspring coughing and sputtering over the warm milk and finally, deciding that they had had enough, came and drank it all up herself.
Dot was rather inclined to think that this was ďpiggishĒ on Sandyís part.
ďI donít think youíre a bit polite, Sandy,Ē she said, gravely, to the mother cat while the latter calmly washed her face. ďYou had your dinner, you know, before Mrs. McCall brought in the milk.Ē
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