The Corner House Girls
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
They all trooped out to see Uncle Rufus establish Sandy and her family for the night in the woodshed. The cat seemed to fancy the nest in the old basket, so they did not change it, and when they left the family, shutting the woodshed door tightly, they supposed Sandy and her children would be safe for the night.
In the morning, however, a surprise awaited Tess and Dot, when they ran out to the shed to see how the kittens were. Sandy-face was sleeping soundly in the basket and Spotty and Petl were crawling all over her. Almira and Bungle had disappeared!
The two smallest girls searched all about the shed, and then a wail arose from Dot, when she was assured that her own, and Tess’ kitten, were really not to be found. Dot’s voice brought the whole family, including Uncle Rufus, to the shed door.
“Al-mi-ra and Bungle’s lost-ed!” sobbed Dot. “Somebody came and took them, while poor Sandy was asleep. See!”
It was true. Not a trace of the missing kittens could be found. The shed door had not been opened by any of the family before Tess and Dot arrived. There was only a small window, high up in the end wall of the shed, open a very little way for ventilation.
How could the kittens have gotten away without human help? It did look as though Almira and Bungle had been stolen. At least, they had vanished, and even Dot did not believe that there were kitten fairies who could bewitch Sandy’s children and spirit them away!
Sandy-face herself seemed the least disturbed of anybody over the lost kittens. Uncle Rufus declared that “das cat sho’ nuff cyan’t count. She done t’ink she’s sho’ got all de kittens she ever had.”
“I do believe it was that Sam Pinkney boy,” whispered Tess, to Agnes. “He’s just as bad as Tommy Rooney was – every bit!”
“But how would he know where we had housed the kittens for the night?” demanded Agnes. “I don’t see why anybody should want to take two little, teeny kittens from their mother.”
Tess and Dot watched closely the remainder of Sandy’s family. They believed that the mother cat did discover at last that she was “short” two kittens, for she did not seem satisfied with her home in the woodshed. Twice they caught her with a kitten in her mouth, outside the woodshed door, which had been left open.
“Now, Sandy,” said Dot, seriously, “you mustn’t try to move Spotty and Petl. First thing you know you’ll lose them all; then you won’t have any kittens. And I don’t believe they like being carried by the backs of their necks – I don’t. For they just squall!”
Sandy seemed offended by the girls’ interference, and she went off by herself and remained out of sight for half a day. Tess and Dot began to be worried about the mother cat before Sandy turned up again and snuggled the two remaining kittens in the basket, once more.
That second evening they shut the cat and her two kittens into the shed just as carefully as before. In the morning only Spotty was left! The speckled little Popocatepetl had vanished, too!
CHAPTER X – RUTH SEES SOMETHING
The mystery of the vanishing kittens cast a cloud of gloom over the minds of the younger Corner House girls.Besides, it had rained in the night and was still raining after breakfast. It was a dull, gloomy day.
“Just a nice day for us to start cleaning the garret,” Ruth said, trying to put cheer into the hearts of her sisters. “Only Mr. Howbridge, who has been away, has written me to come to his office this forenoon. He wants to arrange about several matters, he says. I’ll have to go and we’ll postpone the garret rummage till I get back.”
“Poor Sandy’s all wet and muddy,” said Dot, who could not get her troubled mind off the cat family. “Just as though she’d been out in the rain. But I don’t see how that could be. She’s washing up now by the kitchen stove.”
They had brought the mother cat and Spotty into the kitchen for safety. Uncle Rufus shook his head over the mysterious disappearance of Petl, Almira and Bungle, too; whispering to Mrs. McCall:
“Do look for sho’ as though rats had got dem kittins. Dunno what else.”
“For goodness sake, don’t tell me there are rats here, Uncle Rufus!” exclaimed the widow, anxiously. “I couldn’t sleep in my bed nights.”
“Dunno whar you’d sleep safer, Mis’ McCall, ter git away from ’em,” chuckled the old colored man. “But I exemplifies de fac’ dat I ain’t seed none ob dere tracks.”
Occasionally Uncle Rufus “threw in a word” in conversation which sounded euphonious in his own ears, but had little to do with the real meaning of his speech.
Nobody whispered “rats” to the little girls; and Tess and Dot scarcely let Sandy and the remaining kitten out of their sight. It was a windy, storm-stricken day, and they took the mother cat and Spotty up to Aunt Sarah’s room to play.
Ruth put on her rain-coat, seized an umbrella, and ventured forth. She knew she could find her way to Mr. Howbridge’s office, down town, although she had never visited it before.
The lawyer was very glad to see the oldest Corner House girl, and told her so. “I am hearing some good reports of you, Miss Kenway,” he said, smiling at her in his odd way, and with his keen eyes looking sharply over the high bridge of his nose, as though he were gazing deep into Ruth’s mind.
“Some of these Milton people think that you girls need closer watching than you are getting. So they say. What do you think? Do you feel the need of a sterner guardian?”
“I think you are a very nice guardian,” admitted Ruth, shyly. “And we are having awfully nice times up there at the old Corner House, Mr. Howbridge. I hope we are not spending too much money?”
He put on his eyeglasses again and scanned the totals of the store bills and other memoranda she had brought him. He shook his head and smiled again:
“I believe you are a born housekeeper. Of course, I knew that Mrs. McCall wouldn’t let you go far wrong. But I see no evidence of a lack of economy on your part. And now, we must see about your spending some more money, Miss Kenway.”
“Oh! it seems like a lot to me,” said Ruth, faintly. “And – and I must tell you something perhaps you won’t like. We – we have an addition to the family.”
“How’s that?” he asked, in surprise.
“We – we have Uncle Rufus,” explained Ruth.
“What! has that old darkey come bothering you?”
“Oh! he isn’t a bother. Not at all. I thought he was too old to do much, but he is so handy – and he finds so many little things to do. And then – Why, Mr. Howbridge! it’s just like home to him.”
“Ha! Undoubtedly. And so he told you? Worked on your feelings? You are going to have the whole family on you, next. You will have more wages to pay out than the estate will stand.”
“Dear me, sir!” cried Ruth. “Don’t say that. I am not paying Uncle Rufus a penny. I told him I couldn’t – until I had seen you about it, at least. And he is willing to stay anyhow – so he says.”
“I don’t know about that old darkey,” said Mr. Howbridge, slowly. “I believe he knew more about Mr. Peter Stower’s private affairs than he seemed willing to tell the time I talked to him after your Uncle Peter’s death. I don’t know about your keeping him there.”
“Do you think he may know where Uncle Peter hid his private papers, sir?” asked Ruth, eagerly.
“Yes, I do. He’s an ignorant old negro. He might get the papers into his hands, and the will might be lost forever.”
“Oh, sir!” cried Ruth, earnestly, “I don’t think Uncle Rufus is at all dishonest. I asked him about Uncle Peter’s hiding away things. He knows what folks say about uncle’s being a miser.”
“Well?” said Mr. Howbridge, questioningly.
“Uncle Rufus says he knows his old master was that way. Aunt Sarah says Uncle Peter was just like a magpie – that he hid away things without any real reason for it.”
“Ha! Miss Maltby was not fond of Mr. Peter Stower. They did not get along well together.”
“No, sir. I fancy not. And of course, Aunt Sarah doesn’t say much, anyway. She is real hurt to think that he did not leave her the house and money instead of leaving it to us,” and Ruth sighed.
“Oh, he left her enough in his will to keep her in comfort for the remainder of her life. She need not be envious,” said the lawyer, carelessly.
“Well,” sighed Ruth, “that isn’t what Aunt Sarah wanted. She feels she ought to own the house. But we can’t help that, can we!”
“No. Do not worry about your Aunt Sarah’s fidgets,” said the lawyer, smiling once more. “But about Uncle Rufus?”
Ruth had opened her bag, and now drew forth the scrap of paper Uncle Rufus had given her. “Who do you think wrote that, sir?” she asked Mr. Howbridge, simply.
The moment the lawyer saw it he scowled. Staring at the paper fixedly for some moments in silence, he finally asked:
“When did the old darkey say he was given this?”
“The day before Uncle Peter died. He said the poor old gentleman couldn’t talk, then, but he managed to write that line. Is it Uncle Peter’s handwriting?”
“It certainly is. Shaky, but plainly Mr. Stower’s own hand.”
“Oh, sir! let us keep Uncle Rufus, then,” begged Ruth, quickly.
“But you understand, Miss Kenway, that this request, unsigned as it is, hasn’t an iota of legal weight?”
“I don’t care!” said Ruth.
“Why didn’t the old man show it to me?”
“He was keeping it to show to the relatives of Uncle Peter who, he expected, would have the old Corner House.”
“Ha! and he was afraid of the lawyer, I suppose?”
“You – you were not very sympathetic, were you?” said Ruth, slowly.
“Right! I wasn’t. I could not be. I did not see my way clear to making any provision for Uncle Rufus, for I knew very well that Mr. Stower had not mentioned the old serving man in his will.”
“Well – you’ll let us keep him?”
“If you like. I’ll see that he has a little money every month, too. And now I must not give you much more time to-day, my dear. But I wish to put this envelope into your hand. In it you will find the amount of money which I consider wise for each of you girls to spend monthly – your allowance, I mean.
“Such dresses as you need, will be paid for separately. You will find that a charge account has been opened for you at this store,” and he passed the surprised Ruth the business card of the largest department store in town. “But buy wisely. If you spend too much, be sure you will hear from me. The monthly allowance is pin-money. Squander it as you please without accounting to me – only to your own consciences,” and he laughed and rose to show her out of his private office.
Ruth thanked him and slipped the bulky envelope into her bag. She could not open it there, or on the street, and she hurried homeward, eager to see just what Mr. Howbridge considered a proper allowance for the Corner House Girls to “squander.”
The east wind was tearing across the parade ground and the trees overhead, as Ruth started over the big common, writhed in the clutch of it. The rain came in fitful dashes. The girl sheltered herself as best she could with the umbrella.
Such gusts are hard to judge, however. Although she clung to the umbrella with both hands, one savage squall swept down upon Ruth Kenway and fairly snatched the umbrella from her grasp. It whirled away over the wet lawn, and turned inside out!
“No use chasing that thing,” said Ruth, in disgust. “It’s past repairing. I’ll just have to face it.”
She hurried on, her head bowed before the slanting rain. She came to the Willow Street crossing and glanced up at the old Corner House. Not only could she see the great, frowning front of the mansion, with its four huge pillars, but she could view, too, the side next to Willow Street.
Nobody was looking out of the windows on the watch for her, that she could see. The parlors were on this side of the main building, and the girls did not use them. Above, on the second floor, were the sleeping room and library in which Uncle Peter had spent the last years of his life.
Above those blind windows was another row of windows on the third floor, with the shades pulled down tightly. And then, above those, in the peak of the roof, were several small garret windows.
“That’s where that girl said the ghost came and looked out,” Ruth said aloud, stopping suddenly.
And just at that identical moment the ghost did look out!
Ruth saw it. Only for a moment, but just as plain as plain could be! A white, fluttering figure – a sort of faceless figure with what seemed to be long garments fluttering about it.
Nobody ever has to see a ghost to know just what one looks like. People who see ghosts recognize their appearance by intuition. This was the garret ghost of the old Corner House, and Ruth was the first of the Kenway girls to see it.
She had made fun of Agnes’ belief in things supernatural, but she could not control the shaking of her own limbs now. It was visible up there at the garret window for only half a minute; yet Ruth knew it was no hallucination.
It disappeared with a jump. She did not wait to see if it came back again, but scurried across the street and in at the side gate, and so to the back porch, with scarcely a breath left in her body.
Ruth was just as scared as she could be.
CHAPTER XI – IN THE GARRET
It would never do to burst into the house and scare the younger girls. This thought halted Ruth Kenway, with her hand upon the knob of the outer door.
She waited, getting her breath back slowly, and recovering from the shock that had set every nerve in her body trembling. Of course she did not believe in ghosts! Then, why should she have been so frightened by the fluttering figure seen – for only half a minute, or so – in the garret window of the old Corner House?
Like the old lady in the fable, she did not believe in ghosts, but she was very much afraid of them!
“It’s quite ridiculous, I know,” Ruth told herself, “for a great big thing like me to shake and shiver over what I positively know is merely imagination. That was an old skirt – or a bag – or a cloak – or something, waving there at that window.
“Er – er, that’s just it!” breathed Ruth. “It was something. And until I find out just what it is, I shall not be satisfied. Now, I’m going to be brave, and walk in there to the girls and Mrs. McCall, and say nothing. But we’ll start cleaning that garret this very afternoon,” she concluded, nodding a determined head.
So she ran into the house to find her three sisters in the dining-room, with such a peculiar air upon them that Ruth could not fail to be shocked. “What under the canopy, as Mrs. McCall says, is the matter with you all!” she demanded.
“Well! I am glad you have come home, Ruth,” Agnes began, impulsively. “The most mysterious things happen around this house – ”
“Hush!” commanded Ruth. “What is it now? You come up stairs to our room and tell me while I change my clothes. You little ones stay down here till sister comes back.”
Agnes had stopped at her warning, and meekly followed Ruth up stairs. In their room the older girl turned on her and demanded:
“What did you see, Aggie?”
“I didn’t – it was Tess saw him,” replied Agnes, quickly.
“Him?” gasped Ruth.
“Yes. Of course, it’s foolish. But so many strange things happen in this old house. First, you know, what Eva Larry told me about the ghost – ”
“Sh! you haven’t seen it?”
“The ghost!” squealed Agnes. “I should hope not. If I had – ”
She signified by her look and manner that such an apparition would have quite overcome her.
“It was Tess,” she said.
“She hasn’t been to the garret?”
“Of course not! You believe in that old ghost, after all, Ruth.”
“Well, if it wasn’t a ghost Tess saw, it was something like it. The child is convinced. And coming on top of those vanishing kittens – ”
“For mercy’s sake, Aggie Kenway!” screamed Ruth, grabbing her by the shoulders and giving Agnes a little shake. “Do be more lucid.”
“Why – ee! I guess I haven’t told you much,” laughed Agnes. “It was Tess who looked out of the kitchen window a little while ago and saw Tommy Rooney going by the house – on Willow Street.”
“Yes. Tess declares it was. And she’s not imaginative like Dot, you know.”
“Not Tommy Rooney, from Bloomingsburg?”
“There isn’t any other Tommy Rooney that we know,” said Agnes, quite calm now. “And if that doesn’t make a string of uncanny happenings, I don’t know what would. First the ghost in the garret – ”
“But – but you haven’t seen that?” interrupted Ruth, faintly.
“No, thank goodness! But it’s there. And then the vanishing kittens – ”
“Has Spotty gone?”
“No. But Sandy-face has, and has been gone ever since you went out, Ruth. I don’t think much of that mother cat. She doesn’t stay at home with her family hardly at all.
“Then this boy who looks like Tommy Rooney,” concluded Agnes. “For of course it can’t really be Tommy any more than it can be his spirit.”
“I’m glad to see you have some sense, Ag,” said Ruth, with a sigh. “Now let’s go down to the other girls, or they will think we’re hiding something from them.”
Ruth carried down stairs in her hand the envelope Mr. Howbridge had given to her. The sisters gathered in the dining-room, and Agnes picked up Spotty to comfort him while his mother was absent. “Poor ’ittle s’ing!” she cooed over the funny little kitten. “He don’t know wedder him’s got any mudder, or not.”
“It seems to me,” said Dot, gravely, “that Sandy-face must be hunting for her lost children. She wouldn’t really neglect this poor little Spotty for any other reason – would she?”
“Of course not,” Ruth said, briskly. “Now, girls, look here. Mr. Howbridge says we may keep Uncle Rufus, and he will pay him.”
“Oh, goody!” cried Agnes, clapping her hands.
At once Spotty tumbled off her lap and scurried under the sofa. He was not used to such actions.
“Now you’ve scared Spotty, I’m afraid,” said Tess.
“He can get over his scare. What’s that in your hand, Ruth?” demanded Agnes.
“This is some money Mr. Howbridge gave me for us to spend. He calls it our monthly allowance. He says we are to use it just as we please – each of us.”
“Is some of it mine?” asked Dot.
“Yes, dearie. We’ll see how much he gives you to spend for your very owniest own, first of all.”
Ruth tore open the big envelope and shook out four sealed envelopes of smaller size. She sorted them and found the one addressed in Mr. Howbridge’s clerkly hand to “Miss Dorothy Kenway.”
“Now open it, Dot,” urged Tess.
The little girl did so, with sparkling eyes and the color flushing into her cheeks. From the envelope, when it was opened, she drew a crisp, folded dollar bill.
“My!” she murmured. “A whole – new – dollar bill! My! And can I spend it all, Ruthie?”
“Surely,” said the elder sister, smiling.
“Then I know just what I’m going to do,” said Dot, nodding her head.
“What’s that?” asked Agnes.
“I’m going to buy some candy on Saturday that’s not pep’mints. I just am. I’m tired of Aunt Sarah’s old pep’mint drops.”
The other girls laughed loudly at this decision of Dot’s. “You funny little thing!” said Ruth. “Of course you shall buy candy – if you want to. But I wouldn’t spend the whole dollar for it. Remember, you’ll get no more spending money until this time next month.”
“I should hope she’d have sense enough to kind of spread it out through the month,” said Agnes. “Hurry up, Ruth. Let’s see what he’s given the rest of us.”
Tess opened her envelope and found a dollar and a half. “Oh, I’m rich!” she declared. “I’m awfully obliged to Mr. Howbridge. I’ll tell him so when he comes again.” Then she turned swiftly to Dot and hugged her. “You don’t mind if I have half a dollar more than you do, Dot?” she asked. “I’ll divide it with you.”
That was Tess’ way. She could not bear to think that anybody’s feelings were hurt because of her. Ruth intervened:
“Dot knows you are two whole years older than she, Tess. Both of you have more money to spend than you ever had before, and I am sure neither will be selfish with it.”
Agnes grabbed her envelope. “I’m just as anxious to see as I can be,” she confessed.
When she ripped open the envelope she drew forth two crisp dollar bills. But in Ruth’s there were five dollars.
“My! it’s a lot of money,” Agnes said. “And I guess you ought to have more than us – a great deal more, Ruthie. I’m glad of my two dollars. I can treat Eva Larry and Myra Stetson. And I’ll get some new ribbons, and a book I saw in a window that I want to read. Then, there’s the prettiest pair of buckles for fifty cents in the shoeshop window right down Main Street. Did you see them, Ruth? I want them for my best slippers. They’ll look scrumptious! And I’d love to have one of those embroidered handkerchiefs that they sell at the Lady’s Shop. Besides, it’s nice to have a little change to rattle in one’s purse – ”
“Mercy!” exclaimed Ruth. “You’ve spent your allowance twice over, already. And you still hope to rattle it in your purse! You want to have your cake, and eat it, too – which is something that nobody ever managed to accomplish yet, my dear.”
It was really wonderful for them all to have money of their own that need not be accounted for. They came to the luncheon table with very bright faces, despite the stormy day. They did not say anything, before Aunt Sarah, about the allowance Mr. Howbridge had given them. Ruth was afraid that Aunt Sarah might feel hurt about it.
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî