"I don't care, Neale has killed a hen, scared innumerable dogs sleeping in the road-dust, and come near running down Mrs. Privett. You know he has! I believe I wouldn't do much worse."
Ruth pointed out that she need not do much worse in Mrs. Privett's case to have a very bad accident indeed.
"The difference between almost running a person down, and actually hitting him, can be measured only before a magistrate," the older sister said.
Ruth took her lessons from the man at the garage after luncheon, for she did not attend school in the afternoon this term, taking the few studies she desired in the morning.
One afternoon she drove over to Mr. Howbridge's house for tea, and as the car jounced over the railroad crossing at Pleasant Street she suddenly spied a familiar looking object bobbing along the sidewalk. It was a huge green umbrella, and beneath it was the rather shambling figure of the old gentleman whom she had saved from possible accident at this very crossing some weeks before.
He was dressed quite as he had been when Ruth first saw him. If he saw her, the car passed so rapidly that she did not see him bow. At Mr. Howbridge's house she lingered for some time, for the lawyer always enjoyed these little visits of his oldest ward.
Ruth did not return to the old Corner House until almost time for the children to come home from school. Mrs. MacCall was in an excited state when the oldest Corner House girl appeared.
"Hech, ma lassie!" cried the housekeeper. "Ye hae fair missed the crankiest old body I've set my eyes on in mony a day!"
"Whom do you mean, Mrs. Mac?" asked Ruth, in surprise.
"Let me tell 't ye! I should be fu' used to quare bodies coomin' here, for 'tis you bairns bring 'em. But this time 'twas ane o' your friends, Ruthie—"
"But who was he?"
"Fegs! He'd never tell 't me," Mrs. MacCall declared, shaking her head. "He juist kep' sayin' he had a reason for wishin' tae see ye. Ye could nae tell from lookin' into his winter-apple face, whether 'twas guid news or bad he brought."
"Oh, Mrs. Mac!" cried Ruth suddenly, "did he carry a green umbrella!"
"He did juist that," declared the woman, vigorously nodding. "And a most disreputable umbrella it looked tae be. 'Gin ye judged the mon by his umbrella, ye'd think he was come tae buy rags."
"Isn't he a character?" laughed Ruth.
"He's as inquisitive as a chippin'-sparrow," said the housekeeper, with some disgust. "He wanted tae know ev'rything that had happened tae ye since ye was weaned."
"Oh, dear! I'm rather glad I wasn't here then."
"Aw, but fash not yerself he'll nae be back. For he wull."
"Yes, I tell 't ye. I seen it in the gleam of his hard eye when he went. I gave him nae satisfaction as tae when ye might be home, not knowin' who he was nor what he wanted o' ye."
"Oh, Mrs. MacCall, don't you remember?" and Ruth recounted the incident at the railroad crossing nearly a month before.
"Huh, that's why he was so cur'ous, then. You saved his life," went on the housekeeper dropping the broad Scotch burr, now that her excitement was cooling.
"I don't know that I did. But perhaps he came to thank me for what I tried to do."
"It seems as though he must want to know every little thing about you," the housekeeper declared. "And how he could corner you with his questions! He should ha' made a lawyer-body. He made me tell him more than I should about the family's private affairs, I have no doot."
"Oh, Mrs Mac! what do you suppose he wants!"
"To see you, belike. And he'll be back again."
"Goodness! I'm not sure I want to talk with him. He looked very odd to me that day I met him. And so cross!"
"No doot of it. He's an ugly looking man. And from his speech it's easy to see he's no friend of womenkind."
"He must be like that Neighbor Cecile was telling us about," sighed Ruth and with that dropped the subject of the strange old man with the green umbrella.
Ruth had heard from Cecile Shepard since she had gone back to the preparatory school—in fact, had received two letters. They were not such bright epistles as Cecile usually wrote; but they were full of her brother. Not that Cecile mentioned Luke's differences with Neighbor, or the reason thereof; but she seemed unable to keep from writing about Luke.
Ruth was secretly as anxious to hear about the young man as his sister was to write about him.
Ruth was heart-hungry. She felt that Luke might have taken her into his confidence to a greater degree; and yet she suspected why he had not done so.
Mr. Howbridge's talk of dowries for the sisters was always in Ruth's mind. Of course, she knew that the Stower estate was rapidly increasing in value. In a few years property that Peter Stower had purchased for a song would be worth a fortune. The Kenways were likely to be very rich.
What if Luke Shepard had no money when he graduated from college? That seemed a very small thing to Ruth. She would have plenty when she came of age, and why could not her money set Luke up in some line of business that he was fitted for?
Yet, there was a whisper in her heart that told Ruth that was not the right way to begin life. If Luke was ambitious he must find a better way. Nor could she help him, it seemed, in the least, for the young man had given her no right to do so.
"Oh, dear me," Ruth finally decided, "it is awfully hard being a girl—sometimes!"
No such questions and doubts troubled Agnes and Neale. Their course through life seemed a smooth road before them. They told each other their aspirations, and everything they planned to do in the future—that glorious future after school should end—had a part for each in it.
Neale O'Neil did not hope to do anything in life which would shut Agnes out; and the girl's thought marched side-by-side with his intentions. Everything hereafter was to be in partnership.
"For you know, Neale, no matter what Ruth says, I really couldn't get along without you."
"Crickey!" exclaimed the boy, "this old world certainly would be what Unc' Rufus calls 'de valley ob tribulation' if you weren't right here with me."
She smiled upon him gloriously, and used that emphatic ejaculation that always horrified Ruth:
"You're a good pal, Aggie," said the boy, with feeling.
"And since that morning I first saw you and we both tumbled out of the peach tree," Agnes declared solemnly—"do you remember, Neale?"
"I should say I did!"
"Well, I thought you were awfully nice then. Now, I know you are."
So, perhaps Agnes and Neale were growing up, too.
THE MAD DOG SCARE
The primary and grammar grades, and the high school, were in beautiful brick buildings side by side at this end of Milton. The little folk had a large play yard, as well as basement recreation rooms for stormy weather. The Parade Ground was not far away, and the municipality of Milton did not ornament the grass plots there with "Keep Off the Grass" signs.
No automobiles were allowed through the street where the schools were at the hours when the children were going to or coming from school. Besides, two big policemen—the very tallest men on the force—were stationed at the crossings on either side to guide the school children through the danger zone.
However, Tess usually waited for Dot after school so that the smallest Corner House girl should not have to walk home alone. It happened one afternoon during these first few weeks of school, while Tess was waiting with some of her classmates for the smaller girls, that Sammy Pinkney, Iky Goronofsky, and half a dozen other boys of Tess' age, came whooping around from the boys' entrance to the school, chasing a small, disreputable dog that ran zigzag along the street, acting very strangely.
"Oh, Tess!" cried Alfredia Blossom, the colored girl, "see those boys chasin' that poor dog. I declar'! ain't they jest the wust—"
"Oh, dear me, Alfredia!" urged Tess, gravely, "do remember what Miss Shipman tells you. 'Worst,' not 'wust.'"
"I'm gwine to save dat dog!" gasped Alfredia, too disturbed by the circumstances to mind Tess' instructions.
She darted out ahead of the boys. Sammy Pinkney yelled at the top of his voice:
"Let that dog alone, 'Fredia Blossom! You want to catch hydrophobia?"
"Wha' dat?" demanded Alfredia, stopping short and her eyes rolling.
"That dog's mad! If he bites you you'll go mad, too," declared Sammy, coming puffing to the spot where the little girls were assembled.
At this startling statement some of the girls screamed and ran back into the yard. There they met the smaller girls coming forth, and for a time there was a hullabaloo that nearly deafened everybody on the block.
Said Sammy with disgust:
"Hoh! if hollerin' did any good, those girls would kill all the mad dogs in the State."
As it was, the police officer at the corner used his club to kill the unfortunate little animal that had caused all the excitement. The S. P. C. A. wagon came and got the poor dead dog, and the doctors at the laboratory examined his brain and sent word to the newspapers that the animal had actually been afflicted with rabies.
It was a strange dog; nobody knew where it had come from. It had bitten several other dogs in his course as far as the school. Some of these dogs were sent to the pound to be watched; but some foolish owners would not hear of sacrificing their pets for the general good. So, within a fortnight there was a veritable epidemic of rabies among the dogs of Milton.
One man lost a valuable horse that was impregnated with the poison from being bitten by the stable dog that had been his best friend.
The order went forth that all dogs should be muzzled and none should be allowed on the street save on a leash. Sammy was very careful to keep Buster chained. Buster had not many friends in the neighborhood at best. So Sammy took no chances with his bulldog.
As for Tom Jonah, the old dog was such a universal pet, and was so kindly of disposition that nobody thought of including him in the general fear of the canine dwellers in Milton.
Tom Jonah was old, and had few teeth left. He was troubled now and then with rheumatism, too; and he seldom left the Corner House yard save to accompany the girls on some expedition. He went with them often in the automobile, especially when they went picnicking on Saturdays. He and Scalawag were very good friends, and sometimes he accompanied the little folks in their afternoon rides around the Parade Ground.
But as soon as the mad-dog scare started the girls were all very careful about letting Tom Jonah go off the premises. He was too old and dignified a dog to run out to bark at passing teams, or to follow strange dogs to make their acquaintance. Therefore the Kenways and Neale O'Neil thought it was not necessary for poor old Tom Jonah to wear an ugly and irritating muzzle all the time. The old fellow hated the thing so!
"I don't blame poor Tom Jonah for not liking to wear that old thing," Dot said thoughtfully. "It's worse than the bit in Scalawag's mouth. And see how Billy Bumps hates to be harnessed up. Supposin'," added the smallest Corner House girl, "we had to put on a harness and have our mouths tied up when we started for school. Oh! wouldn't it be dreadful?"
"I guess it would, Dot Kenway," Tess agreed vigorously. "I guess it isn't so much fun being a dog or a horse or even a goat."
"Huh!" growled Sammy who had become pretty well tired of school by this time; "anyway, they don't have to study," and he looked as though he would willingly change places with almost any of the pets about the old Corner House.
Neale always walked to school with the little folks now, for Ruth was fearful that there might be other dogs loose afflicted with the terrible disease. A panic among little children is so easily started. She could trust Neale to have a watchful care over Dot and Tess.
Nothing so bad as that happened; but there did come a day when tragedy because of the mad-dog scare stalked near to the Corner House.
The dog-catchers were going about town netting all the stray dogs they could find. Foolish people who would not obey the law deserved to lose their pets. And if they wished to, if the dogs were pronounced perfectly healthy at the pound, the owners could appear and claim their pets by paying two dollars.
This last fact, however, was something the little Corner House girls and Sammy Pinkney knew nothing about. They had a horror of "the dog catchers." The collecting agents of the S. P. C. A. are bugbears in most communities. When the children saw the green van, with its screened door in the back, and heard the yapping of the excited dogs within, Dot and Tess stuffed their fingers in their ears and ran.
The children did not understand that stray dogs were likely to be bitten as those other dogs had been by one afflicted with the rabies; and that it was much more humane to catch the unmuzzled animals, that nobody cared for, and dispose of them painlessly, than to have them become diseased and a menace to the neighborhood.
To make the children understand that it was dangerous to play with strange dogs was a difficult matter. The little Corner House girls were prone to be friendly with passing animals.
All hungry and sore-eyed kittens appealed to Tess and Dot; the wag of a dog's tail was sufficient to interest them in its owner; each horse at the curb held a particular interest, too. They were trusting of nature, these little girls, and they trusted everybody and everything.
In coming home from school one afternoon Neale was in a hurry to do an errand, and he left the little folk at the corner, hurrying around to Con Murphy's on the back street, where he lived. Ruth was away from home and Agnes had not yet arrived at the Corner House.
The Willow Street block, however, seemed perfectly safe. Tess and Dot strolled along the block, their feet rustling the carpet of leaves that had now fallen from the trees. Sammy Pinkney was playing solitaire leapfrog over all posts and hydrants.
Just as they reached the corner of the Corner House yard Tom Jonah heard and saw them. He rose up, barking the glad tidings that his little friends were returning from school, and as he felt pretty well this day, he leaped the fence into the street and came cavorting toward them, laughing just as broadly as a dog could laugh.
Even as Tess and Dot greeted him, Sammy Pinkney emitted a shriek of dismay. A big auto-van had turned the corner and rolled smoothly along the block. One man on the front seat who was driving the truck said to his mate:
"There's another of 'em, Bill. Net him."
The fellow he spoke to leaped out as the green van came to a halt. He carried a net like a fish seine over his arm. Before the little girls who were fondling Tom Jonah realized that danger threatened—before the frightened Sammy could do more than shout his useless warning—the man threw the net, and old Tom Jonah was entangled in its meshes.
The little girls screamed. Sammy roared a protest. The men paid no attention to the uproar.
"Got a big fish this time, Harry," said Bill, dragging the struggling, growling Tom Jonah to the back of the van. "Give us a hand."
For the big dog, his temper roused, would have done his captor some injury had he been able. The driver of the dog catchers' van drove the other dogs back from the door with a long pole, and then between them he and his mate heaved Tom Jonah into the vehicle.
Sammy Pinkney scurried around for some missile to throw at the dog catchers. The little girls' shrieks brought neighboring children to yards and doors and windows. But there chanced not to be an adult on the block to whom the dog catchers might have listened.
"Oh, Mister! Don't! Don't!" begged Tess, sobbing, and trying to hold by the coat the man who had netted Tom Jonah. "He's a good dog—a real good dog. Don't take him away."
"If you hurt Tom Jonah my sister Ruthie will do something awful to you!" declared Dot, too angry to cry.
"Wish my father was home," said Sammy, threateningly. "He'd fix you dog-catchers!"
"Aw-gowan!" exclaimed the man, pushing Tess so hard that she almost fell, and breaking her hold upon his coat.
But Tess forgot herself in her anxiety for Tom Jonah. She bravely followed him to the very step of the van.
"Give him back! Give him back!" she cried. "You must not hurt Tom Jonah. He never did you any harm. He never did anybody any harm. Give him back to us! Please!"
Her wail made no impression on the man.
"Drive on, Harry," he said. "These kids give me a pain."
The green van moved on. Tom Jonah's gray muzzle appeared at the screened door at the back. He howled mournfully as the van headed toward Main Street.
"Oh, what shall we do? What shall we do?" cried Tess, wringing her hands.
"Let's run tell Ruthie," gasped Dot.
"I wish Neale O'Neil was here," growled Sammy.
But Tess was the bravest of the three. She had no intention of losing sight of poor Tom Jonah, whose mournful cries seemed to show that he knew the fate in store for him.
"Where are you going, Tess?" shouted Sammy, as the Corner House girl kept on past the gate of her own dooryard, after the green van.
"They sha'n't have Tom Jonah!" declared the sobbing Tess. "I—I won't let them."
"And—and Iky Goronofsky says that they make frankfurters out of those poor dogs," moaned Dot, repeating a legend prevalent among the rougher school children at that time.
"Pshaw! he was stringin' you kids," said Sammy, with more wisdom, falling in with Dot behind the determined Tess. "What'll we do? Tess is going right after that old van."
"We mustn't leave her," Dot said. "Oh! I wish Ruthie had seen those horrid men take Tom Jonah."
As it was there seemed nothing to do but to follow the valiant Tess on her quest toward the dog pound. As for Tess herself she had no intention of losing sight of Tom Jonah. She made up her mind that no matter how far the van went the poor old dog who had been their friend for so long should not be deserted.
At the seashore, soon after Tom Jonah had first come to live with the Corner House girls, the dog had been instrumental in saving the lives of both Tess and Dot. He had often guarded them when they played and when they worked. They depended upon him at night to keep away prowlers from the Corner House henroost. No ill-disposed persons ever troubled the premises at the Corner of Willow and Main Streets after one glimpse of Tom Jonah.
"I don't care!" sobbed Tess, her plump cheeks streaked with tears, when her little sister and Sammy caught up with her a block away from home. "I don't care. They sha'n't put poor Tom Jonah in the gas chamber. I know what they do to poor doggies. They sha'n't treat him so!"
"But what'll you do, Tess!" demanded Sammy, amazed by the determination and courage of his little friend.
"I don't know just what I'll do when I get there but I'll do something—you see if I don't, Sammy Pinkney!" threatened this usually mild and retiring Tess Kenway.
IT ENGAGES AUNT SARAH'S ATTENTION
Ruth, as has been said, was away from the house when this dreadful thing happened to Tom Jonah. Uncle Rufus was too lame to have followed the dog catchers' van in any case, had he seen the capture of their pet.
But Mrs. MacCall and Aunt Sarah were sitting together sewing in the latter's big front room over the dining-room of the Corner House. Looking out of the window by which she sat, and biting off a thread reflectively, the housekeeper said:
"It's on my mind, Miss Maltby, that our Ruth is not so chirpy as she used to be."
"She's growing up," said Aunt Sarah. "I'll be glad when they're all grown up." And then she added something that would have quite shocked all four of the Corner House girls. "I'll be glad when they are all grown up, and married, and settled down."
"My certie! but you are in haste, woman," gasped the housekeeper. "And it sounds right-down wicked. Wishing the bairns' lives away."
"Do you realize what it's going to mean—these next four or five years?" snapped Aunt Sarah.
"In what way, Miss Maltby?" asked Mrs. MacCall.
"For us," said Aunt Sarah, nodding emphatically. "We're going to have the house cluttered up with boys and young men who will want to marry my nieces."
"Lawk!" gasped the housekeeper. "Will they be standin' in line, think you? Not but the bonny lassies deserve the best there is—"
"Which isn't saying much when it comes to a choice of men," Aunt Sarah sniffed.
"Well," returned Mrs. MacCall, slowly, "of course there'll be none worthy of the lassies. None who deserves our Ruthie. Yet—I'm thinkin'—that that young laddie that was here now—you know, Miss Maltby. Luke Shepard."
"A likeable boy," admitted Aunt Sarah, and that was high praise from the critical spinster.
"Aye," Mrs. MacCall hastened to say, "a very fine young man indeed. And I am moved to say Ruthie liked him."
"Eh!" exclaimed Aunt Sarah.
"You maybe didn't see it. It was plain to me. They two were very fond of each other. Yes, indeed!"
"My niece fond of a boy?" gasped the spinster, bridling.
"Why! were ye not just now speakin' of such a possibeelity?" demanded the housekeeper, and in her surprise, dropping for the moment into broad Scotch. "And they are baith of them old enough tae be thinkin' of matin'. Yes!"
Aunt Sarah still stared in amazement. "Can it be that that seems to have changed Ruth so?" she asked at last.
"You've noticed it?" cried the Scotchwoman.
"Yes. As you have suggested, she seems down-hearted. But why—"
"There's something that went wrong. 'Love's young dream,' as they say, is having a partial eclipse, so it is! I see no letters comin' from that college where the laddie has gone."
"But she hears from Cecile Shepard," said Aunt Sarah. "She reads me extracts from Cecile's letters. A very lively and pleasant girl is Cecile."
"So she is," admitted the housekeeper. "But I'm a sight more interested in the laddie. Why doesn't he write?"
"Why—er—would that be quite the thing, Mrs. MacCall?" asked Aunt Sarah, momentarily losing much of her grimness and seemingly somewhat fluttered by this discussion of Ruth's affair.
"'Twould be almost necessary, Miss Maltby, I can tell you, if he was a laddie of mine," declared the Scotchwoman vigorously. "I'd no have a sweetheart that was either tongue-tied or unable to write."
"Oh, but you take too much for granted," cried Aunt Sarah.
"My observation tells me the two of them are fair lost on each other. I watched 'em while young Shepard was here. It's true they are young; but they'll never be younger, and it's the young lovin' and matin' was made for—not for old bodies."
"You—you quite surprise me," said Aunt Sarah.
"You'd best get over your surprise, Miss Maltby," said the very practical housekeeper. "You should have your eyes opened. You should see them together again."
"Why not?" demanded Aunt Sarah, suddenly.
"Why not what?"
"Let the children have Cecile and her brother here for over Sunday—for a week end. Let them give a little party. I am sure I loved parties when I was a young girl and lived at this Corner House, when mother was alive."
"It's a good idea," said the housekeeper. "I'll make some layer cakes for the party. We'll not need to go to the expense of a caterer—"
She would have gone on immediately planning for the affair had she not, on glancing through the window, seen the dog catchers' green van rattling over the crossing of Main Street.
"There's those dog catchers!" she exclaimed. "I wonder if Tom Jonah's safe. There are some children running and crying after it—they've lost a pet I've no doubt."
Then suddenly she sprang to her feet.
"Miss Maltby!" she cried. "'Tis our Tess and Dot—and Sammy Pinkney, the little scamp! It must be either his bulldog or old Tom Jonah those pestilent men have caught."
Aunt Sarah had very good eyes indeed. She had already spied the party and she could see in the back of the van.
"It is Tom Jonah!" she exclaimed. "They must be stopped. How dared those men take our dog?"
Mrs. MacCall, who had no shoes on, could not hurry out. But Aunt Sarah was dressed for company as she always was in the afternoon. She amazed the sputtering housekeeper by stopping only to throw a fleecy hood over her hair before hurrying out of the front door of the Corner House.
Aunt Sarah Maltby seldom left the premises save for church on Sunday. She did not even ride much in the girls' motor-car. She had made up her mind that an automobile was an unnecessary luxury and a "new-fangled notion" anyway; therefore she seldom allowed herself to be coaxed into the car.
She never went calling, claiming vigorously that she was "no gadabout, she hoped." It was an astonishing sight, therefore, to see her marching along Willow Street in the wake of the crying, excited children, who themselves followed in the wake of the dog catchers' van.
The van traveled so fast that Tess and Dot and Sammy could scarcely keep it in sight; while the children were so far ahead of Aunt Sarah that the old woman could not attract their attention when she called.
It was a most embarrassing situation, to say the least. To add to its ridiculousness, Mrs. MacCall met Agnes as she came in swinging her books, and told her at the side door what had happened.
Agnes flung down her books and "hoo-hooed" with all her might for Neale O'Neil. As soon as he answered, sticking his head out of his little bedroom window under the eaves of Con Murphy's cottage, Agnes left the housekeeper and the excited Finnish girl to explain the difficulty to Neale, while she ran after Aunt Sarah.
Soon, therefore, there was a procession of excited Corner House folk trailing through the Milton Streets to the pound. Sammy and the two little girls trotting on behind the dog catchers' van; then Aunt Sarah Maltby, looking neither to right nor left but appearing very stern indeed; then Agnes running as hard as she could run; followed by Neale at a steady lope.
The boy soon overtook his girl chum.
"What under the canopy are we going to do?" he demanded.
"Save Tom Jonah!" declared Agnes, her cheeks blazing.
"The kids are going to do that," chuckled Neale in spite of his shortness of breath. "Guess we'd better save Aunt Sarah, hadn't we?"
"Goodness, Neale!" giggled Agnes, "they won't try to shut her up in the pound I should hope."
They did not overtake the determined woman before she was in sight of the dog refuge. The van had driven into the yard. Before the gate could be shut Tess, followed closely by the trembling Dot and by the more or less valiant Sammy, pushed through likewise and faced the superintendent of the lost dog department.
"What do you little folks want?" asked this kindly man, smiling down upon the trio.
"We want Tom Jonah," said Tess, her voice quivering but her manner still brave.
"You've just got to give us Tom Jonah," Dot added, gulping down a sob.
"You bet you have!" said Sammy, clenching his fists.
"'Tom Jonah'?" repeated the man. "Is that a dog?"
Tess pointed. There was Tom Jonah at the screened door of the van.
"That's him," she said. "He never did anybody any harm. These men just stole him."
That was pretty strong language for Tess Kenway to use; but she was greatly overwrought.
"You mean they took him out of your yard?"
"They took him off'n the street," said Sammy. "But he'd only jumped the fence because he saw us comin' home from school."
"He isn't muzzled," said the man.
"He—he don't bite," wailed Dot. "He—he ain't got any teeth to bite!"
He was an old dog as the superintendent could see. Besides, he knew that his men were more eager to secure the fines than they were to be kind or fair to the owners of dogs.
"How about this, Harry?" he asked the driver of the van.
"The dog's ugly as sin," growled the man. "Ain't he, Bill?"
"Tried to chew me up," declared the man with the net.
"Say!" blurted out Sammy, "wouldn't you try to chew a feller up if he caught you in a fish-net and dragged you to a wagon like that? Huh!"
Harry burst out laughing. The superintendent said, quietly:
"Let the big dog out."
"Not me, Boss," said Bill, backing away. "That dog's got it in for me."
"Let me!" exclaimed Tess. "Tom Jonah would not bite any of us—not even if he had hydrophobia. No, sir!"
"Of course he wouldn't!" acclaimed Dot. "But he couldn't have hydro—hydro— Well, whatever that is."
"Keep those other dogs back, Bill, and let the little girl have her Tom Jonah," said the superintendent. "I guess there's been a mistake. These are the Corner House girls, and that is their old dog. I remember him. He wouldn't harm a fly."
"No. But he'd chaw the leg off'n me, Boss," said Bill, who did not like dogs and therefore was afraid of them. "Besides, all's fish that comes into my net, you know."
"Go away," commanded the other man, taking the long pole himself. "I will let him out."
"Oh, Tom Jonah!" cried Tess, running to the door of the van. "Be good now. The man is going to let you out and we will take you home."
The old dog stopped whining but he did not, as Sammy whispered to Dot, look any too pleasant. When the superintendent opened the door, after crowding back the smaller dogs that filled the van, Tess called to Tom Jonah to come out. He leaped down. The next instant he whirled and would have charged the two men who had caused him such discomfort and disgrace, his jaws emitting terrific growls.
"Stop, Tom Jonah!" from Tess and Dot, and "Cut it out, Tom Jonah!" from Sammy, were all that saved the day. The dog had never yet been cowed of spirit and, old as he was, he would have attacked a lion, let alone a pair of faint-hearted rowdies.
"Take my advice, boys," said the superintendent of the pound. "Don't go around that block by the old Corner House again. This old fellow will not forget either of you."
"He ought to be shot," growled Bill.
"You do such a thing—such a desperately wicked thing!" exclaimed a sharp voice, "and I will see that you are prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
It was Aunt Sarah who appeared like an angel of wrath at the gateway.
"Mr. Howbridge shall know about your actions—you two men there! And as for you," the indignant old woman added, fixing her gaze upon the superintendent of the pound, "let me tell you that the Stower estate makes a contribution yearly to your Society, which contribution partly pays your salary. I hold you responsible for the character of the men you engage to collect the poor dogs who are neglected and who have no homes. They are not supposed to take the pets of people who amply care for dumb animals. Another occasion like this and you will hear from it—mark my word, sir!"
"Oh, my!" sighed Dot, afterward, her eyes still round with wonder, "I never did suppose Aunt Sarah could speak so big. Isn't she just wonnerful?"
While the children were caressing Tom Jonah and the superintendent was striving to pacify the indignant Aunt Sarah, Agnes and Neale came panting to the pound.
"Guess it's all over but the shouting," said Neale, with satisfaction. "Down, Tom Jonah! Down, with you! Don't jump all over my best suit of clothes."
"And spare me your kisses, good old fellow!" begged Agnes. "We know just how glad you are to get out of jail. Who wouldn't be?"
"Je-ru-sa-lem!" ejaculated Sammy Pinkney; "who'd ha' thought of Tom Jonah getting pinched?"
Before the party got away from the pound, Ruth came racing down in the automobile. Returning from her first drive alone as a licensed chauffeur, she had heard of the family's migration to the pound and had come in haste to the rescue of Tom Jonah—and the remainder of the Corner House party.
"For goodness' sake! do get into the automobile and act as though we'd just come for a ride," exclaimed the oldest Corner House girl. "Did ever any one hear of such ridiculous things as happen to us?"
"You need not be so snippy," said Agnes, in some heat. "If Tom Jonah had actually been put into that awful gas chamber they tell about—"
"They don't do such things until it is positive that nobody will claim the dog—unless he really is afflicted with rabies," Ruth said. "I'm surprised at Aunt Sarah."
"You needn't be, young lady," said Miss Maltby. "You needn't be surprised at anything I may do. I have long known that I belonged to a family of crazy people, and now I guess I've proved myself as crazy as any of you."
However, they could laugh at it after a while. And they did not begrudge any trouble to save poor old Tom Jonah from inconvenience. While the children were away at school thereafter they were careful to put the old dog on a long leash in a shady corner of the yard.
After all, Tom Jonah had been a vagabond for a good part of his life, and old as he was sometimes the spirit of what Agnes called "the wanderlust" (she was just beginning German) came over him and he would go away to visit friends for two or three days at a time.
"He'll go visiting no more at present," Ruth said with decision.
However, other plans for visiting progressed. Aunt Sarah and Mrs. MacCall proceeded to carry out their conspiracy. The suggestion was made at just the right time, and in the right way, for Cecile and Luke to be invited to the old Corner House for a week-end party, and the party itself was planned.
So it came to pass that Cecile Shepard wrote her brother Luke that very next week:
"I suppose, Luke dear, you have received your invitation to Ruth's party. Of course, dear boy, we must both go. I would not disappoint or offend her for the world—nor must you. Buck up, old pal! This is a hard row to hoe, but I guess you'll have to hoe it alone. I can only sit on the fence and root for you.
"Aunt Lorena declares the world is coming to an end. Neighbor sent Samri over to the house to ask Auntie what Ruth's last name was and how to find her. He was so mad with you that night you told him, he evidently did not catch her name. And then, Aunt Lorena says, the very next morning Neighbor started out and was gone all day.
"He could not have gone to see Ruth. Of course not! Certain sure if he had, I should have heard of it from either Ruth herself or from Agnes. But he might have gone to Milton to make inquiries about her.
"However, I am afraid whatever he did that day he was away, it did not please him. He returned about dark, blew up Samri in the yard for some little thing, rampaged around in his most awful way, and finally, Aunt Lorena says, she could hear him scolding the butler all through dinner and half the evening. Then, she believes, the poor old Jap crept into the toolshed to spend the rest of the night out of sound of his master's voice."
Luke would certainly not have gone to Milton and to the Corner House at this time save that he, like his sister, could not offend those who had been so kind to him there. And he was hungry for a sight of Ruth!
Seeing her, he feared, would not aid him to be manly and put his desires aside while he fought his way through college. He knew that Neighbor would do exactly what he had said. Never could he look to the old gentleman for a friendly word, or a bit of help over a hard financial place again. As Mr. Henry Northrup was so fond of saying, he always said what he meant and meant what he said!
The party was to be on Saturday evening, and the Friday when the Shepards had promised to arrive at the Corner House came, and Luke and Cecile went their separate ways to Milton by train. As he had not sent word by just what train he would arrive the young man did not expect anybody to meet him. He walked up from the station with his suitcase and came in sight of the old Corner House without being spied by anybody on the premises.
A wintry wind was blowing, and the great shade trees about the house were almost bare of leaves. Yet the Stower homestead could never look anything but cheerful and homelike. Luke quickened his pace as he approached the gate. There was somebody inside that old house, he was quite sure, whom he longed desperately to see.
He opened the gate and swung up the walk to the door. Bounding up the steps he reached forth his hand to touch the annunciator button when he caught sight of something standing on the porch beside the door—something that brought a gasp of amazement from his lips and actually caused him to turn pale.
Ruth had become quite excited over the prospect of the coming party. Of course, not as excited as Agnes, but sufficiently so to become more like her oldtime self.
She went about with a smile on her lips and a gleam in her eyes that had been missing of late. Agnes hinted that she must have some particular reason for being so "chipper."
"Somebody's coming you like, Ruthie Kenway!" the next oldest sister declared.
For once Ruth did not deny the accusation. She merely blushed faintly and said nothing.
Friday afternoon was a particularly busy time for Ruth. She found some things had been forgotten and she went down town to attend to them. She walked, and in coming back, hastening up Main Street, at the corner of the avenue that gave a glimpse of the railroad station, she came face to face with the queer old gentleman of the green umbrella!
"Ha!" ejaculated the old man, stopping abruptly. "So! I find you at last, do I?"
"Ye-yes, sir," stammered Ruth.
To tell the truth, he looked so fierce, he had such a hawklike eye, and he spoke so harshly that he fairly frightened the oldest Corner House girl. She felt as though he must think she had been hiding from him purposely.
"I was in your town here once before looking for you. You were not to be found," he said.
"Ye-yes, sir," admitted Ruth. "I guess I was out that day."
"Out? I didn't know where to hunt for you," growled the old man, shaking the green umbrella and looking as fierce, Ruth thought, as though he might like to shake her in the same way.
"Ye-yes, sir," she stammered.
"Don't say that again!" roared the stranger. "Speak sensibly. Or are you as big a fool as most other females!"
At that Ruth grew rather piqued. She regained her self-possession and began to study the old man.
"I'm not sure how foolish you consider all women to be, sir," she said. "Perhaps I am merely an average girl."
"No. I'll be bound you've more sense than some," he grumbled. "Otherwise you wouldn't have pulled me back from that train. I'd have been run over like enough."
"I'm glad you think I helped you," said Ruth simply.
"Heh? What are you glad for?"
"Because I like to have people feel grateful to me and like me," confessed Ruth frankly.
"Hey-day!" exclaimed the old gentleman. "Here's plainness of speech. I suppose you think I am rich and that I have come to reward you?"
"I thought you had come to thank me, not insult me," the girl said, with dignity. "You cannot give me money."
"You are a wealthy girl, then?"
"We have all the money we shall ever need," said Ruth. "It really does not matter, does it, sir? If you have thanked me sufficiently, I will go on."
"Hoity-toity!" he snarled. "You are one of these very smart modern girls, I see. And wealthy, too? Where do you live?"
"I am going home now, sir. You know where I live," said Ruth in surprise.
"Heh? I'll go with you. I want to talk with your folks."
"I really do not understand your object. I have no parents, sir," said Ruth, a little angry by this time. "If you wish to see our lawyer—"
"Haven't you anybody?"
"I have sisters and an aunt and a guardian—our lawyer," said Ruth not at all pleased to be obliged to satisfy the curiosity of the old man with the green umbrella.
He walked on beside her and there really seemed no way to escape him. She thought it strange that he cared to come to the house again, having already been there once and interviewed Mrs. MacCall.
When they came in sight of the old Corner House Ruth heard the old gentleman utter an exclamation as though he recognized it. Then, when she stopped at the gate he demanded:
"So you live here?"
"Of course I do," Ruth replied rather sharply for her.
She opened the gate and passed through. She did not ask him to enter; but he came in just the same, green umbrella and all. He walked beside her up the path and up the steps to the door. Then as she turned to face him he grumbled:
"So I suppose you're going to tell me that you are Ruth Kenway?"
"That is my name, sir."
"Humph! So, the boy has got some sense, after all," muttered the old man.
Ruth suddenly felt that there was a deep meaning in the old man's look and a reason for his curiosity. She asked faintly:
"What boy, sir? Whom do you mean?"
"That whippersnapper, Luke Shepard."
"Oh!" Ruth exclaimed. "You are Neighbor!"
So that is why Luke, coming half an hour later to this very front door, spied the green umbrella and Mr. Henry Northrup's great overshoes standing together on the porch of the old Corner House.
Luke did not know at first whether it would be best to ring the bell or to run. He wavered for several minutes, undecided. Then suddenly Neale O'Neil, rounding the corner of the house, caught sight of him.
"Hullo!" shouted the ex-circus boy. "Lost, strayed, or stolen? The girls have been looking for you. Your sister is here already."
"Sh!" whispered Luke, beckoning frantically. "Somebody else is here, too."
"Crickey, yes! You know the old chap? Northrup's his name. He looks as hard as nails, but our Ruth's got him feeding out of her hand already. Oh, Ruth is some charmer!"
Luke fairly fell up against Neale.
"Charmed Neighbor?" he gasped. "Then Aunt Lorena's right! The world is coming to an end."
Of course, it did not! At least, not just then. But when Luke presented himself in the sitting-room of the old Corner House and found Mr. Northrup and Ruth in quiet conversation, the young man felt that he must be walking in a dream.
"You here, Neighbor?" he said, rather shakingly.
"Why, yes," said Mr. Northrup calmly. "You see, Miss Ruth is rather a friend of mine. Ahem! At least, she did me a favor some time ago, and in hunting her up to thank her, I find that she is a very dear friend of your sister and yourself, Luke."
"Er—yes?" questioned Luke, still a little tremulous in his speech.
"Ahem!" said Mr. Northrup again, staring hard at the young man. "Your friend Miss Ruth has invited me to remain to dinner and meet her sisters and—ahem!—the rest of her family. I hope you have no objection, Luke?" with sarcasm.
"Oh, no, Neighbor! Oh, no, indeed!" Luke hastened to say.
To the amazement of Luke and Cecile Shepard Mr. Northrup appeared very well indeed at dinner that night in the Corner House. They learned he could be very entertaining if he wished; that he had not forgotten how to interest women if he had been a recluse for so long; and that even Tess and Dot found something about him to admire. The former said afterward that Mr. Northrup had a voice like a distant drum; Dot said he had a "noble looking forehead," meaning that it was very high and bald.
Mr. Northrup and Aunt Sarah were wonderfully polite to each other. Mrs. MacCall had her suspicions of the old gentleman, remembering the umbrella and the occasion of his first call when, she considered, he had entered the house under false pretenses.
Luke went to the evening train with his old friend, and Mr. Northrup's mellowed spirit remained with him—for the time at least.
"She is a smart girl, Luke. I always thought you had a little good sense in your makeup, and I believe you've proved it. But remember, boy," added the man, shaking an admonitory finger at him, "remember, you're to stick to your fancy. No changing around from one girl to another. If you dare to I'll disown you— I'll disown you just as I said I should if you hadn't picked out the girl you have."
"Good gracious, Neighbor!" gasped the young man, "I—I don't even know if Ruth will have me."
"Huh! You don't? Well, young man," said the old gentleman in disgust at Luke's dilatoriness, "I do!"
Perhaps Mr. Henry Northrup's very positiveness upon this point spurred Luke to find an opportunity during this week-end visit to the old Corner House to open his heart to Ruth. In return the girl was frank enough to tell him just how glad she was that he had acted as he had before knowing that Neighbor would approve.
"For of course, Luke, money doesn't have to enter the question at all. Nevertheless, I know you will desire to be established in some business before we are really serious about this thing."
"Serious, Ruth!" exclaimed the young man. "Well— I don't know. Seems to me I've never been really serious about anything in my life before."
Though she spoke so very cautiously about their understanding, Ruth Kenway sent Luke back to college Sunday evening knowing that she coincided with his plans and hopes perfectly.
The party on Saturday night—the first of several evening entertainments the girls gave that winter—was a very delightful gathering. The visitors from out of town enjoyed themselves particularly because the bugbear of Neighbor's opposition to Luke's desires had been dissipated.
"Lucky boy, Luke," his sister told him. "And you may thank Ruthie Kenway for your happiness in more senses than one. It was she who charmed your crochety old friend. No other girl could have done it."
"Don't you suppose I know that?" he asked her, with scorn.
That party, of course, was enjoyable for the smaller Corner House girls as well as for their elders. There was nothing really good that Tess and Dot ever missed if Ruth and Agnes had it in their power to please their smaller sisters.
"It's most as good as having a party of our very own," sighed Tess, as she and Dot and Sammy Pinkney sat at the head of the front stairs with plates of ice cream and cake in their small laps.
"It's better," declared Dot. "'Cause we can just eat and eat and not have to worry whether the others are getting enough."
"Why, Dot Kenway!" murmured Tess. "That sounds awful—awful piggish."
"Nop," said Sammy. "She's right, Tess. You see, Dot means that she really can have a better time if there isn't anything to worry about. Now, there was that day we went off and took a ride on that canalboat."
"Being pirates," put in Dot, with a reminiscent sigh.
"Yep," went on the philosophic Sammy. "We'd have had an awful nice day if there'd been nothing to worry us. Wouldn't we, Dot?"
"I—I guess so," agreed the smallest Corner House girl slowly. "But just the same, Sammy Pinkney, I'm never going to run off to be pirates with you again. Ruthie says it isn't ladylike," she finished with an air of "be it ever so painful, ladylike I must be."
"Humph!" sniffed Sammy, "you won't get another chance. I ain't going to take any girl pirating when I go again. I don't want girls on a pirate ship."
"Oh, Sammy!" said Dot, "you sound just like that Mr. Neighbor Northrup. You know, Mr. Luke's friend. The misogynist."
"Huh!" grunted Sammy, scowling.
"But—but," Tess questioned softly, "Mr. Northrup's cured of that disease, isn't he?"
CHARMING STORIES FOR GIRLS
The Corner House Girls Series
By GRACE BROOKS HILL
Four girls from eight to fourteen years of age receive word that a rich bachelor uncle has died, leaving them the old Corner House he occupied. They move into it and then the fun begins. What they find and do will provoke many a hearty laugh. Later, they enter school and make many friends. One of these invites the girls to spend a few weeks at a bungalow owned by her parents, and the adventures they meet with make very interesting reading. Clean, wholesome stories of humor and adventure, sure to appeal to all young girls.
1 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS. 2 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AT SCHOOL. 3 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS UNDER CANVAS. 4 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS IN A PLAY. 5 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS' ODD FIND. 6 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A TOUR. 7 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS GROWING UP. 8 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS SNOWBOUND. 9 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A HOUSEBOAT. 10 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AMONG THE GYPSIES. 11 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON PALM ISLAND. 12 THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS SOLVE A MYSTERY.
"THE POLLY" SERIES
By DOROTHY WHITEHILL
Polly Pendleton is a resourceful, wide-awake American girl who goes to a boarding school on the Hudson River some miles above New York. By her pluck and resourcefulness, she soon makes a place for herself and this she holds right through the course. The account of boarding school life is faithful and pleasing and will attract every girl in her teens.
Cloth, large 12 mo. Illustrated
1 POLLY'S FIRST YEAR AT BOARDING SCHOOL 2 POLLY'S SUMMER VACATION 3 POLLY'S SENIOR YEAR AT BOARDING SCHOOL 4 POLLY SEES THE WORLD AT WAR 5 POLLY AND LOIS 6 POLLY AND BOB 7 POLLY'S RE-UNION 8 POLLY'S POLLY
BARSE & HOPKINS Publishers New York, N. Y. Newark, N. J.